In Residence at Ickworth, Suffolk

Yes, dear readers, I have indeed lived at Ickworth — that is, I’ve stayed at the hotel in one wing of the estate — for a few  days.  Victoria here, with a few words about this amazing National Trust property which houses a family hotel as well as the handsomely maintained State Rooms in the Rotunda and a fine park.  And there are some fascinating characters and family stories (even scandals) to go along with your tour.

The National Trust has a lovely slide show of Ickworth here.  They are in the process of developing more insights into the individuals both above and below stairs who occupied this unique spot for several centuries.
I admit that while I think I can appreciate life long ago, I do enjoy the mod cons of our contemporary lives.

This east wing of Ickworth houses the hotel, which has a website here. I wish we could have stayed longer because the amenities were excellent, the food delicious, and for ambiance, it excelled! I should point out that my photo was taken from behind the buildings.  The other wing, the West Wing, has been developed for conferences, weddings and other events. The east wing was first used as the Hervey family residence. The west wing was empty, built only for the symmetry of the architecture.  For a time, it was used as a conservatory.

This is the entrance to the rotunda, the galleries and rooms housing the NT collections.  The Hervey family lived at the Ickworth estate for centuries, though this building was not completed until the 19th century.

 Not far from this lonely sheep there is a walled garden, now a vineyard. Here is more information on their output. It is very tasty.

Ickworth as it stands today was the creation of an eccentric and passionate collector, the Earl Bishop, as he is popularly known.  Frederick Augustus Hervey (1739-1803) was a younger son but succeeded to the title of  4th Earl of Bristol, following two of his brothers.  Though he had originally chosen a legal career, he took orders and was eventually named Bishop of Cloyne (1767) and of  Derry (1768) in Ireland.  He grew rich on the proceeds of this and other offices and built a great house in Ballyscullion, which he had designed by Mario Aspucci, an Italian architect, for throughout his life the Earl Bishop traveled and collected in Italy, hoping to furnish his magnificent houses with the finest art and furnishings. He was partial to the rotunda style of building in the great Roman tradition.

Above is a drawing of the house at Ballyscullion. It did not last long, for it was demolished in the early 19th century, never completely finished and already deteriorating.  However, the handsome portico was saved and can be seen today as part of St.George’s Church, Belfast. Notice how it resembles the portico of the rotunda, above.

The Bishop succeeded his brother in 1779 as 4th Earl of Bristol and became known as the Earl-Bishop. He also inherited the properties at Ickworth, an old manor which had a relatively small lodge to house the family. The Earl Bishop used something very similar to the plans for his Ballyscullion house to build Ickworth. The project began in 1795.

                                                               Ickworth from the Park

However, his extraordinary life ran into some bad karma. In 1798, the invading Napoleonic troops in Italy overran and confiscated his collection, destined for the new house at Ickworth.  He himself died in 1803 and was succeeded by the youngest of his sons, another Frederick (1769-1859), who spend his lifetime trying to complete the great mansion at Ickworth. It was finished in 1841, though the Pompeiian Room was not decorated until 1879. In the Rotunda, operated as a museum by the NT, the Earl Bishop’s surviving collections are exhibited, including a few pieces purchased much later from the stolen cache.

Bess Foster by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun
The Earl Bishop’s most famous, perhaps notorious, child was his daughter Elizabeth Christiana Hervey (1758-1824) who married John Thomas Foster in 1776 and left her husband and two sons a few years later. Though she was probably mistreated, she had no recourse. She met Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and they became bosom buds, in an infamous menage a trois with the Duke.  During the period 1782 to Georgiana’s death in 1806, she bore the duke  two children, a son and a daughter, who were raised with his legitimate offspring at Devonshire House and Chatsworth. Bess married the Duke of Devonshire in 1809, only two years before his death.
A  Lounge at the Ickworth Hotel

                                 Above, two views of our lovely bedchamber in the hotel.

Although it was October, the roses were still in bloom.

St. Mary’s Ickworth
When we visited, this historic church, the burial place for Hervey Family members, was still in disrepair and unopen to visitors. I hope they restore it soon.

As eccentric as it appears, a little slice of ancient Italy in Suffolk, it is a beautiful place to visit. It has everything for family entertainment plus the great museum, the park and nearby is the picturesque town of Bury St. Edmunds, not to mention the Newmarket racetrack.  All are highly recommended!!!

2 thoughts on “In Residence at Ickworth, Suffolk”

  1. I know I saw it years ago when we lived in Suffolk, but I really don't remember much. For some reason, however, I do remember the fish and chips we got in Bury St. Edmunds on a regular basis! YUM! The best!

    I would love to visit Ickworth now that I am old enough to appreciate it.

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