Hanbury Hall

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Hanbury Hall stands in stunning parkland in the district of Wychavon in Worcestershire. Hanbury was acquired by the Vernon family, rich lawyers, in 1631 and was expensively rebuilt by Thomas Vernon in the 1690’s. A talented lawyer at the Courts of Chancery, Thomas Vernon was supplied with designs for the hall by three men – William Rudhall, James Withenbury and John Chatterton. Closest to what was built is the designs of William Rudhall who came from Henley In Arden. The building is constructed of red brick in Flemish bond with ashlar dressings and features prominent wings which flank a recessed central entrance beneath a deep pediment. The two storey hall also features a central octagonal cupola which is said to “rise like a Dutch gallant with a weak chin” (Jenkins, 2003). Little changed from the original plans from the end of the 17th century until it was acquired by the National Trust in 1953. Showing considerable signs of wear and tear, Hanbury has, thankfully, continually been conserved since it came into the care of the Trust.

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Thomas Vernon commissioned the artist Sir James Thornhill to create the wall and ceiling paintings that lavishly adorn the interior. Thornhill was the only British large scale painter of the time and his work on the cupola of St Paul’s Cathedral is his most famous. Entering the main hall (above), you are immediately greeted with an assembly of classical deities. Representing an open-air gallery, the fabulous wall paintings are set within architectural surrounds and depict the story of the Greek hero Achilles. At the time of building Hanbury, a painted staircase was a statement of wealth and with an increased interest in classical civilisations, the story of Achilles and the Trojan War was a fitting mythological theme to be depicted. The Great Staircase is cantilevered and features turned and fluted balusters. The panelling on the walls is finely carved and grained to represent walnut although it is actually made of pine. 

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Although adapted in the 18th century, the downstairs rooms are of a conventional 17th century house. The upstairs rooms are furnished with four-poster beds, porcelain and paintings. Flanked by wild Baroque doorcases, the Gothick Corridors are so named after the wallpaper that decorates the walls. Inspired by wild nature and emphasising strong colours, the Gothick style relates to the art forms prevalent in Northern Europe from the 12th to the 15th centuries.

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Hanbury was a parish belonging to the church of Worcester at the time of the Domesday survey in 1088. From the Norman Conquest onwards, Hanbury was within the boundaries of the Royal Forest of Feckenham and with harsh forest laws, only chosen officials could hunt in such designated areas. After Feckenham lost its royal status in 1629, local families, including the Vernons, bought up land to increase their estates.

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The Formal Garden at Hanbury is part of the grand plans from George London which were laid out for Thomas Vernon in circa 1700. Consisting of intricate and symmetrical parterres and different areas divided by clipped hedges or walls, work to restore the Formal Garden, made up of six parts, began in the early 1990’s. During the late 18th century, London’s work at Hanbury was replaced with the more informal landscaping style of Lancelot Capability Brown. The old stables and farm buildings were demolished at the same time with the kitchen garden removed to a new walled enclosure away from the house.

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In 1865 Thomas Bowater Vernon commissioned R.W.Billings to design a new forecourt with elaborate brick gate piers, archways and railings with gazebos at the corners. Although they are Victorian interpretations, they echo the original pavilions seen in early 18th century drawings. With the aid of generous bequests and a European Union grant, the Formal Garden and the avenues leading into the park have been returned to their original splendour.

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“A fayre Parcke, which though in thys paryshe is styled Feckenham Parcke, sooting in name with the Kynges vast forest, reaching in former ages far and wyde. A large walke for savage beastes, but nowe more commoudyously changed to the civill habitations of many gentell-men, the freehoulds of wealthy yeoman and dwellings of industrious husbandmen.” Thomas Habington (1560-1647)

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Hanbury Hall is Grade I Listed.

