Category Archives: Architecture and Design

The Country House Garden, Part I: Prospects

It’s spring! In the UK at least, March generally sees the reopening of many sites to the public after the closed winder season. April is apparently National Gardening Month and with the May Bank Holidays the outdoors suddenly become the backdrop to all kinds of refreshing interpretations for the country house and its garden.

I feel this subject often sits separately to that of the architectural history of the country house. There are differing approaches to the country house garden and the majority are glorious illustrations of the evolution of vast gardening and landscaping ideals. As I’ve likely mentioned before, even at a young age, it was the outside space which drew me to the country house initially but once inside I seemed to dismiss the parkland and formal parterres for a long time. For many historians of the country house, it is difficult to fully engage with both simultaneously and I know I still feel more confident discussing the social and architectural history rather than the aesthetics of the outdoors.

However, such approaches in the methodology shouldn’t be given too much weight here as the

Ingress Abbey by Thomas Badeslade, 1720s

country house garden is better admired through less dry academic dialogue. If anything, the country house garden invites all to observe an idealised nature – an Arcadian treat for the visitor. There is also the unforgettable freedom of the country house garden and its park which stimulates curiosity as well as the imagination. Therefore, for this first post of four I want to focus on Adrian Tinniswood’s Country Houses from the Air (1997 edition) since this allows for initial study of the patterns and scale of the exterior world of the country house. I also like the concept of looking at the country house garden from a distance and metaphorically moving in to consider aspects of it more closely by concluding with a case study.

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Colour print of Lulworth Castle after the original drawing by Mrs Humphrey Weld, 1721

In the introduction to the publication, Tinniswood makes a fine argument for the definition of the English country house which is crucial in pulling together the readers’ own preconceptions. I have been challenged on this on several occasions and it isn’t easy to define in simple terms. What Tinniswood does to assist is to quote Ludwig Wittgenstein when debating family resemblances in the posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953), ‘If you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that…And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail’.  With the inclusion of Blenheim Palace, Knole, Groombridge Place, and Lulworth Castle (above) in Country Houses from the Air, this definition is imperative to understanding these similarities which are both obvious and yet not so. Still, this is the country house; a cluster of similar characteristics which most visitors would nod their heads in agreement at, and at which many owners and managers know instinctively as a part of their world.

And so to it: this book is significant because it helps identify the older ideals of the owners, their occupation with grandeur and fashionable aesthetics, and ultimately the overall composition of their home and ancestral seat. Alongside the fantastic colour images of the aerial views by Jason Hawkes sit prospects by Knyff, Kip, Harris, and contemporary artists commissioned at the time of architectural remodelling or rebuilding.

Newby Hall, North Yorkshire. Engraving by Knyff, 1707

Tinniswood’s publication allows the reader to not only admire the obvious aesthetics of the country house garden and parkland but also tells of the techniques for capturing these images throughout the history of the houses themselves. Here Tinniswood comments, ‘The historical images that serve as a counterpoint to Jason Hawkes’ photographs range in time from the medieval cartulary roll depicting Boarstall [Buckinghamshire] to C. E. Kempe’s late-Victorian line-and-wash drawing of Groombridge Place [Kent] and the early-twentieth-century views of Ightham Mote [Kent] and Arundel [Sussex].’ Such images are also telling of the trends in portraying the country house and it’s gardens. The majority of the historical images date roughly between 1680 and 1720 with many of these representing aerial or bird’s-eye views. Of these, Tinniswood notes, ‘the acknowledged masters of the craft…are Leonard Knyff and Johannes Kip.’

A fine example is Penshurst Place.

Here the scope and development of the exterior setting is clear. the earliest part of the house was established by Sir John de Pulteney who became Lord Mayor of London four times between 1331 and 1337. The estate eventually came into the hands of Sir William Sidney and has remained in the family ever since. Crucially, this is the garden to help establish this run of posts but also its connection with country house poetry which has previously been discussed here. Though the engraving by Kip is a century later, it is easy to visualise the words of Ben Jonson in ‘To Penshurst’ (1616) in which he wrote,  ‘The early cherry, with the later plum, Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come; The blushing apricot and woolly peach Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.’

In the early nineteenth century some parts of Penshurst were rebuilt in a Tudor-Gothic style and the formal gardens were laid out in the 1850s by George Devey who used Kip’s 1720 engraving as the inspiration for the updated scheme. The image to the left captures the site from roughly the same prospect as that by Kip and the stretch of land shows how much has unchanged since or been inspired by the engraving. Yet, the scars of past aspects are often obvious – note the circular trough where there once stood a low level plantation clearly visible in the older engraving.

These map perspectives are clever studies in the Siennese style which incorporated careful observation, ground level surveys and detailed plans before executing the final draft. Generally, it seems that the engravings were the result of individual commissions and represented a celebration of completion in building works and large scale remodelling. Tinniswood is cautious to point out that a handful of these were likely projections of aspiration, but that otherwise most were true of the scene as it would have appeared at the time. Take Newby Hall (above) as an example. At the very end of the 17th century Celia Fiennes travelled through Yorkshire, stopping at York, Harrogate and Ripon before moving on to Burton Agnes and Hull. Of Newby, she wrote,

…it looks finely in the approach in the midst of a good parke and a River runns just by it, it stands in the middle and has two large Gardens on each side; you enter one through a large Iron Barr-gate painted green and gold tops and carv’d in severall places…and the Squares are full of dwarfe trees both fruites and green, set cross wayes which lookes very finely; there is  Flower Garden behind the house, in it and beyond it a Landry [sic] Close with frames for drying of cloths…

The bird’s eye view would eventually fall out of favour and instead the fashion for landscape painting would take its place; such depictions being better suited to the sweeping romanticised parklands adopted from the second half of the 18th century. Nonetheless, the changes in garden design, architectural planning and the prospect of the country house as taken in by the contemporary visitor are documented well by Tinniswood throughout the publication.

