Warwickshire is graced with lovely Tudor Mansions, a few which went on to become or were replaced by Tudor Revival mansions during renaissance and modern eras in England. Charlecote Park and Packwood House, merely a few miles apart (and not far from Warwick) are two prime examples in the same class as Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire and Wightwick Manor at Wolverhampton, Staffordshire. Cotswold homes are typified here in the many abodes in or near Stratford-upon-Avon and most often are timber-framed black and whites because wood was the primary building material in the Midlands. Cotswold stone which is unique to the heart of England was used for many ordinary abodes all the way to magnificent edifices and even today they are the most charming buildings of England because of its longstanding popularity and widespread use. One visit throughout the west Midlands will charm you off your feet and entice you to return. – The Castle Lady
If you head north of Warwick to Leek Wooten you are sure to want to visit Guy’s Cliffe House which is a delightful, partially restored, ruined mansion with an interesting historical past and a bright future ahead. The late medieval origins of the remains are in the form of a chantry along with rock-carved stables and storehouses dating from 1423. As the name suggests, Guy of Warwick established a hermitage here, where he retired after his duel with Colebrand. The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene, which still exists intact and contains a large statue depicting Guy of Warwick, was built along with the other buildings during the time of Henry VI. Later in the 15th century the chapel was rebuilt. Two centuries before, Piers Gaveston had sought refuge in the town and was apprehended and hung at Blacklow Hill.
From the period of the Dissolution, the estate passed into the private use of Sir Edward Flammock who married into the estate of the Percy family. Guy’s Cliffe House was built in the local red sandstone in the early part of the 18th century and then sold to Samuel Greatheed in 1751, a West India merchant, who held a chair as member of Parliament representing Coventry from 1747-61. Greatheed built additions to the house from 1757 and was built upon continually in various styles from Elizabethan revival- with interesting medieval features- to a Palladian seven bay façade, along the south, with two storeys and an attic. Additions continued clear into the 20th century and housed an extensive art collection.
Restoration which has been carried out thus far is surprisingly recent. The house was established as a Boys Home by the 20th century and was cherished by many an orphan of the second World War during the time that Paul Field was master of Guy’s Cliffe. It was sold, nevertheless, in 1947 to be converted to a hotel at some point. In 1955 a purchase by Aldwyn Porter led to the opportunity for Freemasons to lease the chapel saving that portion of the estate, which is in excellent condition. However, Mr. Porter also stripped the interior of the house and eleven years later the roof caved in and it was abandoned. Reparations were planned at some point after 1966 but were thwarted after the house was rented for the filming of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (The Last Vampyre) in 1992. During filming a fire scene went out of control and much of the interior was destroyed.
After an insurance claim was made, English Heritage was able to carry out a very extensive renovation of the stone remnants saving the basic structures that make the house unique, although some features were removed and not replaced. The house is still undergoing intensive internal repair and has been for many years. Among the Friends of Guy’s Cliffe House (a club dedicated to the preservation of the house and property) Roy Robinson, who was one of the saved orphans taken in during WWII and the last resident, died late last year after many years of dedication in doing hands on restoration to the property. Roy was a key spokesperson to helping others carry out faithful repair according to his recollections of the layout during his residence. According to an account written by Dave Taylor, his contribution was immense while research was carried out to visualize the ruined sections and piece them back faithfully. His tribute to Roy on his web site dedicated to the house is very touching. Currently, Guy’s Cliffe is on English Heritage’s list as a grade II building.
A book written by Terry Roberts, Recollections of a Country Mansion, published in 2011, can be obtained at www.guyscliffehouse.org.uk/book to find out more of the historical information and see many photos of the transition back from dereliction.
A former timber-framed farmhouse, Packwood House became a splendid Tudor revival mansion in the 20th century at the behest of Graham Baron Ash who inherited the property from his Birmingham industrialist father, Alfred Ash. North of Beaudesert Castle it is seated just outside Lapworth near Solihull on 113 acres of yew gardens, herbaceous borders and the remains of what once was the surrounding Forest of Arden. The additions made through the centuries by the Featherstone (orig. Fetherston) family, carried on from the building of the original house in the mid-16th century clear into the late 19th century, were mostly stripped away by Graham Ash. He took over the property in 1925 and spent more than two decades recreating the original Tudor character of the house and included a large collection of 16th and 17th century furniture- some of which was obtained from the Baddesley Clinton house including a good portion of their tapestries. The collection is such a prime evocation of domestic Tudor it is apparent that Ash took his role as antiquarian quite seriously. You will not see a trace of the Georgian or Victorian era on the premises.
