Holland House – A Rival to Lansdowne House (part one)

Its turrets and gables lacked the elegance of London’s newer, Palladian town homes.  Its “relics and curios” were dusty books and historic English papers.  Its location was staid Kensington, not fashionable Mayfair.  Its mistress was not even received at court.  But this Regency seat of influence was nontheless a formidable rival to glittering Lansdowne House:

Holland House

Yet great things were done at Holland House–reforms planned and accomplished, literary lions fed with appreciation and encouragement.  All the great names of that period may be found on the lists of the Holland House entertainments.

—  Charles Dickens, “Holland House,” All the Year Round, A Weekly Journal, Vol. 66, 1890

With the Regency barely on the horizon, the house was known as Cope Castle and practically a ruin when it came into the possession of Lord Henry Richard Fox, third Baron Holland.  He was a mere baby and presumably not ready to take on any renovations even though the house had an illustrious history.  Its best days, it seemed, were behind it.

Those days began when Queen Elizabeth I granted a part of Kensington Manor to one Walter Cope–that part that once belonged to the Abbot of Abingdon–and built a multi-turreted Jacobean mansion that others mockingly called Cope’s Castle.  The Renaissance had penetrated English architecture by the time of its construction in 1607 but classical features like columns, arcades, parapets and the like were applied in a more freeform style rather than with any strict order that characterized the later Palladian movement.  Cope Castle, unlike Lansdowne House, was more like a free spirit.

the haunted Gilt Room

Cope’s daughter inherited the house and it became greatly enlarged upon her union with the Rich family, also grown wealthy on confiscated church property when its patriarch had prosecuted Sir Thomas More on Henry VIII’s behalf.  Her husband was Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, from whom the house takes its present name.   He negotiated the marriage of Henrietta Maria to Charles I and built the house’s famous gilt-room in expectation of entertaining the new Queen there.  This did not come to pass, nor was the Earl to survive the coming storm.  His ghost was said to be seen in that very room, richly dressed as he had been on the scaffold, holding his head in his hands.

After the Restoration of Charles II, the house was sold to Henry Fox, whose sire had the distinction of fathering this first of three sons at the age of seventy-three.  Fox eloped with one of the famous Lennox sisters and it was his grandson, also named Henry, third Baron Holland, who made Holland House a rival in Regency gatherings, as we shall soon see.  Today, Holland House is a ruin, destroyed by a fire-bomb in World War II.

Holland House library – World War II

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Regency stable

“This particular dress, Mr. Carson, is of the first stare,” Mugger insisted with clenched teeth.  “It has a rather daring stand-up collar along the back of the bodice and is the very latest design from France.  It requires her ladyship’s fitting immediately.”

“Stand-up collars are rubbish in my book, Mrs. Mugger,” Carson retorted.  “I’ve got the management of an estate.  Without Northam Park, you and your fripperies can go to perdition.”

Diana winced.  Her estate manager had sacrificed much for Northam Park in her absence.  She had yet to visit it since Vivien had married  but the thought of going there to stay alone in its brooding presence was insupportable.

Mister Carson,” Mugger replied, “you’ve been hounding my lady over that stable for nigh on six months.  Surely it can wait another day.”

“It could.  But you may be surprised to know that even my lord Montgomery agrees with my judgment.  It ought to be pulled down.”

Diana jerked her head up.   “What did you say?”

“Lord Montgomery agrees, my lady,” Carson explained eagerly.  “I spoke with his lordship about the matter the other morning, before you went for your ride.”

“You did?”

Carson visibly quailed.  “I beg your pardon, my lady, but it seemed only natural that I apply to him for an opinion on the matter, given his experience with horses and uh, estates.”

“May I remind you his experience with estates encompasses the loss of his own just this past year?”

“Yes, my lady.  It was merely a trifle—only—only in passing, I assure you.  My lord was kind enough to enquire—always solicitous my lord is,” Carson replied, his voice trailing off in misery.

Diana’s country estate, Northam Park, has a large stable that was the centerpiece of her family’s horse racing enterprise.  The red brick Jacobean-style complex has since fallen into disuse.

Now the steeple that crowns its breeding barn has tumbled to the ground, frightening the gardeners and posing a continued hazard to Diana’s retainers who live and work on the estate.  Diana is reluctant to pull down this last reminder of her earldom’s former glory, but she must do something before anyone is hurt.

Audley End stable gives a fairly good picture of what Diana’s stable looks like.  It’s as fine as many lesser country houses.

Audley End Stables - © Copyright Robert Edwards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Unlike Audley End’s stable, Northam’s is scheduled for demolition.  The horses for which it was built have died out, the last descendant having been stolen.  Thor was eventually recovered, but only after he had been gelded, an act as final as it was inexplicable.
The thieves would not have succeeded but for the terrible shock and distraction the estate had fallen under that night.  The night when its earl, Diana’s father, was found dead along a lane he must have driven over a hundred times before without incident.