Category Archives: Building the Country House

Introduction

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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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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Deene Park, Northamptonshire

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Deene Park, Northamptonshire (Deene Park website banner)

Deene Park, Northamptonshire is the ancestral home of the Brudenell family with whom the property has remained since 1514 when it was acquired by Sir Robert Brudenell (1461-1531).

Admittedly, this is an utterly self-indulgent piece! My own ancestors lived in the adjacent hamlet of Deenethorpe and were employed on the Brudenell estates from the 18th century. Though I have explored plenty of parish registers for the area, and I’m yet to view the relevant papers pertaining to estate workers, I do know that I hail from typical agricultural labouring stock and the odd shepherd! But that’s quite enough of that.

Deene Park has a far more diverse history. The manor of Deene belonged to Westminster Abbey and from 1215 the manor was let to various families including the Colets and Lyttons. Though Brudenell had legally gained ownership of the manor in 1514, Westminster Abbey was still able to subject it to a fee-farm rent of £18 per year which the family continued to pay until 1970, when the Church of Commissioners sold it to them for under £200.

Undoubtedly, the best thing about Deene Park is its irregularity and very obvious combination of different architectural and decorative styles. The appearance of present day Deene is the result of six centuries of expansion, development and remodelling with the earliest part existing as remnants behind the East front outside wall. Likely this was part of the original small manor house or ‘grange‘ connected to Westminster.

The guidebook for Deene Park notes how each generation seems to have made alterations and additions to the house. As much of the early Brudenell capital came from landownership and roles in government office, building work could be rather piecemeal. Yet, the more substantial alterations can be tied to particular events in the Brudenell lineage such as marriage, inheritance or ambitions for superior titles within the peerage.

Sir Edmund Brudenell (copyright Deene Park)

The first of these to truly impact at Deene was the marriage of Sir Edmund Brudenell (1521-85) to Agnes Bussy, daughter of John Bussy of Hougham in 1539. This union was celebrated by both families in its early years and represented the ideal match sought out by elite families in order to expand capital. Though Agnes was not phenomenally wealthy at the time of her marriage into the Brudenells, she was set to inherit her family’s vast estates in Lincolnshire, Rutland and Derbyshire upon her father’s death.

Deene (renamed Deene Hall by this point), took on much of its present size and footprint during Edmund’s time and large-scale building work began in the 1570s. Yet, his motives for expansion would certainly have been twofold. The Brudenells and Bussys fought hard over Agnes’s inheritance after her father died in 1542; husband and wife quarrelled, cousins schemed, and Agnes was often forced to borrow ready cash from family members. On the outside things appeared more orderly and during the construction of the new house, Edmund was sure to decorate his new house with Brudenell and Bussy heraldry and insignia.

Sir Edmund Brudenell was also declaring his power in the Northamptonshire countryside, and he was not alone. Northamptonshire was a popular county in the 16th century for the established and expanding gentry alike. As quoted by Joan Wake in The Brudenells of Deene (1953), a contemporary of Sir Edmund Brudenell noted, ‘the fertility, good air, pleasant prospects, and convenience of this Shire in all things to a generous and noble mind, have so allured nobility to plant themselves with the same, that no Shire within this Realm can answer the like number of noblemen as are seated in these parts.’ Indeed, Northamptonshire is often referred to as the county of ‘Squires and Spires’ due to its vast numbers of country seats and churches.

Location of Deene Park, Northamptonshire and surrounding areas including Corby to the south west and Oundle to the east.

Location of Deene Park, Northamptonshire and surrounding areas including Corby to the south west and Oundle to the east.

Quarries near Corby and further east provided a plentiful supply of very good building stone for Brudenell, and it is no coincidence that houses at Rockingham, Apethorpe, Kirby and Southwick were also making their mark in the landscape during this period.

The next eras of substantial building work at Deene came in the early 17th and 18th centuries when Sir Thomas (1578-1663) and George (1685-1732) were eager to secure themselves notable titles and a good reputation respectively. Sir Thomas was created Baron Brudenell in 1628 (a title which he bought for £6,000), becoming Earl Cardigan in 1661 because of his Royalist support during the English Civil War. George Brudenell, 3rd Earl of Cardigan was the stereotypical young elite gentleman who had experienced the Grand Tour and a life of suspiciously licentious quality whilst away, but made solid attempts to overturn this behaviour shortly after coming of age in 1706.

Both Brudenell men were passionate about art and architecture and were certainly the product of a sophisticated education thought compulsory for the male heir in a time when culture was regarded as the signifier of wealth.

With finances also enriched through beneficial marriage, Thomas added the distinguished crenelated tower to the north-east corner at Deene as well as similar decorative aspects to the north wing during much of the 17th century, and added a chapel sometime before 1640. George and his wife Elizabeth (née Bruce) were instrumental in making drastic changes to the interiors at Deene which had grown dated by the time of their residence in the early years of the 18th century. Modernisation took place in the principal rooms, a new staircase was put in, sash windows were added where appropriate, the Great Hall was repaved, new cellars were constructed and marble chimney pieces were put in – amongst many other things.

The alterations of the early 18th century did not stop with the house, as the 3rd Earl also turned his attention to the gardens at Deene. No doubt influenced by the changing trends in garden and landscape design, he sought to enliven the grounds with then quite fanciful features – sadly, the canal, stone bridge and kitchen gardens are the main remnants of this period.

Deene and the Brudenells stretch much further afield too. Two periods are significant here; the marriage of Francis Lord Brudenell to Lady Frances Savile in 1668, and the character and ambition of James 7th Earl of Cardigan during the middle of the 19th century.

