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Gunnersbury Park House + Gunnersbury House West London

All Features Great and Small

Why are two mansions standing cheek by jowl in west London? It must be the only park in the capital with a pair of very substantial houses almost touching each other. A complicated history of dual and overlapping ownership is the answer. It all began in the 17th century when lawyer Sir John Maynard commissioned Inigo Jones’s amanuensis John Webb to design a large square house inspired by Palladio’s Villa Badoerin in Venetia. The defining feature of this red brick with white stone highlights building was a five bay double height recessed balcony above a ground floor breakfront and below a massive pediment.

A later owner was Princess Amelia, second daughter of George II. The Temple (reflected in the Round Pond) and the Bathhouse are the two most significant extant works she had carried out. Her Royal Highness bought the house and estate in 1762 and lived there until her death 26 years later. The Doric portico fronted Temple in red brick and white stone to match the house was probably designed by Sir William Chambers in circa 1760. The Bathhouse is another estate folly, later described in 19th century sales particulars as “an ornamental diary in gothic style with a cold bath”. In 1801 the house was demolished and the estate sold in lots. Builder Alexander Morrison accumulated the lion’s share of 31 hectares while timber merchant Stephen Cosser acquired a cub’s share of three hectares.

Fashionably rusted freestanding signs strategically positioned across the park inform visitors of its history. One reads: “The Temple. The magnificent 18th century Temple is thought to have been built for Princess Amelia, daughter of George II. She used it as a place of entertainment, enjoying views that reached as far as the Kew Gardens pagoda and beyond. Alexander Copland, the estate’s next owner, played billiards and ate desserts there.”

Alexander appointed his cousin the well known architect Sir Robert Smirke to design Gunnersbury Park House (now called the Large Mansion). A few metres away from the Large Mansion and sharing the same building line, Alexander’s neighbour Stephen built Gunnersbury House (now called the Small Mansion). This long two storey building has bow windows on either side of a lawn facing verandah trimmed with Chinese bells below the eaves. After banker Nathan Rothschild bought the Large Mansion in 1835, he commissioned Sir Robert’s younger brother Sydney to enlarge his house. The three storey Large Mansion lives up to its current name. An enfilade of lawn facing ritzy reception rooms backs onto a cast iron galleried atrium. Both buildings are stuccoed.

Around the same time as designing the Large Mansion, Sir Robert worked up drawings for the Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall. The previous decade, he had designed Normanby Hall in Lincolnshire for the Sheffield family. Samantha Cameron, Britain’s former First Lady, was brought up at Normanby Hall and her father Sir Reginald Sheffield is still squire of the manor. Sir Robert is best known for the British Museum. The next generation of the Smirke dynasty would design many of the town mansions in Kensington Palace Gardens.

Pharma fortune maker Thomas Farmer bought the Small Mansion in 1827 and appointed father and son practice William Fuller and William Willner Pocock to extend the house. The Pococks also designed the Gothic Ruins Folly below Princess Amelia’s Bathhouse. In 1889, the Rothschilds bought the Small Mansion and Gunnersbury Park once again fell under single ownership. After the renaissance years of the Rothschilds (their heir Evelyn died fighting in Palestine in 1917) the estate and its buildings were bought by the local councils.

A plaque in the arch between the two mansions states: “Gunnersbury Park. Opened for the use of the public 21 May 1926 by the Right Honourable Neville Chamberlain MP Minister of Health. Purchased by the Town Councils of Action and Ealing one fourth of the cost being contributed by the Middlesex County Council. On 1 April 1927 the Brentwood and Chiswick Urban District Council joined the Action and Ealing Councils in the ownership and management of the park.” The Large and Small Mansions were converted to community use. The former building is restored; the latter, under restoration. Princess Amelia’s Bathhouse, the Temple (exterior only), Orangery, Round Pond, Horseshoe Pond and Gothic Ruins Folly have all roared back to life. Sydney Smirke’s East Stables lurk in the shadows waiting their turn.

