THE DUKERIES REVISITED

The Dukeries are four estates whose boundaries join and form a green and tranquil tract of Nottinghamshire which, until the Second World War, was a celebrated beauty spot.

In 1963, the writer J. Roger Baker re-visited the area for The Tatler and discovered that once more the estates were being cared for in a way which, while retaining the feeling of pre-war grandeur, was entirely consistent with the 1960s.

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Clumber Park: the house was demolished (the bay window, centre left, is all that remained) just before the Second World War, but under the auspices of the National Trust the park was being manicured and replanted to its original 18th-century appearance. Image: The British Newspaper Archive).

Fifty-five years later, with the benefit of hindsight, his work proves to be a rather rose-tinted look at four country houses. These were the ‘swinging-sixties’ after all, but life further north was a bit grim. For at least one of these properties times would get very hard indeed.

From ‘The Tatler’ – 28 August 1963:-

Today’s image of Nottinghamshire is probably one of coal-mining sons and lovers enjoying riotous Saturday nights and hung-over Sunday mornings, plus vague race-memories of Robin Hood engaging in endless television sorties with the local Sheriff. But the core of the county has always been – and remains – Sherwood Forest which once accounted for a fifth of its area. Until the 17th century this thirty-mile expanse of woodland and ling forest belonged to the Crown; the King retaining hunting rights and the great oaks were used to build ships and – it is generally believed – to supply beams for large buildings, among them St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In 1683 the Earl of Kingston formed Thoresby Park from 2,000 acres of forest land; later another 3,000 were taken for the fourth Earl of Clare’s park at Clumber and the Duke of Newcastle began building Welbeck Abbey. At nearby Worksop stood the magnificent Elizabethan manor house begun in about 1530 by the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury. This house – the most glorious in the midlands and possibly the whole north of England was burned down (at a total loss in art treasures of £100,000) in 1761. The conjunction of these four estates is dubbed the Dukeries. In the past 30 years they have probably gone through more upheaval – retrogression and subsequent redevelopment – than in the previous three hundred. I revisited the Dukeries earlier this year when the oak, lime and birch trees were just emerging into consciousness and daffodils carpeted the parklands. It is possible to travel for miles without seeing a coal mine or any other scar on the carefully manicured landscape, or any living thing apart from birds or the odd herd of deer. The perimeter of the Dukeries is dotted with unlovely mining villages and in many places spoil heaps (buckets travel along wires to tip subterranean refuse on to growing piles) and mining plant encroach within the forest itself, but the centre of the area remains unspoiled. Or, to be more precise, has regained an unspoiled appearance.

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Mr John Trayner, was the East Midland Area agent for the National Trust. “If all according to plan, our scheme for the replanting of the park will be completed in 2007,” he said. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

For the greatest depredations to the forests and parks happened during the Second World War when the Army took over. I remember as a small boy raiding the ammunition dumps for Very lights which enlivened the first post-war bonfire celebrations. Perhaps the worst to suffer was Clumber Park which was requisitioned as an ammunition sub depot; it had been, too, a transit camp and much of the timber felled for war purposes leaving the park in a dismal state. Clumber House itself, a basically 18th-century mansion with later enlargements, facing on to the 87-acre lake, was demolished by the Duke of Newcastle in 1937 who intended to build a smaller dwelling on a nearby site. For a variety of reasons, he never did and sold the park to the National Trust.

A miniscule remnant of the house still stands (teas are available) and the National Trust’s area agent, Mr John Trayner, has his office in the stable courtyard.

“Clumber was the hunting and farming type of park,” he told me, “and a perfect example of a landscaped 18th century park which we are slowly restoring to its original state. The forestry side is well in hand, replanting at the rate of 28 acres a year. The rest is a question of maintenance and keeping the roads and paths in trim. We are also concerned with the buildings, especially the church.”

£9,000 has been spent on restoring Clumber church which was rededicated earlier this year. “On a good summer Sunday as many as 70,000 members of the public visit Clumber,” said Mr Trayner.

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Clumber House: Visitors in the grounds of the house at a garden fete in August 1923. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

The joint estate of Thoresby is also open to the public. The hall is the home of Earl Manvers’ widow (he was the representative of the Dukes of Kingston whose title is defunct). It is not quite the Woburn of the Midlands, the Countess Manvers has made admirable use of the resources at her disposal to attract the public. In Sissons’ ‘Penny Illustrated Guide to the Dukeries’ published some 50 years ago, the rapturous author writes: ‘Everything is in the most perfect order on the Thoresby Estate and the mansion is the ideal abode of a high-minded English nobleman.

Of the estate this remains true; the park is about twelve miles in circumference, its variety of trees, lake and herds of deer (this particular estate has always retained large herds) are immaculate. Of the mansion… well, times have changed, and a few English noblemen would relish a bookstall selling Thoresby Hall place mats, waste paper bins, trays and tea towels in their great hall. The present house, another example of Victorian splendour, was designed by Salvin in 1874 and its massive, elaborate exterior confines a series of state apartments around which the public drift, open-mouthed at the fascinating collection of objets on view, ranging from the coronation robes of the Earl & Countess Manvers to some very beautiful paintings and back via a set of dolls in national costumes.

