Money Prevailed.

Just a few kilometres from Stourhead is the historic village of Maiden Bradley; a quiet and unassuming place that many pass through on their way to the Stourhead estate.  Here in 1617 was born Edmund Ludlow into a line of politicians.  Like his father Henry, Ludlow was a strong advocate of parliament, but also a staunch republican.  At the age of 27 he was commanding forces in the English Civil War, and in 1649 was one of the 59 signatories on the warrant of execution for Charles I.  His memoirs have become an important historical account of that period.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever read them, but I’d be interested to get inside Edmund’s head to understand his motivation, for in 1644 he and his forces ransacked Stourhead manor house, which was then the property of the Barons of Stourton.  Was his action against a neighbour driven by jealousy, justice, religious intolerance (William Stourton was a catholic) or order from Cromwell?

I don’t know the extent of the damage, but in 1714 the Stourtons sold the property, and shortly afterwards in 1717 their manor house was demolished and the new owners (the Hoares) began the development of the estate that we see today.

Taste is a funny thing.  Ruskin hated the elaborate decoration of baroque architecture and decoration, but I love it (why else would this atheist spend so much time in Italian churches?).  And yet here at Stourhead, everything felt a little de trop.  The pillars and mouldings seemed more appropriate to a larger structure.  The fireplaces screamed for attention.  The architraves too.

The artwork gives some clues.  Room after room you see pictures featuring buildings from antiquity, many of them painted in the picturesque and romantic styles and drawing on Burke’s philosophy of the sublime.  The Hoares were clearly striving for some ideal which found its way into their house and ultimately their formal gardens.

In 1902 the house suffered a fire which gutted the interior, though many of the heirlooms within were saved.  Unlike  Studley Royal however Stourton was completely rebuilt and restored to as close a replica of the original as possible.  The Hoares need to present themselves to the world as aesthetes was clearly paramount.  Their library incidentally contains Lady Alda Hoare’s collection of Thomas Hardy novels, she being a friend of the Wessex writer.  (Were country houses the Facebook pages of their day?)

The restoration cost must have been significant, but no matter, for the Hoare family were bankers, and owners of the country’s oldest private bank.  Their money couldn’t buy everything however.  The last member of the family to own Stourhead, Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, had outlived his only son and heir who was killed in action during the Great War.  He bequeathed what was to become one of their most visited properties to the National Trust in 1946.  As for Ludlow, he died in Switzerland in exile following the Restoration.

Stourhead House, Wiltshire

Unrelated piece of trivia: If you recognise the building you may have been a fan of sixties TV series Thunderbirds; Lady Penelope’s mansion was a scale model copy.

The Preservation Game

Portrait of John Byrom as a young man
Portrait of John Byrom as a young man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aside from the details of the many wonderful buildings in Manchester I find myself looking at street names and musing on their origins, for this can also tell you much about the history of a place.  Running off the part of Deansgate where I’m often based when working there are two streets called Camp Street and Artillery Street for example.  Back in the 18th Century this area consisted of open fields and during the last Jacobite rebellion Bonnie Prince Charlie stationed his guns here.  Until discovering this I had no idea that he’d spent time in the city!  _pw_3971-editRunning perpendicular to the two streets is another, named after on of the city’s famous sons.  Lower Byrom Street (and the nearby Byrom Street) commemorate John Byrom, a poet, possible spy, and inventor of a type of shorthand who lived here during the same period.  His most famous work is perhaps the hymn Christians Awake, which was always one of my favourites to blast out at Christmas.

At the other end of Deansgate can be found two churches, and in the 18th Century it was customary for Byrom and other Mancunians to workshop at both, attending morning prayers at one and evensong at the other.  The first of these that I’ll write about is St Ann’s which was consecrated in 1712.

When originally constructed the church stood in a cornfield, but that cornfield has now become an open square populated by banks and designer boutiques.  All the same, it’s location added to its appeal, or rather it did when I first encountered the building, but on returning with my camera a week later the Manchester Christmas markets had taken root, restricting the angles available to me and ruining the ambience.

The church has an unusual patchwork appearance arising from the stone used in the original construction.  The local red sandstone proved so soft that the three centuries of subsequent weathering have taken their toll.  Much of the original masonry has since been replaced and using different quarries on different occasions.  Nevertheless it has a fine Georgian appearance hence its Grade I listing.

