Many people may be surprised to learn that the Duke of Wellington was a keen tennis player – so much so that he had an indoor court built at Stratfield Saye, where he and Prince Albert played a few sets during Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s visit to Stratfield Saye in 1845, which was reported in the Illustrated London News.
From A History of Stratfield Saye by the Reverend Charles Griffith, Jon Murray 1892:
“. . . On the west side of the road face of the mansion, to the right front, and This building, which is of full size, occupies the site and is built upon the old walls of Lord Rivers’ riding-school. . . At the termination of the university course of the Marquis of Douro, who was afterwards second Duke of Wellington, and of Lord Charles Wellesley, the father of the present duke, the ﬁrst Duke of Wellington erected this building for the amusement of his sons. The ﬁrst duke himself for some years frequently played, in the court, and his butler, Phillips, became one of the ﬁnest players in England of his day, successively beating all the best French players with whom he contended. . . ”
Tennis had been played in England since the middle ages and Henry VIII had a court at Hampton Court Palace. By the 1820s, the only London tennis court still in operation was the James Street court near the Haymarket. The members of this newly revived club invited the Duke of Wellington to join them in 1820, which invitation he gladly accepted. But other aristocratic families also partook of the sport –
From a letter written by Lady Holland, Holland House, 1st Jany., 1816 to Mrs. Creevey [in Brussels] –
“. . . According to the song, ‘London is out of town’ the country houses are overflowing. The love of tennis is come so strongly upon Lord Holland that he has persuaded me rather reluctantly to go once more to Woburn for 3 or 4 days, in order that he may play a few setts. The plea which makes me yield is that I believe exercise keeps off the gout.”
The Sporting Magazine for February 1795 gives us the following description of the Woburn tennis courts – “THE Tennis Court and Riding House (with apartments between to dress in) forms a building 266 feet 8 inches long, and 49 feet 6 inches wide, the whole front of which is stone: The roof is a flat one, and covered with a composition of tar, chalk, etc., instead of lead. There are flues run along the walls, and under the pavement of the Tennis Court, to keep off the damps.”
|Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford|
It was Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford who improved Woburn Abbey, adding a Riding School and the Tennis Court, which would later quite literally be the death of him. It was while playing a game of tennis that the accident occurred which eventually proved fatal. He was struck by a ball; a lingering illness ensued, and he died on the 2nd March 1802.The editor of Horace Walpole: Lord Orford’s Letters to the Countess of Ossory, transcribes from the memoranda of Lord Ossory the following account of the death of Francis, fifth Duke of Bedford in 1802:— ‘On February 27th 1802, I went over to Woburn, hearing of the Duke of Bedford’s dangerous illness. There I found Dr. Kerr. …. The progress of the disease was not favourable, and the symptoms were very bad on Monday morning, till twelve; from that time till five or six, hopes began to revive; then they all vanished, and he was given over, and on Monday morning, March the 2d, about half-past eleven, he expired in a manner in Lord John’s arms.
“Thus died Francis, Duke of Bedford, with a sort of similarity of fate to his father, both of whom I loved with much affection and attachment.”
As lamentable as Francis’s death was, it almost had dire consequences for the beautiful Lady Georgina Gordon, who had been engaged to him. Her mother, the Duchess of Gordon, was not going to let the Dukedom of Bedford escape her, and after Lady Georgina had left off her mourning for her betrothed, she became engaged to his brother and successor, John, sixth Duke of Bedford, to whom she was married a year later. She went on to have ten children.
|1816 Plan of Woburn Abbey – Wikipedia|
But back to tennis . . . From Wikipedia – A plan of the house and “pleasure ground” at Woburn from Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis (1816), a book about horticultural experiments conducted at Woburn. The top is east. A: The house. The whole of the top (east) wing and the eastern end of the north and south wings have been demolished. B: Stable/service blocks. These survive and one now houses the Woburn Antiques Centre. C: The riding school and the real tennis court, which have been demolished. D: The long rectangle at the right of the southern service block is the sculpture gallery, which survives In 1816 the main entrance was on the eastern side of the house, and was reached via a grand arch between the riding school and real tennis court. After the demolition the West Hall in the centre of the West Front became the main entrance once again.
