Wednesday, 18 November 2015

(195) Arundell of Wardour Castle and Lanherne, Barons Arundell of Wardour - part 1

Arundell of Lanherne and Wardour
The first part of this post provides an introduction to the Arundell family and their estates, and describes the houses they owned. Part 2 gives the detailed genealogy of the family.

The Arundells of Lanherne - sometimes called the Great Arundells to distinguish them from the cadet branches of Trerice, Menadarva, Tolverne and Sheviock - became one of the principal landowning families in Cornwall in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. By the time of his death Sir John Arundell (1367-1435) owned 24 manors in Cornwall and a further nine in Devon. In 1452 his grandson, Sir John Arundell (1421-72), married Catherine, daughter and co-heir of Sir John Chideock, who brought estates in Dorset, Somerset and Gloucestershire into the family, and in 1473 or 1474 Sir Thomas Arundell, son of Sir John, married Catherine, sister of Lord Dinham and co-heir to further estates in Devon and other counties.

In the early 16th century Sir Thomas Arundell (c.1502-52), a younger son who became a leading figure at the court of King Henry VIII and was indeed for a time the King's brother-in-law, established a new branch of the family on estates in Wiltshire and Dorset which quickly eclipsed the Cornish line in wealth and power, culminating in the grant of a peerage in 1605. Sir Thomas received property in Dorset, Somerset and Devon from his father and purchased Wardour Castle (Wiltshire) from Sir Fulke Greville in 1547. As an officer of the Court of Augmentations he was well placed to profit from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and despite his adherence to the Catholic faith he bought, and was given by the King, substantial parts of the lands of Shaftesbury Abbey. Ultimately, however, the adherence of the Arundells of Lanherne and Wardour to the Catholic faith effectively constrained both their wealth and their influence. Another blow was that, in the Civil War, Wardour Castle was blown up during a siege and in the late 17th and early 18th centuries the family owned no major house and were inhibited by the penal laws from building up their estates or occupying public office.

The only path remaining to the family to restore their wealth was through successful marriages, mainly with other Catholic families. In this way the family acquired property in Hampshire from the Philpotts, and in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset from the Wyndhams. It was, however, the marriage of the 5th Baron with Elizabeth Panton, through which they acquired a chunk of the West End of London, and the marriage of the 7th Baron with a co-heiress of the Arundells of Lanherne, which reunited the two branches of the family, that made the Arundells extremely rich again in the mid 18th century. The 8th Baron Arundell of Wardour continued the tradition of good marriages, and his wife brought him the Irnham Hall estate in Lincolnshire*. As a result of the wealth brought by these marriages, the 8th Baron was able to build a new Wardour Castle worthy of his peerage, to landscape the grounds to the designs of Richard Woods and Capability Brown, and to build a splendid chapel which was actually the largest Catholic church built in 18th century England. He and his wife also made a second home at Irnham Hall and carried out landscaping works there, also to the design of Richard Woods.  Alas the 8th Baron proved to be a spendthrift and brought the family to the edge of complete ruin; amongst the many causes of his downfall was his generosity to co-religionists fleeing the anti-clerical atmosphere in revolutionary France. He gave pensions to many emigrĂ© priests, and he gave Lanherne house in 1794 to a displaced convent of Carmelite nuns. By 1798 he was bankrupt, and all the estates, including the remaining ancestral Cornish property, were sold, excepting only the core of the Wardour estate and 2 acres of the London property

In the 19th century successive generations worked - with more or less success - to gradually retrieve this position, but in the late 19th century the Arundell estates were still almost entirely confined to Wiltshire. In 1883 they comprised 6,037 acres in Wiltshire and 182 acres in Cornwall, worth £9,174 a year. The hard work of the 19th century owners was partly undone when the main line of the family failed in 1906, leaving the estate in the hands of a dowager, who made damaging sales of both land and the contents of the house. When she died in 1934 the estate came to a young and energetic man, John Francis Arundell, 16th Baron Arundell of Wardour, who clearly had the skills and character needed to steer the estate through the difficult period of the mid 20th century, but tragically he contracted tuberculosis in a German PoW camp and died on his way home after being repatriated in 1944, leaving no heir to the peerage. The estate passed to distant cousins with estates elsewhere, who took the name Arundell, but the great house at Wardour was first leased as a school and then sold.

