Category Archives: Country Houses

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Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire

Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire

Upton Hall, near Newark in Nottinghamshire, has been the home of the British Horological Institute’s museum collection of timepieces of all shapes and sizes since the early 1970s, but it has only recently opened to the public:  http://bhi.co.uk/museum/museum-events.

It’s a fascinating place, currently open only on Fridays and for occasional special events, though the adjacent Clock House Café & Tea Room in the grounds is open seven days a week and well worth a visit:  http://clockhousecafe.co.uk/about.

Upton was an ecclesiastical estate, attached to Southwell Minster, in the Middle Ages, and there was a hall in the village from the 1580s at least.

The Hall itself is an attractively quirky building, redesigned by the architect William John Donthorn (1799-1859) for the banker Thomas Wright (1773-1845).  The garden front, with its tetrastyle portico, is more impressive than the austere entrance, and the splendid central staircase hall is top-lit by a leaded dome.

A later owner, the Newark brewer John Warwick, extended the house, adding the west wing containing a ballroom, a billiard room and a suite of six bedrooms with dressing rooms, after he bought it in 1895.

It was purchased in 1936 Sir Albert Ball, the son of a trading plumber who had risen to wealth as an estate agent and land dealer and became Lord Mayor of Nottingham.  He sold it on to the Catholic order of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost for use as a novitiate house for trainee priests.

A post-war vicar, Rev Frank West, describes how, when he took over, one of the churchwardens declared, “over the road is The Holy Ghost, but you won’t get much help from that.”  (In fact, Frank West found, social relations were entirely amicable:  each group of adherents supported the other’s annual fête.)

Frank West arrived in the village just in time to be isolated by the vicious winter of 1947.  By chance he discovered a cache of seventeenth-century parish papers, and his researches, carried out while confined to his new vicarage by the weather, produced one of the best-written village histories in the language:  Rude Forefathers:  Upton-by-Southwell, 1600-1660 (1949;  Cromwell Press 1989).

George Lillywhite, A Tickle to Leg:  the history of Upton-by-Southwell and its cricketers, 1855-1901 (Morley’s 1996) follows in the same tradition, turning the quest for sporting archives into a portrait of a village community.

Upton’s most famous son appears to be Professor James Tennant (1808-1881), the mineralogist who was responsible for the cutting of the Koh-i-nor diamond.

Most people drive through Upton village on the A612 in not much more than a minute without any idea of its quiet history.

It’s a pity to miss the Clock House Café and the Hall full of clocks, and I hope that increased footfall will encourage the BHI to open their Museum more often.

Palladian design for living

Henbury Hall, Cheshire

Henbury Hall, Cheshire

A very myopic estate agent might describe Henbury Hall, Cheshire, as a six-bedroom detached house with every modern convenience, set in a spacious garden.

An architectural historian would see it as a spectacular modern version of Andrea Palladio’s celebrated Villa Capra (1567-1585), which stands on a hill outside Vicenza in northern Italy.

Palladio’s masterpiece is mounted on a rusticated basement and capped by a magnificent dome. Its plan is a square with a hexastyle (six-columned) portico on each side, and the rooms open from the central hall, allowing breezes in the hot Italian summer, and offering shade at all times of the day.

The British architect Julian Bicknell (b 1945) conceived Henbury Hall as a scaled-down version of the Villa Capra, 56 feet square, with tetrastyle (four-columned) Ionic porticos, and a more intimate interior, appropriate to the colder English climate.

The house was designed for Sebastian de Ferranti (1927-2015), grandson of the founder of the electronics company.  Mr de Ferranti’s father, Sir Vincent de Ferranti, had purchased the Henbury Hall estate in 1957, demolished the existing eighteenth-century house and converted the Tenants’ Hall of 1770 into a residence.

His great contribution to Henbury is the garden, twelve acres of extensive views across two lakes, now restored with its walled garden and Victorian glasshouses and a magnificent Pool House.

The family originated from Venice, and after Sir Vincent’s death in 1980, Mr de Ferranti asked the painter Felix Kelly to visualise a Palladian eye-catcher in place of the lost Henbury Hall.

