|Ackers coat of arms|
|Heath House c.1930. © English Heritage|
|Heath House, Leintwardine: staircase © University of London|
The Prinknash estate was given to Gloucester Abbey by the Giffards of Brimpsfield in 1096, and there seems to have been a house here from at least the early 14th century. Licence was granted in 1339 for mass to be said in an oratory at Prinknash, and in 1355 the abbot was granted free warren on his lands here. There was also a medieval deer park, which was almost perfectly circular.
|Prinknash Park from the east, showing Abbot Parker’s hall range of c.1500-25 in the centre; the chapel to the right; and the south-east range extended in 1868 on the left. © Nicholas Kingsley, 1985.|
Parts of the south wing of the house adjoining the central range have very thick walls and may date from as early as the 14th century, but the earliest visible features of the present building would seem to be no earlier than c.1500-25, when Abbot William Parker developed Prinknash as a country residence. Since then, Prinknash has been altered extensively in every century and, although the impression given by the house is predominantly 16th and 17th century, much of the detail, and indeed of the fabric, is later. In form, the house is now an irregular H-shape. Abbot Parker's central block runs roughly north-south, and wings project from it to east and west at either end. The entrance front is to the west, and a porch of c.1630 gives access to the hall on this side. No doubt there was formerly a screens passage at this point, and the hall to its north was probably originally two storeys high. To the south on the ground floor lie the old service rooms; above them, and reached by a staircase behind the hall, was the great chamber, later used as a drawing room. This is a fine square room with mullioned windows containing arched-headed lights. The south-west wing, which may originally have been the solar wing, consists of a single room on each floor, the upper of which has an early 16th century oriel window with a fan vault inside, looking down into the western courtyard of the house. The south-east wing is much the longest of the four, and was constructed in two phases. The part nearest the hall block is contemporary with it, and has a stone bas-relief portrait of a young man, claimed to be Henry VIII, set in the wall. This range was extended, probably by Ewan Christian, as a nursery wing in 1868. The chapel occupies the north-east wing, added to the house in 1628-29. It was restored by Hamilton & Medland in 1847-50 and later extended by F.W. Waller in the Decorated style in 1888, with a bellcote and apsed sanctuary. The large north transept was added for the monks of Prinknash by H.S. Goodhart-Rendel in 1955-56. The north-west wing was rebuilt in c.1770-80 for John Howell, and retains some 18th century panelled rooms, although some of its sash windows were replaced by mullioned and transomed ones as early as c.1825 . The alteration to the north-west wing had probably been completed by 1774, when Horace Walpole found that Prinknash "stands on a glorious, but impracticable hill, in the midst of a little forest of beech, and commanding Elysium. The house is small, but has good rooms, and though modernised here and there, not extravagantly".
|A modern watercolour of Prinknash 'commanding Elysium' © Prinknash Abbey|
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Crown first let Prinknash to Sir Anthony Kingston, and in 1544 granted it to Edmund Brydges on the occasion of his marriage to Dorothy Bray; both the Brydges and Bray families had performed loyal service to the Tudors. Sir Edmund Brydges succeeded his father in 1557 as Lord Chandos of Sudeley, and thenceforward Sudeley Castle became the family's principal seat. Prinknash was surplus to requirements, and Grey, 5th Lord Chandos sold the freehold in the early 17th century. In 1628, the property was purchased by Sir John Bridgeman and his son George. Sir John, whose wife was a Daunt of Owlpen Manor, had recently become Recorder of Gloucester and wanted a seat in the vicinity of the city. The Bridgemans carried out the 17th century remodelling of Prinknash, not only adding the porch and chapel, but also dividing the hall horizontally and constructing a fine panelled room with a wooden overmantel known as the Justice Room above it, and installing two splendid stone chimneypieces in the library and drawing room. These chimneypieces, which were fortunately photographed in 1906, were altered in the 18th century. That formerly in the library had some affinities with the one in the Great Chamber at Lasborough Manor, and derived from a design in Jacob Floris' Compertimentorum quod vocant multiplex genus, 1566.
|Prinknash: former library chimneypiece in 1906|
|Prinknash: former drawing room chimneypiece in 1906|
The use of designs from Floris is tentatively linked by Dr. Wells-Cole to the workshop of William Arnold, a master-mason with an extensive practice in south-west England. The chimneypiece from the drawing room was very similar to the hall chimneypiece at Misarden Park and included the arms of the Daunt and de Olepenne families of Owlpen, as well as those of the Bridgemans. George Bridgeman, a passionate Royalist, was killed at the siege of Cirencester in 1643 and, later the same year, Prinknash was occupied by Royalist troops, one of whom left a scratched portrait of a Cavalier on the reveal of an attic window. The house then descended in the Bridgeman family until 1770, when Henry Troye Bridgeman sold Prinknash to John Howell, who built or rebuilt the north-west wing. He also landscaped the medieval deer park in 1775 to the designs of a surveyor called Armitage. who is otherwise unknown; his plan is in Birmingham City Archives.
|Prinknash Park: landscaping plan, 1775. © Birmingham Archives & Heritage Service|
In 1847 the house was purchased by James Ackers, and he and his son, Benjamin St. John Ackers, did much restoration and improvement work, including the lengthening of the south-east wing. Ewan Christian was employed on the house over several years, and the alterations he made in 1875 alone cost nearly £7,000. In 1884 Benjamin, who became M.P. for West Gloucestershire the following year, bought Huntley Manor (which lay in his prospective constituency), and three years later he sold Prinknash to Thomas Dyer-Edwardes. Dyer-Edwardes employed F.W. Waller to rebuild the stables, enlarge the chapel, replace the staircase, and carry out other alterations in 1888-92, and in 1913 brought in J. Coates Carter to make further changes to the chapel and to construct the forecourt walls and gates. He also laid out the long avenue in the park from Upton St. Leonards through to the Portway. Dyer-Edwardes, who became a Catholic in 1924, offered the estate to the Benedictine monks of Caldey Island, but before the gift could take effect he died, and it was left to his grandson, the 20th Earl of Rothes, to honour his wish and complete the transfer.
