Lu­tyens’s longest project

A house as­so­ci­ated with the Gun­pow­der Plot was splen­didly en­larged by Lu­tyens and is now en­joy­ing a new lease of life as a mod­ern fam­ily home, as John Goodall ex­plains Ashby St Ledgers, Northamp­ton­shire The home of Henry and Nova Guest

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

A house as­so­ci­ated with the Gun­pow­der Plot has been splen­didly en­larged by the ar­chi­tect and is en­joy­ing a new lease of life, says John Goodall

The pretty vil­lage of Ashby St Ledgers in Northamp­ton­shire takes its cu­ri­ous name from the ded­i­ca­tion of the par­ish church to a 7th-cen­tury mar­tyr and Bishop of Au­tun, St Leode­gar. The manor stands in the shadow of this build­ing at one end of the set­tle­ment, its cob­bled fore­court open­ing di­rectly onto the street through the stone piers of an im­pos­ing gate­way. Pass­ing through them, the mod­ern vis­i­tor must pre­pare for an al­most com­pletely un­her­alded en­counter with a spec­tac­u­lar ed­war­dian coun­try house con­jured from the ar­chi­tec­tural bones of an an­cient manor.

The story of this build­ing prop­erly be­gins in the 14th cen­tury, when the manor came, by mar­riage, into the hands of the Catesby fam­ily from War­wick­shire. Prob­a­bly from the 1390s, it be­came es­tab­lished as their prin­ci­pal seat and burial place. The Cates­bys’ me­dieval wealth de­rived from live­stock and the zenith of their po­lit­i­cal achieve­ment came dur­ing the ca­reer of William Catesby, an in­ti­mate of Richard III and a Speaker of the house of Com­mons. he was, in fact, no­to­ri­ous as ‘the Cat’, who with ‘the Rat and Lovell our Dog,/rule all eng­land un­der a hog’ and he was ex­e­cuted af­ter the bat­tle of Bos­worth in 1485.

Not­with­stand­ing this re­verse, the fam­ily pros­pered in the early Tu­dor pe­riod. In­deed, it was prob­a­bly then that they cre­ated the ear­li­est parts of present manor house, in­clud­ing the richly moulded Gothic door­way in the ser­vice range to the right of the en­trance court. Cu­ri­ously, this range, and the tim­ber frame gate­way next to it (Fig 6), both stand on a dif­fer­ent axis from the other parts of the house. This may sug­gest that the me­dieval manor was laid out on a dif­fer­ent align­ment.

What­ever the case, its build­ings have oth­er­wise com­pletely dis­ap­peared. Per­haps they were of tim­ber frame rather than stone and were eas­ily swept away.

Af­ter the Re­for­ma­tion, the Cates­bys re­mained Catholic and prob­a­bly could not af­ford to en­large or adapt the house dur­ing el­iz­a­beth I’s reign. The head of the fam­ily, Sir William (d.1598), paid heavy re­cu­sancy fines and was even im­pris­oned. em­bit­tered and an­gry at the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy of re­pres­sion, his

third son, Robert, be­came the lead­ing fig­ure in the Gun­pow­der Plot of 1605. Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tion, he met with the con­spir­a­tors in the up­per cham­ber of the gate.

Whether or not this as­so­ci­a­tion is a ro­man­tic fic­tion, the house did fea­ture in the af­ter­math of the failed plot. On the day of the in­tended de­struc­tion of West­min­ster, Catesby in­vited a group of sym­pa­thetic gen­tle­men to­gether to hunt at nearby Dunchurch. His in­ten­tion was to mo­ti­vate them into re­bel­lion with news of the King’s death. De­spite the fail­ure of the plot and Guy Fawkes’s ar­rest, he nev­er­the­less rode out of Lon­don with a party of con­spir­a­tors to meet the hunt, stop­ping briefly at Ashby St Ledgers on the way. There his ser­vant, Thomas Bate, armed the party with pis­tols. It is an unat­tested, if touch­ing, leg­end that Catesby waved at his mother while pass­ing the front gates, want­ing to say good­bye, but not want­ing to im­pli­cate her.

