Posts Tagged ‘Private’

As a time and a place in which to put down dynastic roots few can surely have been less propitious than the Scottish Borders in the first half of the sixteenth century. If the natives’ perennial confrontations with a territorially ambitious English crown were not enough, sudden havoc and devastation could always lie just over the hill courtesy of avaricious freebooting Border reivers. Loyalties were routinely bought and sold to suit ever-shifting agendas, all parties attempting to exploit volatile circumstances to their particular advantage.


see: Bing Maps

Abutting the north-western extremity of Galashiels, the Torwoodlee estate of the Pringle family was established in the teeth of just such unpromising circumstances. Over 500 years later it survives, having faced down existential threat more than once along the way. The wider Clan Pringle were as active players as any during the Borders’ turbulent history, gaining and losing by turns. William, a younger son of James Pringle (Hoppringle) of Smailholm would branch out ten miles west, fully acquiring Torwoodlee in 1510.

Just one year earlier a thrusting young Henry VIII had ascended the throne; in 1513 his forces would claim the life of William Pringle, being one of the thousands of Scots to fall in the disastrous Battle of Flodden. Decades later Henry’s still unsatisfied ambitions for his dominion would affect the destiny of William’s sons, George and Sandy.

Mary, daughter of James V of Scotland, was born on December 8, 1542; within a week she was queen. Henry quickly resolved to secure a union with his young son Edward, a proposal to which the Scots initially agreed before thinking better of it six months later. Thus began the years of so-called Rough Wooing which included ‘a remarkably systematic English effort to create a body of Scots collaborators’.1 If taken up, formal assurance agreements afforded not only protection from English harassment but license to menace and pillage recalcitrant neighbours if desired.


see: Register of Tartans

With varying degrees of commitment ‘the Pringles – [clan tartan, r] – had signed up as “assured Englishmen”‘.2 Though initially coerced, the subsequent opportunistic alacrity demonstrated by William’s younger son Sandy Pringle came to be ‘regarded as intentional treachery rather than Borders craftiness by his fellow Scots’. So ‘English’ did he become that permanent relocation south of the border was deemed expedient (cushioned by the reward of a pension ‘and monastic grants from a grateful Henry VIII’).3

At one point the English had reason to believe that they also had brother George Pringle, 2nd Laird of Torwoodlee, on side, only to later accuse him of ‘treasonably assisting the Ancient enemies of England’ when his allegiance reverted.2 Pardoned for any such activity in 1551, George now evidently thrived: ‘[He] seems to have been a wealthy man, and to have lived in greater splendour than might have been expected, when security was so precarious.’4 And such apparent prosperity would indeed eventually bring out the very worst in some of Pringle’s fellow borderers, a mob of several hundred sacking the original house in late 1568, looting anything of value and murdering the laird in his bed.


see: milliecitra @ Instagram

Family fortunes would take a generation to recover, George’s grandson – also George – at last being able properly to replace the principal dwelling in 1601. Today approached by an avenue rising through woodland, the ruined remains (r) of George’s ‘very smart house’ stand enshrouded by trees on the 3,000-acre Torwoodlee Estate.5 ‘On a steep slope that was extensively terraced to receive the building,’ its semicircular tower remains distinctive, corbelled two-thirds of the way up to a square top storey [listing].

(For long, the laird has welcomed a visitation to Torwoodlee Tower as an important element of Galashiels’ annual Braw Lads Gathering.)

Their house re-established, George now set about restoring Pringle family honour, criminal prosecution of the families of his grandfather’s assailants resulting in their outlawry and the seizure of assets. Marrying at least three times, George’s first wife Margaret Pringle, of the Pringles of nearby Whytbank, produced their son and heir, James. (One of James’ own daughters, Anna, would also look no further than this branch of Clan Pringle, marrying Alexander, 4th Laird of Whytbank, whilst another, Margaret, married George Pringle, 6th Laird of Buckholm, Torwoodlee’s immediate neighbour to the east.)

If ‘fear and expediency [had given] the English the great bulk of their supporters in Scotland’ during the time of the Rough Wooing, ‘desire for the reformed faith gave them their most devoted supporters’.1 A century on, the rising influence of James, Duke of York (later King James II) saw the religious tide begin to turn once again. Having previously fought the royal cause in Scotland, George Pringle – ‘a staunch friend of the Covenant‘ who succeeded his father at Torwoodlee in 1657 – would now ‘suffer greatly on account of his religion’.6


see: Nat.Galleries of Scotland

The 6th Laird (left) became a key ally of James’ arch-enemy Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll. The latter’s dubious prosecution and resultant death sentence in 1681 led to the earl’s audacious prison escape whence he headed initially for Torwoodlee, an expectant George Pringle supplying fresh horses and assistance to England. Argyll would ultimately find refuge in Holland to where in time Pringle himself also fled. The pair made an ill-fated return in 1685, Pringle being amongst many exiled Scots to support Argyll’s doomed overthrow of James II.

The ambitious earl was captured and executed; Pringle managed to escape back to Holland but Torwoodlee was confiscated and given to a royal ally. During his time abroad pressure for information was exerted on George’s only son, James, the teenager resisting threats that ‘every bone in his body would be broken, his flesh ripped up and boiling lead and oil poured into him’.6 The successful invasion by William of Orange in 1688 saw Pringle’s eventual return but his homecoming was brief, dying the following year, aged 58.

torsketchTorwoodlee would soon be restored to Pringle family ownership and, overdue a period of stability and calm, the tenure of James (d.1735) was long and relatively uneventful, that of his son even more so. Bachelor George, the 8th Laird, ‘hardly appears in the records [and] seems to have lived quietly’, sharing Torwoodlee with various spinster sisters.6 At his demise in 1780 all now passed to his nephew James…

… the one and only time Torwoodlee has failed to pass from father to son in its 500-plus year history. (Every laird since has been named James.)

