Correction update on November 23, 2007 for Castle Ashby
There’s no better city to start a tour of this English county than Northampton itself. It’s a wonderful market town, the largest market square in Britain – as a matter of fact, which dates back to 1235. In the 8th century it was the administrative center of the Kingdom of Mercia, and the pre-Norman town was known as Hamtun which only occupied sixty acres of land.
At one time it led the shoemaking industry. ( No wonder Diana had such great taste in shoes!) The Central Museum and Art Gallery boasts the largest shoe and boot collection in the world! In this county you’ll have a chance to see some of the best kept architecture which includes the Victorian Gothic Guildhall which was built in 1864 to a design by Edward Godwin, to the Prebendal Manor House in the north part of Northamptonshire, the longest continually occupied manor house in the country.
Simon de Senlis arrived in the area of Northampton along with William the Conqueror in 1089 and he became the Earl of Northamptonshire, and most likely found the town’s castle. There is nothing left of the castle, which became the seat of the National Parliament from 1131 to 1380, because it was mostly removed to make way for the train station in 1859. What was left of the castle after that was finally completely taken out when the Castle Station was expanded twenty years later. However, this medieval castle was the catalyst for Northampton which was built so rapidly, in the 12th century, it became the third largest town in all of England. Henry I had the castle enlarged by 1110 and then additions of a great hall, a gateway, curtain walling and a chapel were built around the year 1164. The final touch was the great tower.
It was at Northampton Castle that Thomas Becket was tried and pronounced guilty in his opposition to King Henry II, and was besieged during King John’s Magna Charta war (circa 1215) in which the troops withdrew from the garrison in the middle of the siege. What did the castle in, finally, was the order by King Charles in 1662 to destroy the castle and town walls for defying his father during the Civil War.
The city of Northampton today was rebuilt after a third major fire. The first occurred in 1516, which destroyed most of the town. Fifty years later another fire did partial damage. The fire of 1675, which leveled the town, destroyed 600 buildings but made way for major renovations in 1724 giving the town a totally new appearance. Daniel Dafoe described it as “the handsomest and best built town in all this part of England…finely rebuilt with brick and stone and (the) streets made spacious and wide.” By 1871 the number of shoemakers in the town were 4,641!
Only five miles west of the town, Althorp House , Princess Diana’s ancestral home and also her final resting place sits in 15,000 acres of beautiful countryside. This estate had comparatively humble beginnings when Sir John Spencer acquired 300 acres around 1486. The Spencers had been farmers since pre-Tudor times but Robert, the first Lord Spencer (1570-1627), turned an increasing wealth from his forbears into one of the richest livestock ownerships in the county.
Diana’s brother Charles Spencer has written two books on the Spencer family’s personal history and the history of the dwellings on the estate. His influence made it possible for Diana to have a proper resting place at Althorp rather than at Great Brington’s cathedral where the rest of the family are buried. The Oval at Althorp’s Pleasure Garden is on an island in the middle of a landscaped lake which has trees planted by Princes William and Harry.
At the mansion you will be able to see the Picture Gallery which contains a multitude of portraits of five centuries and twenty generations of Spencers! After touring the main house The Stable Block is de rigueur if you really wish to pay your respects to Diana. This building at one time accommodated up to 100 horses. It is now used as the Exhibition on Diana’s life. It is a unique tribute to her and shouldn’t be missed. As you navigate the property and the different buildings, Althorp’s boundless and lush green grounds, the architecture and the interiors will have you gasping in awe. This is, of course, a very popular tourist attraction and has regular English visitors, as well. You are well advised to pre-book and you will be given a specific time slot. A wonderful note is that all the admission profits go to Diana’s Memorial Fund.