When he met up with the hunt­ing party at Dunchurch, its mem­bers were alarmed by his news and melted away in the win­ter gloam­ing. The re­main­ing con­spir­a­tors moved on from one Catholic house to an­other and were fi­nally cor­nered at Hol­beach in Stafford­shire, where Catesby was among those killed in a skir­mish.

At the time of the plot, Ashby St Ledgers was in the pos­ses­sion of Robert’s wid­owed mother and was not con­fis­cated. Fol­low­ing her death, how­ever, it passed through the Crown to the courtier Sir William Ir­wing in 1611. He im­me­di­ately sold it on to one Bryan I’an­son, a wealthy Lon­doner ea­ger to es­tab­lish him­self as a gentle­man. His prom­i­nent mon­u­ment in the church point­edly de­scribes him as ‘some­time cit­i­zen and Draper of Lon­don and… the first pur­chaser of this manor with the par­son­age and vowsen’. It is dec­o­rated with his coat of arms (granted in 1605) and was ev­i­dently erected in his life­time be­cause the in­com­plete in­scrip­tion lacks his date of death in 1634.

It would be en­tirely in keep­ing with his so­cial as­pi­ra­tions if the wealthy I’an­son be­gan the trans­for­ma­tion of the manor house

he had pur­chased. Equally, how­ever, credit for this might be en­tirely due to his son, John. What­ever the case, in the first half of the 17th cen­tury, the present main façade of the build­ing was cre­ated: a three-storey range built of cut stone with a hall and ser­vices at ground level (Fig 1).

To the south-east cor­ner of this build­ing was added a tower, its lower storeys opened out on two sides with tall bay win­dows. It pre­sum­ably in­cor­po­rated the prin­ci­pal with­draw­ing in­te­ri­ors of the house. Within one of the gables is carved the date 1652. Con­nect­ing the tower and the range was a stair­case tur­ret ris­ing the full height of the build­ing, its para­pet or­na­mented with a balustrade (Fig 2). This mod­est com­po­si­tion of hall range, stair and tower may have com­prised the en­tire body of the house. That said, an­other free­stand­ing build­ing was prob­a­bly erected at about the same time fac­ing the sur­viv­ing me­dieval range across the front court.

The I’an­sons’ for­tunes de­clined dis­as­trously in the late 17th cen­tury and, in 1703, the manor was bought from them by one Joseph Ash­ley. He may have been tempted here by his wife, Jane, a na­tive of Northamp­ton­shire. Nev­er­the­less, their mon­u­ment in the church (ev­i­dently com­mis­sioned as a pair with that of a son, Moses, who died in 1740) pro­claims him to be a ‘Cit­i­zen and Draper of Lon­don’ and the pur­chaser of the es­tate.

What he, or his heirs, John (d.1761) and an­other Joseph (d.1798), did to the house is un­recorded. It is hard to be­lieve that this wealthy fam­ily, en­riched among other things by army cloth­ing con­tracts, lived in such Fig 3 above: The 17th-cen­tury hall and kitchens were opened out as a sin­gle in­te­rior in 1924 and di­vided by a porch screen. The ground in the far end of the room was dug out to give height to the in­te­rior. Fig 4 be­low: The 1903 draw­ing room is an Ed­war­dian cre­ation

a tiny and out­moded build­ing, yet, pre­sum­ably, the fo­cus of their in­ter­est was in the cap­i­tal.

Added to which, per­haps they felt squeezed out: from 1722, an­other wealthy Lon­doner, the cat­tle dealer Ge­orge Arnold, built Ashby Lodge for him­self, on the boundary of the manor (it was de­mol­ished in the 1920s when the manor was re­vived).

In the 1780s, Joseph Ash­ley planned for the break­ing up of his es­tate be­tween his two daugh­ters. The el­dest, Mary, mar­ried Sir Joseph Sen­house in 1787. Sir Joseph’s Cum­ber­land fam­ily owned large es­tates in Bar­ba­dos and the cou­ple seems to have had lit­tle to do with Ashby St Ledgers. When Mary was wid­owed in 1828, how­ever, she oc­cu­pied the manor as her dower house. It was al­most cer­tainly at this time that she en­larged the build­ing with new porches to the front and back and new re­cep­tion rooms.