The first is essential knowledge for any University of Leeds student who has ever resided in Headingley, Hyde Park or Kirkstall. The Saviles were extensive landowners in Leeds and much of Yorkshire by the 17th century. Sir John Savile was elected the first Alderman of the Borough of Leeds in 1626, and much of the Leeds coat of arms is based the Savile family’s own arms. The marriage of Lord Brudenell to Lady Frances saw two families unite their vast landed wealth and the Brudenells absorbed much of what Frances brought with her as part of the settlement. Today, these areas of Leeds are riddled with street names easily connected to the Brudenells and Saviles: Cardigan Road, Brudenell Street/Grove/Avenue, Savile Drive and sites such as Cardigan Fields, Brudenell Primary School and the Brudenell Social Club.

A fashionably whiskered James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan in the uniform of the 11th Hussars (1860s?)

James 7th Earl of Cardigan is perhaps better associated with the Charge of the Light Brigade of 1854 during the Crimean War and there is a great deal of accessible material to read on the subject. Yet, it should be noted here that his role in this military campaign, and in the words of Joan Wake, ‘that brief twenty minutes which raised his status from that of the most notoriously unpopular officer in the British army to one of imperishable renown’ had certainly impacted at home. This ability to change public opinion also existed in the years beforehand.

Criticised for his harsh and abrupt nature towards his officers many had begun to feel demoralised and belittled by his apparent relentless chastising and frequent punishments. This reached a crescendo in the spring/summer of 1840 when Captain John Reynolds served a bottle of Moselle before it as decanted, causing Cardigan to reprimand Reynolds the next day. Reynolds’s written reply was seen as inappropriate by Cardigan who was already involved in matters surrounding a duel he had had with a junior officer. Such was the frustration involved that Reynolds was placed in open arrest and by the autumn of that year Reynolds was tried by court martial. The episode became known as the Black Bottle affair.

At Deene during the same year, the gulf between the immensely wealthy Brudenells and those living and working on the estates was growing ever wider. Cardigan had used his power and personal finances to wriggle his way out of bad form with his officers, but between September and November 1840, the papers attacked him, calling him ‘captious and tyrannical’. By February the following year this had all changed. The large majority of people of nearby Deene, Deenethorpe, Stanion, and Glapthorne were suddenly in receipt of a ‘quartern loaf and ale’ each. This may not have been a first, but the papers were sure to make a great deal more of this gesture than they had done previously.

Interestingly, successive gestures were not issued in Cardigan’s name, but that of his first wife Elizabeth’s.

Deene Park is the product of the ambitious, often ruthless, but very typical landowners of their time. The Brudenells are perhaps a very good example of how the elite have functioned over the centuries, and how marriage, inheritance, and title have all created pivotal moments in a family’s history. The house has simultaneously been the silent backdrop and active player for all of these. And this is what makes Deene an intriguing place, but its steady presence in the Northamptonshire countryside has almost kept it out of mind for many. Though rich in country houses, the county clearly has its favourites, and Deene could be one of them. Yet, coming from an academic background, I have only ever been aware of studies which focus upon Lamport Hall, Kirby Hall and Kelmarsh Hall. There is something alluring about Deene because of this obvious absence.

Poignantly, my ancestors made the decision to move out of Deenethorpe (and Northamptonshire altogether) in the 1880s, and I know it was not easy. I have been the first to look back, and I am sure to continue my own story.

Links:

Deene Park website http://www.deenepark.com/

Deene Park on Wikipedia with good references http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deene_Park

A bite size history http://www.touruk.co.uk/houses/housenorthants_deene_park.htm

Northamptonshire on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northamptonshire#cite_note-15

Statement of Nene Valley Association for the areas covering Oundle and Thrapston, including notes on the topography and history of the area http://www.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk/downloads/00200_-_Nene_Valley.pdf

Famous Brudenells http://freespace.virgin.net/brudenell.forum/famous.html

References:

Joan Wake, The Brudenells of Deene. (1953)

Deene Park. Guidebook (1998)

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Kinross House – Winner of the HHA Restoration Award 2013.

D801244 - KH Exterior

The following is taken from the Historic Houses Association website. This is good news for Kinross – a house that was featured in The Country House Revealed on BBC2 in 2011, and reviewed here by me. There are many large restoration projects at country houses across Britain and Ireland at the moment including Mount Stewart and Knole (both National Trust), but crucial to Kinross and its journey out of restoration is the house’s accessibility to visitors. As Richard Compton (President of the Historic Houses Association) notes, ‘it is terrific to see the house coming back to life and being filled once again.’

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Winner of the Historic Houses Association and Sotheby’s Restoration Award 2013.

The Historic Houses Association and Sotheby’s are delighted to announce that the 2013 Restoration Award has been awarded to Kinross House, Scotland’s first neo-classical Palladian mansion.

Built in 1685 by Sir William Bruce, one of the foremost architects of the classical form, the historic house was in need of extensive restoration when its present owner, Mr Donald Fothergill, acquired the property in 2011. In a labour of love, Kinross House and Gardens have been saved from disrepair and meticulously restored to their former glory. Six other applicants from across the UK have been commended or shortlisted for this year’s Award. Please see PDF for details (link below).

The entire roof, every single pipe, and every single wire in the 55 room property had to be replaced. Working with sensitivity and respect, and using traditional products and craftsmanship wherever possible, the restoration team remodelled every room drawing inspiration from the house’s own history, historic furniture and artworks. The project also enabled parts of the interior of the house to be completed for the very first time – such as the pediments above the door and the fireplaces in the Grand Salon – elements which Sir William Bruce had been unable to finish by the time of his fall from royal favour and financial ruin.

In line with Sir William Bruce’s vision for the house 350 years ago, the original seventeenth century garden designs have also been reinstalled – restoring the long lost historic views, geometries and horticultural plans which were so integral to Bruce’s neo-classical design.

