We know Kent. Margate is rough and classy round the edges. Folkestone is classy and rough round the edges. Walmer is classy. Deal’s Siamese twinned town (really they should share a hyphen) attracts artists and architects some of whom still commute to London albeit for the new normalcy of two days a week. On a sunny Saturday evening mid venue hopping Walmer is the Christie Turlington of the east coast (photogenic), from semis to the cemetery. Next stop The Lighthouse Pub which sits on the invisible hyphen. But does it attract a rough Saturday night crowd?
The road from Skipton narrows and meanders as it heads deep into the Yorkshire Dales. Dry stone walls lining the road open in places to reveal the River Wharfe. Curious sheep and goats ignore the Green Cross Code. Pheasants scurry and rabbits run for cover. All creatures very great and very small. Hubberholme is the last hamlet to pass through on the journey. The George Inn, dating back to the 17th century, looks across the River Wharfe to St Michael and All Angels Church which is half a millennium older. The road further narrows and meanders even more. The valleys deepen and the mountains get steeper.
Finally, a tantalising glimpse is caught of Oughtershaw Hall nestling in Langstrothdale Chase before it disappears again back into the woodland. A country kilometre later along the road, slick new timber gates open into a pristine entrance forecourt. This house and estate are where heritage and luxury meet. A plateau of lawns aprons the house. The garden front overlooks the wooded ravine of Oughtershaw Beck, a subsidiary of the River Wharfe. Purple copper beach and Japanese barbery along with red European beech and Japanese maple stand out amongst the greenery of horse chestnut and elephant ear. Even the stone pigsty in the field opposite the entrance is of picturesque appearance.
This regal country house is the jewel in the crown of Catch the Breeze Retreats self-catering company. In the 1850s London wine merchant Basil George Woodd transformed an older house into a grand shooting lodge designed in a neo Jacobethan style. His son Charles further enhanced the house and estate. Just in case the visitor is in any doubt of its providence, dates and initials and inscriptions are all around. ‘BCW NON NOBIS 1851’ in the stone lintel over the entrance door off the garden front verandah. On a stone frieze across the garden front incorporating Latin from the Psalms: ‘1863 NON NOBIS GOD’S PROVIDENCE IS MINE INHERITANCE CHLW + WHEREFORE LET THERE BE SUNG NON NOBIS AND TE DEUM COME LOVE AND HEALH TO ALL WELCOME AS THE FLOWERS IN SPRING C+JW 1873’. And ‘1874’ on a drainpipe and the weathervane. It’s as if the father and son were in competition for who could put their mark on the building most. In true Victorian style, stained glass windows incorporate Woodd family heraldry and the coats of arms of the related Sole and Mitton families.
Rewind a few centuries and Charles I was rumoured to have stayed at Oughtershaw Hall. “This area was known as The King’s Hunting Ground,” says the house manager Ben Hart, “and in 1241 it was recorded as being called Huctredale. A Woodd ancestor allegedly accompanied the king to his execution. ‘Shaw’ is derived from an old English word meaning wooded area.” Rewind a few millennia and Ben confirms there are the remains of a Stone Age settlement at the top of the field beyond the pigsty.
Hilda Christie writes in A Schoolmarm’s Reminiscences, 1955, “At Oughtershaw Hall lives the Reverend T B Woodd, a very dear old parson. He once gave us a most interesting lantern lecture on missionary work in India. Once every summer we all spent a day with him at his home, taking our own food and being provided with liquid refreshment. We tried to pick a fine day, never setting off in the rain. Those who know the Dales will recollect how quickly the weather can change; one can be drenched in no time on those hills!”
She continues, “What treasures he showed us! He was a descendent of Captain Basil Woodd, who was with King Charles I when he was on his way to his execution. Reverend Woodd had, amongst his most treasured possessions, a gauntlet worn by Kings Charles I. He had too a lock of John Hampden’s hair but, as a very keen Jacobite, he seemed rather ashamed of this. His dining room was full of ‘exhibits’ having a 17th century fireplace, in addition to suits of armour and ancient weapons, most of them belonging to his ancestors.” Ben remembers the last lady of the manor having retreated to living with her cats mainly in the largest reception room.
An old faded photograph of the house shows how little has changed externally: the only difference is there was once a conservatory built into the slope down to Oughtershaw Beck. No architect has been identified for the rebuilding of the second half of the 19th century. The many inscriptions would suggest the Woodds gentlemen may have had a helping hand in the design. In a common country house occurrence, the older house became the servants’ quarters. Thicker walls and vertical sash windows differentiate it from the later blocks with their Elizabethan style casement windows. The entrance front is an asymmetrical arrangement of adjoining wings. Set at a perpendicular angle to the entrance front, the elevation overlooking the ravine displays the ‘near symmetry’ beloved of Arts and Crafts practitioners. The entrance hall door behind the loggia is off-centre; the corners of the drawing room bay window are chamfered, the dining room bay is fully rectangular. Otherwise the garden elevation is symmetrical.
