Tag Archives: Stately Home

OAKLEY HALL

This house’s ownership reflects the changing demographic of wealth over the past century 

Oakley Hall 2 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

A social history of our country is often reflected in the country house. A good example is Oakley Hall where the Chetwode family held seat from the 13th century. The baronetcy of Oakley was created in April 1700 for John Chetwode of Oakley Hall, then surrounded by a 300-acre park, with a generous annual income coming in from the surrounding estate. By the turn of the 20th century, the riches from agriculture were diminishing, and somewhere like Oakley Park was an unaffordable luxury. The Chetwodes sold up, and subsequent occupants included a chemical manufacturer, a cotton merchant, a ship-owner and subsequently an investment banker. Now that the Queen Anne/Georgian stately home is back on the market, with a guide price of £3.5 million, it is intriguing to see what the occupation of its next owner might be.

Before reading any further, let’s clear up the confusion as to which county Oakley Hall sits in. The house straddles the border of Shropshire and Staffordshire, the River Tern runs next to the 3½-acre lake and forms the county boundary. Oakley Hall sits on the Shropshire side, near Mucklestone, but continues to confuse interested observers.

Oakley Hall 1 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

The Grade II* listed mansion was built in 1710 to replace an older manor house by Sir John Chetwode, a two-storey mansion constructed of brick on a sandstone plinth, with a severe east entrance front of 11 bays, the first three pedimented, with two sphinx-like figures with female heads flanking the front door. It has two differing facades overlooking the lake to the north and parkland to the south.

According to Historic England, subsequent Chetwode baronets improved the estate, with the addition of walled gardens, a large farm and stable block. The plain south front previously had a four-bay veranda that was removed in modern times and replaced with a conservatory.

Oakley Hall 3 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

The last of the family to live at Oakley Hall was Sir George Chetwode (1823-1905), 6th Baronet, the son of the Rev. George Chetwode of Chilton House, Buckinghamshire, who succeeded his uncle in 1873. He was a military man, serving in the Crimean War in the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman and the Siege of Sevastopol; he also fought in the Indian Mutiny and was wounded at the Battle of Sindwaho.

Sir George died in 1905 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Major (later Field-Marshall) Philip Walhouse Chetwode, D.S.O., another military man, of the 19th Hussars.

The Chetwodes, meanwhile, remained loyal to their ancestral seat, and spent most of their time at Chetwode Manor, Buckinghamshire.

The house was let to Mr Arthur Reginald Midwood (1863-1936), the Managing Director of Alfred H. Midwood and Co, cotton merchants, Manchester, and a director of the Dennis Motor Company. He later invested in the Lancashire Automatic Glass Manufacturing Company, pioneers in the production of glass-machine made bottles that became extremely popular during the new century. After he left Oakley Hall, Midwood went to live at Oakmere Hall in Cheshire, and died in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1937.

In 1920, the Chetwode family sold Oakley Hall to Charles Cyril Dennis (1881-1964), an Oxford M.A. and chairman of James H. Dennis and Co Ltd, copper and chemical manufacturers of Widnes and London. A member of the North Staffordshire Hunt, he was a keen fisherman and enjoyed shooting on the estate. He had married Mary Scott MacFie, daughter of Mr J.W. MacFie of Rowton Hall, Chester, in 1911, and came from a very old Scottish family. Her grandfather lived at Dreghorn Castle, Edinburgh, and was one of the founders of MacFie and Son, who made a fortune in sugar refining. The Dennis family moved from Broxton Old Hall, and after his wife’s death in 1939, remained at Oakley Hall until 1949. Cyril Dennis moved to nearby Park House in the same year he was appointed High Sheriff of Staffordshire.

Oakley Hall Auction - Staffordshire Advertiser - Sat 8 Dec 1945)
Auction notice from 1945. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Oakley Hall 4 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

During the 1950s, Oakley Hall was used for a time as a boarding school, before being bought by Major Paul Baker Lawson in the sixties. Born in Dresden, he was the son of Francis Richard Lawson, a noted North Staffordshire ecclesiastical architect who had practised in the Potteries for over 40 years. Major Lawson had been associated with Johnson Bros, potters of Hanley.

