Tag Archives: National Trust

Buscot Park, Oxfordshire

       Deciding on an afternoon out and the difference between an £18 entrance fee or that of £5.50, I stumbled across Buscot Park in my copy of Hudson’s Historic Houses. So on a fine sunny day last month I travelled through some of the more quaint areas of English countryside to make my first ever visit to this intriguing house and its pleasure gardens.

       My first impressions were that this National Trust property was well-organised, yet amiable and undemanding. A feeling the National Trust are seeking to achieve ever more with their properties these days. From the ticket office, it was a steady walk to the house (which can only be caught as glimpses through the banks of trees) through the walled garden and up the stepped path to the open lawns of the south front.

Buscot Park

Buscot Park south front (author's own image, 2011)

       The house in its original form was built for Edward Loveden Loveden between 1780 and 1783. Small additions were made to the house after these dates but after Loveden’s death in 1822, his successors cared more for cultivating lands elsewhere particularly those already belonging to the family in Wales. By 1866, Buscot was eventually put on the market and was bought by the Australian Tycoon Robert Tertius Campbell whose own wealth had been made in the gold trade. Over-ambitious, Campbell died in 1889 leaving the Buscot estate in great debt, and it was then sold to Alexander Henderson, later 1st Lord Faringdon (1850-1934) a financier and politician. His son, Gavin Henderson, 2nd Lord Faringdon was member of the ‘Bright Young Things’ with staunch socialist ideals. During his ownership of Buscot Park the house was regularly used as a venue for fellow politicians and formidable art collectors.
       Indeed, most of  the pictures at Buscot were purchased by the second Lord Faringdon and make up the larger part of The Faringdon Collection – the combined collections of the first and second Lords Faringdon at Buscot and at a separate London property. By far the most popular of pieces in this collection are the Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) paintings depicting the Legend of the Briar Rose in the Saloon.

Panel from The Legend of the Briar Rose (copyright the Trustees of The Faringdon Collection)

The beauty of these paintings are magnificently displayed as Burne-Jones intended with their extra inserted panels and gilded frames. Moreover, their drama instantly gave Burne-Jones the reputation he sought as a painter of medieval legend. At the time of their purchase and installation for Buscot in 1895, Burne-Jones was staying at Kelmscott Manor a few miles away (the home of his dear friend William Morris) so his involvement at Buscot and the placing of these paintings are a key creative connection.

       There are a good sample of rooms open to the public, each with information folders on the objects and art on display. Buscot has a great atmosphere throughout, and the staff were fantastic and approachable – even when my mobile phone made its presence clear on the stone staircase and I had to turn it off! The National Trust are eager to eradicate the past stuffiness of previous generations of guardianship at their properties, and at Buscot this was very prominent. But, recognition must be given to the staff and the present Lord Faringdon and his wife for the sense of continued pride in this property. This also extends to the grounds where the modern mixes well with traditional landscapes and concepts, and should be made a part of every visit if time is allowed! There are several tree-lined avenues to the east and the celebrated Harold Peto Water Garden leading to the Big Lake with its picturesque rotunda and bridge. At every turn there is something unusual set to catch the eye; perhaps a deliberate mechanism evoking those garden designs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which sought to surprise the visitor. To the west are the walled gardens which mark the start and end of the visit to Buscot and serve to remind any visitor of the lengthy programme of care the present workers and owners are undertaking.
Buscot Park & the Faringdon Collection. Guidebook. The Trustees of the Faringdon Collection (2004)
The Pre-Raphaelites. Exhibition Catalogue. Tate Gallery/Penguin Books (1984)
National Trust details and opening hours http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-buscotpark
More information at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buscot_Park

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Belton House, Lincolnshire

       ‘Once inside the house, with its maze of corridors, they could lose her. Then hurrying, they saw her blue cloak. She pushed a huge panelled door and passed through, leaving it open behind her. There was heavy, gleaming furniture, walls lined with gilt-framed pictures, richly draped windows … They were through the second door now, and into an amazing crimson … Minty crossed the room and came into a vast light entrance hall. There on the great black and white diamonds of the floor, was that small blue figure, a chess piece.’