*Irnham Hall was only in the family for two generations, and a detailed account of it is reserved for a future post on the Conquest family.

Lanherne, St. Mawgan, Cornwall

Despite later alterations and additions, Lanherne is still fundamentally the important early 16th century courtyard house built for Sir John Arundell (d. 1545), which perhaps incorporates elements of its predecessor. Because it has been an enclosed religious house since 1794 and is guarded from most angles by high enclosing walls, it has never been subjected to proper architetural and archaeological analysis, and the following account would certainly need substantial revision if the building ever becomes more accessible. 

Lanherne House: drawing of 1821 by J.C. Buckler. Image: British Library Add MS 36360, f.170

Lanherne House: entrance front. Image:
The east side of the courtyard consists of two parallel ranges of building, of which the inner side is thought to be the earlier. The external elevation of this range forms the entrance front, which is the best recorded part of the house, and which has changed little since the early 19th century and probably a lot longer. It is asymmetrical, with the main entrance towards the left hand end, framed by two- and three-light windows with arched or arched and cusped lights. To the right of this is a generous eight-light window on the ground floor, with a window of similar dimensions above which is corbelled out to form a sort of shallow oriel. Could these windows have lit the dais end of a two-storey hall, and if so, why does the upper window project? Or, since both these large windows have plain arched lights, do they represent an Elizabethan alteration when a floor was inserted into the hall? Or, a third possibility, was the Tudor hall on the far side of the courtyard and not in this range at all? The five light windows beyond, in the end wall of the north range, light the chapel which was created in the house in the 19th century. The north range is said to preserve an arch-braced roof.

Lanherne House: the west range of c.1717 seen over the roofs of outbuildings. Image: Latin Mass Society

The whole western side of the house was rebuilt (according to a tradition which can be discounted, to the design of Christopher Wren) in the early 18th century as a two-storey nine-bay range over a basement with sash windows, brick arcaded and panelled chimneystacks, and a cupola with a clock, ogee lead roof and weathervane. The rebuilding may date from the same time as the elaborate rainwater hoppers on the entrance front, which are dated 1717. In addition to replacing the original west range of the courtyard, the rebuilding extended to the western part of the north range and also included a rather taller pavilion at the western end of the south range. The house is said to contain good plasterwork which has apparently never been recorded.

Lanherne House in its setting, from an estate survey of 1777. Image: Cornwall RO AR/18/13

The setting of the house is still remarkably as it was depicted on an estate survey of 1777. The enclosing walls and ancillary buildings, which would probably have been swept away in 18th or 19th century landscaping improvements if the house had remained in residential use, and the walled garden to the south of the house, are still present and in use. 

Descent: John de Lanherne (fl. mid 13th cent.); to daughter Alice (b. c.1244), wife of Renfred de Arundell (c.1238-80); to son, John de Arundell (b. c.1272); to son, Sir John de Arundell (fl. 1335); to son, Sir John de Arundell (1310-c.1376); to grandson, Sir John Arundell, KB (1367-1435); to grandson, Sir John Arundell (c.1421-72); to son, Sir Thomas Arundell KB (c.1452-85); to son, Sir John Arundell KB (c.1474-1545); to son, Sir John Arundell, kt (c.1500-57); to son, John Arundell (c.1530-90); to son, John Arundell (c.1564-1633); to son, Sir John Arundell (c.1605-42); to son, Sir John Arundell (c.1623-1701); to daughter Frances (1650-1713), wife of Sir Richard Bellings (1622-1716); to son, Richard Bellings Arundell (1672-1725); to daughter, Mary Bellings Arundell (1716-69), wife of Henry Arundell (1717-56), 7th Baron Arundell of Wardour; to son, Henry Arundell (1740-1808), 8th Baron Arundell of Wardour, who gave the house to a group of Carmelite nuns in 1794.

Chideock Castle, Dorset

Chideock Castle: the engraving of the gatehouse by Samuel & Nathaniel Buck , 1733.