The original dining room is so large it now includes a full sized sitting room furnished with sofas plumped high with cushions in purple fabrics matching the hues of the trees outside. Hectares of curtains flow luxuriantly down onto the timber floors. “As many original items in the house as possible were retained,” explains Ben pointing to a long oak dining table engraved with ‘C W 1876’. There’s a row of servants’ bells in the kitchen ‘Drawing Room, Dining Hall, Morning Room, South Room, Middle Room, C Woodd’s Room, Bishop’s Room’. A carved wooden cupboard door set into the dining room wall opens to reveal a shuttered spyhole into the loggia – one way of checking what guests are arriving.
All the reception rooms have open fires or wood burning stoves. “Sustainable heating is provided by ground source pumps,” Ben confirms. “Local stone was used for the restoration and extension. The house is insulated with double glazed windows. The Yorkshire Dales are very seasonal and constantly changing. Spring is pretty special, and summer is full of color in the landscape. In winter we can get snow drifts. The house is open all year round for short stays except January when it is closed.”
There are eight bedrooms upstairs in various wings. The principal bedroom with its super king size bed, bathroom and dressing room forms a private suite. White marble bathrooms by Fired Earth are piled high with thick white towels. The most dramatic contemporary intervention is the swimming pool in the former coach and stable block. The pool is raised a couple of metres up from ground level meaning swimmers can gaze out the glazed arches into the forecourt – another way to spy on guests arriving. It is a double height space open to a beamed ceiling. Clive and Lynne Sykes, the owners of Catch the Breeze Retreats, have carefully integrated the swimming pool complex into the main house by inserting a discreet extension linking it to the former servants’ wing. There’s a sauna in an old cloakroom space.
Further along the road is the hamlet of Oughtershaw. The Old Schoolhouse has been transformed into Ruskin Hostel. Its listing states, “Coursed limestone and gritstone blocks in contrasting bands, graduated stone slate roof. A rectangular single storey building with three windows on the south side and an entrance bay on the east end. East end: a massive round arch of two orders, with imposts and drip moulding, provides a full height porch. Inside is a shouldered arched board double door with large strap hinges decorated with elaborate leaf motifs. Flanking attached columns support the arch with contrasting coloured voussoirs and the tympanum below has a chi-rho symbol in relief and inscription: ‘LYDIA WILSON WOODD AT PAU 16 JUNE 1856 AGED 32.’” Lydia was Charles Woodd’s first wife.
The building was also used as a meeting house for a rural Methodist congregation. The Woodds were involved in charitable endeavours with true Victorian fervour. The Old Schoolhouse is strongly associated with art critic John Ruskin who visited this area as a guest of Charles Woodd. The architecture incorporates Ruskinian ideas such as horizontal bands of masonry imitating geological layers and deep recessed arched openings. Opposite The Old Schoolhouse is a building known as The Reading Rooms. Dating back to at least the 18th century, this is Catch the Breeze Retreats’ latest portfolio addition. A dash of colour amongst all this stone is the red telephone box for emergencies.
But the only emergency is to get back to that terrace at Oughtershaw Hall for a glass of Ribeauvillé Riesling as the sun sets.
So who better to quiz about the ubiquitous stone barns that dot the Yorkshire Dales landscape? There are two distinct features to their appearance. Firstly, most of the barns have a long extended sloping roof covering part of them. Secondly, they have stones conspicuously jutting out of the walls at regular intervals. These are functional buildings so there must be a reason for such features.
Over to Ben, “These barns were built mainly for storing hay. Farmers would bring square bales of hay by horse and cart and stack them up inside the barns. Sick animals would sometimes be cared for in the barns too. There’s a simple reason for the long sloping roofs: they provide better runoff from rain and snow than shorter roofs. The stones that stick out are called ‘through stones’. Before cement, lime mortar was used which moves, allowing moisture in and out. It’s almost like having dry stone. Through stones create stability to the walls and when used with quoins ‘lock’ the building together. Throughs are often used around doorways and the corners of barns to strengthen them.”
Fàilte! It’s the country house that never quite was. No Wonder Mark Bence-Jones gives it short shrift in his 1988 Guide to Irish Country Houses: “A 19th century castle with a long two storey battlemented front, having a central polygon tower with a pointed Gothic doorway and a pointed window over, and a round tower at each end, five bays on either side of the centre.” Dungiven Castle has spent most of its life as a ruin albeit a picturesque one at that. It has forever resembled a rather grand stable block too. Despite a chequered past, this historic structure has proved itself to be truly sustainable forever being resurrecting as an architectural phoenix. Not many buildings have been a country house for a few years, a ruin for a few centuries, an army barracks, a dance hall, a hotel then an Irish language school. Sláinte!