Helen Cresswell Moondial (Puffin books, London 1988) pp.148-9


Belton House (copyright Lincolnian http://www.flickr.com/photos/lincolnian)


       Helen Cresswell (1934-2005) had long been inspired by the house at Belton before she wrote Moondial, and had wanted to pen a children’s novel based on the building and interiors of the house. For her main character Araminta Cane, (Minty) the drama would unfold upon the lawns, amongst the trees and formal gardens. Eventually, the novel was set almost entirely within the grounds rather than the house; the latter then providing scenes which offered the reader uncomfortable moments of claustrophobia and eerie solitude.

        There are  many websites which describe Belton as the backdrop to Moondial, some of which detail the nostalgia of the television series from 1988. A simple internet search will fetch up most of these. Admittedly, this was probably the turning point in my own mind as a child, and Belton suddenly represented the ideal image of all I was interested in as a budding (and probably very nosey) historian. Afterall, social history often exposes the private lives of people – they’re just no longer around to protest against the daring intrusions. What Cresswell thrust upon her young readers was the complexities of country house living throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with its hierarchies and varying degrees of subordination and knowing ‘one’s place’ within four walls as well as in a wider society. Amongst many other themes, the drama of the novel therefore plays on the necessity for escape and the achievement of youthful adventure for its main characters.

        Within this narrative, much of Belton House is lost, or at least a little faded since it is the Caius Gabriel Cibber sundial that steals the show! The house itself is beautifully arranged, and for the country house connoisseur it is certainly a delight to view its symmetry, colour and use of continental influences. Cresswell’s novel provides a supernatural layer to this country house gem; a fictional element which has served to enhance the architecture at Belton and place it within the country house genre of writing.

        Belton House today is cared for by The National Trust, and has been so since the early 1980s when it was given by the 7th Lord Brownlow. Built in the 1680s for Sir John Brownlow to the designs of Captain William Winde (c.1642–1722) Belton has been regarded as the perfect image of an English country house. According to my 1987 guidebook, Belton ‘represents a fitting climax to twenty-five years of Carolean domestic architecture which produced some of the most logically perfect and satisfying dwellings ever built in England.’ The style of architecture is Anglo-Dutch; that of Palladianism but characterised by a marked sobriety and restraint which created establishments set out as those for fine gentlemen rather than that of an aspiring aristocratic elite.

       Arranged in the Elizabethan ‘H’ plan, Belton has a simple structure with large central rooms on the ground floor flanked by smaller reception rooms which lead onto passages giving access to the wings or pavilions with their secondary staircases and further spacious rooms at each end. The interiors are a grand mixture of ornament and decoration ranging from the masculine cold hard marble to that of the softer, warmer tones and textures so distinct within many a country house with 300 years of history and design influences.

The Red Drawing Room (Country Life, December 2004)

       Incidentally, the opening quote from Moondial is not just a collection of typical country house interiors. The huge panelled door to which Cresswell refers guides her characters into the depths of the house through the Breakfast Room, then the Red Drawing Room (pictured above), passing through to the Marble Hall and eventually to the Staircase Hall.

       For a taste of late seventeenth-century country house architecture at its finest, then Belton is worth a visit. The National Trust makes much of the landscaped parkland and formal gardens including the Orangery and sculptures, and its location near to RAF Cranwell also lends a further nostalgic connection to the grand World War II air displays in June with The Belton Spitfire Prom. Yet, once inside the house, it would be unfortunate to miss the rather less conspicuous imagery of Belton’s owners – the Brownlow family and the neo-classical interiors by James Wyatt.

Links. Belton House National Trust site; http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-beltonhouse

The Heritage Trail entry for Belton House; http://www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/stately%20homes/belton%20house.htm


Surely, the best overall detailing of Belton House on the internet is to be found at The DiCamillo Companion which contains information on style, architects, interiors, ownership and much more. This has also been adapted for the Wikipedia entry for Belton House.

Geoffrey Beard. Architectural History. Vol. 27, ‘Design and Practice in British Architecture: Studies in Architectural History Presented to Howard Colvin’ (1984), pp. 150-162.
Helen Cresswell. Moondial (Puffin, London 1988).
Trevor Lummis and Jan Marsh. The Woman’s Domain: Women and the English Country House. Chapter 3, ‘Land and Lineage’ 34- 64. (1990).
Jonathan Marsden and Andrew Barber. Belton House Guidebook. (The National Trust, 1985 and 1987)
Annabel Westman. ‘Back in the Gold and Red’, Country Life, December 16 /23 (2004) 52-57.


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