A report on our February 2018 event on ‘The Country Houses of Warwickshire 1660 – 1830’ given by Geoffrey Tyack.
The favourite was definitely red as members and friends of Stroud Civic Society entered the Old Town Hall, removed gloves and chose their glass of wine. Our speaker waited sympathetically while everyone unwound thick coats and scarves, exclaimed about the bitter cold outside, sipped their wine and finally settled.
With a slide photograph of grey stone-built medieval Warwick Castle and Warwick’s timber-framed Market House on the screen beside him, Geoffrey Tyack explained that from an early age he had been fascinated by Warwickshire, its landscapes, its castles and country houses. It had taken years, however, before he had finally come to research and write about them.
Our speaker’s chosen houses ranged in size from Warwick Castle through to monastic conversions like Arbury Hall (whose owner re-modelled the chapel with a highly decorated plaster ceiling), and Stoneleigh Abbey, with, as recorded in the 1660s, 70 hearths. By the 1670s further ‘improvements’ began – the quotation from Jane Austen’s novel ‘Mansfield Park’ reminds us of the demand for domestic comfort to impress prospective suitors for the daughters and sons of the houses. But the Earl of Warwick led the way with the first and best French-inspired ‘great apartment’ ever seen in a Warwickshire country house.
At Stoneleigh Abbey (where Jane Austen was a frequent visitor) the fifth Lord Leigh decorated the entrance hall (the saloon) with magnificent Rococo plasterwork depicting, for example, six of the Labours of Hercules; he also planned rows of Corinthian columns, a new library and music room. These however, never materialised, since sadly he went mad in 1767 and all work on the house ceased.
Mirroring alterations to the houses came transformations of older formal gardens with the fashioning of irregularly sided pools, ruins, an orangery – perhaps a rotunda or a new cascade for the lake. Inevitably fashions continued to change but the most exciting innovations took place at Arbury Hall. The re-modelling of the house began in 1750 and continued for over 50 years. These major works resulted in the most impressive eighteenth century gothic house in England, With a grand Saloon, the most elaborate room in the house, inspired by the roof of Henry V11’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Equally striking is the Hall with three Gothic arches with a plaster fan vault rather like the cloister of Gloucester Cathedral. Even Lady Newdigate’s dressing room was ‘fitted up Gothic’.
An hour later our colourful journey round and through Warwickshire landscapes and their country houses ended and after questions and a vote of thanks by Tim Mars, small groups formed to urge our Secretary Juliet Shipman to please organise trips to see some of these wonderful houses!
So, why not join Stroud Civic Society and enjoy a Summer Programme of visits to spectacular castles, churches, houses and gardens on every kind.