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Completely out of the blue one autumn day in 1872 Sir Charles Rouse-Boughton, 11th baronet, was informed that he had been bequeathed an eighteenth-century mansion, Henley Hall in Shropshire (below), together with its landed estate in the will of a recently deceased neighbour, Mr. John Knight. Being already squire of his own handsome ancestral pile – Downton Hall just to the north – Sir Charles’s surprise at this turn of events was as nothing compared to that of Knight’s three appalled adult sons who quickly set about mounting a legal challenge to have the will set aside.

henleyhall

see: Imsweddings

Relaxed and somewhat nonplussed about the whole business, Sir Charles duly submitted to the process which saw a jury in the Court of Probate successfully persuaded of the proposition that Knight, labelled ‘a capricious, morose recluse’, had edged from mere eccentricity into insanity. Testimony that he ‘seldom dressed till the middle of the day’ and was ‘fond of listening to German bands’ and cruelly pranking his servants was of perhaps less significance than a landmark judgement from a generation before in convincing the jury that Knight’s legacy was indeed perverse.

For Sir Charles, the court was reminded, ‘was the descendant of a person who in 1840, in consequence of a decision of the Court of Chancery, had come into the possession of a [separate] magnificent estate which had previously belonged to the Knight family and had ever since been in the possession of the Boughtons’. (The Boughton baronetcy, meanwhile, had descended, as we shall also see, from Sir Charles’s great-grandfather via a sensational – and retrospectively dubious – murder trial and execution.)

So the Knights duly retained Henley Hall (at least for a short time before selling). But, while the Rouse-Boughton baronetcy is now extinct, the Downton Hall estate – a Grade II* house sitting at the heart of ‘5,500 acres of breathtakingly beautiful Shropshire countryside’1 – remains with Sir Charles’s descendants having passed only by inheritance and marriage down more than three centuries. Always private, the late-C20th death of the reclusive last of the direct line revealed a veritable time capsule, with exquisite rooms ‘no-one had been in for 50 years’.

*

While the Rouse-Boughton name may be that most associated with Downton Hall, it is not there now nor was it there at the beginning. In the latter part of the C17, funded by income from legal services, the Wredenhall, Pearce and Shepherd/Hall families had begun acquiring parcels of land north-east of Ludlow, separately but sometimes together. Intermarriage would further coalesce their interests. In 1726 sergeant-at-law William Hall devised his property in trust to create an inheritance for the use of his sister, Elizabeth Shepherd, who had married Wredenhall Pearce in 1722. Several generations of asset consolidation was reaching critical mass: a statement country seat was soon called for.

downton3

see: Jeremy Bolwell @ geograph

‘On a magnificent hilltop site looking eastward to Titterstone Clee,’ Pearce upgraded the house of his grandfather, Richard Wredenhall, to a fine mansion of local brick and stone quoins.2 Downton’s three-storey, nine-bay east facade with projecting wings was the work of William Smith, Jnr., and very much in keeping with the foursquare house style of the prolific Midlands practice established by his father Francis and his namesake uncle.

In 1760 the south front would undergo another signature makeover this time at the hands of local architect/engineer Thomas Farnolls Pritchard at the behest of Wredenhall Pearce’s son and heir, William Pearce Hall.

downton2

see: Sue Bremner

A narrow, pedimented entrance doorway was introduced between characteristic full-height canted bays, a demure exterior belying the exuberant delights within. For Pritchard had dug into his contacts book, most likely calling in trusty Italian stuccatore to produce the ‘magnificent mid-C18th interiors [which remain] largely intact’.2

One young American visitor to Downton, writing home to her family a century on, was suitably impressed with their achievements: ‘Lunch was served in a very fine room…

downsaloon3

see source

downsaloon2

Country Life7

… they say altogether more beautifully embellished than any other dining room in the area. Some admirable portraits are inserted into the walls, and around them are white plaster frames in relievo corresponding to other ornamental work. The whole produces a beautiful, and to me novel, effect.’

downstair

Country Life

downsaloon1

Country Life

Bigger and better yet is the saloon where, beneath ‘a large ceiling oval encircled by a vine wreath’2, hand-carved ‘trophies of the chase and music appear, united to pendants of flowers and oak-leaf festoons’.3 This decoration continues in the passage and also adorns the stair.

Now with sufficient means any amount of finery might be acquired; improved social status was generally harder to come by. However, in the same year that Pritchard had been contracted to enhance Downton, another country seat some 75 miles east in Warwickshire had welcomed the arrival of a son and heir to a venerable estate and a baronetcy created in 1641. It was a title soon destined for Downton Hall as a consequence of the controversial premature demise of Sir Theodosius Boughton, 7th Bt., in 1781.

lawfordhall

see source

Twenty-year-old Theodosius lived at Lawford Hall (r), near Rugby, with his mother, sister and brother-in-law Capt. John Donellan. The young baronet’s somewhat feckless, impulsive nature did not augur well for the family fortune of which he would shortly be master. Just months before he attained his majority an ailing Theodosius was administered a draught, ostensibly medicinal, by his mother. Two days later he was dead.

Days of fevered speculation about the cause of the young Sir’s death prompted a public exhumation and autopsy in the churchyard at Newbold-on-Avon, traditional resting place of the Boughton line. Certain cadaverous odours, combined with the reportedly suspicious behaviour of Donellan (whose wife now stood to benefit) led to the latter’s arraignment at Warwick Crown Court before notorious ‘hanging’ judge, Justice Buller. Though the evidence against Boughton’s brother-in-law was entirely circumstantial, judge and jury lost little time in finding Donellan guilty of murder by poisoning and he was hanged within days, protesting his innocence to the end.

Meanwhile, over in Herefordshire, one particular gentleman could not disguise his delight at the turn of events. “Wonderful news,” wrote Edward Boughton, a distant relative of the ‘victim’ upondowntonaaroom2 learning that he, as eldest surviving great-grandson of the 4th baronet, now assumed the title. (This whole affair would be recounted at Downton, left, in a 2010 edition of the BBC celebrity genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?)

Sir Edward – lamented as ‘indolent’ by his mother yet whose memorial records a man ‘of inviolable honour and integrity’ – died in 1794, unmarried but the father of several daughters by a maid-servant, to the eldest of whom he left the family’s Poston Court estate. His brother Charles, though slighted by this act, duly became the ninth baronet and was hardly destitute having already married Catherine, only daughter and sole heiress of William Pearce Hall of Downton Hall.

*

I now consider myself bound in Honour, as well as urged by Affection, to declare that my Inclination, my Attachment, my high Opinion of your Merits remain unaltered.’

downtonaaChasA somewhat stilted declaration from Charles Boughton whose object was not, on this occasion, Catherine Pearce of Downton but his first love, Charlotte Clavering whom Charles had encountered during thirteen years at the anvil of empire in India. Theirs would be a protracted, long-distance relationship complicated by the influence of variously-motivated third parties. Ultimately rebuffed upon his return to England the thwarted suitor soon entered parliament as Charles Boughton-Rouse, MP for Evesham (having previously inherited the Worcestershire estate of Rous Lench from a distant cousin, Thomas Phillips-Rouse).

