THE 2017 COUNTRY HOUSE TOUR: IMMERSED IN DELIGHT

by Victoria Hinshaw

This is how I felt for almost the entire 2017 Number One London Country House Tour. I love visiting English Stately Homes and this Tour offered a stellar variety of periods, architectural styles, and decorative arts. Plus, our group was remarkably compatible and full of historical curiosity. We had great food, accommodating drivers, fun hotels, etc. etc. etc.  Only thing I wished for was more energy!!!

See how our first hotel’s wall recognized our goals!

Our first stop was one I had been eagerly anticipating for several years.  Wentworth Woodhouse has only recently opened to the public. As you  can see from the pictures of the south facade, you have to get back a long distance to photograph the entire house, and this is only half of it.

Wentworth Woodhouse

Said to be the largest private residence in Europe, Wentworth-Woodhouse in fact is two houses joined. The earlier west-facing house was begun by the 1st Marquess of Rockingham in the 1720’s in mellow red brick in the baroque style. A few years later, the same Marquess chose to build an even larger house, the east facade, constructed of sober grey stone in the Palladian style.

West Facade
East Facade
The floorplan of the house(s) and the aerial view show how there are actually two complete houses, back to back.

Recently WW, as I will refer going forward to Wentworth Woodhouse to save my fingers, has been seen in several films and on television.  In Episode One of Season Two of Victoria, the scenes of the royal couple reviewing the regiment were staged in front of WW.

I will relate the full story of WW soon, and a long complicated tale it is.  For the time being, just know that touring it was fascinating. Recently, the estate has been acquired by a Preservation Trust after many years as a school and then standing empty and abandoned for some time. Fortunately, the Trust will preserve and restore the house and the gardens.

Wentworth Woodhouse, September 2017

We entered on the ground level, to find a great forest of pillars, cleverly named the Pillared Hall.

And a noble staircase leading to the Piano Nobile, that is, the State Rooms.

The Marble Hall, with its patterned floor and elaborately decorated ceiling.

Looking down from the gallery

It is easy to see why there are so many pillars holding up this vast room, which was used for all sorts of gatherings, as a grand ballroom, as a gymnasium for the women’s college, and it also stands in for Buckingham Palace in the film Darkest Hour.

Most of the rooms are now empty, previous furnishings sold, stored, or lost.  WW is a venue for business meetings and weddings, with the facilities able to accommodate either intimate gatherings or a virtual mob.

The Whistlejacket Room

The gilded walls of this room once held the famous 1762 painting by George Stubbs of Whistlejacket, a champion racehorse owned by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham.  Sold to partially fulfill death duties, the canvas now hangs in London’s National Gallery, where I had visited at the beginning of my trip. The version at WW is a  copy.

Whistlejacket by Stubbs at the National Gallery
Another corner of the Whistlejacket Room

I will close with three views of the extensive gardens, which are being restored after wholesale destruction for strip mining of coal. Next time I will cover, more briefly, other houses we visited on Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour.

The Giant Urn
The South Terrace
The Ionic Temple containing a statue of Hercules
Part Two coming soon!

Find details regarding Number One London’s 2019 Country House Tour here.

LOST COUNTRY HOUSES

Warter Hall/Priory
If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll know that I spend an inordinate amount of time researching anything and everything to do with the Duke of Wellington. Often, this research leads me down unexpected paths, as happened when I found myself stumbling upon Lady Nunburnholme and her home, Warter Hall, on the Lost Heritage website:  The Victorian and Edwardian owners of Warter Hall (or Priory).
Florence Jane Helen Wellesley (1853-1932), Lady Nunburnholme, OBE by Edward Hughes, National Trust, Beningbrough Hall

The Formidable Lady Nunburnholme

“From the purchase of the Warter Estate by her husband in 1878 until its sale over 50 years later, the village of Warter and the lives of the villagers were dominated by Lady Nunburnholme.

“Born in London in 1854 Florence Jane Helen Wellesley was the eldest daughter of Colonel William Henry Charles Wellesley, a nephew of the great Duke of Wellington. She married Charles Wilson in 1871 and they lived at Cottingham, near Hull before moving to Warter Priory in 1878.

