A CARE­FULLY CON­SID­ERED LAND­SCAPE

Landscape (UK) - - In The Kitchen - Words: Sarah Ryan Pho­tog­ra­phy: Richard Faulks

Ap­prox­i­mately 1½ miles from the cen­tre of Stam­ford, in rolling park­land coated in shim­mer­ing white, glows Burgh­ley House. Dur­ing the win­ter months, the house is closed, ex­cept for four days at the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber when the an­nual Christ­mas Fair and fundrais­ing An­gel Fair are held. At this time, the Chest­nut Court­yard, Brew­house and The Orangery restau­rant are opened, and the ex­te­rior of the house can be seen at closer quar­ters. The park­land, how­ever, is open all year, from dawn un­til dusk, and is home to a large herd of fal­low deer. Ex­ten­sive walks can be taken around the land­scaped grounds, ad­mir­ing the or­nate ar­chi­tec­ture of this 16th cen­tury house.. Much of the park­land was de­signed by the renowned 18th cen­tury land­scape ar­chi­tect Lancelot ‘Ca­pa­bil­ity’ Brown. “On the ride to Burgh­ley, he would have re­veals, so that if you were com­ing down be­tween trees you might sud­denly get a glimpse of the house and then lose it again,” ex­plains house man­ager, Phillip Gom­pertz. While Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown left the most en­dur­ing legacy on the grounds, the in­flu­ence of his 17th cen­tury pre­de­ces­sors, George Lon­don and Henry Wise, of The Bromp­ton Nurs­eries, can be seen in places. The pair were com­mis­sioned by John Ce­cil, 5th Earl of Ex­eter to create av­enues of lime and sweet chest­nut to com­ple­ment the house’s for­mal gar­dens. The de­sign re­mains, though the trees are be­ing re­placed over the course of 20 years as they reach the end of their nat­u­ral lives. “All these ar­eas close to the house would have orig­i­nally been Tu­dor for­mal gar­dens,” says Philip. “Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown came along in the 1750s and was at Burgh­ley for ap­prox­i­mately 23 years, which he re­gards as his long­est com­mis­sion. His thoughts were about chang­ing land­scape and coun­try­side to or­gan­ised nat­u­ral set­tings. He would never have a bare crest of hill, for ex­am­ple.”

Glimpses of beauty

Many of the for­mal gar­dens were taken out and a more nat­u­ral­is­tic set­ting cre­ated, which was both eas­ier to main­tain and good for hunt­ing. Though it ap­pears nat­u­ral now, all el­e­ments of the grounds were care­fully con­sid­ered. “The av­enue plant­ing is de­signed to com­ple­ment Stam­ford and the spires,” says Phillip. “Look down an av­enue that goes straight to­wards St Mary’s Church in the mid­dle of Stam­ford and it’s cen­tred on that spire. A lot of stately homes have some sort of ar­chi­tec­tural fea­ture cre­at­ing a folly at the end of an av­enue: we have the spire of Stam­ford.” On a walk around the grounds, the tow­ers and chim­neys of the town come in and out of view, gath­ered into a per­fect set­ting, framed by ma­ture trees and sil­hou­et­ted against a pale sky. “Of course, he would have planted these trees when they were small, so he would never have seen it,” says Philip. “How­ever, he had the vi­sion to see what it was go­ing to be like in 100 or 200 years’ time.”

cen­tury and the rest of the church around it from the 15th cen­tury. Though its po­si­tion makes it one of the most no­tice­able churches in the town, St Mary’s is of­ten con­sid­ered the most beau­ti­ful and has been re­ferred to as Stam­ford’s show­piece. The oc­tag­o­nal sides of its 14th cen­tury broach spire ta­per to a point al­most as tall as the tower on which it stands. It is richly dec­o­rated with lancets and niches con­tain­ing the orig­i­nal stat­ues. One of the best views is per­haps to be en­joyed from near St Martin’s, a 15th cen­tury church es­tab­lished 300 years ear­lier in 1146. Writer Sir Wal­ter Scott de­clared that the view of Stam­ford from here was “the finest twixt Ed­in­burgh and Lon­don”. In­side, the church houses the Burgh­ley tombs, in­clud­ing that of Wil­liam Ce­cil, 1st Baron Burgh­ley, Lord Trea­surer and ad­vi­sor to Queen Eliz­a­beth I. It was for him that Burgh­ley House, the Eliz­a­bethan manor home stand­ing within two miles of the town cen­tre, was built.