What the next three posts will do is to detail the chronology of country house garden design as well as introduce the influences and those who have become synonymous (and some lesser known) with some of the major changes in landscaping from the 16th century onwards. Some sites have invested a great deal of physical energy and funding towards large garden projects so it is only fair to dedicate time to these too. What is certain, is that there will be some fantastic images yet to come; spring is definitely here!

Links

http://www.gardenvisit.com/gardens/penshurst_place_garden

Blog posts on Kip and Knyff (A study of Knyff) https://parksandgardensuk.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/kip-knyff-part-1-knyff/ (and of Kip) https://parksandgardensuk.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/kip-and-knyff-part-2-kip/

Wikipedia on Knyff : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Knijff and Kip: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Kip

Further Reading:

Isaac Hawkin Browne, An Essay on Design and Beauty (1739)

R. Havell & Son, A Series of Picturesque Views of Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Seats (1823)

Gervase Jackson-Stops, An English Arcadia 1600-1900. (1992)

Leonard Knyff and Jan Kip, Britannia Illustrata or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces also the Principal Seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain (1707)

Christopher Morris (Ed.), The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes: c.1682-c.1712. (1982)

Joseph Nash, The Mansions of England in Olden Time (4 vols, 1839-49)

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Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Part I: Marking the Tercentenary of his Birth

by Nathaniel Dance (later Sir Nathaniel Holland, Bt), oil on canvas, circa 1769

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown by Nathaniel Dance (later Sir Nathaniel Holland, Bt), oil on canvas, circa 1769. National Portrait Gallery, London

With 2016 being the tercentenary of his birth, it would be silly not to write about Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Even better still, as I struggled to compose something over the last few days, Classic FM came up with just the perfect inspiration with a programme dedicated entirely to the landscape gardener. So, as I sat down for the tenth time working out where to start, it didn’t matter what was played on the radio next to me, the music finally brought the imagery I needed to the front of my tired brain.

Baptised in the parish church of St. Wilfrid’s at Kirkharle in Northumberland in August 1716, Lancelot Brown would spend much of his youth employed on the local estate. Little is known of these early years, except that Brown eventually left Northumberland to travel to Lincolnshire perhaps for work in water management. By the 1740s Brown came to work alongside William Kent at Stowe in Buckinghamshire and soon became head gardener there. He would leave Stowe in 1751 having gained worthy connections via his employer Lord Cobham to members of the elite in Buckinghamshire and much of the Midlands.

Highly perceptive and hard-working, Brown was very much a celebrity for his time and showed an awareness of the society within which he both served and influenced. That he told his clients their estate had ‘capabilities’ suggests great persuasive tactics. That it became habit, and thus adopted as a nickname suggests Brown happily assumed a sort of personal branding. As ‘Capability’ Brown he was highly sought after and by name he was recognisable for both skill and profession.

Aske Hall View from the South 1769-80 by George Cuit (1743-1818) oil on canvas. Zetland Collection

Aske Hall View from the South 1769-80 by George Cuit (1743-1818) oil on canvas. Zetland Collection

To mark the tercentenary, there are several exhibitions and events taking place across sites connected to Brown. Much of Brown’s place in the history of landscape gardening is fairly well-researched. For this post, I simply want to share a small part of the events marking the tercentenary of his birth where I took off to Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery to see ‘Noble Prospects: Capability Brown and the Yorkshire Landscape’ which will run until 11th September. This small yet thoughtful exhibition does replicate some of the material already exhibited elsewhere as part of individual projects in recent years. Yet, it pulls together present research well and has already attracted worldwide interest according to its Facebook page.

The exhibition explores the nearly 20 or so recognised sites in Yorkshire associated with him, supposedly one of the greatest concentrations in the country. Featured in the exhibition are portraits of Brown and his Yorkshire clients, original plans, drawings and documents by Brown, paintings of his creations and works of art that inspired his landscapes. Thankfully, I bought the guidebook which meant I could scrutinise the items a little closer – albeit on the page rather than in the flesh.

Many similar exhibitions began at sites in the spring months to coincide with seasonal opening times. Yet, I agree with the Classic FM presenter since the best time to visit Brown’s landscapes are late summer and early Autumn just when the trees begin to change colour and the grass has its last flush of growth before winter. This is the time of year when the air changes, when it grows heavy and the sun hovers over panes of glass and stone pillars. Utterly romanticised, I know, but Brown is not only part of a culture supposedly obsessed with gardening, he represents the human desire to simultaneously manipulate and emulate the natural landscape – and to frame it.

The Palladian bridge designed by Brown at Scampston Hall near Malton.

The Palladian bridge designed by Brown at Scampston Hall near Malton.

His clients were fully versed in classicism and such imagery would have been their source material. The Irwins at Temple Newsam commissioned Brown in the early 1760s as part of their plans for large scale improvements. Once work began and all outside was in disarray, Lady Irwin wrote to her close friends explaining how she sought comfort from the pastoral landscape paintings in the family collection, most notably Claude Lorrain whose arcadian imagery provided great inspiration. Here was Brown with the knowledge and practical skills ready to encapsulate the landscape of myth within the rural British countryside.

This more natural style (as opposed to the formal avenues and parterres of the century before) consisted of sweeping unbroken lawns, serpentine lakes, clumps of trees, classical style follies and winding carriage rides. He was, by no means, the only working towards this style and many estate owners employed others or took on the challenge themselves.