Upon inheriting, 21-year-old James promptly threw up his legal studies and began what would be a defining incumbency stretching across six decades. Losing little time, in 1782 the young squire married Elizabeth Tod, co-heiress of the Dryburgh estate ten miles south-east of Torwoodlee. This property would soon be sold which was opportune since in 1783 the Pringles not only welcomed the birth of their first son but would also set about building themselves a fashionable new residence.


see: Canmore

Eschewing the increasingly redundant defensive vernacular in favour of Georgian comfort and elegance, the new Torwoodlee House was typical of the neat classical country villas now going up in the Scottish Borders. Attributed to emerging Kelso architect William Elliot, Torwoodlee’s ‘main block of two storeys over a high basement’ would be linked to flanking low pavilions ‘by screen walls originally topped by decorative urns’.5


see: Canmore

The original five-bay south-facing entrance front is seemingly little-altered, ‘an excellent predimented doorway approached by a graceful flight of steps’ (r).5 The house was completed in 1785, the expense incurred being further defrayed by the sale of nearby Bowland, an estate which had been acquired by James’ father in 1752. Local literary superstar Sir Walter Scott would be among the subsequent visitors to ‘Mr. Pringle’s beautiful seat’.

James died in 1840 and the rest of the 19th century at Torwoodlee would be seen out by his namesake son and then grandson both of whom joined the Royal Navy at a young age. ‘Though not lucky enough to have been at any of the great naval battles,’ his father’s longevity enabled the 10th Laird to rise to the rank of rear-admiral at his retirement in 1846.7 Thirteen years later his son Commander James Pringle would in turn come ashore upon inheriting Torwoodlee and its ‘neat and substantial mansion’.


see: Iain Lees

For reasons of privacy, this James soon decided that the house should be turned round, the entrance now facing north. In robust Victorian fashion his new centre breaks boldly from the relatively chaste original composition, capped by an armorial pediment rising to the roof ridgeline. Peddie & Kinnear were engaged for the project, the prolific Edinburgh practice also heightening the twin pavilions. Internally, the original entrance hall ‘was incorporated into the existing drawing room’.5


see: Canmore

In 1854 James’ sister Elizabeth had married John Borthwick, 14th Laird of Crookston, an estate 15 miles further up the Gala Water valley, held by this family since the 15th century. Producing no children, Crookston passed to Borthwick’s brother, William, whose two eldest sons would head back downriver, finding brides in the shape of James Pringle’s daughters, Melana and Adelaide. Meanwhile, the sisters’ eldest sibling, John, dying young, brother James duly inherited Torwoodlee in 1902 and would see the estate through the first half of the 20th century.


see: Southern Reporter

In recent times attention has focused on old Torwoodlee Tower, which was ultimately abandoned after the family transferred to their new house. Funded by a combination of Roxburghe Estate windfarm bounty and an appeal to the global diaspora of Clan Pringle, the ruin is preserved, as befits a ‘monument of national importance .. which has the potential to contribute to our knowledge of the changing nature of polite architecture during this transitional period’. (With ‘impressive ancient oaks’, Torwoodlee’s parkland, too, is ‘a site of some interest that deserves further investigation’.8)

torsquiIn contrast to the civility of the Category A-listed House, the old stone Tower is a reminder of wilder times in the Scottish Borders. Not, of course, that the present (14th) Laird of Torwoodlee is entirely above taking sides and going into battle against pesky territorial invaders…


[Torwoodlee Estate][Clan Pringle]

1. Merriman, M.H. The assured Scots, The Scottish historical review, Vol.47, No.143, 1968.
2. Tait, J. Dick the devil’s bairns: Breaking the Border mafia, 2018.
3. Miekle, M.M. Lairds and gentlemen: A study of the landed families of the eastern Anglo-Scottish borders. [Thesis, PDF] Edin. Univ., 1988.
4. Burke, B. A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the landed gentry, 1848.
5. Cruft, K., Dunbar, J., Fawcett, R. Buildings of Scotland: Borders, 2006.
6. Pringle, A. The records of the Pringles or Hoppringles of the Scottish border, 1933.
7. Carre, W.R. Border memories, or Sketches of prominent men and women of the border, 1876.
8. Borders designed landscapes survey, Peter McGowan Associates, 2009.


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Coming very soon to a cinema near you, Downton Abbey the movie – perhaps an inevitable development given the international success of the television franchise which ran to fifty-two episodes over the course of five years. Not forgetting, of course, Downton Abbey the board game (see below)! Although the conventional costume drama depicting the fortunes of the aristocratic Crawley family and their household is entirely fictional, its scenarios are rooted in the common experience of many British country house estates.

melbgameThe themes of Series One, for instance – primogeniture, the premature demise of male heirs and the significance of the daughters of the house – find echoes in the history of Melbury House and the Ilchester Estate in Dorset. And one person you probably wouldn’t want to find yourself playing that board game with is Melbury’s present owner who is not, these days, an earl of Ilchester.


see: Google Maps

Today Robin Fox-Strangways, the 10th of that ilk, lives on this road in rural Warwickshire and not – unlike most of his predecessors – at grade I Melbury, ‘one of the most remarkable houses in south-west England’ and the centrepiece of the 15,000-acre Ilchester Estate.1


see: Google Maps

The 10th earl might perhaps compare notes with John Monckton-Arundell, the 13th Viscount Galway, who lives on this suburban road in Toronto, Canada, and not, as most of  his predecessors had, at the ancestral seat, grade I Serlby Hall set in 3,000 north Nottinghamshire acres (), created by architect James Paine for the 1st viscount in 1751. In fact both house and land would be sold in the 1980s as surplus to requirements since..

