Tag Archives: Country House

PIERS COURT

“It is the kind of house that takes a lot of living up to,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary, as if rehearsing his favourite role as country squire 

Piers Court 1 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.

The selling point for Piers Court, on the market at Knight Frank with a £3 million guide price, is its connection with Evelyn Waugh, the author of Brideshead Revisited, who lived here between 1937 and 1956.

Notwithstanding, Piers Court at Stinchcombe, near Dursley, has a history going back much farther. The Grade II* listed house stands on the site of a medieval manor of that name burned down by Parliamentary troops searching for Prince Rupert on his march from Cirencester to Berkeley Castle (about six miles away) in 1645. Piers Court, a safe house for Royalists, was owned by the wealthy land and mill owning Pynffold family who remained for 150 years.

According to Historic England, the remains of the earlier building were incorporated into an 18th century property which is the house we see today.

Piers Court 2 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.

Evelyn Waugh was born in Hampstead in 1903, the second son of Arthur Waugh, who was a contributor to The Yellow Book, an essayist and a publisher. He was educated at Lancing and Hertford College, Oxford, and, like many other writers, he taught in a private school for a time. His first novel, Decline and Fall, was published in 1928 and he followed it with nine years of travel which included the Arctic, tropical America and Abyssinia. He became a Roman Catholic in 1939 and had a varied war service, including membership of the British Military Mission to Yugoslavia in 1944. He married Laura, a daughter of Colonel Aubrey Herbert, an MP for Yeovil, in 1937 and settled at Piers Court, where he collected books. His novels included Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932), A Handful of Dust (1934), Scoop (1938), Put Out More Flags (1942), Brideshead Revisited (1945), The Loved One (1948), Helena (1950) and Men at Arms (1952).

Piers Court 2 - The Sketch - Feb 10 1954
Evelyn Waugh poses by one of the many fine pieces of ornamental statuary which enhanced the beauty of the garden at Piers Court. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Evelyn Waugh bought Piers Court for £3,600 in 1937, having been given the money by his future parents-in-law, in readiness for his marriage to Laura Herbert, his second wife. (His first marriage to Evelyn Gardner had been annulled in 1926).

The outbreak of war meant their stay at Piers Court was cut short. The Waugh’s let the house to a convent school for £600 a year in October 1939, Laura moved to Pixton Park in Somerset, and Evelyn served with the Army in Crete and Yugoslavia. It wasn’t until September 1945 that they returned.

There are contradictory stories about Evelyn Waugh’s feelings towards Piers Court. He was initially said to have ‘fallen in love’ with the house; his son, Auberon Waugh, later recalled in his book Will This Do? how he and his siblings knew “the front of the house belonged strictly to my father . . . one detected his presence as soon as we walked into the pretty hall, with its white and black stone floor and glass chandelier”. The enforced absence might have been responsible for his later abating attitude regarding Piers Court.

Piers Court (Evelyn Waugh Society)
Image: Evelyn Waugh Society.

Frances Donaldson, in Evelyn Waugh – Portrait of a Country Neighbour, wrote in 1968:

“I always loved the drawing-room at Piers Court. The rest of the house was a question of taste – Evelyn’s taste. Personally, I became very fond of that too, but I could understand why other people disliked it. Evelyn liked dark surfaces and pattern, heavy furniture, silver and glass. There was much that was Victorian in the house, but his taste was masculine and, although the house was enlivened with personal eccentricities, it was genuinely of the period.

“In his library the carved shelves were built out in bays as they are in a public library and painted dark green, but it was a big room and the effect was rather beautiful while this arrangement provided room for his collection of books. The dining-room was sombre but the hall, staircase and landing above were light and elegant. The whole house right down to the Abyssinian paintings in the gentlemen’s lavatory was uniquely different from any other house I have ever been in.

“The drawing-room into which we were shown on that first night spoke as much of Laura as of Evelyn. They both loved and had considered knowledge of fine furniture and they bought eighteenth-century pieces when they could afford to. On the walls hung pictures from Evelyn’s collection of Victorian painters including the Augustus Egg of two girls in a boat, and I remember with vivid affection the faded green velvet curtains banded with chintz which hung in the circular bay window and the cushions which they had bought in a country house sale. On this night a fire burned in the grate and the chintz-covered chairs and sofa were reassuring.”

Piers Court 1 - The Sketch - Feb 10 1954
Evelyn Waugh photographed with his family in the grounds of Piers Court, at Stinchcombe: Evelyn Waugh, Harriet, Septimus, James, Laura Waugh, Maria, Margaret and Auberon Alexander. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

According to Knight Frank, much can be learnt about Evelyn Waugh and his time spent at Piers Court from his diary entries and the letters he wrote to his friends, many of whom were noted intellectuals in the twentieth century.

Ironically, it was also Knight, Frank and Rutley who handled the sale of Piers Court when the Waughs tired of the house. The official line was that Evelyn had, in June 1955, received an unsolicited visit from Nancy Spain, a reporter from the Daily Express, demanding an interview. He showed her the door, but the damage had been done. Spain wrote up the episode and, within weeks, Waugh put Piers Court on the market. “I felt as if the house had been polluted,” he wrote to the estate agent, furious at the invasion of his privacy. “If you happen to meet a lunatic who wants to live in this ghastly area, please tell him.”

Piers Court - Harry Ransom Center - Iniversity of Texas at Austin
Evelyn Waugh in his beloved library. Image: Harry Ransom Center/University of Texas at Austin.
Piers Court 5 (KF)
The library benefits from a large bay window and overlooks the parkland. Image: Knight Frank.

The truth about their departure was probably best summed up by Frances Donaldson:

“Whether or not I am right in my view, the happy days came to an end in 1956. Evelyn began to be restless, ostensibly because he believed the town of Dursley was creeping up to his gates, but really I think because he wished for change, to break the rut of boredom in which he was sunk.”

Various buyers came to light, among them a Colonel and a Sir Anthony Lindsay-Hogg, but it wasn’t until June 1956 that a Mrs Gadsden made an offer of £9,500 for Piers Court, which was accepted. The Waughs moved to a manor house at Combe Florey in Somerset where Evelyn died in 1966.

Piers Court 4 (KF)
Leading up the stone steps and behind a heavy panelled door one finds a classical Georgian hall with a flagstone floor and cantilever staircase with a mahogany polished hand rail and wrought iron balustrading. Image: Knight Frank.
Piers Court 3 (KF)
The drawing room looks to the front of the house and down the alternating copper and green beech avenue.  Image: Knight Frank.
Piers Court 6 (KF)
Off the inner hall is the beautiful dining room with its Adam fireplace, polished oak flooring and large sash windows with a westerly aspect. Image: Knight Frank.