Only the earthworks of the moated site now remain of the castle built here for John de Chidiock, who was given a licence to crenellate in 1370 which was confirmed in 1380. The house, which was perhaps more a fortified manor house than a true castle, was built of stone with later brick additions, and was largely demolished in the Civil War. The ruins of the gatehouse survived in 1733 when they were engraved by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, but were taken down in 1741. Some stonework was evidently preserved at that time and was later incorporated in Chideock Manor, a new house built for Humphrey Weld in c.1810 to the designs of John Tasker, including the massive dining room chimneypiece of c.1500 with a row of sub-cusped quatrefoils bearing shields and roses and a band of paired mouchettes.

Descent: John de Chidiock (fl. 1380)... Sir John de Chidiock; to daughter Katherine, wife of Sir William Stafford of Frome and later of Sir John Arundell (c.1421-72); to son, Sir Thomas Arundell KB (c.1452-85); to son, Sir John Arundell KB (c.1474-1545); to son, Sir John Arundell, kt (c.1500-57); to son, John Arundell (c.1530-90); to son, John Arundell (c.1564-1633); to son, Sir John Arundell (c.1605-42); destroyed c.1644.

Wardour Castle, Wiltshire

The plan below shows the relationship of the Old and New Wardour Castles in the Wiltshire landscape.

Plan of the Wardour estate, showing the relationship of the old and new castles, from R.B. Pugh & A.D. Saunders, Old Wardour Castle: official handbook, 1968. Crown Copyright: some rights reserved.

Old Wardour Castle, Wiltshire

This remarkable building was built for John, Lord Lovel at the end of the 14th century in pursuance of a licence to crenellate granted in 1393. It consists of a polygonal bailey that reflects the shape of the hexagonal keep-like building at its centre, which has one face projecting forward to form a towered entrance front. The bailey was probably originally entered by a gatehouse, now lost, and no doubt had storage buildings, stables etc, built against the curtain wall, but the remains of these were lost when the castle was remodelled for Sir Matthew Arundell in the 1570s and the ground level of parts of the bailey was raised.

Old Wardour Castle: the entrance front and shattered north-western side from beyond the bailey wall.
Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Licenced under this Creative Commons licence.

Through the central archway lies a small hexagonal courtyard which is hardly more than a light-well. No other English castle seems to have a comparable plan (although the slightly later French Chateau de Concressault is hexagonal), and the building seems to be one of a number of experiments made in the late 14th century by owners who were exploring the possibility of adapting castle forms for more comfortable living in a world where defence was no longer the overriding consideration. It is therefore comparable with the demolished circular Queenborough (Kent, c.1361) and Southampton (Hants, 1378) castles, the square Bodiam Castle (Sussex, c.1385), and the compact Warkworth Castle (Northbld, 1377). It is perhaps not insignificant that it dates from the 1390s, when England was briefly at peace with France and the English and French royal courts were vying with one another in displays of luxury and magnificence; nor that Lord Lovel was one of a small group of courtiers who increasingly monopolised the King's patronage at this time. It is clear that a master mason of the first quality was responsible for the design and construction of Wardour, and on stylistic grounds the late John Harvey suggested that this was the royal mason, William de Wynford (d. 1405), who designed Southampton Castle and oversaw Edward III's rebuilding of Windsor Castle (which seems to be the source of some of the mouldings and details at Wardour). Lord Lovel was certainly wealthy and well-connected enough to afford and to command his services. 

Although most of the fabric of the castle is medieval, it is hard now to get a sense of how the accommodation was originally arranged, except that the principal rooms were on the first floor. The great hall was set between the twin towers of the entrance front, and lit by two large windows on either side, an arrangement that may consciously echo Richard II's contemporary new entrance to Westminster Hall. Another mark of how up-to-date Wardour Castle was is that the entrance passage below the great hall was once fan vaulted, and this is the earliest known instance of the use of this intensely decorative form in a secular building. The passage led directly into the hexagonal central courtyard, where there was a central well, which probably had a decorative canopy, and from here the main staircase led up to the screens passage of the great hall. The hall itself was the largest room in the castle and rose its full height; it may have had a central hearth until the 16th century when a fireplace was created in the wall. The south side of the castle was occupied by the service accommodation, including a two-storey kitchen. From the other end of the hall opened Lord Lovel's withdrawing chambers, but the form and sequence of these has been lost in later changes; all that can be said is that in order to fit regular principal rooms into the hexagonal plan, they were separated by wedge-shaped spaces that will have provided closets, latrines and antechambers.