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Ardtara House Hotel + Garden Upperlands Londonderry

Penumbra

If there is a commodious Victorian country house which sums up gentry living in Ulster it would be Ardtara House. Tucked away in the countryside on the outskirts of the village of Upperlands, this two storey stone house is all that is good about late 19th century domestic architecture. Timewise, the original 1896 house was extended in matching style 17 years later so contrary to appearances it strictly speaking isn’t all Victorian. No architect is recorded but it’s very similar to Ardara House in Comber, County Down, which was probably designed by the popular architect Thomas Jackson. Ardara dates from the 1870s with a 1900 matching extension and is also a two storey house of roughly rectangular plan with plenty of canted bay windows. It was built by the Andrews family who were flour and flax millowners.

Ardtara was built by linen millowner Harry Clark. In 1699 the English Parliament had enforced the Wool Act to protect the English wool industry by preventing the Irish from exporting it. To offset the economic damage, Parliament encouraged the development of linen production in Ireland. Linen is a strong natural fabric made from flax plant which grows on wet fertile soil – so suited to the Irish climate. Harry’s ancestor John Clarke of Maghera considered building a mill on the River Clady on a site he referred to as his “Upper Lands”. His son brought the idea to fruition by building the mill. In 1740 the first beetling engine began turning. William Clark and Sons Linen is one of the oldest continually running businesses in the world.

Ampertaine House was the Clark family seat on the edge of Upperlands village. It is a five bay two storey late Georgian house with a large wing. Harry decided he wanted to build his own home for himself, his wife Alice and their six children. He died in 1955, a year after his wife’s death. One of the children, Wallace, would later say, “People from all over the world came to stay in our house. There were visits from cousins and friends from Australia, New Zealand and North America. There were also agents from the 40 or so countries where linen from Upperlands was exported.” The house (and 33 hectare estate) fell into disrepair until it was saved in 1990 by Maebeth Fenton Martin, entrepreneur and Director of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for North America. She opened it as a hotel four years later. Maebeth had impeccable taste and restored the fenestration, plasterwork, panelling, chimneypieces, garden, lake and so on.

In 2014 restaurateurs Marcus Roulston and Ian Orr purchased Ardtara. It is a rural hotel addition to their urban restaurants portfolio of Eighteen Ninety Four in Portstewart and Browns Bonds Hill and Browns in Town both in Derry City. They have retained the period splendour and comfort. The top lit billiard room is now the restaurant; the pair of drawing rooms remains just that with the insertion of a bar; the conservatory has been reinstated as a function room; and nine bedroom suites are on the first floor. The terrace outside the drawing rooms has been put back and the Victorian garden restored. The garden is a dreamlike sequence of outdoor green spaces around a lake.

Marcus explains, “We have lovingly restored the house, combining romantic Victorian architecture with all the modern comforts you would expect in top class hospitality. Our idea for Ardtara was always for it to be a gourmet destination.” He and Ian have revived Ardtara’s early 20th tradition of self sufficiency of food supply supplemented by products from trusted sources within an hour’s travel. And now, to echo Wallace Clark’s words, “People from all over the world come to stay in the house.” Musician Phil Coulter, actor Bill Murray and singer Ronan Keating have all stayed at Ardtara House (although not at the same time).

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The Lenox-Conynghams + Springhill Moneymore Londonderry

Living Life on the Hyphen

Last of the line to live at Springhill was Mina Lenox-Conyngham. She was known as a great storyteller, even if occasionally recollections would vary, and recorded her memories for prosperity in her 1946 pot boiler An Old Ulster House and the People Who Lived In It. The delightful Springhill, now owned by The National Trust, never looked better than at dawn two springs ago. It is pure three dimensional reticent charm, falling somewhere between a grand farmhouse and a modest country house; like its last owner, living between two worlds and two words.

Stephen Gwynn provided the foreword: “Here is a book to rejoice anyone who desires to see light thrown on Irish history nonetheless revealing because it traces through nine generations the fortunes of a leading Ulster family and of a great Ulster house. The Conynghams, who became later Lenox-Conyngham, acquired land in County Derry and managed to hold it. As the years went on they were linked up with almost every prominent family in the Province and had their part in all the outstanding events.” The Lenox-Conyngham family came to Ulster from Ayrshire so really they were Scots-Irish rather than Anglo-Irish.

