Tag Archives: Country Estate

TATCHBURY MOUNT

Tatchbury Mount - mossclan-co-uk
“It may be before long, that the majority of the population of the county will be classed as mental deficients,” joked Sir George Jeffreys of Hampshire County Council when Tatchbury Mount was converted into a Colony for Mental Deficients. He had been protesting against the ever increasing expenditure on mental hospitals. Image: Mossclan.

Tatchbury Mount was built in the early 19th century, possibly for William Timson, or more likely for Henry Thomas Timson, a ‘gentleman of fortune’, who died in 1848. It passed to the Reverend Edward Timson, Master of the New Forest Foxhounds, until his death in 1873, and subsequently to his son, Captain Henry Timson, of the 5th Lancashire Regiment.

Tatchbury was later rented to Mr J.P. Hesletine and then Sir Daniel Fulthorpe Gooch, also of Clewer Park in Berkshire, the third holder of the baronetcy conferred in 1866 on Sir Daniel Gooch, for many years chairman of the Great Western Railway. The third baronet had accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton in his 1914 Antarctic Expedition as far as South Georgia, signing on as an able seaman on the Endurance.

In 1927, Tatchbury Mount, still owned by the Timson family, was put up for sale and eventually sold to Hampshire County Council as a Colony for Mental Defectives. It opened in 1931 and after a long-use as a secure hospital, the site around it developed and still in use, the original mansion was surprisingly demolished in 2006.

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From the Western Gazette in May 1927. The Tatchbury Mount estate was put up for sale. On the day of the auction the mansion failed to sell. It was later sold to Hampshire County Council. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Tatchbury Mount - DeviantArt
William Timson, late of Moor Park, Surrey, died aged 78 at Tatchbury Mount in 1818. Henry Thomas Timson died in 1848. Image: DeviantArt.
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The Colony for Mental Defectives was established in 1931 at Tatchbury Mount. Three villas and a temporary hospital were built in 1939. A nearby house, Loperwood Manor, was acquired by 1941 and several buildings erected. Image: Freshford.

GOPSALL HALL

A century ago, Lord Howe was reported to be in financial difficulty. It came as no surprise when he sold this country house to a furniture baron, but there were troubled times ahead.

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The south front had an extremely imposing aspect, six Corinthian pillars supported friezes and bolsters of very graceful design while a receding pediment bore a sculpture of a ship in a storm to commemorate the naval victories of Lord Howe. Image: Hinckley Past and Present.

On August 21st 1918, The Pall Mall Gazette reported that the Gopsall estate in Leicestershire, one of the seats of Lord Howe, had been sold to Mr Samuel James Waring. The price was not disclosed, but the elastic figure was somewhere between £300,000 and £400,000. At one time the property had extended to 40,000 acres, but now comprised an area of 12,000 acres, including several villages. Gopsall Hall had sold for about £10,000.

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The north front at Gopsall Hall. Image: nortonjuxtatwycross.

The mansion was built in 1750, long thought to be by John Westley for Charles Jennens (1700-1773), the son of a Birmingham industrialist, at a cost of over £100,000. However, there is now speculation that it might have been the work of William or David Hiorn of Warwick.

Jennens was a keen follower of the arts and allowed his friend George Frederick Handel to stay for a time. Handel was reputed to have composed part of his ‘Messiah’ here and was responsible for the installation of a magnificent organ.

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In 1750, Gopsall Hall was built on a park of 300 acres for Charles Jennens a collector of fine art (his collection was one of the best in Britain at the time), the hall was designed by local architect John Westley and built by David Hiorns of Warwick, and the building and extensive gardens came to an estimated cost of more than £200,000.

It was inherited by his nephew Richard William Penn Asherton Curzon, whose mother was the eldest daughter of Admiral Howe. In later years, King Edward VII took advantage of the house’s shooting estate (as did Kaiser Wilhelm) and a silver bath was installed prior to his visit. Other visitors included Queen Adelaide during her long widowhood, and Winston Churchill.

A feature of Gopsall were its beautiful ceilings, the one in the dining room occupied nearly the whole space and represented Neptune riding in a nautilus shell drawn by horses.

According to the Pall Mall Gazette, Gopsall ‘may claim a prominent place in the ranks of the stately homes of England’.

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Every portion of woodwork in the hall was made from Lebanon cedar with the exception of the communion table of which the legs were carved from Boscobel Oak. Image: Hinckley Past and Present.

The sale, however, played sad havoc with the motto of the Curzons: ‘Let Curzon hold what Curzon held.’ Its new owner couldn’t resist the ‘splitting-up’ movement going on all over the country, and he intimated his willingness to consider proposals from tenants to purchase their holdings.