In his Arboretun et Fruticetum Britannicum: or, The Trees and Shrubs of England, Volume 2 (1838), John Claudius Loudon describes the grounds at Woburn and tells us that there is “a passage under the Cape heathery, which forms a portion of a covered way, leading from the mansion to the different objects of interest adjoining it; such as the green-house, sculpture gallery, tennis-court, Chinese dairy, plant-stoves and palm-house now erecting, and finally to the pleasureground, including the aviary, arboretum, salictum, grass-garden, American garden, etc.”
From Tennis by John Moyer Heathcote 1890, “In our own country the game was beginning to lose its popular character, although still played by the higher classes of society. Many old courts were abandoned or destroyed, and we hear of the construction of three only in the latter half of the century: the Duke of Richmond’s at Goodwood, the Duke of Bedford’s at Woburn, and the court in Tennis-court Road, Cambridge, erected in 1734, recently pulled down and replaced by the new buildings of Pembroke College.
“There is, however, no probability of the last age of this eventful history passing into mere oblivion, for the nineteenth century has witnessed a renewed and constantly increasing enthusiasm for Tennis, shown by the number of courts built by public and private enterprise, on improved lines, and equipped with modern requirements, and by the interest taken in all important matches.”
Whilst tennis is still played in England, alas, the courts at Woburn have, indeed, passed into oblivion. During the First World War parts of the Abbey, the riding school and indoor tennis court (now demolished), were converted into a temporary ward for wounded soldiers; some 2,000 patients passed through the Abbey Hospital.
Just outside the baths, you’ll find these stairs and a doorway that leads to . . . . . the terrace at the rear of the house.
Kenwood became what would be described in 1838 as ‘beyond all question, the finest country residence in the suburbs of London’. Tending a dairy was then a fashionable hobby for aristocratic women, following the example of the French queen Marie Antoinette. But such dairies were still functional, and the one at Kenwood would have supplied the house with butter, milk and cream, while ice was stored in the ice-house below.
Now, after restoration, the three dairy buildings can be appreciated once again: the small, colourfully decorated octagonal tea room, where Louisa entertained her friends, the rooms where the dairymaid lived, and the dairy room. The original marble benches in the dairy room are still here, although the more than 30 black marble milk pans and basins listed in the accounts are missing.
By this time, we were both a bit peckish, so we decided to walk back to the cafe for lunch before touring the house.
Finally, Victoria and I entered the house and were greeted by two volunteer docents, who welcomed us warmly and asked us if this was our first visit to Kenwood House. Victoria told the young man that she’d been to the house before and had also seen the traveling exhibit of its artwork when it showed in Milwaukee. Which led to more discussion and mention of our blog. I handed him our card.
“I know this site,” he said. “It’s great.”
Victoria and I glanced at each other. Was he having us on?
“I have a blog about London, too. The Lost Valley of London. I travel round London and shoot videos of out of the way places and my adventures.”
This jogged my memory. “Wait a minute,” I said, “I know your site. You wear a pith helmet, right?” Really, what were the odds that Anthony and I should meet at Kenwood House? All of this led to more discussion and mutual admiration, which lasted another few minutes.
We did, finally, tour the house and for that part of our visit I hand you over to Victoria, who will be bringing you Part Two of our day at Kenwood House soon.
Leaving the Castle Hotel, Ryde, Victoria and I headed to East Cowes and our next hotel, Albert Cottage, once home to Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s younger daughter. The hotel is set in two acres of beautiful gardens backing onto Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s favourite holiday residence. Directly next to the hotel stands the entrance gate to Osborne House, above, still reserved for the use of the current Royals. The public entrance to Osborne House is further on down the street.
From the hotel website – “Built in the 1840s, probably by Thomas Cubitt – the then leading master builder in London – ‘Albert Cottage’ was bought in 1852 by Prince Albert to be part of a Botanic Garden development of the Osborne House Estate, and was used together with the adjacent Osborne Cottage by Royal guests. In 1899 a covered corridor was constructed to link the two properties and allow easy movement between them without guests having to brave any inclement weather.”
“This corridor now links the main Hotel and Consort Restaurant & Bar area. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, her successor Edward VII kept both cottages for the use of Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice. In 1913 the Princess moved to Carisbrooke Castle and Albert Cottage was sold to Sir Richard Burbidge, philanthropist Managing Director of Harrods. It was again sold in 1924 to The Hon. Elizabeth Storr, widow of Major L.P. Storr DSO, a war hero killed in action in France in 1918. After later neglect it was turned into a hotel in 1999 and now further developed by current owners HTP Apprenticeship College.”
