In the west midlands area, the southern portion of Warwickshire is the true northern gateway to the Cotswolds which stretch further south in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire and follows the Cotswold Hills- a route peppered with magnificent formal gardens all the way from Warwick Castle tracing a southwest path to Cheltenham. If you avoid the M5 and M6 you’ll be rewarded with the sight of pretty unspoiled villages and great places to take in the gardens of various well-landscaped gardens from Hidcote Manor to Sudeley Castle. In the opposite direction, one reaches Shipston-on-Stour which is nearly the last of the county but certainly not the least extraordinary architecture. It is most famous for being the hometown of the world famous Bee Gees who even wrote a song with the name of their birth town in the lyrics. As a result you will hear the name Gibbs or Gibbes pop up occasionally. See if you can spot one reference to the name in these five great examples of their vernacular architecture. –The Castle Lady
Southeast of Stratford, between Wellsbourne and Kineton, Compton Verney is seated on 120 acres of parkland and was restored late in the 20th century after being derelict for many years while it changed ownership continually. Today, the former 18th century country mansion is a busy and event-filled award winning art gallery which gained new life with the help of the Compton Verney House Trust. Currently it houses six permanent collections and programmed events with continual temporary exhibitions and artists-in-residence. The grounds were originally landscaped by Capability Brown and have been undergoing a complete, faithful restoration for public use, restoring wildlife habitats by replanting and replacing crops with trees and grasslands. Upon arrival, visitors pass one of the lakes and cross a bridge, designed by Robert Adam, which is now adorned by four recently recovered sphinxes.
The estate goes clear back to 1442 when the Verney family built a manor house near the original village Compton Murdac and then changed to Compton Verney half a century later. Richard Verney was granted a title as the 11th Baron Willoughby de Broke in 1695 after his elder brother’s line died out. His son rebuilt the original manor but fifty years later it was completely remodeled by Robert Adam along with Brown’s work on the grounds for the 14th Baron, John Peyto-Verney. Apparently the fortunes of the family faltered and by 1887 the house was rented to various people, sold in 1921 to the Leeds soap magnate Joseph Watson who never set foot in it and died in 1922. The house was sold several times more and then fatefully was requisitioned by the War Office during WWII. From that time on, it was never used as a residence again.
Every consideration was given to the historic importance of the mansion during consultations with English Heritage, Stratford District Council and the local Parish Council which resulted in a careful decade-long restoration of the core fabric of the building. With a new lease on life, the mansion has become a Grade 1 listed pleasure ground for architecture, garden and art lovers everywhere. Mansion and grounds have been used for on location films, photography and television shows and is often used for small conferences, dinners, receptions and wedding parties and a purpose built learning center offers a whole range of school group activities for hands-on painting, drawing, ceramics and silk-screen printing.
A contemporary extension provided an additional dimension and focus. The 18th century interior on the ground floor retains its original Georgian classical renaissance architecture which leads to progressively more abstract and flexible spaces on the upper floors where new galleries have been created. The galleries at Compton Verney are of an international standard enabling the hosting of loaned works of art from all over the world.
www.comptonverney.org.uk T-01926 645509
Twelve miles south of the former site of Fulbroke Castle and a short distance east of Brailes Castle, Compton Wynyates was recreated by Sir William Compton during the time of Henry VIII with some building materials derived from Fulbroke. The Compton family, who recommenced living on the premises in 1884 after 114 years of evacuation, were recorded as residing on the property in a manor house as early as 1204. Comptons were knights and squires of the county for nearly three centuries when Sir Edmund decided to build a new family home. Portions of that gingerbread brick mansion were reconstructed with two moats, similarly to those of the castle, which included Fulbroke’s 4-bay roof and bay window and still grace the Great Hall with a 16th century screens passage, linen scroll paneling combined with earlier carved panels and modern doors.
Compton Wynyates quadrangular courtyard configuration is seated, sixty feet square, in a secluded hollow of parkland just outside the village of the same name which nearly borders Oxfordshire. The parkland was established some time prior to its royal licensure in 1519 with 100 acres dedicated to the mansion property. Low hills which surround the home obscure its vista making it private from the public roadway to Banbury which runs southwest, very close by.