I have a clear £1,500 a year to spend. Debts I have none. Even the expenses of my late Election are completely satisfied. I shall wait with the most anxious impatience to learn that the Alliance I propose is favoured with your approbation.”

downtonladyrb

see source

All of which was music to the ears of William Pearce Hall, by this time a man with debts aplenty who would gladly hand over not just his daughter Catherine – Boughton-Rouse’s new object of desire (captured, left, in a full-length portrait of 1785 by George Romney) – but also his Downton Hall estate as swiftly as matters could be arranged.4 Having reasserted his family name on inheriting the Boughton baronetcy after the death of his brother in 1794, Sir Charles Rouse-Boughton died in 1821 leaving three daughters and a son William who, rather extraordinarily, managed to pull off the same trick as his father in marrying a ‘Downton’ heiress, albeit inadvertently.

downtoncastle

see: Stonebrook Publishing

Eight miles south-west of Downton Hall, over the border into Herefordshire, stands Downton Castle (r), the singular Picturesque creation of aesthete Richard Payne Knight. Oddly, having invested so thoroughly, Payne Knight tired of his romantic project soon after its completion, entrusting the Castle to his brother Thomas Andrew Knight and thereafter, apparently, to his heirs male. Alas, Thomas Knight’s son would die in a shooting accident in 1827, three years after the marriage of his youngest sister Charlotte to Sir William Rouse-Boughton.

A two-year legal case followed Thomas Knight’s death in 1838, a male member of the extended Knight family contesting Sir William’s claim that Thomas’s property could indeed now flow to his daughter. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out, a ruling which would see Downton Hall and Downton Castle, and all the land between, united in the same direct ownership for the next sixteen years. (The landmark judgement in Knight vs Knight ‘is still applied by the courts today in order to determine the validity of a trust’.)

downview

see: Historic England

It was an expanded empire of which the court victor became excessively proud, as the aforementioned young American visitor discovered in the course of a personal tour of the estate in 1852. Her party were taken on rail carriages deep into the candlelit quarries beneath Clee Hill (which had been initiated with the proviso ‘that the workings shall not be visible from Downton Hall’): ‘The whole work we were expected to consider very wonderful – and so it was.’

But its seems a little of the 10th baronet – ‘a large, stout, red-faced, white-haired gouty old gentleman’ – went a long way. ‘At dinner I sat on Sir William’s right. He talked enough for a dozen, and I was frightened at my proximity to him, for his great object is to pump everyone to see how little they know and show how much he knows. I must admit that I think Sir William a humbug and a great tyrant.’

downpark

see: cloud9photography

A dim view of the squire could not dent an admiration for the attractions of Downton Hall, however: ‘[From] an exquisitely picturesque gate and lodge you gradually ascend a range of hills through an avenue two miles long. How can I convey the glorious scene which breaks upon you as you approach the house..the beautiful vision of the valley beneath.’ (That south lodge is just one of three including in the west ‘an untouched example () of that composite Jacobean-Gothick which flourished in the West Midlands in the 1760s: provincial, unscholarly, picturesque and paper thin’.5)

downlodge

see: Google Maps

In the year of Sir William’s marriage to Charlotte Knight (a precocious horticulturalist recognized for creating ‘one of the greatest cherries we have’) local architect Edward Haycock was commissioned to design a new entrance on the west side of Downton Hall (). Executed in trademark Greek Revival style, a one-storey colonnade precedes a ‘circular vestibule, shallow-domed and top-lit with Ionic columns carrying a continuous entablature’.2

downtonaagreek

BBC/Who Do You Think You Are?

In ponderous Victorian fashion, a stone balustrade incorporating the family motto in latin would be introduced atop the south and east elevations by their son, Sir Charles, 11th Bt. (d.1906), during the course of his fifty-year tenure as squire of Downton. (Downton Castle, meanwhile, had passed to his younger brother, Andrew Rouse-Boughton-Knight, descending in that line until finally being sold in 1979.)

downtonhunt1

see: Equipix

Equine pursuits would come to dominate affairs on the estate through the twentieth century. ‘Downton Hall is one of those homes that exudes fox-hunting,’ Major Sir Edward Rouse-Boughton (d. 1963) having established the North Ludlow here between the wars. This pack was later amalgamated with the Ludlow Hunt of which Lady Rouse-Boughton and their only child, Mary, would be joint-masters between 1952 and 1973.6

Though given a coming out ball at Claridge’s in the debs’ season of 1935, and a society wedding bridesmaid at least twice, the last baronet’s daughter would never marry. ‘After her mother’s death [in 1976] Miss Mary lived all alone in a single room of the lovely red-brick Georgian house. The other rooms, kept so tightly shuttered that their plastered and gilded walls are amazingly well preserved, are a time-warp back to another, more gracious age.’7

downpig

see: MERL

Mary Rouse-Boughton died in 1991. In the stable tack room a two-bar electric fire had been left on continuously for twenty years ‘in case Miss Mary’s saddles should get damp’.7 To meet death duties the Romney portrait (above) of Catherine, Lady Rouse-Boughton – ‘the finest and most valuable of that richly furnished house’s treasures’8 – was given to the nation and hangs here. (The whereabouts of another portrait also commissioned by her husband Sir Charles of his prize pig is not known.)

downton1

see: Audra Jervis

The entire Downton Hall estate was bequeathed to Mary’s great-nephew Michael ‘Micky’ Wiggin who, having ‘no idea what to do with it’, promptly invited three-time Grand National-winning racehorse trainer Capt. Tim Forster to relocate his stables there. This arrangement continues today under their respective successors, the present owner of Downton being also regional partner at a high-end estate agency yet whose own house has, ironically, never itself been sold…

[Archives]

1. Sunday Times, 10 March 1996.
2. Newman, J., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Shropshire, 2006.
3. Ayscough, A., Jourdain, M. Country house baroque, 1941.
4. Fielding, M. The indissoluble knot? Public and private representations of men and marriage 1770-1830, thesis, 2012.
5. Mowl, T., Earnshaw, B. Trumpet at a distant gate, 1985.
6. Country Life, 26 February 1976.
7. Daily Telegraph, 6 January 1995.
8. Tipping, H.A. Country Life, 21 July 1917.
See also:
Reid, P. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses, Vol.II, 1980.
Ionides, J. Thomas Farnolls Pritchard of Shrewsbury, 1999.
Ionides, J., Howell, P. The old houses of Shropshire in the C19th: the watercolour albums of Frances Stackhouse Acton, 2006.
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‘Reader, I married him’

– Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

hintblue

see: Mike Smith @ geograph

Eastleigh is a town in Hampshire just north-east of the New Forest. It is also the name given to the fictional house and estate at the centre of a now ten-year-old novel, The Chase by Candida Clark: ‘Built in 1725, Eastleigh was a house to fall in love with. On certain days in spring the bluebell walk within a broad avenue of limes could be seen by the public.’