Upon check-in, Vicky and I were given a two bedroom suite. Vicky’s bedroom looked lovely from the doorway . . . .
And enormous from within. It even offered a sitting area with balcony.
My bedroom was just as lovely, and afforded me views of the Gate. A nice touch – our bathroom shower included instructions.
We had the cozy drawing room to ourselves and enjoyed the expansive garden views.
Some of the other guests were a bit stand-offish, below, but the staff were lovely.
In the afternoon, we made our way to Osborne House for the first of our two day visit to the property. Returning to the hotel that evening, we dined in the Prince Consort Restaurant.
Vicky chose the lamb.
I opted for mussels.
And we split the cheese board for dessert.
Once we had completed our tour of Osborne House, the gardens, beach and Swiss Cottage, Vicky and I headed to the historic town of Cowes and began our sightseeing in Shooters Hill.
As the postcard above illustrates, Shooters Hill has been attracting visitors for quite some time, although today it has mostly been pedestrianized.
Once more, we were blessed with blue skies and fine weather.
We spent a leisurely few hours admiring the seafront and nosing around in the wide selection of shops. Eventually, we made our way to the Union Inn, which had been recommended to us by our cab driver as the place to eat in Cowes.
From the Island Eye website: “The Union Inn was possibly built after the act of union between England and Scotland, which took place in the year 1707. The pub was a firm favourite of the navy press gang, who used the pub to enlist many young men into their services when the fleet was at Portsmouth.”
As luck would have it, it was a Sunday. And by now, you should know what that means.
More delicious adventures coming soon!
By Victoria Hinshaw
The view above is a 1935 painting of Wilton House by Rex Whistler (1905-1944). Wilton House, near Salisbury in Wiltshire is renowned for its architecture, interiors, treasured artworks, and all the elegancies associated with the most distinguished of Britain’s stately homes. And, like some of the others, it is frequently the scene of major filming for cinema and television. The South Façade is the location of the State Apartments created by James Wyatt in the early 19th century, replacing the 17th century arrangement of rooms by Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1665) and his assistant Isaac de Caux and later altered by Webb.
Above, Wilton’s Double Cube Room plays Buckingham Palace in episodes of The Crown on Netflix. Below, it doubles for Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.
Although there is dispute over how much of the south wing of Wilton House can be attributed to Inigo Jones (1573-1652), we know that the Double Cube Room and the Single Cube Room along with the other state rooms were finished by John Webb (1611-1672) in the mid-17th century. Various changes have been made over the years, but the earls and countesses have maintained most of the magnificence designed by Jones and Webb. Below, two views of The Single Cube Room, 30x30x30 feet in dimension, a perfect cube.
The Double- and Single-Cube Rooms were part of the State Rooms in which the monarch was to visit and mingle with Lord Pembroke, his family, friends, and retainers. The Single Cube Room, below, was the first of the State Rooms and led into the Double Cube. The furniture is by Chippendale, added in the 18th century. Above, the Single Cube Room, 30 x 30 x 30 feet.
The portrait over the fireplace is Henriette de Querouaille, Countess of Pembroke, wife of Philip, 7th Earl, and sister of Louise, mistress of Charles II and mother of the 1st Duke of Richmond. The portrait was painted by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680).
The Double Cube Room, below, is the size of two 30-foot cubes, a technique Inigo Jones used in several buildings. Much of the furniture in the two rooms is by William Kent or Thomas Chippendale.
The Double Cube Room, originally called The King’s Great Room, is sixty feet long by thirty feet wide and thirty feet high. The magnificence of the room defies description! The ceiling decoration is clearly in the baroque style.
The central ceiling panels show three views of the legend of Perseus painted by Emmanuel de Critz. The twelve-foot coving was decorated with swags, urns, and putti by Edward Pierce, a frequent collaborator with Architect Inigo Jones. They are dated c.1653
Below, the painting for which the room was designed, the magnificent family portrait, c. 1635, by Anthony Van Dyck of the 4th Earl of Pembroke and his family which hangs at one end of the Double Cube Rooms. At 17 feet wide, it is the largest portrait by Van Dyck (1599-1641) in England. Numerous other portraits by Van Dyck and his studio adorn the walls.
The State Rooms served as Allied headquarters during World War II; the D-Day landing in Normandy was planned here.
Below, the Great Ante Room, added in the 18th century, is sometimes thought of as James Wyatt’s homage to Inigo Jones.