When you enter the property through the gateposts and onto the private drive you will find a proportionately laid out garden plan around an immense Elizabethan home which is extraordinarily picturesque. Aesthetically, the estate matches the fastidious nature of Ash with beautiful results. Wood and tapestry dominate the interior and an entrance passage which leads to the hall is very unique down to the floor pattern which was another acquisition from Wales’ Lymore Park. What didn’t work for Lymore is impressive at Packwood. From the hall through a gallery you enter another Great Hall converted from a barn which appears to be another wing to the house. The fireplace in this hall came from Stratford and is supposed to be associated with John Shakespeare, William’s father, and evidence of his single term as High Sheriff of Stratford are displayed here on the roof in the form of heraldic shields and standards! From there, a stone staircase leads to bedrooms which were named for the many visitors both royal and parliamentary. The latter harboring a large four-poster bed which was occupied by Col. Henry Ireton prior to his engagement for battle at Edgehill in 1642! You can see part of the original house on the ground floor dining room, drawing room and study which contain a large number of imported paintings with flame-stitch hangings in the dining room.
The house is most famous for its extensive Yew Garden which contains more than a hundred trees laid out in 17th century by John Fetherston, who was a lawyer. Seated adjacent to the house and facing the gateway, it is themed as The Sermon on the Mount with twelve very large trees termed the Apostles, four in the center as the Evangelists, a spiraled path leads up to a hummock named the Mount and a single yew atop known as the Master. From this vantage point it is possible to have a panoramic view of Packwood and the estate. The remaining trees are the Multitude surrounding the area and were planted in the 19th century replacing an orchard.
Closer to the house, a Jacobean fountain court and sunken gardens add a sumptuous appearance which is unusual to English gardens. Jellicoe praised the gardens with gushing words and rightfully so because the contribution to the overall appearance of the grounds is breathtaking. It has been owned by the National Trust since 1941 and is available for tours from April to November.
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Two miles away at Knowle, Baddesley Clinton Hall is described as a 500 year old Elizabethan moated manor house but the architecture defies the staid appearance which is common for most houses of its era. It is believed to have originated in the 13th century by Thomas de Clinton but the first recorded history of ownership was to John Brome in 1438, a vice treasurer of England. His son Nicholas is responsible for the east range bridged entrance which is now a stone edifice with round arches. Most likely what he built was more like a castle, originally, because it was reputed to be battlemented with a drawbridge at that time. Nicholas’ daughter inherited the house in 1517 upon his death and married Sir Edward Ferrers who was the High Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1500. The hall remained Ferrers property up to 1940 when it passed to a close relative, Thomas Walker, who changed his name to Ferrers. Thomas’ son sold the entire estate to the National Trust in 1980 and is now open to the public for tours which include a beautiful great hall, parlor and library showing off original 16th century carvings and furnishings alongside Victorian accessories of actual inhabitants.
Most of the mansion’s unique appearance is due to Henry Ferrers who was born mid-16th century and died in 1633. His additions to the house are legendary and are a direct result of the courtyard appearance of the house although it is modified dramatically. He built the great hall which is now rebuilt in brick and the frontage of the east range was extended in Elizabethan style. All of the heraldry and stained glass were his work. Later work occurred in the 19th century which included rebuilding of the chapel and overall refurbishment of the house and interior renovations in the mid-20th century when the first floor outside the chapel was altered considerably.
Today, the north range old Great Hall is gone due to its removal. To the north and north east you’ll see demarcations in the forecourt where medieval ranges once stood. All were dismantled in the 18th century. Many of the interior features are also credited to Squire Henry and include wood paneling and fireplace mantels and he opened the house to Jesuits creating many hiding places, priest’s holes and secret passages for their concealment. Henry’s son also recreated the house in the Great Parlor with a wonderful Jacobean window and a barrel-vaulted ceiling.