“(Local man) George Noble had many stories of Lady Nunburnholme: She was a Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s family. Warter Priory was full of Duke of Wellington’s busts and oil paintings. She used to say “I’ve got the blood and Mr Wilson has the money.” Which he had. … By jove she was a rum un, I’ll tell you that, yes, but when she was alright, she was alright, but by jove she was a goer on as we say… She liked entertaining and she was the boss, and it was no good anybody what worked there telling her off, for she would get his notice just after, you know, pack-up … she would nearly clear him off the place straightaway and pay him up… The butler used to say to me dad, and he was there a long time, and knew ’em all. “Bill”, he used to say “Devil’s abroad, she’s on the warpath … she’s playing devil with me and everybody else she’s come across – if you can find another job, getaway, out of road.”

“The Dowager Lady Nunburnholme died in 1932. The Warter estate had by then been sold by her grandson Charles John, 3rd Baron Nunburnholme. It was bought in 1929 by George Vestey who made Warter Priory his home until his death in 1968. Warter was then sold to the 4th Marquis of Normanby and the Guiness Trust.

“The Marquis bought Warter as a subsidiary shooting lodge and did not intend to live there as his principal family seat was at Musgrave Castle. The contents were auctioned in March 1969, the garden statuary the following September. Attempts were made to find a tenant but when one could not be found it was decided to demolish the house and a final auction of all the remaining furniture and fittings, down the last loo seat, was held in May 1972. Shortly afterwards the house was demolished, the splendid gardens bulldozed and the rubble used to fill in the nearby lake. The 5th Marquis of Normanby sold the Warter estate covering 11,910 acres (4,820 hectares) with 63 houses and cottages to a Hull-born businessman Malcolm Healey in 1998.”

Meeting Lady Nunburnholme thus was pleasantly surprising, but sadly Warter Priory’s fate was all too familiar. Since WWII, nearly 1,000 of Britain’s stately homes have vanished, either fallen to ruin or demolished when changes in social climate and the industrial landscape combined with diminished fortunes and death duties to sound the final bell on a way of life that had become unsustainable.

As we were going to be Derbyshire, I built a stop at Sutton Scarsdale into Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour, as I wanted to show our guests the state that some of the houses were in when acquired by the National Trust or English Heritage. Sutton Scarsdale is a prime example of the condition so many important houses were allowed to fall in to after the second World War.

In 1724, Nicholas Leke, 4th Earl of Scarsdale commissioned the building of a design by architect Francis Smith, to develop a Georgian mansion with gardens, using parts of an existing structure. The estate was sold to the Arkwright family in 1824 and remained in their possession until 1919, when Major William Arkwright sold the house and grounds at auction. The estate was bought by a group of local businessmen who asset-stripped the house, with some parts of the building being shipped to the United States, where one room’s oak panelling was bought by  William Randolph Hearst, who planned to use it at Hearst Castle. After many years in storage in New York City, Pall Mall films bought the panelling for use as a set in their various 1950s productions. Another set of panels are now resident in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1946, the estate was bought by Sir Osbert Sitwell of Renishaw Hall, with the intention of preserving the remaining shell as a ruin. Scarsdale Hall is now in the care of English Heritage, who are in the process of restoring the structure.

Interior of Sutton Scarsdale, circa 1920

While the efforts of organizations such as English Heritage, the National Trust, the Landmark Trust and myriad local councils and organizations have helped to preserve so much historic property for us to enjoy, it remains heartbreaking to consider all the houses that have gone forever.

You can read the entire Wikipedia entry for Sutton Scarsdale here, and watch a YouTube video that captures the majesty of the property here. Do visit the Lost Heritage website at the link above and take some time to explore their extensive archives. Additionally, there’s a very good Daily Mail article on vanished country houses here.

THE DEATH OF LADY JERSEY in 1867

The March 1867 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine carried an obituary for Sarah Sophia Fane Child-Villiers, Dowager Countess of Jersey:

January 26 – At 38 Berkeley Square, suddenly by the rupture of a blood vessel, aged 81, Sarah Sophia, Dowager Countess of Jersey.