Piers Court is approached up a long drive, lined with high beech hedges.

According to Knight Frank, the house is extremely well presented and benefits from both an imposing, formal layout ideal for entertaining, yet to the rear of the property lies a homelier arrangement of rooms ideal for family living. Off the main entrance hall are the formal drawing room and library, both of which provide the grandeur that would be expected of a Georgian manor house.

Described by Country Life as a genial, pleasantly rambling family house with some 8,400sq ft of accommodation, including five reception rooms. There is also a kitchen/breakfast room with a beautiful beamed ceiling, tiled floor and lovely rustic feel. Upstairs there are eight bedrooms and six bathrooms … plus extensive attics and a one-bedroom staff wing.

The front garden is lawned with a circular clipped yew hedge encompassing an ornamental fountain. The secret garden is of particular note, with high clipped yew hedges and bordered by a stone wall. Gravel walkways lead to the Gothic edifice which was built by Evelyn Waugh when he was creating the gardens. The croquet lawn and tennis court are well screened by a high beech hedge which creates a corridor of alternating green and copper beech.

Piers Court has an array of deep beds which fill with colour in the spring and summer months. There are many garden components. The Coach House looks over the oval walled garden with ornamental ponds framed by careful planting.  The park is arranged as pasture with parkland trees including horse chestnut, lime, oak and copper beech. Lying to the south of the parkland is further grassland divided by a hedgerow. A footpath crosses part of the land to the west of the house.

Of course, there have been a few owners since, and probably most traces of Evelyn Waugh’s existence have long-since disappeared. Back in 2004, the then-custodian revealed that his beloved library was long gone. “Under a previous owner, the library where Waugh wrote was shipped, piece by piece, to Texas, where it was supposed to be reconstructed as a museum but is still in packing cases.”

Piers Court 7 (KF)
The sitting room overlooks the English country garden and terrace, benefiting from an open fire with a painted stone surround. Image: Knight Frank.
Piers Court 8 (KF)
The Elizabethan rear of the house, with its slightly less formal rooms, lends itself to be the nucleus of family living. The kitchen has a range of traditional wooden cabinets, granite work surfaces and a terracotta tiled floor. Image: Knight Frank.
Piers Court 9 (KF)
The first floor offers the primary accommodation with a beautiful en-suite master bedroom with stunning south westerly views of the parkland. There are four further bedrooms on this floor, all of which are en-suite. Image: Knight Frank.
Piers Court 10 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.

 

THE 1930’S: THE TOLL OF DEATH DUTIES

The stately homes of England were being closed down or sold: the cruel toll of super-taxation

Lullingstone
Owing to heavy death duties Sir Oswald Hart Dyke, son of Sir William Hart Dyke, who had died three months previous, was unable to keep Lullingstone Castle open. This photograph from 1931 shows the sale of contents in progress at the Baronial Hall. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

“This will catch ————-,” said Sir William Harcourt in 1894, when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, his devastating measure revolutionising death duties passed its third reading. The name he mentioned was that of a big landed proprietor whom he detested.

Sir William Harcourt (1827-1904) was a solicitor, journalist, politician and cabinet member in five British Liberal Governments, who in 1894 had achieved a major reform in death duties.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer, he introduced estate duty, a tax on the capital value of land, in a bid to raise money to pay off a £4 million government deficit. The imposed graduated tax on the total estate of a deceased person was capable of producing much more revenue than taxes only on the amounts inherited by beneficiaries.

Sir William Harcourt (National Portrait Gallery)
Sir William Harcourt died at Nuneham House in 1904. “I love Nuneham, and have always wished to live and die there.” However, it came at a cost. Nuneham passed to his son, Lewis Vernon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt, who had just married Mary Ethel Burns, a niece of American financier and banker, J. P. Morgan. The estate inherited by the young couple was in need of major renovations, which they could not afford. Morgan established a £52,000 line of credit at his London bank for his niece, which he told her did not need to be repaid. The Harcourts used these funds to renovate the old buildings and grounds. Image: National Portrait Gallery.

The new death duties were passed despite the opposition of many, including William Gladstone and the 5th Earl of Rosebery, who believed that easily increased taxes would encourage frivolous Government spending. Other opponents regarded the tax as an attack on the great hereditary landowners.

By a rare instance of poetic Justice Sir William himself was one of the earliest to suffer under an Act which increased death duties according to the degree of relationship. He succeeded unexpectedly to Nuneham, the Harcourt family place near Oxford, and was taxed heavily by his own clauses concerning inheritance from kinsmen.

Nuneham House
Nuneham House was built in 1756 by Simon Harcourt, 1st Earl Harcourt, and was developed by his descendants before they sold it to Oxford University in 1948, while it was in use by the RAF, and was used for studying and storage.

It was a contentious act that impacted on the nation’s country houses throughout the opening years of the 20th century.

However, it took a few years before the long-term implications for landowners were realised. The Sphere, ‘an illustrated newspaper for the home’, had been founded in 1900 by Clement Shorter, who also founded The Tatler in the following year. In 1931, it highlighted the problems created by Sir William Harcourt’s act:

“The confiscation of capital – glossed under the name of ‘capital levy’ – has become the thickest plank in the Socialist and Communist platform. It has also become the practice in countries wherever the opportunity has offered. But in England – the monarchical and democratic – this confiscation has been going on steadily ever since the passing of Sir William’s Act. Later legislation has added burdens both to land and capital, with the result that the ultimate burden is becoming too heavy to be borne, and whole estates, or parts of estates, have to be sold merely to meet the death duties. However, the process may be disguised under ‘duties,’ the fact remains that men have to pay fortunes to the State simply because they have inherited money or its equivalent in land. Actually, the confiscation of capital. And that capital is used year after year as part of the national income.”

Lullingstone Castle
Despite the gloomy outlook of 1931, Lullingstone Castle has remained in the Hart Dyke family for twenty generations, including the current owner Guy Hart Dyke. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

It wasn’t only The Sphere that voiced opinion. George Holt Thomas’ The Bystander was equally opposed to death duties:

“The landed classes are, in fact, being taxed out of existence under our very noses and before our very eyes. It is one of the most dramatic and cruel episodes in the whole of England’s chequered career, and most people who should know better talk like the Socialists and say that it is all for the public good. They forget that England became what she is as a result of the feudal system and that the feudal system is the best possible thing for the countryside. Time and time again in the past great landlords used to remit the rent to their tenants if it was a bad year. They were able to see that tenants got proper attention if they were ill. In fact, they looked after them. Today there is no one to do that. There is no doubt about it that the politicians have got the country into such a position that there is practically no chance for any great estate to survive financially the death of two consecutive heads of the family. It might be possible if there were a couple of very long minorities. But that is the only hope. In fifty years’ time who can say with any assurance if a single one of the great houses will still be in private hands?”

