Bowood and the Lansdowne Family

By Vicky Hinshaw

Bowood House, c. 1890

In May of 2009, my husband and I spent two weeks in England, another trip to feed my near-fanatical interest in all things historical and British. Our first stop after arriving was in Wiltshire, where we stayed at the lovely Stanton Manor Country Hotel.

As always, I had a long agenda for the trip, centering on visits to stately homes and the opportunity to learn about the families who lived in them. Number one on the list was Bowood, the country estate of the Petty-Fitzmaurice family, perhaps better known by the title of the head of the family, the Marquess of Lansdowne.

The area of the Bowood estate was part of the forest of Chippenham and belonged to the crown until the early 18th century when a house was begun on the ancient site of a hunting lodge. The first Earl of Shelburne purchased the unfinished property in 1754 and enlarged the house. His son, the 2nd earl and first Marquess of Lansdowne, hired famed Scottish architect Robert Adam (who had designed Lansdowne House in London) to further enhance the house and build an adjacent orangery and a menagerie (housing a leopard and an orangutan); Adam also built a mausoleum for the 1st earl in the extensive parklands surrounding the house.

After WWII, when Bowood was used by the Royal Air Force, the main house was left empty and decaying. In 1955, the 8th Marquess had it pulled down. The orangery and adjacent buildings were remodeled to house the family and its collections.

Bowood Today

The Adam Dining Room from the demolished big house is now the board room of Lloyd’s of London in their City headquarters.

Beginning in the 1760’s, Lancelot “Capability” Brown (who else?) designed the gardens, which include a lake, a classical temple and rolling fields. Two decades later, picturesque elements were added: a grotto, waterfalls, and a wilderness. In the 2,000 acre parklands, magnificent Rhododendrons bloom every spring. This impressive display, begun in the 19th century, includes many rare species. Wandering through the colorful scene, over the carpet of bright bluebells and beside blossoms of every shade was a most delightful way to spend a May afternoon in 2009 for my husband and I. As we strolled, we came to the sober Adam-designed mausoleum which now houses the remains of generations of family members.

Today Bowood has built a popular children’s adventure playground, full of birthday parties and eager celebrants on the day we passed. The rooms on exhibition at house (formerly the Orangery and associated buildings) include a magnificent library with fireplace and furniture from the old house and the laboratory where Joseph Priestly studied gasses and discovered oxygen in 1774.
The Library
The Sculpture Gallery

The art collection has many paintings associated with family members such as Admiral Lord Keith, great-grandfather of the 5th Marquess. Keith officially accepted the surrender of Napoleon Bonaparte on behalf of the British crown in 1815.

Admiral Lord Keith

Admiral Lord Keith’s daughter was Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, close confidant and correspondent of Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV). After the Princess died in 1817, Meg married the Comte de Flahault, who served as an Aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Though her distinguished father disapproved, the Comte was well liked and friendly with many Whigs such as Lord Holland and the Duke of Bedford, and the Admiral grew fond of him.

 General Comte de Flahalt

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone,
Baroness Keith, Comtesse de Flahault

Meg, an heiress both from her father and her late mother, was well known in regency-era society. She was a good friend of the poet Lord Byron and received from him the Albanian costume in which he was painted about 1813. Meg also was portrayed in the outfit which is on display at Bowood. Meg succeeded her father as Baroness Keith. She was known in England by the latter title and as Comtesse de Flahault in France. She and her husband divided their time among homes in Scotland, London and Paris. Emily de Flahault, daughter of the Comte and Meg, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and is the mother of the fifth Marquess.

Byron in Albanian Dress, Artist: Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
Meg in Byron’s Albanian costume

Bowood is not only a fascinating piece of history; it is part of the evolving fate of the English Country House. In today’s difficult economy, such a property must pay its own way. Supporting a family and employees, upkeep and renovations, cascading expenses and taxes – are almost crippling in their combined effects. While many institutions provide assistance (usually in exchange for public access), adequate funding usually means all sorts of services and events that bring in paying customers. The house and garden are just what I love, but the vast majority of the customers when we were there were at the children’s Adventure Playground. Bowood has also opened a golf resort and fine restaurant nearby. A quick perusal of the website will tell the story clearly.

The London and Waterloo Tour: The Lansdowne Club

One of the spots in London that Kristine and I plan to visit is the Lansdowne Club. It occupies the remaining part of Lansdowne House, built in the 1760’s and partially torn down in the 1930’s to put through a street to Berkeley Square. In its former glory, the house had a garden which met the south side of the Square. This former garden property is now office buildings (one called Lansdowne House).
On the 1830 map of London, you can see that the original Lansdowne garden (lower left) was positioned to allow a clear view of Berkeley Square from Devonshire House on Piccadilly (fully demolished in the 1920’s). Lansdowne House itself actually faced east.
Only in our imaginations can we picture the way Lansdowne House looked before the wreckers arrived. But in the Club, some of the original rooms designed by Robert Adam (Scottish, 1728-1792) have been preserved and recently restored to their full beauty.
One of these rooms, The Round Bar, displays pictures of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams, for it was here that these gentlemen signed the preliminary agreements that led to the Treaty of Paris of 1783 that ended the American Revolution and established the independent United States of America. In the picture from the Club’s website, Lord Lansdowne’s picture is on the wall.
At the time, Lord Shelburne (who was named Marquis of Lansdowne in 1784), prime minister for part of the war, led the British negotiators. On my first visit to the Club, one of the barmen overheard our American accents and showed us around. If you are a member of a private club in the U.S., check to see if you have reciprocity with the Lansdowne Club, and if you do, when in London you can enjoy a visit for a meal or tea or even stay in one of the lovely bedrooms on the premises.
                                                                        