            Her ladyship was the eldest and only surviving child of John, 10th Earl of Westmorland, by Anne, only daughter and heir of Mr. Robert Child. She was born March 4, 1785 and in May 1804 she married George, Viscount Villiers, who in the following year succeeded his father, the 5th Earl of Jersey, and by whom she had a family of four sons and three daughters. Her eldest son, George Augustus Frederick, died three weeks after the death of his father in 1859; and was the father of Victor, 7th Earl; Augustus John died at Rome in 1847; Frederick married to Lady Elizabeth, daughter of the 8th Earl of Athlonel (title extinct); Francis John died in May 1862; Lady Sarah, married to Prince Nicholas Esterhazy, son of his Excellency the late Prince, many years an ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, from Austria, died at Torquay in November 1853; Lady Clementia died unmarried in December 1858, and Lady Adela, wife of Lieut. Colonel Charles Ibbetson, who died suddenly in September 1860.

Osterley Park, Greater London

            The late Countess, on the death of her maternal grandfather, Mr. Robert Child, the banker, by his will succeeded to his large property, both real and personal. Owing to her mother having eloped with the Earl of Westmorland, Mr. Child carried out his determination that not a shilling of his property should go to the male heirs of the earldom, and he bequeathed his large and valuable property to the county of Middlesex and his interest in the old banking house at Temple Bar to the Countess. The deceased Lady Jersey was kind and charitable to the poor, but studiously avoided publicity in doing good to those beneath her. Many indigent families will regret her death, as well as an extensive circle of friends.

Lady Jersey, National Portrait Gallery
by Frederick Christian Lewis Sr, after Alfred Edward Chalon
stipple engraving, published 1839
            The Countess of Jersey was for many years one of the leading ladies patronesses of “Almacks” and with Viscountess Palmerston shared the greatest influence; indeed she had for more than half a century occupied the highest position in London society. She was a woman of extraordinary abilities and no female member of the aristocracy could surpass her in her knowledge of European politics. For nearly fifty years her saloons were nightly open to receive the distinguished foreign diplomatists of the day and the prominent political character of the Tory and Conservative party. The Countess’s “at homes” were however, unlike those of Devonshire and Holland houses, exclusively confined to a distinct political faction. Lord Brougham was a great personal friend of the deceased lady, and Viscount Palmerston was among her occasional visitors, even while in office. Lady Jersey was connected by marriage with the late Viscount Ponsonby, the late Marquis of Anglesey; the Earl of Bessborough and a large number of friends of opposite politics.
Entrance Hall, NT
            It was not until the death of her husband in October 1859, that Lady Jersey retired into comparative seclusion.—That is to say, sought only the society of her most intimate friends. The Countess was honoured by the personal regard of the late Emperor Nicholas, the late Kings of Hanover, Prussia, Holland, Belgium, and of George IV when Prince Regent.

 

Lady Jersey, National Portrait Gallery
by Henry Thomas Ryall, published by John Murray, sold by Charles Tilt,
 after Edmund Thomas Parris  stipple engraving, published 1833

            The interment of the deceased took place in the family vault of the parish church of Middleton Stoney, Oxon on the 2d of February, the body of the Countess having been brought to Middleton Park on the day previous. The funeral procession was preceded by the principal tenancy of the estates.

Note from Victoria: The Jersey estate at Middleton, Oxfordshire, was the family’s principal country home after its purchase in 1737, though the property had been a manor since the 13th  century. The house built there in the 1750’s and used by Sarah, Lady Jersey, for extensive entertaining, was pulled down in 1934 and replaced a few years later with a modern house designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, now made into flats. The former Middleton Park grounds are now mostly a public park.  The village of Middleton Stoney boasts one public house, the Jersey Arms.

BLOOMING AT HADDON HALL BY VICKY HINSHAW

Originally published in 2010, we’re re-running this post now because we think you may like to look at Haddon Hall’s glorious gardens on this cold December day. Victoria and Kristine revisited Haddon Hall this past September on Number One London’s Country House Tour and the gardens were stunning. Do check our new line-up of tours at Number One London for details on the 2018 Country House Tour!

 

I visited Haddon Hall on a cool early summer day and found roses climbing all over the ancient grey walls, their colorful profusion a perfect complement to the lichen-covered stone.

Haddon Hall, high above the Wye River near Matlock in Derbyshire, is typical of medieval manor houses: built of local rock with thick walls and small windows.