The interiors were primarily under the direction of Rebecca Ferrers who showed a predilection for medieval revival during the Victorian period. They are both eclectic and tasteful, a tricky combination. Her story of involvement with Baddesley Clinton Hall is a very entertaining one- if it seems a bit far-fetched. She lived with her aunt, Lady Chatterton and was approached for marriage by a wealthy young man by the name of Edward Dering. He asked the aunt for Rebecca’s hand and was misunderstood by Lady Chatterton who accepted his proposal and he was stuck. Rebecca, in turn, accepted a proposal by the wealthy Marmion Ferrers and became the Lady of Baddesley Clinton Hall. After two years Rebecca invited the Derings to share the house and Edward ended up paying off mortgages and expenses on the house. It sounds a little indiscreet but there was no problem. The quartet co-habited quite nicely as both couples were devout Catholics and Baddesley became a hotbed of literary, artistic and religious activity. You’ll find Rebecca’s self-portrait hanging in the drawing room which she painted in 1885, the year she finally was able to marry Dering.
It is legendary that Shakespeare was caught poaching deer at Charlecote Park, near Wellsbourne, but some accounts purport that it was simply by accident that he pursued a deer into the park when he was out hunting with his merry band of playwrights and actors. Wherever the truth may lay it is certain that this 185 acre estate is well stocked with red and fallow deer and has been as long as the Lucys have been Lords and Ladys of the mansion. That goes clear back to 1247 and a portion of the house is still occupied by Sir Edmund Fairfax-Lucy who is an artist and designed the forecourt garden at the beginning of the 21st century. A part of the brick mansion that exists today was built anew from 1551-59 and the Lucys received Queen Elizabeth I at the estate in 1572. With the house heavily restored in Tudor style, the only remaining feature is the original gatehouse which is depicted in most paintings of the mansion and well photographed, inside and out. Cupola-capped turrets are repeated inside the courtyard mirroring the gatehouse and making this a distinguishing feature of this Elizabethan beauty.
However, Shakespeare would not recognize the mansion today because it was extended by George Hammond Lucy so extensively, over four decades, starting in 1823. He added a new west front beyond the hall facing directly onto the Avon which flows by the entire length of the estate. Formal parterre gardens of the 18th century line this front with a colorful variety of flowers along the north and west, courtesy of Capability Brown, of course. Along the north is a well kept croquet lawn with colorful bordering, northeast leads to woodland gardens and an orangery which is run by the National Trust as a restaurant. Along the south, the River Dene runs into the River Avon traversing a beautiful stepped waterfall. Beyond the basic borders of the house the park goes on for miles with footpaths laid down by Capability Brown and picnic benches are prolific throughout. Don’t be surprised by the wildlife that abounds.
Much of the interiors are decidedly Victorian with the Great Hall in earth tones, barrel-vaulted ceiling and walls filled with family portraits, dining room and library with period wallpaper, armorial glass and sideboard carved in 1858 by Willcox of Warwick. It goes on with a billiard room graced with a Batoni of George Lucy II and drawing room laced with ebony where Queen Elizabeth I stayed. All the state rooms have elaborate plaster ceilings and wood paneling. Upstairs you’ll see two guest bedrooms with Victorian furnishings along with a dressing room, one, the Ebony showing off its splendid view of the courtyard and gatehouse and Nelson and Lady Hamilton’s Beckford bed, originally from Fonthill in Wiltshire. Much of the service wing can be toured which is extensive and displayed with usual thorough attention to detail we have come to expect of the National Trust. A display of a collection of horse-drawn carriages is available to view on the premises, as well.
Close to Kenilworth and seated in 690 acres next to the River Avon, Stoneleigh Abbey was originated by Cistercians in 1154 and fragments of that period remain in the rear courtyard of the house. The 14th century gatehouse, which is a magnificent and rare example of its kind, was built by the 16th Abbot, Robert de Hockele in 1346. Otherwise, this extraordinary classical ruined restoration was the work of Francis Smith of Warwick commenced in 1720 for Edward, the 3rd Lord Leigh and has played host to royalty on many occasions, since. If the outward appearance of the manse is a little unconventional I would have my readers know that this is the result of patching rather than a complete restoration. It was a controversial type of restoration at the time (mid-20th century) and it is still so today. Many people don’t care for the mottled look to a classical faade but from a distance it gives the mansion a texture which makes it more interesting to view. That is my opinion and preference which always leans to medieval.