There could, said The Sphere, be only one result – the sale or closing of big country houses, with the consequent loss to local employment, tradespeople, charitable subscriptions, cutting down pensions to old servants, probably the raising of cottage and farm rents; in short, the withdrawal of one of the biggest influences in the English countryside, especially strong where the landowners have realised their responsibilities.

The newspaper’s response came after news from Lullingstone Castle at Eynsford, in Kent, where the Hart Dykes had lived in unbroken succession for five hundred years, a house famous for its hospitality and kindliness. The new baronet, Sir Oswald, had been obliged to close the house because, not only had he paid the duties upon his father’s death, but also on the reversion of his elder brother, on whom it was entailed, and had died in the late Sir William’s lifetime.

Lord Durham, too, had to close Lambton Castle, near Durham, having had to pay something like half a million in duties owing to the successive deaths of his father and uncle. If the late Lord Durham had lived a little while longer the duties would have been three-quarters of a million.

Lambton Castle
Lambton Castle, Chester-Le-Street, County Durham, the ancestral seat of the Lambton family. It was designed by Joseph and Ignatius Bonomi with later additions by Sydney Smirke in 1862-65. These were largely demolished in 1932 and the family moved to the smaller Biddick Hall on the estate. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Sir Oswald Hart Dyke hoped to return to Lullingstone ten years later, but the Duke of Newcastle, closing Clumber House, after succeeding his brother, could entertain no hope so definite, and had lent some of the best pictures in the house to the Nottingham Museum. (Clumber House was demolished seven years later).

The Duke of Leeds wasn’t even fortunate enough to be able to close Hornby Castle and wait for better times. It had been demolished and the materials sold piecemeal. Stowe House, in Buckinghamshire, which Lady Kinloss had inherited from her father, the last Duke of Buckingham, had become a public school. Moor Park, at Rickmansworth, formerly belonging to Lord Ebury, was a country club. Ashridge Park, the old Brownlow property at Berkhamsted, had to be sold, and had been bought as a memorial to Mr Bonar Law, and was a training college for Conservative workers.

And the list went on. According to The Sphere, “these instances are repeated all over the country.”

Hornby Castle
The Duke of Leeds’ Hornby Castle, on the edge of Wensleydale, between Bedale and Leyburn, in North Yorkshire. In 1930 the estate was broken up and most of the house demolished. The present building is the surviving south range. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Clumber House (Nottinghamshire) - The Sphere - 9 July 1938 (BNA)
Probably one of the last photographs of Clumber House, for generations the ancestral home of the Dukes of Newcastle and one of the show places of the Dukeries. The house was demolished in 1938 due to increasing taxation. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

The Duke of Portland had already expressed doubt, publicly, whether his heir would be able to live at Welbeck. There were rumours, too, that two big ducal castles, one in the north and the other in the south, may have to be closed, and the announcement had just been made that Lord Derby wished to dispose of his London home in Stratford Place.

Another sign of the pressure of taxation was the coming to market of The Old Palace at Richmond, the homes of Kings and Queens from the time of Henry I to Queen Charlotte, and where Queen Elizabeth died. For many years it had been the scene of delightful parties given by Mr Middleton, who had done much for its restoration. Yet other signs were Lord Harewood and Princess Mary leaving Chesterfield House, and Lady Louis Mountbatten leaving Brook House.

And Devonshire House, Grosvenor House, Dorchester House, Lansdowne House, Spencer House – where were they? Said The Sphere: “Taxation answers – flats or clubs.”

Modern inheritance tax still dates back to William Harcourt’s  intervention in 1894. Today, inheritance tax is paid if a person’s estate (their property, money and possessions) is worth more than £325,000 when they die. The rate of inheritance tax is 40% on anything above the threshold, and that rate may be reduced to 36%, if 10% or more of the estate is left to charity.

Welbeck
Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire. After World War Two, Welbeck was let by the Dukes of Portland to the Ministry of Defence and operated as Welbeck College, an army training college, until 2005. Lady Anne, the unmarried elder daughter of the 7th Duke, owned most of the estate until her death in 2008. William Henry Marcello Parente, son of her younger sister, inherited and the house has become his home. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Moor Park
Moor Park, Rickmansworth, London. Built by the Duke of Monmouth in 1640 and re-fronted in the Italian style by Benjamin Styles. Subsequent owners included Lord Anson, the victor of Cape Finisterre, the first Marquess of Westminster, Lord Ebury, and Lord Leverhulme, who bought it in 1922 to use as a golf club house . Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
The Old Palace
A King’s Palace to let! The Old Palace, Richmond Green, Surrey. All that remained of the historic building, which dated from the time of Edward I, where Henry VII lived and Queen Elizabeth died, was to be let at a rental of £450 per annum. Even so comparatively small a rent for a palace was difficult to obtain during those terrible times of taxation. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Stowe
Stowe House, Buckinghamshire. The ancestral home of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos was sold for £50,000 in 1921. The buyer was Mr Harry Shaw who intended to gift the house to the nation, but was unable to pay for an endowment to maintain the building. It was sold again in 1922 to the governors of what became Stowe School. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
1280px-Ashridge_2007-09-01_035
Ashridge Park, better known today as Ashridge House, Hertfordshire. In 1929 it was renamed the Ashridge Bonar Law Memorial, carrying on the work of the Philip Stott College, Northampton, which had closed. Courses in government, history and economics were given to prospective Conservative candidates. Tory ministers and MPs received instruction, some 150 residing at Ashridge at a time, in weekly courses.

TILLYCORTHIE

A supreme example of a property that has been fortunate enough to have been rescued and restored to its former glory

Tillycorthnie 1 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

Tillycorthie is in the parish of Udney, three miles south of Pitmedden and about eleven miles north of Aberdeen. The house was built in 1911 for James Rollo Duncan, a local born entrepreneur, and is regarded as a fine example of a steel-reinforced concrete structure. Tillycorthie was built by James Scott and Son of Aberdeen, pioneers in this method of construction throughout England and the south of France. The house is now on the market at Savills with offers wanted over £1.5 million.

James Duncan (1860-1938) was born in the village of New Leeds, near Fraserburgh and had to earn his own living when he was only ten years of age. He became a herd boy, a farm worker, a herring fisherman, and later served his apprenticeship as a stonemason.