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Hanbury Hall: Dining Room

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The Dining Room at Hanbury Hall is on the north east side of the building and was originally split into two rooms – the Withdrawing Room and the Lobby. The Lobby was an entrance for the Vernon family and the Withdrawing Room was part of the state apartment built for Thomas Vernon. A talented lawyer at the Courts of Chancery, Thomas built Hanbury in the early 18th century and he commissioned the artist Sir James Thornhill to create the wall and ceiling paintings which adorn the building. According to the plans of the architect Matthew Habershon, this room became a dining room after 1830. The Rococo chimneypiece (above) dates from 1760 and stands over an earlier chimney surround.

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The room features elaborate furnishings which include a mahogany dining table dating to circa 1835 and part of a Chamberlain Worcestershire service with the Vernon crest and motto (below). The carpet was specially woven for the room in Turkey in 1992-1993. Various members of the Vernon family feature in an impressive collection of family portraits around the room and the classically themed ceiling depicts Aurora and Apollo.

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The dining table has wonderful napkins which detail various members of the Vernon family and their connections (below) and are well worth browsing.

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Bassenthwaite: The Pigeon House

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The Pigeon House above forms part of a cluster of outbuildings to the south east of Mirehouse and is linked by way of a covered pavillion to the Garden Hall. The building is a three storey structure with store rooms at ground and first floor levels with a dedicated pigeon loft above. Constructed in the 18th century, this building is one of only two listed pigeon houses in the Lake District. Pigeons and their eggs were kept as a source of food for the estate but their numbers had to be regulated due to crop decimation. This pigeon house was thus constructed pursuant to the special right of the Lord of the Manor to keep pigeons. In a state of disrepair and requiring substantial works to be undertaken, the building was made structurally sound and refurbished in 2010 with generous help from the Country Houses Foundation. The Pigeon House is Grade II* Listed.

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Broseley: Benthall Hall

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Benthall lies on the right bank of the Severn facing the town of Ironbridge in Shropshire. Benthall was recorded in the Domesday Book as belonging to Wenlock Priory and the Benthall family took their name from the place. Described as lords of the manor, they held the property from the priory. The first record of a house at Benthall dates to 1250 when Philip de Benthall owned land in Benthall Edge. The estate was acquired in 1283 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells and Lord Chancellor of England. The estate passed from Robert to his elder son Philip and from him the estate descended in the male line to William Benthall. William is believed to have built part of the present house which dates to circa 1535 with later, major improvements around 1580. The two storey building, with attics, is constructed of brick faced sandstone and features continuous mullioned and transomed windows on each level. The building has a central hall, eastern service wing and western parlour wing. The Hall also has semi-octagonal bays on the west side of the parlour, on the hall and on the service end.

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Overmantle in The Hall

Lawrence Benthall was the owner of the estate in 1642 and he married Katherine Cassy of Whitfield, Gloucestershire. They made many improvements to the interior of the house when the southern rooms were richly panelled and made into additional parlours or bedrooms. Panelling and a moulded plaster ceiling in the parlour are probably contemporary with a new staircase. Its older fittings are now of the 18th century and perhaps contemporary with alterations, including new fireplaces in both wings, attributed to T. F. Pritchard. New doorcases at the foot of the staircase and a new ceiling there were probably inserted after a fire in 1818. The overmantle in the parlour (below) shows the Benthall and Cassy crest joined together.

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King Charles I rallied many of the local gentry to his cause when he made Shrewsbury his headquarters on the outbreak of the Civil War. Col. Lawrence Benthall fortified his house for the King, and, in March 1643, commanded the garrison in a successful attack on a Parliamentary plundering party led by Col. Mytton of Wem. The King’s garrison remained at Benthall for a further two years until February 1645 when the Royalist stronghold of Shrewsbury fell in a surprise attack led by the same Col. Mytton. The surrounding country then came under Parliamentary control and in July of the same year, a Parliamentary garrison occupied Benthall. The neighbourhood of Benthall and Broseley was one of the most important coalfields in the west of England at the time and Benthall was a strategic vantage point from which to command the River Severn. The Parliamentarians used Benthall as a base to control coal to the Royalists at Bridgnorth and Worcester. A failed Royalist attack in 1645 led to a window and panelling in the Drawing Room sustaining damage.