                                

The property is listed in the Domesday Survey conducted shortly after William the Conqueror took over England. The Domesday Book was a great survey completed in 1086, a sort of census. William wanted to know who the landholders were and what taxes he could collect from them, so his clerks looked for property holders from the time of Edward the Confessor. The judgment of the assessors was final and there was no appeal. The name Domesday comes from the Old English word dom (same root as doom in modern English) meaning accounting or reckoning. The book of this census is known by the English as ‘Domesday’, that is the Day of Judgment.

                                     

Many of the finest English Country Houses evolved from ancient foundation structures of which few traces remain. Rebuilding, remodeling, and redecorating have been beloved preoccupations for centuries. Houses were altered by almost every generation to incorporate the latest technological improvements or to enhance the size, style and beauty of their surroundings. The richer the family members, the more they rebuilt over and over again.

 

                                   

 

The Haddon estate came into the Vernon family through the marriage of its heiress in 1170 to Richard Vernon.

The oldest and best-preserved old houses usually are passed down in a family through the female side. History repeated itself when in the mid-1550’s, Dorothy Vernon eloped with Sir John Manners, a son of the Duke of Rutland, against the wishes of her father. But despite his opposition to the match, Haddon Hall soon became the property of the Manners family, which has owned it ever since. It was, however, a secondary residence to the Rutland’s primary estate, Belvoir (pronounced Beever) Castle.

Since secondary residences were visited rarely, there was little urge to remodel to wife’s property.  This pattern is repeated many times throughout the history of various stately homes. Cotehele in Cornwall and Chiswick near London are two more excellent examples. The romance of Dorothy Vernon and Sir John Manners was the basis for the 1902 novel Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall by Charles Major, popular author of historical romances including When Knighthood was in Flower (1898). Major altered parts of the story and his novel was further enhanced when it was made into a movie starring Mary Pickford in 1924. The story has also inspired a play and an opera.

 

 

Haddon’s exterior is typically medieval, severe and somber, yet softened by lovely gardens.

 

 

 

 

                                      

                                      

 

Inside, many rooms are open to visitors.  In 1370, Richard de Vernon built the banqueting hall to house forty to fifty people. The house and continued to grow in subsequent centuries, both in number of inhabitants and in number of rooms and outbuildings.

                              

 

                               

 

The long gallery was added later and is typical of those found in Tudor and Elizabethan era houses, designed to replace cloister-style open air walkways. One strolled back and forth in the long gallery to take daily exercise where it was somewhat more protected.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Haddon Hall was ignored and fell into disrepair. Not until the 1920’s was major restoration begun. It continues today under the direction of Lord and Lady Edward Manners. Haddon Hall is often used in films and stood in as Prince Humperdink’s castle in The Princess Bride.

Whether it was the elopement story or the abundant roses, I found Haddon Hall very romantic and great inspiration for the imagination.

Previously published in 2010.

AND A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY ALL – THE COUNTRY HOUSE TOUR

I’m pleased to say that Number One London’s Country House Tour was a resounding success and that a good time was had by all! Our group was the perfect size – eight like-minded people traveling together through Derbyshire in search of houses, history and a whole lot of fun.

Of course, the Tour included stately homes, amongst them were –

Kedleston Hall
Haddon Hall
Sudbury Hall

Along the way, we met house stewards and curators who provided our group with private, behind-the-scenes tours –

Wentworth Woodhouse

And we were fortunate enough to be joined by author Catherine Curzon, who spoke to us about the Georgian Royals over lunch at Chatsworth House

Our group stayed in the historic Old Hall Hotel in Buxton, below . . .

which provided us with atmospheric accommodations and memorable meals

                          

In addition to stately homes, we were also able to study examples of historic fashion and furnishings

We found photo opportunities around almost every corner

And a few of us were lucky enough to find the new Jane Austen ten pound note

Victoria Hinshaw and Sandra Mettler

I’ll be doing future posts on the individual sites we visited, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who joined me on this Tour for making it so memorable, and so much fun!

If you’d like to join me on the next Country House Tour, this one with an Upstairs, Downstairs twist, please visit Number One London’s Tour website for complete details of the April 2018 tour.