He had frequent periods of unemployment during the winter as a stonemason, and being an ambitious and enterprising youth, he went with a friend to Bolivia who had an uncle living there. He had no knowledge of mining but found work in a silver mine. He wasn’t content to be an employee working for someone else and started prospecting gold from a river bed. It wasn’t a profitable scheme and he had greater success as a building contractor where his practical experience as a stonemason proved invaluable.

Duncan could see that mining was the way forward and a prospecting expedition to the Andes was more successful. He struck rich tin deposits, and working at relatively low cost, was able to make money from the scheme. In 1900 he returned to Scotland but soon returned to Bolivia, carrying on at his old mine.

Steadily he developed his interests and remained for over 40 years. Adjoining mines were acquired, and Duncan soon became one of the country’s leading owners. He visited Scotland on several occasions, but it wasn’t until 1911 that he returned to take up permanent residence. Back in Bolivia, tin had once been practically worthless but had risen in value and was now a desirable commodity. Duncan spoke that at the end of a year’s working he paid back everything he owed, put the mine in good working order, and was still about £100,000 to the good.

James Duncan - Aberdeen Press and Journal - 5 Feb 1938 (BNA)
James Rollo Duncan was born in New Leeds and brought up by his maternal aunt who had a sweet shop there. In 1882 Duncan emigrated to Bolivia where he made his fortune in the tin and silver mines, becoming a partner in the mining firm Penny and Duncan, Bolivia. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

For a time, Duncan rented the mansion house and estate of Tillery, alongside the Tillycorthie estate. While carrying on the farm at Tillery he found the house accommodation too limited and decided to have a new house built on lower more sheltered ground, about a quarter of a mile away. He hadn’t been the first to contemplate such a scheme, several years earlier Major Ross had considered building a house in the same place.

Duncan didn’t take part in public affairs, but nevertheless took great interest in the welfare of the county. He was the pioneer of the Kintore, Ellon and Ballater electricity schemes, and through Duncan’s Electricity Supply Company, the village of Udney was the first in the north east to have electricity.

He also built several properties including one as a wedding present for a daughter, the public hall and he made considerable use of the old Formartine and Buchan Railway, which his daughters used for getting to St Margaret’s school in Aberdeen. On occasion he was seen waving the train down from the side of the tracks on the rare occasion the girls were late. The line has long since been converted into a cycleway/footpath which winds its way through beautiful countryside.

Tillycorthie 1 (BNA)
The front elevation of Tillycorthie, from an original drawing. From the Aberdeen Press and Journal in January 1912. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Tillycorthie 2 (BNA)
Tillycorthie in the course of construction. This photograph appeared in the Aberdeen Press and Journal in January 1912. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Work started on Tillycorthie, situated beside a belt of woodland, in July 1911 and took just 12 months to complete, largely due to the nature of its construction. It was built in the style of a Spanish residence, from plans by John Cameron, an architect from Aberdeen.

Duncan wanted Tillycorthie to remind him of the Spanish-styling of his South American past. Hennebique’s British agent L.G. Mouchel published plans and a list of works in 1920, providing evidence that the hollow-walled construction is entirely in Mouchel-Hennebique ferro-concrete. With a lake of some two to three acres to the south-west, fringed with trees at the end furthest from the house, its picturesque situation added to its desirability as a country seat.

Tillycorthnie 2 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 3 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 4 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

James Scott and Son, with a reputation of high-workmanship, were entrusted with the building of Scotland’s ‘first mansion house of reinforced concrete’. (It was not quite the first, Beachtower at Dundee, in 1874, and the Hydropathic at Melrose were earlier). Many tons of granite chips were secured from Stirlinghill quarry and were ground to the size required for making concrete. The material was taken to Tillycorthie and prepared using steel rods and compact, thick wire frames which formed an important part of the construction. The walls were practically double, with an air space between the outer and inner walls. In these cavities, enclosed in metal tubes, were the wires used for electric lighting.

In 1911, the use of so little woodwork in its construction was an innovation, and with electric wiring in its infancy, the risk of fire was reduced.  The chief woodwork had been confined to the window frames, which were seasoned teak, strong, durable and neat in appearance.

In the central covered court, with a glass roof, a fountain played, and around it was a circular carriage drive and beds of flowers and evergreens. It is said that the central courtyard was originally chalked out from the turning circle of the Daimler motor car belonging to James Duncan’s wife, Isabella, with its huge South American teak glazed sliding doors providing shelter to the tropical plantings within.

The conservatory was filled with choice flowering plants at the south-east end of the house adjoining the drawing room. Brightness and beauty were the characteristics with views towards the south-west.

Tillycorthnie 5 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 6 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

Adjoining the drawing room, along the east side of the house, were large bedrooms and adjoining bathrooms, taken from the Spanish custom of having the bathroom immediately adjoining the bedroom. The smoking room, sitting room, business room, morning room, and other accommodation formed the principal features of the east and north side of the building.

When Tillycorthie was built, much was made of the ventilation; the open spaces between the walls were carried up from the cellars, allowing a current of air to pass between the walls, as well as beneath the house. A deep trench was dug, extending around three sides of the house, where it was possible for people to walk, with drainage pipes underneath carrying off any water that found its way into the foundations. A current of air passed beneath the house, the entrance through a protected opening beneath the drawing room window giving ingress and egress from the east, and a similar opening to the other side of the house providing a similar function.

During construction, the Aberdeen Press and Journal described all the rooms as being lofty, with no stinting of air-space or light in any of the rooms, except to the south-west of the basement, where a somewhat extensive, low, comparatively dark space, could be utilised for the growing of mushrooms – ‘an ideal place for such a purpose when the conditions for the successful cultivation of this delicacy can be so well obtained’.

Tillycorthnie 24 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

The people of Tillycorthie were somewhat surprised at the mention of a lake. Duncan had chosen a low-lying field and transformed it into a lake of several acres. A foundation of 5,000 old railway sleepers, bought from the North British Railway Company, was laid to a depth of two to three feet from the surface of the water. The lake was filled from an artesian well sunk near to the top of rising ground to the east. (This was also used to supply water for the house). Duncan, from his South American experience, valued water for power, and arranged for the generating of electricity from an overflow in the lake.

A few hundred yards from the house, a bowling green, lawn tennis court and croquet ground were built, sheltered on the north-east side by a belt of trees.

A carriage drive was built from the Udny turnpike road by Mr W. Tawse, a contractor from Aberdeen. He laid a granite foundation 9 inches deep, used by contractors during the building of Tillycorthie, and when finished the drive was finished with a coating of road metal and a surface of tarmacadam.