Samuel James Waring (1860-1940), known as Sir Samuel Waring, Bt, between 1919 and 1922, was a British industrialist, public servant and benefactor. He was the grandson of John Waring, who had arrived in Liverpool from Belfast in 1835 and established a wholesale cabinet maker business. In 1893, Waring was given the task of opening a branch of the family furniture making company in London. In 1897, Waring was responsible for the merger with Gillow and Company to become Waring & Gillow, and of which Waring became chairman.

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Samuel James Waring. In 1922, he was further honoured when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Waring, of Foots Cray Place in the County of Kent.

Seven years later, Waring sold the estate to the Government for £1 an acre and it was transferred to the Crown Estate. It was considered for various uses including that of a motor racing centre, an airfield and a country club. The house remained empty until World War Two when it was used by the No1 Radio Mechanics School of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a radar training base. They left in 1945 and the house was once again abandoned. It suffered several fires in the 1940s, lead was stripped from its roof and many of its fittings stolen as souvenirs. In a poor state of repair, Gopsall Hall was demolished in 1952.

NOTE: The Pall Mall Gazette corrects an error made by most people, me included, that the estate was sold to Samuel Waring in 1919. We now know that it was in 1918.

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HAYMES

Built on an ‘improbably grand scale’. Two centuries of downsizing has left this country house a pale comparison of its magnificent past.

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Image: Knight Frank.

If archaeologists were to dig around Haymes, at Cleeve Hill, there is no knowing what unexpected treasures might be found. It was once the site of a Roman settlement; its excellent location no doubt attracting the Hayme family, medieval owners of the land between the 13th and 15th centuries. Later still, it was also the site of Haymes Place, a 16th century mansion built, according to historian Nicholas Kingsley, on an ‘improbably grand scale’.

What we see today are the remnants of the house, virtually unrecognisable from Thomas Robins’ view of 1760. Haymes Place, allegedly modelled on Isaac Ware’s Chesterfield House in London, had a centre of seven bays and two-and-a-half storeys, linked by curved quadrant wings to five by four pavilions.

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A drawing by Thomas Robins, 1760, showing the house built for Sir William Strachan that was perhaps never fully fitted out internally. Image: Nicholas Kingsley.

Sir William Strachan had inherited a small sixteenth century house, but after acquiring the Manor of Bishops Cleeve in 1735, he rebuilt it at the centre of his 100-acre estate. Kingsley believes the house was never completed, because by the 1770s Sir William was living in a rented cottage at Hucclecote.

Sir William sold Haymes Place in 1773 to Messrs Thorniloe and Lilley of Worcester. Five years later, the main block had been demolished, along with the quadrants, although the pavilions still survived. (According to auction details from 1921, there was the suggestion that ‘a considerable portion had been destroyed by fire’ about this time). More importantly, it seems that it was now called Haymes Farm, a name that stuck until well into the twentieth century. In 1792, Bigland recorded that ‘Sir William’s elegant mansion house… in a few years was levelled to the ground, and the materials sold’.

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Image: Knight Frank.

Haymes Farm and the Bishop Cleeve estates descended by marriage from John Thorniloe, first to the Russell family and then to Sir John Somerset Pakington, 1st Baron Hampton. It is doubtful that he lived here, most likely renting the property to tenants. He sold the estates in 1871 to Joseph Lovegrove, the County Coroner. By the turn of the twentieth century, Haymes Farm was in the hands of William Holliday who might have been responsible for demolishing one of the two surviving pavilions. At some stage, the house was given a large rear extension, including the integration of a re-sited mid-18th century lodge. In 1921, the house was sold to Alfred Newey, a horse-trainer of Cleeve Hill, but most famous for winning the Grand National on Eremon in 1907.

Newey remained until 1933, and by the 1960s it belonged to Peter R.B. Deakin, who ran a mushroom-growing business until 2005. The business was sold and survives today at the nearby Chelbury Mushrooms Farm.

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Image: Knight Frank.

Haymes is Grade II listed and currently on the market at Knight Frank with a guide price of £5 million. According to the sales catalogue, it is ‘a beautiful, well-proportioned Georgian family home which has been the subject of a complete renovation’. Maybe so, but having seen comments elsewhere, there is little enthusiasm for the changes by country house followers.

My thanks to historian Nicholas Kingsley for providing the history of the house, much of which is included here, making it much easier to research some of Haymes’ later occupants.

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Image: Knight Frank.

