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Secrets of the South Downs: Hinton Ampner

HINTON AMPNER

A view from the terraces looking back towards the principal front.
A view from the terraces looking back towards the principal front.

Of all the secrets that the South Downs possesses, Hinton Ampner is probably one of the best kept.  I stumbled across this wonderful country house last year whilst enjoying a scenic drive en route to Goodwood House (where I was doing an Internship at the time).  What a marvellous find it was!  2014 has been a rather difficult year for Hinton, and it is only now after many months, that the house has been reopened to the public following restoration to the roof after it suffered severe damage in the February storms.

The north front, and main entrance.
The north front, and main entrance.

Hinton has had a rather colourful past.  The original Tudor manor that once stood near to the site of the current house was pulled down as it was believed to be haunted in 1793.  A Georgian house was built, and this was later enlarged in 1864. The house that stands today is principally the sole vision of its last owner, Ralph Dutton, Lord Sherbourne (1898-1985), who had a great passion for all things Georgian.  Consequently, on his inheritance in 1935, he swept away the dark and oppressive Victorian interiors and replaced them with lighter, fresher and arguably more elegant neo-Georgian interiors.  Guided by his architects Lord Gerald Wellesley and Trenwith Wells, he sought to rediscover and breath life into the original 18th century decorative scheme that had been hidden for the past century or so.  Disastrously, a major fire in 1960 destroyed most of Dutton’s hard work, and much of the collection was lost in the flames.

A view from the terraces looking out over the South Downs.
A view from the terraces looking out over the South Downs.

Dutton, determined not to be beaten, decided to rebuild and recreate the 18th century interiors. Dutton had an appreciation for the style advocated by Robert Adam and consequently saved, bought and relocated many original Adam fixtures and fittings. Dutton even rescued an original Adam ceiling from 38 Berkeley Square, before its destruction, and reinstalled it in the Dining Room.  This was destroyed by the terrible fire, so Dutton had the ceiling recreated. The Sitting Room has a fireplace from Adam’s demolished Adelphi Terrace, and the Dining Room has a giltwood pier glass (one of a pair) designed by Adam in 1773 for Derby House, Grosvenor Square.

The stunning little temple in the gardens,
The stunning little temple in the gardens,

Dutton was a great collector of Georgian and Regency furniture, as well as 18th century Italian paintings, including Esther fainting before King Ahasuerus by Francesco Fontebasso (Venice 1709 – Venice 1769) and David kneeling in his Palace before the Prophet Nathan by Tobias van Nijmegen (b. Nijmegen c.1665).  His interests included high quality ceramincs, and there are fantastic examples of Sevres porcelain and Staffordshire figurines.

The gate into the walled garden.
The gate into the walled garden.

The beautiful gardens at Hinton were recreated alongside the house, and as such demonstrate the same good taste and style favoured by Dutton.  Consisting of manicured lawns, terraces with hedges, topiary, ornaments, a dell, a fabulous little temple and wonderful mature trees and planting, one cannot help but marvel at the beauty and tranquillity.  The restored walled garden is delightful, as is the short stroll to the parish church of All Saints, dating from the 13th century, which really cannot be missed.

The walled garden.
The walled garden.

If ever you are travelling through the South Downs and need a quick stop to recollect your thoughts and to restore your inner calm, then make sure that you discover Hinton Ampner as I did.  Although recreated interiors are not usually my ‘thing’ it must be said that Hinton has something quite special to offer.  It is a house that everyone could imagine living in.  It has that wonderful balance of elegance and homeliness that makes it infinitely welcoming to weary travellers and visitors alike.

Beautifully manicured lawns and hedges, with the medieval church in the distance.
Beautifully manicured lawns and hedges, with the medieval church in the distance.

Visit: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hinton-ampner/

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Secrets of the South Downs: Petworth House

PETWORTH HOUSE

Petworth House is located in the charming village of Petworth, West Sussex. The main body of the current house was commissioned by the the sixth (or “Proud”) Duke of Somerset between 1688 and 1696.  However, Petworth’s origins stretch as far back as the 12th century when the estate was gifted to Jocelin de Louvain, by his half-sister Adeliza of Louvain (widow of Henry I).  Jocelin married into the powerful Percy family whose stronghold was based in the north.  In 1309, Jocelin’s descendent Henry de Percy, 1st Baron Percy of Alnwick (1273–1314), obtained a licence to crenelate.  The Percy family were elevated to the Earldom of Northumberland during the 14th century, but it was not until the lifetime of the 8th Earl that Petworth saw a substantial rebuild between 1576 and 1582.  This was primarily due to the fact that queen Elizabeth I was suspicious of the Percy’s allegiance to Mary, Queen of Scots, so confined them to their southern estates.  The 9th Earl, also known as the ‘Wizard’ Earl due to his scientific interests, remodelled part of the house after 1621, of which part of the walls survive to the north of the building.