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Benthall Coat of Arms – Overmantle Dining Room

Lawrence was succeeded by his eldest son Philip who died in 1713. His son Richard died in 1720 with no children but his uncle Edward had a daughter named Katherine. Married to Ralph Browne of Caughley Hall, Katherine had a daughter named Elizabeth whom Richard had settled his estate upon. Upon Richard’s death, litigation ensued from his two sisters when they made claim to the estate. The case was decided in favour of the Brownes in 1746 by the House of Lords and it remained in their possession for over a century. Another Ralph Browne inherited the estate and from him, Benthall passed to his wife’s niece. She married the Rev. Edward Harries and their son, Francis Blythe Harries, continued to own the estate until 1843. Following the fire of 1818, a new wing containing a large dining room was built at the east end of the house. In 1962 this was demolished except for two rooms in the basement, leaving a raised terrace.

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The house was sold in 1844 to the 2nd Lord Forester who was the owner of the neighbouring Willey estate. Various tenants occupied Benthall between 1845 and 1930. George Maw took up residence in circa 1852 when Maw & Co began to make tiles in the parish. Maw was a distinguished botanist and assembled a collection of rare plants in the garden which included 3-4000 distinct species. In 1866 he published A Monograph of the Genus Crocus. Another notable tenant was Robert Bateman, the son of James Bateman, the creator of Biddulph Grange. Both Maw and Bateman made changes to the interior of the house and major changes to the garden. The dovecote in the Rose Garden (above) is attributed to Robert and is thought likely to have been a garden room.

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Benthall came up for sale at auction in 1934 and Mary Clementina Benthall managed to purchase the house and the estate. In 1958 Mary proposed to leave the estate to her cousin Sir Paul Benthall. Sir Paul persuaded her to leave it to the National Trust along with some of the contents. Sir Paul and Lady Benthall became the first tenants of the Trust from 1962 until their deaths in 1992 and 1988 respectively. Sir Paul’s son James and his wife Jill then took up the tenancy and in 1996, Richard Benthall, the twin brother of James, took over with his wife Stella until 2004. While grand, the understated exterior of this beautiful property conceals a wonderfully lavish interior that is rich with ornamentation and detail.

Benthall Hall is Grade I Listed.

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Lyddington Bede House

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The village of Lyddington lies on the northern edge of the valley of the River Welland where the Hlyde, from which Lyddington takes its name, forms a tributary valley. The forest of Rockingham provided an ideal hunting ground for the Norman kings and was the basis of the Bishops of Lincoln decision to develop their estate at Lyddington. Located conveniently near the centre of the diocese, the rural palace became an important seat of ecclesiastical administration. The palace served the princes of the church up to the sequestration of episcopal property by the Crown in 1547. It then passed to the Cecils of Burghley in 1600 and the surviving buildings were converted by Sir Thomas Cecil into the Jesus Hospital, later known as the Bede House, to house pensioners. The buildings served this purpose and continued to be occupied until 1930. It was acquired by the Ministry of Works in 1954 and has since been restored.

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Originating as the medieval wing of the palace, archaeological evidence suggests that the surviving buildings are only the end cross wing of a great 14th century hall. It is thought likely to have been built by Bishop Burghersh who was given licence to crenellate in 1336. The main upper chambers were refenestrated and re-roofed in the latter part of the 15th century. The archaeological evidence has also revealed that the position, splendour and size of the former hall was greater than that constructed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Mayfield in Sussex. Running along the front of the building is a lean to verandah which was erected in 1745 to provide some shelter for the old folk of the bede house.

