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‘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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A Harewood House Inventory, 1795.

          The following details are from a copy of an inventory taken upon the death of Edwin Lascelles, Lord Harewood in 1795. [1] The inventory itself is vast and covers the entire house from bottom to top and back again. Inventories of country houses are fascinating because of the depth of information you can retrieve from them simply by discovering the types of items belonging to specific rooms. Not only do you get a sense of how the house was used overall, and by whom, but also their tastes, interests and personal routines. And within the country house specifically, it is possible to view the social microcosm established through owner and staff members. The richness of textures, ornament, the variety of goods, and the storage of chattels reveals the very ordinary day-to-day routines, but highlights the contemporary trends of the time at which the inventory was taken. 

          The very obvious value of this document lies with the fame of those involved in creating the house. Shortly after the death of his father Henry Lascelles in 1753, Edwin commissioned John Carr (1723-1807) to design a new house on the Harewood estate; by 1759 the foundation stone was laid. Robert Adam (1728-1792) was working on designs for the interiors by the mid 1760s and Yorkshire-born Thomas Chippendale  (1718-1779) was made responsible for the furniture and furnishings. For the latter it would be his most grand of commissions, and it no doubt helped in elevating his name as cabinet-maker amongst the elite and aristocracy. However, getting the commissioner to pay for work could be along drawn-out affair. Questions over a substantial payment from Lascelles arose in 1771 (a sum of £3,024 -19 – 0d was still outstanding), but were not settled until 1777. Chippendale’s work is evident throughout the entire 1795 inventory of Harewood House and some of these pieces are highlighted below, indeed many are still in situ within the house. Yet, it would be repetitive to include too much discussion on Chippendale’s large contribution to Harewood. Much research into attribution continues today and The Chippendale Society provides many talks and tours of key collections. The motive here is to examine the diversity of goods at a universally renowned British country house at a significant moment in its history. As the guidebook states, ‘… Edwin Lascelles inherited a manor, spent carefully and left a mansion.’

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There are over 90 rooms at Harewood, including closet spaces and passageways. To give an idea of the layout of the inventory, this is a sample of the goods and chattels for the Dining Room.

1   Grate, Fender, Tongs,  Poker & Hearth Brush      

Harewood dining room guidebook

Harewood House Dining Room (Harewood House Trust)

1   Turkey Carpet and green serge cover

3   Crimson Damask Window Curtains

3   White Canvas Window Blinds

2   Mahogany Sophas covered with Red Leather

20  Mahogany Chairs ditto

2   Sideboard Tables with inlaid Tops and brass ornaments

2   Pedestals & Vauses to suit ditto

1   Oval Winekeeper with brass ornament

1   Face Fire Screen

3   Urns upon Pedestals

 

          The dining room at Harewood received a massive overhaul during the nineteenth century when Sir Charles Barry was called in to make alterations to the house in the 1840s under the watchful eye of Louisa, Lady Harewood wife of Henry, 3rd Earl of Harewood. For this reason, the dining room as viewed today against the 1795 inventory offers an insight into how the room has changed depending on the needs of a household. Barry raised the ceiling and by deepening the room abolished an arched recess making the space more symmetrical and clearly larger in order to accommodate the 3rd Earl, his wife, their thirteen children and any guests. Adam’s original plans for the room – including the arched recess (originally where the fireplace wall is pictured above) had niches for the urns on pedestals, space for a sideboard and wine-cooler. Before the room was completed, the fireplace was given prominence within the recess instead and the sideboards, urns on pedestals and wine-cooler were placed against flanking walls where they remain today. As is also visible in the image , the 20 mahogany chairs covered with red leather still remain too, albeit surrounding a nineteenth-century dining table!

          In later years, some of the contents were sold or broken up. Take for example furniture from the the Couch Room (now part of the Watercolour Rooms or East Bedroom) where the 1795 inventory lists 1 French Couch Bedstead with Dome Top in burnished gold and crimson damask hangings. The dome top was ornamented with a crane about two feet high in gilt

Harewood Library Writing Table now at Temple Newsam House

lime wood, but when the bed was broken up in the nineteenth century, many pieces were lost or discarded. The crane eventually reappeared at a minor sale and was acquired by the Chippendale Society to be put on display at Temple Newsam House in Leeds. As the home of the Chippendale Society, Temple Newsam House holds a good deal of furniture from the original Chippendale commission at Harewood. The most magnificent is surely the library writing table, listed in the 1795 inventory as 1 Large inlaid Library Table with Brass Ornaments. The table was sold in 1965 to help pay for Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood‘s death duties.