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Thoresby Hall: the home of the Countess Manvers was open to the public and its great hall included a souvenir stall among the armour and antique furniture. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Despite the inevitable tourist attractions (did I spot a Robin Hood tea room?) Countess Manvers – an active painter, many of her works hang in Thoresby Hall – has clearly compromised with the ‘60s in the most agreeable manner, ensuring that the estate and house retain a basic feeling of a past age.

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Image : The British Newspaper Archive.
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The park at Thoresby Hall had always been noted for its deer, and in the 1960s a herd was still maintained here. Image : The British Newspaper Archive.

The other two ducal estates exist on a slightly different basis; to neither is the public admitted except by very special arrangement. Welbeck Abbey was first founded about 1150 but under Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries act, destroyed. The present pile – of varying periods – was begun in 1600 by the first Duke of Newcastle. The author of Sissons’ ‘Penny Guide’ goes completely berserk at the prospect of describing Welbeck, describing the wonders as ‘world-wide.’ Well. The wonders exist of a series of underground rooms and tunnels built (Sissons estimates the cost as ‘two or three millions of money’) by the fifth Duke of Portland. One is not required to indulge in a species of pot-holing to see these apartments – they are in fact just below ground level, lit by skylights.

Today Welbeck Abbey is a school – a college providing a two-year sixth-form boarding school education for boys intending to take cadetships at Sandhurst. The present Duke of Portland, who lives in a smaller house at Welbeck Woodhouse nearby, retains some state apartments for his own use.

The underground ballroom (a picture gallery originally) is now the gymnasium, and oil paintings hang on the walls, men and women of a bygone century watching lusty youths vault, practise judo and perform on parallel bars. Many of the rooms leading from the underground galleries are classrooms; football and cricket pitches are marked on the great lawns and boats sail the lake. Tactful conversion of a great home into a military college of this nature is a sure way of preserving the house from either destruction or misuse. Within the park, Welbeck village, once a completely self-contained unit, feudal in nature, serving the Abbey, retains its function; the rest of the estate is farmed by efficient and up-to-date methods.

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Welbeck Abbey: It was the home of the Duke of Portland (who lived at a house nearby), the Abbey being used as a college offering a two-year boarding school education for potential Sandhurst cadets. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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The Lion Gates marked the entrance at Welbeck Park from the Worksop road. They used to be opened by a mechanical device operated from the lodge – but by the 1960s were opened by electricity. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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The famous underground ballroom was used by the school as a gymnasium. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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Among the relics and oddities dotted about the Dukeries and the environs of Sherwood Forest was a hunting lodge, a 19th-century copy of Worksop Priory Gatehouse with statues of Robin Hood and his legendary band poised in niches round the building. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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A forgotten house. Worksop Manor pictured here in 1960. It was the home of Mrs M.A. Farr, who owned the 2,000-acre estate and stud in partnership with her son, Mr Bryan Farr. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Farming is also the function of the Worksop Manor estate which joins that of Welbeck. The manor house has been associated with various moments of history, visited by Mary Queen of Scots, by Charles I, and once tenanted by Bess of Hardwick who married the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. The present house was built by the 9th Duke after the Elizabethan house had been razed in 1761. He and the Duchess began rebuilding but the death of their heir finished their enthusiasm. The remains of their project are in a singular curtain wall attached to the main house which gives the place a strangely Mediterranean feeling; there is space, there are statues. In 1840 the manor was sold to the Duke of Newcastle of Clumber and in 1890 sold again to Sir John Robinson, passing in 1929 to his great-nephew Captain John Farr, whose widow still lives there, the 450-acre farm being managed by her son., Mr Bryan Farr, who has a house on the estate which includes 600 acres of forest land. Today Worksop Manor is probably the most striking of the four houses; with its wide courtyard and unfinished wing, completely unexpected.

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Worksop Manor: the estate joins that of Welbeck Abbey. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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Worksop Manor: the oldest of the four great houses, and one with the most colourful history. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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A feature of the house was the remains of the north wing, built by Edward, 9th Duke of Shrewsbury in 1761, later demolished by the Duke of Newcastle. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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The huge carved pediment that surmounted the wing was crumbling in the farmyard in 1963. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

And so ended J. Roger Baker’s visit to the Dukeries. But what lay ahead for these country estates? This was the 1960s, and there was still a tendency to demolish great houses that proved too costly to maintain.

Clumber Park, minus demolished mansion, became one of the National Trust’s crown jewels. Listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, it has steadily been managed and maintained. It still contains the longest double avenue of lime trees in Europe, created by the 5th Duke of Newcastle in the 19th century and extending for more than two miles. The Duke of Newcastle’s study, designed by Charles Barry Jr, is all that survives of the house and is used as a café.

Worksop Manor might have been described as the finest of the four houses, but it was, and remains, the most secretive of estates. Guarded from public view, it strives to avoid publicity, the house remains in private ownership and continues to be the home to the Worksop Manor Stud.