On a hill, across the fields, Holdenby House , once the largest house in England, is a real study in rococo additions to what was once an Elizabethan Palace. The remains of the old portion are now only in the kitchen wing and library. It was totally remodeled and restored in the 1870s by Lady Clifden with the help of architect Richard Carpenter. Today it is 1/8th its original size. It boasts of an entrance hall which was originally in Tudor style, a ballroom which was redecorated in 1984, a beautiful dining room and the library’s firescreen was once part of the original which separated the Great Hall from the chapel. There are portraits of family and of royalty throughout the house along with rare paintings, furniture and artifacts. The Piano Room is decorated with French handblocked wallpaper which dates from 1912 and it houses a collection of pianos from the British Musical Museum along with other musical instruments from around the world.
If you are wondering at the splendor of this private residence it is good to know that this mansion was built to entertain Queen Elizabeth I. It was also first palace and then prison to Elizabeth’s successor Charles I. Holdenby was built in 1583 by Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor- the very one whom she called ‘her eyes’. Interestingly, Hatton refused to live in the house prior to the Queen’s first visit. Perhaps he didn’t want to live anywhere that did not first meet her approval. James I took possession of the house before it passed through the hands of Charles and after the Civil War it was sold to Adam Baynes , a Parliamentarian. By 1709 the Duke of Marlborough acquired it and his family line has retained ownership of it ever since.
T-01604 770074 Contact: Mrs. Sarah Maugham
If you swing back to Northampton before heading south you may want to check out the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is Northampton’s oldest standing building. It was built in 1100 on the orders of Senlis after he attended the last crusade. It was built on the same plan as the original in Jerusalem! (You can see a photo of it in the new Northamptonshire photo album!)
If you head south on the A43, Canon’s Ashby, Sulgrave Manor and Aynhoe Park in the southernmost part are sure to please your eclectic architectural cravings. Canon’s Ashby and Aynhoe are shining examples- the former being long-lasting refurbishment from the early 18th century and Aynhoe, which is undergoing current restoration. Sulgrave Manor was the ancestral home of our beloved president George Washington. It has marvelous visitor facilities.
On your way, take a brief stop in Towcaster at Stoke Bruerne to see Stoke Park Pavilions. They are dated around 1630 and are attributed to Inigo Jones. These two edifices were once part of the first Palladian country house built in England by Sir Francis Crane. The central part, which linked the pavilions was destroyed by fire in 1886. They linked the main part of the building with classic colonnades. It is currently landscaped with extensive gardens which are highlighted here.
Canon’s Ashby , is directly west and closest to Daventry. Access is from M40/J11 or M1/J16. Be sure to book ahead and get specific directions. This home of the Dryden family (since the 16th century) will be well worth the visit. It was built in Elizabethan style around 1550 added to in the 1590s and alterations were made around 1630 and 1710 but has gone unaltered since that time.
The interior wall paintings and Jacobean plasterwork are of the finest craft. Within the seventy acre park you’ll find a medieval priory church and terraced formal gardens.
In Sulgrave village, the earthworks next to the church are all that remains of Sulgrave Castle. It was most likely built during the Norman Conquest and it has been determined that it was a fortified enclosure, triangular in shape. It was most likely abandoned in the 12th century.
Sulgrave Manor which is east of Banbury (B4525) is a 16th century Elizabethan manor house with Tudor features. It underwent prodigious restoration which is very apparent even in photographs. The history connected with it is a bit amazing. Lawrence Washington entered the county about 1529 as a steward to Lord Parr (the uncle of Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr!) He married Amy Pargiter, heiress to the Stutchbury and Greatworth wool trade fortune and together they bought Sulgrave Manor from Henry VIII! The family of George Washington emigrated to America in 1657.
Heading further south will put you deep into the Cherwell Valley and into the beauty of the very recent restoration work going on at Aynhoe Park . This was the home of the Cartwright family for more than 400 years and was purchased by Mr. James Perkins only a few years ago. Mr. Perkins is restoring the interior work that Sir John Soane ( Sept.10, 1753-Jan. 20, 1837) embellished the house with in the latter part of his career.