The house pictured above is grade I-listed Hinton Admiral, situated on the fringe of the New Forest some twenty-five miles south-west of Eastleigh. Its ‘magnificent twenty acre garden within a much larger estate’ includes a ‘ten acre lime-tree avenue filled with bluebells’, one of the many attractions of the Hinton Admiral annual open day each May. The Chase, Candida Clark’s sixth novel in eight years, was published in the spring of 2006. Later that same year the writer married George Meyrick, heir not only to the Hinton Admiral estate but also to Bodorgan Hall in north Wales (itself ‘a sizeable mansion house, run to a very high standard’) and an C18 baronetcy. Since when Clark has disappeared from the literary scene.

(In a remarkable example of art prefiguring life, the pivotal protagonist of Clark’s last book, Celia Domeyne, wife of Sir Leo, has two daughters and is pregnant with a son. The Meyrick household has since expanded in precisely the same rhythm.)

Were the author ever in need of narrative inspiration for a return to the fray she need look no further than the pictures on the walls. At Bodorgan Hall, a late C18 house sequestered within 14,000 acres on the island of Anglesey, there hangs a portrait, ‘Lady Lucy Meyrick (nee Pitt) as a child’. In fact, Lucy Pitt was but fourteen years old when she married into this family, she and her equally youthful cousin being sensational runaway brides of the schoolboy Meyrick brothers.

lydia

see: Dorset Life

Some 320 miles south, a Joseph Highmore portrait (r) of Lydia, Lady Mews, adorns Hinton Admiral, a house built a year after their marriage in 1719 by her similarly middle-aged husband. Sir Peter died six years later contentiously leaving all to the ‘hated’ Lady Lydia. These paintings form part of the collections of two private houses whose hitherto entirely separate histories coalesced 140 years ago under the ownership of Sir George Tapps Gervis Meyrick, 3rd Bt. (The tripartite surname endures, foreshortened in practice today.)

At the election of 1715 Owen Meyrick of Bodorgan entered parliament as the member for Anglesey upholding the Whig sentiments of a family long established on the island. Meanwhile, Sir Peter Mews, a Tory MP of five years standing, was again returned for Christchurch (then) in Hampshire, the manor he had purchased for £22,000 in 1708. However, politically and geographically poles apart, a mutual encounter between the two men significantly responsible for the dimensions of the present-day Meyrick Estate is perhaps unlikely.

Valued service to various Tudor monarchs had helped establish the position of the ancient Meyrick (Meurig) family in the south-west of Anglesey. A debilitating decade-long legal wrangle with a neighbouring landowner at the end of the C16 (which saw ‘both parties indulging in a lively campaign of slander, counter-slander and physical violence’) would take a century to recover from.¹ But throughout the lifetime of Owen Meyrick (1682-1759) ‘the Bodorgan estate grew enormously’, initially through inheritance of the lands of the Bold family through his mother, later by systematic purchase.² ‘Owen Meyrick was the real founder of the later fortunes of the family’ in Wales. [Estate archive, Bangor Univ.]

bodair2

see: Google Maps

Quite how this pillar of society took the news that two of his sons, then boarders at Westminster School, had impulsively entered into ‘quickie’ marriages with two even younger girls whom they barely knew, one can only imagine. Lady Lucy Pitt was the youngest child of Thomas Pitt, 1st earl of Londonderry, upon whose death in 1729 she was sent to live in the restrictive household of her cousin Jane Chomondeley’s family at their town house in Buckingham Gate, W1. Lucy’s older brothers, Thomas and Ridgeway, also attended nearby Westminster School.

The miserable regime to which young Lucy and Jane were subject came to the attention of the Meyrick boys, Pierce and Richard, who, upon gallant impulse, enacted a ‘plan’ to liberate the girls, marry and perhaps even flee abroad. A dash to the environs of the debtors’ Fleet Prison hastily ensued, wherein dissolute clergymen ‘earned a disgraceful livelihood coupling young people together at the shortest notice’, no questions asked, commonly in the upstairs room of a local tavern. Trade came mostly from the lower orders but ‘occasionally the dreary purlieus of the Fleet were lighted up by erratic flashes of quality and fashion’.

woodlands

see source

So it was that Pierce took Lucy, Richard took Jane and, surprisingly, all appear to have lived happily ever after. For, as the annals of Westminster School record, after a period of years both couples formally remarried in 1732. On reflection, Owen Meyrick perhaps concluded that the boys could have fared no better in the marriage market had matters taken a more conventional course. Lady Lucy’s grandfather had sold the fabulous ‘Pitt Diamond‘ (acquired during his time as Governor of Madras) to the French monarchy in 1717 for over £100,000. Comfortably outliving her two childless brothers, Woodlands Manor in Wiltshire (r) was among the Pitt assets which flowed to Pierce Meyrick via his wife. (Jane Cholmondeley was also reportedly ‘a lady of great fortune’.³)

Down in Hampshire impetuous teenage offspring were one problem Sir Peter and Lady Mews would never encounter, the pair being both in their forties when they married in 1719. When he was aged just 25, Mews had been appointed Chancellor to the Bishop of Winchester (who happened to be his uncle). Ten years later, the ambitious purchase of the manor of Christchurch, while enhancing his status and taking him to Westminster, gradually burdened his coffers to the extent that a late marriage to Islington property heiress Lydia Jarvis (or Gervis), 42, suddenly made great sense. And now, of course, Lady Lydia would need an appropriate residence.

hintondraw

‘Hinton Place’ (see: British Library)

warbrook

Len Williams @ geograph

In the north of Hampshire stands Warbrook House (r), built for himself by architect John James in 1723, the same year in which he succeeded Sir Christopher Wren as surveyor of St. Paul’s Cathedral. James Lees-Milne has not unreasonably suggested that Hinton Admiral is strongly redolent of James’ ‘plain Baroque’4 style, the Mews’ house being similarly a brick mansion with an ‘unmistakable’5 raised central section defined by simple pilasters. Two long service blocks ran perpendicular to the main house, connected by colonnades, a ‘grandiose, grossly inconvenient plan for a house of by no means large proportions’.6

Alas, at the height of his squirarchical pomp Sir Peter Mews died in 1726 aged 54. Claiming no family, Mews left all to his wife but a Thomas Mew of London was anonymously encouraged by letter to pursue a claim. ‘Everybody hates My Lady Mew and wish that she may lose the estate. They say that she is a mean, miserable woman and tricking.’7 A subsequent legal challenge was eventually seen off by the redoubtable Lydia who would bequeath Hinton to her nephew, Benjamin Clerke. His son would also encounter Chancery woe when inheriting as a minor, a suit questioning the legitimacy of Joseph Jarvis Clerke being thrown out at a hearing at the Guildhall in January 1754.8

hintair3

see: Google Maps

In 1777, the year before he died, Joseph saw his house gutted by fire. But the exterior structure remained sound, faithful reconstruction commencing immediately, seen through by his heir, cousin George Tapps (created Sir George, 1st Bt., in 1792). Additionally, balancing wings behind each colonnade filled out the original composition.

