Tag Archives: Northamptonshire

Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deene Park, Northamptonshire

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Deene Park, Northamptonshire (Deene Park website banner)

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Edmund Brudenell (copyright Deene Park)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

Joan Wake, The Brudenells of Deene. (1953)

Deene Park. Guidebook (1998)

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Review: The Country House Revealed at Easton Neston

          

Model of Easton Neston

Victoria and Albert Museum image of Nicholas Hawksmoor's architectural model for Easton Neston

After this episode of The Country House Revealed (May 24th, 2011) finished, I felt that this was quite an exhilarating (if not exhausting) journey into the English Baroque and the Fermor family of Easton Neston, Northamptonshire. Ending with Noel Coward’s gentle swipe at the English ruling classes of the inter-war period, ‘The Stately Homes of England’, Dan Cruickshank’s latest offering perfectly summarised the nature of elite living, inheritance, marriage and the complications arising from the two factors when a country seat was at stake.

          The main focus was the Fermor, and then later the Hesketh families, and how the house had provided a backdrop to the often comical dramas played out by successive male heirs (particularly George Fermor, 3rd Earl of Pomfret) and their financial gains made by the usual providential marriages. The architectural presence of Easton Neston however, was confined more to the search for its true designer which saw Cruickshank meet up with the floppy-haired Ptolemy Dean (of Restoration fame) who had commissioned a tree-ring dating exercise on the remaining wing of the house as well as in the roof void of the main building. Despite Dean’s jumpy expressiveness whilst demonstrating the altered vaulting in the basement of the house, this exploration proved quite fascinating. For anyone working in the field of architectural preservation, the drilling, chiseling and hammering of beams and walls can seem strangely invigorating if the aim is to reveal another layer of history or, as in this instance to prove a theory.

         Primary sources suggest that Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) had had a role to play in its design, perhaps with some contribution by his ‘revered’ mentor and later collaborator Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) who had been approached by Sir William Fermor by 1680 seeking advice for a new house on this site. Cruickshank could be seen at once on the outside of the building viewing the great order of architecture in the massive columns adorning each elevation. Then, he was back inside admiring the great staircase again and an old photograph of the hall with its double height ceiling (diminished in the late nineteenth century). We were then shown a model made by Hawksmoor of Easton Neston at the Royal Institute of British Architects, one of the few architectural models of its type to survive in tact.

          Eventually, the tree-ring dating exercise had its results delivered to us by dendrochronologist Robert Howard who offered a clear felling date between the spring of 1700 and the summer of 1701. This somehow eliminated Wren’s involvement in the final design, leaving Hawksmoor as Easton Neston’s prime architect. For Ptolemy Dean this was fantastic news. For enthusiasts of the country house, this was eagerly anticipated; even the Wikipedia entry on Easton Neston was updated the same evening!

          For Cruickshank, we had come full circle in terms of the architectural and social history of Easton Neston. The house had seen both subtle and exaggerated changes; summarised well by a former employee of the Heskeths, Trish York who had been a ladies maid in the 1970s, ‘the clientele were different’ she exclaimed when referencing the Heskeths foray into Formula One racing. The house had played host to aristocrats, elite beings and those with political connections. By the 1970s, it was full of young model types, and fast-living young men who did not understand the genteel etiquette required of them as guests in an English country house. Yet, for all its desire for necessary rules and formality, the house proved too expensive for habitation and the Hesketh family sold the house and part of the estate for a supposedly compromising figure of £15 million in 2005 to LA based, Russian born Leon Max, founder of the Max Studio fashion chain. This meant we got to see a handful of more young models draped about furniture and statues throughout the interiors. Dan Cruickshank’s final point was a suggestion that in fact, Easton Neston had been designed for this purpose all along; the models were not the Arundel Marbles once owned by the Earls of Pomfret, but instead represented the ‘fashion’ for being fashionable and cultured. Easton Neston therefore was the requisite type of building for display and ostentation.

Links:

The Wikipedia entry on Easton Weston, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easton_Neston

Great Buildings entry for Easton Neston with plans, http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Easton_Neston.html

On the sale of house and parkland in 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/northamptonshire/4551509.stm

The 2005 sale of the contents at Easton Neston managed by James Miller at Sotherby’s, http://www.sothebys.com/liveauctions/sneak/archive/la_easton_0505.html

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