As the seat of the Leigh family from 1561, Stoneleigh became a homecoming after sitting nearly derelict for twenty years after a fire in 1960. A preservation trust was arranged and they now live in a portion of the house as direct descendants of Sir Thomas Leigh (c.1504-1571). It has been said that the abbey matched a description of Sotherton in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. The building was not destroyed during the dissolution but was surrendered by the last abbot to the Crown and it was then granted to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk in 1538. Interestingly, the estate was sold to Sir Roland Hill and Sir Thomas Leigh, jointly in 1561. The fifteen-bay West Wing is considered a dominate feature of the house and is the part that Francis was responsible for creating. It has nine large state rooms on the first floor alone, including Queen Victoria’s Bedroom, and they are still in use for events which are carried out in abundance. The second floor was hit the hardest by the fire and has been undergoing the finishing touches of restoration carried out by Kit Martin and recreating much of the floor into apartments. Each state room accommodates different numbers of guests providing a lot of flexibility for its use as an events venue and is licensed for just about any occasion you can name.
Most picturesque of the exteriors are the conservatory side along with the riverside gardens and the castellated stone gate entrance to the stables, courtyard and banqueting hall. All these add to the character and beauty of the estate before one ever enters to view the extraordinary interiors. Further work carried out includes beautiful plaster work by John Wright in the chapel in 1744 and the wood paneled Long Corridor built on designs by C.S. Smith in 1837 graced with stained glass designed by Willement. Some portions of the West Wing were spared damage such as marvelous staircase hall, saloon, gilt hall and the vaulted hall but all have been well restored saving plasterwork, columns, stained glass and arched ceilings.
If you take a specific scenic footpath from Stoneleigh to the Church of St. John the Baptist at Baginton Village, you will arrive near the west front of what was once Baginton Hall where Sir William Bromley builthis new mansionin 1618 after he discarded the old castle. The new home was not far from the church. The village, hall and first church were associated with three families which held property for long periods of time. These were the Ensors/Herthills, Bagots and the Bromleys. Today you will only see a shell of a formerly splendid classical mansion that was visited by Queen Anne, early in the 18th century, who planted a cedar tree on the east lawn. The hall was described as a country gentlemen’s home which held valuable family portraits, artifacts, books and letters written by royal hands.
The mansion fell victim to two horrible fires hundreds of years apart. The first fire occurred in 1706. At that time it was the home of Mr. William Bromley who was a member of the House of Commons. News of the problem was sent to him while attending his official duties and he did not convey the news to his colleagues until after the conclusions. Upon his intimation of the disaster a vote was immediately dispatched by Parliament for a considerable sum of money to be supplied for restoration which was completed in 1714. How’s that for camaraderie ? The new design by Francis Smith of Warwick was executed in a rather unique but definite classical style.
The frontage of Baginton was remodeled with voussoirs to the multi-bayed faade while the ground floor wings were entirely rebuilt with belvederes on either side of the main block. In addition it was castellated along the roofline giving an appearance of battlements. The original staircase was replaced by a grand oak escalier which served the main building. A conservatory was added, library and a drawing room in the north wing only the the latter of which was saved in the second fire along with a painting of the original hall among the salvage. On the west side of the mansion an inscription was placed that read, “Dii patrii, servate domum 1714” and the terrace entrance motto Pheonix Resurgens (Phoenix Rises Again) was placed upon completion of the restoration and rebuilding.
In October of 1889 Mr W. Sugden Armytage rented the home with his wife and seven children on the premises. At the outbreak of the second fire all were conveyed to nearby houses or taken outside the house quite quickly and were saved. At that time it was the home of Mr. Bromley Davenport, the Bromley Warwickshire seat, and the damage to the interior structure of the house was devastating and almost complete. However, much effort was made to save furnishings, art, pictures, valuable books and nearly everything that was of value by volunteers who worked feverishly to rescue a large portion of the removable interiors.