Meanwhile, just as the restoration and expansion of Hinton was coming together, in 1779 up on Anglesey a new house was also rising.

Bodorgan was now in the hands of Owen Meyrick’s grandson, Owen Putland Meyrick, seen (r) in a George Romney portrait of 1788. Meyrick had married Clara, eldest of three daughters of wealthy Richard Garth (whose family were long seated at Morden Hall in Surrey, now National Trust). Through the first half of the C18 the three great landed interests on Anglesey – Bodorgan, the Bulkeleys of Baron Hill and the Baylys at Plas Newydd – had jostled for dominance. But by the 1770s the young masters of Bodorgan and Baron Hill were congenial contemporaries, Owen Meyrick, Lord Bulkeley and their heiress wives frequently dining together.9

baronhill

see: Oliver Mills

Between 1776-1779 architect Samuel Wyatt was engaged to significantly remodel Baron Hill (left, now derelict though the estate remains in the same hands). Wyatt’s site manager on this project was young John Cooper who would be talent-spotted by Meyrick and given his big break with the commission to rebuild Bodorgan.

bodair1

see: Coflein

The old hall was largely demolished, replaced by a ‘neo-classical mansion of smooth ashlar masonry in a pale, yellowish stone, with a slate roof. The main east front has nine bays, the central three on a semi-circular bow with a domed roof. [There are] fine views from the house and garden out over the park to the estuary and Snowdonia beyond.’ (John Cooper would go on to complete the Anglesey ‘big house’ hat-trick, remodelling Plas Newydd soon after.)

Owen and Clara’s only child, Clara, married Augustus Fuller and their son, Owen Fuller Meyrick, succeeded to Bodorgan in 1825, dying unmarried in 1876. His long tenure saw some rearrangement and extension of the house but ‘the circular saloon, and the hall with its graceful curving stone staircase, remain today as models of C18 elegance’.9 The gardens (which in Tudor times featured terracing
down to the sea) would gain particular repute during this period: ‘A large sum is annually put at the gardener’s disposal for the procurement of horticultural novelties. On visiting Bodorgan the wonder is how such an Eden could be formed in so out-of-the-way a place.’10

hintonback

see: Tina Endall

In the same year that her brother had inherited this remote domain, Meyrick’s sister, another Clara, married the heir to Hinton Admiral, Sir George Tapps Gervis, 2nd Bt., (whose father had willed that the ‘Jarvis’ variant be appended henceforth ‘to mark my respect for the memory of Lady Mews’). Their son, Sir George Tapps Gervis of Hinton Admiral, gained his second estate and third surname from his bachelor uncle in 1876. (While the last name has been a variable, the christian name of every baronet has remained the same, a tradition certain to continue for at least the next two generations.) Since the unification of Hinton and Bodorgan descent has been straightforwardly father-to-son, the present owner being…

gervis

see: Bournemouth.com

… Sir George (Tapps Gervis) Meyrick, 7th Bt., who ranked on the most recent Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated worth of £125m. This figure is accounted for less by 14,000-acre Bodorgan (and its state-of-the-art racetrack) than by the 6,000 acres of southern England, including sizeable swathes of Bournemouth and Christchurch whose C19 development was significantly underwritten by Meyrick estate investment.

hpark4

see: Bing Maps

The Hinton Admiral estate also includes 2,000 acres of woodland in the New Forest national park, the proposed boundaries of which were redrawn to explicitly exclude the parkland around the house – ‘It is notable that there are no public rights of way through Hinton Park’ – following a landmark legal case. (Similarly, walkers on the Wales Coastal Path are obliged to take an uncommon detour inland around Bodorgan, affording a level of privacy appreciated by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their Anglesey sojourn.)

haterrace

see: Gabriella Gardens

In the early years of the last century the fourth baronet engaged Harold Peto to reimagine some of the principal interior and exterior spaces at Hinton. His ‘rich Frenchy ballroom’5 features ‘plentiful gilding done in powdered gold, a method rarely employed on account of its cost’.6 But it is as the creator of ‘some of the finest gardens in England’ that Peto is best known and the annual garden open day at Hinton affords a chance to enjoy the Italianate pergola and terracing (r) of his ‘matchless remodelling’.11

hapeacock

see: Country Life

That terracing will likely have had a good hosing down before the day in order to remove the deposits of Hinton’s most conspicuous and troublesome residents, delightful peacocks who further endear themselves by ‘screeching at dawn beneath the bedroom window’.

Celia glanced up as one of the peacocks cried out on the terrace. They were her husband’s, too; after ten years of marriage she had still not got used to them.‘ – Candida Clark, The Chase, 2006.

[Bodorgan Estate]

¹ Jones, E.G. Some notes on the principal families of Anglesey in the C16 & early C17, Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society, 1939.
² Roberts, T. The Meyrick family of Bodorgan Hall, Trans.Ang.Ant.Soc., 1983.
³ Grub Street Journal, 10 Aug 1732.
4 Jeffery, S. English baroque architecture: The work of John James, thesis, 1986.
5 Pevsner, N., Lloyd, D. The buildings of England: Hampshire, 1967.
6 Weaver, L. Hinton Admiral, Country Life, 8 Oct 1910.
7 Turcotte, D. Strange affairs at Christchurch, 2011.
8 Whitehall Evening Post, Jan 1754.
9 Mapp, V.E. The rebuilding of Bodorgan Hall, Trans.Ang.Ant.Soc., 1983.
10 North Wales Chronicle, 13 June 1837.
11 Mowl, T., Whitaker, J. The historic gardens of England: Hampshire, 2016.

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On display in one of the gloomier corners of the British Museum, easily overlooked, is a richly decorated nine-inch porcelain soup plate. This C18 object is presented as an illustration both of the skills of Chinese artisans and also of the lucrative export trade which came their way via wealthy patrons in the West. But no less worthy of remark, from Handed on‘s perspective at least, is the historical dimension represented by the plate’s dominant heraldic emblem, being the family arms of the Okeovers of Okeover Hall.