.. over the course of the preceding decades the slings and arrows of fortune had conspired such that both the Ilchester and Galway estates had devolved to just one woman, the present Mrs. Charlotte Townshend.


see: Rumblefish

The premature death at just 41 of the 9th Viscount Galway in 1971 would see the decoupling of title and estate, Charlotte, his only child, ultimately inheriting the latter (left), the title going to a series of cousins. Viscount Galway was married to Teresa Fox-Strangways who had similarly benefited in 1964 as the only surviving child of the 7th Earl of Ilchester. She died in 1989, daughter Charlotte now also becoming principal beneficiary of the Ilchester estate.

But all this was nothing new for Melbury. After the demise of the Strangways male line in 1726, ‘inheritance by two heiresses in succession meant that women played an unusually important part in shaping the destiny of [this] house and estate in the 18th century‘.2 The big headline from Country Life magazine’s primogeniture survey of 2011 (‘Daughters are beginning to inherit‘) demonstrated that Melbury has long been ahead of this particular curve.

Uncannily foreshadowing the tragedies which would befall the 7th earl over two hundred years later, the two sons of 18th-century Melbury heiress Susanna Strangways died young leaving just a daughter. In stealthily engineering thirteen-year-old Elizabeth’s marriage to the son of wealthy Sir Stephen Fox (‘one of the great arrivistes of the 17th Century’3) Susanna would unwittingly gold-plate the Ilchester inheritance, a cousinly connection with the Foxs/Lords Holland later yielding the Holland House estate in west London.

melbroadsigns‘Residential property on Ilchester Place is the most expensive in the country,’ it was reported last year. This landholding now amounts to a mere twenty-or-so acres but they – more so even than 15,000 glorious acres of Dorset – explain how private Melbury and its vast park ‘have been kept up as well and as fully as in the past’.4 And more directly they account for Charlotte Townshend’s ranking in the Sunday Times Rich List which, at £456m in 2019, is comfortably north of, er, the Queen’s.


Harpers & Queen March 1990

Being ‘the only other person in Britain entitled to own swans‘, Townshend’s ‘near monarchical existence (she never carries money)’ became the object of print media fascination in the late 1980s and early ’90s, a curiosity then as now largely frustrated by the landowner’s ‘low key’, determinedly traditional custodianship of her more than 500-year-old inheritance.


The Moncktons, viscounts Galway, became ‘Monckton-Arundell‘ after a legacy of 1769. Although Charlotte, only child of the 9th viscount, did not carry the latter half of her father’s name prior to marriage, being an ‘Arundell’ in fact redoubled her connection with the original builder of her maternal inheritance (and present home), Melbury House. For Sir Giles Strangways (d.1547) was the son and heir of Henry Strangways by his first wife, Dorothy, the daughter of Sir John Arundell of Lanherne.

But it was Henry’s third marriage to Catherine Brouning which would introduce the Strangways to the manor of Melbury Sampford (midway between Dorchester and Yeovil), Henry purchasing the reversion of the Brouning estate from his wife’s nephew in 1500. Dying just four years later, this Dorset acquisition may have been a late addition to a legacy which now included ‘property in eight counties’ but it would become, in the latter half of Henry VIII’s reign, the place where his son and heir Giles elected to build a house. And not just any house.

melbbelvcolourDisplaying ‘influences beyond the local vernacular, one has to turn to the Tudor royal palaces for architectural parallels’.1 The square courtyard principal block was of a ‘regularity in advance of its time’.6 While the other facades of the house were later to be significantly refashioned, ‘the west range [remains] largely untouched’ (right), Melbury’s crowning 16th-century feature, the hexagonal tower and viewing lantern, rising from a cross wing at its centre.1 ‘Without a peer for prominence,’7 the belvedere ‘must have been one of the first erected in England’.6

Knighted at 30, Sir Giles ‘spent a lifetime in the service of the crown’ and was well placed to expand his landholding in the county by snapping up the coastal estate of the former Abbotsbury Abbey after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Chesil Beach

see: Dorset Rambler


see: Abbotsbury Swannery

Most of 18-mile Chesil Beach, and Abbotsbury village with its unique swannery and subtropical garden, remain in the family.

Giles Strangways lost his son Henry as the pair fought the French at the siege of Boulogne but he lived just long enough to see his grandson satisfactorily married. Alas, the second Sir Giles Strangways ‘lived – and died – extravagantly. In June 1555 he surrendered himself to the Fleet to avoid outlawry for debts that included over £100 to two London tailors. When he died in his early thirties in 1562, he left his widow with at least six children under 21.’ But the family estates were to be most seriously imperiled two generations on.

Wadham College Chapel

see: Trover

Things began rather propitiously for young John Strangways who inherited 6,000 acres of Dorset and Somerset upon coming of age in 1606, becoming ‘Sir John’ two years later and joint-heir of wealthy Nicholas Wadham in 1609. (The latter’s will would also lead to the founding of Wadham College, Oxford, the chapel of which still features the east window donated by Strangways, right.)

unknown artist; Sir John Strangways, MP

see: Art UK

At Westminster during the reign of Charles I, Sir John (left) did his bit to try to shore up ‘that chain which links and unites the hearts and affections of the prince and people together’, but which would eventually snap with the outbreak of the Civil War. Though he was a relatively moderate Royalist Strangways languished for two years in Tower of London, the price of the return of his freedom and sequestrated estates being an eye-watering ten thousand pounds. Sir John died in 1666.