“Or again we have a full inventory of the plenishing – indoor and out – which furnished out Springhill in George III’s day,” ends Stephen. “In short here is a whole mine of information which tells us above all what sort of lives a representative Ulster family lived once Ulster became what we mean by Ulster – and lets us know also what kind of men and women it bred.”

Lyn Gallagher has written about the house a couple of times. In A Tour of the Properties of the National Trust in Northern Ireland, 1979, she notes, “‘To build a convenient house of lime and stone two storeys high’ was one of the obligations put upon ‘Good Will’ Conyngham when he married Miss Anne Upton in 1680, and it would seem that the charming house of Springhill dates from this period. To the rear of the house is the Bower Barn, one of the earliest buildings to be erected at Springhill, and the long narrow windows in the walls show it to have a purpose for which easy defence was not an insignificant factor. It is a house of enormous simple charm, and the warm atmosphere of old wood in the interiors is not dissipated by the fact that Springhill boasts one of the best authenticated ghosts in an Ulster home – seemingly a mother who lost seven children through smallpox still moves around here.” Dorinda, The Honourable Lady Dunleath, who spent many a childhood summer here, rolling her eyes, was more sceptical: “Aunt Mina had a good imagination!” Dorinda was not impressed when the bedroom she always stayed in at Springhill was designated “the haunted room” by The National Trust.

In Castle Coast and Cottage: The National Trust in Northern Ireland, published 13 years later, Lyn along with Dick Rogers writes, “It may be fanciful to say that a house is friendly and welcoming, but if any house fits that description, it’s Springhill, just outside Moneymore in County Londonderry. A straight avenue leads to the simple, open façade, flanked by two long, broad pavilions, with curved gables which look as if they are holding out arms of welcome. The house has an immediate charm on the affections of the visitor; it is something to do with its age – 300 years of one family’s occupation – and something to do with the scale and the charm of small details, like the arched gateway, with a curly iron gate, at the top of a flight of worn steps leading from the carpark into the wide enclosed forecourt, with immaculately raked gravel.”

They’ve more to offer: “Springhill is essentially an Ulster house. Architectural historians have commented on the slightly hesitant way in which the basically classical front is treated – with narrower, two paned windows in the centre, a typical 17th century Ulster feature – and have noted how the 18th century bow extensions give it more assurance. One commentator, Alistair Rowan, describes it as ‘one of the prettiest houses in Ulster, not grand or elaborate in its design, but with very the air of a French provincial manor house.’ Its lack of pretension is its hallmark, and the rear of the house is described as ‘a comfortable jumble of roofs, slate hung walls and chimneys … with a big round headed window on the staircase the most prominent feature.’” A vintage photograph shows the window frames painted fully black rather than just the outer frames black which created an even more distinctive appearance and greater contrast with the white walls. The photograph also shows the pavilion wings were left unpainted which emphasised their subsidiary role to the house.

“Fabulous finials!” exclaims Nick, a character in Alan Hollinghurst’s 1998 novel The Spell. He could have been talking about the roof decorations of the pavilion wings of Springhill. The finials encapsulate the dichotomous essence of the house: they are grand but are embellishing functional farm outbuildings. Author and former Architectural Editor of Country Life magazine, Jeremy Musson, told us when researching Springhill he learned that Mina Lenox-Conyngham had reversed her mother-in-law’s arrangement and swapped the more recent furniture on the main two floors with all the “old fashioned 17th century furniture” stored in the attic. “The family never threw anything out!” Jeremy records. The library collection of over 5,000 books (some with calfskin covers) on everything from theology to ornithology is one of the best of its kind in Ulster. On the raised ground floor, the contrast between the 17th century entrance hall, staircase hall, study and library with the 18th century drawing room and dining room is one of scale, grandeur and decoration. Dark panelling and lowish ceilings in the former; chunky cornicing and high ceilings in the latter. Jeremy’s piece on Springhill was published in “the recording angel of country houses” (his words) of Country Life in 1996.