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GROVELANDS

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Grovelands, as it is now known, can’t really be seen from the road, but has a gate house, and last sold in 2005 for £1.9 million. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

From the archives. A country house in West Sussex. This photograph appeared in The Tatler in October 1940. It shows Grove Lands at Henfield that was being used as a war supply depot. Pictured here is Grove Lands’ owner, Sir Gerald Stanhope Hanson, 2nd Baronet, who not only went round collecting supplies, but also collected for his wife’s penny-a-week Red Cross Fund. Six years after this photograph appeared, Gerald Hanson (from the Bryanstone Square Baronetcy) died aged 78. Not being familiar with this mansion, it has taken a bit of research to determine its fate. Grove Lands is now called ‘Grovelands’, on Wineham Lane, at Wineham, a small hamlet, about 2.5 miles away from Henfield.

BARSKIMMING HOUSE

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Barkskimming House. It was built in 1882, but sold by Sir William Frederick Miller four years later to Thomas Anderson of Lainshaw House.

On this day, 100 years ago. In August 1918, the Barskimming estate at Mauchline in Ayrshire was sold. The farm of Lochhill and its 240 arable acres was sold to a private client. However, the remaining land was bought by Robert Jack Dunlop, shipowner, who had already bought the mansion house and grounds from the trustees of John Meikle.

The estate at one time belonged to Lord Glenlee, who was Lord President of the Court of Session. The estate descended to Sir William Frederick Miller, who was a minor, and leased the house to Archibald Buchanan, managing partner of the Catrine Cotton Mills. It was later acquired by Thomas Anderson and then John Meikle of Lochlibo, whose trustees had been tasked to sell the estate in various lots.

Barskimming House was built in 1882 for Sir W.F. Miller by James Maitland Wardrop and Charles Reid, using parts of an older house that had been destroyed by fire. It also suffered a smaller less-destructive blaze in 1926. The house still stands, and in 2014 the estate was used as the location for the TV series Outlander’.

ALLESLEY HALL

Surrounded with smooth, well-kept lawns and with views on all sides of woods and fields, this country house was a pleasant retreat, well suited for recovering patients.

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The ownership of Allesley Hall passed into the ownership of Coventry Corporation in September 1937. It was a gift from Lord Iliffe and came with about 52-acres of surrounding land. Image: Commons Wikimedia.

Allesley Hall in Coventry is a country house that has actually spent more years as an institutional facility. Nevertheless, this property was originally an Arts and Crafts house, built in 1909-10 by Harry Quick for William Isaac Iliffe.

William Iliffe (1843-1917) was the head of Iliffe and Sons, printers and publishers and, on his death, was described as ‘one of the most successful businessmen Coventry has ever known’. He was the founder of the Midlands Daily Telegraph newspaper, later known as the Coventry Evening Telegraph. At the time, with World War One drawing to a slow conclusion, the house was being used as a convalescent home.

There is some dispute as to whether the core of Allesley Hall retains some of a previous Queen Anne house (built about 1702-14) that had stood on the site. However, it is more likely that Quick built a completely new building.

‘A dignified modern building with spacious accommodation and in excellent structural condition. The large entrance hall and most of the rooms on the ground floor are panelled in oak. The extensive garden contain some particularly fine cypresses and cedars’.

It passed to Iliffe’s son, Edward Mauger Iliffe (1877-1960), who became 1st Baron Iliffe in 1922, and later MP for Tamworth. It appears that the house was tenanted and its last occupant was Dr John Orton, whose lease expired in 1937.

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Edward Mauger Iliffe, 1st Baron Iliffe, GBE, was a British newspaper magnate, public servant and Conservative Member of Parliament.

Edward gifted Allesley Hall to Coventry Corporation in 1937, and it became a convalescent home in connection with Gulson Road Municipal Hospital two years later. Afterwards it became offices for the Parks and Cemeteries Department, but gradually fell out of favour.

In 1988, it was sold to a private developer and opened as a CCHA nursing home in 1990, thus securing its future. There are critics who bemoan the loss of character, with a large extension to the south side.

Today, its former parkland is probably more famous than the house. It was originally a deer park laid out by Henry de Hastings, about five times larger than it is today, and was enclosed around the remains of a Norman castle, now ruined. The parkland is known as Allesley Park and is a popular attraction for the city.

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In 1939, Allesley Hall was converted into a convalescent home. At the time there was talk that it might be used to accommodate refugee children if Britain went to war. The idea was quickly dismissed. Image: MHA.

HARMSTON HALL

A significant country house re-emerges from obscurity, this prestigious Grade II* listed mansion stands in a parkland setting with far reaching views across the Trent and Witham Valleys.

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Image: Savills.