The building that now stands there was the original design of Edward Marshall and in 1707 Thomas Cartwright hired Thomas Archer to enlarge the Jacobean building. It was sold by the Cartwrights in 1954 to an association which turned it into an apartment complex and because of this, the Cartwrights took all their paintings and furniture. Some furnishings have turned up, of which you can see one example, a beautiful carved oak table, in the photo album.
A Jacobean courtyard style manor home, Aynhoe Manor features a pedimented roofline with unusual late-Baroque detailing, such as the concave surrounds on the main doorways. Most of the interior has been remodeled, although much of it remains Archer’s work. John Soane’s instructions were for a thorough remodeling and he did draw up the work (which can be seen at the Soane Museum in London.) However, most of the interiors intended to be done in 1795 never were built.
Soane did re-design the reception rooms along the garden front in a more sedate version in 1800-05 and with the exception of a French Drawing Room, have remained. He also created the top-lit staircase with an iron balustrade in the south wing and the arches which link the main block to the service wings. Tours are now for specialized groups only but you may be able to make arrangements through the Soane Museum. A recent tour took place on September 23rd for people who had a keen interest in the plasterwork Mr. Perkins is undertaking in restoring Mr. Soane’s redecorations of the late 18th century.
A great place to stay during your tour of the southern portion of this county would be Fawsley Hall which is close to Daventry. (More about that in my next entry for places to stay while in Northamptonshire!)
Now that you have covered the southern area quite well you’ll want to head much further north to Haddonstone Manor. You can only view this crenellated manor from the outside but their classic gardens will delight you anyway. Along with extensive landscaping with statuary and balustrading, a Jubilee Garden was added about nine years ago adding temples and pavilions. It is seven miles northwest of Northampton in East Haddon.
T- 01604 770711
A short distance northeast is Coton Manor which doesn’t offer an interior tour either but you will be treated with an extensive look from the outside amid a splendorous surrounding of yew hedges, floral and herb gardens.
Ten miles north of Northampton, and northeast of Coton Manor is the magnificent Cottesbrooke Hall which is a veritable wonder to behold in every corner, nook and cranny! This Adamic-style mansion’s architect is unknown although some educated guesses have hinted at Francis Smith of Warwick. This is only speculation, of course. It is also believed that Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park was modeled after this house.
What is known for certain is that it dates back to 1702 and was built for Sir John Langham, 4th Baronet, during the reign of Queen Anne. There was further development during the 18th century, with additions of the East and West Bows which were executed by Robert Mitchell. Built of fine rose-pink brick enriched with pale Ketton stone, the layout of the Hall consists of the central block with two principal rooms and two wings connected by blank quadrant walls, serving as arcades. In the interior, beautiful wrought iron work is particularly enhanced with unique Rococo paper mache’ wall decorations. The furniture and art collections are extensive, with much in the dining, drawing, library and china rooms. This house contains the sporting pictures known as the Woolavington Collection and is a permanent feature of the house.
The prize-winning gardens have a delicious variety of herbaceous border and wild flowers along with nearly every specimen of trees. The landscape designers who have contributed to the gardens are Rober Weir Schutz, the late Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe and the late Dame Sylvia Crowe. I have included quite a few photographs of the gardens which are simply out of this world!
Just east of Cottesbrooke on the A508 is Lamport Hall which is a monument to the collaborative efforts of several architects throughout the centuries. The exterior shows quite varied architecture upon close scrutinization. The windows are aediculed or have arched aedicules, the brickwork is varied but symmetrical. The combined 17th and 18th century façade is by John Webb and the Smiths of Warwick and the North wing by William Burn which was completed by 1861.
This was the home of the Isham family for over two hundred years spanning from 1560 to 1976. The exquisite interiors underwent extensive restoration which created an expansion allowing more paintings and furniture to be displayed along with a photographic exhibit of the most famous Isham- Sir Gyles, a Hollywood actor who initiated the restoration.