The result was realised by Julian Bicknell in French limestone with a lead dome surmounted by a lantern, built between 1983 and 1986 over the extensive cellars of the eighteenth-century house.

The interior was decorated by the prestigious designer David Mlinaric (b 1939) with carving by the York master carver Dick Reid.

The ground floor, the “rustic” in architectural terminology, contains the domestic quarters in the Palladian tradition – the kitchen, breakfast room and utilities – and the customary entrance.

The formal piano nobile floor consists of an axial space running beneath the dome from north to south, with drawing room and dining room spaces on the opposite east-west axis to make an open cruciform space for living.  The southern corner rooms are intimate, despite their classical proportions – a study and a sitting room.  The northern corners contain respectively an elegant cantilevered spiral staircase and two lifts.

Above are six bedrooms with en suite bathrooms.

Here is proof that the design for living that Palladio offered his Venetian clients in the sixteen century remains practical 450 years later.

Henbury Hall Gardens are open to the public by arrangement:  http://www.henburyhall.co.uk/visitor-info-2.

Henbury Hall itself is strictly private.

Lord Burlington’s bauble

Chiswick House, Middlesex:  entrance portico

Chiswick House, Middlesex: entrance portico

When Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was building his exquisite villas across the Venetian terra firma, English architects were constructing such weird confections as Wollaton Hall (1580-1588), Barlborough Hall (c1583-1584), Hardwick Hall (1597) and Burton Agnes Hall (c1600).

In the late sixteenth century England was segregated from Catholic Europe, where the Renaissance had been flourishing for generations.  Builders in England could only understand the vocabulary of classical architecture through pattern books – and often got the proportions wrong.

Only Inigo Jones (1573-1652) had the good fortune to travel on the continent, and returned with the capability to design the Queen’s House at Greenwich (1616-9/1630-5), the Banqueting House at Whitehall (1619-22), St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden (1631), and Wilton House, Wiltshire (1633-40).

The man who eventually brought Palladian architecture to Britain at the beginning of the eighteenth century was Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork (1694-1753).

In his early twenties he made three Grand Tour visits to Europe, and on the third, in 1719, he took with him a copy of Palladio’s I quattro libri dell’architettura, which catalogues the Italian’s built and unbuilt designs.

On his return he added a pavilion to the Jacobean family seat, Chiswick House, then in a rural setting a little less than ten miles from the City of London.

This exquisite little building – which is now known as Chiswick House, the Jacobean building having long since disappeared – was completed in 1729, and was described by Lord Hervey (Alexander Pope’s ‘Lord Fanny’) as “Too small to live in, and too big to hang to a watch”.

It derives obviously from Palladio’s Villa Capra, but with only two porticos instead of four, a taller dome more in keeping with Palladio’s intention, and obelisks that serve as chimneys, a necessity in England but not in the Mediterranean.

The villa and the surrounding garden were carefully designed to suggest a Roman original, based on Palladio’s patterns rather than direct archaeology.

It represented a huge departure from the heavier Baroque buildings that had been erected in the late seventeenth century – Chatsworth, Blenheim, Castle Howard – and it became the precedent for elegant buildings for a generation.

Lord Burlington’s social status and aesthetic authority enabled him to promote a coterie of architects – Colen Campbell, William Kent, Matthew Brettingham, Henry Flitcroft, John Wood the elder, James Paine and John Carr of York – who designed the great houses of the early eighteenth century, such as Holkham Hall, Houghton Hall, Stourhead House, Prior Park and – most of all – Wentworth Woodhouse where an old-fashioned west wing is concealed by the magnificent Palladian east wing.

The long line of classical beauty, ultimately derived from the Greeks and the Romans, passes from the Roman writer Vitruvius to Palladio, then to Lord Burlington, and it continues to the present day, if you know where to look.

La Rotonda

Villa Capra, "La Rotonda", Vicenza, Italy

Villa Capra, “La Rotonda”, Vicenza, Italy

One of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen is Andrea Palladio’s Villa Capra, otherwise called La Rotonda, on the outskirts of Vicenza.