The style she chose was neo-ja­cobean, a ref­er­ence both to the ex­ist­ing ar­chi­tec­ture of the house and its as­so­ci­a­tion with the Gun­pow­der Plot. Its celebrity in this lat­ter re­gard also pre­sum­ably ex­plains the dec­o­ra­tion of the cel­lar door with a life­size oil paint­ing of a ‘her­culean fig­ure’ bran­dish­ing a club (ac­cord­ing to the an­ti­quar­ian Brian I’an­son in a pri­vately pub­lished his­tory of 1915). He must have been jok­ingly in­tended to de­ter a po­ten­tial Guy Fawkes.

Af­ter Mary’s death in 1850, the house con­tin­ued to de­velop. Some im­pres­sion of its state in 1902 is sup­plied by the ad­ver­tise­ments placed in Coun­try Life when the Sen­house fam­ily fi­nally de­ter­mined to sell the prop­erty. It was then ‘a gen­uine spec­i­men of early Tu­dor ar­chi­tec­ture’ com­pris­ing a ‘large front re­cep­tion hall, richly pan­elled in dark oak, four other hand­some re­cep­tion rooms sim­i­larly fit­ted, eleven prin­ci­pal bed and dress­ing rooms, bath­room and wa­ter­clos­ets… com­modi­ous do­mes­tic of­fices and cel­larage; the sta­bling, which has been re­cently erected at great cost, em­bod­ies all the best mod­ern im­prove­ments… and af­fords ac­com­mo­da­tion for nine­teen horses… The plea­sure grounds are ex­ten­sive [with] ten­nis courts, cro­quet lawn, two viner­ies and green­houses be­sides land and prop­erty with an an­nual rental value of £3,190.’

Ashby St Ledgers was pur­chased the fol­low­ing year by the Hon Ivor Guest, who had just mar­ried the Hon Alice Grosvenor. They were ex­tremely well con­nected and Guest had en­tered the House of Com­mons in 1900. Sig­nif­i­cantly, their new house placed them within the or­bit of the Pytch­ley Hunt, a fo­cus of po­lit­i­cal life. He was ath­letic and in­ter­ested in the Arts, but was not pop­u­lar—‘one must sup­pose that God knew best/when He cre­ated Ivor Guest’ mocked the guests at one So­ci­ety din­ner party.

In 1910, Guest as­sumed the ti­tle of Baron Ashby St Ledgers and he suc­ceded to his father’s ti­tle, Baron Wim­borne, in 1914. Four years later, while Lord Lieu­tenant of Ire­land, he was cre­ated Vis­count Wim­borne.

In 1903, the new­ly­wed cou­ple im­me­di­ately em­barked on plans to en­large Ashby St Ledgers with the help of the ar­chi­tect Ed­win Lu­tyens.

Later in his ca­reer, Lu­tyens might have turned his back on such a pa­tron. Wim­borne had ideas of his own and was de­ter­mined to re­alise them. In fact, de­spite ve­he­ment dis­agree­ments—in which Lu­tyens was usu­ally worsted—they seem to have got on well. He worked on the house for the next 40 years, his longest re­la­tion­ship with any one build­ing.

He also worked in the vil­lage and, af­ter Vis­count Wim­borne’s death in 1939, de­signed a fine memo­rial for him in the church­yard.

Coun­try Life pub­lished an au­thor­i­ta­tive ac­count of Lu­tyens’s work at Ashby St Ledgers in four con­sec­u­tive is­sues from July 27, 1951, sum­maris­ing his in­cre­men­tal changes be­tween 1903 and 1938. His first ini­tia­tive was to copy the de­tails of John I’an­son’s tower of 1652 and cre­ate a grand new gar­den façade (Fig 5), in­cor­po­rat­ing the prin­ci­pal bed­rooms above a draw­ing room (Fig 4) and cen­tral mu­sic room (the lat­ter with a sur­viv­ing ebony floor of ex­tra­or­di­nary beauty).

