Category Archives: Spotlight On ….

As chosen by me! Although, I may incorporate a suggestion or two!

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?

4 Comments

Filed under Architecture and Design, Collections, Parks and Gardens, Spotlight On ....

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!

blog

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.

IMG_0441

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.

blog kirby frieze

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’.

IMG_0409

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.

1090673 hatton npg

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.

WP_20141228_009

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.

blog kirby apse

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

1 Comment

Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Men and the Country House, Spotlight On ....

BBC News: Stars of film and television

Arley Hall

The following is an article from the BBC News website which highlights the growing sense of place found in the (mainly English) country house today and how this can be captured on film. Prompted by Disney’s Evermoor which will be filmed at Arley Hall in Cheshire (above), the attraction of the country house for native and international television viewers and film audiences is still clearly strong.

[Original BBC News article can be found here.]

Arley Hall, Cheshire.

This country house is to be used as the set of the Disney Channel’s first UK live production. Evermoor, a teen drama, will be filmed at Arley Hall, near Warrington, with the Victorian property becoming the latest English stately home used to wow an international audience. The house has previously featured in programmes including Hollyoaks, Coronation Street and The Forsyte Saga. The UK Press – particularly The Independent anticipate the arrival of a new setting which could equal that of Hogwarts, otherwise known as Alnwick Castle (see below).

Here is a selection of other spectacular settings made famous by Hollywood and the TV screen.

Highclere Castle, Hampshire

Highclere Castle
Downton Abbey filming

As a friend of the owners, Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes had Highclere Castle in mind as he wrote the first series of the period drama.

The last series of the ITV show pulled in an average of 11.8 million viewers in the UK. A new instalment is due later this year. The Newbury castle is home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.

line break

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle

Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry came to life on screen in the magical surroundings of Alnwick Castle. Owned by the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, the castle now offers “broomstick training” to its younger visitors.

Jonathan Kewley, honorary secretary of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, said the attraction of country houses to film makers – and visitors – was the fact they were “big enough to be a world”.

He said: “Most of these country houses are set in large grounds and once you go in you’re inside an enclosed world. “They’re big enough for children to get lost in and find all sorts of hidden rooms or explore outside and it’s easier to suspend a sense of disbelief.”

line break

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Chatsworth House

The 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice used Chatsworth House as Mr Darcy’s residence.

The enormous grounds, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, have also welcomed casts and crews of The Duchess, starring Kiera Knightley, and horror film The Wolf Man.

Mr Kewley said many visitors to stately homes were more interested in the human stories attached to them rather than the buildings themselves. He said: “People go round and think ‘what would it be like to live here?’ Visitors are interested in the people who did live in the homes and what their back story is.”

line break

Kenwood House, London

Kenwood House, London

The Hampstead location for scenes from the movie Notting Hill is described by English Heritage as “London’s hidden gem”.

Kenwood House also featured in the Peter O’Toole movie Venus.

Mr Kewley said the cultural differences between England and other countries- and the fact architecture in the country was quite different to that found elsewhere – added to the mystery and intrigue surrounding country homes.

line break

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace

Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace and it is now a World Heritage Site. It also boats an impressive list of film credits. James Corden and Catherine Tate starred in 2010’s Gulliver’s Travels while parts of Harry Potter and the Indiana Jones films were also shot at the Woodstock mansion.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, released in 1934, was the first film to make use of the grounds.

4 Comments

Filed under Spotlight On ...., Uncategorized

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

66ebafaba843490ae1997b2748c892b5

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

View original post 1,498 more words

1 Comment

Filed under Architecture and Design, Book reviews, Exhibitions, Spotlight On ....

Deene Park, Northamptonshire

deenepark-large

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)

2 Comments

Filed under Building the Country House, Collections, Spotlight On ....

‘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.

2 Comments

Filed under Building the Country House, Men and the Country House, Spotlight On ....

Halton House, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

Halton House south entrance (Brunel Design Group image)

Here’s a strange place. Once the country home of Alfred de Rothschild, Halton House is now owned by the Royal Air Force and has made many a film and television appearance. Today, its mellow sandstone facings offer a warm welcome for junior officers during the day as they make their trek from the main camp accommodation a few hundred metres away.

Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918) took over the Halton estate in 1880 with hopes of providing himself with a grand residence to match those of his brothers, brother-in-law and uncles elsewhere in Buckinghamshire (see the links below for more on the Rothschild family). A powerful and wealthy family which had made its mark in the world of high finance and international banking in the late eighteenth century, the Rothschilds were ambitious, discerning and driven. Attracting the attention of European royalty, the family soon gained important patrons in several countries where the males of the family could strengthen the family ties as well as the private purse. Alfred was the grandson of the first ‘English’ Rothschild – Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) and was set to continue in the family business from an early age. His own personal connections with royalty were cemented when studying for a degree in mathematics at Cambridge as he would meet lifelong friend the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (later Edward VII).

The Halton estate had the usual mixed history of ownership; the land belonged to the Monastery of Christchurch, Canterbury, after the dissolution it was bought by the Bradshawe family, then the Winchcombes and Fermors, eventually passing by purchase to the Dashwood family. By the early 1700s there was reportedly a fine Palladian style house on the estate, but by the end of the century it had deteriorated whilst the Dashwoods enjoyed their house at West Wycombe. By the mid-nineteenth century, the estate had been sold to Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) – Alfred’s father. Upon inheriting his father’s estates, Alfred set to work improving where he could, but his desire for his own residence was great, and the Halton estate provided the answer with its sweeping vistas and command over the Chilterns.

