A mar­riage of ideas

An am­bi­tious round of restora­tion work is re­viv­ing an es­tate and coun­try house af­ter a chal­leng­ing 20th cen­tury. John Goodall ex­plores the his­tory of this re­mark­able build­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Paul High­nam Stan­ford Hall, Le­ices­ter­shire The home of Nick and Lucy Fothergill

An am­bi­tious round of restora­tion is re­viv­ing Stan­ford Hall in Le­ices­ter­shire af­ter a chal­leng­ing 20th cen­tury, says John Goodall

Stan­ford Hall seems to an­swer per­fectly the brief of its builder in 1697 to cre­ate some­thing ‘good, strong and sub­stan­tial’, yet it has a his­tory that is cu­ri­ously at odds with its or­dered out­ward ap­pear­ance. the house stands close to the ge­o­graphic heart of Eng­land on the banks of the river avon at the in­ter­sec­tion of three coun­ties: le­ices­ter­shire, northamp­ton­shire and War­wick­shire. It oc­cu­pies a fine parkland set­ting: the ap­proach­ing drive is flanked on one side by a lake cre­ated from the avon.

The manor of Stan­ford was the prop­erty of the great Bene­dic­tine abbey of Selby in north York­shire, be­ing part of its foun­da­tion bequest in about 1070. In 1429, one John Cave be­came abbot of Selby and es­tab­lished his fam­ily as the ten­ants of Stan­ford. the ar­range­ment lasted un­til the dis­so­lu­tion in 1539, af­ter which the fam­ily pur­chased the free­hold for £1,194.

Some im­pres­sion of the late-medieval manor house they oc­cu­pied is pro­vided by an in­ven­tory dated april 28, 1496, which is part of a small, but im­por­tant, col­lec­tion of mu­ni­ments that re­main at Stan­ford. Start­ing in the great hall with its ta­bles, tres­tles, hang­ings and cush­ions, the in­ven­tory moves room by room through the do­mes­tic cham­bers of the build­ing—a par­lour, cham­ber, outer cham­ber and wardrobe—be­fore pass­ing into the ser­vice build­ings, enu­mer­at­ing the live­stock and con­clud­ing in the kitchen. It es­ti­mates the full value of the con­tents at just over £353, a con­sid­er­able sum at that time.

this build­ing stood close to the medieval set­tle­ment and su­perb par­ish church, where many gen­er­a­tions of the Caves lie buried (and now also home to an in­no­va­tory bat box). noth­ing is se­curely known, how­ever, about the ap­pear­ance or de­vel­op­ment of the manor house. Its oc­cu­pants es­sen­tially re­mained fig­ures of lo­cal stand­ing and, like all gentry fam­i­lies, they re­mained proud of their long lin­eage, which is recorded in an un­usu­ally ful­some roll of about 1620. on the eve of the English Civil War, in 1641, the head of the fam­ily, thomas, re­ceived a baronetcy, but his sup­port of the king, for­tu­nately, did not com­pro­mise the in­her­i­tance of his son, Sir roger, the 2nd baronet, in 1670 (Fig 7).

More than 25 years later, Sir roger took the dra­matic de­ci­sion to re­build his fam­ily seat on a vir­gin site across the river avon (and, in so do­ing, moved it from northamp­ton­shire into le­ices­ter­shire). It could be that his in­cen­tive was aes­thetic: the medieval house and its cramped set­ting within the vil­lage must have looked dated. that said, he was not a promis­ing ar­chi­tec­tural pa­tron:

he was in his for­ties, had no great for­tune and had al­ready ended an un­re­mark­able par­lia­men­tary ca­reer. Fur­ther­more, he boasted an an­cient lin­eage and the proof is all around us that such fam­i­lies tended to aug­ment their seats rather de­mol­ish them. What prompted him to build?

Two doc­u­ments, still pre­served at Stan­ford, pos­si­bly pro­vide an an­swer. They were drafted by the mas­ter-builder and ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Smith, the son of a brick­layer from Tet­ten­hall in Stafford­shire and part of a Mid­land build­ing dy­nasty. He and his younger brother, Fran­cis, both en­joyed suc­cess­ful in­ter­con­nected ca­reers that ben­e­fit­ted from the dev­as­ta­tion of Warwick by fire in Septem­ber 1694. Wil­liam was ap­pointed sur­veyor of the town, with re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to over­see its re­con­struc­tion af­ter this catas­tro­phe in 1695 and con­tracted to re­build the nave of St Mary’s Church with Fran­cis in 1697. Their busi­ness, founded on the qual­i­ties of de­tailed as­sess­ment, hon­esty and re­li­a­bil­ity, bur­geoned there­after. Fran­cis moved to the town and is today fa­mil­iar sim­ply as ‘Smith of Warwick’, but Wil­liam re­mained in Stafford­shire un­til his death in 1724.

