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Historic Mansions of England


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England is the premier nation for country houses, large and small. Nowhere else is, there so great a quantity of such complete examples-that is, houses that combine architectural character in succeeding styles with decorative excellence and sympathetic furnishing, and, also, having perfection of environment in adjacent gardens and demesne. We have all sorts of examples from medieval to Victorian times, from the huge palaces of the Georgian nobles to the little manor houses of Stuart gentry. Each one has its character and teaches its lesson. From them we learn, not only much of the history of architecture and of its attendant arts, but also of the changes in the domestic habits and customs of successive generations of our ancestors. Many of them, moreover, have been the scenes of interesting historical events or the homes of prominent men.

Thus they form a national possession of the utmost value in their civilizing and aesthetic influence, and the dark side of the political and social changes now in progress is the threat of their gradual abandonment and loss. Some, like Leoni's Lathom House, are already pulled down. Others, like Leoni's Moor Park and Hugh May's Eltham Lodge, have lost much of their completeness and amenity by conversion into golf clubs. Stowe House, connected with Vanbrugh, Kent and Robert Adam, is saved by becoming a public school; but, both inside and out, has necessarily lost much of the character it had as the stately home of Temples and of Grenvilles.

Ours is a large subject, extending from Plantagenet to our own days, and can here be but rapidly surveyed. Early castles, derelict or still occupied, are dealt with elsewhere in this work, and we will therefore begin by glancing at a few of the slightly fortified houses that were not infrequent, even in medieval times. Thus, at Stokesay, near Ludlow, in Shropshire, an early Plantagenet hall survives-probably built by John de Verdon about 1270-as part of a dwelling then protected merely by a moat. But in 1291 his successor in ownership, Lawrence, a Ludlow merchant, obtained licence to embattle, and a fairly strong tower and some sort of protective wall round the bailey were built.

Under Elizabeth a picturesque timber-framed gate-house took the place of an earlier entry, and there is excellent mid-seventeenth-century joinery in the Solar. But before modern ideas of convenience arose it ceased to be inhabited, although always kept in some measure of repair. It therefore, in quite remarkable degree, preserves its Gothic features and disposition, and being extremely picturesque, both in itself and in its situation, it appeals equally to antiquary and artist.

Also of Edward I's reign, and also largely in their original condition, are the small "castle" of Aydon, in Northumberland, and the modest brick-built Little Wenham Hall, in Suffolk. The former was built by Robert de Raynes about 1280 and enlarged twenty-five years later, while we probably owe the latter to John de Vaux, who died in 1286.

The manor house of Northborough, in Northamptonshire, is of Edward II's reign, and was built during that reign by Geoffrey de la Mare. His hall and gatehouse stand in substance to this day, and it thus forms a valuable example of a modest fortified manor house of its age. Under James I the hall was converted into rooms on two storeys by a Claypole, probably the grandfather of Oliver Cromwell's son-in-law, whom Mrs. Hutchinson dubs a "debauched ungodly cavalier," while his wife gave herself royal airs, wore the queen's pearls and turned up her nose at her father's principal officers and administrators. At a wedding attended by the major-generals but not by their wives it was asked where the latter were. "I'll warrant you washing their dishes at home as they used to do," answered the hostess, a remark which we are not surprised to learn was "extremely ill-taken." Earlier than North-borough and in Yorkshire stands, within a great moat, Markenfield Hall and its outlying buildings. It is used as a farm, but preserves, as regards its exterior, the features given to it by John de Markenfield. He began it about 1318, but it was his son who completed it, so that it approaches the date of Penshurst, in Kent, another medieval house built by a merchant. Lord Mayor Sir John Poultney lent money to Edward III and aided in the king's commercial negotiations abroad. He obtained licence to fortify Penshurst in 1341, but did so little to make it strong, either by wall or by water, that one of his successors-a Sir John Devereux, whose feats of chivalry in France under Edward III and Richard II are related by Froissart -obtained another licence to fortify in 1393.