The southwest tower has a saddleback roof and can be seen when driving at relatively close range toward the main entrance porch that faces west. Another tower at the northeast angle along with the east range was added in the 18th century. The main house principal rooms are the Dining room (formerly a parlor) and Chapel which has a projected sanctuary- just east of the southwest tower. The plan is extensive with Great Hall in the south half of the east range- its screens and entrance on the opposing end, buttery and great kitchen further north. Outward projecting staircase turrets fill the remaining ranges and those additions which are built outside the courtyard plan. An irregularly serrated skyline is the result of the picturesque chimney shafts of which there are no less than forty and bring to mind the marvelous roofline of Chateau de Chambord in France and is, in fact, the most famous and attractive feature of the home. It has been surmised by a few experts that some of the chimneys originally came from Fulbroke Castle, as well, and there are two with decorative panels on the sides- one above the ante drawing-room ( of the chapel ) and the other of the southwest tower, with quatrefoil and trefoil panels and zigzag patterns.
The house as it appears today was completed by Sir William Compton who was directly in the King’s service as a young orphan and was paid handsomely, of course. Over the entrance to the mansion you’ll see the Royal Coat of Arms of Henry VII and VIII- the dragon and greyhound emblems respectively, along with Catherine of Aragon’s castle badge. The latter king was a frequent guest of the house during William’s time and they were lifelong friends. As a matter of fact, the Comptons opened their home to quite a few of England’s reigning sovereigns through the centuries. The royal bedroom retains Henry VIII’s arms to this day along with his first Queen’s- that of Aragon. Elizabeth I stayed there in 1572, James I in 1617 and Charles I toward the end of the 17th century. The ceiling bears the monograms of all the English monarchs who have slept in the room.
William left everything to his son Peter at the tender age of six years and he became a ward of Cardinal Wolsey but died at the very young age of twenty-two leaving a posthumous heir, his son Henry born on July 14, 1544. This grandson of William Compton became a baron at the age of 28 and carried on the legacy of wealth as the prodigious builder of Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire ( located between Northampton and Bedford) which became the seat of the Compton family and marginalized Compton Wynyates as the country home. Many years later, Henry’s son William tried to exchange the Warwickshire property for another, an inquiry to Queen Elizabeth I which was, apparently, silently denied.
Henry was created Earl of Northampton in 1618 and died twelve years later leaving great wealth because he married into the Spencer family ( Princess Diana’s family ) becoming the son-in-law of Sir John Spencer and husband to his daughter, Elizabeth. It has been speculated whether the ornate ceilings in the south range were commissioned by him along with redone windows, doorways and fireplaces. Henry’s grandson Spencer (William’s son) who became a loyal adherent of King Charles I was killed in battle at Hopton Heath in 1643 during the Civil War. Compton Wynyates was besieged and suffered quite a bit of damage with an unsuccessful attempt by James (son of Spencer and the 3rd Earl) and his brothers to attempt to recapture the house in 1645 from the Roundheads. Most of the property, ancient buildings, stables and the approach were practically demolished in the fight to regain possession. The church on the premises was completely demolished by the Parliamentarians and so reparation was initiated by James who made a full extent to both house and church which included mullioned and transomed windows throughout, mostly in the south range and the northeast tower was rebuilt. Nevertheless, portions of the house and church show signs of slighting by cannon fire from Cromwell. It was recorded that the Parlimentarians took 120 prisoners, £5000 (equivalent to £720,000 in 2008), 60 horses, 400 sheep, 160 head of cattle and 18 loads of plunder which were all the furnishings and interiors of the house. Cromwell himself took a bed which belonged in the royal bedroom for his own personal use.
