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

Lansdowne House – Regency Centre of London

The opening chapters in Notorious Match take place in a London mansion that still stands today.

In my manuscript, the fictional hostess, Lady Louisa Lansdowne, has the privilege of holding the inaugural event of the Season.  Louisa has little regard for the house’s political history even though it witnessed the final negotations that confirmed a Nation’s independence.  She is more concerned that her balls are well-attended and therefore is thrilled when Lord Griffin Montgomery arrives at her party.  Now she is assured her ball will be the premiere event for every eligible, unmarried female for many Seasons to come.

Lord Griffin Montgomery rarely attends ton parties, you see.

Lansdowne House – before alteration

This post is the beginning of several in a series that tours this magnificent home.

Lansdowne House was built upon real estate sold off by Lord Berkeley’s widow in the eighteenth century.  The third Earl of Bute purchased the south side of the square that took her husband’s name.  Lansdowne House was built according to Robert Adam’s 1761 design and was largely completed by 1768.  By then Lord Bute had thrown in the towel and the house was finished under the ownership of another British prime minister, Lord Shelburne, whose name graced the house for a time until his lordship was granted the marquisate of Lansdowne.

Lansdowne House was built according to Adam’s predeliction for ‘movement,’ a term which refers to the diversity of form throughout the building, inside and out.  One can see from the black and white photograph several elements:  the rusticated (dare we say, Tuscan?) ground floor topped by the classical coolness of the Palladian pediment and the portico with its Ionic pillars.  The pavilions on either side were placed forward, giving the mansion an assertive, yet graceful presentation:

“This august edifice…unites at once the gay, the elegant and the grand.”

—James Ralph, A Critical Review of the Publick Bulidings:  Statues and Ornaments in, and about London and Westminster

Berkeley Square – 1830

The odd thing about Lansdowne House is its placement.  It does not face Berkeley Square (note the arrow in the adjacent map and the circular front drive), having been situated in such a way as to present its side to the park.   This configuration was to allow the Dukes of Devonshire to have an unobstructed view of the square from their London mansion situated to the south-east (in red).  Lansdowne House was therefore allowed a massive front garden, an advantage few others in the great metropolis had.  Indeed, walkers in Berkeley Square were excused from assuming they were in the country when walking past Lansdowne House, peering through the iron gates at a drive that disappeared into carefully tended landscape.  The only evidence of a building beyond was its exquisite pediment rising above the trees.

This quality was also very nearly the downfall of Lansdowne House.

In the Great Depression, the London council with authority over Berkeley Square determined that a road linking Curzon Street to the square was sorely needed.  The line of houses known as Bolton Row, where Henry James’ sister and other intellectual luminaries had resided, was demolished.  But this was not enough.  The road was extended through Lansdowne’s front garden and Fitzmaurice Place was created in front of the mansion.  To accommodate the new street and buildings, Lansdowne House had to be moved back forty feet.  The only solution, short of destroying the house, was to remove all the front rooms and reconstruct the facade on the truncated building.

Lansdowne House – post truncation

Some of these front rooms were among the finest designs of Robert Adams in England.  The mutilation of Lansdowne House meant that they must go.  And so they went–to far-flung places.

Now that’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

A Viscount and his Pyjamas

“The first reports from Hagley Hall were grim.  At 3:15 a.m. on Christmas Eve in 1925, a servant girl’s screaming alerted the household that the imposing mid-eighteenth-century house, with its elaborate Rococo interiors, was on fire.  The blaze, which had been caused by a defective flue, spread so quickly that Viscount Cobham was forced to escape in pyjamas, gumboots and an overcoat.  Fortunately, the rest of the family, guests and servants all escaped unharmed, but the fire raged on.”

–Giles Worsley, England’s Lost Houses – from the Archives of Country Life (2002) page 39

Hagley Hall - photographed by Richard Rogerson, licensed for reuse

I modelled most of Northam Park’s interior after that of Hagley Hall in Worcestershire.  Both houses have Palladian exteriors in disciplined, classical straight lines.  Hardly a hint of what lies on the inside, never failing to surprise the first-time visitor to these country houses.

More on Northam Park, Diana and her guest next week.  The story of Hagley Hall’s destruction warrants its own post today.

Hagley Hall’s mansard roof had caught fire from a defective chimney flue, pouring molten lead into the house.  Amazingly, guests and neighbors mounted a spectacular salvage effort, going into the burning structure to save priceless treasures.  By the time it was over, the state apartments, including the library, hall and dining room, had been ravaged, their interiors open to the sky.