As my own interest in the country house evolves, it is the landscape which has always had different degrees of personal attraction. Certainly as a child I found gardens far more enticing and the country house itself was a steady burner. The wider landscape has only in recent years become something more for me. Perhaps in this context, the exhibition at Harrogate offered me a chance to see how Brown interacted with the landscape and brought the visions of his clients to life. This it does well, and it is possible to understand the practicalities of landscape gardening on a vast scale and how the eighteenth-century country house sat within this design framework.

One of the most intriguing aspects from this exhibition was the mention of the landscape at Whitley Beaumont near Huddersfield. This was the seat of Richard Henry Beaumont to which Brown made a visit in the late 1770s. Brown’s vision included all the usual characteristics. However, the house is one of many lost English country houses having been demolished in the 1950s, but the patterns of Brown’s landscape and the signature marks of the natural or arcadian style are still visible today.

Whitley Beaumont by J. T. Taite (fl. 1850s), 1858, oil on canvas. Huddersfield Examiner courtesy pf Stephen Beaumont

Whitley Beaumont by J. T. Taite (fl. 1850s), 1858, oil on canvas. Huddersfield Examiner courtesy of Stephen Beaumont

The exhibition has been curated by Karen Lynch who pieced together the guidebook from her recent essay for The New Arcadian Journal (see below) but has previously published works on other Yorkshire sites – Harewood House, Plumpton Rocks and Bretton Hall. What would be interesting to discover is the influence of the contemporary Yorkshire countryside on those instructing Brown in the mid-eighteenth century – a point not fully touched upon in this exhibition. Perhaps there was little influence at all but if the county has such a high concentration, then the ‘capabilities’ must also be high and certainly worthy of exploration.

Links:

Exhibition link http://www.capabilitybrown.org/event/noble-prospects-capability-brown-and-yorkshire-landscape or simply http://www.capabilitybrown.org/ and Facebook link with good options to read reviews and articles elsewhere https://www.facebook.com/nobleprospects

The hosting website http://www.capabilitybrown.org/

The Guardian exhibition review https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/24/research-shows-capability-brown-earned-equivalent-of-500m

Historic Houses Association http://www.hhacapabilitybrown.co.uk/

Other events running into Autumn and beyond including associated landscapes and sites:

The Embroiderer’s Guild are holding exhibitions across several sites into 2017 https://embroiderersguild.com/index.php?page_no=278&page_menu=capability-brown-festival

Wimpole Hall – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wimpole-estate

Croome Court – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome

Kirkharle Courtyard – http://kirkharlecourtyard.co.uk/capability-brown/about-capability-brown/

Sherborne Castle – http://www.sherbornecastle.com/

Harewood House – http://harewood.org/

Scampston – http://www.scampston.co.uk/

Further reading:

Jane Brown, The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-1783 (2011)

Karen Lynch, Noble Prospects: Capability Brown and the Yorkshire Landscape. Yorkshire Gardens Trust and Harrogate Borough Council (2016) and in more comprehensive form ‘Capability Brown in Yorkshire’, Yorkshire Capabilities: New Arcadian Journal 75/76 (2016), pp.37-107

Allan R. Ruff, Arcadian Visions: Pastoral Influences on Poetry, Painting and the Design of Landscape. (2015)

Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown (1975)

 

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Collections, Exhibitions, In the News, Men and the Country House, Parks and Gardens

Kenwood House, London

Kenwood House, south front, author's own image

Kenwood House, south front, author’s own image

This one is an old favourite, and increasingly noteworthy within the study of the English country house and more recently black history. Kenwood House is part of English Heritage’s portfolio and having recently completed an extensive restoration programme the house reopened to the public in 2013. Crucially, it is free of charge.

It is this restoration which perfectly reflects the enthusiasm of English Heritage overall; the research, knowledge and eventual interpretation of the site without ‘hidden extras’. Typically, I have found that those at English Heritage are eager to unveil as much as possible and at Kenwood House the feeling is one of progression and delight.

The fine art collection at Kenwood House incorporating the Iveagh Bequest and Suffolk Collection add to the resources available for any art historian and beyond. I remember visiting as a student in the late 1990s and being able to witness ‘in the flesh’ Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Mary, Countess Howe (c.1764). Writing an essay on Gainsborough’s use of modern dress rather than classical or antiquity styled society ladies certainly gained pace after seeing this painting!

kenwood-gainsborough

Mary, Countess Howe, by Thomas Gainsborough (The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House)

Kenwood’s social history is rich and offers up a great deal for debate in terms of contemporary ideals and household hierarchies particularly in terms of the role Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) had within the family and the society which they mixed. Again research into Dido’s life both at Kenwood and after her marriage has been undertaken by English Heritage, but a lot of her life seems to inconclusive. Born into slavery as the natural daughter of Maria Belle an enslaved African woman and Sir John Lindsay, Dido was brought to England by her father as an infant to be placed under the guardianship of William Murray – a later pivotal owner of Kenwood House.

Theories abound about her portrait with her cousin Elizabeth (below), her position in the Murray household, and perceptions of her within wider society. It is difficult to pin anything down here as Dido is deserving of a post which allows for more discussion than can be committed here. There are some who argue that it was Dido’s illegitimacy rather than her heritage which played on the dynamics within the family. Yet her status as free woman seemed to have to be constantly reaffirmed and when Murray died he still felt it necessary to state this in his will when also noting Dido’s annuity of £100.

Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle, once attributed to Zoffany

When I visited, the curator was conducting an informal tour for members of a small group undertaking research on a number of paintings in the collection. My eavesdropping wasn’t met with suspicion or annoyance though, and as I followed the recommended route around the house it was clear that all staff members are proud to not only be presenting but also to be a part of Kenwood’s story.