“The major restoration programme which has been undertaken over the past two years at Kinross has saved and revitalised this hugely important house from deterioration and possible future loss. The scale of the renovation is magnificent, and the house can now be seen by more people than perhaps ever in its long history – it is terrific to see the house coming back to life and being filled once again. Active use of the house is already having a beneficial effect on employment and incomes in the surrounding area. I would also like to congratulate all those projects which the judges have commended as well as those on the shortlist”
– Richard Compton, President of the Historic Houses Association

“This is an heroic restoration of the grandest classical house in Scotland. To see an owner devote such love, care and attention to a house which will continue as a home, is a thorough vindication of the aims of the award “
– Harry Dalmeny, Chairman of Sotheby’s UK

As well as functioning as a contemporary home, the house is now open to the public for the first time in its history. The house is available for special events, weddings and tours. http://www.kinrosshouse.com/

 

The link to the PDF for the Award Announcement is here

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East India Company at Home Mid-Project Conference, 31st May – 1st June 2013.

Since the East India Company at Home Project started in September 2011, there has been a buzz surrounding its methodological framework, its research findings and range of subject matter. I last covered this project here after they released their first case study.

The project (EICaH for short) began at the University of Warwick but has since been transferred to University College London (UCL) for a variety of reasons, but mainly due to funding opportunities and departmental interests.* The premise of the project is to examine the British country house in an imperial and global context through material culture and the families linked with these houses on the one hand and the connections they may have had with the East India Company on the other.

EICaH wallpapers[2]

Helen Clifford and Emile de Bruijn presenting their paper on Chinese wallpapers in National Trust properties ‘every good country house has its Chinese wallpaper’!

What makes the EICaH project so unique and perhaps even dynamic, is its attempt to pull together knowledge from a spectrum of sources and people. By putting this bluntly, the project’s diverse pool of thought comes from academics, museum professionals, archivists and librarians, students, local and family historians and independent scholars. The core team consists of Professor Margot Finn, Helen Clifford, and Kate Smith. Then there is an Advisory Board consisting of those affiliated with institutions like the V&A, the British Library or local authorities to mention a few. Project associates make up the next segment of those involved and are a healthy mix of those with interests in the British country house, the East India Company, trade and consumption and all the bits in the middle. I’m a project associate simply because I clearly adore country houses and the mixture of histories which can be applied to them.

I don’t want to talk at length about the details of the project as this is fully accessible through the links already given. What I do want to do is address the topics discussed at the mid-project conference which took place at the end of last week.

The conference was split over two days and roughly by content and methodology. The link to the programme is here. On Friday some fascinating papers concerning particular people and places associated with the East India Company were presented to the cosy audience of about 70 avid listeners.

EICaH John McAleer

John McAleer and the architecture of the East India Company’s Offices (image courtesy of Rachael Barnwell)

My favourites were Georgina Green’s research into supercargoes and the roles of East India Company captains; John McAleer’s look at the architecture of the Company’s offices; Stephen McDowall’s extensive and thoughtful examination of material culture and the meanings placed upon specific objects; and Janice Sibthorpe’s Sezincote’s case study. In the evening a keynote lecture by Giorgio Riello about the trade and consumption of cotton textiles finished the day on a high.

Saturday was the day of debate with the focus on how collaboration between academic institutions and those outside the ‘academy’ work effectively or otherwise. Here it was necessary to understand the structure of the project – its framework, but also the questions it was hoping to ask as well as answer. There was  lot to cover.

The most anticipated part of the Saturday sessions was undoubtedly the trip to Osterley Park (which I was unable to attend) but for me in particular it was the discussion concerning the methodology of the project since I was taking part. Upon the very kind invitation of Margot Finn, Helen Clifford and Kate Smith, also participating were Margaret Makepeace (Lead Curator of East India Company Collections at the British Library), Cliff Pereira (Public Engagement Consultant), and Keith Sweetmore (Development Manager at the North Yorkshire Country Record Office) That’s the four of us pictured below.

EICaH me

In the words of Margot Finn, the project is fairly ‘experimental’ in terms of previous attempts by historians to collaborate. I’ve found other projects to be rather formulaic and incredibly constrained by academic protocol (for want of a better word) and so I was eager to see some part of the discussion aimed at how the EICaH project had been able to challenge this. My belief is that for something of this scale to thrive, individual academics must be willing to show motivation and share their professional development both within their respective departments but also elsewhere.

I, for one, despise the Research Excellence Framework (replacing the Research Assessment Exercise) since it encourages exclusivity through peer review whilst exposing a neat way to keep academic research knotted tightly to the academy. In more simple terms, any research undertaken by an academic institution, regardless of wider collaboration eventually becomes the possession of that institution and the doors close to those without academic affiliation.

So where does the EICaH project fit in? I understand there to be two distinct parts to its methodology and its collaborative efforts represent the major part; the role of the country houuse as means of posing and answering questions, the lesser part. Margot Finn and Helen Clifford are the highly motivated academics who initiated the project and discussed its possibilities long before it began. They also have a desire to promote greater dissemination of their own findings to wider audiences. Inevitably, they are bound by academic protocol because funding for projects like this comes with certain criteria to which any published material or outcome must adhere.

However, it should be noted that the EICaH project is perhaps transitional. Finn declared it to be experimental, indeed there is still more to be said about exactly how the country house community and household may be placed within an imperial and global context, but the project can provide a working model for future historians.

At the end of the conference though, I came away satisfied that history can be made more accessible both to bigger audiences and to those wishing to undertake historical research. The academic can put something into context, and the museum professional can provide layers of interpretation, but a historian is not limited to fancy apparatus like the scientist, or material compounds like the chemist in order to test a theory; history is about thinking. Many of Britain’s archives, libraries and collections are freely accessible to everyone, working collaboratively can enrich the pools of thought and maintain a flow of intellect whether someone has an academic tenure or not.

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* Warwick University links are still accessible and currently functional. I have left the original post on countryhousereader (dated March 2012) with these links in tact. The same case studies are also available on the UCL blog which has transferred everything over to this new site. The links in this post are for the UCL blog.

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Filed under Building the Country House, Men and the Country House, Women and the Country House

The News for the New Year: an Exhibition for Nostell Priory.

Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet and his wife Sabine Louise Winn in the library at Nostell Priory, 1770.

Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet and his wife Sabine Louise Winn in the library at Nostell Priory, 1770 (copyright National Trust Collection).

Over three years ago the archive of the Winn family of Nostell Priory, Yorkshire were put into the ownership of the West Yorkshire Archives Service* under the jurisdiction of Wakefield Metropolitan Council as part of an Acceptance in Lieu grant.

I was still floating about in a post doctoral haze and was in need of something new to get my claws into.

I had written about Nostell Priory, especially Sabine Winn, the wife of the 5th Baronet (both pictured above) and her role as household manager including her relationship with the Nostell servants. So, wherever I went, whoever I spoke with, whatever I wanted to research, Nostell Priory was always there – looming.

Not surprisingly, the thought of being able to make a complete fuss about the importance of keeping the Winn family papers in Yorkshire was going to be very high on my agenda.

Together with the expertise of a senior academic from the University of Leeds, in May 2010 research began for an exhibition (and book) to be held at the house commencing in 2015. The working title for this is ‘From House to Home’, and will focus on two generations of the family – Sir Rowland Winn, 4th Baronet and his son the 5th Baronet and his wife.

Our ambitions are grand, to be sure, and we are hoping to show how rich these papers are. Nostell Priory is associated with famous names in architecture and design including Thomas Chippendale, the Adam Brothers, James Paine, as well as fine art by Kauffman, Zucchi and Brueghel. Yet, the Winn family papers also reveal several interesting layers in social and cultural history. The exhibition will therefore highlight many themes associated with country house living in the eighteenth century and attempt to show the relationships the Winns had with their architects, suppliers, extended family, and staff, as well as demonstrate the eccentricities of particular family members and how they came to be perceived by society.

Ultimately, the exhibition will encourage visitors to think about how an elite family like the Winns made their mark in the cultural landscape of the period at regional and national levels through their consumer tastes, shopping habits, sociability, and of course, their house.

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My intention is to provide updates here as the project progresses, and any comments and questions are welcome, so long as they’re constructive!

*The papers are of great importance to the nation, their location at the West Yorkshire Archives Service (WYAS) however is something the region is understandably proud of given the associations with well-known names. The papers were recently voted as one of the Archives’ treasures by the public and archive staff, and in May 2012 the WYAS received a £37,000 grant to complete and improve the Winn family papers.

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Collections, The Nostell Project

Guest Post: Ian West and Country House Technology – a New Book

As the administration of my own research steps up a gear, less time will be devoted to my dear blog. However, my aim over the coming months is to invite others to help disseminate and promote what is currently taking place within the study, conservation, restoration and funding of country houses. This may not necessarily be throughout the UK, and I would like to think that I can encourage some guest posts from those working or studying in this field overseas. No doubt I shall drop by from time to time as I am sure many readers will be eager to hear about my research as it unfolds. For the time being though I will hand over to those scurrying away amongst archival papers, dusty workshops, and fundraising events.

The first guest spot is from Dr Ian West, who alongside Professor Marilyn Palmer is co-author of The Country House Technology Project at the University of Leicester. Research began in 2008, and quite interestingly was established within the Centre for Historical Archaeology rather than the more obvious Centre for the Study of the Country House also at Leicester. This approach probably lends a refreshing view to the growing curiosity in how the country house worked and suitably links industrial archaeology with the art and social histories of the country house.

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Ian West

University of Leicester

From the eighteenth century onwards, country houses were seen by their owners as a visible manifestation, not just of their wealth and power, but also of their taste and refinement; increasing emphasis was placed on the comfort and privacy of the family and their guests. Technology played an important role in this: cold, dark rooms became warm and brightly lit, bells were used to summon servants from the basements or service wings to which they had been banished, and lifts and even railways carried food from distant kitchens and coal from the cellars.

Since 2008, I have been working with Marilyn Palmer, Emeritus Professor of Industrial Archaeology at the University of Leicester, on a project studying the adoption of technology in country houses and the impact this had on the occupants of the houses. This work has attracted growing interest, as public fascination with life “below stairs” – fuelled by television series like Downton Abbey and by the popularity of family history research – has encouraged more properties to open up their service areas. Our research is helping in the interpretation of these areas and of the remains of other historic technologies, some of which, like hydro-electric generation, are being brought back into use.

Another manifestation of the interest in this subject was the sell-out weekend conference which the project organised in Oxford in 2010. This month sees the publication of a book based on the proceedings of that event. As well as examining the social impact of domestic technology, the book includes essays on country house lighting, sanitation and gas and electricity generation, together with detailed case studies of the technology employed at Lanhydrock and Holkham Hall, in the gardens at Calke Abbey and the security measures adopted at Wollaton Hall. Beyond the confines of the house, the book also describes the development of industry and model farms on country house estates. Country House Technology, edited by Paul Barnwell and Marilyn Palmer, is published by Shaun Tyas, price £40. With the support of the National Trust, Professor Palmer and I are also working on a major book covering all aspects of country house technology which is expected to be published in 2014.

For more information on the work of the Country House Technology Project, go to:

http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/archaeology/research/centre-for-historical-archaeology/research-1/country-house-technology

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Filed under Book reviews, Building the Country House, Recommended Literature, The running of the country house

Out with the Old, In with the New.

The last few weeks have been particularly hectic for me. I have been massively distracted by the Olympics, and needless to say, I wish I’d maintained the skills I had in hockey when I left college! Nevermind though, perhaps I could take up handball in time for Rio. Apart from sport, I have kept to my books a little bit, and whilst I clearly haven’t attended to my blog, that doesn’t mean to say that it hasn’t been a platform for activity.

I have had several requests and queries from folk including the desire of an elderly lady to deposit her great great grandfather’s photograph album of Halton House, Buckinghamshire at the archives there, through to prompts and ‘shout-outs’ regarding academic courses, image copyright and project developments.