After parts of Lansdowne House were demolished, the Club added facilities including a swimming pool, workout areas, and the dining room on an upper floor. In keeping with the styles of the day, these areas were designed and decorated in the Art Moderne style. The juxtaposition of the Adam and Deco styles works amazingly well. The entrance foyer, the Adam Room, the Round Bar, and the ballroom are the originals, beautifully restored.
Two of the rooms removed in the partial demolition are in U.S. museums. The brightly-colored saloon, a main reception room in the house, is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Adam designs, many based on motifs from classical sites uncovered in his lifetime in Pompeii, are brilliant. The dining room is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Another amusing American connection is the fact that H. Gordon Selfridge, who founded the great department store on Oxford Street, leased Lansdowne House in the 1920’s before it suffered its partial demise. Selfridge was born in Wisconsin and was an executive with Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago before he moved to England. During Selfridge’s tenure, the house was the scene of many famous parties, most attended by his intimate friends, the celebrated dancing Dolly Sisters.

The Dolly Sisters, above; left, Selfridge’s on Oxford Street

More on Lansdowne House, the family, and their country home at Bowood will be posted soon.  

Below, The Adam Room in the Lansdowne Club                                                
                     
Above, the dining room in the Metropolitan Museumn of Art, New York
Above, the Drawing Room in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Author Victoria Hinshaw's Passion for Stately Homes

I am delighted to share some of my research at Number One London. Here’s a little info about me and how my research interests developed.
I grew up near Chicago and spent my summers at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, a sparkling glacial lake just north of the Illinois border. Many of the properties along the 27-mile shoreline were great mansions built by Chicago millionaires (back when a million meant something!) as their summer homes in the mid-19th century. How I fantasized about life in those huge houses. I imagined myself as the heiress daughter, beautiful beyond belief, who was destined to marry a prince. May I point out that I blame my father for giving me royal illusions by choosing the name Victoria?
My mother told me her first visit to Lake Geneva was as a child in the 1920’s when she and her family visited an aunt, the Swedish cook at one of the great houses. Even the downstairs servants were allowed to invite their families from time to time. But I identified more with upstairs residents, of course. Wishful thinking. This photo of Stone Manor on Geneva Lake, WI, is used by the courtesy of Mark Czerniec. Thanks, Mark.
Geneva Lake is ringed with the great mansions of
Chicago titans like the Wrigleys and the Schwinns.
This one, known both as Younglands and as Stone Manor, was built by Otto Young, developer of the long gone State Street landmark, The Fair Store, as well a real estate mogul and financier. Young was born in Germany in 1844 and died at Lake Geneva in 1906. He had been treasurer of the board of the  World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.
If you visit Geneva Lake, you may want to schedule a tour of Black Point, shown at left.
The home has been open to the public for a few years, with acess only by the cruise boats of Gage Marine.  I used to come here as a teenager when Uncle Ernie Schmidt entertained the young sailors on the lake. The house was built in 1888 by Chicago beer baron Conrad Seipp, one of Uncle Ernie’s relatives.
Ever since childhood, I have had a great interest in the homes of the wealthy, be it in Newport, NYC, Florida, or anywhere. Mostly, I am interested in the families who lived in these houses. And my interests widened to English country houses when I visited England as a college student.
 After college and grad school and time working in Washington D.C., my husband and I moved to Milwaukee where we have lived ever since, except for winters, which we spend in Naples, FL, from which I am currently writing.
I have published a dozen books, mostly regency-era romances. Lately I have been working on some new projects about which I will write someday. But my fascination with great houses and the families that lived in them remains.
A few years ago, several friends and I took a course at Oxford University (through the Smithsonian Associates) to study the history of stately homes in Britain. We were in residence at Worcester College and traveled around Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire to various estates under the leadership of Geoffrey Tyack, as delightful a professor as I have ever known.
I will be writing about some of these houses soon on this blog. But first, remember some of the earliest remains of English Country Houses are actually Roman. The Romans were in Britain for over 400 years, beginning in 55 B.C. and left behind remains from the Channel ports to Hadrian’s Wall. Bath has its famous Roman springs. Excavations have uncovered the ruins of many country estates, such as the Chedworth Roman Villa, below, now run by the National Trust in Gloucestershire.
Soon, we’ll move forward in time to a wonderful medieval house, Haddon Hall. If you have a favorite stately home in England (or elsewhere), let me know. I love to hear your experiences. I have occasionaly run into the house owners, all of whom did not pay the slightest attention to their paying guests. One was the Duke of Northumberland at  Syon Park; another was the 10th Duke of Roxburghe at Floors Castle. Can’t say I blamed them a bit! But Her Grace, the lovely Duchess of Bedford actually waved to  our group at Woburn Abbey.
Until later, cheers, Victoria Hinshaw