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At the top of the stair to the ceremonial apartments is a landing with two very fine doorcases (above). Dating to the early 14th century, they survive from the newly crenellated residence of Bishop Burghersh. The shields in the spandrels may well have been painted and gilded but no trace of this now survives.

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The Chapel (above) was probably once part of the bishop’s private chapel. Originally there was a window in the wall (now blocked) which would have allowed those in the Great Chamber to hear mass. The room was later used by a bedeswoman and the invalid chair also dates to this period.

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The Great Chamber (above) was the most magnificent room in the bishop’s private quarters. It later became the common hall of the bedehouse. The room is bathed in light from the mullioned and transomed windows which date to the late 15th century. Below the exceptionally beautiful early 16th century cornice (below), the walls had fine tapestries and hangings. This room was where the bishop received eminent guests – high clergymen, heads of monastic houses, courtiers and kings.

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When the palace was converted in 1601, the great chamber became the bedesmen’s common hall. The residents would gather here to say prayers and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Four times a year they would also listen to the warden reading the rules of the bedehouse. With the dispersal of the bishop’s household it is probable that the fine furnishings were stripped out with anything of value being sold to supplement the royal coffers.

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The Presence Chamber is a room in which medieval bishops conducted their business. The room has a blocked doorway that originally lead up to the presumed gallery above the great hall. The room features a fine fireplace (above) with five carved panels datable by analogy to 1480-1520. With its ornamental fireplace and handsome ceiling, the room would have been impressive and furnished with a canopied bed, rich hangings and decorated chairs. Bishop John Longland was possibly the last bishop who occupied the room. He was King Henry VIII’s confessor and was caught up in the king’s struggle against the Church. The king and Catherine Howard stayed at Lyddington in 1541 and met with his privy councillors before continuing north. After the conversion of the palace in the 17th century, this room and those beyond it were used by the warden of the bedehouse.

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In the medieval palace, the attic floor was probably no more than roof storage. Moulded tie beams indicate that these were visible before the fine ceiling of the great chamber was inserted. Part of the floor is laid in gypsum plaster on reed – a flooring technique common in the east Midlands from the late medieval period onwards. The attic floor has a series of fine knee-braced collar trusses with curved windbraces to the single level of butt purlins. The fine roof structure dates to the mid 15th century and was probably built by Bishop Alnwick before his death in 1449. Gabled dormer windows were inserted in the 17th or 18th century and a small iron fireplace indicates that at least one of the attic rooms was used and heated in the 19th century.

Lyddington Bede House is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Fordhouses: Moseley Old Hall

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Adjacent to the border of Staffordshire, in the suburb of Fordhouses on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, is the charming half-timbered Moseley Old Hall. Thought likely to date to 1600, the Hall was built by Henry Pitt of Bushbury, a merchant of the staple who had purchased the estate in 1583 from a Codsall family. On his death in 1602, it was inherited by his daughter Alice who subsequently married Thomas Whitgreave of Bridgeford, Staffordshire. Moseley Old Hall and estate then passed by direct descent in the Whitgreave line until its sale in 1925. In the late 19th century, the Hall’s dilapidated state seems to have been the cause of the change of name to Moseley Old Hall – in 1600 it was referred to as Mr Pitt’s new Hall at Moseley.

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Until 1870 there appears to have been little structural alteration to the building. The outer walls were rebuilt at this time and the Elizabethan windows were replaced by casements. Much of the original panelling and timber framing within the house still remains and is clearly visible throughout. Despite falling into disrepair and seriously affected by mining subsidence, the Hall remained in use as a farmhouse until the estate was sold in 1925. In 1940 it was acquired by Will Wiggin of Bloxwich but his efforts to repair the building were interrupted by wartime restrictions and were not completed at the time of his death. The Wiggin family transferred the Hall and one acre of land to the National Trust in 1962 and they opened the building to the public in 1963.

