Dream home for a Georgian Hobbit
‘Fantastic, marvellous…’ cries Nigel Spurr, supplier of airport equipment. He’s cheering his undoubtedly sensational house at Eagle, Lincolnshire. It’s somewhat strangely called The Jungle, which is, in fact, spot on, thanks to the rampaging nature of its façade.
Frames of gnarled oak creep around the numerous Gothic, stained-glass windows, while its wooden doorcase has been tortured into Gaudi-like forms. These delights – and there are many of them – are pierced into a snarling frontage of scrunched-up purple and blackened, overburnt bricks. What greater surprise to come upon in an English field?
It was built about 1820 by the suitably named Thomas Lovely for Samuel Russell Collett and, over the years, has been transformed with various and extraordinary decorative schemes. Originally designed as a plain, redbrick farmhouse, it was given its grotesquely picturesque façade as an exotic background to a menagerie of creatures that roamed free on its lawns.
After years of subsequent neglect, in the early 1980s, the farmhouse was demolished, while preserving its fancy front. For a spell this was left, only three feet deep, standing teeteringly alone in the Lincolnshire landscape. Then it was swiftly given the alarming addition of a modern mansion, built by potato mogul Dennis Houlston.
A Major-general Loft had come here in 1826 and left (HURRAY for him so doing) an eyewitness account of this architectural curiosity: ‘In Swinethorpe, [Samuel] Russell Smollett Esq has erected a very singular but tasty and handsome Residence. It is composed of overburnt Bricks until they run together in large masses, these are built up in that
rough State forming a centre and two circular Corners in the manner of a Castle, and has a grotesque but not inelegant Appearance. It stands on the Edge but within an inclosure of about 7 A[cres] in which are a great number of Trees of different Kinds of Timber, Thorns; several Deer of different Kinds are kept here, the American Axis, which has produced a Breed from the Does; there are also several very fine Kangaroos, a Male & a Female Buffalo (I think) and their young calf, all running loose together… There are several foreign cows... In the house are many good apartments.’
Today, the house has electrifyingly ‘good apartments’ with a 60ft-by-40ft drawing room in ‘old rose and chartreuse green’ with a pink-marble and punchedgreen-leather bar, surrounded by gilded furniture, inset with circular, enamel plaques. One bedroom is hung with padded ‘peach velvet’. Another is furnished with the Chinese Collection from nearby Newark – whereby you can order suites of furniture made and painted in Hong Kong.
One bathroom is lined with panels of pink, cream and silver foil. Another sports red- and black-striped walls with firework-like explosions of cream dots.
It is the swimming pool, though, that is a force to be reckoned with. A mosaic of the house decorates its full width, lit by red, blue, pink and yellow lights. A spa bath, sauna and solarium have now gone. The spa bath was lined in beige, cream and silver honeycomb foil; the solarium with turquoise and silver marblised foil.
A pink, carpeted snooker room with a glass wall acts as a grandstand for the bathers in the pool. Lit from on high by the stars of the galaxy – multicoloured to boot – flashing forth from a coved, marblised Formica ceiling, this is proof, if proof were needed, that the Jungle has always zinged with the spirit of decorative adventure. Gothic treehouse: the illuminated pool and (opposite page) the façade