Because there is a warren of small staircases, passages and concealed rooms- such as the Priest’s Room in the New Tower, which has no less than three covert staircases behind the paneling- a legend sprung up that Spencer’s widow remained in the attics tending to wounded Royalists and their soldiers who went undetected by Cromwell’s men. They stayed hidden until they could manage to escape. Most of the Comptons, however, fled into exile abroad for a time and did not return until the monarchy was restored. At that time, the 3rd Earl, James recovered the bed taken from the royal bedroom and it was replaced to its former location. During hard financial times in the mid-18th century the historic and now priceless bed was sold for £10 and has not been retraced to restore it. In the latter part of the 18th century when the house became unoccupied by the family, on account of reduced financial circumstances, the house fell into a neglectful state. The eighth Earl, Spencer, left to live abroad and ordered the house to be demolished. Fortunately, the steward of the house at that time, John Berrill, did not follow orders but had the windows boarded up to avoid window tax which was being levied at that time.
Compton Wynyates resurrection came about when Charles, the third Marquess of Northampton, revisited the mansion in 1867 and began to restore it. He commissioned Sir Digby Wyatt who rebuilt the main staircase and Gothicized the exterior starting with the windows. Replacement and restoration of the ornamental plaster ceilings were carried out throughout the interiors, as well. In addition, the moat was filled up with the exception of a narrow strip on the north side close to the gardens of which topiary were added along with lawns near the turn of the century by the 5th Marquess and Marchioness who were the first people to reside in the house since 1770. (After the ninth Earl, Charles, was given the rank of Marquess in 1812 the Comptons have descended from him since and have retained that title.) The home is currently fully occupied by the Comptons and it is not known if any arrangements for tours are made. If it’s possible you will be treated to marvelous plaster ceilings in the Dining Room, Chapel Drawing Room, the Royal Bedroom and the Ante Chapel has an oak and plaster screen. Tudor stone fireplaces are throughout the mansion and the open-well staircase by Digby Wyatt is a beautiful 19th century creation in wood with a plaster ceiling.
It’s possible you’ve seen much of this remarkable mansion because it was used on many occasions for film locations. To see a good portion of the house look up Disney’s film Candleshoe from 1977 which featured Helen Hayes, David Niven and Jodie Foster in a triple starred billing.
Only a couple of miles north of Shipston-on-Stour, Honington Hall sits on fifteen of its own acres on the edge of wonderful Cotswold parkland opposite the Green with the River Stour running through. Half-timbered Magpie and Shoemaker’s Cottages greet visitors to the village. The estate started as a manor house owned by the Priory of Coventry- as one of several of the county- and continued until the Dissolution. Near the end of his life and reign, Henry VIII gifted the estate to Robert Gibbes, who in turn, sold the estate to a lawyer by the name of Sir Henry Parker late in the 17th century. Parker went on to become MP for Evesham and built the house which stands on the property today. It is unknown who the original architect was but later alterations and additions are attributed to several architects and amateurs with Charles Stanley, William Perritt and Thomas Roberts among the former rather than the latter. All of the changes were carried out in the mid-18th century. By that time the estate had been sold to Joseph Townsend by Parker’s grandson and he set out to make Honington a well-embellished Georgian manse.
Upon approach you are greeted with a Wren-style gatehouse and a classical exterior at the end of a long and well drawn drive. Much of the success of the look of the house, overall, is in the rather unique façade which has twelve Roman emperor busts arranged between the windows framed with round-arched cornices. This work was carried out by William Jones, most likely, who was responsible for similar work in the interior of the Great Hall at Farnborough Hall (see below). They were executed so well they melt into the red brick like a well decorated cake ! The south front is a bit more picturesque with its colonnaded semi-hexagonal portico entrance and paneled chimney stacks on the hipped roof. The dual façade exterior- one side Georgian (east side) and the other classical- is complimented with a strictly classical garden house with a rebuilt colonnade and reclining statues along the northwest side of the house.