Old Wardour Castle: the entrance front of 1393, as altered in the 1570s.

Sir Matthew Arundell bought the castle in 1570 and there is a datestone of 1578 over the entrance which presumably marks the conclusion of his remodelling. A letter of June 1576 from Arundell to Sir John Thynne of Longleat mentions that Robert Smythson had recently been at Wardour, and there can be little doubt that he was Arundell's architect, as the Classical detail at Wardour relates both to Longleat and to Wollaton (Notts) where Smythson is known to have been the designer (Wollaton was also built for Sir Matthew's brother-in-law). The entrance portal, with intermittently blocked columns, and the coat of arms and the head of Christ in a niche with the inscription 'Sub nomine tuo stet genus et domus' above are part of his work, as are the shell-headed niches to either side. The original irregular windows of the castle were mostly replaced by symmetrically disposed mullioned windows, which although rather old-fashioned in form for the 1570s were perhaps intended to harmonise with the medieval work. 

Old Wardour Castle: the portal of the main staircase in the castle court.
Enhanced from an image by Mike Searle via Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

Inside, Smythson redesigned the main interiors, and although little of his decoration is left, this does include the portal of the staircase up to the hall with its attached Roman Doric columns and a metope frieze. An inventory of 1605 shows that the house was sumptuously furnished; the main rooms were hung with tapestry or gilded leather; cushions and bed hangings were of silk or velvet, embroidered with gold or silver fringe; there were gilded tables and beds; marble table tops; and there was an Ostrich egg hanging in the gallery. There were also a quite exceptional 192 pictures hanging in the house, including forty itemised portraits of popes, emperors and senators; and a remarkable collection of 154 pieces of imported Chinese porcelain, making this much the largest collection known at the time after the royal collection.

All these contents have long since disappeared, many being looted or destroyed when the castle was sacked in the Civil War. According to one account, "there were in the castle rare pictures, the work of the most curious pencils that were known to these latter times of the world... these in a wild fury they break and tear in pieces". Another casualty was an extraordinary chimney piece, almost certainly in the Great Parlour, "valued at £2,000; this they utterly deface and beat down all the carved work thereof with their pole axes". The pieces were later thrown down the castle well, from which enough were recovered in the 20th century to allow a tentative reconstruction: it was made of Cornish Catacleuse stone and had an overmantel with an achievement of the Arundell arms and a mantlepiece supported on caryatids with strapwork decoration.

Old Wardour Castle: the engraving by S. & N. Buck, 1735

In 1643 a force of 1,300 Parliamentarian soldiers laid siege to Wardour, which was defended by Blanche, wife of the 2nd Lord Arundell, and a skeleton garrison of 25 men. They held out for six days before capitulating on 8 May. The contents of the castle were looted, but its fabric had been little damaged, and a sizable Parliamentary garrison moved in under the command of Edmund Ludlow, later one of the regicides. In December, the 3rd Lord Arundell, who had recently succeeded his father, was obliged to lay siege to his own house; the Parliamentarians held out until 14 March 1644, when a mine in one of the drainage tunnels under the castle blew up and brought down the whole western side of the castle. Four days later, Ludlow surrendered and Lord Arundell was able to repossess his shattered home. It was uninhabitable, and as a short-term measure Lord Arundell rented the Elizabethan Breamore House (Hants) and made temporary quarters at Wardour on the edge of the castle court, perhaps around a core of some 16th century outbuildings. Later on, these lodgings were enlarged in a piecemeal fashion to create Old Wardour House, and there are scattered references to the repair and improvement of this house in the Arundell papers, which suggest that it must have been larger in the 18th century than it is today. 

Old Wardour House, from the grounds of the castle. Image: Terry Franks

These include payments for building, tiling and painting between 1725 and 1729, when the house had at least 30 sash windows, payments to Henry Cheere for statues of Apollo and Diana in 1742, and to John & William Bastard of Blandford Forum for providing a new chimneypiece and 'carved wooden ornaments'. A sizable part of the building seems to have been demolished in the 1770s when the family moved to the new Wardour Castle and Old Wardour House was adapted for use as a farmhouse. Buck's engraving shows that there was a formal garden laid out around the castle ruins, and there is a payment in the accounts as early as 1687 for the building of a banqueting house; its early 18th century successor is the building on the left in the image of Old Wardour House above.