The House

Built as a suburban villa rather than a country house with a centralised administration for the wider estate, the exact site for ‘Caen Wood’ House was established by the second decade of the 17th century. This earlier brick-built property located off Hampstead Lane in north London was later modernised about 1700. By 1746 the house was occupied by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute and a nephew of the Earl of Ilay who by that date owned the property. Both Bute and Ilay shared an interest in exotic plants and it may have been Bute who added the orangery to the south west of the building.

Despite its modest size (the guidebook notes, ‘bigger than a town house but smaller than a country seat’) Kenwood’s development through this period is cleverly mapped in current literature as well as on the website. It is this sort of interpretation which makes architectural heritage so much more exciting and plausible for wider audiences.

An example of the reconstructions available to readers and visitors of Kenwood. This image shows how Kenwood may have looked in 1756.

An example of the 2-dimensional reconstructions available to readers and visitors of Kenwood. This image shows how Kenwood may have looked in 1756.

In 1754 William Murray (1705-93), later 1st Earl of Mansfield acquired Kenwood from Lord Bute for £4,000. Under the ownership of the Murrays, the aesthetics of the house were destined to change dramatically. William Murray set out to appoint Robert Adam to improve the house from about 1764; an important move for the time and a competitive one which suggested that Murray intended to show his business and political stature was equal to that of the Childs at Osterley and the Percys at Syon – two other contemporary Adam projects (Adam being appointed from 1761 and 1762 respectively).

Of course, it is impossible to write about Adam at Kenwood without noting the truly magnificent library there. In the visits I have made to Kenwood I have seen both interpretations of this particular interior – the dark colour scheme and heavily gilded plasterwork, and the transformation made in recent years towards a less heavy application in colour thought more accurate of the original Adam interior.

Column in the Adam library at Kenwood showing the older (and darker) colour scheme below the newly restored version.

Column in the Adam library at Kenwood showing the older (and darker) colour scheme below the newly restored version. (Author’s own image.)

The library ceiling designed by Adam with paintings by Antonio Zucchi

The library ceiling designed by Adam with paintings by Antonio Zucchi. (Author’s own image.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail from fire surround (author's own image).

Detail from chinoiserie fire surround (author’s own image).

The use of this room was for more formal entertainment by the Mansfields who otherwise used the upper hall for accommodating close friends. The two rooms today are vastly contrasting; where the library is bright and airy (it was considered difficult to heat even in the 18th century) and yet distinctive, the upper hall is somehow unsettled. Adam remodelled the upper hall in the fashionable chinioserie style but little remains of this apart from a fragment of wallpaper and the fire surround. Yet here are a number of pieces from the Suffolk Collection and once again time must be taken to study these away from published literature. If anything, the height of Stuart extravagance in dress is perfectly displayed in such minute detail that I doubt the full length portraits grow tiresome.

By the end of the 18th century a further extensive programme of remodelling took place which finally established the house as it may be seen today. This wave of building was at the instruction of David Murray, 2nd Earl Mansfield (1727-96) who inherited from his uncle. This Murray desired extra accommodation but also saw an opportunity to enhance the existing characteristics at Kenwood. In order to achieve this, his first act was to relocate Hampstead Lane several metres away from the original forecourt to allow the family more privacy. A new service wing was created to the east and two brick wings were added to the north front.

Admittedly, the service wing sits uncomfortably in its layout, and I am in agreement with Joseph Farington who noted in 1793 shortly after building work began that it was “considerable, and in respect of architectural effect, strange additions to the late Lord Mansfield’s house at Caenwood”. However, the most effective alteration at this time was achieved through the ambitions of Humphrey Repton whose appointment by Murray led to the opening up of the immediate surroundings of the house transforming it from grand suburban villa to that of a fine country mansion.

The north front before Repton's alterations (image taken from the Friends of Kenwood website - see link below)

The north front before Repton’s alterations (image taken from the Friends of Kenwood website – see link below)

The north front after Repton's alterations, also showing the extensions aligned east and west (image taken from the Friends of Kenwood website)

The north front after Repton’s alterations, also showing the extensions aligned east and west (image taken from the Friends of Kenwood website)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even a new dairy building was created to the south west of the main house for Louisa, wife of the 2nd Earl. Kenwood was now every bit a country house in all but administrative purpose.

The 19th century saw general repair and maintenance take priority and steadily attention was turning to the significance of the surrounding locality – particularly Hampstead Heath to the south of the park. Portions of adjacent land were bought and sold to the Metropolitan Board of Works (later London County Council) in order to connect the park with the Heath and keep access open to the public and free from the developers. By the first decade of the 20th century, Kenwood was leased out and successive families took over the tenancy up to the 1920s.

It was not without its fluctuations in fortune and protracted discussions concerning Kenwood’s future which had begun in 1914 continued throughout the First World War. Alan David Murray, 6th Earl of Mansfield (1864-1935) had decided to sell the house and estate and local residents attempted to raise funds to prevent the land being developed for housing. In 1922 the house contents were sold by auction, but the relatively new Kenwood Preservation Council led by Sir Arthur Crosfield sought to vest in land to the south of the house. It was at this point that local resident Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847-1927) stepped into the negotiations. Taking up a lease for 10 years in December 1924, he quickly implemented the use of his own family trust to purchase the remaining land with the intention of giving the house and estate with the addition of a selection of his own paintings collection to the nation.

Unfortunately, the supervision of the installation of objects was not to be fulfilled by Lord Iveagh himself who died in 1927 so instead this was undertaken by six administrative trustees including the then Director of the National Gallery. By the summer of 1928, Kenwood was open to the public and in 1929 The Iveagh Bequest Act established Kenwood as an independent museum.