          The compiler of the inventory entered the house at basement level starting in the kitchen, scullery and larders, he then turned back on himself to get to the still room and housekeeper’s room on the other side of the main basement passageway. Next came the steward’s rooms, butler’s room and pantries, closets and some servant bedrooms including private entertaining space used by Edwin Lascelles – the coffee room and billiard room. The coffee room contained a wild mixture of delicate and sturdy objects which suggest the taste and interests of Lascelles before his death. There were 45

19th century versions of Wedgwood black basalt sphinxes

Copperplate & Metzotinto Pictures with Frames and Glasses, 2 China Flower Pots over the Fireplace, 2 Small Jars over the door, 4 Small Beasts, 4 Shells, 2 Mahogany Pedistals, 2 Lions on pedistals, 2 Mahogany Dining Tables, 2 Breakfast Tables, 1 Two headed Couch with 2 Bolsters, & 1 Cushion Covered with Needle Work, 10 Oval backed Satton Wood Chairs covered with Needle Work, and 1 Old Easy Chair with leather bottom & covered. Similarly, the billiard room contained amongst other things, 1 Turnup Bed with Moreen Hangings, 2 Pillows, 3 Blankets, 1 Counterpane, 6 Mahogany Armed Chairs with Red leather Bottoms, 1 Mahogany Library Table, 2 Bookstands painted green, 3 China Jars, 4 China Figures, and 2 Black Wedgwood Sphinxes.

          From these rooms, the compiler entered into the passageway and on towards the maids area of the basement including stores, cleaning rooms and dairy. He lists several more bedrooms and storage spaces until reaching the

Harewood State Bed

servants’ hall before ascending the staircase (probably the main staircase) to get to the Great Hall on the principal floor. Most of the rooms on this floor are open to the public today, and as with the example of the dining room above, much of the furniture still survives from the time of the 1795 inventory. Some pieces have been moved to other rooms, some have stayed in the room for which they were intended like the State Bedroom with 1 Bedstead with Dome Top in burnished Gold & green Damask Hangings, 1 Green Damask Counterpane, and 2 Green Damask Window Curtains. Travelling in the opposite direction to the modern-day visitor route, the compiler came back to the main stairs where he noted 2 Vauses, 6 Green & gold Pedestals & Lamps, 1 Clock & Mahogany Case, and 1 Model of a Ship and a Stand. From here he ascended the main stairs to the attic storey or lodging rooms. A total of 14 lodgings with corresponding dressing rooms are recorded and all named according to the design of the wallpaper and furnishings; for example the Purple Cotton Room, the Blue Stripe Room, the Feather Cotton Room, the Bamboo Room, the Red Lodging Room, the Yellow Chintz Room, the Pea Green Room, and the Crimson Room. These form part of the private quarters of the Lascelles family today.

          But what of the more ordinary or extraordinary objects? Throughout the house there are assorted everyday items like clothes horses and racks, night tables (bedside tables sometimes including room for a chamber pot), shaving stands and flower pots. There are those which would also be very familiar to the country house visitor like boot jacks and mahogany ‘toilet’ tables (dressing table). Mixed in with these are those more unusual items which are the gadgets of their day, or form earlier versions of what we take for granted in our own homes today like weighing scales or a bidet.

Possibly a late 18th century bidet

For Edwin’s brother Daniel Lascelles, a bidet was kept in his own apartments at Harewood. In each of the lodging rooms there was a boot jack, a night table or pot table, a washing stand, clothes horse, a pier glass and perhaps a sofa amongst other things.

A Gouty Chair c. 1800 (V&A Collection)

On the principal floor, and placed in a closet next to the dining room, there was a weighing machine. The presence of which conjures up all kinds of images of hypochondria and paranoia about weight. Yet the Merlin’s Gouty Chair in the coffee room below may serve to remind us of how rich eighteenth-century diets played havoc with the body. 