Tillycorthnie 7 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 8 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

In 1913, James Duncan turned his attention to the interior of the house. He employed a team of highly skilled workers and decorative artists from Paris, who spent six months on the drawing-room. The aim was to re-produce a faithful copy of the designs of the artist Sir William Chambers from the 1760s. This period had created new styles and gave a rich harvest of the daintiest decoration ever executed and adapted to English homes. Some of Chambers’ work had existed at Carrington House, Whitehall, long disappeared.

To achieve this, the subbase was panelled out of yellow pine and richly carved. In the door the fluting and the patres in the moulds were balanced with delicate Carton Pierre ornament in the panels, while the walls above the architrave were panelled out and the frieze and cornice richly embellished. A dozen coats of paint left the soft surfaces, rich in tone, colour and finish, and formed a background for the figures and cupids painted onto it. The fireplace, with an inlay of antique French gilt, was chased with the same ornament, surrounded with sky-loss marble slips.

James Duncan devoted himself to the various estates he acquired. His practical knowledge of farming was valuable, and he carried on commercial agriculture with success, improving and building up all kinds of crops and livestock. He was a staunch supporter of several agricultural societies and organisations and was a prominent exhibitor at shows in the district.

Tillycorthnie 10 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 11 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

Isabella survived her husband by 15 years, passing away in 1953, but with no male heir to take over the formidable business interest and farms, the estate was broken up and by the year end Tillycorthie farm and the Mansion House had been acquired by Aberdeen University. While the farm flourished, the Mansion fell into some disrepair until the early 1980s, when a developer managed to acquire the Estate in its current form and proceeded to divide the property into three separate dwellings.

Tilliecorthie 1 (Canmore)
The estate grounds included an artificial lake, constructed from railway sleepers, a workshop with a rooftop skating rink and two baronial lodges. The house had a glass covered courtyard, large enough to allow the owner to turn his car in it and to accommodate a large granite fountain originally from the New Market in Aberdeen. By the late 1960s Tillycorthie was used as an agricultural store but has since been restored. Image: Canmore.
Tilliecorthie 2 (Canmore)
“We had rented one of the wings for two years whilst we were looking for something to buy. I had wanted a nice Georgian house but we couldn’t find one and the two boys were settled here so we bought the main house.” – Cynthia MacGregor. Image: Canmore.
Tilliecorthie 3 (Canmore)
“The ceilings were damaged and a lot of water was coming in so the only way to approach it was to buy it as a whole and tackle it as one project.” Image: Canmore.

Gordon and Cynthia MacGregor acquired all three dwellings over a three-year period, and by 1998, took down the final wall that separated the property. They have lavished much energy, passion and expense to ensure that Tillycorthie has been reinstated to its former glory. The many ornate fireplaces all have open chimneys and are fully functional. Moulded ceilings, cornice work and ceiling roses are in abundance. Grooved door frames, deep skirting boards, panelled doors and original oak parquet flooring have been lovingly waxed and polished.

According to Savills, the 18-acre gated, and walled estate includes a 4-acre lake with boat house, and within the grounds, there are three properties which have long since been sympathetically converted into detached executive homes, along with a further three lodges at the West and North entrances to the estate. A brick chimney (the ‘sair thoom’) rises in the adjacent field, evidence of a failed plan to have the smoke taken from the basement’s coke fuelled boilers.

Tillycorthnie 16 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 12 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 13 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 14 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Tillycorthnie 15 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

HILL HOUSE

A house with a retail history. This house was bought twice from the fortunes of shopping empires

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One hundred years ago today, the picturesque and well-placed residence, known as Hill House, went to auction at the Mart, Tokenhouse Yard, in London.

Grade II listed Hill House at Great Stanmore, then in the county of Middlesex, was built in the early 1700s by John Boys, Vicar of Redbourn, Hertfordshire, who also owned nearby Aylwards and Broomhill. It was originally called the Great House, probably due to its imposing appearance on the top of rural Stanmore Hill.

It was sold in 1771 to Reverend Samuel Parr, a master at Harrow School, who after the disappointment of missing out on becoming headmaster, set up a rival establishment at the Great House, taking many of the pupils with him.

The school was short-lived but was used as a schoolhouse again when it was bought by John Sharpe.

Henley & Finchley Times - Fri 31 May 1918 (BNA)
The auction notice from the Henley & Finchley Times, 5 June 1918. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

One of its greatest occupants was Charles Drury Edward Fortnum (1820-1899), who had moved to South Australia in 1840 where he bought a cattle ranch. Five years later he left for Europe with the objective of putting together a collection of art, especially minor arts of the Italian renaissance. He married Fanny Matilda Keats, a cousin, that provided access to the wealth of the grocery store Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly. With an advance of £4,000 from his wife’s fortunes, Fortnum chose Stanmore to settle – buying and repairing Great House in 1852 and later renaming it the Hill House. Fortnum also become an alderman of the Middlesex county council, and eventually also a deputy-lieutenant of the county too.

Together they travelled the world and gathered a large collection of ceramics, bronzes and other objects most of which were later donated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The collection was so large they had to build a separate wing to the newly-named Hill House, now called the Fortnum Gallery. Fanny died in 1890 and Charles died nine years later, leaving the remainder of his collection to the British Museum.

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Charles Drury Edward Fortnum, art collector and art historian, was born in 1820 in Holloway, London, the son of Charles Fortnum, merchant.

After Charles Fortnum’s death in 1899 it became the residence of Mr and Mrs Charles Waterlow. In 1904, they were honoured to receive Princess Louise Augusta of Schleswig-Holstein, who opened a bazaar in aid of the ‘Church of England Waifs and Strays Society’.

Princess Louise at Hill House - The Sphere 23 Jul 1904 (BNA)
Princess Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, the King’s niece, opening the bazaar at Hill House. From The Sphere. 23 July 1904. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

The house was later the home of Sir Matthew Wilson but appears to have been let to several tenants. The most notable of these were the Count and Countess Benckendorff who stayed in 1914-1915. They were in good company. Close neighbours were the Earl and Countess of Essex, who had Cassiobury Park and the Earl and Countess of Clarendon at The Grove, Watford.

Hill House 1 (Google)

We don’t know who purchased the house at the 1918 auction. The most likely candidate is Frank Charles Bearman (1870-1956), who was resident at Hill House during the 1920s and 1930s. A draper by trade, Bearman had opened a shop in Leytonstone High Street in 1898 that became a thriving family business for the next 64 years.