I visited Kenwood on a bright but chilly day and took a snap decision to travel by tube as far as Hampstead and cross the Heath to the house.  As a student I went by coach which inevitably parked up on Hampstead Lane in order to keep the group for straying too far. I recommend Kenwood is better approached from the Heath through the the scrub and woodland, across stream and passing the rhododendrons if this is possible. It might sound idyllic or on the other hand troublesome for those inclined for a quick stop off, but it offers a better sense of place. There are the tantalising glimpses of the house and the dairy as the path curves out of the Heath and the avenue approach withholds the real glamour of the house until the final steps.

Kenwood is the result of gradual input from successive owners, tenants and local benefactors; layers which are meshed together coherently by English Heritage. Long may the research continue.

Further reading:

Laura Houliston, The Suffolk Collection (2012)

Laura Houliton and Susan Jenkins, Kenwood and The Iveagh Bequest. English Heritage Guidebooks (2013)

N. Poser, Lord Mansfield. Justice in the Age of Reason (Montreal and Kingston, 2013)

Links:

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenwood/history/description/

The Telegraph celebrating the reopening in November 2013 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/Kenwood-House-reopens-in-London-first-look-inside/

William Murray, Lord Mansfield on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Murray,_1st_Earl_of_Mansfield

Historic England listing including extra detail of the earlier estate of ‘Caen Wood’ https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000142

Friends of Kenwood http://www.friendsofkenwood.org.uk/history.html

Statute – The  Iveagh Bequest Act http://legislation.data.gov.uk/uksi/1997/482/made/data.html

Commentary and studies of Dido Elizabeth Belle 

http://www.blackpast.org/gah/belle-dido-elizabeth-1761-1804#

http://sharonlathanauthor.com/wp-content/uploads/Dido-Elizabeth-Belle_-a-black-girl-at-Kenwood.pdf

Dido Belle on the big screen 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/may/04/dido-belle-slaves-daughter-who-lived-in-georgian-elegance and http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2014/jun/11/belle-amma-asante-historically-accurate

Belle: What Happened to Dido After the Film Ended?

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The World Monuments Fund – Wentworth Woodhouse is back in the news

Country: United Kingdom Site: Wentworth Woodhouse Caption: The Palladian east front Image Date: 2010 Photographer: Marcus Binney/World Monuments Fund Provenance: 2016 Watch Nomination Original: from Watch team

The Palladian east front, copyright, Marcus Binney/World Monuments Fund

A few days ago the World Monuments Fund released its list of 50 Watch Sites for 2016 from across 36 countries. In line with their own statement these sites are ‘at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change’. Sites included are Rumiqolqa, Andahuaylillas, Peru, Boix House, Manila, Philippines, Petra Archaeological Site, Wadi Mousa, Jordan, National Art Schools, Havana, Cuba, and the Averly Foundry, Zaragoza, Spain. There are two British sites included – Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham and Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham.

I have written about Wentworth Woodhouse on several occasions, most notably here and here, and its social history here. That the site has been included by the WMF in their Watch List is merely a step further along an incredibly long journey towards its restoration and also recognition for its role in the cultural landscape of England as well as further afield.

Known as the largest privately owned house in the UK, its palatial frontage at 606 feet/180 metres ensures Wentworth Woodhouse’s visual impact is truly established. Yet, its struggle for attention has been a long time coming with one blog in 2011 describing it as ‘the greatest house you’ve never heard of’ due to a lack of high drama and a more northerly position compared to the likes of Petworth or Chatsworth. As far as the first is concerned, a lack of fuss and melodrama should be considered as natural a sentiment as the still waters that run deep since its present owners have invested a great deal of emotional effort and financial resources over the past 15 years to drag the house into a fit state for public tours. For the second,  Wentworth Woodhouse fell foul of a combination of sour attitudes towards the north and an industry which literally clawed away at the landscape. Uniting the two in the demise of its structure (both architecturally and socially) was the general disregard of Wentworth Woodhouse’s symbolism; its political and aesthetic investment made by several families for over 250 years. And while it was talked about in academic circles, the increasing lack of access rendered it underappreciated and understudied – something the WMF readily acknowledges.

Its palatial grandeur may very well jar with many as elite and pompous. There is too much of it for sure which is why there is difficulty in maintaining it in the present climate, but Wentworth Woodhouse is not without use. The plans of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust is to see the most significant interior spaces of the house opened to the public, while other areas would be turned into residential units, and other spaces to be used commercially as venues for hire.

The Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse, copyright dine.co.uk

The Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse, copyright dine.co.uk

There is business to be gained here and if done imaginatively, Wentworth Woodhouse can easily provide a great many with inspiration and an appetite for cultural learning. A troubling trend in under-funding of the arts in Britain continues especially where hard graft is necessary, but let’s not dismiss old practices as entirely elitist. There are stories to be told and worlds which are massively overdue attention from younger generations. There are skills which can be gained from research and practice and Wentworth Woodhouse can provide all this and more.

The List http://www.wmf.org.uk/wmf_watch/ and the project vision https://www.wmf.org/project/wentworth-woodhouse

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust including ways to pledge support and the proposed plans http://www.savewentworth.co.uk/

http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/news/campaign.php?id=327

Local reactions http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2012/02/news-2549-wentworth-woodhouse-coal.html and http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2015/10/news-5540-wentworth-woodhouse-on-world.html

http://blogs.artinfo.com/artintheair/2015/10/20/world-monuments-fund-announces-2016-watchlist/

The list as seen from across the Atlantic (spot the error in the name…!) http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/most-endangered-monuments-in-the-world/29/

And lastly, one to watch out for? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/downton-abbey/11819080/Black-Diamond-Downtons-real-life-rival.html

A must-read: Bailey, Catherine, Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty. (2008)

 

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BBC News: Who holds the keys to our mansions? March 2015

Here’s an important debate currently passing through academic and property consultancy circles – the foreign buyer of the country house (the full article follows further below).