The Dukedom of Portland became extinct following the death of Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, 9th Duke of Portland, in 1990. The military college continued at Welbeck Abbey until 2005, while Lady Anne, the unmarried elder daughter of the 7th Duke of Portland, remained at Welbeck Woodhouse until her own death in 2008. Her nephew, William Henry Marcello Parente (born 1951) inherited and moved into Welbeck Abbey making it a family home once again. The family-controlled Welbeck Estates Company and the charitable Harley foundation have converted some estate buildings to new uses. These include the Dukeries Garden Centre in the estate glasshouses, the School of Artisan Food in the former fire stables, the Harley Gallery and Foundation and the Welbeck Farm Shop in the former estate gasworks and a range of craft workshops in a former kitchen garden. The house remains private although public visits are available on a limited basis at certain times of the year.

Perhaps the most beleaguered story belonged to Thoresby Hall. To minimise the threat of coal mining subsidence the house was sold to the National Coal Board in 1979 who proposed mining underneath it. It stood empty and abandoned from 1980, and in 1983 was described ‘as gradually crumbling as a coal seam is mined under its foundations’.  It was sold on the open market ten years later and after several uninspiring owners was eventually acquired by Warner Leisure Hotels. Thoresby Hall opened as a 200-room country house hotel and spa in 2000.

The writer, J. Roger Baker , was born in 1934 and studied at Nottingham University. After working at the Nottingham Evening Post, he moved to London in 1960 to take a job with The Tatler. He died in 1993.

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Clumber House: During the hot summer of 2018, the outline of the demolished house appeared through the dry grass. Image: The National Trust.
Classic view of Welbeck Abbey
Welbeck Abbey: It remains a private family home. During Summer, The Harley Gallery runs tours of the Abbey’s State Rooms to see objects from the art collection built up over the centuries by the Dukes of Portland and their families, The Portland Collection, in their historic setting.
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Worksop Manor: An aerial view of the secretive estate. The town of Worksop can be seen at the top of the picture. Image: Patrick Baty.
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Almost lost. Thoresby Hall is now a popular country house hotel complete with modern additions. Image: Warner Leisure Hotels.

FRING HALL

When fire broke out a lack of water caused by summer drought resulted in this country house’s destruction

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Between the autumns of 1933 and 1934, the southern counties of England suffered extreme drought. The summer wasn’t particularly hot, but lack of rainfall depleted surface water in rivers, streams, ponds and lakes, leaving many of them dry beds. The effect of this had devastating consequences for one Norfolk country house when it caught fire in the early hours of Saturday 23 June 1934.

Fring Hall, built in 1807, was one of the show mansions of West Norfolk, and home to the Hon. Somerset Arthur Maxwell (1905-1942), the eldest son of Arthur Kenlis Maxwell, 11th Baron Farnham. He’d married (Angela) Susan Roberts, daughter of Captain Marshall Owen Roberts, by his former wife Irene Helene Murray, in 1930.

The House, which stood in many acres of grounds, with a beautiful garden and park, had been leased from the Dusgate family, and redecoration had recently been completed in readiness for the incoming tenants.  It was described as ‘a neat cemented mansion, upon a commanding eminence, with extensive gardens and pleasure grounds’

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Somerset Maxwell and his future wife, Susan Roberts. This picture was taken shortly before their marriage in 1930. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Mr Maxwell and his wife had arrived from London about an hour before the fire broke out. He at once communicated with the police when the outbreak was discovered by a servant, and the Sandringham Brigade from the King’s estate was the first to arrive.

So intense were the flames, that by 4 am only the walls were left standing, and some of these had become cracked and in danger of collapse. The roof and two wings had gone and the fine old mansion of about 60 rooms was little more than a blackened ruin.

Only a few hundred gallons of water were available to fight the flames. Owing to the drought there was no water in the ponds or in the ditches, and 60 men from five fire brigades and 20 Royal Air Force men could only stand by after the initial supply was exhausted. The main sources of water turned out to be a well in the grounds and some storage tanks, meaning only a few hoses could be used.

Flames rose to a great height and could be seen for miles, the roads full of motorists who had come to watch. One local resident was able to report on the blaze:

“Mr Maxwell, I believe, only took over the mansion about four months ago, but only returned to it yesterday to attend a Conservative meeting promoted by Viscountess Downe, at Hillington.

“In the glare of the fire he worked in his shirt sleeves, doing all he could to help the firemen. Valuable furniture and jewels were saved before the flames reached the front of the house, I understand.”

Despite the lack of water, men were able to get into the buildings and rescue most of the downstairs furniture and some from the bedrooms. All the jewellery and silver recovered were placed in a cell at Docking Police Station for safekeeping.

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Fring Hall was rebuilt in 1936 and said to be a copy of the original, although there are differences in its external appearance. The cropmark of the original building is said to appear in dry weather protruding from the side of the present house.

Lt-Colonel, the Hon. Somerset Maxwell, one of the country’s tallest MPs, died in 1942, of wounds he received in Agedabia (now Ajdabiya) in Libya.