Bearmans Department Store was a success, and in 1910 he built Bearmans Arcade, which led to the popular Rialto Cinema. Frank Bearman copied the style of successful London shopping arcades, with a glass roof and the highest quality goods on display. Between 1908-1921, Bearman was also the co-owner of Allders, the Croydon department store, building it into a 50-store business.

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Frank Bearman opened his shop in the north end of Leytonstone High Road in 1898 as ‘the store with the personal touch’. Image: East London & West Essex Guardian.

After Frank Bearman’s death in 1956, Bearmans suffered increasing competition and it was eventually sold to the London Co-Operative Society. It finally closed in 1982.

His son, John Garland Bearman, later married the Hon. Gloria Mary Curzon, daughter of Richard Nathaniel Curzon, 2nd Viscount Scarsdale, of Kedleston Hall.

The Second World War had an impact at Hill House. In common with many large houses it was requisitioned as a secret RAF establishment, a satellite of RAF Bentley Priory.

The RAF remained until the 1950s but Hill House itself became home to Air Chief Marshal Sir John Nelson Boothman (1901-1957), who was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Coastal Command from 1953 until his retirement in 1956. Sir John had piloted a Supermarine S-6B plane in 1931 which had won the Schneider Trophy outright for Britain at a speed of more than 342 mph.

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Air Chief Marshal Sir John Nelson Boothman. When he left the RAF in 1956 he joined the board of Kelbin and Hughes, makers of technical instruments, as technical director.

The house and stables have now been converted into flats.

Hill House 2 (Google)
Hill House. Once standing in a rural idyll, but now ‘swallowed by suburbia’. Repair works in the building revealed original elements of the house. In the roof void, intricate gold embossed carvings were found and the removal of dry rot in the entrance uncovered a series of elegant 18th century arches.

EASTERLANDS

Slavery, evacuees, refugees and a donkey called Petronella

Easterlands (SWNS)
‘Easterlands stands in a lawn, tastefully laid out with a fish pond at its base, and commands a beautiful view of its park-like grounds well studded with ornamental trees and the surrounding country.’ From a sales brief in 1862. Image: SWNS.

Back in 2014, this country house hit the market with a guide price of £3.1 million. Unsold, apparently unwanted, it remains for sale with a vastly reduced guide price of £2.25 million. Easterlands at Sampford Arundel, near Wellington, is an impressive residence surrounded by its own parkland with secondary accommodation, traditional outbuildings and mature grounds and gardens.

Knight Frank, who are marketing the property, believe the house dates to the late 19th century. However, it is probably earlier than that, possibly early 1830s because its architectural style is typically Georgian.

Easterlands 1 (KF)
The sale of Easterlands provides the opportunity to acquire a significant seven bedroom country house in need of some refurbishment, set in an outstanding ringfenced park in a truly convenient location for many schools and businesses in the West Country. Image: Knight Frank.

Easterlands House was most likely built for William Bellet who bought the land in 1816 from Richard Yendle of Uplowman, yeoman, and Jeremiah Woodbury of Exeter, innkeeper. His daughter Elizabeth married John Shattock (1792-1860), an English landed proprietor and merchant, who made his fortune at Kingston, in Jamaica, and returned to England between 1831 and 1833. Shattock was connected to Jamaica’s slave trade and duly awarded compensation by the British Government when the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833. There were two small awards, for a group of about ten enslaved people in Good Air, St. Andrew, and for the enslaved people on St. Mary, Jamaica.

A man of immense wealth, the couple settled at Easterlands and when John Bellett Shattock died in 1860 it passed to his eldest son, the Rev. John Bellett Shattock of Stalbridge, Dorset, who put the estate up for sale in 1862.

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser - 10 Sep 1862 (BNA)
Easterlands was put for sale by the Rev. John Bellett Shattock in 1862. This notice is from the Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Easterlands 1 (SWNS)
From the top of the land there are views over the surrounding Taunton Vale, Blackdown Hills and Wellington Monument and down to the village with the tower of the village Church forming an attractive focal point. Image: SWNS.

Easterlands was sold to Charles Moore in 1864. He was a Liverpool merchant and appears to have let the fully furnished property. Occupants included Charles Hutton Potts (1823-1886) and Major-General Cookson, who was a yearly tenant when the estate was put up for sale again in 1876. Failing to find a buyer, it went back on the market in 1878 under the instruction of Mary Louisa Moore of Clontarf, Dublin.

Dorset County Chronicle - 25 Aug 1864 (BNA)
Getting ready for a new owner. This sales notice from the Dorset County Chronicle indicated that Easterlands was being cleared for the arrival of Charles Moore. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

The estate was sold to Robert Arundel Were (1822-1892), a solicitor and gentleman of Wellington, who held many appointments with local authorities including Superintendent Registrar Clerk to the Wellington Bench, the Board of Guardians, the Rural Sanitary Unit and Milverton Highway Board. When he died in May 1892 the estate was put up for sale just weeks later.

It remained unsold and was let to Arthur Tristram E. Jervoise before the house and estate of 140 acres were bought for nearly £9,000 by Frederick George Slessor in 1897. Slessor, chartered civil engineer, was the son of Major-General Slessor of Sidmouth, Devon, and remained until his death in 1905.

Easterlands 3 (KF)
The house is approached through a wide gated entrance, guarded by a three bedroom lodge cottage, down a long tree lined avenue affording tantalising glimpses of the house amongst the mature trees in the garden and park. Image: Knight Frank.

After going to auction in 1906 it was bought by Colonel Joseph Henry Moore, a retired officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He’d spent 30 years in the Army, serving in the Ashanti War, the defence of the hospital at Foomana and in the Afghan War the occupation of Kandahar and the Battle of Khelal-i-Ghilzai. He later held several appointments in India and was principal medical officer both at Quetta and Bombay.

Easterlands c 1920-1930 (SampfordArundelorg)
A picturesque view of Easterlands. This photograph is thought to date from the 1920s or 1930s. Image: sampfordarundel.org.

Colonel Moore enjoyed Easterlands only briefly. He died there in 1908 but his family remained until 1924 when it was offered for sale by private treaty.

Up until this point, Easterlands had slipped between families and it wasn’t until Alderman Gerald Fox bought the property in 1925 that the house enjoyed any stability.  He moved here with his wife, Beatrice Cornish-Bowden, youngest daughter of Admiral Cornish-Bowden, of Newton Abbot, and was affectionately known as ‘Bee’.

Easterlands 4 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.
Easterlands 5 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.
Easterlands 6 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.