Lord Cobham went ’round the neighborhood, taking inventory of what had been saved and was stored temporarily.  These included two thousand books, over one hundred paintings, including four famous Van Dyck portraits and four rare Shakespeare collections that had survived in the basement.  Even the tapestries had been saved, cut from their mountings as the fire raged on.

Fortunately for my project, Lord Cobham vowed to restore the mansion.  Click on the link to go to the website for this beautifully preserved English country estate.  Today Hagley is a masterpiece of meticulous restoration, still the glorious country estate of the viscountcy, but under a threat of a different kind and equally destructive.

For a recent report on the condition of Hagley Hall, including a lovely photo of the restored library and the present viscount, click here.

Taking the Plunge

Prior to, and on into the Regency, the idea of bathing was connected to its medicinal value.  It was particularly valued for the salutary effect it had on one’s health, and not for the sensibilities of one’s neighbors.  By the eighteenth century, cold bathing had become quite the vogue.

The Regency Cold Bath

“Mr. Porter, who is an apothecary, was talking of the cold bath and the service it had done him by making him of a more strong firm constitution than before.  He says it is extremely good against the headache, strengthens and enlivens the body, is good against the vapours and impotence, and that the pain is little.  I have almost determined to go in them myself.”

–Dudley Ryder, London attorney, 1715

And much cheaper than Viagra!

A large country house like my character’s estate would not have been complete without an open air cold bath.  I modelled the cold bath at Northam Park after the one at Wynnstay in Denbighshire, pictured above.  A extended discussion of this building’s historical value is here.

Capability Brown included one in his landscape design for the Earl of Northam, commissioning the architect James Wyatt (1746 – 1813).  Wyatt was already a rival to Robert Adam by this time and had not yet entered his Gothic period.  He designed a classical pavilion for Northam Park’s gardens, distinguishing it with a portico echoing that of the great house itself, and supported by ornate Corinthian columns.  It overlooked a rectangular pit lined with stone.  The cold bath was large enough for swimming, nevertheless the temperature discouraged extended sojourns in its icy waters.  Afterwards, one could retire to the pavilion and change.  To enhance one’s feeling of accomplishment, refreshments would be served.  Just the thing for warming up.

The Countess of Northam, the main character in Notorious Match, would entertain guests to her estate with at least one trip to the bath house.  It was something of an outing.  Both sexes would bathe together, appropriately attired of course.

Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire plunge bath – prior to restoration

More examples of cold baths built and used during the Georgian and Regency periods are to be found here along with some very pretty photos of examples made out of grottos and gothic pavilions.

The various baths pictured in Jane Austen’s World are instructional, saving the naughty bits.

“In this house reign harmony, peace, and love”

Will Kate and Wills have a country house?

Most royal couples have had them over the past several centuries.  Speculation is rife that they will settle in a newly commissioned house to be built in Herefordshire on the Harewood Estate now owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The most remarkable part of Harewood is its extensive gardens and terraced paths.  They should make a lovely setting for the royal couple’s new home.

Old Harewood Park House

Long gone is old Harewood House, a smaller country house of three stories featuring a porch supported by Tuscan columns.   It had been built on the site of an old Tudor house in 1781.  Some damage from WWII ballistics testing can be seen in the photo to the right.  Harewood House was demolished in 1959.  Information on this and many other lost English country houses can be found here.

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold also had an English country estate.  Claremont House was a gift to them from an adoring nation.  Happily the house still exists today and the grounds have been restored to their former glory by the National Trust.

Claremont House

The noted classical landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown built the Palladian house with the aid of his future son-in-law Henry Holland to execute the Adam-style interiors.  This site contains a nice collection of images displaying the exterior of Claremont and its extensive gardens.   You can see the classical pediment, the triangular motif so characteristic of the Palladian style, crowning the front of the mansion in the photo to the right.

In 1816, Baron Stockmar, Prince Leopold’s physician and advisor, gives us this account of Princess Charlotte’s life with her new husband at Claremont:

“The Princess in good humour, and then she pleases easily. I thought her dress particularly becoming (September 6th); dark roses in her hair, a short light blue dress without sleeves, with a low round collar,  a white puffed-out Russian chemisette, the sleeves of lace.  I have never yet seen her in any dress which was not both simple and in good taste. The Princess is extremely active and lively, astonishingly impressionable, and nervously sensitive. Intercourse with her husband has had a markedly good effect upon her, and she has gained surprisingly in calmness and self-control, so that one sees more and more how good and noble she really is. She shows many attentions to those around her, but she attributes great value to these attentions, however little she may appear to do so. She never for a moment forgets she is the King’s daughter.

In this house reign harmony, peace, and love— in short, everything that can promote domestic happiness.”