The medieval castle at Wardour seems to have been accompanied by two deer parks, one for fallow deer and the second for red deer, which were defined by a Great Ditch, evidence of which can still be found in the landscape. These parks defined the context in which mid 18th century landscaping took place. In 1754 Capability Brown came to Wardour and spent five days 'making a general plan for the intended alterations' and measuring up some 620 acres adjoining the castle. Nothing was done to his designs, perhaps because his client, the 7th Baron Arundell, died in 1756, but in 1764 the Catholic Richard Woods was called in. He made an ambitious proposal for landscaping the whole park, in which a site for a new mansion had been selected by 1765, although his executed work was mainly confined to the area around the old castle, which became a focal picturesque object in the landscape. He also laid out the Great Terrace, a mile-long level grass walk flanked by laurels which led from the old castle to the new house. Woods planted more trees around the castle and made a drive through the woods from which views down to the ruins could be enjoyed. He also enlarged a (possibly medieval) fishpond west of the house into the present Swan Pond, and joined it by a cascade to a new much smaller lake, intended as the first of a series of water bodies down the valley. He built a boathouse on the Swan Pond, a porticoed cold bath by the cascade, and an icehouse and Gothic temple in a nearby plantation. The boathouse and icehouse have gone, and the ruins of the temple have been moved to Hatfield Priory in Essex, but the cold bath survives, enlarged and altered, as a farmhouse known as The Ark. This is thought to derive its name from an elegant gondola-shaped sailing boat which was built for boating parties on the Swan Pond, and which was in turn probably named from one of the ships on which the 2nd Lord Baltimore (a son in law of the 1st Lord Arundell) sailed to America to found the colony of Maryland.

Old Wardour Castle: the banqueting house probably designed by James Paine c.1773. 

West of the castle ruins is a two-storey late Georgian Gothick summer house with ogee-headed windows. There is no reference to this in the documentation of Woods' alterations, and it seems to date from 1773, when James Paine was building the new Wardour Castle, so it was probably designed by him. Although primarily a classical architect, he was prepared to design in the Gothick style where, as here, the setting made this appropriate.  Built against the bailey wall, the banqueting house has two floors on the lake side but only one from the castle side. The lower rooms were service accommodation and the upper rooms (now a wedding venue) for the gentry, and in the 19th century when the castle ruins were open to the public the place was run as a refreshment room for visitors . 

Old Wardour Castle: the grotto built by Josiah Lane in 1792. Image: Simon Burchell. Some rights reserved.

Capability Brown was again at Wardour in 1774 or 1775 and made a further plan for the park which was designed to reflect the shift of focus that came with the building of the new castle and the partial demolition of Old Wardour House. Once again, however, little was done to his designs, and the last addition to the grounds was the creation of a grotto by Josiah Lane in 1792. Lane, who had a considerable reputation for making grottoes (he worked also at Oatlands (Surrey), Bowood and Fonthill (Wilts) and probably at Ascot Place (Berks), lived locally and seems to have been an artisan with a 'feel' for rockwork rather than a sophisticated designer; he died in Tisbury workhouse in 1835.