A lot has been said about the views from Harmston Hall, on the Lincoln Cliff overlooking the River Witham. From its parkland, on a clear day, you can see the Derbyshire Hills, some 60 miles or so away. This spectacle is foremost in the estate agent’s selling brief, along with the floors – oak floors, oak floors inlaid with mahogany detailing, and lots of pine floors. Yes. A lot has been made about the wooden floors here.

The oddest thing is that outside the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, not many people have heard of Harmston Hall. The fact that it has re-emerged from obscurity is due to it being offered on the open market at Savills with a guide price of £3.45 million.

The land on which it stands once belonged to the Thorold family, resident here since 1456. The present Queen Anne house was started by Sir Charles Thorold (1655-1709), but it was his younger brother, Sir George Thorold who completed it in about 1710. The mansion became the summer retreat of the Lord Mayor of London, a man who acquired a baronetcy and distinguished title ten years later. Sir George added a tall north front to the house, but this was pulled down in 1892 when the family departed Harmston Hall for good.

The buyer was William Henry Morton, a farmer, magistrate and county alderman, who, in 1892, spent a considerable sum of money altering the house, employing Lincoln architects William Mortimer and his son, William Malkinson Mortimer, to carry out the designs. A new front was created in the same style as the original building, incorporating a new entrance and porch, surmounted by a tower. The roof was stripped of its tiles and recovered in green slate, while new windows were added to the upper storeys. Inside, all the rooms were completely renovated, but despite his extravagance, Morton only stayed at Harmston Hall for six years.

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Image: Savills.

The estate was sold in 1898 to Nathaniel Clayton Cockburn, a grandson of Nathaniel Clayton, a Lincoln iron founder. Its new owner was a military man, a Major in the Imperial Yeomanry, who ended up serving in Palestine during World War One. Cockburn died in 1924 and its big rooms briefly became the domain of his sister.

The inevitability was that Harmston Hall was far too big and expensive to maintain. Therefore, it was no surprise when it was sold to the Lincolnshire Board for the Mentally Defective, who opened it as a ‘Colony for Mental Defectives’ in 1935… and consigned the country house to decades of bleak insignificance. Just imagine the despairing shrieks from the inmates echoing through those long corridors. This was a time when Britain wasn’t particularly good at dealing with mental health… many of its occupants probably shouldn’t have been there at all. The hospital was eventually absorbed into the National Health Service (NHS) and buildings spread across the parklands.

Harmston Hall Hospital later became an administrative block and closed for good in 1989.

As always happened, the abandoned hospital was left to decay – broken windows, leaking roof, rotten floors and ceilings – its former institutional use adding to the air of dereliction.

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Image: Savills.

Its saviour was Peter Sowerby, a local property developer, who bought the estate in 1996. There were probably those who thought him mad enough to have been one of the hospital’s former residents. However, when Sowerby flattened the hospital outbuildings and built a new housing development, there appeared to be some wisdom attached to him after all. He doubled the population of Harmston and transformed the quiet village into an important commuter settlement for Lincoln.

Decisively, Harmston Hall itself was restored and turned back into a family home over a period of ten years. In 2008, it was on the market for £4.5 million, considerably more than the guide price being asked for today.

There are few signs of its former use. The house is entered through a panelled entrance lobby with stone flooring. This leads into a Reception Hall, complete with Rococo chimneypiece, Georgian fanlight doorways and Ionic columns in front of the staircase. The principal rooms include the main Drawing Room, along with a former Ballroom (complete with the oak flooring and inlaid mahogany detailing). The Dining Room and yellow Sitting Room all have original Queen Anne wooden panelling with pine and oak floors respectively. An ornate Billiards Room is embellished with mahogany panelling, carvings, huge mahogany doors along with decorative cornices, and, of course, more oak flooring. Upstairs there are seven primary bedrooms.

Being a former Historic Formula 1 Champion, it is no surprise that Sowerby has also included garaging for 20 cars.  The big difference from its former existence as a country house is the addition of both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.

The Grade II* listed house stands within 13-acres of land, including a terraced garden with those spectacular views, and a further 30-acres of former parkland available separately.

All images were taken in 2014.

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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.

Clumber House - 2018 - The National Trust
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.
Thoresby Hall - Warner Holidays
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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Image: Lost Heritage.

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’

Somerset Maxwell and Susan Roberts - The Sketch - Jun 4 1930 - BNA
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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Image: Lost Heritage.

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.

Somerset Maxwell - The Bystander - Jun 7 1938 - BNA
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.

Baner ac Amserau Cymru - Wed 3 Aug 1881 - BNA
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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