A Ge­or­gian re­nais­sance

In the se­cond of two ar­ti­cles, John Martin Robin­son looks at the re­cent restora­tion of this mag­nif­i­cent Ge­or­gian house and its daz­zling se­ries of re-cre­ated 1770s in­te­ri­ors by James Wy­att

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Paul High­nam

John Martin Robin­son looks at the re­cent restora­tion of Crichel in Dorset and its 1770s in­te­ri­ors by James Wy­att

Crichel is one of the finest Ge­or­gian houses in Dorset. As we dis­cov­ered last week, its un­usual, even un­con­ven­tional, de­sign is sub­stan­tially the re­sult of the in­put of its late-18th-cen­tury owner humphrey Sturt. in the past cen­tury, how­ever, it has un­der­gone three am­bi­tious phases of neo-ge­or­gian re­mod­elling by his de­scen­dants, as well as a re­cent ex­em­plary restora­tion by richard chilton. Th­ese last changes have pre­served the in­tegrity of the many-lay­ered his­tory of the house and also re-cre­ated a spec­tac­u­lar se­ries of 1770s in­te­ri­ors by James Wy­att.

The 1st lord Aling­ton died in 1904 and was suc­ceeded by his son, humphrey. With his wife, Feodor­owna, a daugh­ter of the 5th earl of hard­wicke (‘cham­pagne charlie’), he em­barked on am­bi­tious im­prove­ments to crichel in 1905, no­tably the lay­ing out of a very elab­o­rate ital­ian gar­den on the south front (re­moved af­ter the Se­cond World War). it was de­signed by harold Peto, who had been in part­ner­ship with Sir ernest Ge­orge be­fore he fo­cused on gar­den de­sign af­ter re­cu­per­at­ing in italy from an ill­ness.

There is no ev­i­dence for the ar­chi­tect of the in­te­ri­ors at crichel of about 1908–14, but they could also have been by Peto as he de­signed many houses in chelsea and was re­spon­si­ble for the Ge­or­gian in­te­ri­ors of the cu­nard liner Mau­re­ta­nia (1906), with pan­elling by h. h. Mar­tyn of chel­tenham.

This ‘Ge­or­gian­is­ing’ at crichel in­volved the com­plete re­mod­elling of Burns’s en­trance hall, bil­liard room and fam­ily din­ing room in a re­mark­ably con­vinc­ing Ge­or­gian man­ner. it also in­cluded the for­ma­tion of the long Draw­ing room from two pre-ex­ist­ing smaller spa­ces and the ad­di­tion of pi­lasters to the Wy­att Draw­ing room.

lady Aling­ton seems to have been closely in­volved in the work and had an eye for Ge­or­gian things. She claimed to have res­cued the re­mark­able se­ries of gilt ro­coco look­ing glasses from stor­age in the sta­bles (sev­eral are still in the house) and she was cer­tainly re­spon­si­ble for re­triev­ing heir­looms from her own fam­ily house at Wim­pole when the earl of hard­wicke went bankrupt.

Many of the ed­war­dian fit­tings at crichel—no­tably, the chim­ney­p­ieces in the en­trance hall and li­brary—are re­mark­ably con­vinc­ing in the Fl­itcroft man­ner and it is pos­si­ble that they are gen­uine 18th-cen­tury items res­cued from red­lynch in Som­er­set when that house was de­mol­ished by lord ilch­ester in 1913. Glaz­ing bars were also re­in­stated in the win­dows. As recorded by Coun­try

Life in 1925, crichel shows the sump­tu­ous re­sults of the ed­war­dian refurbishment.

Fur­ther work was done by the 3rd and last lord Aling­ton around about the time of his mar­riage to a neigh­bour, lady Mary Si­bell Ashley-cooper of St Giles, in 1928. This in­cluded the in­stal­la­tion of cen­tral heat­ing and the re­dec­o­ra­tion of the Wy­att Draw­ing room with blue silk on the walls. This was deemed a suit­able back­ground for lord Aling­ton’s ital­ian pic­ture col­lec­tion (he was a mem­ber of the Mag­nasco So­ci­ety, founded in 1924, and a friend of the Sitwells).