Less than nine years on, the ‘sudden death from a stroke of his rubicund, hearty son Giles ought not to have surprised anyone: Strangways’ accounts for sack and sherry had long been Falstaffian’. And the demise of Giles’ first-born just a year later would have lasting impact as the ensuing tenure of his younger son Thomas would be most notable for a major overhaul of the character of Melbury House…


see: Historic England

… where a large family portrait was soon to dominate the landing of a new principal stair. In the background Melbury is depicted in a more radicial treatment (minus the tower) than would in fact be executed. Also to be found in Melbury’s art collection is the likeness of one ‘Mr. Watson, architect to Tho. Strangways esq, who enlarged & adorned this house 1692‘. Being the otherwise distinctly obscure John Watson, a local practicioner selected for the task of giving the Tudor house a contemporary makeover.

melbchristies1The north and south fronts received near-identical treatment (r), five two-storey bays defined by stacked pilasters being squeezed between the existing gable ends. The east front, however, was entirely rebuilt, the result being described variously as ‘delightfully provincial confusion’7 or ‘maldroit artisan Baroque’.8 Fronting three new rooms including a 5-bay hall was ‘a Classical facade of 11 bays with an overly narrow central section and a pediment which uncomfortably fails to span the full width’.(↓)1


see: Historic England

While certain important earlier features, including an elaborate 17th-century fireplace, would be preserved, ‘much internally is of the Watson period’, including a pair of Grinling melbceilingGibbons-like carved overmantels in the hall and several spectacular painted ceilings.7

Thomas Strangways died in 1713, his childless heir Thomas jnr. thirteen years later at which point Melbury was inherited by the latter’s sisters, Elizabeth and Susanna. Spinster Elizabeth, 36, suddenly became attractive to the 5th Duke of Hamilton; the success of their marriage can perhaps be gauged by the complete absence of the duke from his wife’s will following her death less than two years after the event. Having unusual autonomy over her own property, Elizabeth now bequeathed her stake in the Strangways estate to her sister and with the express proviso that her brother-in-law was in no way to ‘intermedle’ therewith.2

In the year of their father’s death Susanna had married Thomas Horner (of Mells in Somerset) but this union, likewise – notwithstanding the birth of three children – was an unhappy one. Flexing her newly enhanced financial muscle, soon after her sister’s death Susanna took herself off to Europe for several years, Elizabeth (the couple’s only surviving child) in tow, leaving her increasingly vexed husband behind. Whilst abroad Susanna would strike up an ambiguous relationship with Henry Fox, later 1st Baron Holland, a younger son of Sir Stephen Fox (who had risen ‘to immense wealth and public prominence from humble origins’ at the court of Charles II).


see: National Trust

The pair would persuade Henry’s eligible elder brother Stephen, 31 (left, seated), hitherto distracted by a decade-long homosexual relationship with John, Lord Hervey (second right), to regularise his lifestyle by secretly marrying the now 13-year-old Elizabeth in 1735. (William Hogarth painted this conversation piece for both men; Fox’s version remains at Melbury.) The marital fait accompli was the final ignominy for Elizabeth’s father who would go to his grave unreconciled in 1741.


see: Historic England

The following year, with her daughter now satisfactorily ensconced as mistress of the Fox seat at Redlynch less than thirty miles to the north, a liberated Susanna threw herself into projects at Melbury. Most particularly, the surrounding parkland received a significant (if somewhat passe) overhaul. Avenues would be incised through woodland providing ‘wild walks’ culminating in splendid vistas while water courses were manipulated to create cascades. All of which could be contemplated in repose from an existing garden house newly tricked out in fashionable Gothick style (r).8

Her son-in-law having been raised to the peerage in 1741, two years before her death Susannah would have the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth’s status elevated to that of countess, Stephen Fox being created 1st Earl of Ilchester in 1756. The couple now exchanged Redlynch for Melbury House (and later a new mansion – Elizabeth’s ‘Pin-money Castle’ – at Abbotsbury, since demolished) where the countess would indulge her love of card games for up to eight hours a day.2

Beach, Thomas, 1738-1806; Henry Thomas Fox-Strangways (1747-1802), 2nd Earl of Ilchester

see: National Trust

To what extent this habit influenced their son and heir Henry’s proclivity for gambling is unclear; the 2nd earl routinely lost thousands in an evening at the tables. After his mother’s death in 1792, Henry relocated not just his family but also some choice furnishings from Redlynch to Melbury: Mortlake tapestries now adorned the Breakfast Room, with surplus items from the two houses being dispersed in a sale in 1801. The 2nd earl died the following year and ‘Redlynch would never be lived in again by the family’ (the 4,400-acre estate finally being sold for £97,000 in 1912).2


see source

Squire of Melbury for half a century Henry, 3rd Earl of Ilchester, picked up the loose ends of his father’s upheavals, restoring “all the old-fashioned grandeur”, but was himself disinclined towards major change.2 Both sons predeceasing him, Henry’s 62-year-old half-brother William inherited as 4th earl in 1858 after a lifetime in the diplomatic service. Dying childless seven years later, the 4th earl’s young nephew, Henry Fox-Strangways now succeeded to the title and a 20,000-acre portfolio which was soon to a receive an initially burdensome but potentially valuable south-eastern supplement.


In 1768 Susanna Strangway’s erstwhile favourite Henry Fox, now Lord Holland, had acquired a 200-acre estate not far from royal Kensington Palace west of London complete with an imposing Jacobean mansion, Holland House. Legendary entertaining therein by later generations drained the family coffers, however, and from the 1820s the parkland would be steadily eroded by leasehold residential development.

melbShawUltimately, the widow of the 4th Baron Holland brokered the sale of the estate to her husband’s kinsman Henry, 5th Earl of Ilchester, who soon initiated further bespoke building work on the heavily-mortgaged property. From 1875 a series of large houses ‘designed by leading architects for successful artists’ would be erected on the north side of Kensington High Street.9 Holland House itself was preserved only to be destroyed in WWII. While the surviving parkland was sold to London Corporation and remains a prized public amenity, the very exclusive real estate has been retained. (‘Written consent is required from the Ilchester Estate for any external alteration to the appearance of your house’ – Holland Park Conservation Area Appraisal 2017).