We first visited Springhill 30 odd years ago, armed with a polaroid camera. That photographic record, which shall remain unpublished, was of mixed result. Our second visit, in 2010, this time armed with a Canon camera, was on a particularly unphotogenic day of pale grey skies. Thank goodness for the sun blessed spring of 2022. You can never have too much of a good thing, so our latest visit is on another sun struck day, this time in the autumn of 2023. A walk round the gardens; a browse in the second hand bookshop; a look at the costume museum; a tour of the house; coffee and cake in the converted stables. Life at Springhill is immeasurably good.

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Architects Architecture Country Houses Design Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Sigi Schelling Werneckhof + Werneckstrasse Munich

Her Namesake

A German restaurant serving German food, it is named after its Chef Patron and address. Sigi Schelling is the Chef Patron. Werneckstrasse is the address. It’s one of the classiest streets in one of the classiest areas of Munich: Schwabing. And it turns out to be one of the classiest restaurants in the city. Werneckstrasse is a quiet leafy street off the quite lively Feilitzschstrasse. The walled miniature estate of Suresnes Schlöss dominates the northern part of the street. This castle was built in 1718 for the aristocratic Cabinet Secretary Franz von Wilhelm. It is now a conference venue owned by the Catholic Academy of Bavaria. A sunny yellow façade and Mediterranean shuttered windows can be glimpsed through the cast iron entrance gates and screens.

At the southern end of the street set among townhouses and wooded gardens is Sigi Schelling Werneckhof. A metal sign projecting from the facade and an inset porch with a table of flowers and a stack of business cards in olive green, damson blue and plum red heralds the culinary destination’s presence. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of a traditional mixed use block also painted sunny yellow. A small lobby leads into two adjoining dining rooms. The kitchen is out of sight behind a sliding mirrored door.

Sigi explains, “Cooking is my life. My dishes combine originality, sophistication and lightness. For me, perfection on the plate means straightforwardness in harmony with accompanying elements. All masterfully prepared. Our menus reflect love, passion, experience and appreciation for authentic high quality products. It is a pleasure for my team and me to present you with an unforgettable experience. Nice to have you here!” Later, the waitress will add, “Each day Sigi is the first one in and the last to leave at night.”

The five course tasting menu on a Saturday evening is easily adapted to pescatarian needs. “The Chef is going to make you sole,” the waitress confirms, replacing the venison course. And this being a Michelin starred restaurant, cutting and deboning the sole is a performance carried out by no fewer than three staff in the middle of the dining room. Amuse bouches and canapés bracket the meal but not before fennel infused Don’t Mix the Drugs Gin is served with Thomas Henry of Palatine Tonic Water. Cuvée Excellence Blanc 2019 from Rhône accents the five courses.

The tasting menu is a classic that could match the orders. The original simplicity of Doric: Bretonic Lobster (marinated garden tomatoes, yuzu, bergamot). The organic fluidity of Ionic: Char (pumpkin, pumpkin seed oil, buttermilk). The refinement of Corinthian: Brill (shrimps, gnocchi, cauliflower, Thai curry anise sauce). The structural simplicity of Tuscan: Sole (quince, chestnut, mushroom). The richness of Composite: Curd Cheese (goat’s cheese soufflé, marinated blueberries, poppy seeds, plum, sour cherry ice cream). Saturday dinner is a lively four hour affair.

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Stapleford Park Hotel + St Mary Magdalene Church Melton Mowbray Leicestershire

Making a Splash

It was 35 years ago and there was no escaping Stapleford Park in the print media. American entrepreneur Bob Payton knew how to make a splash. Instead of hiring only interior designers to decorate the bedrooms of his newly converted country house hotel, he threw a shirtmaker, a porcelain company and a perfumier amongst many others into the mix. It caught the press and public’s attention. Eight years later, another media savvy entrepreneur, this time Englishman Peter de Savary, took over Stapleford Park and opened it as one of his Carnegie Club outpost adding not least the Knot Garden in front of the main entrance door. Cue double page spreads in the supplements once more. Skibo Castle in Dornoch, the home of the Victorian philanthropic industrialist Andrew Carnegie, continues to be a Carnegie Club. His portrait hangs in the gents’ bathroom at Stapleford Park. Just when we thought life couldn’t get any more glamorous, we find ourselves pottering about the Wedgwood Room of the hotel, weighing up a walk in the Capability Brown designed parkland of heaven verging fields versus tea on the terrace. Happy camping. We do both.