He also re­cast the en­trance court, re­mov­ing the front porch and con­struct­ing a new range to­wards the free­stand­ing 17th-cen­tury build­ing on the north side of it. In 1924, this new range was fur­ther ex­tended with a tower. All this work was ex­e­cuted in rub­ble ma­sonry, which blended with the cleaner-cut his­toric

stonework. Be­hind this screen of build­ings, he cre­ated ex­ten­sive kitchens and ser­vices.

The logic of these changes only re­ally be­comes ap­par­ent when the vis­i­tor walks into the house through its re­mark­ably small and un­der­stated front door. They en­ter an in­ter­nal wooden porch, part of a screen that crosses the full width of the 17th-cen­tury range

(Fig 3). The ground floor of this in­te­rior— the Ja­cobean hall and ser­vices—has been com­pletely cleared.

To the right is the main hall and a door into the gar­den. To the left, how­ever, Lu­tyens ex­ca­vated out the orig­i­nal floor to cre­ate a loftier in­te­rior, en­tered down a flight of steps. This trick of cre­at­ing height by dig­ging down is used through­out the en­su­ing series of rooms.

Be­yond is a tall and nar­row in­te­rior, the stone hall (Fig 7). On an axis with this in­te­rior is a draw­ing room (for­merly a din­ing room and planned as a li­brary) cov­ered, to Lu­tyens’s an­noy­ance, by a neo-ja­cobean plas­ter ceil­ing

(Fig 9). At the end of this is an­other din­ing room within the tower of 1924. This pan­elled in­te­rior is neo-clas­si­cal in char­ac­ter, but, strik­ingly, adopts Ja­cobean grid win­dows.

His­toric fit­tings for the house were bought for the new in­te­ri­ors from var­i­ous deal­ers, in­clud­ing Gill & Reigate of Lon­don. Among the things they sup­plied was an en­tire me­dieval tim­ber-frame house from Carr Street in Ipswich that had been ex­hib­ited at White City in 1908. An in­dig­nant Lu­tyens was forced to in­cor­po­rate this struc­ture into his de­signs as a wing. The in­te­rior (Fig 8) is a no­table mon­u­ment to the lit­tle-ap­pre­ci­ated late-vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian taste for Tu­dor ar­chi­tec­ture.

The late 20th cen­tury wit­nessed the par­tial de­struc­tion of Lu­tyens’s in­te­ri­ors and, in 1976, the 3rd Vis­count Wim­borne sold the es­tate. Then, in 1998, af­ter a pe­riod of ne­glect, it was bought back by the 4th Vis­count, whose re­mark­able restora­tion of the prop­erty was de­scribed by Jeremy Mus­son (Coun­try Life, Novem­ber 4, 2004). He in turn de­cided to sell it and, in an­other re­mark­able twist, it was pur­chased by Vis­count Wim­borne’s first cousin and so has re­mained in fam­ily hands.

The new own­ers, Henry and Nova Guest, have now re­vived the manor as a fam­ily home and plan to make this ex­tra­or­di­nary house avail­able as a venue for 21st-cen­tury events and pri­vate en­ter­tain­ment.

Visit www.ash­by­manor­house.com for more in­for­ma­tion

Fig 1: The fore­court look­ing to­wards the 17th-cen­tury hall range. The small front door takes you into an Ed­war­dian man­sion

Fig 2: The core of the 17th-cen­tury house. The hall gable on the left is con­nected by a stair tur­ret to John I’an­son’s tower, dated 1652

Fig 5 above: By re­pro­duc­ing the de­tail of the 1652 tower (to the left), a grand gar­den façade was cre­ated in 1903. The tim­ber­frame house from Ipswich (to the right) was in­cor­po­rated into the de­sign in 1908. Fig 6 left: The gate to­wards the church. By tra­di­tion, the con­spir­a­tors of the Gun­pow­der Plot met in its up­per cham­ber

Fig 7 above: The stone hall. A stair and an el­e­vated gallery make this an im­por­tant cir­cu­la­tion space at ground and first-floor level. Fig 8 be­low: The in­te­rior of the Ipswich house trans­ported here in 1908. The neo-tu­dor dec­o­ra­tion is all Ed­war­dian

Fig 9: The orig­i­nal din­ing room. The dis­tant smaller din­ing room was added in 1924 and the bay win­dow in 1938

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