There is quite a lot to say here, and I’m not sure what my own thoughts are on this just yet. Ultimately this is all about money, and the spending power of those with a great deal of existing capital. Perhaps it has nothing to do with the ‘occidental’ nature of the buyer at all, but on the other hand, it does raise questions about the future of a part of Britain’s cultural identity.

In the first instance, a willing buyer with the adequate funds to purchase any of the empty country houses in Britain should be a good thing as it brings these buildings back into use. However, the article highlights how a purchase does not always guarantee that a house will even become occupied. Such a purchase is about increasing personal capital – or misguided investment. Where the argument concerns the finances of the buyer, we must consider how the country house as residence has infiltrated our psyche. Inheritance, estate income and family matters have to offer stability within a setting of high staff turnover, regional and national economies and possible political influence. The country house as residence is therefore an administrative centre and must have a business model if it is to survive. Having the correct funds to purchase must be accompanied by such, otherwise the country house just becomes another new toy to be discarded when it looks worn out and dirty.

Where the argument concerns the origin of the buyer, things become much murkier. The Downton Abbey effect reassures many of a past world nostalgia which is somehow uniquely British. The TV series makes itself known everywhere – it makes a cameo in Iron Man 3, and animated children’s television show Arthur even celebrated its existence with one episode dedicated to ancestral awakenings! Though Downton has not single-handedly drawn wealthy magnates to the British county house, it has surely provided a vast influence over individual desires. Thus, cultural identity comes into play: Downton Abbey isn’t real, of course, but it is pivotal in this argument because it has skewed both native and foreign visions of country house living. Are we really threatened by a foreign buyer because they might bring some ‘otherness’ to the mix, or is it really because we would feel excluded from the process and be denied some sort of access past the front door? Lest we forget, these are private establishments and not all museums and depositories for collections of statuary or paintings and furniture.

The cultural identity of the British country house is awkward because it represents both sides of the social strata. We have come to expect greater access to them as visitors, but often do not realise that many houses are still true residences. Some are open to the public or offered up as conference or wedding venues, others are simply homes. That the buyer is foreign – and provided they know their business model – it should have no bearing on how we negotiate past their new house. The privacy of the country house and its family has been sought after since the end of the seventeenth century, culturally a foreign buyer wouldn’t be changing anything, so perhaps it’s best to sit tight and remain optimistic.

*******

The east front of Apethorpe HallApethorpe Hall was once a favourite haunt of King James I.

A stately home which was once a haunt of the rich and royal has been sold to a French baron. It’s the latest in a string of mansions sold to international buyers, raising questions about the safety of England’s heritage. But does it matter who holds the keys?

Author Henry James once said: “Of all the great things that the English have invented and made part of the credit of the national character, the most perfect, the most characteristic, the only one they have mastered completely in all its details… is the well-appointed, well-administered, well-filled country house.”

It was an opinion shared by many when the stately home was the highest symbol of aristocratic wealth. However, in the early 20th Century the English upper classes began to lose their grip on their palaces.

Not unlike the scenes in TV’s Downton Abbey, the fight to save the country home was a very real concern for the landed gentry in the face of heavy taxation.

It was this chink in the armour of England’s upper classes that gave some international buyers a first class ticket to tradition and class.

“At the beginning of the 20th Century there were a lot of historic houses and people married rich American wives,” said Dr Timothy Brittain-Catlin, lecturer in architecture at the University of Kent.

“In the 1920s and 1930s there was a lot more money in America and if it wasn’t for them, the houses would have been demolished.

“Everyone [here] was broke and houses weren’t protected and many of them were bought up by people like [American] William Randolph Hearst.

“Some were remodelled and rebuilt and in England it led to a serious conservation lobby, so in a way it was a good thing because it made people aware.”

Minley ManorMinley Manor was sold by the Ministry of Defence for a figure exceeding the £5m guide price

It is estimated that between 1880 and 1980, about 2,000 country homes across England, Wales and Scotland were demolished. But the grass of the English countryside has always appeared greener to international buyers.

“A lot of people regard England as a safe haven of heritage,” said Jasper Feilding, of property consultants Carter Jonas which dealt with the sale in November of Minley Manor in Hampshire.

“You can buy a schloss in Germany or a chateau in France which may be equally as important from a historical point of view.

“But they’re not making any more country houses and if you’re looking for a trophy property there’s more kudos in buying something in England which has that historical importance.”

There have been a number of high profile sales of country homes to overseas buyers in recent months.

A bidding war in January 2014 saw the sale of Hadspen House in Somerset to an international buyer – rumoured to be Hollywood star, Johnny Depp – for a reported £12m, while Dunstall Hall in Staffordshire was sold to a Middle Eastern businessman for £4m in July. In January of this year, Apethorpe Hall in Northamptonshire was sold to French academic, Baron von Pfetten.

Dunstall HallDunstall Hall is just one in a long list of country properties bought by overseas buyers

“There’s definitely been some kind of movement towards foreign buyers purchasing country houses and in recent months there has been something of a trend,” said Mike Fox, from Save Britain’s Heritage.

“Providing the houses don’t suffer as a result of them being bought by international buyers, we’ve got no problem.

“But the concern is if they’re just bought up as trophy properties and then left. There are a number of houses where that has happened.”

Apethorpe, which was once a favourite haunt of King James I, is a prime example of a property left to rot.

Apethorpe HallApethorpe Hall’s new owner said he hopes it will regain a place in British history
The sunken garden at Apethorpe HallThe grounds features a number of green spaces including the sunken garden

The Jacobean country house was bought by a Libyan businessman in 1983, who neither lived in it or maintained it and left it to crumble for almost two decades.

It was eventually bought by the government in 2001 and handed to English Heritage in 2005, who sold it following £8m worth of restoration work.