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Five Maxwells and a pony: Somerset Maxwell, MP for King’s Lynn since 1935, his wife, his sons and a small attractive daughter were photographed at Fring Hall in 1938. The house had been rebuilt after the fire. He would die four years later fighting in World War Two. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

These days Fring Hall is home to the Brun family. Henrik Constantin Brun (1908-2009) came over from Denmark before World War Two and worked for a large farming company before branching out on his own as a tenant on the Sandringham estate. His youngest son, Edward Henrik Constantin Brun (b. 1948), is now the occupier at Fring Hall with its woodland used to supply coppice and woodland products.

ALLTYRODYN

John Lloyd Davies inherited one of Wales’ largest estates when he was ten-years-old. He died at 28, having squandered his fortune, and leaving behind a series of ‘dubious’ wills

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On the market at Savills with a guide price of £800,000 is Alltyrodyn Mansion, a substantial three storey late Georgian Grade II* listed country house. It is thought to date from about 1827, built in the style of the architect John Nash and retaining many of the original features throughout including decorative plasterwork.

The house, at Capel Dewi, near Llandysul in Ceredigion, was rebuilt for the Lloyd family, owners since the early 17th century, either for David Lloyd (1748-1822) or John Lloyd (d. 1841). According to the 1873 return of owners of land, this estate was once the sixth largest in the county, part of an estimated 6,877 acres of land owned by John Lloyd Davies (1850-1878) in Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire.

And it is to this person that we focus on the house’s most infamous years, a young man whose eventual death caused scandal and turmoil in the courts.

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John Lloyd Davies was born in October 1850 and married in July 1872, shortly after reaching his majority. He became a rich man, possessing real estate in Cardiganshire and other Welsh counties, yielding a rental income of about £4,000 a year. The property he inherited at Alltyrodyn was derived through the old Welsh Lloyd family, long settled in Cardiganshire. The last of the line, John Lloyd, died unmarried and devised the estates to a female cousin, Anne Stewart, who survived her husband. After his death she married a man called John Davies (later called Lloyd Davies), a servant at a hotel in the neighbourhood in which she resided. He was her junior and considered to be illiterate, but before marrying him she had him educated.

The issue of this marriage was one child, a son, Arthur Lloyd Davies. He married Adelaide Lacy, the daughter of a publican, and he died in 1852, leaving surviving him his widow (who subsequently remarried) and two children, John Lloyd Davies and Ann Justina Lloyd, later Mrs Massey. John Lloyd Davies Sr survived his wife. He re-married and died in 1860, leaving surviving him two young sons – Hardwick Lloyd Davies and Powell Lloyd Davies. Though having only a life interest in the Alltyodyn estates, he dealt with them as if he were the owner in fee and disposed of them by will.

The consequence was a suit in Chancery in which 10-year-old John Lloyd Davies Jr inherited his estate, but managed by trustees until the child reached his majority. He became acquainted with James Allen, then a Chancery managing clerk and later a member of a firm of solicitors called Eyre and Co, of Bedford Row, London, who acted in his interest.

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Lloyd Davies Jr gained full control of his estate at the age of 21, but was of an obstinate and intractable disposition and though gifted, with considerable intellectual power, had little inclination to study. When aged 20 he formed a relationship with Miss Susannah Crowhurst, a ballet-dancer at the Alhambra Theatre, and in April 1872, shortly after reaching 21, made provision for her in the first of a series of wills he executed. He gave her a legacy of £1,000 and an annuity of the same as well as a legacy of £5,000 to Mr Allen. He devised his real estates to his uncles by half-blood, Powell Lloyd Davies and Hardwick Lloyd Davies, in succession.

He married Miss Crowhurst the following July, and the will having been revoked, was revived by codicil, in which the gifts to her were made as to his wife. In June 1873, he executed a second will, and by it he increased the annuity to his wife to £2,000 and the legacy to Mr Allen to £10,000, leaving the remaining parts of the will unaltered. Lloyd Davies subsequently added further codicils, including adding a further £10,000 to Mr Allen’s legacy.

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Shortly after the marriage Lloyd Davies needed money and mortgaged his estates to pay succession duties and supply his extravagances. He made a trip to South Africa to hunt ‘big game’ and visit the diamond fields. He sailed, leaving behind James Allen as power of attorney. He returned in 1874, but during absence had written several interesting letters of his adventure to Mr Allen, signing himself ‘your sincere and affectionate friend’.

On his return he went to live with Mr and Mrs Dewdney in Regent’s Park (and would later include them in his wills). Lloyd Davies needed more money and sold a portion of his landed property raising about £75,000.

About this time, James Allen’s relationship with his wife had deteriorated, and he thought it necessary to leave London for a considerable time. He was still a clerk, though admitted an attorney at Eyre and Co, of which he didn’t become a member until 1877. He made known his difficulties to John Lloyd Davies, who placed at his disposal a gift of £10,000. The marriage subsequently collapsed, and Allen stayed away from London.

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In the meantime, John Lloyd Davies had stretched himself financially after dealings with a man named Morgan, a horse dealer, with whom he had entered into partnership. In 1875, he left his wife for America, visiting New York, and the Niagara Falls. He then journeyed into the far West, hunting in the Rocky Mountains, visiting the gold digging sites in California, and finally San Francisco.