Besides all that, I’m about to move house too. After almost two years in rural Oxfordshire, I am packing my things and going to the Big Smoke of England – London. And so, this got me thinking about elements of house moving on a larger scale than that of a standard three bedroomed semi-detached house. Typically, the country house is synonymous with patrilineal inheritance, static wealth and legacies, so much so, that we forget how common it is for houses themselves to have had several occupiers and owners over the decades or centuries. Houses and portions of estate might have formed part of a bargaining tool in times of political turmoil, or merely advertised as leasehold properties in newspapers, rented out to close friends or family, or simply sold on the market. Whatever the circumstances, many houses have seen a great deal of movement. Imagine the hubbub as the house move gains pace; the packing of crates and boxes, the taking of inventories, the to and fro of servants and agents, the anguish over a lost item.

Moving House by Vincenzo Campi 1580-90, Oil on canvas (previously shown at the V&A)

Another aspect of the large-scale house move would be in building and creating the country house from the moment the first stone was set. Landed gains of the 16th century after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, or industrial wealth of the 18th and 19th centuries are part of this debate, but I want to take a peek at one family – the Cokes. Their ‘house move’ epitomised the desire for residential expansion in the 18th century as well as conspicuous consumption of fashionable goods and design on a large scale. It also highlights the giant sense of resettlement in order to gain dynastic stability for an elite family.

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The Cokes owned the manor of Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire from the turn of the 17th century.  The manor house at Minster Lovell is now a ruin perched romantically on the edge of the River Windrush as it winds away from the Cotswolds.

Minster Lovell

Minster Lovell (owned by English Heritage, author’s own image)

There had been a house on the site since the 12th century, but the ruins are mainly what remains of a large new structure built in the 1430s by William, Baron of Lovell and Holand. William and his descendants, most notably his grandson Francis Lovell were to make good political connections and riches through marriage, and loyalty to the king. This was, however undone when Francis supported Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. The Lovell estates were turned over to the Crown, and so Minster Lovell was stripped of its owner/occupier. The Cokes made their appearance by 1603 when it came into the possession of the most successful and influential lawyer of his time Sir Edward Coke, who may have viewed the manor house as a retreat or lodge close enough to England’s capital, but far away enough to experience peace and serenity. In any case, the house itself provided him with a good rental income.

Portrait of Thomas Coke by Francesco Trevisani (Earl of Leicester Collection)

It his descendant, Thomas Coke, (1697-1759, Earl of Leicester created 1744) who is important here as it is claimed he was in residence at Minster Lovell in the 1720s, even advancing to the peerage with the title of Baron Lovell of Minster Lovell in May 1728. Coke had been on an extensive Grand Tour as a teenager and returned to England in 1718 with a plethora of goods including art works by Claude, several sculptures and some works of Leonardo da Vinci – most notable of his Grand Tour treasures being the Codex Leicester. It is unlikely that any of these fine things ever reached Minster Lovell, as Coke had other plans. The family obviously held other estates. Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire was where Sir Edward Coke retired to in the early 1600s, but it was in the possession of Sir Richard Halsey by the 1720s. So, where else was there? John Hostettler in his book on Sir Edward Coke mentions ‘the estates’ as a collective and only one in particular – Holkham in Norfolk.*

It is likely there was a residence on the Holkham estate in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though much of that part of the Norfolk landscape was barren marshland before Thomas Coke reclaimed it in 1722 for landscaping. As far as I can tell there seems to be a connection to a Waterden Hill Hall which was described as ‘near falling down for want of an inhabitant’ in 1678. Today, wherever Hill Hall existed (possibly now known as Waterden Farm), it is only 3 or 4 kilometres n0rth from Waterden farmland to one of the most gorgeous pieces of Palladian architecture in England.

The south front of Holkham Hall, Norfolk.

Thomas Coke started Holkham Hall in 1734, with the intention of housing his wealth of Grand Tour treasures as well as showcasing his appreciation of classical art and culture. The awesome nature of Holkham is found in the magnificent Marble Hall with its plaster dome ceiling and alabaster shipped from Derbyshire – ingredients which marked the beginning of a new era in country house building and design. There is much to be said about Holkham Hall and Thomas Coke. He was well acquainted with Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington and William Kent, he was clearly a key part of the social network known as the ‘dilettanti’, but like many elite men of his generation he made hasty investments and financial losses during the South Sea Bubble in 1720 delayed the building work. It is likely therefore that Holkham may have been started even earlier if it was not for this depletion of funds.

Conjectured view of Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote in the 18th century (copyright English Heritage)

Minster Lovell and other Coke estates were but stepping stones to greater things. The old Oxfordshire manor was incredibly outdated, dusty even, it was too compact and secluded. The characteristics which presumably had made it attractive to Sir Edward Coke were now disadvantageous. The new house at Holkham was meant to be an architectural cabinet of riches. Coke’s sculptures were to be displayed in his Marble Hall, and so numerous were they, that some were placed in the dining room and a gallery which incidentally was also used for entertaining. The experience of visiting Holkham Hall both in the 18th century and today is certainly one of pomp. The educated Coke returning from the European Continent was a sophisticated, well-connected young man, and was eager to declare this to a wider audience. Upon advancement to the peerage in 1728 with a title which linked him so closely to Minster Lovell, Coke had already been planning his new house, he was just waiting for the right moment to begin.

The Statue Gallery at Holkham Hall (copyright England’s Finest)

This was all about consolidating funds and creating a grand establishment from where the Coke estates could be efficiently administered. Anything resembling a residence on the other estates could be leased and therefore generated further income. However, the Cokes still held onto the manor at Minster Lovell, even selling off building materials from the house in 1747. The remainder of the land still in the possession of the Cokes (mainly woodland) was sold by 1854. Unfortunately, Thomas Coke never got to see his new house on the Holkham estate finished, dying in 1759 around the age of 62 and still struggling to recover his financial losses: it would take another five years for the house to be completed. His descendants still reside at Holkham throughout the year, and make regular use of the state rooms out of season.