The first of Wil­liam Smith’s doc­u­ments is a draft agree­ment dated 1697 agree­ing the terms of build­ing a new house with Sir Roger. Ac­cord­ing to this, ‘Wil­liam Smith shall take and pull downe…the dwelling house of him the said Sir R Cave in Stan­ford afore­said to­gether with the brick house in the best gar­den’. Can­ni­bal­is­ing the ma­te­ri­als, he was then to ‘build and sett up a good strong and sub­stan­ciall new house…ac­cord­ing to a draft [draw­ing]’. This was to com­prise—the doc­u­ment con­tin­ues—a kitchen, a lit­tle par­lour, a ‘but­lers room’, a great hall, a ser­vants hall, a great par­lour and a with­draw­ing room, all raised up over cel­lars, with cham­bers set over them and gar­rets above. It was to have a cut or ‘free­stone’ frontage wrought with ‘good mould­ings’ that in­cor­po­rated sash win­dows, by now a rel­a­tively fa­mil­iar fea­ture of po­lite ar­chi­tec­ture.

The se­condary el­e­va­tions were brick with stone de­tail­ing (and sashed only in the 1730s).

In con­junc­tion with this, an un­dated es­ti­mate was drawn up set­ting out the ex­penses in­volved in con­struct­ing the new house: £2,138 10s. This in­cludes the pro­viso that Sir Roger will ‘find all the scaf­fold­ing stuff… chimney pieces and hearths; and paint­ing the old wain­scot if he will have it painted’. He was also to sup­ply all the nec­es­sary ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing reeds from his pools, tim­ber, lead, brick (the ar­ti­cles men­tion 160,000 bricks), boards and laths. The floor of the hall was to be laid in blue and white stone.

The es­ti­mate in­cludes a mem­o­ran­dum for Smith ‘to wait upon Mr Brom­ley for the draughts [draw­ings] in his hands’. This pin­points the cru­cial fig­ure in the project and con­nects it di­rectly with the re­build­ing of Warwick. Some time in the 1690s Sir Roger mar­ried for the sec­ond time one Mary Brom­ley. Her brother, Wil­liam, was the MP for Warwick from 1690-8 and a com­mis­sioner for re­build­ing the town af­ter the fire. He was, there­fore, Sir Roger’s brother-in­law and the di­rect pa­tron of Wil­liam Smith. Some in­di­ca­tion of his im­por­tance to both par­ties is ap­par­ent in the con­clu­sion to the es­ti­mate: ‘if any dif­fer­ence arise Mr Brom­ley to de­ter­mine it on both sides’.

The con­struc­tion of Stan­ford Hall, then, was prob­a­bly an in­di­rect con­se­quence of Sir Roger’s mar­riage and it di­rectly in­volved his brother-in-law. In de­sign, the house was strik­ingly con­ser­va­tive. It es­chews the de­vel­op­ing fash­ion for balustraded para­pets and adopts a high-pitched roof. Mean­while, the ves­ti­gial H-shaped plan—with a cen­tral hall block two rooms deep book­ended by cross-ranges and long in­ter­nal cor­ri­dors run­ning across the house (Fig 6) —hear­kens back to the ar­chi­tec­tural in­no­va­tions of the early 17th cen­tury. The term ‘great hall’ would like­wise have seemed dated in the 1690s.

It’s not recorded when work to the new house be­gan, but things quickly went wrong, prob­a­bly for lack of funds. The es­ti­mate states that the house ‘was to be cov­ered by Michael­mas 1699. In­side to be fin­ished by La­mas 1700’. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to his grand­son’s ac­count, recorded by John Ni­chols in The His­tory and An­tiq­ui­ties of the County of Le­ices­ter (1795), ‘though he [Sir Roger] be­gan and fin­ished this house, so far as to glaze and close it in with tile and lead, he did not live to com­plete many rooms within it’. When he died in 1703, there­fore, it fell, to his suc­ces­sor to as­sume this task.