 

The significance of this document in discovering more about a newly built eighteenth-century country house should be examined further. What is discussed above only scratches the surface of social and decorative art histories associated with a country house. I have not even got close to the ‘below stairs’ section of the inventory with its 36 small stew pots, 65 small moulds, or 174 pewter plates! Within the constraints of copyright, I hope it may be possible to return to other aspects of this in later posts.

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Assorted 18th century household paraphernalia. A boot jack is in the centre and a weighing 'machine' is on the right (copyright Christies)

 [1] I acquired a printed copy of the Harewood inventory 1795 at a previous employment whilst helping to shift piles of old educational papers and tatty exhibition related stuff years ago. Apparently the inventory used to be a part of the Harewood House website learning and access pages but these seem to have disappeared. More curious is the actual location of the original document. The Harewood and Lascelles family papers were for many years held at the West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS) in Leeds. I made several fruitless searches on the National Archives and WYAS websites, and a Google search brought a footnote up from S. D. Smith’s Slavery, family and gentry capitalism in the British Atlantic (2006) which listed the document as ‘Inventory of Edwin, Lord Harewood, 27 October 1795 IB 11/3/85’ with no clue to its location. However, the National Archives lists the Harewood Papers as belonging to the Harewood House Trust which indicates the return of the papers to the house itself. With no real intention of appearing churlish, I find this a disappointing move for those interested in exploring more of Harewood House, and the Trust seems reluctant to reveal the contents of its archives without an appointment, phone call or email.

 

 

References:

Clive Edwards et al., British Furniture 1600-2000, Intelligent Layman. (2005)

Harewood, Yorkshire: A Guide (2000)

Mary Mauchline, Harewood House: One of the Treasure Houses of Britain (Revised 2nd edition, 1992)

Simon David Smith, Slavery, family, and gentry capitalism in the British Atlantic: the world of the Lascelles,1648-1834. (2006)

 

Links:

Harewood House website http://www.harewood.org/home (see also the Treasure Houses of Britain) and the restoration of the Harewood State Bed http://www.harewood.org/conservation-estate/conservation-projects/state-bed

Biographies of People and Place: The Harewood Estate 1698-1813, by Timur Guran Tatlioglu http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/1405/1/Microsoft_Word_-_Thesis_TGT_2010_v2_Vol_1.pdf

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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

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Establishing the English Country House Style: Part II, Colefax and Fowler

‘The greatest mistake in the world is to believe that so-called good taste is any use without a sense of comfort to complete it.’

Words of Sibyl Colefax, (Lady Colefax Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford)

‘A room must be essentially comfortable, not only to the body but the eye…well behaved but free from too many rules…mannered yet casual and unselfconscious.’

John Fowler, House and Garden Magazine, (May 1965)

          In the thirties and forties the English country house style began to take shape and a recognisable form. It would become a style associated with a particular brand – Colefax and Fowler. Its key ingredients seemed a breath of fresh country air that mixed damasks and silks with crisp cotton chintzes, it made use of old and often under-utilised pieces of furniture and added elaborate porcelain pieces and ormulu with more modest handmade pottery. Its eclecticism suited the era of make-do and mend, whilst also embracing comfort and a refined eighteenth-century sensibility and elegance.

Colefax & Fowler catalogue sample Veryan Collection 2011 'understated glamour is a keynote throughout'.

           Previously, we took a peek at the design ethos of Nancy Lancaster. During the 1930s, and still married to Ronald Tree, Nancy and her husband were heavily involved in Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire – the house most associated with Nancy Lancaster’s interior design. Ronald had been captivated by the place when they had visited in 1933, and for the couple it perfectly represented the archaic country residence, ‘an unforgettable picture of magnificence and accumulated junk’. Like Kelmarsh Hall, Ditchley was mainly the work of James Gibbs but much grander. And, like Kelmarsh Nancy sought architectural advice from Paul Phipps. For the interior arrangements, Nancy and Ronald used their society connections and called upon the most prominent names of the day including Syrie Maugham, Stephane Boudin of Jansens in Paris and Lady Colefax.