My house move is rather more ordinary. I do not have estates to manage, or capital to expand. My dynastic legacy will still be a suburban semi-detached house with a garage and garden. Nor do I have aspirations to appear on Grand Designs, but if I did have the finances, I’d be sure to purchase a good bit of land and build something suitably generous and accommodating.

* According to the index of Holkham Hall papers, audit books for the 1720s show estates in Suffolk, Kent, Dorset, and Norfolk, amongst others.

Links:

Minster Lovell Hall (English Heritage) http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/minster-lovell-hall-and-dovecote/

British History Online – Minster Lovell http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=117025

Some gorgeous pictures of Minster Lovell http://katie-randomnest.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/little-wander-round-minster-lovell.html

Historic Houses Association and Holkham Hall http://www.hha.org.uk/Property/62/Holkham-Hall

Art Collections at Holkham Hall http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_collections_of_Holkham_Hall

Creating Holkham Hall http://lifetakeslemons.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/the-bones-of-holkham-hall/

A visit to Holkham http://glasspilgrim.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/holkham-hall.html

References:

Olive Cook, The English Country House. (1974)

John Hostettler, Sir Edward Coke: A Force for Freedom. (Chichester, 1997)

Leo Schmidt and Christian B. Keller, Holkham. (2005)

A. J. Taylor, Minster Lovell Hall. (English Heritage Guidebooks, 1985)

Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, The Building of the English Country House. (2000)

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Collections, Men and the Country House

‘A Commodious Mansion, or rather Maisonette…’ Heathfield House, Oxfordshire

As Bletchingdon Park, Oxfordshire goes on the market for a cool £20,000,000, I thought I would construct a small piece of research for my own records. However, I was ultimately distracted by a smaller house nearby – Heathfield House. After some internet searches I found I liked it a lot; it was an easy thing getting hooked by its particularly unpretentious history.

Heathfield House, Bletchingdon, Oxfordshire (East or garden front).

As the name suggests, Heathfield House was built on scrub or wasteland. This pocket of land originally belonged to Lord Arundell of Wardour ‘a Count of the Holy Roman Empire’  whose tenants had partially reclaimed the land for farming at the end of the eighteenth century. The land was then sold to Thomas Richard Walker (c.1780-1837) in 1814 for about £10,000, and it was he who built the present structure. Walker was an Oxford banker – the nephew of Thomas Walker from whom he had inherited the partnership of Thomas Walker & Co. or the University and City Bank shortly after 1800. The Walker family men were wealthy individuals who held sufficient influence in Oxford and the county. Thomas Walker had been town clerk of Oxford between 1756 and 1795, as well as being made town clerk of Woodstock in 1767. He was well established with successive Dukes of Marlborough and acted as agent for several great local families. Thomas Richard Walker carried on where his uncle had left off; maintaining strong connections with the leading Oxfordshire landowners as well as promoting himself to the status of landowner with use of private wealth gained through the family banking business.

By the time Heathfield House had been completed in 1816, the Walkers had become a part of the local elite; their home was gracious and habitable, it had everything a family required with its private gardens, shrubbery, stabling and outbuildings, as well as views over the Oxfordshire countryside. Their neighbour at Bletchingdon Park, Viscount Valentia, would grow eager to know them.

In his Annals of Bletchingdon in the County of Oxford, (1872), architect and surveyor, William Wing said of Heathfield House,

Mr. Thomas Richard Walker, a banker of Oxford, by judicious draining, fencing and road making, reclaimed the land, erected a commodious mansion, or rather maisonette … this estate known as Heathfield, has two good lengths of frontage to turnpike roads, two lodges, suitable farm buildings and dwellings, ranges of stabling, loose boxes and the like…                                    (p.54)

Regrettably there are no surviving building accounts, but there are later records which add flavour to the description given by Wing in 1872. Upon Thomas Richard Walker’s death in 1837 Heathfield House and other real estate passed to his eldest son Rev. Henry Walker (born about 1810). Henry probably didn’t live at Heathfield but due to the requests of Thomas Richard Walker’s will, and perhaps as an attempt to keep the house occupied and in the hands of Walker family members, another of his sons, George Richard Walker bought the house from his brother Henry in 1842 for nearly £14,000. Most of the surviving records date from this period, and reveal just how commodious and yet comfortable the house was at this time. Census returns of 1851 and 1861 show a simple set-up of George, his wife Charlotte and two or three servants at the most. George and Charlotte had no children and so their domestic arrangement contrasted greatly with nearby Bletchingdon Park with its eight or nine family members and 14 servants for those same years respectively.

When George became a widower in 1863 he devoted his time to the study and experimentation of horse diets; something he even published a pamphlet on in 1865 (the full title is given below).  Yet, Heathfield may well have seemed lonely, and it likely he started to contemplate a move. The most gorgeous of the surviving documents is certainly a couple of inventories which were intended as material documentation by George Richard Walker when he eventually sold Heathfield to the 11th Viscount Valentia in 1868 for the generous sum of £21,890 (the National Archives calculate this to be about £1 million in today’s money). George compiled a full inventory of the house and contents with estimated values listed in the right hand column. He then wrote out the items which were to remain at the house after the sale and passed this volume to Valentia.

My favourite is the drawing-room which contained amongst other things ten carved chairs with stuffed cushions in chintz covers, an Easy chair, an elbow rosewood chair in green morocco leather,  a pair of mahogany card tables, a rosewood centre table with worked velvet and satin cover, and six cushions in needlework. The list of chattels in the Hall also evokes images of how Heathfield once operated, there was a chiffonier (what I coarsely call a sideboard), a double set of croquet mallets and Balls, a pair of camp stools, painted hat stand, and ironwork to stove and hot air chamber. Even the servants’ quarters were well equipped; Painted chest of four drawers, dressing table with two drawers, curtain rail, three Bamboo chairs, painted washstand and white basin, mahogany corner washstand, mahogany bidet, painted dressing table with drawer, and a pole fire screen.