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was the Italian architect who, during the second half of the sixteenth century, studied and revived the principles of proportion and decorum that distinguished classical Roman architecture, designing and building villas across the rural Veneto, and churches, public buildings and palaces in Vicenza and Venice.

Strictly, La Rotonda is not a villa:  it was not intended to have ancillary farm buildings, and Palladio himself referred to it as a palazzo.  It was built within reach of the city as a retirement residence for a Vatican priest, Paolo Almerico, who died in 1589 before the building was completed.

The house passed to two brothers, Odorico and Marco Capra, who engaged Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616), to finish the project, lowering the profile of the Palladio’s intended dome to resemble the Pantheon in Rome, though with a cupola instead of an open oculus.

The Villa Capra’s aesthetic perfection is founded on practicality.  The square footprint is set at 45° to the cardinal directions of the compass, so that the corners point north, south, east and west, and the layout of the four porticos and the rooms within is intended to provide shade throughout the day.

The house stands on a small hill, approached by a carriage drive to the north-west portico, so that the other three porticos each present a distinctive view across the surrounding plain.

Within each portico vestibules lead to the double-height circular central hall, which has a balcony above and is lit by the cupola that surmounts the dome.  The walls are covered in sumptuous trompe d’oeil decoration and frescoes by Alessandro and Giambattista Maganza and Anselmo Canera.

Had he lived, Paolo Almerico would have enjoyed a degree of state to echo his working life in the Vatican.

This treasure of classical architecture has survived intact, and is regularly open to visitors:  http://www.villalarotonda.it/en/visiting.htm.

The most haunted pub in Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Some historians suggest that the fact that Attercliffe is mentioned first in the Domesday Survey of 1086 – “Ateclive & Escaveld” – is an indication that Attercliffe was more significant than Sheffield before the building of the Norman castle.

Certainly there was a manor house belonging to the Blunt family by 1176 and this house was rebuilt in 1462 and became Carbrook Hall.

It was purchased by Thomas Bright, lord of the manor of Ecclesall, in the late-sixteenth century and the surviving stone-built wing was built c1620 for Stephen Bright (1583-1642), bailiff of the Earl of Arundel’s Hallamshire estates from 1622 and later lord of the manor of Ecclesall.

Stephen Bright’s son, Sir John (1619-1688) helped co-ordinate the siege of Sheffield Castle in 1644 from the Hall.

The Brights’ Carbrook estate passed repeatedly through the female line, and it seems that later generations let the building from early in the eighteenth century.

The house was more extensive than the surviving remnant:  it was surveyed by William Fairbank in 1777, and E Blore’s engraving in Joseph Hunter’s Hallamshire:  the history and topography of the parish of Sheffield in the county of York (1819) shows an elaborate jettied timber wing and other outbuildings.

There remain two elaborate interiors with fine oak panelling and plasterwork, possibly the work of the same craftsmen who decorated the Little Keep at Bolsover Castle.

The lower room has an oak chimney piece dated 1623 with Corinthian columns and strapwork and a depiction of Wisdom trampling on Ignorance, with scrolls containing mottoes.  A very similar fireplace, originally at Norton House, is now preserved at the Cutlers’ Hall.

The stone fireplace in the upper chamber is stone, and instead of columns features unusual caryatids.  In a nearly circular cartouche is an image of the pelican in her piety.

Carbrook Hall became a public house sometime in the nineteenth century – all surviving photographs show it without the timbered wing – and in that guise it became an unlikely survivor of the days when Attercliffe was rural:  http://www.sheffieldcamra.org.uk/2016/10/heritage-pubs-with-dave-pickersgill-carbrook-hall.

In recent times it has traded on a reputation as “the most haunted pub in Sheffield”, giving rise to investigations and reports that lose nothing in the telling:  http://www.project-reveal.com/carbrook-hall-ghosts/4540202323.