          Not many of the rooms were drastically altered, but Nancy took it upon herself to chip away at walls in order to discover the ‘true’ colours intended for particular rooms when the house was first built in the eighteenth century. To these interiors Nancy added English needlework carpets, damask wall hangings and curtains and mixtures of Italian, English and French furniture acquired from auctions. Nancy was said to dislike the heavy, dark and imposing eighteenth-century English furniture particularly for bedrooms and sitting rooms, and so this eclecticism offered a ‘dash of French’ to an otherwise static space. Other pieces came from Kelmarsh and Nancy would make use of vibrant fabrics and upholstery to complement the muted tones of the greys and blues of the walls.

          As at Kelmarsh Hall, Nancy and Ronald set about modernising and making other spaces more comfortable. This included altering closet spaces on the first floor to provide bathrooms. Yet, nothing was completely overhauled. Architectural historian and diarist, James Lees-Milne wrote of his own visit in the 1930s, ‘Ditchley inside is perfection…Nothing jars. Nothing is too sumptuous, or new.’

The interior at Ditchley Park. Clockwise from top; Bedroom six with blue and white chintz, the Great Hall, the White Drawing Room

          At the same time Nancy and Ronald Tree were expending their energies at Ditchley, one of their assistant designers and advisors – Sibyl Colefax was maintaining her own business in London. A society hostess, Sibyl, Lady Colefax (nee Halsey 1874-1950) was renowned for her subtle and understated arrangements and designs. Inspired by the bohemian group of aristocrats and politicians, the Souls, Sibyl by her own admittance wanted to avoid grandeur and implement comfort and something of a natural flow to interior design. Her own house, Argyll House in Chelsea was an important social hub with guests reportedly including Fred Astaire, Wallis Simpson, Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill.

          The business venture had been borne out of the Wall Street Crash in 1929. Sibyl lost a great deal of money and decided to make the most of her many contacts as a means of staying financially secure. Her contacts became clients as she pursued her interest in interior design, and within a few years she had set up Sibyl Colefax Ltd with Peggy Ward, (later the Countess of Munster) as her partner. In 1938, Peggy urged Sibyl to go into partnership with the relatively young John Fowler whose own experiences were vastly different to his new female business partner.

          John Fowler (1906-1977) was not a member of the elite social circles that Sibyl was accustomed to, but a professional artisan and skilled interior decorator with specialisms in wallpaper, printing and upholstery. He had lost his job at the paint firm Thornton Smith in the downturn following the Wall Street Crash. His skills however, had led antique dealer and decorator Margaret Kunzer to enlist him in her furniture restoration activities supplying Peter Jones department store. John Fowler’s expertise also gave him opportunities to work with Mrs Guy Bethell whose own shop off Grosvenor Square had connected her to Nancy and Ronald Tree. By 1934, John had set up his own small business as John Beresford Fowler Ltd in King’s Road Chelsea, and a stone’s throw from Sibyl Colefax’s Argyll House. By setting up his wares in his garden on a daily basis it was only a matter of time before this society hostess would snap him up. By 1938 Sibyl Colefax was living at Lord North Street and when he joined her company as partner, John Fowler was one of the most sought after decorators.

          Nancy Tree purchased the company in 1944 when her relationship with Ronald was breaking down. Presumably, Sibyl Colefax was eager to ‘retire’ from her involvement in the business, though her name would remain as part of its branding to the present day. The nature of the original partnerships changed dramatically once Nancy was on board. The business relationship between Nancy and John was regarded as somewhat love/hate and intensely creative. However, their beliefs were almost identical in essence, and both held a particular fondness for combined comfort and

Sample of the 'Berkeley Sprig' chintz which would become the logo for Colefax and Fowler

elegance in the way a room must be arranged within the ethos of ‘pleasing decay’ and rustic charm. They both made use of existing furniture and textiles, altering them for suitable effect. Nancy for example would ‘spoil’ new upholstery fabrics by deliberately leaving them out in all weathers in order to give an immediate used appearance. John on the other hand would re-dye old fabrics and simply add new trimmings. His was a ‘humble elegance’, hers was a tatty-edged elegance; John Fowler would complain that Nancy had too much of a fondness for rags, and called Kelmarsh Hall ‘Tatters Hall’ when Nancy was in residence there. But the need to re-use would prove more than essential during the Second World War until the mid 1950s. Crucially, their partnership brought together the design elements of the English country house style with its mix of draped and upholstery textiles like damasks, silks, and chintz, and a strong palette of colours. Yet, their points of reference were different. For Nancy her own heritage and upbringing in Virginia had supplied her with an intense enthusiasm for a worn grace and adornment that replicated the tastes of different generations and their household belongings. For John, it was more academic and based upon the faded elegance of previous centuries. He would take inspiration from the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum and design books from the eighteenth century and later reproduce them as printed cottons or wallpapers.