Descent: sold 1385 to John Lovel (1341-1408), 5th Baron Lovel; to son, John Lovel (d. 1414), 6th Baron Lovel; to son, William Lovel (1397-1455), 7th Baron Lovel; to son, John Lovel (1433-65), 8th Baron Lovel from whom it was confiscated 1460; to Crown, who appointed as Constables John Touchet, Lord Audley (fl. 1461, 1478), William Neville, Earl of Kent and George, Duke of Clarence (fl. 1463-78); sold to Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond; who gave it 1487 to Sir John Cheyne (d. 1499), 1st Baron Cheyne for life and then sold to Robert Willoughby (d. 1502), 1st Baron Willoughby de Broke; to son, Robert Willoughby (d. 1522), 2nd Baron Willoughby de Broke, whose co-heirs sold 1547 to Sir Thomas Arundell (executed 1552); seized by the Crown and sold  to William Herbert (1506-70), 1st Earl of Pembroke; to son, Henry Herbert (c.1534-1601), 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who sold 1570 to Sir Matthew Arundell (1535-98); to son, Sir Thomas Arundell, 1st Baron Arundell of Wardour (c.1560-1639); to son, Thomas Arundell, 2nd Baron Arundell of Wardour (c.1586-1643); to son, Henry Arundell, 3rd Baron Arundell of Wardour (1608-94); to son, Thomas Arundell, 4th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1633-1712); to son, Henry Arundell, 5th Baron Arundell of Wardour (c.1665-1726); to son, Henry Arundell, 6th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1694-1746); to son, Henry Arundell, 7th Baron Arundell (1717-56); to son, Henry Arundell, 8th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1740-1808); to cousin, James Everard Arundell, 9th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1763-1817); to son, James Everard Arundell, 10th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1785-1834); to brother, Henry Benedict Arundell, 11th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1804-62); to son, John Francis Arundell, 12th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1831-1906); to cousin, Edgar Clifford Arundell, 14th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1859-1921); to brother, Gerald Arthur Arundell, 15th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1861-1939); to son, John Francis Arundell, 16th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1907-44), who placed the castle in the guardianship of what is now Historic England; to kinsman, Reginald John Arthur Talbot (later Arundell) (1900-53); to son, Reginald John Richard Talbot (later Arundell), 10th Baron Talbot de Malahide (b. 1931).

New Wardour Castle, Wiltshire

Wardour Castle: entrance front (originally intended as the back of the house). 

The new mansion was built for the 8th Lord Arundell of Wardour on a site agreed with Richard Woods by 1765, but although Woods made designs for the house, it was built to plans by James Paine between 1770 and 1776, after Woods had been dismissed in 1771. A number of sets of drawings for a new house survive, including some by a Somerset neighbour, Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, and others by Robert Baldwin, indicating that Lord Arundell may have consulted widely before choosing his architect. 

Wardour is the largest new Georgian house in Wiltshire, ashlar-faced and stern. The house consists of a nine by six bay main block with quadrant links to three-bay pavilions on what is now the entrance front. However, the other side of the house seems originally to have been intended as the principal facade, and this explains why it is the garden front which is more elaborately treated.  As first planned, the house would have resembled earlier Paine houses like Belford and Gosforth in having a central block framed by set-back wings. [To avoid confusion, my description employs the terms entrance front and garden front as they are currently used]. 

Wardour Castle: garden front (originally intended as the entrance side).
Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Licenced under this Creative Commons licence.
For such an important house, the design is curiously gauche. Paine follows his customary practice by making the entrance doorways on both fronts into the low rusticated basement and wholly unstressed. This works well in his smaller villas but here seems inadequate. The main block has one attic storey on the garden front and two on the entrance side: the former is more successful, but on this front the need to accommodate the blind middle storey means the windows of the piano nobile are set rather low visually; while on the entrance front the two rows of mean windows in the upper storeys contrast painfully with the large sash windows below. The entrance front also lacks movement and relies for central emphasis on a central Venetian window with a super-arch and a three-bay pediment which are not adequate to the task. On the garden side the three-bay pediment is supported much more successfully on giant Corinthian columns and there are coupled Corinthian pilasters at the angles.  One feels that Paine, who was used to building five bay villas, has struggled to effectively articulate the greater mass of this larger house. The quadrant links (which are curved only to the front) are of two storeys and have arched windows in blank arches on the ground floor.  The pavilions are pedimented and have on both front and back a central Venetian window like that in the middle of the entrance front. The two wings were planned around single large spaces: the kitchen and the chapel in the east and west wings respectively.

Wardour Castle chapel: designed by Paine and altered by Soane in 1789-90

The Catholic chapel is one of the house's grandest interiors. It was opened in 1776, and later enlarged to the west by Sir John Soane in 1789-90.  It has giant fluted pilasters along the walls, a groin vault and delicate classical stucco work. Soane added the crossing, with an oval vault, shallow-apsed transepts, and a shallow apse with lunette windows. At the other end is another shallow apse containing the organ gallery on fluted Ionic columns. The altar was designed in Rome in about 1774 by Giacomo Quarenghi, an Italian architect who moved to Russia in 1780 and worked for the Imperial Court at the Hermitage and Peterhof; it was made in Rome and shipped to England for local assembly in 1776-77.

