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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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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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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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see:  St. Paul's

see: St. Paul’s

Any visitor to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London will at a certain point assume the position: head back full tilt, bottom lip held between the teeth, the better to survey the glorious dome. And whose handiwork are they gazing upon? Well, if Sir Christopher Wren had had his way, none but his. However, the powers that be decided someone should be invited to colour in the space that Wren had framed.

Though undoubtedly another big-hitter of the English Baroque, the name of muralist James Thornhill has travelled less well down the ages. ‘More memorable as the father-in-law of Hogarth than for his own artistic powers, though these were considerable‘, it was being said as long ago as 1849. And just last week in the course of his fine BBC series Music and Monarchy historian David Starkey spoke to Thornhill’s masterwork in the Painted Hall at Greenwich without attribution. But Sir James – the first artist ever to be knighted for his work – was the foremost decorative artist of his day, his frescoes also adorning the likes of Blenheim and Chatsworth. Thornhill was a son of Dorset and the finest example of his work in his home county can be seen at Charborough House – but only if you happen to live there.

The lack of access to the mural at Charborough is the cause of much chagrin to local Thornhill enthusiasts and historians,’ bemoaned a correspondent to Country Life magazine in 2005.¹ Twenty years earlier writer John Julius Norwich in his weighty tome The architecture of Southern England had recorded, ‘I must confess to not having seen the staircase since I was not allowed in.’

Country Life March 1935

Country Life March 1935

The sight of which they were deprived was of the ‘first rate’² staircase of 1718, richly carved and decorated, working sketches for which survive in various collections (see below). This feature is the centrepiece of a grade I-listed house which has evolved and been added to since the time of the Civil War, much like the name of its owners the stupendously-monikered Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax family.

source: The Huntington

source: The Huntington

Other families had been associated with the Charborough estate prior to the marriage of heiress Mary Wyke to Walter Erle during the time of Elizabeth I but ‘there is no evidence, as far back as records go, of its ever having changed hands by sale‘.³ It was Erle’s grandson, Sir Walter, who would really get stuck into the place. Inheriting in 1597 aged just eleven he would be master of Charborough for 65 years. Buying out local minor gentry through the first half of the C17 he assiduously expanded the estate (today some 7,000 acres in size) and would build a himself a house only to see it all but destroyed in the Civil War.

A very active Parliamentarian, Erle would later pillage Royalist redoubt Corfe Castle for materials to rebuild when the balance of power turned. His replacement seat was a modish single block, seven bays by five, with ‘dormer windows, hipped roofs and lofty chimneystacks typical of the group of Commonwealth houses that include Coleshill and Thorpe Hall‘.† One early visitor was his relation, pioneering travel writer Celia Fiennes who was suitably impressed: ‘The house is new built on ye brow of ye hill whence you have large prospects of 20 mile round. There is a very good Hall at the entrance, the chambers are good and lofty and sizeable, all well wanscoated and painted.

After the insertion of Thornhill’s showstopping staircase at the behest of Sir Walter’s grandson, accomplished soldier Gen. Thomas Erle, the next major remodelling of Charborough was a by-product of the first of many failures of the male line. Thomas’s only child Frances married Sir Edward Ernle, 3rd bt., and they in turn would have two daughters of which only the younger, Elizabeth, married, becoming Mrs Henry Drax (her first cousin). As well as coming into his estate Drax succeeded the general as local MP, emerging as a ‘great favourite’ of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and later his secretary (‘though according to Horace Walpole he could not write his own name‘).

see: Panoramio

see: Panoramio

see: British History

source: RCHM

see: Mike Faherty @ geograph

see: Mike Faherty @ geograph

Drax entertained HRH at Charborough in 1741, the prince being accommodated in specially created quarters, possibly the building perpendicular to the main house which would be developed into the Library by John Nash in the next century. (Nash also oversaw a four-bay extension of the principal block, a pediment and pilasters spanning the join and the whole stuccoed creating the house much as it is today.)†

source: English Heritage

source: RCHM

Lasting but a year the tenure of Henry’s son Edward may have been the shortest of any but yielded the monumental erection that is Charborough Tower standing 150 yards SE of the House and approached by a broad grassed flight.

see: PWilliams @ Flickr

see: PWilliams @ Flickr

Ascent of the tower’s spiral staircase is presumably rewarded with a panoramic vista of the 300-acre deer park (‘the finest in Dorset’²) bounded in the north by a three-mile long brick wall.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

source: English Heritage

source: English Heritage

Also responsible for Charborough’s high Gothic Armoury (above, left), this wall was the creation of Sawbridge Erle-Drax, formerly John Sawbridge of Olantigh Towers, Kent, who married heiress Jane E-D in 1827.