The new Halton House, south view 1883

The architect employed by Alfred may well have been William R. Rogers who was the design partner in the banking

North Drawing Room ceiling vignette (author’s own, 2008)

firm. Yet, Alfred wanted something to mirror the style adopted by his brother-in-law who was completing Waddesdon Manor, a French inspired luxury. At Halton, the French chateaux style was clearly the dominant feature, but Alfred incorporated elements of Italianate, Scottish, and Moorish architectural styles. The result was a large house made up of four floors with an adjoining servants’ wing and winter garden. Inside, architectural flourish was and still is, everywhere; silk damask wall-hangings, parquet flooring, ornate plaster ceilings, gilded swags, frescoes and elaborate skylights.

Halton House Billiard Room, south-east corner (author’s own image, 2008)

It is the layout of Halton House that is so intriguing however, and it is possible to be misled by the size of the rooms simply by looking at the exterior of the building. The central salon, which rises through two floors to 31 feet, is about 48 feet long and 38 feet wide. To the north and south side of the salon are entrances to the garden and drive respectively with adjoining smoking room, boudoir, library and private sitting room spaces. To the west there is an ante room which once led to the winter garden (the latter was demolished in the 1930s to make way for RAF single officers’ accommodation), and to the east, the grand staircase. In each corner, there are large rooms designed as drawing rooms and dining spaces, each measuring about 45 feet long by 26 feet wide (see the billiard room, above).

Attic floor corridor (author’s own, 2008)

The floor above contains the principal bedrooms which are smaller in size to the corresponding rooms below due to the balcony which surrounds the upper edge of the salon. Alfred ensured these rooms were the height of comfort and the four main ‘apartments’ consisted of a bedroom, dressing room and plumbed bathroom – each with radiator. On the second floor, there are extra bedrooms once known as the Bachelors’ Floor also with bathrooms, toilets and dressing rooms. On the third floor (barely visible from the outside) are the attic bedrooms once intended to be used by the servants of visitors to Halton.

Alfred de Rothschild died in 1918 after a short illness. He had continued working in the family business until he grew ill, but had admitted to growing tired and isolated after the death of his brothers in 1915 and 1917. In his will he left a vast number of objects from Halton House to friends and family. The house and estate passed to Alfred’s nephew Mr. Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, because ‘he was the only Rothschild without a country house’, but it was rejected on the grounds that it was not suitable as a residence.

After emptying the house of its remaining contents, Lionel simply sold the whole estate for a nominal sum. Yet, it was not mere chance that the Royal Air Force came to purchase the Halton estate, since its military connection had already been established when Alfred was still alive. During the First World War, many of the staff at Halton left to aid the war effort, while Alfred attempted to support his friends in political and military circles by offering open areas of the estate for use by training engineering personnel. The house and grounds grew ever more decrepit due to a lack of daily care and attention. Worse still, Alfred offered the use of timber from the estate for the trenches in Europe. The old days of entertaining were over, and Halton House was changing. Eventually the training camps changed too and merged with the training schools supporting the Royal Flying Corps. By April 1918, this would be known as the Royal Air Force. It was only a matter of time before the RAF needed to incorporate the remaining facilities under Lord Trenchard’s desire for reorganisation.

Today, Halton House sits awkwardly between these two eras. Modern faces pass through, and yet the old grandeur has not really faded. The winter gardens were removed, some of the fireplaces were blocked up, and the plasterwork needs freshening up. However the house is suffering under great financial restraint. Many will see Halton House as a victim of previous financial mishaps and ‘disagreeable’ social changes, but for those visiting or training today, this kind of building must appear deeply attractive compared to the prefabricated huts and chalets more prevalent on military bases. Certainly, the house has been the backdrop as a television and film set of which the big names include The World is Not Enough, The Duchess, and The Queen but this money goes towards the big MOD pot, and only a small sum goes towards the actual station at Halton. Many rooms are in need of renovation, including the Salon which had its gilding covered in white paint during the 1970s!

Halton House today (aerial view as seen from the north)

I visited on a miserable wet weekend and made several dashes through the grounds in search of the old artificial lake. I was in good company however, as the point of my visit was to cheer on some friends who had completed their RAF training. With some waiting/standing around time, I took my opportunity to disappear on other occasions and sought out an impression of the house and its grounds. We all may prefer the country house museum, since we don’t have to think much about how the house functioned when it was fully habitable for a large family. At Halton however, there is a lot of leg work to be done. I poked my nose into places where I should not have been, and got my guidebook damp as I charged about the parkland! Needless to say, the Ministry of Defence often open up Halton House as part of Heritage Open Days in September. This is one for the more curious!

References:

Beryl E Escott, The Story of Halton House. 4th Edition. (2008)

Mark Girouard, The Victorian Country House. (1979)

Links:

Halton House website http://www.haltonhouse.org.uk/ and on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halton_House

The Rothschild family, their origins and the growth of high finance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothschild_family and the English branch of the Rothschilds with a list of key family members http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothschild_banking_family_of_England

Other Rothschild properties in the Home Counties with links to those including Halton, Waddesdon, Mentmore and Tring http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothschild_properties_in_England

The French taste http://countryhouses.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/the-rise-and-fall-of-french-taste-on-uk-country-houses/

And for a bit of fun – MOD film locations archive http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.films.mod.uk/south_east/halton_1.htm

13 Comments

Filed under Men and the Country House, Spotlight On ....