As a matter of fact the Hall contains a wealth of outstanding furniture and paintings some of which are Van Dycks, Knellers, Lelys and much more. The interior I’ve included in the photo album showcases the wonderful plasterwork in the High Room originally done in 1655. The 18th century library contains books from the 16th century and the Cabinet Room, which dates from the early 19th century displays rare and beautiful Venetian cabinets
Sir Charles Isham is largely responsible for the gardens which were laid out in 1655 originally. He laid out the Italian Garden, Rockery and introduced the first garden gnomes in England mid-19th century. The rose garden, lily pond and walks, borders and lawns create a very peaceful atmosphere.
T- 01604 686272 for directions and arrangements for tours.
You’ll want to head back down south a little distance to reach Castle Ashby which is an awe-inspiring Elizabethan/Jacobean mansion sporting parapets, octagonal high towers and some classical features. This is the seat of the seventh Marquess of Northamptonshire ( a direct descendant of Sir William Compton ). Its size is breathtaking as well but the reason for that is legendary. Its history began in the 11th century, when Judith, a niece to William the Conqueror married Waltherof, Earl of Northampton and Huntington. King William granted her several houses in the same general area. It was leased to Hugh of Ashby later and was kept to his descendants until 1300. Langton, the Bishop of Coventry purchased Ashby and received permission to put up battlements from the King.
The original castle was demolished and the Ashby Estates were acquired by Sir William Compton in 1512. Work on the present building was begun in 1574 by Henry the first Lord Compton, whose coat of arms can be found in the doorway at the foot of the west turret.
It also was rebuilt in 1574 to entertain the Queen (Elizabeth) with twenty six beautifully decorated bedrooms, including the State Suite which is available for private events. The building continued until 1600, the year she actually visited. Thereafter, King James I was a frequent guest. In 1688 Henry Compton, Bishop of London and uncle of the 4th Earl found himself in conflict with the Roman Catholic King James II. He retreated to Castle Ashby and lived for two years in a secret part of the castle, now known as the Bishop’s Rooms . Later, when King James was deposed, the castle gave refuge to Princess Anne before she was escorted to Oxford to meet her father, the new King William III. In October of 1695 the King himself, came to stay at Castle Ashby and personally suggested the planting of four avenues of trees opposite each face of the house.
The castle was added to notably by Inigo Jones in the 17th century. This house also boasts a serpentine park and a garden which was designed originally by Capability Brown in 1761. He made a ha-ha (sunken garden), removed avenues, formed a series of ponds and carried out quite a bit of planting and went so far as to install a temple and dairy! Later, in 1860, an elaborate Italian garden with parterres were added using the family’s monogram as a motif. The castle is five miles east of Northampton and is north of the A428 between Bedford and Northampton.
Now it’s time to head north up to Kettering to take a look at Boughton House which is referred to as England’s Versailles. I have included an aerial and ground view photo of this marvel so you can get a real feel for this Ducal Palace. Very recently, on September 4th, the Duke of Buccleuth passed away at the good old age of 83. The current heir is the Earl of Dalkeith who will become the 10th Duke of Buccleuth and the 12th Duke of Queensberry. You can read more about the history of the Montagus on the official web site.
Boughton House started as a Tudor Monastic mansion which was gradually enlarged over the centuries by the Montagu family who have had possession of the estate since 1528. The French-style addition of 1695 led to the description of the current estate being referred to as the English Versailles and it is an apt description. It has won several awards including a prestigious one- the Sandford Award- several times over the years. The art, furniture, tapestries and ceiling frescoes are magnificent, of course. The beautiful and extensive parkland area includes picnic areas, a gift shop, adventure woodland play area for children, plant center and tea room.
Now head east on the A14 for Kelmarsh Hall which set a standard back in 1928 for what has become famous as the English Country House style- in the interior. The house was originally built in 1732 to as design laid out by James Gibb and the interior was updated in 1760 by Robert Adam. As a Palladian mansion it’s more sedate than usual. The lady responsible for the excellent 18th century interior, Nancy Lancaster, decorated the Great Hall, Chinese Room plus others. In the drawing room, dining room, gallery and print room the tour is an exceptional showcase which highlights rare artifacts commissioned by George William, the 6th Earl of Coventry.