The Yellow Room at Avery Row/Brook Street, London

The pair worked on many projects together including Nancy’s own apartment in Mayfair and Haseley Court, Oxfordshire. They also left their mark at the Moulin de la Tuilerie at Gif near Paris, Hambledon Manor, Oxfordshire, Daylesford, Gloucestershire, Tyninghame House, East Lothian, and Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire.  John Fowler would do much of the travelling and design work, whilst Nancy Lancaster dealt with shop matters. Their most celebrated project which cemented the codes of the English country house style formed part of the apartments above the shop in Avery Row, London. Pieces bought for the shop from country house auctions, antique dealers and warehouses that had never sold in the shop were installed throughout the apartment. Other pieces came from Nancy’s own houses. The Yellow Room (as pictured) was considered once of the most celebrated rooms of the whole ensemble. It consists of double doors at both ends and barrel-vaulted ceiling; the whole measuring 46 ft by 16 ft. The ceiling was painted in an off-white, they added mirrors to the door surrounds to add height and painted festoons above the painted marbled cornice. The yellow walls – the rooms crowning glory – were a rich buttercup yellow. Numerous coats of paint were stippled on, then John Fowler applied layers of glaze which gave a deep shimmer in the light. This has since been difficult to replicate.

        John Fowler would retire from the business by the 1970s but continued working with the National Trust as he had done since the mid 1950s. His projects included Clandon Park, Surrey and Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire. The idea of decorating a room as a museum piece had amused Nancy Lancaster, but such employment did not grate with John’s own beliefs which allowed him to reinstate ‘dead’ houses. The old and new had to exist in natural harmony; the faded fabrics and worn furniture could not be upstaged by ‘clean’ paint and sharp lines.

         Between the 1930s and 1950s Colefax and Fowler as a brand was providing a style which allowed interiors to be romanticised. The website for the firm today repeatedly summarises the particular look  as ‘epitomising the very best of English style, a style that is admired and emulated the world over. The essence of this look is a timeless elegance and subtlety, combined with an emphasis on perfect comfort, and an insistence on quality.‘ It would still have influence in the post-war years, particularly in the United States with interior designers using its signature arrangements and patterns to help establish their clients’ rooms as places of comfort and refinement. It would also splinter into different styles; one of which we would recognise as ‘shabby chic’ today, or simply the English country style. Its legacy in interior design is far-reaching for many well-known designers in the twenty-first century. This aspect will be part of Establishing the English Country House Style; Part III, The Legacy.

References:

Martin Wood, John Fowler: Prince of Decorators (2007)

Martin Wood, Nancy Lancaster: English Country House Style (2005)

Links:

Colefax and Fowler website today http://www.colefax.com/

Ditchley Park website http://www.ditchley.co.uk/

A peep at the relationship between Lancaster, Colefax and Fowler http://www.nh-design.co.uk/2011/01/mrs-nancy-lancaster-great-milton-360/

A blogged piece about Colefax & Fowler book July 2007 http://bibliostylebooks.blogspot.com/2007/07/colefax-fowler-best-in-english-interior.html

Instructive review by Donhead Publishing on John Fowler http://www.donhead.com/new_introductions_and_reviews/john_fowler_review_1.htm

Christie’s Sale dedicated to John Fowler http://www.christies.com/presscenter/pdf/08092006/104455.pdf

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A Short Story from Plompton Hall, North Yorkshire.

       In 1755 Daniel Lascelles (brother of Edwin who commissioned Harewood House) bought the estate from the de Plumpton family when Robert de Plumpton died without a male heir. Lascelles demolished the existed decrepit manor house in order to build a major new house to the design of John Carr. The house appears to have been converted from the south range of the stables when Lascelles moved to Goldsborough Hall, North Yorkshire in 1762 and building work on the much larger house to south-west of the stables ceased. The Hall and stables are mainly ashlar with rusticated stone quoins. The house is a private residence today, but the park and eighteenth-century pleasure grounds are now known as Plumpton Rocks (yes, that is a different spelling) which provided inspiration for J. M. W. Turner.