The full inventory shows there was once a portrait of Thomas Walker by Gainsborough which hung in the dining room. Not surprisingly, George Richard Walker took this with him, but I wonder where it is now?

Vanity Fair caricature from 1899 depicting the 11th Viscount Valentia ‘MP for Oxford City’

By 1868, Heathfield had been in the Walker family for over half a century, and it may initially have been with some reluctance that George made the decision to leave. There is no substantial proof, but I believe that Valentia saw some great advantage in the property and perhaps nudged Walker to part with the place after Charlotte’s death. Moreover, and given that the families had been close neighbours for over 50 years plus Valentia’s standing amongst the Oxfordshire elite, it seems rather cynical of George to note him in a Statutory Declaration made in 1868 as ‘Rt. Hon Arthur Viscount Valentine’ rather than ‘Valentia’.From this date though, the house was completely in the ownership of the 11th Viscount Valentia, who leased the property to Hon. Cecil T. Parker (a son of the 6th Earl of Macclesfield) and his family for a short-term, before setting the house up as a dower house for his mother Flora and her second husband Major General Hon. George Talbot Devereux. In 1901 Charles J. Stratton (a descendant of George Stratton, Governor of Madras) and his wife Florence resided at Heathfield. The 11th Viscount Valentia died in 1927 and the Heathfield estate passed to his son Caryl Arthur James Annesley (12th Viscount) who attempted to sell the property to Col. John Alsager Pollock in 1928. Pollock had borrowed money from Valentia in order to buy Heathfield, but defaulted on his payments and eventually fled his many creditors, and the country before 1935.

After a couple of years, and with great difficulty and expense, Valentia sold Heathfield to Violet Blanche Ruck-Keene, widow of William George Elmhirst Ruck-Keene. There is little evidence to suggest Violet lived at Heathfield House, but the house would certainly have suited her needs. Even today, it rests quietly beyond the busy A34 and M40 roads.

Needless to say, Heathfield has become the ideal location for its present-day use as a privately run care home with renowned high standards maintained by Clive and Pippa Hawes. It is neither flashy nor drab and sits snugly in the landscape. I admit to liking the magnificence of large country houses that impose themselves on the landscape and alert you to their presence through the avenues of trees and gaps in stocky park walls. And yet, Heathfield is the kind of country house which almost defines the ideal of country living. It is unpretentious, and that has everything to do with the vision of the Walker family, but it is also genteel and indeed commodious. Perhaps one day, I could discover more about the Walker family and their mark upon the Oxfordshire landscape. Like many late eighteenth century professionals their aspirations to join the elite meant hard work and self-promotion through clever land purchases and building work. Places like Heathfield therefore retain their stature, and can often make themselves ‘useful’ in modern times because of their size and functionality. The small country house might not have all the necessary associations with local grandees and their political hosting, but they nonetheless have influence on their surroundings and the social hierarchies of the time.

May the purchaser of Bletchingdon Park know their local history. . .

Links:

Heathfield House Nursing Home http://www.heathfield-house.co.uk/

The development of modern Oxford, with references to Thomas Walker http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22805&strquery=

A look at those country houses for sale in 2012 including Bletchingdon Park http://countryhouses.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/so-you-made-the-sunday-times-rich-list-2012-a-selection-of-country-houses-for-sale/

References:

The pamphlet George Richard Walker wrote on the care and diet of horses is, Horses, Their Rational Treatment, Causes of Their Deterioration, and Premature Decay: Race Horses, Their Mismanagement, the False Aims of the Jockey Club, and of Trainers Considered and Explained. Reflections on the Objects, and Result of the Grants of Public Money for Queen’s Plates (Slatter and Rose: Oxford, 1865).

William Wing, Annals of Bletchingdon in the County of Oxford, (1872).

Walker family papers and those of the Viscounts Valentia are held at the Oxfordshire History Centre.

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The Country House and the Motor Car

          This post is based on a brilliant piece of research undertaken in 2010 by Pete Smith for English Heritage, presumably as part of The Car Project

The Motor Car and the Country House is a great read, and I would recommend saving or printing the file for your own records – even if cars are not ‘your thing’!  Until the end of the nineteenth century, moving on foot or by horse was the norm. Within a very short space of time, automobile transport changed everything. Today, travelling to the country house is so simple in the car, and we may even pity the odd member of staff who makes the walk from the main gate to work. Country living is even synonymous with certain types of vehicle – the Land Rover and the Range Rover. And who hasn’t visited a British country house without stumbling through some classic car show?

What follows is an overview of the research paper (images from the paper have not been included, as these are author copyright of Pete Smith 2010).

Preparing for the 1000 Mile Trial, possibly at Welbeck Park, Nottinghamshire, 1900 (Science and Society Picture Library).

          The country house’s relationship with the motor car began in the final decade of the nineteenth century. Smith offers some useful facts and figures here: car ownership numbered less than 10 in 1895 but had grown to over 16,000 registered cars by 1906 and over 150,000 by 1912 (p. 1). In this time, car ownership had therefore developed from a pleasurable pastime to a fairly reliable means of regular transport. A neighbourly visit could be rather more impromptu and did not require advance ‘booking’ of the head groom, and attending to matters of the estate became increasingly efficient. Strikingly, the early models were constructed by coach makers and preserved ancient coaching names like ‘Phaeton’ or simply the ‘horseless carriage’ and according to The Autocar of 1 June 1901 cars were in ‘brisk demand because of their elegance, ease of handling and reasonable prices’. I worked this out – not very mathematically – but an early US model would cost about $750, which in the exchange rates of 1900 would be about £150. The spending power of £150 in Britain in 1900 is the equivalent of about £8,500 in today’s money. That would buy a nice runaround these days but would get you about 5 horses in 1900.