Gerald Fox (1865-1947), was the second son of Joseph Hoyland Fox, for many years the chairman of Fox Bros, an old family woollen business at Wellington.  He was educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his B.A.. He joined Lloyds Bank prior to becoming a partner in Fox, Fowler and Co, a Westcountry private banking firm, afterwards absorbed into Lloyds Bank itself.  He was also a director of Devon & Courtenay Clay Company, the Commercial Union Assurance Company and of Candy & Company, a pottery firm at Heathfield. Aside his business interests, he also managed to be secretary of Somerset County Rugby Club and Somerset County Cricket Club. (Fox Brothers still survives and is run by ‘Dragons’ Den’ star Deborah Meaden who purchased a majority stake in 2009).

As the current sale particulars point out, Gerald Fox will be best-remembered for taking in several evacuees and refugees during World War Two, when several rooms in the house were converted to accommodate them.  Easterlands also became the headquarters for the local Home Guard and had a near miss in 1940 when a German bomber dropped a 100lb incendiary bomb. It cleared the house and fell into the lake causing no damage except to a tree.

Easterlands 9 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.

After his Gerald Fox’s death in 1947, his widow remained until the early 1950s before selling up and moving to the Quantocks.

Easterlands appears to have then been occupied by Mr Hans K.E. Richter and then Lieutenant-Colonel R.S. Rogers, both of whom little is known. However, in 1963, the estate was bought with great fanfare by Mr Edward Du Cann, the Conservative MP for Taunton and Economic Secretary to the Treasury. In later years he would become chairman of the 1922 Committee, the Conservative party’s parliamentary group.

Du Cann
Later Sir Edward Du Cann, a controversial Conservative MP and businessman who was once a contender for the party leadership.

Edward Du Cann (1924-2017) and his wife had been living in temporary accommodation while they waited for the sale to be finalised.  When it was concluded they lived a very public life at Easterlands along with a donkey called Petronella.

He became a well-known businessman with his Unicorn Group, was a director of Keyser Ullman, a banking firm that collapsed in 1974, and later served as a director and chairman of Lonhro (later collapsing owing £10 million to creditors).

After Easterlands he owned nearby Cothay Manor which he was forced to sell after several legal disputes over debts and was made bankrupt in 1993.

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This fine country house has now been in the same ownership for about 35 years and whilst well-cared for and maintained, gives an incoming purchaser the opportunity to refurbish the house and develop the barns and outbuildings to suit their needs, subject to obtaining the necessary planning consents.
Easterlands 17 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.
Easterlands 21 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.

The current owners arrived at unlisted Easterlands during the 1980s.

According to Knight Frank, the main reception rooms are well-proportioned with high ceilings and have elegant detailing including substantial fireplaces and panelling. As might be expected Easterlands provides the traditional room configuration – entrance hall, study/drawing room, dining room, garden room, billiard room, kitchen/breakfast room, pantry, larder, utility room, estate office, three cloakrooms, boot room and extensive cellars. Its master bedroom has two en-suite dressing rooms and bathrooms, in addition to a further six bedrooms and bathrooms.

The house also comes with extensive outbuildings including a two-bedroom cottage, a three-bedroom lodge, a coach house with stabling and stores, as well as barns.

Within its 44.4 -acres are a walled garden, hard tennis court, covered swimming pool, a former vineyard, mature gardens, woodland and a lake.

Easterlands 22 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.
Easterlands 7 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.
Easterlands 8 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.
Easterlands 13 (KF)
Image: Knight Frank.
Easterlands 2 (KF)
At the centre of the rambling grounds and gardens is the elegant water feature with its Japanese bridge, which could be right out of a garden in the French village Giverny, Claude Monet’s famous home. Image: Knight Frank.

BELVOIR PARK

A five-day auction that brought the curtain down on a fine country house

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Belvoir Park. A watercolour painted by the artist Jonathan Fisher at the request of the house’s then-owner Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon. Image: The Irish Aesthete.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of an important and interesting five-day sale of the ‘magnificent surplus furnishings’ at Belvoir Park, Newtownbreda, near Belfast. It was an indication that times were changing for this country house… and not for the better.

Belfast News-Letter 1 Jun 1918 (BNA)
The start of the five-day sale. It is not recorded how much money was raised from the sale of the contents. From the Belfast News-Letter. 1st June, 1918. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

The estate, once called Ballyenaghan, had once been the home of the Hill family, named so it is said, by Michael Hill’s wife, Anne Trevor, subsequently married to Lord Midleton, owing to the view (belle voir’) and in part to her childhood recollections of Belvoir castle in Leicestershire. She was responsible for creating the grand mansion and it is suggested used the German architect Cassells for the design.  Her son, who became Viscount Dungannon in 1766, inherited the estate before it was sold in 1809.

It was originally bought by three Belfast merchants – John Gillies, Robert Davis and William Blacker – for £35,000 – until it was bought by Robert Bateson, a Belfast banker and landowner, in 1818.

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Belvoir Park. This photograph is one of several provided by the Northern Ireland Forestry Service to the website – ‘Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland’.

Robert Bateson was born in 1782 and died in 1863. He was created a Baronet in 1818. His eldest son, Robert, was an MP for Co Londonderry; his second son, Thomas was born in 1819, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Deramore in 1885 after 34 years of service in Parliament and died in 1890.

Decline set in after the death of Baron Deramore. For a time, it was occupied by Walter H. Wilson, a shipbuilder and partner in Harland and Wolff’s. It was his widow that instigated the sale of its contents in 1918. Its last resident was Sir James Johnston, Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1917-1918.

West Front - Belvoir Castle (Lord Belmont)
The west front of Belvoir Park. The house was sometimes referred to as Belvoir House. Image: Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland.
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An interior photograph of Belvoir Park during prosperous times. Some of these contents may well have been included in the auction of 1918.

Belfast was quickly growing, and the estate which had once stretched to more than 6,000 acres, was now only a few miles from the city centre. It falls into the category ‘swallowed by suburbia’; the land was more valuable than the house and was prime residential development.

In the 1920s parts of the estate became a golf course and at one time it was suggested that Belvoir Park might be used as a residence for the Governor of Northern Ireland (Hillsborough Castle was chosen instead).

Belvoir Park before it was blown up
Awaiting its death. Belvoir Park is seen here shortly before demolition. It is unclear if any parts of the house were salvaged and used elsewhere.
belvoir-just-before-being-blown-up (Irish Aesthete)
Members of the Army can be seen standing in front of Belvoir Park as it awaits the inevitable. The house was demolished by the Forest Service in 1961. We must presume the army used explosives to blow it up as a training exercise. Image: The Irish Aesthete.
belvoir-entrance-to-yard-2 (Irish Aesthete)
The last days of Belvoir Park. The photograph shows the entrance to the yard. The house and former grounds are in a pitiful condition. Image: The Irish Aesthete.