Char­i­ta­ble ges­ture

Not con­tent with build­ing or restor­ing churches, wealthy me­dieval traders also set up a num­ber of be­de­houses. “It was be­lieved that if they did enough good deeds for their fel­low man, their souls would be as­sured a place in heaven,” says Jill. “So, they built almshouses for the poor. Browne’s Hos­pi­tal is ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful and the best ex­am­ple.” Founded in 1485 by wealthy wool mer­chant, Wil­liam Browne, the hos­pi­tal is still in use to­day and home to 13 res­i­dents. It was orig­i­nally built to pro­vide a home and place of wor­ship for 10 poor, el­derly

men and two women. The clois­ters and chapel can still be vis­ited, and the cot­tages sur­round­ing a small court­yard gar­den can be seen from a cov­ered walk­way. “This was an agri­cul­tural area with a lot of peo­ple liv­ing and work­ing on the land, and those peo­ple would lose their homes when they grew old,” ex­plains cu­ra­tor David Walling­ton. Wil­liam Browne had al­ready com­pleted a ma­jor re­build of All Saints’ Church and been Mayor of Stam­ford six times, so he and his wife de­cided to set up this almshouse. The men were ac­com­mo­dated in the Com­mon Room, which is pan­elled with dark wood. Each had a win­dow, a stool, a wooden chair, a bed, a uni­form and re­ceived an al­lowance of ap­prox­i­mately 5 pence per week. Res­i­dents re­cited The Lord’s Prayer and Mag­ni­fi­cat five times be­fore bed and The Apos­tles’ Creed once and were re­quired to know each by heart. At the end of the room, an enor­mous set of wooden doors open to a com­pact but beau­ti­ful chapel, with a ceil­ing twice as high as that of the Com­mon Room. Light from win­dows reach­ing al­most the full height of the room, spills in. “The glory of this chapel is the glass,” says David. “It is the orig­i­nal stained glass

“Stam­ford is as fine a built town all of stone as may be seen”

Celia Fi­ennes, 1697

and 550 years old. Un­for­tu­nately, over the first three cen­turies, it wasn’t well main­tained and was fall­ing out by the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury.” In 1967, the glass was re­moved and cleaned, with as much as pos­si­ble of the orig­i­nal ar­range­ment be­ing re­stored and re­placed. “Much glass of that pe­riod and ear­lier was smashed, ei­ther at the Ref­or­ma­tion or in the Civil War, so we’re lucky that, be­cause it was in a pri­vate build­ing rather than in a church, it sur­vived.” An­other un­usual fea­ture of the chapel are its mis­eri­cord seats: small fold­ing shelves which of­fered some sup­port to the weary. “Dur­ing me­dieval ser­vices, you were not sup­posed to sit down,” says David. “So there was a bench to fold down and perch on. Very of­ten, you will find that if you lift the seat there are fab­u­lous carv­ings be­neath. It’s quite or­nate for some­thing that is ba­si­cally hid­den.” One of these shows a sculpted lion’s head, an­other a mer­maid comb­ing her long hair, said to be tempt­ing sailors to their doom.

Time stands still

Out­side, downy flakes have be­gun to drift lan­guorously through the air, set­tling on win­dow panes and bis­cuit-coloured walls. Close by, a nar­row cob­bled street, Barn Hill, takes on the look of a typ­i­cal Dick­en­sian Christ­mas. Usu­ally a quiet pedes­tri­anised street, it has been used as a lo­ca­tion in a num­ber of TV pe­riod dra­mas, in­clud­ing Mid­dle­march and the 2005 film, Pride and Prej­u­dice. “It is one of the most at­trac­tive streets and easy to imag­ine you’re back in the 18th cen­tury,” says Jill. “There’s a Geor­gian house with a lovely fea­ture. Steps go up from the left and right to the front door, and at the top of the steps is a gate. When the lady of the house came out in her fin­ery, she could step through the gate straight into the car­riage with­out dirty­ing her dress on the road be­low.” Though char­ac­terised with typ­i­cal Geor­gian sym­me­try and pro­por­tion, it was very much the fash­ion to ex­press one­self in the build­ing of a new home. “Those with a bit of money in the new mid­dle classes wanted to em­u­late the wealthy,” ex­plains Jill. “At the front of the house, they would have the most ex­pen­sive dressed lime­stone, with the cheaper rub­ble stone lime­stone at the sides. Un­like the more el­e­gant houses, where the front door leads to a beau­ti­ful hall and grand stair­case, here you would

have en­tered straight into the liv­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion. But that didn’t mat­ter so long as the neigh­bours were im­pressed.”