Un­for­tu­nately, at the same time, he re­moved Wy­att’s splen­did Siena scagli­ola

Corinthian col­umns from the huge Vene­tian win­dow at the south end of the room, which he thought over-scaled. He also added ap­pro­pri­ate painted Clas­si­cal pan­els by Cipri­ani to the lower walls of the stair­case hall, which came from Ar­ling­ton Street.

In 1938, the house and es­tate were req­ui­si­tioned by the Air Min­istry for war train­ing and many of the con­tents were dis­persed at that time. Lord Aling­ton him­self died in 1940 while serv­ing in the Royal Air Force, leav­ing his 11-year-old daugh­ter, Mary Anna, an heiress. In 1946, the empty house was let to Cran­borne Chase School.

Af­ter Ox­ford, Mary Anna mar­ried Toby Marten and, to­gether, they em­barked on re­viv­ing the es­tate. In 1954, they se­cured a fa­mous vic­tory, re­triev­ing land on Crichel Down that had been com­pul­so­rily req­ui­si­tioned for war-train­ing pur­poses. They won the land back in the High Court against the Min­istry of De­fence, se­cur­ing the res­ig­na­tion of the Min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble, Sir Thomas Dug­dale, later 1st Lord Crathorne.

In 1961, Mrs Marten ended the lease to the school (which moved to New War­dour Cas­tle in Wilt­shire) and an­nounced her in­ten­tion to move back in, a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in the post­war his­tory of the English coun­try house, par­al­lel­ing the move of the Devon­shires back into Chatsworth and the Bed­fords into Woburn. She im­me­di­ately em­barked on the re­duc­tion, re­pair and re­dec­o­ra­tion of the house. Her ini­tial in­ten­tion was to use John Fowler as her ad­viser, but, when she called at his Brook Street show­room, she found it closed for lunch, so she turned to Mal­letts in­stead. Fran­cis Eger­ton, the se­nior part­ner there, ad­vised her on in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion and the ac­qui­si­tion of fur­ni­ture and ob­jects. E. F. Tew of Bath was ap­pointed ar­chi­tect.

Un­der Tew’s di­rec­tion, the Vic­to­rian north wings of the house were de­mol­ished and the site re­ar­ranged to cre­ate a balustraded, sunken court­yard. This reused ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures from Peto’s Ital­ian Gar­den, which was grassed over to re­store the Ge­or­gian land­scape set­ting. All the main rooms (apart from the Wy­att Draw­ing Room) were re­dec­o­rated in the 1960s, mak­ing the work at Crichel one of the most com­pre­hen­sive post­war schemes in any English coun­try house.

A fur­ther cam­paign was un­der­taken in 1979–80, when Wy­att’s gallery over the south por­tico was re-cre­ated from the guest bed­rooms into which it had been sub­di­vided in the Ed­war­dian pe­riod. The top floor be­came the fam­ily apart­ment, with won­der­ful views over the park and lake, and was re­dec­o­rated by John Ste­fanides.

Af­ter Mrs Marten’s death, the Chiltons bought the house in 2013, with many of the con­tents, in­clud­ing the Hard­wicke por­traits, the li­brary bookcase, the Clas­si­cal medal­lions of Ro­man emperors in the lobby, the Cipri­ani pan­els and chan­de­lier in the stair­case hall, the gilt Ro­coco look­ing glasses in the Long Draw­ing Room, the chan­de­lier in the Wy­att Draw­ing Room and the large carved ma­hogany side ta­bles in the din­ing room.

They have added sub­stan­tially to th­ese re­tained con­tents with their own col­lec­tion (Mr Chilton was a trustee of the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum and Mrs Chilton pres­i­dent of the New York Botan­i­cal Gar­den), as well as ac­quir­ing ap­pro­pri­ate late-18th-cen­tury fur­ni­ture specially for the house. Thomas Jayne of New York and his as­sis­tant Egan Seward have ad­vised on the dec­o­ra­tion and fur­nish­ing of the house. New ac­qui­si­tions in­clude the chan­de­lier, ta­ble and chairs in the din­ing room, all of ap­pro­pri­ate scale and char­ac­ter, and the neo-clas­si­cal seat fur­ni­ture in the Wy­att man­ner in the Draw­ing Room.