In February 2017 the Carbrook Hall closed as a pub, to the distress of CAMRA and local workers.  The new owner, West Street Leisure, has not yet disclosed future plans for the building, beyond saying that its status as a Grade II* listed building will be respected.  Conservationists are concerned that if it stands empty it will be vulnerable to vandalism: [http://www.thestar.co.uk/our-towns-and-cities/sheffield/fight-to-protect-historic-haunted-pub-in-sheffield-passes-first-hurdle-1-8539851].

This rare survival, a fragmentary reminder of the days when Attercliffe Common really was common land and Meadowhall was surrounded by meadows, contains one of the finest historic interiors in the city.

I hope it’ll be open for the public to enjoy again very soon.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

Rent-a-castle

Allerton Castle, North Yorkshire:  Great Hall

Allerton Castle, North Yorkshire: Great Hall

Allerton Castle, just off the A1 in North Yorkshire, is an ideal place for a wedding, though it’ll cost a bob or two.

A dramatic Victorian Gothic pile designed by the little-known London architect, George Martin, for the 19th Lord Stourton, it has a spectacular 70-foot-high great hall, splendid state rooms and a parkland setting.

The contents were sold in 1965 when Lord Stourton’s direct descendant, the 25th Lord Mowbray, died, and two successive religious organisations, neither of which proved capable of keeping it up, leased it.

When Lord Mowbray’s heir, his grandson Edward, inherited in 1985 he resolved to sell it and it was spotted, fortuitously, by the vice-president of the Tandy Corporation, Dr Gerald Rolph, who was driving north to go shopping for a Scottish castle.

Dr Rolph inspected Allerton Castle in the morning and bought it the same afternoon.

He then spent twenty years carefully restoring the building, replacing the roof, rewiring, and filling the place with furniture, some of it original to the house.

In January 2005 a chimney fire spread into the roof void, gutting most of the principal rooms.  The 5,000-gallon water tank cracked and the resulting flood saved the Conservatory and part of the Library.

Dr Rolph, reasoning that if the place could be restored once it could be restored twice, promptly set about a renewal programme which was completed in 2012.

Much of the carving in both wood and marble and the plasterwork was completed in China, using fibreglass moulds of originals as templates.  Other work was sourced locally:  armorial stained glass was restored or replicated by Paul Lucker of Elland and the wood-carving in the conservatory was carried out by Julie Meredith of York.

Dr Rolph designed and commissioned other reproductions including the Bucharest-made Persian-style hand-tied carpet for the Great Hall and the carpets in the Morning Room and the Dining Room.  For the Library the Pugin wallpaper was printed from the original blocks by Cole of London and the carpet was designed by Dr Rolph and manufactured by Mercia Weavers.

You can visit Allerton Castle on Wednesday afternoons and Bank Holiday Monday afternoons from Easter Monday through to the end of October 2016, though you see rather more of the place (and enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea) on special tours that run on specific dates through the year:  http://www.allertoncastle.co.uk/visiting.html.

Or you can hire the whole place if you have enough cash.

The thing is done but nobody did it

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

Calke Abbey sits oddly in its low lying setting, chosen by Augustinian monks when they built their priory c1131.  (Like Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, Calke was never an abbey until long after it became a rich man’s house.)

The present house was built in 1701-4 by Sir John Harpur, the fourth baronet, whose father had had the great fortune to inherit the estates of his great-grandfather’s various descendants, and the misfortune to die when his son was little more than a year old.

No known architect has been identified for Sir John’s externally impressive but internally inconvenient house.  His neighbour Elizabeth Coke remarked of some misdeed that “like Caulk House, the thing is done but nobody did it”.

Sir Henry Harpur, the eccentric seventh baronet, married a lady’s maid and became so reclusive that he was known as the “isolated baronet”, yet changed his name to Harpur Crewe in the vain hope of reviving a long dormant Crewe barony.

His son, Sir John Harpur Crewe, 9th baronet, was – according to his epitaph – “averse to a public life and spent the greater part of his days at Calke among his own people…”

His son, Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe, 10th and last baronet, was descended from the isolated baronet through both his parents, and in him the trait towards reclusiveness became extreme.

From inheriting the estate at the age of forty in 1886 until his death in 1924 his only major contribution to local life was to take his turn as High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1900.