Oakley Hall in 1960s (Staffordshire County Council)
Oakley Hall in the 1960s. Image: Staffordshire County Council.

Oakley Hall was sold to the Crosthwaite shipping family in the 1970s, who ‘considerably altered’ the interior, as did its current owner, Mr Freddie G. Fisher III, who moved here in 1982.

Fisher is a graduate of Harvard University and gained his M.A. at Oxford University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. With a long career in mergers and acquisitions, he is an international investment banker, particularly in the banking sector. His son, Freddie Fisher IV, gained celebrity status when he appeared as a housemate in television’s Big Brother.

Oakley Hall 14 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

While principally a private house, Oakley Hall has a civil licence for ceremonies, and has hosted up to twelve weddings a year. The stable block has been converted into offices, the main portion occupied by a specialist engineering business, as has the Brew House, which is presently vacant.

Thirty-six years after buying Oakley Hall, considered to be one of the finest stately homes in Shropshire, it is available to buy once again.

The house is approached past the entrance lodge down a long tree-lined private drive that sweeps in front of the house.

According to Savills, the principal reception rooms flow off the main hall with the formality and elegance of the ballroom and dining room, with the library and morning room being less formal. The kitchen overlooks the lake.

An elegant classic Georgian staircase sweeps up to the first floor, with a beautiful principal bedroom suite with curved windows overlooking the terrace and lake. The main house provides eight bedrooms with en-suite, together with a further three bedrooms and a bathroom.

There is a substantial cellar with wine cellar, steam room, walk-in safe and boiler-room. At the side of the house is a private courtyard which leads on to The Brew House.

Oakley Hall sits in about 95-acres of beautiful parkland and grassland, with about 22-acres of mature woodland. The lake is the centrepiece and was restored to celebrate the new millennium. The house also comes with a walled garden, separate tennis court, and gardens made up of mature trees and shrubs.

Oakley Hall 5 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 6 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 7 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 8 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 9 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 10 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 11 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 12 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 13 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 15 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 17 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 18 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 19 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 20 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

CHATSWORTH HOUSE

A stately home without a Duke. How its treasures were cared for in the absence of the Duke of Devonshire

Chatsworth 1 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
The ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire. In 1946, the 10th Duke had placed Chatsworth and its treasures on a caretaking basis, as he didn’t expect to live there for many years, partly on account of high taxation and partly on account of the servant problem. (British Newspaper Archive).

The domain of Chatsworth was purchased by Sir William Cavendish and it was he in 1553 who began the old mansion, which after his death in 1557 was completed by his widow, Bess of Hardwick. Here in succeeding years Mary Queen of Scots was five times imprisoned. The present mansion includes the old Palladian pile started in 1687 by the first Duke of Devonshire and the north-wing added in 1820.

With its 636,000 visitors a year, Chatsworth House may have become one of our greatest stately homes. However, life in the Duke of Devonshire’s grand mansion wasn’t always a bed of roses. In 1946, The Sphere painted a rather bleak and uninspiring outlook for the house, a stark contrast to its present-day fortunes.

Back then, ‘one of the private treasure-houses of the nation’ was reduced to one housemaid, a sole survivor of a pre-war domestic staff of forty, and the whole house was being kept on a caretaking basis.

Chatsworth House was without a Duke. Taxation of the time made it impossible for him to live there in the old style while the servant problem was almost insuperable. It was suggested that one day the Duke might return to his Derbyshire home, but he himself didn’t expect this to happen for many years.

The custodian was Edward William Spencer Cavendish (1895-1950), the 10th Duke of Devonshire, who was still reeling from the loss of his eldest son and heir, William John Robert Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, who had been killed in wartime action two years before. The future of Chatsworth would have rested on the shoulders of Billy Cavendish (and his wife, Kathleen Kennedy), but instead the weight of responsibility later fell to his second and younger son, Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish (1920-2004).