Wardour Castle chapel: altar by Giacomo Quarenghi, 1774-77. Image: New Liturgical Movement

Wardour Castle: plan of the principal floor from Paine's Works, vol. 2

Inside the house, the front entrance leads into a low entrance hall with attached Roman Doric columns and a handsome cast iron fireplace crowned by an urn. This oppressive space in turn opens in a dramatic contrast into the spectacular top-lit staircase hall which occupies the centre of the house. It is sixty feet high and circular, with a diameter of forty-seven feet, and is arguably one of the most memorable rooms in England. 

James Paine's design for the staircase hall at Wardour Castle.

Wardour Castle: staircase hall looking down from the piano nobile.
Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Licenced under this Creative Commons licence. 

Wardour Castle: staircase hall from the ground floor.
The staircase (which in form seems to be based on William Chambers' unexecuted design for York House, exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1761) rises in two curving arms to the first floor, where a colonnade of tall Corinthian columns forms a gallery; the gallery has in its outer wall six large niches with coffered vaults, one of which contains an organ. The columns in turn carry a coffered dome and a glazed lantern. The staircase hall is now painted white throughout, which somewhat reduces the richness and drama of the space. 

Wardour Castle: the ceiling of the Music Room on the south front with a copy of Guido Reni's Aurora.
Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Licenced under this Creative Commons licence.

On the first floor the largest room occupies the centre of the entrance front and has the Venetian window there and a coved ceiling, but little decoration. Altogether ornament is sparing at Wardour, apart from the staircase and chapel, although some of the decoration that did exist has been lost. The best room is the Music Room on the south side, with Ionic columns and pediment, and an excellent stucco ceiling incorporating a copy by Batoni of Guido Reni's Aurora. (When it was commissioned in Rome, the artist was asked to add some drapery the figures to avoid the picture offending the sensibilities of the prudish 8th Baron). On the north side the middle room has columns in the principal doorway too, and there is a charming apsed boudoir by Soane on the west side with a coffered niche and a stucco ceiling. The house relied a great deal on its contents, especially its pictures, when it was first completed, and in 1801 John Britton warned prospective visitors (the house was open every afternoon to polite tourists) that "the embellishments of the mansion... appear to be associated with ideas of religion - monks curiously carved in ivory, crucifixes elegantly wrought, paintings of Saints and martyrs, both male and female, holy families, resurrections and ascensions..."; clearly he anticipated it would not be to everyone's taste! A list of the notable paintings in the 1820s included works by Vernet, Dow, Caravaggio, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Tenier, Poussin, Murillo, Holbein and Batoni; but following sales in the late 19th and early 20th centuries most of these works are now in major galleries in Britain, America and Rome.

The house ceased to be occupied by the family during the Second World War and was sold in 1945. It was used in the 1950s as a Cheshire Home and from 1960-90 as the home of Cranborne Chase School, which built ancillary buildings in the grounds. When the school moved out it was bought by Nigel Tuersley, who employed John Pawson to undertake a major restoration and convert the house into ten apartments, with the main reception rooms and the grand staircase hall forming a single large unit.

Descent: Built for Henry Arundell, 8th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1740-1808); to cousin, James Everard Arundell, 9th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1763-1817); to son, James Everard Arundell, 10th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1785-1834); to brother, Henry Benedict Arundell, 11th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1804-62); to son, John Francis Arundell, 12th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1831-1906); to cousin, Edgar Clifford Arundell, 14th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1859-1921); to brother, Gerald Arthur Arundell, 15th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1861-1939); to son, John Francis Arundell, 16th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1907-44), who placed the castle in the guardianship of what is now Historic England; to kinsman, Reginald John Arthur Talbot (later Arundell) (1900-53); sold 1945 to Society of Jesus; sold to Cheshire Homes; sold 1960 to Cranborne Chase School; sold 1990 to Nigel Tuersley, who converted the main house into apartments while retaining the principal rooms as one large unit, which has since been sold to Jasper Conran.