An es­pe­cially happy new in­tro­duc­tion is the blue-back­ground, 18th-cen­tury wall­pa­per in the Long Draw­ing Room, which has strength­ened the char­ac­ter of this Ed­war­dian neo-ge­or­gian room and makes a good coun­ter­point to the Ro­coco char­ac­ter of the gilt pier glasses and stucco ceil­ing. Else­where, Mal­lets dec­o­ra­tion and fur­nish­ings have been re­tained, es­pe­cially in the west hall and li­brary.

Mr Chilton was keen to re­in­state the char­ac­ter of the prin­ci­pal Wy­att state rooms on the east front where 1930s alterations in the Draw­ing Room had left it bereft of the scagli­ola col­umns and Lord Aling­ton’s wall silk was worn out. More se­ri­ously, sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ments had been re­moved from the east hall and the din­ing room in the 1960s. In the lat­ter, Wy­att’s splen­did ma­hogany doors at the north end—which once led to the serv­ing room and kitchen—had been re­moved and re­placed with a look­ing glass and the walls had been painted in an un­his­tor­i­cal scheme.

The most sig­nif­i­cant 1960s Mal­lets alterations had been made in the east hall, where Wy­att’s ceil­ing with painted pan­els and a small sunken cen­tral dome had been re­placed with a plain flat ceil­ing and the frieze and stucco dec­o­ra­tions on the up­per walls re­moved—mrs Marten and her ad­vi­sors had wrongly thought they were Vic­to­rian.

The de­ci­sion was made to re­in­state fully the miss­ing Wy­att el­e­ments and colour schemes. Pere­grine Bryant was ap­pointed the ar­chi­tect, with Patrick Baty as the spe­cial­ist paint an­a­lyst and Hesp, Jones & Co of Ben­ing­brough as the ex­e­cu­tants. The work was com­pleted in 2015.

The de­ci­sion was made to re­in­state fully the miss­ing Wy­att el­e­ments’

‘The fully re­stored room is a no­table tes­ta­ment to Wy­att’s ge­nius as a de­signer’

In the din­ing room, it proved pos­si­ble to re­in­state Wy­att’s dou­ble doors at the north end. The Coun­try Life pho­to­graphs of 1925 pro­vided useful ev­i­dence. A fur­ther stroke of luck was the dis­cov­ery of the orig­i­nal ma­hogany doors stored in the base­ment. The miss­ing tym­pa­num paint­ing Homage

to Deme­ter has been copied in the Bi­a­gio Rebecca gri­saille man­ner by Chris­tian Corgier. All the trompe bas-re­lief wall paint­ings by Rebecca have been cleaned and re­stored and their Clas­si­cal sub­jects of as­sorted gods and goddesses are now clearly vis­i­ble. The colour­ing of the walls formed a sig­nif­i­cant part of Wy­att’s orig­i­nal scheme, pre­dom­i­nantly in char­ac­ter­is­tic shades of pale green.

Mr Baty’s paint anal­y­sis con­firmed all the orig­i­nal colours, es­pe­cially the com­pli­cated scheme on the coved ceil­ing with its Raphael cor­ner fans and elab­o­rate Joseph Rose stucco of dol­phin pedestals sup­port­ing vases, medal­lions and urns, in­ter­lac­ing fes­toons and pa­t­erae. As re­painted by Hesp, Jones & Co, it is a tri­umph and the fully re­stored room is a no­table tes­ta­ment to Wy­att’s ge­nius as a dec­o­ra­tive de­signer us­ing a more chaste and re­fined Raphae­lesque vo­cab­u­lary than that of Robert Adam, whom he sought to em­u­late and suc­ceed as the most fash­ion­able ar­chi­tect of the day.