The King’s Bed Chamber and King’s Closet were redecorated in the 18th c. for the visit of George III and Queen Charlotte in 1778. Many priceless masterworks hang on the walls.
The house is replete with great works of art in multiple media. Many members of the Herbert family, the Earls of Pembroke, were avid collectors.
Above, Mother Reading, c. 1629, by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), is one of the most famous paintings in the collection of Wilton House.
At the currently-used entrance on the North Front, visitors arrive in the Front Hall designed by James Wyatt in 1809. Who better to greet us than The Bard himself. According to the Guidebook, the statue “recalls the 2nd Earl’s and his wife Mary Sidney’s patronage of literary men and of Shakespeare above all.”
Numerous other rooms, more than one could count, are worthy of attention. I particularly liked the Large Smoking Room, redecorated by the current Lady Pembroke in 2017. The picture above was taken before the new color scheme was installed. Below is the yellow moiréed silk now on the walls. The huge bookcase, from the workshops of Chippendale, is a temptation I could hardly survive. What is tucked away inside? Imagine how much work you could get done here — once you had examined the art and furniture and gazed out the windows for a month or two!
I have visited Wilton House several times, but I will never get enough of this wonderful house and grounds…on the edge of the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire.
If you’d like to see some of England’s stately homes in person, visit our Number One London Tours site to see all of our upcoming country house tours and their itineraries.
On the edge of the city of Salisbury is one of England’s greatest country houses, the home of the Herbert family for almost five centuries. Wilton is one of those fabled British Country Houses which almost defy description. Should one concentrate on the architecture, which includes Tudor, Elizabethan, Palladian, and Regency examples? The interior, of amazing variety and stellar quality? The gardens? The collection of old master artworks? Or, how about the many stories of the history of the Herbert family, which is currently represented by William Alexander Sidney Herbert, 18th Earl of Pembroke, his Countess and their four children?
The top photo shows the North Front, dating from the Tudor era, the current public entrance to the house. Immediately above is the South Front, the wing of the house probably designed by Architect Indigo Jones in the Palladian style in the 17th century. This area contains the sumptuous state rooms.
Above, the East Front, opening into the public lawns and gardens, dating before the 16th century. This was the original entrance to the house. You can see that even today, restoration work is necessary.
The West Front and its garden are the private areas of the 18th Earl of Pembroke, his wife and four children. Below, the official portrait of William Herbert, the 18th Earl of Pembroke, and his dog painted by artist Adrian Gottlieb. ‘Will’ is the latest of the long line of owners belonging to the Herbert family,
I am sorry to report that no photography is allowed in the house so in these posts, I will be mixing ‘borrowed’ photos, of which there are many on the web, with my own pictures. First, let’s look at the exterior and the gardens. Below, an aerial shot of the house with the south façade at the left.
Below, from the central cloisters courtyard, looking east at the inside of the East Front. The original house was built on the site of an 8th-century priory. After Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site was ceded to Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke (of the new creation) in 1544. He constructed a house in the quadrangular style which through many remodelings, remains today with a central open courtyard.
Below, peeking out from inside the cloisters, re-built by James Wyatt in 1801.
Inside the Cloisters, you will find a collection of statuary, including rare classical antiques collected by the Earls of Pembroke.
Today, visitors enter through another courtyard facing the North Front, past the fountain and a grove of trees among the patterned plantings.
Behind us was the great gate, often a symbol of Wilton House.
Leaving the interior for another post, let’s look at some of the gardens. I am particularly fond of Palladian Bridges – why I cannot imagine, but I find them charming. Below, the Wilton Palladian Bridge, constructed in 1737 by the 9th Earl of Pembroke, known as the “Architect Earl” and his assistant Roger Morris. It was designed to bridge the River Nadder in the style of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). It has been copied at least three times, at Stowe and at Prior Park near Bath in England and at Tsarskoe Selo near St. Petersburg, Russia.
The inspiration for the Palladian Bridge is reputedly an unbuilt design for Venice’s Rialto Bridge, drawn by Andrea Palladio about 1570, pictured below in a Capriccio by Canaletto, 1742.
The river Nadder is a chalk stream known for its trout flyfishing.
Below, the charming Japanese Garden, also known as the Water Garden, with its red bridges and reflecting pools, was designed by Henry Herbert, 17th Earl of Pembroke, who died in 2003.
In Part Two, we will look at the magnificent interiors of Wilton House.