Sir Roger’s son, Sir Thomas Cave, and his wife were re­ported in a let­ter by Lady Fer­managh to be at work on the great par­lour in 1716. Their son, Sir Ver­ney, who in­her­ited as a mi­nor in 1719, added the prin­ci­pal stair­case to the house in 1730. Wil­liam Smith, the builder of the house, had died in 1724 so the com­mis­sion went to his brother, Fran­cis, ‘Smith of Warwick’. A let­ter of ad­vice and a plan for the stair from Smith still sur­vive, along with pro­pos­als—un­re­alised—to add wings to the house.

Fol­low­ing Sir Ver­ney’s death in 1734, the es­tate passed to his younger brother, the Rugby-ed­u­cated Sir Thomas Cave, 5th Baronet. Among many other in­ter­ests, Sir Thomas was an an­ti­quar­ian and closely in­volved with John Ni­chols, whose His­tory and An­tiq­ui­ties of the County of Le­ices­ter

has al­ready been men­tioned. In this vol­ume Ni­chols wrote of Sir Thomas that ‘he com­pleted the fam­ily res­i­dence which had been planned by his pre­de­ces­sors; and main­tained it in the gen­uine hospi­tal­ity of an English gen­tle­man…he pos­sessed a large and well se­lected li­brary (Fig 2) and was con­ver­sant with the con­tents of it. Topo-

‘It has a his­tory that is cu­ri­ously at odds with its or­dered ap­pear­ance ’

gra­phy, in par­tic­u­lar, en­grossed a con­sid­er­able part of his leisure’. Ni­chols does not men­tion, how­ever, an­other of Sir Thomas’s ev­i­dent pas­sions: mu­sic. Two por­traits of him in the house show him play­ing the cello with his wife (Fig 4).

In 1737 Sir Thomas built a new sta­ble be­side the house, prob­a­bly to de­signs by Fran­cis Smith (Fig 1). A few years later, in 1743, he was in cor­re­spon­dence with the el­dest son of Fran­cis, Wil­liam Smith, about al­ter­ations to the en­trance hall or great hall. This was adapted to its present shape by ‘sink­ing the ceil­ing by a cove’ that blocked the room’s up­per tier of win­dows. The plas­terer John Wright of Worces­ter was paid £270 for the work. In ac­cor­dance with Sir Roger’s mu­si­cal en­thu­si­asm, the room was dubbed the ball­room. A draw­ing in the house signed by David Hiorn, heir to the Smith’s build­ing busi­ness in 1747, show that Sir Thomas also con­sid­ered adding a por­tico to the ex­te­rior.

In the mean­time, how­ever, Sir Thomas was ap­par­ently suf­fer­ing from ill-health. Hav­ing served as MP for Le­ices­ter­shire from 1741, he an­nounced in 1747 that ‘my at­ten­dance in town has in­creased my dis­or­ders, and it is the ad­vice of physi­cians and sur­geons…and the gen­eral re­quest of all my friends in pri­vate life that ... I shall lay aside all thoughts of be­ing again in Par­lia­ment’. He did in fact re­turn to Par­lia­ment for more than a decade from 1762. Oth­er­wise, he seems to have en­joyed him­self at Stan­ford, oc­cu­pied with the im­prove­ment of the park and damming of the Avon (Fig 8).

Fol­low­ing Sir Thomas’s death in 1778, Stan­ford passed in se­quence to his son, grand­son and fi­nally grand­daugh­ter, Sarah Cave. This de­scent di­vided the baronetcy from the es­tate, but Sarah se­cured an­other ti­tle through a ge­nealog­i­cal­lly re­mote and com­plex claim. On Septem­ber 4, 1839, Lord Mel­bourne wrote from Wind­sor Cas­tle to as­sure Mrs Cave that the Queen had de­cided that the ‘abeyance of the peer­age of Bray shall be de­ter­mined in your favour’. When she died in 1862 the ti­tle was even­tu­ally re­vived for the grand­son of her youngest daugh­ter, Al­fred Ver­ney-cave, 5th Lord Braye in 1879, a Catholic con­vert, a pub­lished poet and a designer.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter in­her­it­ing Stan­ford, Lord Braye took the op­por­tu­nity of a world tour to trans­form the house with the help of the cab­i­net maker, sculp­tor, ar­mourer and forger Felix Jou­bert, then work­ing for the fam­ily dec­o­rat­ing com­pany Amédée Jou­bert & Son in Chelsea. The stables were con­nected to the house by a new wing that du­pli­cated the base­ment and first-floor el­e­va­tion of the 1690s de­sign. It in­cor­po­rated a chapel ded­i­cated to St Thomas of Can­ter­bury. Some of its fit­tings now sur­vive in Our Lady of Sor­rows at Eton, a build­ing he erected in 1914 amid con­tro­versy with the Eton Col­lege au­thor­i­ties.