The elaborate Rococo interiors harken to Mawley Hall (at Cleobury Mortimer which stands at the Shropshire -Worcestershire border) and her magnificent staircase hall. Honington’s interiors will astound you with the mixture of classicism, Georgian features and the stretch to Rococo, making it all work magnificently together. The stairwell here, just off the Great Hall, forms a porte cochere to the adjacent Octagonal Saloon which is cream and robin’s egg blue creating a Rococo heaven with cherubs over classical portals and swirling patterned pier-glasses in plaster frames. Swags and festoons with depictions of the four seasons and elements, Aesop’s fables and cornucopias are fitted into the corner seams to soften the angles and a coffered half-domed ceiling hosts Acis and Galatea by Luca Giordano and rosettes with unique designs correspond with each panel of the room excepting those with windows which reveals the parkland valley. This was the work of an amateur architect, John Freeman of Henley along with other alterations and whose estimate stipulated £ 100 ‘ for a little carving, gilding and embellishment for the ladies’. A humble assessment if ever there was one and underpaid at that ! The room has been compared by Sach Sitwell as comparable to those of palatial quality such as Holkham and Houghton Hall in Norfolk but esthetically I believe it has exceeded them both in taste and beauty.
Rococo also rules in the Great Hall with a vivid yellow background. It is saved by the foaming white plasterwork which is miraculously fashioned with an ornamental panel in bas relief over the fireplace and a ceiling roundel explodes in a star pattern that vies with that of the Sun King’s pattern at the entrance of Linderhof in Bavaria. Elsewhere in the house, smaller rooms retreat back to Regency and Georgian with furnishings that compliment and colors which are beautiful but much more sedate. The sitting room, to the left of the Great Hall, once referred to as the Oak room is one such example with the marvelous exception of the door case which is decorated with two reclining cherubs on its pediment and winged sphinxes on the lintel.
Honington has appeared on film, as well, the most recent being Love in a Cold Climate, in the year 2000, among several others through the 20th century.
Currently owned by Benjamin Wiggin Esq. the son of Sir Charles Wiggin, who fought proud to maintain Honington properly, it is opened to the public by appointment in small groups. T- 01608 661434
Only six miles north of Banbury Farnborough Hall‘s winged courtyard is seated not far from Kineton Castle and Ettington Hall Hotel. The Holbech family still occupy the two-storied ruddy-colored stone house, owned and operated by the National Trust since 1960 and have been in residence for well over 300 years now. It was built by the family shortly after acquiring the estate in 1684 when William and Mary houses were in vogue but, as it stands today, is the result of a complete remodel in 1745 to 1750 after William Holbech came back from his Grand Tour and desired an appropriate setting for the sculptures and art he acquired on his trip. Renovations were most likely carried out by William Jones although the family insists that Sanderson Miller, who was quite local, was the only architect.
Farnborough’s courtyard is approached by a circular driveway. You will see exteriors which were replaced with long Palladian sash windows and pediments added to doorways. Balustrades along the roofline are additions above the earlier classical west side of the house. The interior Rococo plasterwork was literally done by William Perrit and the Italianate stucco work by Francesco Vassalli which appears mostly cool in color but warm touches in furnishings and smatterings of color give the interiors an occupied look without being obtrusive or overdone, for the most part.
In a setting which is rather cloistered, the grounds were laid out to breathtaking effect with the lawn dipping down into the valley below to the lake. Above this edge, Sanderson Miller did a marvelous work in the Terrace Walk which is flanked by trees, temples, an obelisk and oval pavilion which has rich Rococo plasterwork decoration rivaling those of the house. A tour of the house interior starts at the entrance hall which displays the famous Roman busts within brackets and niches showing off the largest such collection in its original setting. The Rococo ceiling plasterwork is brilliant in its brevity. Two other rooms and the staircase are available to the public. A Georgian dining room replaced a courtyard of the earlier house and is stunning with outstandingly beautiful plasterwork on the ceiling and as frames around copies of Canaletto and Panini portraits. Unfortunately, most of the paintings of the family art collection were sold off in 1929. The plasterwork and busts continue in the staircase hall and evidence of the William-and-Mary period is evident here with profuse displays of fruit and foliage carried on through in the Drawing Room which culminates in a dazzling skylight above the staircase hall.