The gardens were laid out by the team of Geoffrey Jellicoe and Norah Lindsay.
As we move toward the northern part of the county the concentration of medieval castles piles up, however, most have not survived as well, as we have seen from the north of England, in general. I find this rather odd considering the battles the north strongholds endured. I have found, from reading more about the administrative aspects of running castles, that often the money was not spent in upkeep. Most of the structures from that period were just not rebuilt and some were purposely laid waste for lack of funding. Do keep in mind that medieval castles were often built in haste by coerced and unskilled laborers.
Nine miles east of Market Harborough at the Leicestershire border, you’ll find Rockingham Castle. The old keep and the royal castle sit right next to each other as close neighbors. Most of the earlier fortification is only earthworks, the bailey and towered gatehouse which was built by William the Conqueror and used by the Kings of England until Henry VIII granted it and the land to Edward Watson whose family still occupy the land in the Tudor manor buildings. Rockingham was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It had been a motte castle with two quadrilateral baileys. The Great Council of Rockingham was held here in 1095. It was taken over by Henry II circa 1156 and from then on, over at least two centuries, many new works and repairs were recorded. Among the major features of this castle was its twin cylindrical towers and gate house which was built by Edward I (circa 1280-90) and it is still an impressive sight. A photo of the main gateway is in the album below.
The new outcrop of buildings do not particularly represent a period but most of it appears to be Tudor within Norman walls. As you walk through the inner court you’ll find many architectural representations. For art there is plenty to view as it contains a great collection of English 18th, 19th and 20th century paintings. Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor and was so taken by Rockingham’s atmosphere that he used it as a model for Chesney Wold in his book Bleak House.
Part of the garden are ancient with such features as a 400 year old elephant hedge and the rose garden which marks the foundation of the old keep. There is a special exhibition here for visitors who would like to know about the complete history. Be sure to take peeks at the Great Hall, Panel Room and the Long Gallery. Rockingham has also won three Sandford awards and take large groups by arrangement.
A very short distance away, four miles east of Bulwick, Southwick Hall which is near Oundle retains some medieval portions dating from 1300. It has some Tudor rebuilding with 18th century additions and has been a family home from its inception. Retained by three families over the years, Southwick is amazingly cohesive architecturally and quite beautiful. The Knyvettes owned the Hall from 1300 to 1441. The Lynns bought and rebuilt the southern portion from 1441-1840. In 1841 George Capron bought the house and his family live there to the present day. In 1870 they rebuilt the east wing, making it into two storeys. Christopher Capron, the former head of BBC TVs Current Affairs is the present owner. There is an exhibition here on Victorian and Edwardian Life. An agricultural and archaeological collection is also displayed.
West of Southwick Hall is Deene Park and Kirby Hall- veritable neighbors. Deene Park is closest to the A43 and is a very interesting 16th century house which was developed over six centuries from a medieval manor. It has Tudor and Georgian features and additions and looks like a Palladian manor with crenellated towers upon first gaze. This is the seat of the Earl of Cardigan from 1514 so the ambience of the home is warm and apparent. The most flamboyant of the Brudenells was the 7th Earl who led the Light Brigade charge at Balaklava and there are historic relics and pictures to view here. Mr Edward Brudenell, the present owner restored the house at the end of WW2 and he has a wonderful collection of family portraits, possessions, artifacts from the Crimean War and more. The fine old garden was designed by David Hicks and it features long walks around a lake.
Kirby Hall is only two miles west of Deene Park and is an unusually attractive and large stone-built Elizabethan mansion. Tours apparently aren’t given because there are no interior furnishings. It was started in 1570 and later additions around the 17th century. You may recognize Kirby Hall from the photos because Mansfield Park was filmed there in 1998. It’s also a prime venue for History in Action which is Europe’s largest multi-period historical festival. One of the photos in my album features a still from one of the re-enactments.