Bob Payton bought the house and its 200 hectare estate from Lord Gretton for £600,000 and spent a further £4 million rejuvenating and opening it as a hotel and leisure resort. We’re privileged to exclusively share his last recorded interview before he died in a car crash in 1994: “I first saw Stapleford Park from the back of a horse riding nearby in rolling countryside. Stapleford has been for many centuries a sporting lodge with riding, shooting and lavish entertainment all part of its heritage. It is our endeavour to keep that same style for many years to come. So interesting is the history of Stapleford Park and fascinating its architecture that the house was open to the public for several decades. Walking through the house and around the grounds is like going on a magical mystery tour. Through each and every doorway, there is another adventure. Set in 500 acres of woodland and parkland, the house provides breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside from every room.”

“Our approach to life in the country is that of a relaxed, comfortable, casual existence. We’ve replaced the servants and butlers if the old days with a team of people who are dedicated to making sure you enjoy our home and all it has to offer. We hope you like our approach to hospitality. To complement the eclectic architectural style of this most unusual house I invited several famous names to design bedrooms based on their own image of life at Stapleford Park. Signature bedrooms have been created by Tiffany, Wedgwood, Lindka Cierach, Lady Jane Churchill, Crabtree and Evelyn, Nina Campbell, Liberty, Max Pike and many others. We’re thrilled that these folks found Stapleford Park such an exciting challenge.”

“The dining room is decorated with ornate and intricate woodwork accredited to the most famous of all English carvers, Grinling Gibbons. In these luxurious surroundings, we serve traditional English cuisine with the occasional flair of old fashioned American cooking. You can enjoy the food that Stapleford’s guests have enjoyed over the centuries and much much more. As for sport, the surrounding Leicestershire countryside is most famous for its equestrian links. We offer most kinds of equestrian pursuits including carriage driving and riding instruction. There is clay shooting on the property and game shooting can be arranged. You can fish on the lake in front of the house or at nearby Rutland Water. If that’s not enough, there’s tennis, croquet and basketball, as well as walks through and around the property in this most lovely of settings.”

“Come and discover a truly great undiscovered part of England. Stapleford Park is in reality most people’s fantasy of the quintessential English countryside. Let me tell you about Edward Prince of Wales. His mother wouldn’t let him buy Stapleford Park because she felt that his morals might be corrupted by the Leicestershire hunting society. Well that was 100 years ago. Fortunately the Royal Family settled at Sandringham so that all of us may now enjoy the pleasures of this most idyllic estate.” The Royal Family are still happily ensconced at Sandringham and we are even more happily enjoying life at Stapleford Park.

The house glows a golden hue in afternoon sunshine and shimmers a mysterious grey in morning mist. Poet Mary Oliver writes in her essay Wordsworth’s Mountain (Upstream Collected Essays, 2016), “This is to say nothing against afternoons, evenings, or even midnight. Each has its portion of the spectacular. But dawn – dawn is a gift.” Every elevation and wing is a piece of architecture in itself and together they form a visual whole in material only. Crunchie the ginger cat (technically the neighbour’s but wise enough to hang out on the estate) matches the ashlar stone. One minute Stapleford Park is a Jacobean manor house; turn a corner, the next minute it’s a Queen Anne stately home; turn another corner, a Jacobethan hunting lodge; one more, a Loire château. As for the entrance front facing the quiet waters of the lake, the nine bay string coursed perfection is as symmetrical as a supermodel’s face. No big name architects are recorded (unlike the landscape and panelling!) but two owners have added their name for posterity in stone carvings on the exterior of a wing: “William Lord Sherard Baron of Letrym Repayred This Building Anno Domini 1633”. Underneath there’s a postscript: “And Bob Payton Esq. Did His Bit Anno Domini 1988”.