Its new owner has agreed to open the doors to the public for 50 days a year to help it “regain the place in British history it deserves”.

“The house was bought for a foreign owner who let it fall to pieces and now has another foreign owner,” said Dr Brittain-Catlin.

“Conservationists will tell you that they have lost a manor, but on the other hand, an important house has now been saved by someone who is living in it and appreciates it.

“The [nationality] of the buyer isn’t the important thing, it’s that the buyer looks after it,” he added.

Highclere CastleHighclere Castle has found fame as the home of Downton Abbey…
Montacute House, Somerset…while the grounds of Montacute House provided the backdrop for scenes in Wolf Hall

Despite attempts to preserve these quintessentially British properties, the Historic House Association says times are still tough for owners, with about 60% of members opening their homes to the public and offering them as film sets for TV programmes like Wolf Hall and Downton Abbey.

“These are very uncertain times for historic houses and gardens,” said Richard Compton, president of the HHA. “Competition to attract visitors with disposable incomes has increased; at the same time, costs have also risen.

“Many historic house businesses face threats to their very survival.”

A question mark currently hangs over the future of one of Europe’s biggest private stately homes.

Wentworth WoodhouseWentworth Woodhouse requires millions of pounds worth of repairs

Wentworth Woodhouse, in South Yorkshire, has been open to the public for more than 25 years but its owners are planning to put the Grade I listed property on the market.

It means anyone who can afford the reputed £7m price tag plus the £40m needed for repairs could snap up a piece of England’s heritage.

But Mr Fox hopes the house can be purchased by a preservation trust which has so far raised £3.5m in pledges.

“The family need to consider their options and that includes putting it on the market,” he said, “But we remain confident we can do some kind of deal

Links given in the article:

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Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire.

Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire. The Courtyard viewed from the Loggia.

Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire. The Courtyard viewed from the Loggia (author’s own image).

 

After three years of research and emotional storytelling, I finally made the personal pilgrimage to Northamptonshire in search of some of my ancestors and a part of the English countryside they knew as their home.

I was not disappointed. This was an opportunity to take in great swathes of rural Northamptonshire between Oundle and Corby without actually travelling very far at all; the landscape is essentially English, and luckily for me, packed with truly outstanding (and eclectic) architecture!

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Left to right: St. Rumbold’s Church, Stoke Doyle (author’s own); The courtyard at The Talbot Inn, Oundle (TripAdvisor); and the incomplete Lyveden New Bield (author’s own).

 

One of the most exhilarating sites by far was Kirby Hall. I can say with confidence that Kirby Hall is most certainly an architectural treasure; at once bold and ambitious, yet accepting and somehow thoughtful. It must be impossible for visitors to dislike this place.

As much as I write about the social history of the country house, I would not be able to understand the physical movements of a household without knowing the construction and design of a particular house. Kirby Hall is a ruined country house, and it’s all the better for it in this instance. Stripped of most of its interior decoration, the walls are free to be admired for the patchwork of ambitions imposed upon them by the owners of Kirby since the 16th century.

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The east front, 16th century with 17th century additions (author’s own).

 

Begun in 1570, the house that stands today is mainly the result of the ambitions of Sir Humphrey Stafford (a man who is frustratingly elusive in any of the searches I have undertaken). At first Stafford’s plan was simple and typical of the traditional Elizabethan plan with protruding bays and pitched roofs. However, building was rapid suggesting that Stafford and his surveyor and mason were all in close correspondence. In 5 years the site was transformed into a large four-sided house with spacious lodgings for the family, the household and visitors. Despite the cultural insistence upon retaining features like a Great Hall, this new Kirby Hall demonstrated the desire to emulate something more cosmopolitan – something European.

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One of the decorative friezes above a door in the courtyard. The Stafford family crest can be seen in the centre of the image.

 

Stafford employed local man Thomas Thorpe who hailed from a family of respected masons from the nearby village of Kingscliffe. Thorpe had referred to French architectural pattern books for the finishing touches at Kirby, and aspects of this Anglo-French style can be seen in much of the ground floor level including the porch and the arches of the loggia or arcade which in Stafford’s time was known as the ‘cloister’.

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The loggia as seen from the east. The plan and lower portions date from Stafford’s time, the rounded and triangular pediments are later.

 

Stafford’s death in 1575 halted the building at Kirby but its innovative architectural features such as the giant pilasters within the courtyard and delicate stone friezes quickly caught the eye of one of Elizabeth I’s favourites.

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Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-91) bought Kirby that same year and intended the house to be for the sole purpose of accommodating and entertaining the queen. A glamorous figure at the Elizabethan court, Hatton was reputed to have been a handsome spirited man who effortlessly climbed the ladder of courtly professions. Between 1564 and 1577 he had risen as one of the Queen’s gentlemen pensioners and a gentleman of the privy chamber, through the position as captain of the yeomen of the guard to vice-chamberlain of the royal household. He was also knighted in 1577, and by 1587 had become Lord Chancellor. Hatton famously held property at Holdenby House also in Northamptonshire which at time of his death was one of the largest residences in England. Yet, it was a project which would also bankrupt him and his descendants were forced to sell Holdenby to the Crown. Sadly it was largely demolished in the 17th century after the English Civil War.

As for Kirby Hall, the queen never came, but Hatton and his descendants were determined to set about extending and embellishing the house further. By the second decade of the 17th century, Kirby was a fine mix of practical, playful and elegant spaces. The West Garden (though rather plainly set out) was beginning to assume its later importance. The Great Stair was added, a Great Parlour, and best of all the shapely bay windows to the south which housed the bedchambers and the Great Withdrawing Room. All were united by a string of decorative gables, and through sheer practicality this is the only part of the house which still has a roof today.