IMG_1045[1]

The order for what would ultimately be a 154-piece dinner service was placed by Mr. Leake Okeover, Esq., in 1738 at a cost of £1 per plate. ‘The service is the only known instance in which the original painting which was sent to China to be copied has survived; it remains in the family,’ noted Christie’s in 1975 in the course of selling 100 pieces which no longer would (r). ‘The reproduction is exceptionally accurate and marks out this service as one of the finest ever made.’¹

Nought but the best seems to have been the way of Leake Okeover (b.1702) who would inherit the Okeover estate on the death of his grandfather in 1730. The orphaned son of Thomas Okeover and heiress Catherine Leake was free-spending from the moment he came of age as his ‘very extensive accounts‘ record. ‘Bills reveal lavish expenditure on jewellery, clothes,’² and fine pictures including that Georgian gentry must-have, the ‘conversation piece’, typically depicting squire and company in the foreground of a handsome abode.

cropped to image, recto, unframed

see: Yale Center for British Art

In 1745 Leake (above, seated) recruited an artist for whom such pictures would become a speciality, namely Arthur Devis, not long relocated to London from his native Preston. While his figures are often formulaic, his scenes somewhat ‘stage-managed … Devis appears to be a fairly accurate delineator of a sitter’s house’.³ Except that in this particular case the house as depicted did not actually exist – and never would. Leake Okeover had gotten a little ahead of himself, this version of Okeover Hall being destined to remain forever just an artist’s impression.

Certainly, grand plans to radically upgrade an existing house were well under way by this time. But before any work had started on the principal south front with its imposing portico things began to go awry.  Firstly, in 1747, Okeover’s architect Joseph Sanderson inconveniently died. Soon after, Leake’s extravagance finally began to catch up with him, eventually fleeing abroad to avoid his creditors doing the same. Six hundred years of Okeover heritage was suddenly in distinct peril.

okegates2

see: Google Maps

The manor of Okeover had passed in the direct male line since a grant of c.1150 by the Abbot of Burton. The home range was imparked soon thereafter, bounded in the east by the River Dove (also the county border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire). At the death c.1400 of John of Gaunt’s ally and sometime enforcer
Sir Philip Okeover the family’s landholdings were on their way to encircling the nearby town of Ashbourne.

While Sir Philip’s son and heir Thomas would twice be elected to parliament for Derbyshire he largely ‘avoided the responsibilities of office, preferring to live quietly on his estates’. These he expanded significantly in the county and beyond through his second marriage to heiress Thomasina Sallowe and of which he would remain squire for 60 years. This record would stand until the time of Sir Rowland Okeover (d.1692) whose 67-year tenure was also notably fruitful.

OkeOld

see: Government Art Collection

60 different sorts of apple, 20 sorts of pears, 35 sorts of apricots and other plumms are to be found in the gardens of this ancient seat.’ A seat which at the time of this approving visitation by Robert Plot (then first Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum) in the course of compiling his ‘Natural history of Staffordshire‘ (1686), was a mid-sized Tudor house within a square moat (r).

okestab2

see: Thornber

This was the place to which Leake Okeover removed in 1730, vacating Wymeswold Hall (his mother’s Leicestershire legacy which he had received upon coming of age eight years before). Leake would quickly make his mark at the site of his ancient birthright with a large classical stable block which together with the now private All Saints church (both left) remain essentially unchanged elements of the Okeover tableau.

But it would be at least a dozen years before thoughts turned to seriously remodelling the Hall, setting in train a morphing process which would effectively last two hundred years.

okeview4

see: Google Maps

Phase One consisted of matching wings, broadly similar in proportion to the stable block, extending north at either end of the existing house; the east wing survives intact. The design for the final major element of the project, Joseph Sanderson’s patron-pleasing grand south front (below), would be a last-minute addition to Arthur Devis’s painting following a visit to the artist’s London studio by Sanderson in December 1746.

portico1

see: Yale Center for British Art

While the architect’s death the following August did not necessarily mean the end of Leake’s grand designs, his spending would. In the spring of 1751, facing debts of about £25,000, he took off to northern France for almost two years, lodging under the alias ‘Mr. Scrimpshaw‘ and leaving his wife and trustees to firefight the liabilities.

Wymeswold Hall was among substantial estate assets sold to meet the debts but in correspondence across the Channel Leake refused to countenance the disposal of Okeover itself: “I cannot nor ever will be brought to part with Okeover. I will much sooner never see England again than do it.”4

okeview5

see: Peter Barr @ geograph

okegates7

see: Churchcrawler

Work on the Hall eventually recommenced but the block at the S end of the east wing (left) was to be the last substantial addition before Leake died in 1765. This space features ‘exceptionally fine’ decorative plasterwork and joinery.5 Additionally, ‘there is much fine C18 furniture at Okeover’ and Leake’s especial weakness for exquisite ironwork remains much in evidence around the grounds.4

leakemem

see:ChurchCrawler

The Devis painting above is notable not only for the inclusion of a house which did not exist but also for the exclusion of a wife who most certainly did. A boys club of chums replaces the more typical family group, a scene which would never be possible since Leake and Mary – who died within months of one another, memorialised in profile by Joseph Wilton (r) – had no children. Nor would the next two heirs, the deeper reaches of the Okeover male line being mined until 1912. That year saw the death of Haughton Okeover whose remarkable 76-year tenure encompassed the entirety of Queen Victoria’s reign.

okesouth3

see: Country Life

The C19 saw ‘incoherent, piecemeal’ changes to the Hall: the removal of the west wing, the doubling of the S-E pavilion and a two-storey extension into the space once occupied by the original Tudor house (left).4 A satisfactory holistic resolution would not be achieved until the 1950s when Okeover passed in the female line, a turn which would also see the family’s local landholding coincidentally double in size.

osmast2

see: Lost Heritage

On the opposite side of Ashbourne lies Osmaston, ‘a neat estate village with many picturesque cottages set against the backdrop of the park’,6 which itself is ‘stunning indeed’.7 The story of colossal Osmaston Manor (r) is excellently recounted here. ‘A magnificent example of that class of mansion in which wealthy Englishmen delight to dwell’8 …

… Osmaston was built by local industrialist Francis Wright between 1846-49 and acquired by Liverpool brewing magnate and philanthropist Sir Andrew Walker, 1st Bt, in 1884. In an unusual familial twist Sir Andrew and his son and heir Peter would marry two of squire Haughton Ealdred Okeover’s eight sisters, Maude (as his second wife) and Ethel, respectively.

osmast4

see: Stones Events

Their brother died childless in 1955, the 3,000-acre Okeover estate now passing to Haughton’s only living nephew, Peter and Ethel Walker’s son, Sir Ian Walker, 3rd Bt, then incumbent at similar-sized Osmaston (r). Owning two houses six miles apart Walker eventually elected to demolish impractical Osmaston in favour of Okeover Hall, also becoming Sir Ian Walker-Okeover in obeisance to the ancient lineage.

okeview6

see: Eamon Curry

‘Arguably the finest house built in England in the 1950s,’ Sir Ian’s remodelling of Okeover Hall was masterminded by architect Marshall Sisson. In retaining the Georgian E wing and recreating a counterpart, Sisson essentially reasserted Sanderson’s three-sided plan. The S-E pavilion was split to bookend an interposed nine-bay S section.5

okegates1

see: Peak District Online

If the latter’s muted central bow is hardly the imposing statement of Leake Okeover’s imaginings the opposite, courtyard-facing entrance front is less effacing. Featuring ‘a full-height projecting porch with a pediment and giant statues on top from the gardens at Osmaston’,5 this is however not easily seen since Okeover remains the wholly private home of Sir Andrew and Lady Philippa Walker-Okeover.

