Dames to the rescue

Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire

Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire

In the summer of 1914, as a great war approached, British, American and Canadian public figures were preoccupied with celebrating the centenary of the end of another war, the War of 1812, the last time that Britain and the United States were in conflict.

Peace Centenary Committees on both sides of the Atlantic resolved that commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve 1814 should include the purchase and restoration of George Washington’s ancestral home, Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire.

The manor house was built in the sixteenth century by Lawrence Washington, the great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of the first President of the United States of America.

Lawrence Washington’s grandson, also Lawrence, had a younger son, himself also Lawrence, whose son, Colonel John Washington, emigrated to Virginia: his great-grandson was George Washington, the first President.

Sulgrave Manor’s tenuous connection with international history saved the building, which had become dilapidated by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Eventually, after the end of the intervening Great War, Sulgrave Manor was opened by the Marquess of Cambridge, the brother of Queen Mary, in 1921 as a centre to commemorate and celebrate what a generation later we learned to call the special relationship between Great Britain and the United States.

The principal financial supporters of Sulgrave Manor are the members of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, all of whom descend from an ancestor “who came to reside in an American Colony before 1750, and whose services were rendered during the Colonial Period”: http://nscda.org/museums2/uk-sulgravemanor.html.

The manor is modest, partly Tudor and partly eighteenth-century. Much of the Tudor house had vanished, and to bring symmetry to its main front Sir Reginald Blomfield designed a convincing pastiche as a director’s house.

Lying in a quiet corner of Northamptonshire a few miles from the National Trust’s Canons Ashby [http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/canons-ashby-house], Sulgrave Manor provides a rare opportunity to examine an unpretentious Tudor manor house, carefully conserved, which relates the vicissitudes of a landed English family whose descendant change the face of America: http://www.sulgravemanor.org.uk/pages/2/visiting_sulgrave_manor.asp.

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

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