The interior by contrast felt like a disappointment, though this was offset in a couple of ways.  The first an art exhibition; portraits of refugee women combining painting and photography techniques.  Sadly the church website provided no details of the artist responsible.  The second treat for the eye were the windows; technically painted, rather than stained glass, but striking all the same.  Oddly many were not designed for the church, which initially had plain glass, but during a 19th century refurbishment new windows were installed, including a number reclaimed from other churches.  Chief among them is a single window by William Peckitt, a leading craftsman of the Georgian era.

The church was named after its patron Lady Ann Bland, a member of the Mosely family, Lords of the Manchester Manor.  The Mosely name is also reflected in a Manchester street name, showing the respect that the family garnered over generations.  That respect was largely destroyed in the 1930’s.  Oswald Mosley was a supporter of Hitler and Mussolini and founded the British Union of Fascists.  Many cities in the world have renamed themselves or their thoroughfares to erase an embarrassing history; Manchester have chosen the preserve the memory of those who came before Oswald._pw_4072

Sent to Coventry

I regularly post about my visits to public buildings whose architecture is testament to the artistry of the workers of earlier times (and perhaps the profligacy of their employers) but what treasures lie hidden, mouldering and consigned to decades of neglect elsewhere on these shores?_PW_7274

I ask the question because I spent this weekend working in London, more specifically Mayfair, an area with some of the highest property rental values in the world so you might expect to find some plush hotels and residences.

I must have walked past the building in question dozens of times in my life when travelling to and from such varied attractions as Hyde Park, the Burlington Arcade, the Royal Academy and the Hard Rock Café!  Dressed in white stone it is slightly smaller than some of its Palladian neighbours, but Coventry House has a story to tell._PW_7270

Built in 1761 for Sir Henry Hunloke, a baronet whose family had been rewarded by Charles I for support during one of the battles of the English Civil War, the site had previously been occupied by the Greyhound Inn at the fringes of an area of fields (where the May Fair took place each year).   That open area was heavily redeveloped during the 17th and 18th Centuries with the building of a number of fashionable residences.

Ian Fleming's Room
Ian Fleming’s Room

Four years later Hunloke sold to the Early of Coventry who renamed it and remained in residence until the 19th Century when after a short period housing the French Ambassador, the property became the St James Club, a gentleman’s club whose clientele included Evelyn Waugh, and during World War II Ian Fleming, who took up residence here.

A building with history, but also artistry.  Robert Adam and Thomas Cundy the Elder were both contracted to remodel the property and much of their work remains.

_PW_7277Nowadays it is a conferencing facility and as such seems to be treated a nothing more than a collection of large rooms where care of the fabric is less important that providing comfortable chairs.  Paint, plaster and woodwork crack and crumble without the attention of a National Trust conservator.

After 250 years of existence I wonder what lies in store next for 106 Piccadilly.


Wimpole’s Treat

The last National Trust property easily accessible from my journeys to Southend is Wimpole Hall, or more accurately the Wimpole Estate, for the extensive grounds and historical farm are part of the land owned by the trust as well as the Manor House.APW_6440-2

I have to say, that whilst the scale of the building is impressive, to a lover of the voluptuous domes and decorative excesses of the Baroque, this predominantly Georgian structure didn’t fill me with enthusiasm when I saw it on the Trust website.  Large, rectangular and symmetrical, its brick expanses broken by carefully spaced windows.

Very orderly.

Very Lego.

Does the fact that this very stately home has only been used one in a film (Easy Virtue, 2008) indicate that I’m not alone in feeling this way?


There’s no doubt that it’s an important estate; with avenues stretching for miles, a mock gothic folly, parkland designed by Capability Brown and a stable block whose clock tower I found more interesting than the main building, and despite the existence of a chapel in the Hall, there is also an adjacent church.

Perhaps I was looking at it all wrong.

Instead of looking at the building I should put myself in the shoes of its many owners. (Wimpole has changed hands many times and for a variety of reasons; the last owners being Rudyard Kipling‘s daughter and husband who used the royalties from his works to maintain the structure).  Those owners would spend little time looking at their grand residence.  Instead they would look out.



The real treat however, was yet to be discovered…