Unfortunately, in order to meet the death duties on the estate, the Earl had to sell the contents and many of the fittings of the house. The panelling of the Justice Room, Abbot Parker’s Oak Room, the Guests’ Room and a drawing room of c.1725 were all sold, together with the important drawing room and library chimneypieces. 16th century heraldic glass from the drawing room was bought by subscription and installed in the cloister of Gloucester Cathedral. The panelling from the Justice Room went a museum in St. Louis, but was found on closer examination to consist of work of several different dates, and in 1987 was sold to the American collector Frederich Koch, who installed it at Sutton Place in Surrey. The drawing room chimneypiece was sold by White Allom to William Randolph Hearst for £9,245, and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, although not on display; could it perhaps be returned one day?. The present whereabouts of the other rooms from the house are not known. The monks moved to Prinknash in 1928 and at first lived in the house, but during the 1930s plans were drawn up by H.S. Goodhart-Rendel for a new abbey a short distance away. War interrupted progress on this shortly after work had started, and between 1941 and 1953 a low and unsightly concrete extension on the north-west of the old house was put up by the monks themselves as a temporary expedient. The new abbey buildings were not finally completed, to different designs, until 1972, and the planned abbey church was never built. With a reduction in the size of the community in recent years, the monks have returned to St Peter's Grange, as the old house is now called, and the community's purpose-built buildings are to be converted into a retirement village.
|Huntley Manor before the demolition of the service wing in 1964.|
|Huntley Manor, c.1985. © Nicholas Kingsley|
Huntley Manor is one of the series of rather wayward country houses which Teulon designed. Reputedly, the French château style was chosen because Capper’s French wife was homesick for her native land. The steeply-pitched turreted mansard roof (originally with a polychrome slate pattern, since altered in roof repairs) and the verticality of the end elevation certainly fit that story, but the sash windows with simple keyed surrounds, the tall dormers and the whitewashed external render (over brick) derive more from Scotland than from France, and the western service end of the building is hardly Gothic at all. This initial dichotomy has been further confused by an assortment of later additions, mostly affecting the long south side elevation. Even more stylistically perplexing is the north entrance, where the Gothic porch-hood is flanked by round-arched windows, with a vernacular timber oriel window above, which has a small round window niche on either side. Despite this, the overall effect, whilst original in the extreme, is somehow coherent, and the spiky roofscape blends well with the conifers in the grounds. Teulon’s stylistic mixture continues internally, although there are some typically fine Gothic fireplaces of original ‘muscular’ character, especially that in the dining room. Much of what appears to be an early, if not original, decorative scheme seems to have survived at least until 1964. The ceilings in the principal rooms have timber ribs and small bosses, and a window on the main staircase has armorial stained glass. In 1866 Capper exchanged the house for other property owned by Edmund Probyn, who moved into the house and renamed it Huntley Manor.
The Probyns sold the Huntley estate in 1884 to Benjamin St. John Ackers of Prinknash Park, who became M.P. for West Gloucestershire in 1885 and may have wanted a seat in his prospective constituency. He altered the house a number of times during the next thirty years to provide further specialist rooms, and enlarge the servants’ quarters. F.W. Waller made the first changes in 1885, and very helpfully arranged to borrow and copy the original plans for the house as a basis for his own proposals. A new servants’ hall was built as a single-storey extension on the north side of the house, to the right of, and overlooking, the main entrance. The old servants’ hall, occupying a rather good position on the south side of the house, became the gun room. Later work was done by Walter B. Wood, formerly Waller’s clerk of works. In 1891 he added a billiard room adjacent to the gun room, and before 1923 a smoking room, again nearby. In the grounds, the east lodge, on the Newent road, was designed by Wood in 1923-4, and the south lodge was added in the late 1940s by his successors, Stratton Davis & Yates. Benjamin Ackers had bought an estate of 1100 acres in 1884, and his son, Major Charles Penryn Ackers, who inherited in 1915, acquired a further 700 acres of woodland in Newent before the First World War. The purchase of woodland at Blaisdon in the early 1930s brought the estate to about 2000 acres, which passed to his daughter Torill in 1960. She and her husband, Mike Freeman executed a sensitive reduction scheme at the house in 1963-4 to the designs of Sir Percy Thomas & Partners, removing many of the accretions to the house, and largely returning it to its mid 19th century appearance. In 1988, Mrs. Freeman sold Huntley Manor to Mr Richard Gabriel, while retaining much of the estate. He constructed an indoor swimming pool and a helicopter hangar in the grounds, and sold the property in 2004 to the right-wing economic commentator, Professor Tim Congdon.