Yet Penshurst never lost its character of an "open" house. Its great hall, with Solar to the west and kitchen offices to the east, are much as Poultney built them. But a series of important owners made great additions. Such were the Duke of Buckingham-whom Henry VIII beheaded in 1522-and the Sidneys, to whom it came by Royal grant in 1552.

Open houses of Edward Ill's reign, retaining many original features, are Brinsop Court, in Herefordshire, with a hall (over an undercroft and approached by an outside stairway, as at Aydon), built about 1350, and Ightham, in Kent, a delightful quadrangular house lying within a moat with the fourteenth-century work of Sir Thomas Cawne supplemented by later additions and reparations, yet forming an astonishingly picturesque and sympathetic group rising out of the water, just as does the much larger Broughton Castle, in Oxfordshire, purchased in 1369 for his sister by the great builder bishop, William of Wykeham. It was, however, considerably remodelled by his great-nephew, Thomas Wykeham, to whom licence to embattle was given in 1406.

About a quarter of a century later than this is the date of Ralph Lord Cromwell's great stone house at South Wingfield, in Derbyshire, the remains of which are sufficient to show how grandly he built a place which, passing afterwards to the Earls of Shrewsbury, was one of the houses where the sixth earl held Mary Queen of Scots "in honourable captivity." Here he brought her from Tutbury in 1569, and here she nearly died "of her spleen," but being dosed with a "good quantity of aquavitae," she "escaped the danger." Cromwell built South Wing-field about 1440, and forty years later Thomas Tropenell built his beautiful house of Great Chalfield, in Wiltshire, to which careful reparation has given back, both within and without, much of the appearance which he gave it.

So far the houses which we have been considering have (with the exception of Little Wenham) had stone as the chief material of their fabrics. But in non-stone counties, oak framing was principally used, and the carpenter is probably the most important of our medieval craftsmen. His material being less durable and more removable than stone, surviving fifteenth century examples are rare. Of such, however, is Ockwells, in Berkshire, half finished when Sir John Norreys died in 1467, leaving money for completing it in his will. The oak framework filled with brick nogging resembles the rather later work of the Horseshoe Cloister at Windsor.

Of the same period is the Old Hall at Gainsborough, in Lincolnshire, with its fine timber-framed hall and its brick tower completed by Sir Thomas de Burgh before 1484. By that time brick was being much used where stone was lacking. Also in Lincolnshire and as early as 1434, Ralph Lord Cromwell built the great tower of his castle at Tattershall (now, by Lord Curzon's bequest, national property), and Sir Roger Fiennes, his fellow-fighter under Henry V, used brick for his Sussex castle of Hurstmonceux. Oxborough in Norfolk, and Faulkbourne, in Essex, also rank high among brick houses of late-Plantagenet date. At that time, wealthy churchmen were busy housing themselves sumptuously, as, for instance, Archbishop Bourchier, who began Knole, in Kent, which was continued under Henry VIII by his successor Morton who, under Edward IV had built himself a brick palace at Hatfield, part of which- retained as stables by the first Earl of Salisbury when he built himself the present house near by-has recently been renovated.

At Buckden, in Huntingdonshire, brick was also used by Bishop Russell of Lincoln, in about 1485, to build a noble house, where two youthful Dukes of Suffolk died in the summer of 1551. The boy duke and his younger brother were at Cambridge, where the sweating sickness raged, and to Buckden they were sent for safety. But there the dread disease followed them. The elder brother first succumbed, and the younger one had not succeeded as duke above an hour before he, too, passed away. A fine gate-house and a noble tower of Bishop Russell's building still survive. Sumptuous buildings likewise mark the last years of the monasteries, and much early Tudor work survives about houses which, at the Dissolution, laymen created out of religious buildings. Such, for instance, we see at the Essex Priories of Leez and of S. Osyth. At Forde, in Dorsetshire, Thomas Chard, its last abbot, as late as 1528, was erecting in local ashlar magnificent buildings of which the exterior of the great hall and porch tower still exhibit, in the finest manner, the first mingling of Renaissance detail with Gothic forms.