His­tory at its cen­tre

Red Lion Square is an an­cient mar­ket place in the cen­tre of town, sur­rounded by his­toric build­ings, in­clud­ing one which is thought to have been a late me­dieval wool hall. The square is dressed for the fes­tive sea­son, and a strik­ing Christ­mas tree stands at its cen­tre, in front of a stone build­ing dat­ing back to the late 18th cen­tury, which houses three shops. One of these is owned by Nel­son’s butch­ers, who ac­quired the busi­ness back in 1924, but the shop’s his­tory as a butcher’s goes back to at least 1826.

Vic­to­rian brew­ery

Most of Stam­ford’s Geor­gian houses are built from lo­cal Lin­colnshire lime­stone, and many are tiled with brindled, of­ten mossy, Col­ly­we­ston stone slate. Mined from a vil­lage of the same name four miles to the south-west, the tra­di­tional slate has a sin­gu­lar ap­pear­ance and tra­di­tion­ally took sev­eral years to be made. ‘Logs’ of the sandy Juras­sic lime­stone were hauled out from be­neath the ground while still damp and laid on a bed of shale so that cold air could cir­cu­late. The freeze-thaw process of sev­eral frosts caused the stone to split into thin plates, and these could then be cut and used as tiles. Ex­cel­lent ex­am­ples of this can be found along All Saints’ Street, just a few yards from Red Lion Square. One of the best ex­am­ples is the Mel­bourne Bros’ All Saints Brew­ery. This is a work­ing Vic­to­rian brew­ery, its tall red brick chim­ney vis­i­ble through­out the town. It was es­tab­lished in 1825 and pro­duced beer un­til 1974, af­ter which the brew­house was turned into a mu­seum. Gen­eral man­ager Dan Bourner lives and works at its pub, which has now been set to use pro­duc­ing beer once more. “In 1997, they de­cided to start brew­ing here again us­ing all the orig­i­nal meth­ods and equip­ment,” he says. “We still use the steam en­gine to power ev­ery­thing. It’s all done in the orig­i­nal way, as it was in 1825. We brew the fruit beers that we sell here.” In the pub it­self, hig­gledy-pig­gledy stairs lead up to the main bar, off into sev­eral small snugs and a larger din­ing room. “We like peo­ple to dis­cover it for them­selves,” says Dan. “Some­times peo­ple from Stam­ford ask how long we’ve been open, and I say ‘about 20 years’.” Out­side, sun has bro­ken through the pale cloud, re­flect­ing off the freshly lain snow. Christ­mas draws an­other day closer in this town where the past is cher­ished for its time­less beauty. “The poet, John Bet­je­man de­scribed it as the most at­trac­tive town,” en­thuses Jill. “And when the sun is shin­ing on the stone, it looks ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful.”

The win­ter sun cre­ates a golden glow on mag­nif­i­cent Tu­dor man­sion Burgh­ley House, its grounds blan­keted by snow.

Burgh­ley House man­ager, Philip Gom­pertz.

Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown de­signed the gar­dens at Burgh­ley to give views over Stam­ford’s spires.

Al­though largely re­stored dur­ing the late 19th cen­tury, Browne’s re­tains some orig­i­nal glaz­ing.

The Vic­to­rian cot­tages around Browne’s Hos­pi­tal court­yard gar­den, seen through the arches of a walk­way, were up­dated in 1963 to one-bed­roomed flats.

Cu­ra­tor David Walling­ton in the chapel.

A model of a pa­tient’s in­di­vid­ual quar­ters at Browne’s Hos­pi­tal.

Light streams through a stun­ning stained glass win­dow, which al­most fills one side of the hos­pi­tal chapel.

The for­mer Gothic-style pub­lic bath house, dat­ing from 1823, is now a pri­vate res­i­dence.

Softly-coloured house frontages, with a va­ri­ety of bay and arched win­dows and porch styles, make an im­pres­sion along the slop­ing streets.

All Saints Brew­ery, a re­stored Vic­to­rian steam brew­ery, with its dis­tinc­tive tower.

Gen­eral man­ager Dan Bourner in the brew­ery be­hind the pub build­ing.

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