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After his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II was on the run for 41 days with a price of £1000 on his head. On the morning of 8th September of the same year, the King arrived at the back door of Moseley Old Hall disguised in rough woodman’s clothes. Thomas Whitgreave and his priest, Father Huddleston, greeted the King and welcomed him inside. Whitgreave was a Catholic and his mother Alice, who was also in the house, had suffered heavy fines for their faith from the Parliamentary authorities. The King was found a safe hiding place in one of Moseley’s priest holes. By the time he left Moseley two days later, the King had devised a practical plan of escape to France. Those who had helped the King lived in fear of execution for the next eight and a half years until Charles was restored to the throne in 1660. The King dictated his own account of the dramatic six weeks of 1651 to Samuel Pepys in 1680. Thomas Whitgreave became known in the family as ‘the Preserver’ and he described the events at Moseley in a manuscript. The original manuscript still belongs to his descendants but has been reproduced, along with many other versions of the story, in the exhibition about Charles Ii in the Dressing Room.

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The Ante Room walls display five 17th century prints of the Stations of the Cross by Nicholas de Bruyn. Also known as Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross are a series of images that commemorate Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. The room has exposed timbers, uncovered wooden floor and fireplace.

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The corridor on the first floor (above) was constructed in the 19th century to give privacy to the bedroom from which it was divided. The walls display collections of contemporary engravings which depict people and events connected with the King’s flight. Also on display are various Acts and Ordnances issued by the Commonwealth of England, including a document that dates to September 1651 offering a reward of £1000 for the capture of ‘Charls Stuart Traytor’.

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The Bedroom on the second floor has a large oak bedstead which has rope springing to support a straw palliasse or mattress. Similar bedrooms of the period would only contain a bed and possibly a chest to hold clothing.

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The Chapel (above), or Oratory, was originally open to the rafters. The barrel-vaulted ceiling was added following the Relieving Act of 1791 which allowed Catholics greater freedom of worship. The blue and gold star decoration above the altar was executed following the issue of a licence for the Chapel on 14th July 1791. The room was regularly used for services until the 20th century. The Whitgreave crucifix was made in Spain and the room features two carved Yorkshire/Derbyshire chairs.

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The Attic contains much of the original timber framing and the facing wall has an infilling of wattle and daub. The garret is the room in which Huddleston’s three pupils kept watch during Charles visit to Moseley. The adjoining section of the attic is a small hiding place, next to a chute to the Brewhouse on the ground floor. The brewing ingredients were stored here, under the roof, to keep them dry until required for use.

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One of the principle features of the garden at Moseley Old Hall is the Knot Garden. A knot, as it was developed in Tudor times, was a small, usually rectangular, bed upon which was outlined a pattern. The Moseley Knot is worked in the living green of dwarf plants with spaces filled with coloured gravels. The garden follows one of five designs laid out by the Rev. Walter Stonehouse, Rector of Darfield in Yorkshire in 1640.

Moseley Old Hall is Grade II* Listed.

Ragley Hall: Stable Block

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The stable block at Ragley Hall dates to the mid 18th century and is attributed to James Gibbs. The north court and the central block (above) were remodelled in 1780 and are the work of James Wyatt. Constructed of limestone ashlar with limestone dressings, the buildings feature stone chimneys, slate hipped roofs and continuous string course throughout. The symmetrical central court has a central round archway with Gibbs surround and flanking niches. The first floor has oeil de boeufs (small round or oval window) and a central square window. The pediment details a clock in front of an octagonal attic with oval openings.

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The semi-circular side wings feature Diocletian windows above the round arched doorcases with sash windows to the first floor attic. The north court (above) also features a central round archway with Gibbs surround and first floor oeil de boeufs.

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The south range of the stable block (above) consists of a loggia with fourteen Tuscan columns and entablature with triglyph frieze. The wall behind features four sash windows, in Gibbs surrounds, alternating with eight oeils de boeufs.

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The buildings which make up the stable block are Grade II* Listed.

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