On his return to Alltyrodyn he communicated for the first time with his sister, Ann, who visited his wife and became very friendly with her.  A codicil was made by which she and her children were benefited to the extent of £300 a year. However, John Lloyd Davies developed pulmonary consumption and sought medical advice in London. His sister, perhaps sensing what might lay ahead, suggested that the estates, upon his death, go to her children, also his wife’s diamonds and jewellery. This so enraged him that he made another codicil, leaving her nothing.  In the final will all the estates were given to James Allen, his most intimate friend, a legacy of £1,000 to his wife, in addition to an annuity of £2,500 per year during widowhood.  By now, he had strained relationships with his family – particularly from his uncles, because their guardian would not allow them to associate with him.

He died in May 1878 aged 28. In opposition to the claim for probate, his sister and brother-in-law, Mr and Mrs Massey, alleged that the execution of the final will had been obtained by the undue influence and fraud of Mr Allen, and that at the date of the execution of the wills and codicils, John Lloyd Davies was not of sound mind.

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In the end, James Allen’s name was struck out of the will of 1858, by which all other wills were revoked, and was instead given the sum of £5,000, presumably in aid of legal expenses. John Lloyd Davies’ sister, Ann Massey, became the possessor of the Alltyrodyn estates, a situation that caused bemusing celebrations at Llandysul. ‘The brass band marched through the town, followed by the drum and fife band in uniform; The Church bells rang, and bonfires, illuminations and other signs of rejoicings were prominent objects at night’.

However, in 1881, the former estates of John Lloyd Davies – Alltyrodyn, Blaendyffryn and Heolddu -were put up for sale by Ann Massey to settle outstanding debts.  The mansion was later bought by Captain James Stewart (1830-1908), JP, DL, the second son of Mr Alexander Stewart, of Woodford Hall, Essex.  He was a captain in the Royal Madras Horse Artillery and served in the Indian Mutiny. He married Louisa Charlotte Butler, a daughter of James Butler of the Indian Army. His son, Douglas Dormer Stewart, inherited the estate and the house remained with the family until the mid-20th century.

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Sale of the Alltyrodyn estates. From Baner ac Amserau Cymru. 3 August 1881. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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These days, events at Alltryodyn are much quieter and has been home to the current owner for many years.

A stunning portico entrance leads through double doors into the grand reception hall with exposed floorboards and a fireplace providing a warm focal point. A door leads off to the left and dining room with fireplace, and views across the front of the house. On the right of the reception hall is the drawing room again with fireplace, full-length mirror in frame and views across the front gardens. A doorway with fan lights over leads through from the hall to the inner hall with moulded stair hall cornice and staircase. On the right of the inner hall is a small reception room/extra bedroom. Beyond is the impressive ball room with cornice, arched recesses each end, flanked by matching display alcoves and built in cupboards and views across the side gardens. On the opposite side of the floor, the inner hall leads past the pantry, a cosy snug/office with fireplace, access to the wine cellar and through to the kitchen breakfast room with white Aga set in stone surround. A scullery and larder are situated off the kitchen together with a side entrance leading to the rear courtyard.

There are fourteen bedrooms in total, offering purchasers an opportunity to acquire one of the famous houses of Wales either as a home and/or to explore other commercial avenues including boutique B&B, hotel, wedding venue etc (of course, subject to planning permission).

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FINDON PLACE

“Where the house at Findon Place, or the Manor House as it used to be called, now stands, there had doubtless been a house for many hundred years, and it is probable that Edward I spent many a night here.”

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Findon Place is a stunning example of classical Georgian architecture. It has an extensive and rich history and is listed Grade II* due to its architectural and historical merit. The present house was largely built in the mid-18th century by John Cheale, Norroy King at Arms. It occupies the site of the original Manor House, and some parts of the present building date back to the reign of Henry VII, if not earlier. It is now on the market at Knight Frank with a guide price of £6 million.

At the time of Edward the Confessor, the lands at Findon were in the possession of Harold, the last of the Saxon Kings, who was succeeded in the ownership of Findon (then called Fine-dune) by William de Braose, who as a kinsman of the Duke of Normandy is said to have received no fewer than forty gifts of property from William the Conqueror. At the time the estate equated to a 15,000-acre deer park.

Findon Place stayed in the hands of the Braose family until 1317 when William VIII gave the house to his daughter Aline and her husband John de Mowbray.

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The new family ownership of John de Mowbray was cut short as he was beheaded in York in 1322 after being part of the revolt against the Crown. The King granted a licence in 1324 to allow Aline, the ability to grant the manor to Hugh de Spenser.

Findon Place was then in the hands of the Crown from 1525 until 1538, when Richard Rich obtained a licence and passed on the tenure to Thomas Cromwell. During Cromwell’s ownership, a larger house was constructed over the medieval foundations. There is still evidence of one of the grand chimneys between the present kitchen and the sitting room, which is now blocked off.

Edward Shelley was passed the house in 1541 from Cromwell, and it remained in the Shelley family until 1604.