And, while it is possible to walk these unsold acres and to view the scene as captured by Arthur Devis in the mid-C18, be aware that the bovine residents of the Okeover Estate, too, can be very protective of this ancient manor…

[GII* listing][Osmaston Park][Glenmuick Estate]

1. Howard, D., Ayers, J. China for the West, Vol. 2, 1978.
2. Mowl, T., Barre, D. The historic gardens of Staffordshire, 2009.
3. Harris, J. The artist and the country house, 1979.
4. Oswald, A. Okeover Hall I/II/III, Country Life, Jan/Mar 1964.
5. Robinson, J.M. The latest country houses, 1984.
6. Thorold, H. A Shell guide to Derbyshire, 1972.
7. Craven, M., Stanley, M. The Derbyshire country house: 2, 2001.
8. Country Life, July 12, 1902.

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Occupying raised ground at the centre of this small, ancient harbour town, Place could perhaps be regarded as the Camelot of Fowey. Notwithstanding the fact that, unlike King Arthur’s fabled fort, it obviously does exist, Place has long remained a tantalising presence hereabouts. With the land sloping away to the estuary only the loftier castellated features of this grade I listed house – domain of the Treffry family for at least 600 years – can be glimpsed, partially visible here and there above the rooftops and the high wall of its grounds. The local heritage society advises that ‘the best way to see Place is from the river’.

see: Derek Harper @ geograph

see: Derek Harper @ geograph

As the estate itself owns, ‘It is unquestionable that the position of Place within Fowey is absolutely paramount.’ But in a town whose dominant economic driver these days is tourism, are the two perhaps in something of a mutual bind? For those tasked with promoting Fowey’s attractions can only go so far in trumpeting a landmark which has been the town’s defining constant (quite literally, the shape of Fowey’s development having been dictated by the curtilage of Place House) yet which remains a wholly private entity. Meanwhile, the preservation of this privacy in the face of a lapping tide of presuming visitors curious about a place so palpably ‘historic’ and ‘interesting’ is a battle in itself.

There have been an increasing number of people trespassing within the grounds of Place … looking around the historic house and in a number of cases … pitching tents.’ Last year the Treffry Estate sought retrospective planning consent for a more robust entrance gate, the old one apparently having failed to ‘provide any security or privacy to the property.’ The authorities took rather a dim view of the new barrier but they might perhaps at least be thankful that the family haven’t resorted to their most legendary mode of intruder repellent – molten lead poured from a height. But then that was over the heads of the French.

All along the sea coast and in the Channel disorder was endemic. A kind of mob law prevailed [and] Fowey was the leader in these exploits.’ Ah, the good old, bad old days of the mid-C15: ‘This was the heyday in the town’s history – never was there such a time before or since.‘¹ The line between legitimate sea trading, smuggling and outright piracy fluctuated as freely as our relations with France, privateering often constituting the front line of defence.

Violent skirmishes were commonplace and in a serious reprisal attack in 1457 the town of Fowey was sacked. Yet at Place the French marauders were kept at bay, the doughty Elizabeth Treffry stepping up in her husband’s absence with the aforementioned heavy metal resistance. In the wake of this the house was further fortified (r) and when the couple’s staunchly Lancastrian sons John and William later returned from exile with the soon-to-be Henry VII, the family’s ensuing prosperity was reflected in greater embellishment of Place.

see source

see source

William died ‘an exceedingly rich man’² and the basic footprint of the compact Tudor gothic courtyard house which would be occupied by his nephew Thomas Treffry for 54 years from 1509 is little altered. But whatever was spent on Place during his tenure (which encompassed the entirety of Henry VIII’s reign), it seems Thomas’ service in defence of the realm way out west would prove to be the greatest drain on his inheritance. In 1536 he was minded to write to Thomas Cromwell explaining how ‘for 26 years he had maintained the defence of Fowey largely at his own expense.’

see: English Heritage

see: English Heritage

Having underwritten the construction and operation of two nearby forts, Thomas had come to feel that his loyalty – and, perhaps, geographical remoteness? – had been, if not exploited, rather under-appreciated. But his labours and expenditure have at least bequeathed two Treffry-built castles – St. Mawes (r) and St. Catherine’s – which can, unlike Place, be visited today.

There is no surviving C17 work and not much C18 work remaining at Place other than the attractive Rococo ceiling in the library. One has the impression that the condition of the house was deteriorating in the second half of the C18 along with the family’s prominence in the county and the decline of Fowey as a port.’²

Also finally faltering at this time was the Treffry male line, a name change by licence being required of William Toller upon succeeding to the estates of his uncle, John Treffry, in 1731. And a similar device would be invoked a century later by the remarkable man whose endeavours would turbocharge the local economy, reviving the fortunes of Place and creating the house as it stands today.

see: Fowey Harbour Heritage Society

see: Fowey Harbour Heritage Society

‘Place is an overwhelming display of early C19 Victorian Gothic..ambitious, somewhat elephantine Walter Scottian romanticism.’³ By no means the only striking physical legacy of the industrious Joseph Thomas Treffry – witness the quietly awesome Luxulyan Viaduct – Place was his grand indulgence across 30 years, a fair fortune being invested in his entreprenurial embrace of an initially unpromising inheritance.

William Esco Treffry died childless in 1779, the estate being settled equally upon his surviving siblings Jane and Susanna. The Treffry sisters would marry the Austen brothers, Nicholas and Joseph respectively, Susanna and Joseph producing the only boy, Joseph Thomas, who bought out his cousins’ interest in 1808. Unusually, ‘the Treffry family never owned extensive landed estates; instead Joseph Thomas saw the possibilities of industrial expansion and the estate benefited accordingly.’ His diverse economic odyssey was powered principally by the hugely profitable mining of copper and tin, Treffry’s can-do attitude overcoming logistical obstacles with major infrastructural initiatives of enduring benefit.

Rostron&Edwards

see: Rostron&Edwards

The region’s mineral riches were also exploited in JT’s restoration of Place. Workable Pentewan stone aided exuberant carving, the surviving C16 bay a template for two more in an initially faithful, fulsome homage to Place’s Tudor pomp. But the statements became bolder and more idiosyncratic as time went on: most emphatic are the polished Porphyry Hall (‘a grand curiosity of Cornish geology’4 which wowed Prince Albert) and the 105ft bifurcated granite tower.

see: Country Life Picture Library

see: Country Life

‘The most elaborate room is the drawing room’ (r). A plaster ceiling painted to resemble wood is bordered by a cornice featuring ‘weird heads that look down on the room with various expressions of anxiety, ferocity and amusement.’ And the discomfitted will find no relief as they exit, ‘the main staircase [being] a world of monsters and beasties who laugh, sneer and tease all who pass up and down. It is extraordinary that a man such as Treffry should have made so public his dream world.’5

‘Not much physically has changed at Place since Joseph Thomas died’² (even if the exquisite Georgian suite pictured in the drawing room has since been sold).