Indoors the eclecticism continues thanks partly to the layering of six or so centuries and partly to the aforementioned cohorts of dreamers and designers let loose on the fabric and fabrics. The main block is laid out around two vast double height top lit spaces: the Staircase Hall and adjacent Saloon. Public and private lounging and dining ebbs and flows throughout the ground floor. The Morning Room (with its mullioned bay window). The Harborough Room (crimson Gainsborough silk wallpaper). Billiard Room (converted games table). The Orangery (windows galore). The Grinling Gibbons Dining Room (festooned panelling by his namesake). The Old Kitchen (stone vaulted ceiling). Formal dinner is served in the Grinling Gibbons Dining Room: Baron De Beaupre Champagne; pea, goat’s curd, mint pistou tartlet and crispy onions; butter roasted cod, fennel and leak cream, new potatoes, sea herbs. Stapleford Park is a bread roll’s throw from Melton Mowbray and its Stilton Creamery so a generous cheese board offering is called for: Beacon Fell, Bingham Blue, Pitchfork Cheddar, Ribblesdale Goat’s, Tuxford and Tebbut Stilton. Five tall sash windows frame the descent of darkness. Mary Oliver again, “Poe claimed he could hear the night darkness as it poured, in the evening, into the world.”

The first floor is filled to the ceiling roses with the Grand Rooms: Savoir Beds, Crabtree and Evelyn, Wedgwood, Lady Jane Churchill, Baker, Turnbull and Asser, Flemish Tapestries, Amanda by Today Interiors, Campion Bell, Sanderson, Eleanor, Lyttle, Lady Gretton, Zoffany, Warner. We’re in the Wedgwood Room, one of the very grandest, with views across the green pastures. Below a Waterford Crystal chandelier and over a Wilton carpet everything is iconic Wedgwood blue and white from the wallpaper to soap dish. Life and Works of Wedgwood, a book by Eliza Meteyard (1865) in the library, praises the entrepreneurial potter, “His name lives in the industrial history of the country he loved so well, and so enriched by the bounties of his art and the example of his worthy life.” Ah, on the table that’s just what we like: a handwritten welcome note. And sash windows that open fully.

The second floor is filled to the rafters with the Slightly Less Grand Rooms: Panache, Wishing Well, Haddon, Treetops, Bloomsbury, Savonerie, Sanderson, Molly, Peacock, Lake View, Game Larder, Burley, Early, Green Gables, Melody, Max. A row of servants’ bells in the corridor reveals the more prosaic original room names, “First Floor: No.1 Bedroom, No.1 Dressing Room, No.2 Bedroom, No.2 Dressing Room, Bathroom, No.3 Bedroom, No. 4 Bedroom, No.5 Bedroom, Bathroom, No.6 Bedroom, No.6 Dressing Room, No.7 Bedroom, No.8 Bedroom. Second Floor: No.1 Bedroom, No.2 Bedroom, Bathroom, No.3 Bedroom, No.4 Bedroom, No. 5 Bedroom, No.6 Bedroom, Dark Room, No.7 Bedroom, No.8 Bedroom, Front Door, Luggage Room, Tradesmen.” Windows are open to the sights and sounds of birdlife: cooing pigeons, flying geese, scarpering pheasants.

Beyond the exquisitely manicured formal and semiformal and informal suite of gardens, the former stable block turned spa matches the house in both material (ironstone rubble with ashlar dressings) and style (baroque revival). There’s a named architect and exact construction date: Peter Dollar, 1899. The Oxfordshire born London based architect Peter Dollar is best known for his Majestic Picturedrome on London’s Tottenham Court Road. In contrast to the historicist appearance of Stapleford stable block, the cinema was an Edwardian looking brick and rendered four storey with attics building. Opened in 1912, it was demolished just 65 years later. His fine stable block has fared rather better. The stalls are occupied by beauty treatment salons and are labelled after racehorses: Apple-Jack, Black Beauty, Red Rum and so on. There’s also a thatched roof theme running through the estate secondary buildings from the gatelodge to cottages and contemporary houses for hire.

