I visited Hoghton Tower (pronounced ‘Horton’) in Lancashire because I happened to be passing on my way to Poulton-le-Fylde. Consequently I drove up the steep avenue knowing nothing at all about the place; I left knowing little more and considerably confused.
Most country houses are palimpsests, and Hoghton Tower more than most – a document repeatedly erased and rewritten. Layout and chronology matter in understanding how the building fits together.
According to our guide, one particular room was apparently completed for the present owner’s father’s twenty-first birthday and had been a schoolroom when William Shakespeare was tutor to the family. The panelling, I was told, was by “young Mr Gillow” (which must be eighteenth century, though it depends which Gillow). There were two marble fireplaces of obviously different periods, but I decided not to ask.
The current volume of Pevsner identifies this room as “pure Victorian Jacobean, the work of R D Oliver”. Indeed, the whole house is a fascinating concoction by different generations, all of them aiming to suggest an earlier history.
There may well have been a medieval building here, perhaps on the site of the Well House in one corner. The earliest standing remains are known to have been begun in a conservative manner by Thomas Hoghton in 1561-2. Civil War damage was made good by Sir Christopher Hoghton at the end of the seventeenth century. Planned modifications by Lewis Wyatt (1816) and George Webster (1835) were unbuilt. Sir Henry Hoghton, 9th baronet, commissioned a careful, scholarly restoration in the 1860s, and his next two successors continued the work until 1901.
This makes for a fascinating structural and decorative jigsaw which illustrates country-house lifestyles as well as attitudes to the past over four centuries. I simply don’t believe that members of the general public are so dim that they can only cope with disconnected anecdotes about kings and banquets. I think visitors to historic places value being allowed to think. It’s more interesting, if skilfully presented.
The interiors now have an atmosphere of a museum and a wedding and conference centre, which is what the place is. The extensive underground service area is littered with dummies and skeletons, as if it’s not interesting enough without artificial aids [cf Finding a secret tunnel: Stoke Rochford Hall and More country-house railways].
If you visit Hoghton Tower, read it up first. Or, as our guide disarmingly suggested, buy the guide-book.
Or, better still, go and stay there. The Irishman’s Tower is available as a self-catering let for two: http://www.hoghtontower.co.uk/accommodation.html. I rather fancy that as a base for seeing Blackpool Illuminations.
Card-carrying Friends of the Historic Houses Association are admitted free to Hoghton Tower.