View from the landscaped park towards the principal front.
View from the landscaped park towards the principal front.

In 1682 Lady Elizabeth Percy, the heiress of the Percy estates, married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset.  Together, they set about remodelling the largely outdated Petworth in the most fashionable style of the day: the Baroque.  It is debated whether the architect was Pierre Puget or Daniel Marot, but in truth, there is not enough evidence to conclusively say.  The house is 322 feet long and the main front has two principal storeys each with 21 large sash windows, and an attic storey with 21 smaller windows, thus creating an impressive elevation.  Above the first floor there is a heavily moulded cornice which runs the length of the elevation, and above the second floor (attic storey) there is a second cornice, with parapet and a decorative balustrade, to hide the roof.  The central three bay ground floor windows as well as the three at either end of the elevation are picked out with extra decoration: each have cornices with consoles.  The three windows at either end are also surmounted by busts.

Close up of the main elevation, showing the busts above the ground floor windows.
Close up of the main elevation, showing the busts above the ground floor windows.

The interiors followed in the Baroque taste and perhaps the most impressive of which is the Carved Room: the specacular work of Grinling Gibbons.   A fire in 1714 is said to have triggered the building of the Grand Staircase.  A breathtaking sight with its murals painted by the famous Louis Laguerre, it is even possible to spot Elizabeth, the Percy Heiress, riding in a triumphal chariot.  When the 6th Duke died in 1748, quickly followed by his son in 1750, the titles and estates were divided.  His son-in-law took the Northumberland estates and titles, and his nephew, Charles Wyndham (1710-1763) took Petworth and the title 2nd Earl of Egremont.  It was this heir who commissioned ‘Capability’ Brown to sweep away the formal gardens and re-landscape the park.  He also commissioned what is now regarded as one of the finest examples of an English Rococo state bed.  Attributed to James Whittle and Samuel Norman and dated to the 1750s, it is riot of detail, including a Chinese dragon, shells and a small squirrel  eating a nut.

View of the principal front.
View of the principal front.

The 3rd Earl of Egremont was a patron of the arts, and it is during his lifetime that he collected some of the finest art in existence.  Amongst his friends he could count JMW Turner and John Constable.  He added extensively to Petworth’s collection as a whole, and today the art collection is considered one of the best owned by the National Trust.  With works by Lely, Van Dyck, Turner, Titian, Kneller, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Claude, to name but a few.

Rotunda in the gardens.
The Ionic Rotunda in the gardens.

The National Trust was gifted Petworth in 1947 as the family were lumbered with extortionate death duties.  The current Lord and Lady Egremont continue to live in part of the house.

The beautiful parkland.
The beautiful parkland.

Petworth Park is a stunningly beautiful place to experience, dating back nearly 1000 years.  The park is home to a 900 strong herd of fallow deer which can often be glimpsed in the distance as they graze.  The serpentine lake, designed by Brown offers a lovely vista from the House.  Strolling through the Pleasure Grounds offers even more delightful views, such as the marvellous Ionic Rotunda, and the graceful Doric temple.

It cannot be denied that Petworth is a special place. Its beautiful setting, its fabulous collections, its delightful gardens, its charming restaurant, its tranquil park all serve to make it the perfect place to restore ones energies.

Secrets of the South Downs: Uppark House

UPPARK HOUSE & GARDENS

View of the south and west elevations.
View of the south and west elevations.

Uppark is located in the heart of the South Downs National Park, West Sussex.  It is happily situated on the top of a great hill commanding spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.  Built in 1689 by Ford Grey, 3rd Baron Grey of Warke, later created Earl of Tankerville in 1695.  Lord Grey lived a dangerous life; he was arrested in 1683 for his involvement in the Rye House Plot against King Charles II, but managed to escape to France.  Two years later he became one of the main leaders of the Monmouth Rebellion, leading the cavalry, but was defeated and condemned for high treason.  Remarkably, he escaped death by turning against his former conspirators.  Earlier, in 1682 he was even accused of seducing his wife’s sister, Lady Henrietta Berkeley, for which he was found guilty, but again, escaped punishment!  It is, therefore, remarkable that he ever found the time to build himself a country house at all.  The design of Uppark has been attributed to William Talman, which may explain its exemplary symmetry and simplicity.  It is constructed from red brick and comprises two main storeys, with attic and basement.