US advert from The National Automobile and Electric Company, 1901

          The young elite such as 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1866–1929) formed the core of those involved in the development and spread of motoring in this early period due in the main to leisure time and wealth. Yet, motor car ownership was clearly an expensive business. The decline of the country estate from the end of the nineteenth century put many off the purchase of such a smelly, noisy and often unreliable object (p. 5). Moreover, they were seen as obtrusive and a nuisance; they spoilt the calm of the countryside. A typical owner was either the offspring of a landed family who spent most of their time in London, or a member of the professional middle classes, like doctors for example, who found this mode of transport exceptionally useful for work. Nonetheless, the country house was often a venue for motoring club meetings,

… the Lincolnshire Automobile Club had a very pleasant run on Saturday, July 5th, on the invitation of Mr. C. Godson, a member of the club … The day was a perfect one for motoring, and the roads were in pretty good condition, although there was plenty of dust. A long halt was made at Asgarby Hall [Heckington, near Sleaford], where Mr. Godson entertained the members to tea under the shade of the fine old trees on the lawn in front of the house.

(The Car Illustrated, July 16th, 1902, p. 287)

          Perhaps the most famous member of the elite to have a major impact on the development and popularity of

The Hon. C. S. Rolls in is autocar with the future King Edward VII. Photograph taken about 1900 (The National Archives UK)

the motor car was the Hon Charles Stewart Rolls (1877-1910) the third son of John Alan Rolls, who was created 1st Baron Llangattock in 1892 (p. 13). Whilst at Cambridge, Rolls was introduced to motoring through Sir David Salomons. He soon had his own car imported, a 3.75 horsepower Peugeot, at a cost of £225 (a modern car will have up to 100 horsepower and beyond). Rolls became an active member of several motoring clubs and organised a meet of the Automobile Club at his father’s country seat, The Hendre in Monmouthshire, in October 1900. By the end of the decade, and with the financial help of his father, Rolls had co-founded with Sir Frederick Henry Royce the Rolls-Royce Company including a new purpose-built factory in Derby. His fascination with new technology eventually took him to his death whilst participating in an aviation tournament in Bournemouth in 1910. Yet, as Smith states, Rolls had made ‘an incalculable contribution to the promotion of motoring in Britain’ and it would be the Rolls-Royce car which, more than any other, would find themselves parked outside the country houses of England in the years ahead (p. 14).

          The architectural impact of motoring was not a sudden or glorious one, and Smith pays particular attention to this in his research. Due to the type of car ownership in this early period, relatively few country house owners had purpose-built motor houses. Before the days of car dealerships and garages, the early motor car required daily maintenance which had to be provided on site. New country houses were designed with accommodation for the motor car like at Broomhill (Salomons Museum), Kent, and at Rosenau House, Buckinghamshire – both motor houses dated c.1902. But older establishments had to adapt and in this instance the ever more redundant stables and coach house became the most obvious alternative. For some country house owners, a new road layout or resurfacing of an existing one to the house was also seen as an essential part of the development into motoring. Rows of garages would be needed for housing the vehicles, and extra space was needed for a workshop and inspection pit. Add to this the living quarters of the chauffeur and an entirely new country house department evolved.

          Some were beautifully designed buildings, and Smith has included several of his own images. Generally, the motor

Porter Limo advert from 1920 Country Life magazine

house was seen as functional, and its lower status was reflected in its architectural proportions compared with existing stable blocks which still retained elements of grandeur. A more general view was reflected in Country Life magazine which was happy to include discussion on the motor car but only amongst its arts and fashion section, and rarely with a good photograph.

          After the first world war, the motor car became a necessary component of the country house party and the ‘bright young things’ lifestyle. It is difficult to imagine all those jazz-inspired characters flitting from one party to the next by horse and carriage. The motor car enabled the hasty visitor to arrive on time, but leave early – and probably rather discreetly as they moved onto the next house party. This mode of transport also added a degree of sprightliness to an afternoon of tennis, or a breezy picnic. The growing distances to which a car could cover meant that far away neighbours, friends, events and places of interest were visited in greater frequency (p. 20). For the country house and the estate the motor car had even better impact since it meant official duties could be carried out with efficiency. The estate steward may have even been offered use of a motor vehicle in his own duties visiting tenants and inspecting crops and game (p. 20). There was suddenly a cleaner, more reliable way of moving around the estate. Here, Smith makes use of some particularly funny photos from magazines The Car Illustrated and The Motor which suggest that a decent track was not always needed and many owners were happy to see their cars used in more traditional sporting activities!

Donington Park race circuit – the house and associated outbuildings are at the top of the picture (Google maps)

          Throughout the twentieth century, the relationship between motor car and country house developed into three main threads; sport, leisure and of course, necessity. The country house became the venue for motoring club meetings where those who could afford one might discuss horse power, bodywork, distance and speed as well as comfort. The car also aided the development of existing sports like golf and cricket enabling shorter journey times over greater distances. Crucially, the car had its own sports – races, rallies and hill climbs. Donington Park (see above) even made itself the home of motorsports in the 1930s with motorcycle races; a move which later kept the house safe from destruction. A combination of these factors together with its growing reliability in getting from ‘A to B’ meant that the motor car was in fact a decisive tool in saving many a country house from demolition or neglect in post-war Britain. Some are the settings for golf clubs, others are spa hotels and places of retreat. Some are accessible to the general motorist whilst some simply remain working estates. All of these would be impossible without a determined driver and their car.

Links:

More on the Research Department Report Series http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/research-reports/

The Automotive Industry in Britain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automotive_industry_in_the_United_Kingdom

Tha National Motor Museum at Beaulieu http://nationalmotormuseum.org.uk/homepage

Britain’s oldest Automobile Marque http://www.daimler.co.uk/ and King Edward VII and his Daimlers http://www.rvondeh.dircon.co.uk/vehicles/edward.html

The Rolls of Monmouth Golf Club – The Hendre http://www.therollsgolfclub.co.uk/

… And not forgetting Dorothy Levitt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Levitt

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