The parish and estate church, St Mary Magdalene, is an architectural and acoustic marvel. Again there’s a named architect and exact construction date: George Richardson, 1763. Ashlar with ashlar dressings retains the material theme but the style is high Gothick. The architect trained as a draughtsman under James Adam. Across the west end of the nave is the galleried family pew. A chimneypiece kept the chills at bay in winter.

Lord Nelson’s Prayer at Trafalgar dated 21 October 1805 is framed and nailed to a post in the nave: “May the Great God whom I serve grant to my Country, and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in anyone tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature in the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just case which is entrusted me to defend.” At the afar end of the nave, on the pulpit lectern the Bible lies open at Psalm 23.

It’s a family church. Literally. Or rather families church. Heraldic shields are displayed on the elevations between the windows and buttresses. On the long south facing nave elevation: Cave, Hill, Noel, Verney, Pedley, Faireax, Denton, Calverly, Christopher, Bennet, Bury, Brow, Folville. On the gabled east facing chancel elevation: Branchester, Bruley, Danvers, Bisett, Mosley. On the long north facing nave elevation: Brabazon, Woodfort, Burges, Fitz-Maxilion, Consull, St Hillary, Clare, Lacy, Verdon, Hauberk, Eyton, Melville, Woodville. And on the west facing towered entrance front: Roberts, Hearst, Sherard, Reeve. It is Sherard that takes pride of place: this family owned the estate for half a millennium.

But it is a servant’s gravestone which is positioned closest to the entrance pathway: “Sacred To the Memory of Mary Carnaby who departed this life the 13th Day of January 1799; aged 59 Years. The daughter of Mrs Drake of Woolsthorpe, and Granddaughter of John and Ann Peele of Cockermouth in the County of Cumberland. She was Housekeeper to the Earl of Harborough for 17 years, which employment She discharged with uprightness and fidelity, becoming the imitation of posterity. Earthly Cavern to thy keeping, We commit our Sister’s dust. Keep it safely, softly sleeping, Till our Lord demand thy trust. Erected by her Aunt Tarn of Cockermouth.” Bless Aunt Tarn.

The sense of family intensifies even more in the chancel. Facing each other are impressive monuments. In the northern recess is a memorial to the 1st Earl and Countess of Harborough (in 1719 they were upgraded from 3rd Lord and Lady Sherard by George I) and their young son (all wearing Roman clothing) in white marble by the Flemish born sculptor Michael Rysback in 1732. A Sherard family memorial predating this church occupies the southern recess: effigies of Sir William and Lady Abigail and their 11 children. An even older memorial salvaged from the demolished church on this site is a brass engraving dedicated to Geoffrey and Joan Sherard and their 14 children dated 1490 and set in the nave floor. All three memorials highlight the commonplace nature of the once infant mortality.

The inscription on the plinth of the Harborough memorial reads: “To the Memory of Bennet 1st Earl of Harborough, only surviving son and heir of Bennet Lord Sherard of Stapleford, Baron of Letrim in the Kingdom of Ireland. By Elizabeth daughter and coheir of Sir Robert Christopher of Alford in the County of Lincoln Knight. He married Mary Daughter and Coheir of Sir Henry Calverley of Ariholme in the Bishoprick of Durham Knight. By whom he had issue one son, who died an infant. He was many years to the time of his death Lord Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of the County of Rutland, Lord Warden of Justice in Eyre North of Trent. He died the 16th day of October in the year of our Lord 1732, aged 55.”

A plaque on the wall over the Sherard memorial reads: “William Lord Sherard, third Sonne of Francis Sherard Esquire, Had Issue seaven Sonnes, Bennet, Philip, George, Francis, William, Henry, John, foure Daughters, Emelin, Abigail, Anne, Elizabeth, By his Wife Abigail eldest Daughter of Cicil Cave Esquire, third Sonne of Roger Cave of Stanford, in the County of Northampton Esquire. And this hee most affectionately dedicated to his Memory for him, herselfe, and their Children.” Doesn’t “seaven” look better spelt to emphasise it rhymes with “heaven”? Another inscription is set into the plinth below: “Here lies interred the Body of Sir William Sherard, Lord Sherard Baron of Letrime in Ireland, His most singular. Piety, Bounty, Courtesy, Humanity, Hospitality, Charity, Crown’d his mortall life, which (after he had enjoyed LII years) he changed for that which is immortall, the first day of April in the yeare of our Lord God MDCXL. Whose coming he here expectes.” During our stay we come across several spellings of the Irish county of “Leitrim”.