This metropolitan focus had occasioned an interruption to the expansionist 5th earl’s programme of substantial developments at Melbury, which eventually ‘doubled the size of the house’. In 1872 architect Anthony Salvin had removed the conservatory in the south-west corner and added a cavernous gable-roofed library extending from the short transverse tudor wing on the west front.



Twelve years on George Devey warmed to this theme, adding a second tower (above), a service range abutting the library and a port-cochere to the right of the north (entrance) front with an enclosed courtyard beyond, all in ‘stage set’ Jacobethan style.1


see: NPG

Dying in 1905, the 5th earl’s half-century at Melbury would be precisely matched by his son, the reserved but ‘engagingly frivolous’ family historian Giles (left, d.1959), at which point the reins were handed over to his own son, Edward.10 But the ill-starred 7th earl outlived his father by only five years having already endured double tragedy with the loss of both sons. In 1947 a fatal accident while cycling home from shooting grey squirrels in the woods had claimed 13-year-old Giles. Eleven years on, younger son Stephen, 20, was shot in the back by Greek terrorists in Cyprus just weeks from the end of his National Service.

Thus in 1964 the Ilchester estate passed to Edward Fox-Strangways’s remaining daughter Theresa (by this time Viscountess Galway), the earldom drifting away to distant male relations.


Tatler [January 2014]

As outlined earlier, at the 9th viscount’s premature death his Serlby Hall estate was placed in trust for the couple’s only child Charlotte who, by the time she additionally came into Melbury in 1989, had already married and divorced her first husband, Guy, the father of Melbury’s present heir, Simon Morrison (b.1984, right).


see: Dorset Magazine


see: Hampshire Chronicle

Melbury’s chatelaine – seen, left, in the Salvin library – was remarried to industrial farmer and fellow hunting enthusiast James Townshend (r) in 1995. The following year saw the arrival of their daughter, rising eventer Melissa Townshend

… and also the departure of several hundred of Melbury’s ‘accumulated contents no longer in use’.11 Now a single sock could perhaps be regarded as the epitome of redundancy. But spared from inclusion in the decluttering Christie’s auction was ‘one of the socks worn by Napoleon I at the time of his death’..


Hogarth’s ‘The Indian Emperor’

.. said item being among 497 ‘heritage assets’ at Melbury House qualified for exemption from Inheritance Tax and Capital Gains Tax with the proviso they are made available ‘for the general public to view’. The annual Heritage Open Days festival provides strictly limited opportunity to see some of Melbury’s Old Master-laden rooms – ‘the 18th Century at its most sumptuous and civilized’4 – and, maybe, the odd sock…

[Ilchester Estates]

1. Hill, M. West Dorset country houses, 2014.
2. Martin, J. Wives and daughters: women & children in the Georgian country house, 2004.
3. Beckett, JV. The aristocracy in England 1660-1914, 1986.
4. Cecil, D. Some Dorset country houses: a personal selection, 1985.
5. Daily Mail 7 June, 1995.
6. Oswald, A. Country houses of Dorset, 1959.
7. Hill, M., Newman, J., Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Dorset, 2018.
8. Mowl, T. Historic gardens of Dorset, 2003.
9. Sheppard, FHW (ed.) Survey of London: North Kensington, 1973.
10. Oxford dictionary of national biography, 2004.
11. Russell, F. The Melbury sale, Christie’s 14 Oct, 1996.


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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 the 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.


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-20th century 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 17th century, funded by income from legal services, the Pearce, Wredenhall, 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.


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.


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…


see source


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.’


Country Life


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.

With sufficient means any amount of finery might be acquired but 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.


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.”


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.


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’.)


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.’


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)


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


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.)


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


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.)


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…


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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The turn of a new century would prove to be somewhat more than a symbolic harbinger of change in the life of Mr. Roger Jenyns, Esq. In little more than two years from 1700 this gent would: gain a knighthood, acquire a country house and estate, lose one wife (their three children having all previously died in infancy), and marry another. The estate was at Bottisham, seven mile east of Cambridge, a place which, precisely one hundred years on, would welcome a son for whom life was to unfold in altogether more sedate fashion.


see: Google Maps

The Rev. Leonard Jenyns lived all but seven years of the C19. His first post after university saw him venture north from Bottisham Hall .. about 800 yards north, to the adjacent parish of Swaffham Bulbeck which he would serve for the next thirty years. ‘I have never been abroad,’ he declared¹ in his 89th year, a lack of adventurousness not – as we shall see – without…

… its own historical significance but which was untypical of the spirit which had first brought the Jenyns family to this place, and where they remain to this day.


On the morning of May 30, 1649, at a house in London’s Temple Bar, nine gentlemen gathered in a mood of businesslike self-congratulation, the previous day having seen the passing of a private parliamentary Act ‘for draining the Great Level of the Fens‘. Senior among those assembled was the 5th Earl of Bedford (later 1st Duke thereof) who was spearheading the revival of his late father’s ambitious scheme, a project interrupted by the Civil War but now given fair wind by Fenlander Oliver Cromwell. This epic undertaking was to be bankrolled by private investors, termed ‘Adventurers’, in return for rights in much of the land reclaimed.