At the same moment a much greater churchman was indulging his love of sumptuous housing, for it was in 1525 that Cardinal Wolsey handed over his unfinished palace of Hampton Court to Henry VIII (p. 327). In such extravagances, laymen vied with clerics, and the wealthiest of Henry's nobles, the Duke of Buckingham, not only added to Penshurst, but began rebuilding Thornbury Castle, in Gloucestershire, in so noble a manner that, together with a general swelled-headedness about the royal blood in his veins, he annoyed the king, who had him condemned for treason in 1521. A good deal of his unfinished castle still stands-a sample of what the magnificent structure was to have been.

Of Henry VIII's officials and courtiers who built well, if not ambitiously, we may select the three lords, Southampton, Sandys and Marney, and the two knights Weston and Compton, because much of what they erected survives to this day. Southampton left his mark on Cowdray, in Sussex, completing a house begun about 1530, and which afterwards was made still more splendid by his nephew Lord Montagu. It remained a house of unusual charm and splendour almost to the end of the eighteenth century, when sudden ruin overwhelmed it and the last of its ancient owners. The double disaster- the burning of the house and the drowning of the eighth viscount, in 1793-is one of the best known tales of the vicissitudes of great families, and has been heavily punctuated by the tradition of a curse incurred by its lords as grantees of ecclesiastical property.

Although only partially consumed by fire, no rebuilding took place, decay set in, and nothing but a very picturesque ruin now survives. Lord Sandys was Henry VIII's Lord Chamberlain, and, at the Vyne in Hampshire, he built himself, in about the year 1515, a very fine house where he more than once entertained the king, who was accompanied on the last occasion by Anne Boleyn, shortly before the tragedy of her ending. Passing to the Chutes in Commonwealth times, it was largely altered and now retains much of the fabric and decoration both of its first Sandys and first Chute owners.

It is remarkable that, although Elizabeth's reign was one prolonged crisis-questions of succession, politics and religion, ever-threatening foreign invasion or home revolution-yet the zest of life and the intellectual activity of her day produced time and money for a striking forward move in country house building and more luxurious living. Thus, Harrison, who published his "Description of England" in 1587, notices that "the furniture of our houses also exceedeth, and is growne in maner even to passing delicacie," and declares that "if ever curious building did flourish in England, it is in these our years wherein our workmen excel and are in manner comparable in skill with old Vitrivius, Leo Baptista and Serle."

Despite these allusions to the leading architects of Rome and the Renaissance, the English house still, both in design and plan, clung to native tradition. Although lessened in size and height, the hall still occupied the centre of the house, was lit on both sides, was entered at one end from behind screens, and still had the offices at that end and the parlours at the other. The house retained the many-gabled roof, the structurally mullioned windows, the great chimney stacks topped with separate flue shafts of medieval times.

We find not only much new building under Elizabeth, but also much enlargement and reconstruction of older houses. Such are Beaudesert, in Cannock Chase, remodelled by Lord Paget; in Northamptonshire, Deene, where Sir Edmund Brudenell enlarged his grandfather's house, and Apethorpe, altered under Elizabeth by Sir Walter Mildmay, and again by his great-nephew. Sir Francis Fane, under James I. In his time our Early Renaissance style reached its climax, both in the grandeur of houses new-built or reconstructed and in the elaboration of their decoration.

Under Elizabeth the joiner began to flourish, rooms were wainscoted in oak-rarely in walnut-and when that oak was richly carved or inlaid, it was generally accompanied by still more elaborately decorated chimney-pieces and doorways. Under James such enrichment became less coarse and native, the growing classic feeling leading to more thoughtful and reserved designing, more delicate and skilful workmanship. That we see in the great screens and other woodwork at Audley End-hugest of Jacobean houses-built by Lord Chamberlain Suffolk between 1603 and 1616, and at Hatfield, as created by Lord Treasurer Salisbury between 1607 and 1612, where the intelligent and widely cultivated owner introduced the latest planning and finest workmanship of his day.