View of the principal elevation.
View of the principal elevation.

In 1747 the house was sold to Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh and his wife Sarah, and it is their coat of arms that is displayed prominently in the pediment on the south front.  They were also largely responsible for the delightful interiors, commissioning the extensive redecoration in the mid 18th century.  Sir Matthew and Lady Sarah embarked on a two year Grand Tour of Europe whilst work was being carried out and during this time they purchased much of collections that now fill Uppark.  The crowing glory of Uppark’s fabulous 18th century interiors must be the Saloon, which is attributed to James Paine, who also built Dover House in Whitehall for Sir Matthew.  Sir Matthew also commissioned the building of two balancing blocks located behind Uppark, an elegant stable block to the north-west and a service block containing a laundry and kitchen to the north-east.  Both are constructed of matching red brick and are adorned with decorative features, such as pediments and turret cupolas.  These service wings are both connected to the main house via underground tunnels, which enabled the servants to go about their work without being seen by their employers.

The edge of the south front with the stable block in the distance.
The edge of the south front with the stable block in the distance.

On the death of Sir Matthew in 1774, his only son and heir Harry inherited Uppark.  Sir Harry was a true Regency playboy and is well known for his friendship with the Prince Regent and his liaison with Emma Hart (who later became Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson’s lover).  He scandalised society in 1825, by marrying his young dairymaid at the age of 70!  Nonetheless the marriage was very happy and lasted 20 years until his death at the age of 90.  Sir Harry commissioned Sir Humphry Repton to partially update Uppark in 1810, including the addition of a stone colonnade to the north front, a dairy and the landscaping of the gardens.

A closer view of the south front of the stable block.
A closer view of the south front of the stable block.

Tragedy struck Uppark on 30th August 1989 when a fire broke out, caused by builders using a blow torch for repairs up on the roof.  It destroyed the upper two storeys completely, but thankfully due to the dedication of the fire-fighters, staff, family and members of the public, as much of the collection that could be saved from the lower storeys were saved.  Although the main ground floor interior wasn’t gutted by fire, it was still damaged by the water, smoke and soot.  Amazingly, although Uppark came close to demolition at this point, the National Trust decided to embark on its largest conservation project to date.  Calling on skills and expertise from accross the country Uppark underwent an estimated £20 million restoration plan.  Such has been the success of the project that when walking around the house today it is nearly impossible to conceive that a fire ever ravaged the building.

View from the dairy towards the east front of Uppark.
View from the dairy towards the east front of Uppark.

Highlights of the collection include a magnificent 18th century dolls house with all of its original fixtures and fittings.  It is a remarkable sight because it is so interesting to glimpse the fashions and tastes prevalent in that era.  There are an array of fabulous paintings including works by Batoni, Zuccarelli and Vernet.  If the life of the servants is of interest, then the basement won’t disappoint with its wonderfully preserved and presented servants quarters, including the Housekeepers Room, Butlers Pantry and Beer Cellar.

View from Uppark looking out over the South Downs.
View from Uppark looking out over the South Downs.

Before you leave Uppark make sure that you: take a stroll around the gardens, enjoy the views of the South Downs, find the Gothic Seat designed by Repton, indulge in a tasty afternoon tea at the restaurant and browse the well-stocked gift shop!

Please visit: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/uppark/

Lincolnshire Part 2: Tattershall Castle

TATTERSHALL CASTLE

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The silhouetted Tattershall Castle.

Tattershall Castle, built in c.1440, is a remarkable structure, reaching 130 ft to the sky with an impressive six floors.  This castle was the vision and creation of Ralph Cromwell, Lord Treasurer of England, between 1434-1447.  Constructed from red brick (despite an abundance of stone nearby) Tattershall was a statement of great wealth, power and style.  Despite its militaristic features Tattershall was intended as a splendid setting for entertainment, ceremonies and business rather than as a military base.

One of the magnificent fireplaces.
One of the magnificent fireplaces.

On September 19, 1911, Tattershall was sold to an unknown American mimillionaire who immediately ripped out the great medieval fireplaces to send back to America.  His intentions were even more grievous as the plan was to dismatle the entire castle and rebuild it in America.  Such an act highlighted the vulnerability that Britain’s heritage suffered at the lack of protective laws and regulations.  Nonetheless, on September 20 the Council of the National Trust met in Westminster to discuss whether money could be raised to buy back the caste – but this unfortunately came to naught.  Miraculously, Lord Curzon of Kedleston purchased Tattershall at the last minute and set about tracking down the fireplaces to prevent them from leaving the country.  He was successful and was greatly applauded for his efforts in saving the castle and then restoring it, before bequeathing it to the National Trust on his death in 1925.