Like the burrowing Duke of Portland he had more time for his tenants and workers than for his peers, and communicated with his children by letter:  eventually he turned his only unmarried daughter out of the house for smoking.

No motor-car passed the gates of Calke Park in his lifetime, and though he repeatedly sacked servants for keeping fires too hot for his collection of stuffed wildlife they were easily re-engaged because he did not know one from the other.

At his death the property passed to his sister, Mrs Hilda Mosley, and from her to her nephew, Charles Jenney, another shy bachelor who changed his name to Harpur Crewe in 1961.

He left his younger brother Henry (who also changed his name to Harpur Crewe) with a tax burden of £8,000,000 when he inherited in 1981.

Henry Harpur Crewe’s determination to save Calke as a unique historic site attracted the support of the National Trust, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Historic Buildings Council and SAVE Britain’s Heritage.  Eventually the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, promised £4,500,000 towards endowing the house and park in his 1984 Budget Speech to keep the place intact.

The house was substantially as it had been left in 1924;  Sir Vauncey had done little but add cases of stuffed animals since his father died in 1886.

Here was the accumulated bric-a-brac of generations of country-house inhabitants and their servants, yet little of significant artistic value except for the most astonishing survival of all, the State Bed, still in its original packing because no suitable family room had height enough for it.

Many thousands of items had to be catalogued, photographed and removed for safe-keeping while the structural restoration of the building was carried out.  Alongside heavy engineering to stabilise the building, enormous care was taken to retain the largely undisturbed patina of the nineteenth century.

In the Drawing Room the chairs had been covered for almost their entire lives, so their textiles were revealed in superb condition, but the curtains, continually exposed to daylight, simply disintegrated and had to be woven anew to the original pattern.  The original linen-backed wallpaper, dating from around 1855, had to be stripped and then put back on the wall.

When the little pot pug dog with the broken foreleg was returned to his place in the entrance hall, the matchbox that had been found propping him up went back into place also.

Calke is a memorable place to visit [http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/calke-abbey], now restored in “as found” condition like the much smaller Mr Straw’s House in Worksop.

Boot’s Folly

Boot's Folly, near Strines, Sheffield

Boot’s Folly, near Strines, Sheffield

I dislike the term “folly”, referring to extravagant and apparently useless buildings and structures.

Quite often, the constructors of eccentric buildings had a purpose, and knew exactly what they were doing.

The Wentworth Marquises of Rockingham and Earls Fitzwilliam constructed what are now called the Wentworth Monuments to embellish the landscape and to commemorate important events.

Eye-catchers such as Deer Park Lodge at Scampston Hall, North Yorkshire, and Sir Thomas Tresham’s famous Triangular Lodge at Rushton, Northamptonshire though decorative, doubled as functional estate buildings.

Boot’s Folly, a plain square tower, 45 feet high, that can be seen across the hills north-west of Sheffield between Bradfield and Strines, is unambiguously a folly.

It stands over a thousand feet above sea-level, and is built of the stones of three demolished farms.

Its builder was the canny construction magnate Charles Boot (1874-1945) who lived at Sugworth Hall in the valley below.

He was the son of Henry Boot (1851-1931), who founded the family company and built it from nothing. Charles took over from his father just before the First World War, made a fortune from military contracts during the war and then continued to grow his wealth through post-war construction, particularly housing in Britain and on the continent. He was also the founder of the Pinewood film studios.

In the spirit of all the best follies, there’s no clear reason why he built his tower. A customary explanation is the desire to provide employment for the unemployed, like Joseph Williamson at Edge Hill or the 5th Duke of Portland at Welbeck. A more distinctive story is that Charles Boot wanted a vantage point within sight of Bradfield churchyard where his wife was buried in 1926, the year before the tower was built.

Originally, a staircase led to a panelled room at the top of the tower, but this was dismantled – so the story goes – after a cow strayed up the stairs and had to be rescued with difficulty.

There is a fine set of images of the tower at http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/showthread.php?t=30431#.VUOvKOl0zcs.