The Civil Wars and Commonwealth period saw little building, but with the Restoration of 1660 there came in new houses in a new style. A hipped-roofed rectangle, with little or no projection, had a central entrance opening centrally into a hall with saloon of like size backing against it and forming the centre of the opposite front. On each side were lesser rooms, and between them staircases. Even a few years before the Restoration Roger Pratt carried out such a scheme at Coleshill, in Berkshire, for his cousin, Sir George Pratt, and Evelyn, in 1664, found Hugh May erecting Eltham Lodge for Sir John Shore very much on this particular plan.

Later, in Charles II's reign, Sir John Brownlow built Bolton, in Lincolnshire, and Chief Justice Jones, Ramsbury, in Wiltshire-both are finely designed and wrought, typical of the style and retaining their original features. The windows had ceased to have structural mullions, were much higher han wide, were of one size and were set in regular rows. Many earlier houses were more or less brought into line with these ideas, such as Ham House, near Richmond, by the Duke of Lauderdale about 1675, and Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, by the Duke of Devonshire, who all through William Ill's reign was employing Talman to give a full Late-Renaissance flavour to Bess of Hardwick's Elizabethan house.

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Pictures for Historic Mansions of England

Ightham Mote in Kent
Ightham Mote in Kent >>>>
Library with mighty beams and Gabled roofs of Ightham Mote
Library with mighty beams and Gabled roofs of Ightham Mote >>>>
Stokesay Castle, oldest fortified manor house in England
Stokesay Castle, oldest fortified manor house in England >>>>
Glorious Hatfield house, built by the First Earl of Salisbury
Glorious Hatfield house, built by the First Earl of Salisbury >>>>
Gardens of Castle Ashby, Seat of the Marquess of Northampton
Gardens of Castle Ashby, Seat of the Marquess of Northampton >>>>
Duke of Richmonds Seat at Goodwood, Sussex
Duke of Richmonds Seat at Goodwood, Sussex >>>>
Bulwer Lyttons Hertfordshire home at Knebworth: Audley End Essex
Bulwer Lyttons Hertfordshire home at Knebworth: Audley End Essex >>>>
Ham House by the Thames at Petersham, Surrey
Ham House by the Thames at Petersham, Surrey >>>>
Library and sculpture gallery of the Great Ducal House at Chatsworth
Library and sculpture gallery of the Great Ducal House at Chatsworth >>>>
Bowood, near Calne, the Wiltshire Seat of the Marquess of Lansdowne
Bowood, near Calne, the Wiltshire Seat of the Marquess of Lansdowne >>>>
Penshurst Place, ancient home of the Sidneys, and wonderful Compton Wynyates
Penshurst Place, ancient home of the Sidneys, and wonderful Compton Wynyates >>>>
Chequers court, a Mansion for Prime Ministers
Chequers court, a Mansion for Prime Ministers >>>>
Blenhem, mark of a nations Gratitude, from the air, and Petworth
Blenhem, mark of a nations Gratitude, from the air, and Petworth >>>>
Sutton Place, a Splendid Tudor Mansion on the road to Guildford
Sutton Place, a Splendid Tudor Mansion on the road to Guildford >>>>
Althorp Park, Northamptonshire, Home of the Spencers
Althorp Park, Northamptonshire, Home of the Spencers >>>>
A Renaissance Mansion of England and its treasures
A Renaissance Mansion of England and its treasures >>>>
Chatsworth, the Mansion of the Dukes of Devonshire
Chatsworth, the Mansion of the Dukes of Devonshire >>>>
Chapel of Haddon Hall in Chatsworth
Chapel of Haddon Hall in Chatsworth >>>>
Imposing Knole and its Park at Sevenoaks, Kent
Imposing Knole and its Park at Sevenoaks, Kent >>>>

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