Also present that morning was one Thomas Jenyns, younger son of Hertfordshire squire Sir John Jenyns and at this time a leaseholder of land in Hayes, Middlesex. Despite the many tribulations of the Fens enterprise, the family’s investment was plainly fruitful. In 1677 Thomas’s son, Roger, would acquire the manor of Hayes, having been one of twenty-seven Adventurers who constituted the original board of the Bedford Level Corporation. Subsequent generations ‘filled many of the most responsible offices of the Corporation’ until well into the nineteenth century.²

Roger Jenyns served ‘successively as conservator, bailiff, and surveyor general of Fens till his death in 1693’ whereupon he was succeeded as surveyor by his eldest son, John (also MP for Cambridgeshire 1701-17). They are among many Jenyns interred in Hayes church but Roger’s namesake younger son would be strikingly memorialised in Cambridgeshire having relocated closer to the heart of the action.

Behind a screen in Holy Trinity church, Bottisham, life-size effigies of Sir Roger Jenyns and his second wife, Elizabeth Soame, sit reposed in night attire, a composition which raised eyebrows in the first half of the C18. Knighted in recognition of his Fenland endeavours, Sir Roger had purchased the old estate of the Alington family at Bottisham, on the edge the Fens.


see: RCHM

At the heart of this property was the C15 moated manor house which ‘shortly after 1700 Jenyns remodelled (r), refacing it in red brick and converted the moat into a ‘canal”. And so it would remain thoughout the long lifetime of Sir Roger’s son and heir, save for the installing of a ‘large library’ as might befit…

…  the lively mind of one of the eighteenth century’s more impish men of letters.

For Soame Jenyns (1704-87) life was rarely dull. Leaving Cambridge University without taking his degree, Soame promptly entered into a marriage – contrived by his father – with his first cousin Mary Soame, a young heiress (‘of between 20 and £30,000‘) of whom Sir Roger was guardian. In summer the three lived ‘tolerably well together’ at Bottisham but in winter Soame preferred the diversions of London, ‘his mind by some means warped aside to the paths of infidelity’.


see: National Trust

A sparkling conversationalist, Soame’s urbane charm compensated for an unfortunate physical appearance. ‘Jenyns was so ugly that when [the playwright] Richard Sheridan’s sister met him at a reading party she judged him “the most hideous mortal” she had ever beheld’.³ A dandyish sartorial style went only so far in distracting from various facial tumours, broken teeth and ‘a laugh scarcely human’. Horace Walpole held Soame’s portrait by Reynolds (r) to be veritable ‘proof of Sir Joshua’s art’.³

But from an (initially) anonymous debut verse, The art of dancing, Soame fancied himself at home in the rarified company of such sharp wordsmiths, becoming a prolific, whimsically provocative poet and pamphleteer on matters topical and philosophical. One particular work, A free inquiry into the nature and origins of evil, would be remembered by posterity but, alas, more for the celebrated critique it attracted from Dr Samuel Johnson who decided that its author needed ‘to be thrashed in full view of the public’.4

johnsonWhile he received hate mail, ‘letters charged with great acrimony [and] much abuse’, the lofty barbs from the editor of The Literary Magazine were perhaps more wounding. Suggesting a more fitting subject for Jenyns’ next disquisition, Johnson wrote: ‘I should wish that he would solve this question, Why he that has nothing to write, should desire to be a writer.’ Twenty years after his death it would be said of Soame, ‘He wrote verses upon dancing, and prose upon the origin of evil; yet he was a very indifferent metaphysician, and a worse dancer’.

Matters were no less turbulent on the home front. Soon after old Sir Roger died Jenyns’s wife eloped with the MP for Nottinghamshire, notorious philanderer William Levinz (itself ‘extraordinary [as] she was noways inviting’). But Soame did not have to look far for a replacement, marrying another cousin, the importunate Elizabeth Grey, who had been taken in at Bottisham Hall several years previously.


see: RCHM

As productive as his long life was (being also a dilligent MP, mostly for Cambridge, and public administrator over 35 years) at his death in 1787 Soame had no direct heir. So Bottisham now passed to his uncle’s great-grandson, the Rev. George Leonard Jenyns, who proceeded to sell off the contents of the old Hall which was then demolished in favour of a new house built just yards away (r).

‘We are well into the Neo-Classical period, and – in Cambridgeshire especially – the accompanying rejection of the great house type in favour of more compact, villa-like plans.’ Fashioned from the characteristic white bricks of the chalky Cambridgeshire Gault, Bottisham Hall is ‘an attractive and gratifying intact house of two tall storeys in the Wyatt manner’5


see: Jason Webb


see: RCHM

… initially on a square plan (an L-shaped service wing being added later). The semi-circular central bay fronts an oval entrance hall; further in, ‘the main staircase rises around three sides of the ‘D’-shaped stairhall and returns to a landing [featuring] a screen of two Ionic columns’.‘Much of the furniture acquired c.1800 remains in the house.’

Over the next two decades Rev. Jenyns would also greatly expand the parkland around the house creating the present 140-acre private domain – as one 2016 visitor noted, ‘many locals told us this was the first time they had entered the Hall’s grounds’ – of which his youngest son would be especially appreciative. ‘Cambridgeshire being open country, the gardens and plantations were like an oasis in the desert,’ recalled Rev. Leonard Jenyns (1800-93) reflecting upon a lifetime of scholarly local fieldwork which would see him become ‘an eminent, much respected naturalist’.7


see: Yale Center

Somewhat regretful that his father, ‘while quite a young man, came into possession of all of the Bottisham Hall property .. leading him to abandon ways and habits suitable to a clergyman’, Leonard’s studious inclinations flowed from his mother and her immediate family.¹ Mary Heberden was the daughter and sister of distinguished physicians (her portrait being painted for his doctor by a grateful Thomas Gainsborough). But his father, being canon of Ely Cathedral, did have his uses…

… young Leonard being appointed curate at the church closest to the Hall directly upon ordination allowing continued study of the local flora and fauna, often in the company of his ex-Cambridge friends.