Chatsworth 2 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Mingled with the shrouded furniture in the Sculpture Gallery are examples of the genius of Canova, Thorwaldsen, Chantrey and Wyatt: During the war, when Chatsworth was used as a girls’ school, this gallery was converted into a storeroom for some of the principal treasures. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 3 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Restoring and preserving the great pictures of Chatsworth. Captain T.S. Wragg, who had been librarian at Chatsworth since 1933, at work on the surface cleaning of a painting on copper. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 4 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Mr G.H. Constantine, technical assistant at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, at work on a landscape. He spent two days a week cleaning and restoring the Chatsworth pictures, paying particular attention to the regulation of the atmosphere. The Chatsworth pictures included works by Holbein, Titian, Reynolds and Murillo. (British Newspaper Archive).

The Chatsworth estate was saddled with debt. Death duties, liabilities from previous incumbents and a depression in British agriculture had all contributed to its downfall. In 1920, Devonshire House, the family’s London mansion, had been sold to developers and later demolished; Chiswick House, a Palladian villa in West London was sold to Brentford Council in 1929.  However, the financial burden refused to go away, and it was quite impossible to keep Chatsworth House occupied.

While Chatsworth was mothballed everything was being done to preserve its treasures, including its magnificent library, with its 35,000 books, including many irreplaceable first editions, and the art collection, including canvases by Murillo Van Eyck, Titian, Reynolds and other masters.

During World War 2 Chatsworth had been occupied by the Penrhos Girls’ College and it had taken its toll. Fumes from moth-balls in stored carpets, and lack of oxygen due to occupation of rooms by large numbers of people, had affected many of the pictures. Inadequate heating during the acute coal shortage caused fluctuations in temperature which caused the canvas of paintings to contract and expand, leading in time to cracking and flaking.

A small staff of experts had been brought in to repair years of inevitable neglect. Pictures were being cleaned, and the books whose leather was becoming brittle were being dressed in ointment, developed by the British Museum.

Chatsworth 5 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
The elaborate alter-piece in Chatsworth’s private chapel. An example of the decorative style so typical of the mansion. The alter-piece is the work of Verrio, the walls and ceilings are by Laguerre, and Cibber’s figures of Faith and Hope surmount the alter of alabaster by Samuel Watson. Watson’s wood-carving, can be seen throughout the house. When these pictures were first published it would have been a rare opportunity for people to see inside the house. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 6 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
In the Orangery. Stored furniture, sculpture and books. The large marble urn in the centre was a copy of the Medici Vase. The Orangery is now a gift shop. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 7 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
A 15th century masterpiece restored to its pristine glory. Mr Constantine, technical assistant at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, and Mr Thompson examining a canvas after its renovation. The pictures all have a protective coat of varnish, and this had to be removed before they could be submitted to the turpentine-and-wax restorative treatment. Inadequate heating as a result of coal shortage had caused considerable fluctuations in temperature, and this had caused deterioration of some of the valuable canvases. (British Newspaper Archive).

When the 10th Duke of Devonshire died in 1950 there were death duties of £7 million. The 11th Duke, Andrew Cavendish, along with his wife Deborah (‘Debo’), fought hard to keep the estate, selling tens of thousands of acres of land, transferring Hardwick Hall to the National Trust in lieu of taxes, and selling major works of art. Chatsworth House opened to the public in 1948-49, but it would take until 1959 for the 11th Duke of Devonshire to move back into the house. It was a happy outcome and the rest, as they say, is history.  Chatsworth House

Chatsworth 8 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Leather-bound books needed constant care and attention. The covers often became brittle with age, and Captain T.S. Wragg, the librarian, was seen applying a dressing to the batch which he had selected for treatment form the shelves. This dressing had been developed by the Research Department of the British Museum and had been found to be the most effective. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 9 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
A view of the main library, where half the collection was accommodated. When Chatsworth was rebuilt in 1687 by the first Duke of Devonshire this was the Long Gallery, and it was converted into a library by the sixth Duke at the beginning of the 19th century. The preservation of the books was an unending task, and expert binders were constantly at work on repairs and renovations. (British Newspaper Archive),