John Palmer@geograph

John Palmer@geograph

The prodigious boundary was constructed in 1841/2 and marked his successful promotion of a turnpike road (now the A31). It is punctuated not just by some statement arches (above, right) but also, latterly, by regular impact holes being something of a notorious traffic accident black spot. ‘Ten to fifteen cars go into it every year..something must be done,’ said one local MP only last year, and one with more than just a passing interest in the matter, being….

…Richard Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, MP for South Dorset, present owner of said wall and all that lies within.

Standing for election as plain Richard Drax, the prospective member denied suggestions that he had been leant on by Tory HQ to ‘de-posh’ his name. Whatever, in selecting Drax from the various options available to him the MP was favouring a name which had been adopted willingly through licence by no less than four predecessors who had married into the family during a long run of Charborough heiresses spanning the entire C19. Their readiness so to do had its roots in the will of Col. Henry Drax (great-uncle of the aforementioned Henry, friend to royalty) and the colonial riches contained therein. Time, alas, for the ‘s’ word.

Or, to be fair, the ‘s’ words: sugar and, unavoidably, slavery. Arriving from England in 1629, 18-year-old James Drax was an early settler on the island of Barbados. Over years of trial and error he developed a sugar production process second to none and from which a fast fortune was made. ‘James Drax was the stand-out success story of the 1640s’, and he, like other plantation owners, would reinvest some of the profits in support of a key element of the business model, the supply of slave labour from Africa.††

Frederick Lange/slaveryimages.com

Frederick Lange/slaveryimages.com

James died back in England in 1661, his younger son Henry eventually inheriting the Barbados operation but producing no direct heir of his own. Instead, his sister Elizabeth Shetterden’s son Thomas was chosen with the proviso he changed his name, ‘and his posterity after him’, to Drax. And so they have, consolidating an inheritance that has included not just Charborough Park but also James Drax’s 1650s house, ‘the oldest surviving Jacobean mansion in the Americas’ (right).††

Like Charborough, Drax Hall still sits at the heart of an operational private estate, the 800-acre sugar plantation also continuing in the ownership of the Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax family to this day.

[Charborough Estate][‘Not your usual MP’]

¹ Country Life, Narch 24, 2005.
² Newman, J. & Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Dorset, 1972.
³ Oswald, Arthur. Country Life, 30 March, 1935.
† Royal Commission on Historical Monuments: Dorset. Vol.2, pt.1, 1970.
†† Parker, Matthew. The sugar barons, 2012.

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see source: Andy F @ geograph.org.uk

They [the National Trust] can’t wait to get their hands on this place.  We don’t want any part of it.”  You tell ’em, Sir Rupert!*  Being Sir Rupert Shuckburgh, 13th baronet and current incumbent of an estate held by the family by direct descent for the best part of 1000 years.  From this blog’s point of view, this is just about as good as it gets: Never been sold, never featured in Country Life, not open to the public and zero web presence.

The house itself, while in no danger of winning one of those rather meaningless ‘England’s Best House’ polls any time soon, does sit well, exuding a distinct rootedness.

Straddling the Warwickshire-Northants border, here’s the lie of the land:

see source: Central Horse News

And, despite his sister’s assertion* that “he’s pretty much cut himself off from the world“, here’s a shot of Sir Rupert in action, at last year’s rain-soaked Napton village show.  Handed on would like to imagine the 13th bart. and his predecessors as perfect candidates for membership of John Galsworthy’s fictional Stoics’ Club: ‘The idea with which its founder had underpinned the edifice was embodied in No.1 of the members’ rules: “No member of this club shall have any occupation whatsoever.”**

It would be great to think that Channel 4’s recently-commissioned series The Aristocracy, promising to offer an “insight into their daily lives”, might try to seek out an estate such as Shuckburgh rather than the Chatsworths of this world.

When those plucky National Trust bods come a-callin’ they are apparently put in the coldest room in the house, “that way they never stay long”. Obviously, Ruth Watson isn’t going to get an invite any time soon.  For, however the Shuckburghs have managed it, ‘punters’ haven’t been required.  An estimable survivor…

[Update: ‘Shuckburgh Hall revisited’]

[Picture update: Sir James Shuckburgh, Sept 2013]

[2014: Some recent images – inc. interiors – available here, here, here & here]

[Aug 2016: The wedding of Sir James Shuckburgh – new images of the Hall]

*Thomas, Marilyn. The Diary: Sex, Death, and God in the Affairs of a Victorian Cleric (2007) [buy]

**Galsworthy, John. The Country House (1907)

[Stay at Park Farm on the estate]

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