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Coming to later times we find Findon Place held by John Cheale, Norroy King of Arms in the reign of George IV, who rebuilt most of the house before passing it to his nephew, William Green, a friend of the Sovereign who, when Prince of Wales, often visited Findon from Brighton, for the excellent shooting on the estate. Green’s devisees in trust reserved twenty acres and the sepulchral Chapel, in the Church, and sold the remainder to William Richardson.

William Richardson bought the house in the 18th Century and was married to Mary Margesson, the eldest daughter of John Margesson of Offington, who died without issue and the property was bequeathed to a cousin, William Westbrook Richardson, himself the son of Frances, second daughter of John Margesson.

It was soon after his arrival in 1787 that the house was restored, and the reception rooms rebuilt. After his death in 1801, his widow built the big room to the west end of the house.

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Findon Place was later sold to Lieutenant-Colonel William George Margesson in 1872, who added a storey to the east wing, which improved the servant accommodation. He also built a reservoir holding 15,000 gallons on the hillside. However, Margesson died in 1911 and his two sons died in the First World War, leaving no heirs.

During the early years of the 20th century the house was let and one of the occupiers, Mr E.J. Spencer, carried out several extensive internal improvements, embracing among other things an electric lighting plant, heating, drainage and septic tank, additional bathrooms, panelling to several reception rooms, a new reservoir holding 45,000 gallons, new croquet lawn and two tennis lawns.

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In the 1920s and 1930s, Findon Place was let to the Savills and then to the Hartridges, who eventually bought it.  John Hartridge sold it to Keith Middlemas, who in 1972, sold it to John Young.

The oldest part of the present house are the cellars, which were originally the base of the medieval house. The hard stone foundations, laid about 1200-1300, can be seen and a cut chalk and red mortar wall from before 1300.

The property is beautifully set back from the lane, with a stone gravel drive. The accommodation is well proportioned and arranged over four floors. Of note are the three principle reception rooms, which have extraordinary high ceilings.

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The house has been adapted for modern day living with a great balance between formal and informal areas and maintains the ability to entertain on a grand scale. The bedrooms are arranged over two upper floors and as expected are well proportioned. On the first floor there are six principal bedrooms served by four bathrooms, including a generous master suite with bedroom, bathroom and dressing room. The second floor is served by a separate staircase and provides more flexible accommodation with a kitchenette, five bedrooms and two bathrooms giving the ability to create a separate apartment for staff or guests.

The gardens provide the most glorious setting and have been laid out to create a high degree of privacy and protection. They include a mixture of high flint walls, herbaceous borders, mature trees and areas of level lawns. There is a range of additional outbuildings including stables, garden stores and a hexagonal room. They also include a heated outdoor swimming pool and tennis court. The grounds extend to approximately 52 acres and is a mixture of pasture and woodland.

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BRAMSHILL PARK

For the first time in 65 years this house might be going back into private ownership, but it will require deep pockets to do so

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In 1936, there was excitement and relief when Lord Brocket, who as Mr Ronald Nall-Cain had represented Wavertree as its MP until 1934, bought Bramshill Park. This country house had been the residence of the Cope family for 200 years, but there was a danger of it passing out of private ownership as had happened to so many other mansions at the time.

It was bought as a second home for his family in more rural surroundings and further from London than Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire.

As it turned out, Lord Brocket, a man of considerable wealth, was its last private owner.  He held on to the property until 1953 before selling it to the Government. However, sixty-five years later there is a chance that Bramshill Park might become a family residence once again.

This is a big country house. Bramshill Park is a magnificent Grade I listed mainly Georgian mansion, set within Grade I listed parkland, woodland and lake. It stands just over three miles away from Hartley Wintney, a charming country village in Hampshire. It is now being marketed at Knight Frank as a conversion opportunity, price on application, but expect to pay in excess of £20 million for the privilege, and then there will be conversion costs on top.

Bramshill dates to the Doomsday Book of 1086 when the estate was held by Hugh de Port. In 1347 Sir Thomas Foxley, Constable of Windsor Castle, was granted permission to enclose 2,500 acres of land as a deer park at Bramshill and Hazeley. Sir Thomas was responsible for the construction of the noble mansion at Bramshill which has drawn comparisons with Windsor Castle. The mansion then passed to the 11th Lord Zouche of Harringworth. Zouche needed a large country mansion to consolidate his position at Court and to make a statement that he was a force to be reckoned with. He reconstructed the house between 1605 and 1615.

Bramshill Park - The Graphic - 15 May 1909 - BNA
Bramshill Park photographed in 1909. When this was taken Sir Anthony Cope’s house had just escaped destruction in a forest fire. For three days, 400 mounted troops from Aldershot had assisted local authorities in beating out extensive fires in the neighbourhood of Eversley, Hampshire, the work, it was believed of incendiaries. The fires were put out but not before some 2000 acres had been devastated. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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Lord Zouche was a well-travelled and cultivated gentleman and it is to him that the creation of Bramshill House, largely as it appears today, is credited together with its walled gardens, maze and lake. The Henley family bought the estate in 1640 and remained at Bramshill until 1699 when it was sold to Sir John Cope whose descendants remained at Bramshill for 236 years. The Cope’s had a significant influence on both the fabric of the building, and its landscape. Much of what we know of the changes to the house and grounds over this period are described in a book published in 1883 by Sir William Cope, the main phases of internal change appear to be as follows:

  • 1720. Introduction of the mezzanine floor and Queen Anne Stairs.
  • 1812. Construction of the “Dark” corridor in the courtyard to allow independent access to the first-floor rooms and improve internal circulation.
  • 1850-90. Incremental changes, mainly replacement of failing external fabric and re-organisation of the ground floor of the north wing. Introduction of bathrooms.
  • 1920. Removal of partitions and walls from the former billiard room and “Red” dining room to create the Morning room.
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In 1936, Bramshill was bought from the Cope family by Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket. During the Second World War, the house was used by the Red Cross as a maternity home for evacuee mothers from Portsmouth, and afterwards as a home for the exiled King Michael and Queen Anne of Romania and their family.

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A Jacobean gem: The exterior of Bramshill which was built between 1605 and 1612 by Lord Zouche, a friend of Ben Jonson and one of the Peers who tried Mary Queen of Scots. When this photograph was taken in 1936 no structural alterations had taken place since 1705, and Lord Brocket, as the new owner, intended to make very little change. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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‘A famous mansion saved’ said The Sphere in July 1936, The 127-ft Long Gallery at Bramshill Park, the early 17th century residence near Stratfieldsaye, Hampshire, a magnificent architectural example of its period, which had just been bought by Lord Brocket who intended to preserve it in the interests of the nation. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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The State Drawing Room in 1936: A spacious apartment with furniture and tapestries that ranked as museum pieces. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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Following its sale in the 1953 to the British Government it became the Police Staff College in 1960, and was later home to the European Police College, the house and its outbuildings operating as a conference and training centre. Owing to escalating maintenance costs the property was put on the market for £25 million in 2013 and later sold to City & Country for £20 million in August 2014.

The property is now being offered for sale as a private mansion, along with a former coach house and assembly dining hall. It has the benefit of consents pending to restore it back to a single-family residence.

Bramshill Park - The Illustrated London News - Sat 21 Mar 1970 - BNA
Police officers undergoing the Senior Command Course at the Police College, Bramshill, in 1970. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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NEW MURTHLY CASTLE

A mansion that was only a shell, but would soon be no more

Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (1)
The stones of New Murthly Castle were used by the Hydro-Electric Board to help in building twenty-nine traditional-type four and five bedroomed houses at Tarbet (under the Loch Sloy scheme) and thirty-five houses at Pitlochry (under the Tummel-Garry Scheme). Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

In February 1949, The Sphere published photographs of New Murthly Castle, at Dunkeld, in Perthshire, where demolition work was in progress. The stonework, amounting to 200,000 tons, was to be used to build workers’ houses near the new hydro-electric dam at Pitlochry, six miles away, and at Loch Sloy.

The castle, which was never completed, was begun in 1827 by Sir John Archibald Drummond Stewart, 6th Baronet (1794-1838), Laird of Murthly, and was said to be the outcome of his rivalry with John Campbell, 1st Marquess of Breadalbane (1762-1834) who had also started to rebuild Taymouth Castle in grandiose fashion.

Sir John called his residence New Murthly Castle and engaged John Gillespie Graham, said to be the most expensive architect in the country. When Sir John died during the progress of the work, Murthly was left just as it was, a magnificent empty shell.

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Experts bored into the ashlar with pneumatic drills, then strung charges of gelignite together with lengths of detonator cord.

Charlie Brand, an expert from ICI Nobel, who worked at the world’s largest dynamite works at Ardeer in Ayrshire, supervised the work. ‘The four flanking towers were pulled off their footings using a hawser attached to a huge Caterpillar tractor, then the central block was blown up by ICI’s men, using four tons of gelignite’.

Several hundred spectators turned up to watch.

John Stirling Maxwell, the founder of the National Trust for Scotland, said in 1937, that: “This unfinished house, for dignity, proportion and beauty stood quite alone in its day and is still without rival.” 

But these were the days before conservation. The National Trust for Scotland’s founding aim was to protect wild places from development, rather than to save buildings, and New Murthly Castle was lost.

Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (3)
The walls of New Murthly Castle crumble: One of the wings falling after the detonation of 900 lbs of explosive. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (2)
After the dust had settled: Part of one wing of New Murthly Castle lies on the ground and a gaping hole is revealed. The castle had stood unfinished and untenanted since 1827. Ammunition was stored here between 1939 and 1945. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

WHEATCROFT CLIFF

A Victorian country house you’ve most likely never heard of… except you did know it – and twenty-five years ago it fell into the sea

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In 1879, when George Alderson-Smith decided to build a new house on a clifftop above Scarborough, he chose not to listen to those people who thought it ill-advised. It was common knowledge that there was a history of cliff collapses in the area, but the house called Wheatcroft Cliff was built anyway. He died here in 1931, reaching the grand old age of 96, still declaring the property ‘safe as houses’.

114 years later, his words were little comfort to Barry and Joan Turner who had bought the property in 1988. In June 1993, after a period of heavy rainfall, the world watched as the now-named Holbeck Hall Hotel fell into the sea, the victim of a rotational landslip. It seemed that the Victorian doom-mongers had been correct after all.