T- 01295 690002
Only a mile further north you’ll find Upton House which is also only a mile distant south from the battlefield of Edgehill, right on the Warwickshire border with Oxfordshire. Its use is very nearly the same as that of Compton Verney with an emphasis on modern arts patronage. This late 17th century William and Mary mansion is an important 18th century furnished art museum, popular for its extensive collection primarily and is viewed as such by the National Trust, as well. As architecture goes it is mostly just a larger version of Farnborough Hall stripped of embellishment with the interior refurbished in Art Deco of the 1930s but the superb terraced gardens here tell another story. This landscaped terraced adventureland has features that dare the tomboy in me, personally speaking.
Lawn stretches out in every direction from the house but the terraces lead out from the main lawn along the back of the house and descends deeply and suddenly into a deep valley and a veritable Eden of herbaceous borders, a nationally recognized collection of asters, an acre of vegetable gardens and a water garden on the lower level, laid out under the direction of the 2nd Viscount Lord Bearsted, with pools stocked with tropical and exotic fish. Just below on the west is the lake which was man-made in the style of Capability Brown- it was created by damming the river- the winding stone staircase and walks through the grounds make the gardens a definite highlight to an excursion here. In the center of the straight walk along the edge a small temple with Greek doric columns with a pediment is seated for those who want to take in the scene. Make sure to bring your best pair of walking shoes.
A portion of the gardens and a much earlier house dated back to the 12th century but Upton House, as it is today, was built in 1695 by Sir Rushout Cullen, an estate purchase of 7,000 from the Danvers family who had owned the property for 188 years! Rebuilt in the 20th century for the art collection, it was then bequeathed to the National Trust in 1948 and its interest as an historical entity has thrived more as an art gallery with a varied collection of paintings and much more, supplied primarily by Lord (1st Viscount) Bearsted who was a Trustee of the National Gallery and founder of the Shell Oil Company, which he named for his father’s passionate occupation as a East End importer of decorative sea shells. He and his sister Nellie Inonides were the principle contributors to the collection which includes old masters both English and Continental such as Tiepolo, Anthony Devis, Francesco Guardi, Jan Steen, Melchior de Hondecoeter, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Tintoretto, Rogier van der Weyden and even a Hieronymous Bosch tryptych titled Adoration of the Kings among the myriad of international paintings.
Other exhibits, such as a unique red and silver art deco bathroom and a special collection of advertising posters for Shell Oil is located on the top floor along with memorabilia on motoring. As chairman of the company, Lord Bearsted commissioned many of those on display which were used for publicity from the period of 1921 to 1949. An extensive porcelain collection is also on exhibit which includes those of a large collection of Chelsea, also of Derby, Bow, Worcester and the French line Sèvres. At the entrance hall a set of four Brussels tapestries which illuminated the Emperor Maximilian I’s boar and stag hunts are on display. Three Stubbs masterpieces are on display in the dining room titled The Haymakers, The Labourers and The Reapers meant to be tributes to hard work and the Long Gallery contains Dutch masters highlighting Steen’s most charming work. More English portraits can be found in the Picture Room and the Picture Gallery, which was remodeled from a squash court displays a more varied collection which includes El Greco’s work.
After the house was turned over to the National Trust a large endowment was given to keep the collection primarily along with the house and the condition was that the descendants would have perpetual tenancy at the house. After the third Viscount passed on in 1986 his daughter, Mrs R. Waley-Cohen stayed on for a couple of years and then moved the family to another property on the estate and then put up a large amount of items from the house for sale by public auction late in 1991. Christie’s led the auction which contained well over a thousand separate lots which included pictures, furniture, porcelain, silver, objects and carpets. These were items which were considered surplus to the art items which were stipulated to be kept and protected.
Facilities include: Free Car Park – 300 yards Garden Restaurant (run by the National Trust) Gift Shop Plant Sales Baby Changing Facilities Wheelchair Ramps Ground Floor Wheelchair Accessible Grounds partially wheelchair accessible
The Castle Lady