Plompton Hall

Present day Plompton Hall

 

       The story here exposes the relationships between household members and the outside workforce when a country house was under construction. It centres on the period of building before 1762 when Daniel Lascelles was still eager to establish a large house on this site. It is also possible to see the dynamics of a household without female authority in a managerial role!

 ******

       The exceptionally well hidden pregnancy of the Plompton cook, Sarah Lister would have continued so if it were not for the delivery of a healthy baby boy almost a month early. Lascelles had the incident described to him by the family doctor, Dr. Richardson who had been present during the labour, and the steward Samuel Popplewell who took some responsibility in defending the woman’s position in the household. Sarah Lister had planned to take leave for her relations when she believed the baby was due, but giving birth a month earlier than expected thwarted all plans of her maintaining such high levels of secrecy. Lascelles now had an otherwise highly regarded female servant to approach on delicate terms. Sarah Lister was fortunate to have secured support from her male colleagues with both a Doctor Richardson and Popplewell writing to Lascelles emphasising her wish to stay on in service whilst also complimenting him on his existing good nature. Popplewell rather optimistically hoped this would be further realised in this instance and reminded Lascelles that she was ‘an excellent cook’. Dr. Richardson was a little more objective:

…she says if you have so much compassion for a miserable wretch [,] forgive this great offence and continue her in your service, she will be bound by duty and gratitude to do everything in her power to serve you right. If you don’t think fit to continue her she beggs [sic] you will not expose her but give her a character that she may get her Bread in some other part of the world…

        Luckily for Sarah Lister, Daniel Lascelles eventually responded compassionately – not because he was entirely sympathetic to her misfortune, rather it was due to ‘the unpardonable thing in this affair was that the scene of this business should be laid in my house’, his forgiveness was therefore bound to keeping the ‘unlucky affair hushed…for the sake of good order in my house.’ More unfortunate for Lister, however was exactly how public the affair had become; a circumstance which led several workmen at Plompton to taunt and sexually harass her. Both Lascelles and Popplewell admitted her ‘freedoms with any of ye men servants’ had damaged her authority in the household, but hoped it could be quickly restored, especially as Lascelles had overlooked the affair and had similarly expected everyone else to do so. Taunts and bullish behaviour were unacceptable, whether her authority had diminished permanently is not known but at least Lascelles and Popplewell remained adamant (and somewhat patronising) in their agreement that Sarah Lister was one of the ‘better female Cooks in ye County and not many Housekeepers who sends up a Dessert in a prettier manner…’

       Retaining a servant who proved good in their department regardless of their irresponsible behaviour outside of it saved time on hiring and firing but anxieties clearly persisted where trust had been broken under the roof of an employer. For Lascelles, authority was paramount to safeguarding the order of the household. For Sarah Lister, her supposed sexual dalliances at Plompton left her mentally and physically vulnerable within a male environment, where men were in charge of all managerial affairs, as well as occupying wider space in the house as the building and interior work progressed.

A servant’s promiscuity had implications for the servant themselves; whilst an employer’s patience and diplomacy were meant as cool warnings for other household members to remain circumspect. Daniel Lascelles offered a second chance, but could easily have made examples of a servant caught up in scurrilous events.

Archives for Plompton Hall are to be found at West Yorkshire Archives, Sheepscar, Leeds. They have been placed with those of the Lascelles family which is mainly concerned with the building and plans for Harewood House in the eighteenth century and then personal papers up to the present day. There is a good index which breaks down the correspondence from the eighteenth century between family members and the steward Samuel Popplewell, from which this story is composed.

Links: National archives link to repository information, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=205-h&cid=0#0

West Yorkshire Archive Service, http://www.archives.wyjs.org.uk/

Plumpton Rocks – part of the park and grounds at Plompton where John Carr helped create the dam for the lake eventually establishing a romantic walk which can still be visited today, http://www.yorkshire.com/turner/trails/plumpton-rocks

An interesting document relating to the conservation of Plompton area.  http://www.harrogate.gov.uk/Documents/DS-P-ConAreaPlompton2.pdf


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