‘Treffry was not only the biggest employer in Cornwall by the time he died, but one of the best. He worried about his miners.‘6 And their gratitude for JT’s paternalism was made plain at his funeral in February 1850. The local press were quite taken aback:

We were not at all prepared for the spectacle that awaited us a mile or two from Fowey. Thousands of Mr. Treffry’s work people [in] procession, not one who was not decently, even respectably dressed – it was difficult to realise they were working miners. Their multitudes showed the vastness of his undertakings as an employer, and their appearance proved the comforts they had enjoyed under his protection.7

But Treffry’s workforce had not always shown him such respect. During the annual Fowey Regatta in Queen Victoria’s coronation year, for one day only, the grounds of Place were opened to the locals. ‘The trouble started when a couple of hundred intruders, fortified with drink, took possession of the house and only left after they had caused a great deal of destruction.’8 If the memory of this unfortunate occasion has been passed down along with everything else at Place it’s perhaps little wonder that the present generation should continue to uphold a tradition of privacy. Will the next be any more inclined to, er, rock the house?

see: Ouless @ Panoramio

see: Ouless @ Panoramio

[G.I listing][Archive]

¹ Rowse, AL. Tudor Cornwall, 1941.
² Treffry, D. Place and the Treffrys, Royal Institution of Cornwall, vol.2, pt.4, 1997.
³ Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cornwall, 1970.
4 Beacham, P., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cornwall, 2014.
5 Cornforth, J. Country Life 21/28 June 1962.
6 Smelt, M. 101 Cornish lives, 2006.
7 Royal Cornwall Gazette, 8 Feb 1850.
8 Keast, J. The king of mid-Cornwall, 1982.

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see: Lucy Vanel

see: Lucy Vanel

There is, it would appear, an unwritten law which dictates that where there are pyramids so shall there be mystery. Leave aside the marvel of the pharaohs’ tombs – preoccupation of many an archaeological and anthropological mind across the ages – and consider, if you will, goats’ cheese. This emblematic taste of French gastronomy has taken various classic forms, none perhaps more distinctive than the flat-topped, four-sided pyramid (r), the origins of which are hazy and subject to conjecture.

Theories naturally include reference to the wonders of Egypt; no mention is made, however, of their four-sided, flat-topped European equivalents, those rather less well-known objects of intrigue that are the ancient pyramids of … Bosnia. Never heard of them? You’re not alone.

One person who definitely has, however, is the present squire of Thorpe Hall, Hugh Lillingston, whose diverse enthusiasms for, amongst other things, New Age philosophies and French cheese, have served to raise the profile of an otherwise quite obscure, centuries-old traditional family estate which lies some five miles N-E of Tamworth.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

Earlier this month Lillingston, a self-confessed ‘old hippy‘, was set to host a study trip to Bosnia via his agency Reality Engineering:

Whatever else the Pyramid of the Sun is doing, it is also generating a coherent 28 kilohertz electro-magnetic beam straight up from the centre and out through the apex. In other words the Pyramid is some kind of advanced machine that is still working. It appears to be sending a signal outside our solar system.

Not everyone is convinced, of course. Where some perceive thrilling evidence of an advanced ancient civilisation, others see merely ‘a big hill‘.

Lillingston is also an advocate of neurolinguistic programming – self-help through positive thinking – directly inspiring initiatives such as the Warrior Programme charity. Emerging from the self-styled Thorpe Institute, Reality Engineering is surely one of the more unlikely examples of rural estate diversification. Artisanal cheese-making may seem less so…

…though back in the mid-80s when Lillingston conceived his Staffordshire chevre it too was innovative in its own way (and the goats were played Mozart). This enterprise – whose signature product the Innes Button is a two-time blue riband winner at the the British Cheese Awards (and remains, Handed on can attest, sublime bordering on sinful) – is now owned by his collaborators-in-curd, the estate-based Bennett family, but retains in name at least an association with its founder…

…who was actually born Hugh Inge-Innes-Lillingston. And it is the first of that rather unwieldy trinity which has the oldest roots here, being the name of Richard Inge, son-in-law of wealthy Leicester vintner William Ives who had acquired the Thorpe estate in 1631 – the last time that this place changed hands by sale.

The first incarnation of Thorpe Hall was erected by Richard’s son, William, in 1651. The winds of change towards classicism which began to influence country house design during the Commonwealth would take some time to blow through this corner of the Midlands where Inge opted for the popular Dutch style, taking his cue from the likes of, well, Kew. The latter’s middle gable strongly resembles Thorpe’s matching set of three, all of which were to be lopped off five generations later when the house was Georgianised by William Phillips Inge (d.1838).

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

The now stuccoed five-bay original centre would be gradually complemented by early-C19 lower wings as ‘the old manor expanded into a spanking mansion three times its former size’.¹ The interior was similarly modernised to include a ‘delightful’² cantilevered staircase (below) not unlike a contemporaneous flight to be found at…

The Field

The Field¹

…Thorpe’s centuries-long next-door neighbour, Statfold Hall. (As previously featured, Statfold is the seat of the Pipe-Wolferstans, several of whom are in fact interred at the Thorpe estate church of St. Constantine which stands hard by the house.)

see: Charlie Cooper @ flickr

Charlie Cooper @ flickr

In the latter half of the C20 the parents of the present owner carried out further significant restoration and remodelling. The N-E facade would be re-established as the entrance while ‘the balustrading in the gardens came from Drayton Manor‘.¹

The afternoon of Saturday 4 February, 1903 saw a solemn gathering in the library at Thorpe Hall where a formal inquest was convened into the sudden demise, at his own hand, of the then squire. 39-year-old William Inge had prematurely curtailed a day’s hunting with the Atherstone; his body was later discovered in a cowshed en route back to the house. Among those called at the inquiry was Poole, the butler – then but half way through a 59-year career on the staff at Thorpe – who produced a damaged riding crop and lash found at the scene.³

Atherstone Hunt

Atherstone Hunt

All but two of the tragic squire’s predecessors, back to mid-C17, had shared his name but there were to be no more William Inges at Thorpe. Leaving behind three daughters, his death would usher in those subsequent hyphenations as the property descended in the female line through the last century. None of which affected the estate’s enduring association with the Atherstone Hunt, however, a relationship which was celebrated on the occasion of the pack’s bicentenary last year with a meet – and speeches – at the Hall.

As it has for 365 years, Thorpe ‘stands splendidly erect surveying from its low rising ground the wide scene E and W,’ much of which comprises the 3,000-acre estate straddling the Warwickshire border. But the horizons being contemplated at Thorpe these days stretch way beyond these fields. And while embodying a history of continuity remarkable to most, it’s an inheritance the present incumbent might now consider to be but a mere trifle in the greater scheme of things..