After all efforts had been made by the fire brigades to quench the fire, who dealt with the steep incline between the water source and getting the pump to get up to a speed quickly enough to put a strong stream of water through the hose to the house, most of the house had already been lost. Lieutenant Thomas, who was the fire captain. stated, “Had it been possible to have got the water earlier, without having to pump it up that hill- never mind the distance- I believe the brigade could have prevented the fire getting past the first storey.”
Ragley Hall and Coughton Court are neighbors in the vicinity of Alcester, on the southwestern border of the county, less than three miles apart, with Ragley in a southern direction and Coughton Court to the north, the two are vastly different in their respective architecture. If you head up north on the A435 you’ll find Coughton Court on a vast estate surrounded by 25 acres of gardens.
As a Tudor stately home, Coughton Court is a beautiful specimen which has been the ancestral home of the Throckmorton family almost from the beginning of the 15th century after Robert de Throckmorton married into the Spiney family. The interiors contain artifacts which relate directly to royal and religious history leaving impressions upon visitors long after the gates close behind them. It remains an actual home and the current Throckmortons have certainly had their trials concerning the house in more recent years but it hardly shows. In summer of 2007, a short decade after a special walk and bog garden was built for guests on the estate, a massive flood swept through the entire property devastating the house and lands for months. Returning the estate and mansion back to its former glory was a crowning achievement for this illustrious Catholic family after all the historical trials they have experienced through the centuries. Their recusant tenacity and fortitude is a testament to their strong faith and the return of magnificence to their home is a true inspiration for us all.
During the Georgian period the mansion was Gothicized by John Carter who was very popular for such work at that time. The faade has a centered and battlemented Henrician tower, originally the Coughton gatehouse and the entrance was a carriage passageway which has fan vaulting, installed in the 1780s. You will see the original Tudor portion alongside the additions and the effect is remarkably harmonious. The interior tour includes many historical and royal artifacts and possessions.
In the Little Drawing Room a 17th century veneered cabinet conceals a secret mirrored altar for Mass and a chair exists that was made from wood of the bed Richard III slept in before the Battle of Bosworth. A special tailored coat made in 1811 for Sir John Throckmorton may not appear to be more extraordinary than any other Newbury coat, however, it was made on a wager that it could not be made in less than 24 hours. It was, in fact, made in 13 hours and 20 minutes winning the wager and quite an amazing achievement considering that the materials had to be sheered off two sheep, spun, spooled, warped, loomed, woven, burred, milled, rowed, dyed, dried, sheered, pressed and tailored in that time! This prize is displayed along with such personal possessions as a chemise worn by Mary Queen of Scots at the time of her execution, a garter ribbon of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) and a glove belonging to James III along with a lock of his hair and an elaborate velvet cape embroidered in gold by Queen Catherine of Aragon and her ladies-in-waiting.
The post-Reformation period was a time of historical intrigue in this house and the Throckmorton family were very involved at that time. One of the family was a member of Parliament and the family were related to the first English Cardinal to be appointed at the Vatican, Charles Januarius Acton, being the brother of Lady Elizabeth Throckmorton. When you tour the staircase off the gatehouse entrance you will find it is lined with family portraits and right off of the main drawing room. It was in that very room where the entire family waited to find out the outcome of the Gunpowder Plot in which they were intrinsically involved.
A narrow spiral staircase leads to the Tower Room where a priest’s hole was rediscovered in 1910 after being nearly forgotten. It was expertly designed by Nicholas Owen with a decoy compartment below the floor and hidden with a special hide making it almost undetectable. It still contained a mattress, rope ladder and folding leather altar. The Tower Room also has a painting called Tabul Eliensis depicting Ely Abbey where many Catholics were captured during recusant times. The family arms of the many Catholic families who were imprisoned for their faith during Elizabeth I’s reign were also found. These were kept hidden in the Catholic network and displayed in secret at Mass.