Belvoir Park stood empty until 1934 when the building company, W.J. Stewart, leased the building and land. The obvious motive was to build houses on the estate, but this was scuppered by the outbreak of war. The Admiralty requisitioned the house during World War Two as a temporary armaments depot and built over a hundred nissen and elephant huts.

Afterwards, it was handed back to Stewart and Partners and used for the storage of building materials.

From the 1950s Belvoir Park was in serious decline. Empty, derelict and populated only by its by ghosts, the estate was sold to the Northern Ireland Housing Trust in 1955. 150-acres of former parkland was leased to the Forest Service and became Belvoir Park Forest, while the rest was used to build much-needed housing.

Belvoir Park was blown up by the Army, presumably as part of a training exercise, in 1961. The site of the Georgian mansion is now used as a car park.

HALL PLACE

A stately home – of agriculture

Hall Place - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Nov 2 1949 (BNA)
Hall Place in 1949. In the Early part the 19th. Century, a large doric portico was built onto the front entrance of the mansion, but due to its unsafe condition and its incompatibility with the architecture of Hall Place, it was demolished in 1953. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Up and down the country there were many places like Hall Place, almost abandoned by their owners, for few could afford the upkeep of a big house. Some had been converted into flats, others had been taken for schools and institutions, but many were falling into decay, their ruin hastened by the gangs of lead stealers who were roving the country and stripping the valuable lead from the roofs, and by young hooligans who hurled a brick at the windows as they passed.

It was the 1940s, and attitudes to country houses was indifferent. Many thought that some of these houses weren’t worth saving, but many had been built with a care and skill in workmanship which couldn’t be found in post war Britain. Future generations may well have regretted the indifference of this one to the homes of England’s past.

Hall Place, in the parish of Hurley, between Henley and Maidenhead, had been built in 1728 and stood in its grounds and gardens of 14 acres on a deer park of 128 acres. With its farms and woodland, the whole estate was 484 acres – a landmark 300 feet above the Thames flowing in the valley below.

Hall Place - British-History)
An early sketch of Hall Place. William East died in 1737 and was succeeded by an infant son, William, who owned the estate until his death in 1819. He maintained the geometric layout of the park, and is attributed with the building of a Gothic Entrance Arch, demolished in 1967. Image: British-History.

There had been a house here since 1234, replaced by a 14th century house by John Lovelace and finally the mansion constructed over a seven-year period by William East, a wealthy London lawyer. His son, another William, was born shortly after his death, and during his minority years the house was rented by the Duke of Buccleuch and then Lord Folkstone. On his death in 1819 it passed to Sir William East’s eldest son, Gilbert, but he died just nine years later. Hall Place was inherited by George Clayton, a nephew. Descending the family line until the extinction of the baronetcy in 1932, Hall Place was bought by Lady Frances Clayton East who lived in the south wing until the outbreak of World War Two. Hall Place was requisitioned by the Government and in 1943, 1,025 acres of the estate were purchased under a Compulsory Order by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The house had remained empty but in November 1949, through the Berkshire Education Committee, the house had come to life again. Berkshire County Council had bought Hall Place, Home (now Top) Farm and 148 acres for use as the Berkshire Institute of Agriculture (the remaining 541 acres were used for the relocation of the Grassland Research Institute). At Hall Place, farmers’ sons, sons of agricultural workers, and recruits into agriculture, all of whom had at least one year’s experience of farming, would spend a year in the practical application of scientific knowledge and modern methods of farming designed for those who intended to make the land their livelihood.

Hall Place (BCA)
The times were changing. After 1949, the approach to Hall Place was tidied up. Trees were cut down, fences repaired and paths cleared. Grade I listed Hall Place is a large country house built between 1728 and 1735 for William East, incorporating a small part of a former late 17th century house and with interior stucco work attributed to Artari and Vassali. Image: Berkshire College of Agriculture.

Thirty-seven students had just started the first term of their year at the new Institute, though its departments were no way complete. Governors, staff and students were combining in a planning effort in every direction, the fertility of the land had to be improved – livestock raised, trees to be lopped, scrubland reclaimed, field water supplies extended, and buildings renovated and modified to meet the modern standards of livestock husbandry.

The Berkshire undertaking was a big one, but undoubtedly constructive – an English heritage was being preserved, and a band of young men were being equipped to meet the problems of the land.

In 1968 the Institute was re-named as a College by which time a substantial programme of extension and development was in progress and which is continuing to the present day.

Hall Place - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 6 - Nov 2 1949 (BNA)
The newly appointed staff at the Berkshire Institute of Agriculture. (l. to r.) Mr J.W. Salter-Chalker, Mr E. David (Principal), Miss J. Mathews (Dairy Lecturer), Mr J. Oliver (Animal Husbandry and Farm Management), Miss K. Ward (Poultry and Dairy), and Mr R.G. Holt (Crop Husbandry and Machinery). Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Hall Place - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 5 - Nov 2 1949 (BNA)
‘House-warming’ in 1949: An informal dinner of governors, staff and students at which Alderman J.W. Salter-Chalker, chairman of the Board of Governors, was the host. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Hall Place - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 1 - Nov 2 1949 (BNA)
Dairy farming was a strong feature of the general farming policy and all cattle were attested. There was a herd of beef-bred bullocks and heifers from the Welsh hills, and small herd of Jerseys, Friesians and Shorthorns. Robert Coyle, of Bracknell, Miss Kathleen Ward (Institute Dairy Instructress) and Mike Evans, of Slough, in the new dairy of the Institute. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Hall Place - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 2 - Nov 2 1949 (BNA)
Living Quarters: A corner of a four-bed dormitory. Students made their own beds and were responsible for keeping their rooms neat and tidy. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Hall Place - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 3 - Nov 2 1949 (BNA)
Lecture Rooms: The first two terms were spent on general and mixed farming with lectures and laboratory work in the mornings, and practical work and demonstrations in the afternoons. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Hall Place - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 4 - Nov 2 1949 (BNA)
Log-Cutting: Robert Mattick, aged 23 of Reading, and Robert Slatter, aged 18, of Kingham, Oxford, using a tractor power-driven circular saw. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Hall Place - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 7 - Nov 2 1949 (BNA)
Poultry husbandry, horticulture, pigs and sheep, were also important branches either with their own lectureship or combined in the general farming work. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Hall Place (Studentlandua)
Modern-day Hall Place. The house has been used by the Berkshire College (formerly Institute) of Agriculture since 1949 and has been altered and extended since the mid 20th century. Note the removal of the central chimneys and the large doric portico. Image: Studentland.ua.