Ashcombe, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire

Ashcombe: the estate recorded in an 18th century birds-eye view

The Ashcombe estate lies in a magical sheltered hollow below the Wiltshire downs, and a house is first recorded to have been built here in 1686.  A new house was built before 1740 and then in 1754 the interior was further remodelled by Francis Cartwright for J.E. Arundell. The estate as it existed in the late 18th century is recorded in one of the most delightful birds-eye view paintings. Sadly most of the house was demolished in about 1870, but an L-shaped three-bay fragment survives as the present house.

Ashcombe in 1814: map from the sale particulars of 1815 showing the T-shaped house of 1740-54,
the older house to its south-east, and the two stable blocks to the north-east (one of which survives).
Image: Wiltshire & Swindon Archives 2667/21/8. 

Ashcombe Park in Cecil Beaton's time, with the rather camp statues of
Castor and Pollox which he introduced.
In 1930s and 1940s the artist and society photographer Cecil Beaton leased the house and employed the Austrian architect, Michael Rosenauer to make significant alterations to the building. Beaton was famous for the lavish entertainment he provided to his friends at Ashcombe, and the artists among his guests (including Salvator Dali, Rex Whistler, Augustus John and Oliver Messel) contributed murals to decorate the house, although little of their work remains. Beaton was distraught at not being allowed to renew his lease when it expired in 1945, and he produced a charming and elegiac little book (Ashcombe - the story of a fifteen-year lease, Batsford, 1949) about the house and the ineffably camp life he had lived in it, which I heartily recommend as heart-warming reading for a wet winter's afternoon.

Ashcombe House in 2012, showing the Rex Whistler doorcase

The house was restored in the 1990s by David and Toni Parkes, and after the sale in 2001 to Madonna and Guy Ritchie it was significantly extended.  In the grounds there is a gatehouse, the archway of which has a Gibbs surround on a pediment, and which is continued to the east as a five-bay orangery, with a three-bay wing ending in a Venetian window. The bones of the 18th century garden layout survive too, now partly overlain by a scrubby modern ash wood; perhaps some future owner may be inspired to restore it?

Descent: Robert Barber (fl. 1686); to daughter Anne, wife of John Wyndham (d. 1750); to daughter, Anne, wife of Hon. James Everard Arundell (c.1722-1803); to son, James Everard Arundell, 9th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1763-1817), who sold 1815 to Thomas Grove... Sir Walter Grove, who partially demolished the house c.1870; sold to 13th Duke of Hamilton; sold c.1920 to R.W. Borley, (who leased to Cecil Beaton (1904-80) from 1930-45); to son, Hugh Borley (d. 1993); sold c.1990 to Mr & Mrs David Parkes; sold 2001 to Madonna and Guy Ritchie (b. 1968), the latter retaining the estate after their divorce in 2008.


C. Beaton, Ashcombe: the story of a fifteen-year lease, 1949; R.B. Pugh & A.D. Saunders, Old Wardour Castle, 1968; A. Rowan, 'Wardour Castle chapel, Wiltshire', Country Life, 10 October 1968, pp. 908-12; J. Newman & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Dorset, 1972, p. 152; Sir N. Pevsner & B. Cherry, The buildings of England: Wiltshire, 2nd edn., 1975, pp. 548-554; J. Roberts, J. Tranmar & A. Cussans, Wardour Castle: a guide to the house, chapel and grounds, Cranborne Chase School, 1976; P. Caraman, Wardour: a short history, 1984; P. Leach, James Paine, 1988, pp. 92-98, 213-15; Country Life, 20 September 1990, p. 185; M. Girouard, 'Wardour Old Castle', Country Life, 14 February 1991, pp. 44-49 and 21 February 1991, pp. 76-79; Country Life, 14 March 1991, p. 73; R. Haslam, 'Wardour Park, Wiltshire', Country Life, 25 February 1993; T. Mowl, Historic gardens of Wiltshire, 2004, pp. 108-110, 157-60; J. Goodall, 'Old Wardour Castle', Country Life, 28 April 2005, pp. 94-99; F. Cowell, Richard Woods (1715-1793), Master of the Pleasure Garden, 2009, pp. 230-35; B. Williamson, The Arundells of Wardour, 2011, passim; P. Beacham & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Cornwall, 2014, p. 344;;

Coat of arms

Sable, six swallows, three, two and one, argent.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 18 November 2015 and was revised 15 January and 10 October 2016.

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