Australian entrepreneur David Fam, CEO of Dreamr Hotels, has owned Stapleford Park since 2022 and is instilling his expertise in “wellness, healing and ancient wisdom” into the hotel. “One can roam all day, constantly finding new works of art and hidden rooms in this labyrinth of style,” wrote Luc Quisenaerts in his guide Hotel Gems in Great Britain and Ireland, 1997. We do, we do. Mary Oliver one final time, “How wonderful that the universe is beautiful in so many places and in so many ways.” We could dwell in this house forever.

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Parkstead House + University of Roehampton London

Quotation Marks

Architectural historian Joan Alcock wrote an authoritative guide to the architecture of Parkstead House in 1980: “The main block, which faces Richmond Park, was built by Sir William Chambers as Parkstead House in the 1760s for William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough: this building is illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus and described in the principal histories of Surrey. The Earl used the building as a country house, but on the marriage of his son Frederick, Viscount Duncannon, to Henrietta, daughter of Earl Spencer, he allowed the young couple to live there. Bessborough House, later Parkstead House, became the centre of their social and political life and this continued after Frederick had succeeded to his father’s title in 1793 and had inherited the principal residence in Cavendish Square.” The third Lady Bessborough’s scandalous daughter Caroline would marry William Lamb before pursuing Lord Byron. The 5th Earl sold the property and after a time as a Jesuit college it has been in educational use ever since.

She explains, “The design of Parkstead is based on the Palladian villa. The prototypes appear to be Colen Campbell’s Mereworth and Isaac Ware’s villa which he built in 1754 for the financier, Bourchier Cleeve, at Foots Cray, Kent, which was a severer version of Mereworth. The first design for the façade lacks an attic storey but its row of Ionic columns and arrangements of windows on the first floor was clearly inspired by Foots Cray. The drawing of the house in Vitruvius Britannicus reveals only two windows on the attic floor. In this case the centre front room would be lit entirely by skylights. One circular skylight still survives, having its original decoration round the rim. The room, however, is a large one and the skylight is needed to give extra light to the rear. The façade certainly has more attractive proportions without the windows, which appear to be rather uncomfortably situated above the portico but they are functionally necessary and were probably part of the original design.”

Joan sums up Parkstead House, “The treatment of the façade is strictly in accordance with Palladian principles as laid down by Lord Burlington and Colen Campbell. If anything, Chambers was more severe, reducing his ornament to a minimum.” Only the façade overlooking the parkland is faced in stone: all other elevations are of dark grey brickwork with stone quoins. Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner record in The Buildings of South London (1983), “It was the first of several Palladian villas designed by Chambers in the early 1760s. They belong to the second generation of Palladian houses in England … The prototype for the façade appears to have been Bourchier Cleeve’s Foots Cray, built in imitation of the Villa Rotunda circa 1756; but the obvious inspiration for a villa in the London countryside, that is a relatively modest rural retreat rather than a full scale country house, was of course Chiswick House … In the garden is a circular entablature from the portico of a circa 18th century garden temple (the rest in store).” The simple plan of the piano nobile is replicated on the bedroom floor above. A central three bay room behind the portico is flanked by single bay rooms. These three rooms are three bays deep with shallower rooms to the rear. A square staircase hall is behind the portico room.

Nobody is better qualified to critique Sir William Chambers’ work than architect John O’Connell. One of his many professional achievements was brilliantly restoring the Casino Marino in Dublin, arguably Ireland’s greatest neoclassical building. This distinguished design may appear as a single bay single storey structure but as Jeremy Musson, architectural historian for Country Life, enlightens: “Casino Marino is a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Depending how you count them, there are some 13 rooms inside.”