Another of the rescued fireplaces.
Another of the rescued fireplaces.

The castle contains six floors, ranging from the basement to the battlements, and can be accessed via a spiral staircase containing 149 steps.  Throughout the castle there are plenty of examples of historic graffiti, which although some may find unsightly, I found fascinating.  It proves that people have been attracted to the beauty of Tattershall for centuries and have been so moved as to engrave their initials into the stone as way of proving that they once visited.

Example of some of the historical graffiti.
Example of some of the historical graffiti.

The oldest dated initials that I found:

'IG 1634'
‘IG 1634’

The battlements offer spectacular views of the surrounding Lincolnshire countryside and on a clear day once can see for nearly 20 miles.

The battlements with tower and chimney stack.
The battlements with tower and chimney stack.
View from the battlements looking down on the 15th century  Guardhouse and church.
View from the battlements looking down on the 15th century Guardhouse and church.

One of the architectural gems that must be mentioned is the old Guardhouse which is now used as the Ticket Office and Gift Shop.  Itwas built in c.1440 from the same red brick, in English bond, with a plain tiled roof.  The building consists of two storeys, with both floors retaining original brick arched fireplaces.  There are plenty of delightful architectural details, including an ashlar plaque with heraldic shield above the door.

The delightful 15th century Guardhouse.
The delightful 15th century Guardhouse.

Tattershall Castle is an excellent example of why our heritage needs protecting and should not be taken for granted.  It is quite remarkable that had it not been for Lord Curzon it is unlikely that any of us would have had the opportunity to visit such a rare and spectacular brick castle.

Please visit: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/tattershall-castle/visitor-information/

The National Trust’s Norfolk Treasures: Blickling Hall

BLICKLING HALL

The principal entrance to Blickling Hall
The principal entrance to Blickling Hall

Blickling Hall is an impressive Jacobean house located in the village of Blickling, north of Aylsham, in Norfolk.  With an illustrious history involving many prominent figures, such as Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror and the disgraced queen Anne Boleyn, it is no wonder that Sir Henry Hobart, Lord Chief Justice, was eager to purchase the estate in 1616.  Sir Henry, keen to assert his prominence in Norfolk society, immediately set about creating a thoroughly sumptuous and tasteful mansion.

The principal façade.
The principal façade.

To acquire his desired house Sir Henry commissioned the eminent architect, Robert Lyminge, who was well known for his work at Hatfield House, home to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.  Both buildings share architectural similarities, notably the use of red brick with stone and stucco dressings and the square corner turrets with ogee lead-covered domes.  Sir Henry built an entirely new mansion, only using the foundations and some of the flooring from the ruined Tudor house.  The build took nearly a decade c.1619-1627, and even by 1624 had cost £8000.  A further £960 was required to complete the two identical service wings.

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A view of Blickling from the formal gardens.

The results were quite spectacular and although various remodelling and updating occured during the subsequent centuries, luckily the Jacobean mansion remains largely intact.  Highlights of its fascinating collections include the magnificent library, located in the Gallery and containing between 12,500 and 14,000 books – the largest library in the National Trust’s collection! The book collection contains over 1000 novels, including first editions of Jane Austen’s Emma and Sense and Sensibility. Other highlights include Mortlake tapestries, an Auxminster carpet and a portrait by Thomas Gibson (c.1680 -1751) of Henrietta Howard (nee Hobart) (c.1688-1743) who became the mistress of the Prince of Wales in c.1720.

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A view of Blickling from the gardens with the lake in the background.

The beautiful gardens at Blickling boast yet more treasures, including a temple, orangery, parterre gardens, a secret garden with a summer house as well as numerous ornamental urns and statues.  Entertainment is further provided with a croquet lawn and various oversized games which everyone is invited to use.  If walking appeals, there are approximately 500 acres of parkland and woods to explore, and such excursions can be rounded off with a visit to the Buckingham Arms, a delightful 17th century pub located a short distance from the house – what could be better?!

Please follow this link for more information: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate/visitor-information/

The National Trust’s Norfolk Treasures: Felbrigg Hall

FELBRIGG HALL

Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, owned by the National Trust.
Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, owned by the National Trust.

Felbrigg Hall is a country house located near Cromer in North Norfolk. Although the Felbrigg estate once belonged to the Felbrigg family with origins dating to the late 11th century, the Norfolk Windham family acquired it during the mid 15th century.  Unfortunately the Norfolk line died out in 1599, so the Somerset branch took over the estate and subsequently constructed the south front of the current house in 1621-4.

