Jane Austen and a Regency house remnant

The reference Jane Austen makes to Kempshott Park is from her January, 1799 letter– familiar to many of her fans:

“Charles is not come yet, but he must come this morning or he shall never know what I will do to him. The ball at Kempshott is this evening and I have got him an invitation . . . . I am not to wear my white satin cap to-night, after all; I am to wear a mamalouc cap instead,..”

The turban Mrs. Croft wore in 1995’s BBC version of Persuasion is probably similar to the marmalouc cap — a nod of admiration to British efforts against Napoleon in Egypt.

Kempshott was an out-the-way manor in Hampshire’s Basingstoke Hundred, and not far from Miss Austen’s residence in Steventon.  The logistics of nearby toll roads and rather good hunting combined to make this corner of England greatly desired during the Regency and Kempshott came to the notice of the Prince of Wales, who conceived a fancy for the estate as his hunting box.

HRH leased the commodious house from a man named Crooke, who was then residing at Stratton Park, the mutilated house mentioned in this blog’s previous post.  The course of the house’s history during this time is well-documented at Kempshott Park: a Prince’s Retreat. At various times the Prince entertained both Mrs. Fitzherbert and Princess Caroline of Wales at Kempshott.

By the time Miss Austen was summoned there, Prinny had left for the Grange–the one whose fabulous art collection was bombed by the Luftwaffe (see previous post).  Then Kempshott was leased to Lady Dorchester. It was her ball Miss Austen immortalized in her letter, living on after countless others have been forgotten.

Alas, Kempshott House did not live on. We are lucky one Constance Hill, author of Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends (1904), was able to visit the mansion in its waning years. It had come into the hands of the Rycroft baronets, after undergoing some alteration since the Regency, sporting a fine Italianate exterior that had been added in the 1830s. Miss Hill was able to discover the ball-room of Jane Austen’s day and noted that it had been divided in later years to form a drawing room.

Presumably Miss Hill had her sketchbook with her, for she includes a fine pencil drawing of the ballroom’s intricate door frame in her volume.

World War I led to a long period where the house was vacant, its fixtures gradually dismantled and sold. One dealer attempted to capitalize on the house’s impressive connections, for a chimney piece like the one pictured below was plundered from Kempshott. This was sent on to America where it was joined with odds and ends from unknown origin, to form the centerpiece of a room puffed off as if taken from the house wholly intact–what some would later call a spoof.

This chimney piece, attributed to Henry Holland, is crafted out of Breche marble. Holland was in his French period when hired by Prinny to redo Kempshott, and would have favored this type of marble prominently featured at Versailles. Photo via 1st Dibs

Kempshott House was about to be demolished when visited by author John Harris in the 1960s.

“We found a brooding house, dark and gloomy, its stucco crumbling, deserted, abandoned to agricultural use…potatoes inside, and bales of hay, and an end wall had been broken open at ground floor level to shelter a tractor.”

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

One wonders what Jane Austen would have thought of potatoes piled where she once danced.

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More Remnants of a Regency House

Probably the strangest remnant of a Regency house is Stratton Park in Hampshire. The estate was once a monastery, dissolved and reduced to rubble by that advisor to the Tudors, Wriothesley (easy to pronounce, hard to spell). A Palladian house was built upon the site and later sold by the Duke of Bedford to Sir Francis Baring in 1801.

Sir Francis was a powerful banker to the Whigs and a great friend of Lord Shelburne, whose Lansdowne House has been featured several times in this blog. He remodeled Stratton Park into a neo-classical Regency house, relying on the expert services of Dance the Younger, who had a hand in the design of aforementioned Regency centre of London.

Elizabeth Coade, whose stoneworks made her into a wealthy Regency-era business woman, was applied to for a supply of marble to make up the neo-Greek entrance hall and staircase installed behind a magnificent Doric portico. These elements were fashioned by Coade’s craftsman and later famous sculptor, John de Vaere.

Coade white marble chimney piece

Henry Repton was engaged to create a magnificent park from some of the finest oak-tree plantings in the country which the Hampshire woods were famous for, making the region a favorite site for country houses.

Indeed, just up the road from Stratton Park is Northington Grange, pictured below. Surviving today, it unfortunately lost its trove of Old Master paintings, destroyed when sent away from the estate for safekeeping during the war. Apparently the warehouse storing these priceless treasures was obliterated by a Luftwaffe bomb.

Feeling a little Doric today.
Northington Grange, via Mpntod at English Wikipedia

The Grange was in a state of deterioration, its owner unable to cope with the extraordinary burden of repair and upkeep, when author and country-house snooper John Harris saw it. He planned to see nearby Stratton Park afterwards, for it was scheduled to be demolished. Presumably it, too, would be like the Grange, and many other country-houses that had survived the war in a state of collapse.

Upon inspection, Stratton Park appeared to be in surprisingly good repair despite war misuse. Its fabulous French interiors were still intact, along with the exquisite marble fittings. It seemed the house’s only fault was that it didn’t suit modern taste and therefore was destined for the wrecking ball.

“Even today one wonders, ‘how could they?’ ”

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

Stratton Park — the Doric portico in front of the modern house is all that remains. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Peter Facey

Only the Doric portico was saved.