Another staircase leads to the roof which imparts magnificent views of the gardens and the family Roman Catholic church which may be visited, as well. An extraordinary walled garden was opened by Alan Titchmarsh in 1996 and neighbor to color-themed gardens referred to as the Tsunami Noni sculpture in the quiet pool garden. Most of the award-winning gardens were created by Christina Williams, daughter of the current family heiress, Clare McLaren-Throckmorton, in 1991. They encompass a bog garden, vegetable garden, walled garden, orchard and a riverside walk and Rose Labyrinth Garden. The latter mentioned brought Coughton Court the Award of Garden Excellence from World Federation of Rose Societies. These all had to be reinstated after the flood and took nearly two years to bring back to its former brilliance. You can see the gardens with this link. http://www.throckmortonfamily.com/daffodils.html A shop and restaurant are available.
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As one of the earliest and most beautiful Palladian houses in England, Ragley Hall can be said to be virtually unchanged from its inception. Commissioned by Francis Seymour in the 17th century, it was designed in 1680 by Sir Christopher Wren’s associate, Robert Hooke, originally. From that time, clear into the mid-18th century the greatest English architects built onto the hall minimizing the original exterior by a large margin. James Gibbs was responsible for the remarkable interior which has been well restored clear up to the present without any drastic alterations of any kind. The Great Hall is Gibbs masterpiece, while Wyatt finished the exterior frontage that leads straight into the hall with a portico and a magnificent stone fer à cheval stairway entrance, referred to as late-Georgian Baroque.
The estate is seated in a 400-acre deer park (part of encompassing 6,500 acres of farmland, forest, sawmill and rental property) and the hall grounds consist of 27 acres of gardens, shrubs and trees amid sweeping lawns and breathtaking vistas of the entire estate which takes in a man-made lake dating from 1625, a cricket mound and adventure playgrounds with a maze. All belongs to the Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford and has been the seat of the Conway Seymour family since building commenced 322 years ago. The current heir of the mansion has stated that when his father, Hugh Edward Conway Seymour, took over the property in 1940 the house was primarily in use as a hospital (during the war) and only a small portion of the house was left in reserve for the family to use. Today, Henry Jocelyn Seymour, the 9th Marquess of Hertford, carries on the tradition of restoration and has lived in the home from 1997 after inheriting the property late in 1991.
Four grand features dominate the Rococo interiors reception and state rooms with the plaster credited to the Italian craftsmen Artari brothers, an exquisite trompe-l’oeil mural by Graham Rust which covers the entirety of the South Staircase Hall completed in 1983, the two storey high ceiling of the Great Hall and its genius plasterwork designed by James Gibbs in 1750 and the Adamic Red Saloon which has been restored exactly as it was originally designed by Wyatt in 1780 with rose silk damask lining the walls, original Louis XVI furniture, painted ceiling, Georgian paneling and baroque fireplace. Other rooms are equally as breathtaking and include the music room in various shades of sky, an orange breakfast room (how apropos!) with Rococo ornamentation, and the state dining room in a warm yellow with a dark wood banquet table and matching chairs. This room is often used for corporate events as the house and estate are let for weddings quite often with ceremonies carried out in the rose garden.
The north staircase hall has panels designed by Hoppner and other artists to frame portraits of which there seems to be few. There is a good reason for the lack. The Victorian Seymour family amassed a collection of paintings which was classed as one of England’s greatest art collections comprising hundreds of items. They passed to the possession of Richard Wallace who was actually an illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess and lived in Paris at the time. His own collection is now housed in London along with the Hertford heirlooms at the Hertford House in Manchester Square and is known and visited as the Wallace Collection along with 5,470 works of national and international art. However, the Green Drawing Room at Ragley displays historical Seymour portraits by Reynolds also commissioned by Francis Seymour and houses two Chinese Chippendale mirrors. Make sure you take in the Prince Regent’s bedroom and the library.
Ragley’s magnificent gardens, in addition to the aforementioned rose garden include a spring bulb bank and alpine garden which grace a more contemporary vista when you tour the immediate grounds. There is an area devoted to the Jerwood sculptures which are very modern and expertly placed throughout the gardens and the Woodland Walk. Additionally, working stables along with 19th century carriages can be visited which also give information of the Jerwood collection, Adventure Playground for children and the picturesque lakeside picnic area shows off much of what Capability Brown created back in the 18th century.
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