see: Bing Maps

“I shall never forget, as long as I may live, the happy hours I spent with you at Bottisham,” wrote Charles Darwin, whose later renown Jenyns would inadvertently assist. For in 1831 Captain FitzRoy had offered Jenyns the berth as naturalist aboard HMS Beagle ahead of his five-year expedition to South America. Citing parish responsibilities and uncertain health Leonard would decline the invitation recommending instead his young friend, Darwin. The rest is (natural) history.


see: accessart

On this day two years ago a pair of windows commemorating Rev. Jenyns were unveiled in the porch of Swaffham Bulbeck church by the present owner of Bottisham Hall. Leonard’s father was himself vicar (for over fifty years) of Swaffham Prior just a mile or so further up the lane. The land between these two villages is principally occupied by the parkland of Swaffham Prior House. It was here in 1901 that the prolific bestselling novelist H. Rider Haggard was put up by squire Charles Allix as he travelled about taking the pulse of post-depression Rural England for the Daily Express.


Bulbeck Beacon (Jan 2015)

As Mr. Allix and his near neighbour, Roger Jenyns of Bottisham Hall (1858-1936), explained to the writer, ‘Some of the old Cambridgeshire families still remain but during the last score of years most of them have melted away, their place filled by an influx of millionaires’. In the 1980s Swaffham Prior House was itself sold to a local millionaire who would be knighted for his commitment to the region, as Sir Roger Jenyns had been three centuries before. But at the latter’s Bottisham estate, presently the home of his namesake (right), change remains a relative stranger…


¹ Blomefield (formerly Jenyns), L. Chapters in my life, 1889.
² Wells, S. The history of the drainage of the great level of the Fens, 1830.
³ Rompkey, R. Soame Jenyns, 1984.
4 Hanley, B. Samuel Johnson as book reviewer, 2003.
5 Bradley, S, Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, 2014.
6 Kenworthy-Browne, J., et al. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses: East Anglia, 1981.
7 Dictionary of national biography, 2004.

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‘Reader, I married him’

– Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre


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.


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.]


see: Bing 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’.


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.


‘Hinton Place’ (see: British Library)


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


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.

opmBodorgan 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


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.


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


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…


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.


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.)


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


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]

[Update 2019: From the reclaimed, reincarnated walled garden at Bodorgan comes Positive Potions – founder Candida Meyrick talks about the health drinks venture in a TV interview here.]

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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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


see: Peter Barr @ geograph


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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 never-sold 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 House 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 onto 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 Place 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.


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 Joseph’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

Some of Treffry’s workforce had not always shown him such respect, however. 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 episode 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 turn the tables?


see: Cornish Escapes

[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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One day in October 1998 on the Rhug estate in north Wales, Robert Wynn, 8th Baron Newborough, blasted his late father out of an C18 cannon. The ceremonial scattering of his ashes in this explosive fashion was a fitting finale to the life of ‘Micky’ Wynn, a decorated war hero and Colditz inmate who, as we shall see, also had ‘previous’ when it came to loosing off the family’s antiquated arsenal. The cannon was a remnant of many such owned by the Wynns down the ages just as Rhug (pro. reeg) is the last of several notable houses to remain in their possession.

see: Country Life

see: Country Life

That Rhug should have finally emerged as the locus of this dynasty was never obvious, it being the only Wynn house they did not actually build and also the only one of their four properties to be located away from the family’s historical stamping ground west of Snowdonia.

Rhug comprises some 12,500 acres which in all likelihood have never changed hands for money and which have descended through three families since 1500. The Newborough estates were certainly among the great Welsh landholdings, 28,800 acres being recorded in 1873. For four centuries until 1971 444 of these were accounted for by Bardsey Island off the Lleyn Peninsula, one of many disposals by the 7th Lord Newborough who would also sell the original seat of the Wynns, Bodfean Hall.

see: Coflein

see: Coflein

‘A large mansion in the Georgian style built in 1736, remodelled and greatly expanded in the late C19,’ Bodfean (aka Plas Boduan) was relinquished in 1967 and its contents sold separately. As the Sunday Times noted, ‘It was the type of auction which will become increasingly rare; in which Hepplewhite, Chippendale and Sheraton furniture looked as if it had remained unmoved since it had been bought.’¹

Generations of fealty to the Crown had helped the family accrue a sizeable estate, and then a baronetcy for the builder of Bodfean Hall, Sir Thomas Wynn (d. 1749). The latter’s marriage to heiress Frances Glynne would in due course yield the Glynllifon estate to the north which by the time his grandson had been enobled as the 1st Baron Newborough had become the family’s principal seat.

see: Phil Taylor/Panoramio

Phil Taylor@Panoramio

‘A moderate sized brick mansion of 1751′ burned down in 1836, Spencer, 3rd Lord Newborough then commissioning the elongated neo-classical affair we see today. While the land here has been retained the 102-room house has had a rather chequered history since 1949 when it was vacated by Thomas, 5th Lord Newborough citing “high taxation and because I find it almost impossible to get staff.”

Money troubles but entirely of his own making had also forced the flight from this place of Thomas, 1st Lord Newborough (1736-1807). Still to be seen at Glynllifon are the 8-mile estate wall and the tower and armoury he styled Fort Williamsburg, all testament to defensive preoccupations which would be most spectacularly expressed some three miles north at the entrance to the Menai Straits.