Lafite, 2014

Joanna Vasconcelos, 'Lafite, 2015' (one of a pair), Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

Joanna Vasconcelos, ‘Lafite, 2015′ (one of a pair), Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

I’m habitually suspicious of modern art, sensing that some of it is a repository for rich people’s spare capital and much of it is artists’ scratching their imaginative itches in preference to providing pleasure for non-artists.

On the contrary, I took an immediate liking to a pair of sculptures that I found installed at the entrance to Waddesdon Manor, the great French-style chateau that Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild built on a bare hilltop in Buckinghamshire between 1874 and 1889. Though Waddesdon was given to the National Trust in 1957, it is run by a Rothschild family trust, and the contiguous subsidiary house at Eythrop is the residence of Jacob, Lord Rothschild.

Joanna Vasconcelos’ Lafite, 2015 celebrates the family’s connection with wine and their great Bordeaux estate, Château Lafite Rothschild. It consists of a pair of giant candlesticks composed of over a thousand magnums, neatly connecting the magnificent Rothschild fine art within the house with the produce of the family vineyards: http://www.joanavasconcelos.com/info_en.aspx?oid=3570.

At night the candlesticks light up.

Joanna Vasconcelos’ trademark is to construct artworks from everyday forms, such as Piano Dentelle, 2008-2011 [http://www.joanavasconcelos.com/info_en.aspx?oid=755], Pavillon de Thé, 2012 [http://www.joanavasconcelos.com/info_en.aspx?oid=2085] and Call Centre, 2014 [http://www.joanavasconcelos.com/info_en.aspx?oid=2864]. For more illustrations of Joanna Vasconcelos’ work, see http://www.joanavasconcelos.com/obras_en.aspx.

Waddesdon Manor is one of the National Trust’s most popular sites, and is best visited at off-peak times: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/waddesdon-manor.

You can treat yourself to a bottle of wine if you’ve a bob or two to spare: http://www.waddesdon.org.uk/shop-and-eat/wine-shop.

Stately pre-fab

Hill Bark, Frankby, Cheshire

Hill Bark, Frankby, Cheshire

Robert Spear Hudson (1812-1884) was the man who first popularised soap powder, working from his modest shop in West Bromwich. He eventually moved his business to a factory in Bank Hall, Liverpool, and went to live in Chester.

His son Robert William Hudson (1856-1937) became extremely wealthy and sold the business to Lever Brothers in 1908.

He commissioned the distinguished local architect Edward Ould to build a Black-and-White Revival house in 1891 on a site near Bidston Hill on the Wirral.  It bears more than a passing resemblance to Little Moreton Hall, near Macclesfield – but built in reverse. It was named Bidston Grange.

Typically of its time and its style, Bidston Grange contained sumptuous glass by William Morris, and architectural bric-a-brac with antique associations – dining-room doors from a tea-clipper and a fireplace dated 1577 reputedly from “Sir Walter Raleigh’s former home”.

It was apparently the model, or at least the inspiration, for Cecelianhof, the Potsdam residence of the Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, built c1911 and subsequently the site of the signing of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945.

In 1921 Bidston Court was sold to Sir Ernest Royden (1873-1960), one of a dynasty of shipbuilders and shipowners.

Because Lady Royden disliked the way its setting was encroached by housing [http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/218605] the 1891 structure was dismantled and re-erected a property she had inherited five miles away at Frankby.

There it replaced a house of 1868-70, originally built for Septimus Ledward JP, which took its name ‘Hillbark’ from a stone barn that had stood for several centuries.

The Roydens’ transplanted residence became known as Hill Bark.

The original site at Vyner Road South, Bidston, is now a public garden.

When Sir Ernest Royden died in 1960, Hill Bark was purchased by Hoylake Urban District Council and converted into a residential home for the elderly.

It was sold in 1999 for £300,000 and converted first into a catering-facility specialising in weddings, opened in 2000, but using only the ground-floor rooms. In 2002 it was restored as a luxurious 19-bedroom five-star boutique hotel: http://www.hillbarkhotel.co.uk.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.