Remnants of a Regency House

This blog has visited lost houses of England before, mostly the result of scouting for locations that may one day be resurrected as fictional houses in this author’s historical romances. For example: Coleshill House, Cassiobury Park and Sutton Scarsdale.

 A plaster remnant the salvage firm left behind at ruined Sutton Scarsdale – photo via Wikicommons, Phil Sangwell

The stories of Regency-era house demolition are, on the whole, a sad affair. These large mansions with separate worlds of upstairs and downstairs, gardens and parks, coverts and woodlands, employing distinct crafts outside and domestic servants inside, fascinate viewers of Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. They fail to survive modern life, however, much as anything else that is labor-intensive to sustain.

When post-war Britain underwent huge economic and social upheaval, what was formerly sacred was broken up, dispersed, or burned on the lawn.

“In 1955, one house was demolished every two and a half days.”

— No Voice from the Hall, by John Harris (1998)

I’m particularly glad Mr. Harris went to great effort to record his own experiences of these vanishing houses. Uffington and Burwell Houses in Lincolnshire, the former already a ruin, the latter to be demolished, gave up vivid remnants of the Regency period.

Uffington was destroyed by fire in 1901. The conservatory remained standing, storing what had been hastily saved from the conflagration but never reclaimed, forgotten for over fifty years.

“..a half-burnt Regency side table, broken gilt picture frames, bits of marble, plaster fragments, a shattered gilt Georgian torchère.”

 1815 Regency torchères for sale  in Houston, Texas of places – photo via 1stDibs

At abandoned Burwell, the author found the house being used as a barn. Sheep exited the manor beneath the Doric entrance as freely as you please. Grain flowed like a vast desert beneath ornate plasterwork ceilings. A massive overmantle frame still containing its two-hundred year-old landscape painting reigned over sightless sacks of potatoes. These were stacked up so high they reached the bottom of family portraits still hanging on the drawing room walls, festooned in spiderwebs.

The ceiling of St. Martin in-the-Fields, designed by Gibbs, influenced the plasterwork ceilings of many Regency-era homes, including Burwell’s. photo via Wikimedia Commons, Steve Cadman photographer

Later, the author returned to Burwell, only to find the “philistine” Lindsey County Council had given consent for its demolition. He arrived in time to see workers hacking away at the rococo plasterwork, a pile of broken marble on the lawn, and a fire burning up the mahogany-carved stair.

“I was black with rage. As a single act of destruction, the burning of a masterpiece from the National Gallery would have been no worse.”


Where is Wimberley?

The earl’s proximity caused her to feel somewhat heated, and she moved away to look at an open-faced curio cabinet filled with

Coleshill House

objects. They included a series of miniature watercolors depicting two houses, one an English baroque with a pretty dome. She touched its frame, admiring the lovely home depicted, with its bold white casement windows and elegant chimneys. Its parkland was a wealth of varied landscaping, with huge oaks surrounding the whole.

“Wimberley,” Lord Northam said, following her. “It has been mine since before Northam came to me.”

Wimberley was the name of Russell’s marquisate in Notorious Vow.  He became marquess on the death of his maternal grandfather, long before the tragic death of his brother, which brought him the earldom of Northam.  

Originally bestowed on Lady Nellie’s family by Queen Anne, the principal jewel in the marquisate’s crown was its seat in Berkshire, which greatly resembled the now lost Coleshill House (pictured above).  Older than Northam Park by several decades, Wimberley was one of the first English country houses to feature a dome designed by Christopher Wren.  Like Coleshill, its main staircase was Italian in design, with impressive plasterwork throughout that emphasized Wimberley’s agricultural wealth.

Coleshill has a tragic history, however.  It had just been transferred to the National Trust when repairwork being carried out ignited the interior, leaving only a burned-out shell topped by its massive chimneys.  Its loss has been called “grievous beyond words.” (Country Life, 1952)  It contained a masterful display of decoration first introduced by Inigo Jones to the Stuart Court, and has never been replicated elsewhere.