It was a tragic end for the former ‘country house by the sea’. It had to be demolished completely after the incident, and twenty-five years on, there are few traces of its existence.

George Alderson-Smith (1834-1931), a native of Leeds, was the son of Mr John Smith, J.P., of Burley House and Belvedere in Harrogate, a partner in the firm of Beckett and Co. He had lived in Scarborough for nearly half a century, the whole time connected with the fishing industry. He was one of the town’s biggest steam trawler owners, amassing a small fortune and a reputation to match. This wealth allowed him to build Wheatcroft Cliff looking over Scarborough’s picturesque South Bay.

Holbeck Gardens - Stories from Scarborough

In time, Alderson-Smith became chairman of the Grand Hotel Company, chairman of the South Cliff Tramway Company and a director of the Scarborough Spa Company. His standing in the community also allowed him to become a J.P. for the North Riding of Yorkshire and eventually Deputy Lieutenant of the same county. Two of his mischievous sons, Hubert and Alder, had caused significant embarrassment when they appeared before Scarborough Police Court in 1889 after throwing five public seats over a cliff.

Alderson-Smith’s fishing business didn’t end well, his last three trawlers – the Seal, the Otter and Dalhousie – were sunk by First World War enemy submarines somewhere off Aberdeen, but by this time he was well into retirement. When Alderson-Smith died in 1931 he left gross estate to the value of £107,736 (net £93,812).

Wheatcroft Cliff was described as ‘standing in six acres of secluded grounds at the extremity of the South Cliff, from where it overlooked Holbeck Gardens and the coast, north and south’.  The contents of Wheatcroft Cliff were quickly sold at auction. The important collections included antique furniture, oriental porcelain of the Ming and Chinese dynasties, fine old English silver, oil paintings, watercolours, arms and armour and a fine library of books.

In June 1932, Wheatcroft Cliff was bought by Messrs Laughton, the proprietors of the Pavilion Hotel in Scarborough, who announced that the mansion was going to be converted into a first-class hotel. Mr Robert Thomas Laughton was the brother of Charles Laughton, the actor, and whose family had been operating hotels in Scarborough for 30 years. He told the Leeds Mercury that they had been searching for some years through various parts of the country for an estate suitable for an hotel to stand in its own grounds, which he considered to be a feature of the most successful first-class holiday hotels.

All the architectural features of Wheatcroft Cliff were preserved, but a new wing was built to accommodate its new services. Once the conversion was completed it had cost nearly £40,000.

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Scarborough was actor Charles Laughton’s boyhood home, where he had his first experience of acting as a member of Scarborough Amateur Players. “I found him in holiday mood, strolling in the beautiful grounds of Holbeck Hall Hotel, which his mother and two brothers recently opened.” From the Leeds Mercury. 3 September 1935. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

“Charles Laughton is once again in the news. I can hardly pick up a paper without seeing some review of his new film ‘Vessel of Wrath’. Though I will admit to being one of his fans, there is something which appeals to me far more, and that is the Laughton Hotels at Scarborough – the Pavilion, the Royal and Holbeck Hall. Now, the Laughton Hotels at Scarborough are a family concern. Although Charles is a director, it is his mother and his two brothers, Tom and Fred, who are in active control. In nearly every town you will find a local name, and I believe I am correct in saying that the Laughtons have been associated with hotel keeping in Scarborough since the first one was opened. Perhaps my favourite of the Laughton hotels is Holbeck Hall – the hotel with a view. Here there are six acres of private ground stretching down to the beach, and you can walk straight from your bedroom down to the sea in your swimming suit. There are all the characteristics of a country mansion. In the hall is a magnificent baronial fireplace, beautiful parquet floor, a minstrels’ gallery – everything, in fact, to promote a sense of well-being.” – ‘Hotel Discoveries’ by Ashley Courtenay in The Illustrated and Sporting Dramatic News – March 18 1938.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - 28 Apr 1934 - BNA
From the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 28 April 1934. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

And so Wheatcroft Cliff began life as the four-star Holbeck Hall Hotel. Although it was used briefly as part of a scheme to re-settle returned prisoners of war after World War Two.  The property passed through other owners until it was bought by Barry and Joan Turner, who added it to their English Rose Hotels portfolio.

Until that fateful day in 1993. Cracks had been seen near the hotel some weeks before, but it took until the night of 3 June for the cliff near the hotel to finally give way. Guests had to make a quick exit after its owners realised the seriousness of the situation following the landslip which left the building perched perilously close to the edge.  As the cliff continued to collapse, parts of the building soon began to follow.

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The hotel was in ruins by the time the ground finally stabilised by the end of the weekend, and what was left was bulldozed into the ground two weeks later. The Turners later used the insurance money to buy a new hotel in Malton and continued to build up their hotel empire.

BBC News
At the bottom of the cliff where the Holbeck Hall Hotel once stood, the material which fell during the landslip between 3-5 June 1993 has been landscaped, giving little clue as to the dramatic events which took place there 25 years ago. Image: BBC News.

Country houses with a story to tell

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