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

[Thorpe Estate][Listing][Archive]

¹ Montgomery-Massingberd, H. The Field 2 Aug 1986.
² Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Staffordshire, 1974.
³ Tamworth Herald 14 Feb 1903.
4 Thorold, H. Staffordshire: A Shell guide, 1978.

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The foundations of both may have been somewhat undermined in modern times but Britain’s country houses (and their owners) have long understood the value of the institution of matrimony. Delving into the history of long-held country estates, the advantageous marriage is not hard to find, provident alliances historically a key means by which to bolster, sometimes super-charge, an estate’s fortunes. In the C18 ‘financial considerations often determined a family’s marital priorities [with] heiresses regarded as particularly good catches’.¹ And today marriage is once more playing a significant role in sustaining many an ancestral seat as country houses across the land vie to host ‘the wedding of your dreams’.

“I always wondered how people afforded to live in these lovely places. The answer was that many couldn’t. When I suggested weddings most bit my hand off“, said Diana Hastie, the founder of Country House Wedding Venues, recently. This enterprise is now one of many such agencies (1/2/3) whose websites, along with those of the individual properties themselves, today offer a rich source of what has been called ‘country house porn’ (a term, by-the-by, taken a tad literally in the latest edition of Tatler magazine). By way of a purely serendipitous example of the myriad options now available to the happy couple wanting to marry in surroundings to which they are unlikely ever to become accustomed, a simple dropped vowel during researches for this post inadvertantly took Handed on to the dedicated weddings website of Nether Whichendon House.

see: ArtFund

see: ArtFund

Deep in the Chilterns, this medieval/Tudor house was romantically Gothicised to his own design by Scrope Bernard in the late C18. Sir Francis Bernard (d.1779) had inherited a somewhat neglected pile late in life and his will instructed that the place be sold. And so it was but the buyer, against advice, was to be his youngest son, Scrope, possibly emboldened by his marriage to Harriet Morland…a banking heiress. Nether Whichendon remains in the family: ‘Timelessly enchanting and fabulous, this venue is absolutely unique and perfect for a truly romantic day and wonderful photographs…

…many galleries of which are displayed on their weddings website (there is another detailing public opening times and history). Alongside the pictorial riches afforded by such online marketing, the expansion of the role of the wedding photographer – from cheery snapper to virtual artist-in-residence – has likewise been a great incidental boon for the likes of your humble country house blogger. Gone, seemingly, are those ritualised post-ceremony permutations, now replaced by an immersive, fantasy-tinged photo-documentary of the entire day, often yielding revelatory perspectives of the hosting houses. (Long-standing Handed on readers will appreciate the exciting rarity of these interior images, for example.)

see: Newhouse Estate

see: Newhouse Estate

One particularly novel country house vista can be found on the website of ‘the wedding and special events venue’ that is the 1,300-acre Newhouse Estate in Wiltshire. In the view of one visitor, ‘the most extraordinary object on view at Newhouse is the ‘Hare’ picture (r) said to have been painted about 1640 as a satirical attack on the contemporary Court party‘.² Far be it from Handed on to gainsay the mighty Massingberd but this blog recommends the adjacent easel-mounted ariel perspective of this place for closest inspection.

For, however remarkable anything inside Newhouse might be, nothing can surely trump the extraordinariness of the building itself:

see: Angus Kirk @ flickr

see: Angus Kirk @ flickr

No, this is not a trick of photography but two arms of Newhouse’s three-pronged assault on the architectural senses. The seat of the Eyres and their descendants (today Jeffreys) since 1633, Grade 1-listed Newhouse is a remarkable and surprisingly little-documented survival, being one of only two Y-shaped ‘Trinity’ houses in existence (and much the best, the other being this C17 farmhouse in Herefordshire). ‘In late C16 England people were addicted to hidden meanings. Codes, devices and punning allusions were everywhere..entire buildings were constructed in the form of riddles‘.³ And John Thorpe – one of the six architects memorialised on the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum – was as keen a practitioner as any.

see: Barry Deakin

see: Barry Deakin

Among the few buildings which can be confidently associated with Thorpe are Thomas Tresham’s triangular lodge in Northamptonshire and the similarly triadic Longford Castle near Salisbury in Wiltshire (r). ‘One of the most freakish Elizabethan houses, [it’s] plan based on the shield assigned in medieval heraldry to the Holy Trinity’, Longford has been the seat of the Earls of Radnor since 1717 but had been built in the late C16 for the Gorge family.4 In 1619 Sir Edward Gorge acquired the Newhouse estate a few miles to the S-E, with a ‘Mansion..late erected’, from William Stockman only to sell it again, in 1633, to another local landowner, Giles Eyre. Newhouse would change hands for money one last time in 1660 but on this occasion it was a family deal, Giles’s grandson William selling the place to his cousin, Sir Samuel Eyre, for £2000.

Samuel’s eldest son, lawyer Robert, his inheritance of Newhouse naturally assured, devoted his energies forging a notable parliamentary career. (Younger brother Henry, meanwhile, made his own way, buying in 1733 500 rural acres just outside London called St. John’s Wood. Later developed as a pioneering garden suburb whose character is still policed, the Eyre Estate remains with this branch of the family, the sale in 2011 of a 5.5 acre site yielding some £250 million for the 50 or so present-day beneficiaries of the family trust.)

see: Wikimapia

see: Wikimapia

see: Angus Kirk

see: Angus Kirk

The house inherited by Sir Robert’s son, also Robert, was still in it’s original form (above): a three-storey central hexagon with radial extensions on alternate sides, the entrance facade crowned by a trio of triangular gables. He would add the N-W wing c.1742 which points towards the stable block (above) erected shortly before he died childless in 1752. Newhouse would eventually go to his cousin Samuel whose matching S-E wing balanced the main facade and houses the ballroom which today ‘will seat a maximum of 102 guests for a wedding breakfast’…

…a point in proceedings still usually characterised by civility and order. Which rarely lasts, of course. Alexander Chancellor, the inheritor of ‘two crumbling Inigo Jones pavilions‘ in Northamptonshire, recently revealed the flipside of the country house wedding hosts’ lot : ‘It’s no fun being here when these noisy parties are going on; nor next morning to find my house surrounded by cars that have been left behind by drivers who have drunk too much the night before. Occasionally, I even find condoms in the flowerbeds.’

see: Wikimapia

see: Wikimapia

No doubt in the quarter of a century during which they have been hosting such events the Jeffreys of Newhouse will likewise have encountered their share of eye-opening goings on. But what is equally certain is that the thousands of wedding-goers who have had the pleasure of being their guests in that time will never have seen anything quite like it either…

[Newhouse Estate][Listing][Visit via the HHA]

1. Beckett, J.V. The aristocracy in England 1660-1914, 1986.
2. Massingberd, H. Newhouse in the shape of a ‘Y’, The Field, 21 June 1986.
3. Asquith, C. Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, 2005.
4. Hussey, C. Longford Castle I/II/III, Country Life, Dec 1931.

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