Dave Dunford@BLB

Dave Dunford@BLB

‘Notable for being the only purpose built fortress of the American Revolution on this side of the Atlantic,’ low-lying Fort Belan would later stand primed (with Newborough’s own full-time militia) to repel the Napeolonic threat. But live action came there none and the place would be later converted for domestic family use. (The guns always remained serviceable, however, as the 7th Lord Newborough for one regularly delighted in proving, incurring a minor criminal conviction in the process. The Daily Mail amongst others reported his 1976 prosecution after ‘a 9lb cannonball whistled a quarter of a mile across the Straits, damaging a yacht sail and frightening people on the beach.’)²

While Newborough’s well-intentioned ‘military fantasies’ helped gain him a peerage they would also reduce him to a state of financial embarrassment such that he eventually felt ‘obliged to live obscurely abroad’. So it was that in 1782 a newly widowed Newborough relocated with his young son to Tuscany where he remained for ten years and where, fatefully, he would meet a girl called Maria.

see: Your Paintings

see: Your Paintings

Maria Stella Petronilla was a minor starlet of the Florence stage. She was also just 13. Though 35 years her senior Newborough became smitten, bedazzling her low-born but ambitious parents into the cause of winning round the reluctant Maria. In a sensational memoir some forty years later the second Lady Newborough (r) recalled her teenage dread: ‘Realising that it was not a joke, I implored them to let me become a nun, [anything] so long as I was not forced to make such a detestable match.’ But the grown-ups got their way, the eventual return of the squire to Glynllifon with his unlikely new bride giving rise to no little excitement in north Wales and the salons of the capital.

In 1800 Newborough’s 27-year-old son and heir died; his stepmother, 26, would yield once more. ‘His father’s grief was so great, and he had always shown me so much kindness, that I at last felt it to be my duty to make the most painful sacrifice for his sake.’ The future 2nd and 3rd Lord Newboroughs duly resulted.

see source

see source

In a rather amazing parallel Thomas, the 5th baron, would also make a controversial second marriage to an exotic Continental woman 37 years his junior who would later publish a tell-all memoir. The tenor of Denisa, Lady Newborough’s ‘Fire in my blood’ may be adduced by its lengthy serialisation in the News of the World in April 1959: ‘One of my friends said to me: “Have you heard the man’s reputation?” “Good heavens,” I said, “I’ve got a reputation too, you know. I’m not exactly a Vestal Virgin.” Another friend warned, “Tommy Newborough doesn’t want a wife, he wants a brood mare. He’s just crazy to have sons.”

But unlike Maria, Denisa nor any of Tommy’s three wives produced a male heir and his cousin Robert Vaughan Wynn of Rhug succeeded. Robert’s father Charles, a younger son of the 3rd Lord Newborough, had inherited the Rhug estate from his godfather Sir Robert Vaughan Bt (d. 1859), the last of his line. The Vaughans had benefitted similarly in 1780 by the will of Maria Salusbury in whose family Rhug had descended since an early C16 marriage.

see: Such & Such

see: Such & Such/Rhug Estate

Today Rhug is the home of Robert, 8th Ld Newborough (who has relocated from Peplow Hall in Shropshire, a relatively recent acquisition currently on the market). The present classical house was erected at the very end of the C18 and stands in an extensive landscaped park, the work of Humphry Repton.


see: Rhug/YouTube

The latter’s Red Book for this place outlined the challenges of working ‘in a country like that of North Wales, abounding in magnificent scenery…yet exposed to frequent rains and violent storms of wind.’ Repton concluded that ‘Gothic architecture is infinitely more applicable to such situations than the lofty portico of Greece.’ Enter, later, architect Joseph Bromfield with a portico of unambiguous loftiness which has nevertheless survived unlike some later cumbrous Victorian additions.

see: Coflein

see: Coflein

A colonnade and enclosing ground floor walls are all that remain of a clunky full-height pedimented east wing wherein a curious ballroom-cum-conservatory arrangement was attempted (l). But much original interior detailing remains including a staircase with panelling from an older house and ‘excellent plaster friezes, painted and gilded, the dining room’s being particularly fine.’³

Some half a mile from the house is Rhug’s private chapel, ‘an astonishing survival, [its] profusion of ornamented surfaces a remarkable document of the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.’† And no doubt a useful facility to have on hand for someone feeling in need of a miracle. Speaking in 1951 the present owner’s grandfather augured that ‘the future of large estates cannot be anything but gloomy.’††

see: Rhug Estate

see: Rhug Estate

Yet one place which has certainly confounded this prognosis is Rhug itself, today a thriving brand employing over 100 staff and supplying produce to high-end establishments around the globe. Behind all of this is the energetic 8th Lord Newborough, for the past 15 years something of a Richard Branson-esque figure at the forefront of the organic farming movement and who was named national Farmer of the Year in 2013.

A thoroughly estimable character by all accounts.. unless, of course, the present Lady Newborough – his second wife – has some tales she cares to share…

[Rhug Estate][Archives][GII* listing]

¹ The Sunday Times 17 Dec 1967.
² Daily Mail 16 Jan 1976.
³ Haslam, R, Orbach, J, Voelcker, A. The buildings of Wales: Gwynedd, 2009.
† Haslam, R. Rug, Clwyd I/II, Country Life 6/13 Oct, 1983.
†† Shaw, H.R. Country heritage: the stately homes of the NW counties and N Wales, 1951.

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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, providential alliances historically a key means by which an estate’s fortunes were bolstered, indeed sometimes super-charged. In the 18th century ‘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”, Diana Hastie, founder of the Country House Wedding Venues agency, told the Financial Times recently. This enterprise is now one of many such businesses (1/2/3) whose websites, along with those of the individual properties themselves, today offer a rich source of what has been termed ‘country house porn’. By way of a purely serendipitous example of the myriad options now available to the happy couple wishing to marry in surroundings to which they are unlikely ever to become accustomed, a simple dropped vowel during researches for this post inadvertently 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 aerial 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 north of 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]

[Update May 2021: Newhouse estate for sale!]

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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