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The south west corner of Kirby (author’s own)

 

It was at this time that Kirby would see its first Royal visitor in the form of James I who visited four times between 1612 and 1624. The grandeur of the south west corner rooms where the royal visitor would have been accommodated were recorded in an inventory taken on the death of a later Hatton (also Sir Christopher) in 1619 which listed amongst many other things; a chair under a canopy of white taffeta with purple and gold stars, a mirror inlaid in mother-of-pearl, Persian carpets, and furnishings made from moire satin and gold lace.

Today, such sumptuous fabrics are often confined to bridal wear, so to imagine the craftsmanship and delicacy of fine lace and embroidered silks and taffetas catching human movement in these now empty spaces is almost magical.

The 18th century was not so kind to Kirby, the reasons for which are difficult to pinpoint other than the desire of the Hatton men to become more engrossed in business elsewhere. A Hatton descendant married into the Finch family – the Earls of Winchelsea – and took both names. However, the main home of the Finch-Hattons was in Kent and Kirby perhaps felt too cumbersome. Perhaps its intended purpose as a royal lodging was proving too demanding. The impression upon visiting Kirby today is one of gradual shrinkage; a contraction of the energy and ambition needed to keep such a building up-to-date. That the remaining roofed part contains remnants of 18th century fashionable decoration only goes some way to suggest that efforts still continued for a time.

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The late 18th-century apse with decorative cornice in the Great Withdrawing Room; and a close up of behind the curved walls showing the lath and plaster construction.

 

Yet, two large sales of the contents, one in 1772 and another in 1824, highlight a desire to make a swift break. By the 1830s, the once grandest rooms in the south west corner were occupied by a Finch-Hatton agent and then later a farmer.

Gradually, the rest of the house began to fall into decay; becoming open to the elements and whoever passed by. The guidebook offers up a romantic yet earnest quote made by the Reverend Canon James who saw ‘the very action of decomposition going on, the crumbling stucco of the ceiling feeding the vampire ivy, the tattered tapestry yet hanging on the wall, the picture flapping in its broken frame.’

The ruined service wing viewed from the Bedchamber/billiard room (author's own)

The ruined service wing viewed from the Bedchamber/Billiard room (author’s own)

For a long time the roof above the service wing remained, eventually falling to the pressing of time and neglect before the end of the 19th century. The same fate was met throughout the house, but despite this, it seems that the locals were eager to spend time socialising within the courtyard and around the ruins,; intrigued by this almost entirely accessible romanticism and past grandeur. At Lyveden New Bield a few miles away, graffiti is ripe and legible scrawlings date between  1850 to the more recent past. It seems the Earl of Winchelsea did not wish to see Kirby succumb to the same violation , but actively discouraged such behaviour with the use of warning notices pasted to walls in the 1880s. Subsequently, there are few local credentials to search for here.

 

And this still persists in a very respectful manner. As a visitor to Kirby Hall today, there is a strange feeling of limbo – it’s a ruin, but a ruin of a house, not a castle or abbey. Given it was an extremely cold December day, there were few visitors, but those that had made the effort consisted of young couples and the traditional group of retirees. No-one touched walls and no-one shouted across to members of their party. People acted as they do when walking through any ‘regular’ country house – audio guide in one hand and a guidebook or leaflet in the other. It all felt too normal, so much so, that I even heard sniggers from a group I was following closely as I slipped into the void behind the 18th century apse to take photos.

The Earls of Winchelsea still own Kirby Hall, but it is managed by English Heritage. The latter want you to peek into these corners and examine the spaces and look at the fabric of a building and ask questions about architectural detailing or the past habits of long gone residents. Kirby is an excellent place to start doing this or to refresh that curiosity. I know that English Heritage are eager to continue their research into Kirby Hall because there is still a great deal to unearth and documentation to sift through. In the meantime, the house maintains a distinctive shape within the Northamptonshire countryside, and the Hatton gables and pinnacles will tempt any and everyone from the beaten track.

 

Links:

English Heritage information for teachers http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/kirby-hall-info-for-teachers/kirbyhall.pdf

Kirby Hall as an Austen setting http://austenonly.com/2011/02/23/jane-austen-film-locations-kirby-hall-northamptonshire-used-as-mansfield-park/

The deserted village of Kirby http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/northants/vol1/pp33-35

Pocket history from The Heritage Trail http://www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/stately%20homes/kirby%20hall.htm

Holdenby Hall included in a post by The Country Seat blog http://thecountryseat.org.uk/2013/11/14/a-minor-prodigy-brereton-hall-for-sale/

The West Gardens at Kirby in Google books https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mRdern2HY5QC&pg=PA176&dq=kirby+hall&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EhnIVOimE4K3ac2cgpAJ&ved=0CDYQ6AEwBDgK#v=onepage&q=kirby%20hall&f=false

Pevsner at Kirby Hall in Google Books  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=soI35rrNLMIC&pg=PA280&dq=kirby+hall&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QRrIVIaTOsPlaMCagZgM&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAzgy#v=onepage&q=kirby%20hall&f=false

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Exhibition | Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House

Enfilade

As Courtney Barnes noted back in November at Style Court, America’s fascination with England’s country houses will continue into the new year (and 2015). While Houghton Revisited, which brought dozens of paintings back to the house from Russia for display this summer and fall, was awarded Apollo Magazine’s 2013 Exhibition of the Year, pictures and objects still in the Houghton Hall collection will travel to Houston, San Francisco, and Nashville. From the MFAH press release (22 November 2013). . .

Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 22 June — 22 September 2013
Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 18 October 2014 — 18 January 2015
Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, 13 February — 10 May 2015

Curated by Gary Tinterow and Christine Gervais with David Cholmondeley

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William Hogarth, The Cholmondeley Family, 1732
(Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall)

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