T- 01536 203230
There are five sites where medieval castles nestled close together in the northernmost part of Northamptonshire which I want to bring to your attention. Fotheringhay and Barnwell Castle are on the border between Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire. Benefield, Preston Capes and Wadenhoe are also nearby. Of these, Fotheringhay seems to have the most history connected with it. There are now nearly no remains and what you will find if you visit the site would be disappointing if you expect to see a castle. What is there will educate you, however. The mound of the site is still in the shape of a fetterlock which was a Yorkist symbol, rocks are piled up around a railing which bear two plaques with historical details of the royal connections. The rocks are pieces of the outer stone wall.
Fotheringhay was originally a motte and bailey on the River Nene and later Edward III turned it into a prime Yorkist castle in 1452. This castle had a north facing gateway, a strong keep, a double moat along three sides and the river was on the fourth. Richard III was born there and Henry VII turned it into a prison. The most famous usage was when Mary Queen of Scots was brought to the castle to be tried for treason in the Great Chamber. Because it had to be a semi-public act, they used the same hall on February 8th in 1587 (which was only 70 feet long and 21 feet wide) for her execution. At the execution 300 people were in attendance! Catherine of Aragon was successful in pleading not to be sent to Fotheringhay because she was certain it would be fatal. Richard III was last known to visit in 1476 when, as Duke of Gloucester, he headed the cortege that brought the bodies of his father Richard, Duke of York and elder brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland for reburial in the family mausoleum. This link shows a rendering of Fotheringhay as it may have looked.
Just south of Fotheringhay, Barnwell Castle, which is located in the Barnwell Village center, still has some remains worth seeing. From 1266 it has retained the stone enclosure fortress, with the height of the towers significantly reduced, of course. It had been rectangular in shape with a high curtain wall, and is still flanked by two storey towers. On the south east corner, the twin-towered gatehouse has Tudor features with a D-shaped tower, two trilobate towers and another round tower at the angles. (You can see a fairly good photo of it in my album!)
In 1568 Sir Edward Montagu founded a Tudor Manor house in the outer court and later on in 1704 the internal buildings of Barnwell were demolished most likely for continued building of the manor. This land was originally granted to them by Henry VIII and they retained ownership up until 1913. The manor has four reception rooms and seven bedrooms with a total of forty rooms. The showrooms of Berengar Antiques has been housed here and has a nice selection of English furniture.
Five miles southeast of Barnwell, Benefield Castle’s remains are basically earthworks. It had been a rectangular moated enclosure which dated from the 12th century. In 1208 King John seized the castle for debts. Not much more appears to be known about it.
Not far away at Preston Capes Hugh de Leycester built a castle in 1090 and a cluniaic priory next to it. According to several accounts it was built on the summit of a spur northeast of the village of Preston Capes. I have been unable to determine whether there are any remains.
While I was doing my research I came across an architectural curiosity- actually two of them- which were built by Sir Thomas Tresham. Lyveden New Bield looks like a ruin from a distance but is in fact an incomplete Elizabethan mansion. This curiosity was started in 1595 by Tresham but before he really got underway he was imprisoned for his religious beliefs. Tresham died in 1605 but not before he managed to build another monument for his faith. Both of the edifices are in my photo album T-01832 205358
Sir Tresham’s monument which he built as a tribute to the Trinity is located in Rushton which is outside of Kettering. This extraordinary small building has three sides is 33 feet wide, has three floors with trefoil windows and three triangular gables on each side. This English Heritage site is called Rushton Triangular Lodge .
My last discovery happens to not be a castle but is the oldest manor house in Northamptonshire and upon that has been continually occupied from early in the 13th century. Prebendal Manor House was designed by Michael Brown of which most all of the original medieval features are still intact. In case you are wondering about the name, a prebendal was a provision for a house for the clergy of a church. You can find this small gem in the middle of wonderfully re-created medieval gardens in Nassington, six miles north of Oundle.
avec noblesse oblige, The Castle Lady
You can see all the new photos for Northamptonshire in the new photo album !