Contrasting 18th century front with the 17th century front.
Contrasting late 17th century west wing with the Jacobean south front.

During 1674-5, William Windham I commissioned the gentleman architect, William Samwell (1628–1676), to extend and remodel the west wing, but Samwell died before the project was completed in the 1680s.  The plasterwork from this era survives and on the Drawing Room ceiling the date ‘1687’ and initials ‘WW’ can be seen.  William was succeeded by his son Ashe Windham, who built the orangery in 1707.  When William Windham II succeeded in 1749 he soon commissioned James Paine (1717-89) to remodel the Hall which took place between 1751-56.  It was during this period that the current staircase was inserted, and a Dining Room created in the space of the old staircase. William Windham III, although often away from Felbrigg due to his successful political career, improved the surrounding landscape by creating a lake, kitchen garden and ice house.

The south Jacobean front.
The south Jacobean front.

During the 19th century, further alterations were made, in particular, the Great Hall was remodelled by William Howe Windham who favoured the neo-Jacobean style.  He introduced stained glass to many of the windows, some of which dates to the 15th century and some of which originally belonged to St Peter Mancroft church in Norwich.

Felbirgg Hall really is a complete mish-mash of dates and styles, featuring, for example, Jacobean, classical, chinoiserie, neo-Jacobean, neo-gothic and Victorian.  Nevertheless, it is a fascinating place that somehow feels homely and ‘lived-in’.  It is most certainly worth a visit.

There is a delightful circular walk which takes in the views of the Hall, the lake and the church.  The walled garden is a beautiful haven, filled with flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, and the most picturesque dove cote.  A trip to the tea rooms and shop completes the experience perfectly.

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/felbrigg-hall/

The National Trust’s Norfolk Treasures: Oxburgh Hall

It was not until I lived in Norfolk for a year that I came across the architectural gems owned by the National Trust.  The three that I shall mention in this and subsequent blogs will be: Oxburgh Hall, Felbrigg Hall and Blicking Hall.

OXBURGH HALL

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Oxburgh Hall on a winters day.

Oxburgh Hall, located in the small village of Oxborough, was build by Sir Edmund Bedingfield c.1482 after being granted permission by king Edward IV. A fantastic example of a late medieval, moated house, complete with a magnificent fortified gatehouse, castellated turrets and an ingenious priest hole.

The grand gatehouse at Felbrigg.
The gatehouse at Oxburgh with its impressive polygonal towers.
View from the gatehouse looking over the gardens.
View from the gatehouse looking over the gardens.

Oxburgh has long had links with royalty and in 1487, five years after completion, it was visited by King Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York.  It also boasts needlework by Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bess of Hardwick.

The Bedingfield’s were a staunch Catholic family, with a resident priest to celebrate Mass.  However, post-reformation, the practice of Catholicism became illegal and in 1589 the priest hole was built as a precaution to hide their priest in the event of a raid.

As a consequence of their faith, the Bedingdfield’s suffered from regular fines and penalties, and were routinely denied lucrative posts in government. Their situation was made worse during the English Civil War of the17th century, when, as a result of their loyalty to the Crown, the Hall was ransacked and the garden destroyed by Parliamentary troops.  Although Charles II made Sir Henry Bedingfield a Baronet in 1661, this in no way compensated for the great financial losses experienced by the family, and this contributed to the gradual decline and disrepair of Oxburgh Hall.

Consequently, in 1775, The original late medieval hall located in the South range was demolished by Sir Richard Bedingfield, leaving a gap in what was once a perfectly enclosed courtyard.  It was not until 1863 that the East and West ranges were connected again, and this was only via a functional covered corridor.  Most restorative work was commissioned thirty years earlier by the 6th Baronet during the 1830’s, when the West range was substantially remodelled in the style of the Gothic revival, a chapel was built and the gardens were transformed.

The pretty gate leading from the garden to the Hall.
The pretty gate leading from the garden to the Hall.

Oxburgh Hall was given to the National Trust in 1952, but the family still occupy part of the house.  I would highly recommend a visit.  A fantastic exhibition on wallpaper, dating from the 1700’s and co-curated by the very talented Wendy Andrews (https://twitter.com/WendyAndrewsPR) is currently on display. The gardens are wonderful, but the village Church of St. John, located a short distance from the Hall, is really worth a visit.  It contains an extremely rare terracotta tomb (unique in England) which escaped destruction in 1948 when the church spire collapsed in high winds, destroying the south of the nave.

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/oxburgh-hall/?p=1356315141272