The word “castle” is surely the most flexible in the architectural lexicon of Ireland. Doe Castle in Creeslough County Donegal is the real McCoy or at least the real MacSweeney: all medieval keep and working battlements. Keeps with Georgian houses would later become a genre. Ballymore Castle in Laurencetown County Galway is an example of a medieval tower house with an 1800s two storey house hugging it. Dungiven Castle belongs to an early 19th century Georgian gothic toy fort tradition which includes Carrowdore Castle in County Down (or at least the original one not the postmodern replacement) of 1818.
The other certainty is that an Irish castle is never quite what it seems. Dungiven Castle may have been built by Anglo Irish landowner Robert Ogilby between 1836 and 1839 but of course it goes back much much further. He died before its completion which explains an unusually speedy transition to ruinous status. The first castle was built by the O’Cahan family. It included a keep with round towers fitted with gun ports and earthworks defences. During the Flight of the Earls in 1607 the Clan Chief, Sir Donnell O’Cahan, was implicated in treason and had his lands and titles confiscated, including Dungiven Castle. Some time after the Plantation of Ulster, Robert Ogilby plonked his castle on top of the ruins of his predecessor’s.
It was a two day conference investigating the cultural and commercial migrations of 18th century French boiseries from their places of production in Paris and the Bâtiments du Roi to the drawing rooms of Britain and America. The first major study of boiseries in the context of transatlantic cultural history was appropriately held at Camden Place outside London, a country house with a history and interior shaped by the migration of people and decoration over four centuries.
Dr Lindsay Macnaughton of the University of Buckingham, who organised the conference with Laura Jenkins of The Courtauld Institute of Art, opened the conference: “We are marking the death of Napoléon III here 150 years ago. The name ‘Camden’ evokes somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore, Château de Bercy.” We are in the dining room of Camden Place which is lined with boiseries from that château. “The scattered surviving evidence of the architectural vestiges of lost houses continue to live and breathe. These panels possess a sense of scale, of shared taste, the layering of history. From an historical perspective boiseries have always, in a sense, been mobile. In the 18th century, Parisian joiners and carvers travelled to locations outside the city to install panelling. Entire decorative schemes were sent abroad to Germany, Spain and Latin America. Shifting fashions and continual reallocations of appartements at Versailles set into motion near ceaseless rotations of décors, including boiseries.”
Her colleague Dr Thomas Jones spoke next on ‘Camden Place as a Headquarters of Bonapartism 1870 to 1879’. “The movement of boiseries is the movement of people and their things, of exile, of friendship. There were nine glorious years of Bonapartism at Camden. This house was ideally located close to ports and accessible to London by rail and the local church is Catholic. Eugénie and her son Louis Napoléon established a household of 62 while they waited for Napoléon III to join them. The year after the Emperor’s death, the Imperial Prince’s 18th birthday had a sense of massive celebration with 4,000 guests. Could there be a Third Empire? Both Napoléons had overthrown Republics, curbing the excessive influence of Paris with provincial assemblies. Their shared dynamic was one of dramatic action, over reach and disaster.” The potential Napoléon IV was killed serving for the British army in Zululand in 1879.
The 48 hours (or 72 if you add the pre and post celebrations) spent at Camden Place were full of highlights. As Lee remarked, “There are so many luminaries in this room we hardly need the lights on!” The after lunch graveyard slot on the second day was anything but dead. Here are just some of the quickfire lines of Dr Mia Jackson, Curator of Decorative Arts at Waddesdon Manor, on ‘Contextualising the Rothschild collection of panelling at Waddesdon Manor’: “Waddesdon was originally meant to be twice as large. Think of how more stuff we could have fitted in! It’s like a Parisian townhouse albeit one that has been smoking opium. This is a brief segue into how obsessed I am with the house. If Waddesdon is a stage, boiseries aren’t scenography, they’re actors. The West Hall has some stonking panelling from Palais Bourbon. With the added excitement of carved cats! The Green Boudoir panelling is from Hôtel Dudin and has frankly bonkers iconography. The men ate their first meal of the day in the Breakfast Room while the ladies ate breakfast in bed as is right and proper.”
The most recent biography of Napoléon III is The Shadow Emperor by Alan Strauss-Schom (2018). Colourful extracts include: “a red blooded young man bent on adventure and excitement, and this, combined with an unquenchable idealism, was bound to resurface at the next opportunity … the young man continued to dream in a world of his own … Queen Hortense was without doubt the most influential person in Louis Napoléon’s life, inculcating his moral and spiritual values, strengthening his ego, and enforcing his determination to achieve supreme power … Louis Napoléon spent every day at her bedside. ‘My mother died in my arms at five o’clock in the morning today,’ he wrote his father on 5 October … As for the mourning 29 year old Louis Napoléon, his was a grief that would never disappear.”