The dec­o­ra­tion of the en­trance hall or ball­room, mean­while, was aug­mented with ad­di­tional dec­o­ra­tive plas­ter­work in a con­vinc­ing 18th-cen­tury id­iom and a se­ries of Clas­si­cal hunt­ing paint­ings signed by B. Sic­card (Fig 3), who prob­a­bly also painted the ceil­ing of the din­ing room and that of the chapel (an As­cen­sion). In 1896 Lord Braye again turned to Jou­bert to cre­ate a re­mark­able me­mo­rial for his el­der brother, killed at Ulundi in Zu­l­u­land, in the par­ish church (Coun­try Life, July 9, 2014).

Lord Braye was in­volved in the ex­per­i­ments of the fly­ing en­thu­si­ast and in­ven­tor Lt Percy Pilcher, who broke the world record for un­pow­ered flight in Stan­ford Park in 1897. Pilcher, mean­while, be­gan to ad­dress the chal­lenge of pow­ered flight. How­ever, while demon­strat­ing his glider, called Hawk, to po­ten­tial in­vestors on Septem­ber 30, 1899, he crashed and later died from his in­juries. A mon­u­ment to him stands in a nearby field.

The 20th cen­tury saw pro­found changes to the house. In 1924 the Vic­to­rian wing was de­mol­ished be­cause of dry rot and dur­ing the Sec­ond World War the hall ac­com­mo­dated the Sa­cred Heart School and Con­vent from Roe­hamp­ton.

There­after, the 7th Lord Braye, who suc­ceeded in 1952, ini­ti­ated a huge restora­tion project, af­ter which the house was first opened to the pub­lic and fea­tured in Coun­try Life

(De­cem­ber 4 and 11, 1958). The 8th Baroness Braye and her hus­band, Lt Col Ed­ward Aubrey-fletcher, con­tin­ued the restora­tion and de­vel­op­ment of Stan­ford, be­fore a cousin, Nick Fothergill took over re­spon­si­bil­ity for it in 2003. With the help of Nat­u­ral Eng­land, he has re­stored nu­mer­ous struc­tures across the es­tate in­clud­ing the stables, es­tate yard bothy, ha-ha, deer shel­ter, gates and a 17th­cen­tury bridge. In the hall it­self, the base­ment has been re­newed as a mod­ern liv­ing area

(Fig 5) and in 2012 the ball­room paint­ings were con­served by Hirst Con­ser­va­tion with a grant from the Coun­try Houses Foun­da­tion. The prop­erty, mean­while, is open for events, cor­po­rate hire and wed­dings as well as sum­mer camps for in­ner-city chil­dren man­aged by Lifebeat, a char­ity es­tab­lished by Lucy Fothergill. The es­tate man­ages and re­cy­cles all its waste from events into com­post and re­us­able ma­te­rial and is pi­o­neer­ing an or­ganic veg­etable grow­ing pro­gram for sur­round­ing schools. Stan­ford feels like an un­usu­ally vi­brant es­tate play­ing an ac­tive role in the world around it.

Visit http://stan­ford­hall.co.uk for futher in­for­ma­tion

Fig 1: The four-square house de­signed in the 1690s. The dou­ble court­yard sta­ble was added in 1737

Fig 2: The li­brary in­cor­po­rates fur­ni­ture, such as this Gothic ta­ble, pre­sum­ably com­mis­sioned by Sir Thomas in the mid 18th cen­tury

Fig 3: The hall or ball­room with Sic­card’s re­stored paint­ings of Clas­si­cal hunt­ing scenes. In 1880 Jou­bert id­iomat­i­cally en­riched this 1740s space

Fig 4 above left: Sir Thomas, 5th Baronet, and his wife El­iz­a­beth. The score shows them play­ing a horn­pipe by Jo­hann Gal­liard, pre­sum­ably a favourite tune. Fig 5 above right: The mod­ern liv­ing space in the base­ment, re­cently re­fur­bished by Plann Architects Ltd. Fig 6 fac­ing page: The main cor­ri­dor runs the full width of the house and opens onto the main stair, in­serted in 1730 by Fran­cis Smith

Fig 7 above: In­cor­po­rated within the mag­nif­i­cent din­ing room fire­place of about 1750 is a por­trait of the builder of the house, Sir Roger Cave. Fig 8 be­low: The house viewed across the pool cre­ated by the dammed River Avon

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