The trans­for­ma­tion in the east hall is even more dra­matic. There, Mr Bryant has re-cre­ated the miss­ing frieze and stucco oval wreaths, their out­line and scale be­ing ap­par­ent un­der the 1960s dec­o­ra­tion, and the Coun­try Life pho­to­graphs also pro­vided valu­able de­tail of the miss­ing el­e­ments. When the in­serted 1960s ceil­ing was re­moved, the cen­tral sunken dome was re­vealed and pro­vided clear ev­i­dence of the Wy­att dec­o­ra­tion in green and cream, part trompe and part moulded, sim­i­lar to his and Rebecca’s scheme in the Saloon at Hevening­ham. The painted sur­round­ing pan­els, also in

trompe-green, have been re-cre­ated from Coun­try Life pho­to­graphs also by Chris­tian Corgier. An un­ex­pected bonus is the dis­cov­ery un­der pa­per and paint of Clas­si­cal land­scape pan­els set in the rec­tan­gu­lar Pal­la­dian ar­chi­traves round the lower walls. Th­ese paint­ings have been re­stored, by Jane Ruther­fo­ord, and add live­li­ness to the ar­chi­tec­ture. The restora­tion of Wy­att’s splen­did en­filade has been com­pleted in the Draw­ing Room. There, the Ed­war­dian pi­lasters have been re­moved and the frieze re­stored. The walls have been re-hung with silk, which was al­ways the in­ten­tion, but re­peat­ing the pat­tern and colour of the 3rd Lord Aling­ton’s choice. This now forms the back­ground to full-length por­traits that were al­ready in the house, as well as land­scapes from the Chilton Col­lec­tion.

The bar­rel-vaulted ceil­ing, a mas­ter­work by Wy­att, Rebecca and Rose has been cleaned and touched up with the orig­i­nal— mainly blue and pink—colours as­cer­tained by Mr Baty.

Most im­por­tant of all, a large Vene­tian win­dow with scagli­ola col­umns that for­merly dom­i­nated the Draw­ing Room has been re­stored on the ev­i­dence of the 1925 pho­to­graphs. The di­am­e­ter of the col­umns was clar­i­fied by their stone bases, dis­cov­ered when the floor was opened up, and the Corinthian cap­i­tals are Wy­att’s favourite Pan­theon model as de­ployed, for in­stance, in the hall and li­brary at Hevening­ham. Kevin Gan­non has re-cre­ated the Siena scag

li­ola of the col­umns and an early-19th­cen­tury white-mar­ble statue of Venus on a plinth be­fore the cen­tral arch com­pletes the mon­u­men­tal cli­max of one of the great suites of neo-clas­si­cal rooms of Eng­land.

In re­cent years, Wy­att’s great­est build­ings have been re­in­stated one by one: the Etr­uscan Tem­ple at Faw­ley, the Darn­ley Mau­soleum at Cob­ham, the Egyp­tian Din­ing Room at Good­wood and the sculp­ture gal­leries in the Gothic Clois­ters at Wilton. The state rooms at Crichel are now a wor­thy ad­di­tion to this re­mark­able con­stel­la­tion of schol­arly restora­tions.

Left: The south façade, framed by a great cedar on the edge of the lake. Above: The newly re­stored din­ing room. The doors in the north end have been re­in­stated af­ter they were dis­cov­ered in the base­ment of the house

Above: The main stair­case rises to a long cor­ri­dor with plas­ter dec­o­ra­tion. Right: James Wy­att’s 1770s Draw­ing Room has been re­turned to its for­mer splen­dour. The great Vene­tian win­dow has been re­stored and the ceil­ing has been cleaned and re­touched where nec­es­sary

The east hall stands be­tween the din­ing room and Draw­ing Room. Its Clas­si­cal land­scapes in gri­saille, prob­a­bly cov­ered over in the 1830s, and the ceil­ing have been re­vealed again and el­e­ments of miss­ing plas­ter­work re­in­stated dur­ing the re­cent restora­tion work

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