Thursday 3 March 2016

(207) Ashley (later Ashley-Cooper) of Wimborne St. Giles, Earls of Shaftesbury - part 1

Ashley-Cooper, Earls of Shaftesbury
The first part of this post provides an introduction to the Ashley and Ashley-Cooper families and their estates, and describes the houses they owned. Part 2 gives the detailed genealogy of the family.

Many of the families I write about in these pages derive their wealth and property from one or two talented and successful individuals who prospered in business, the professions or public affairs, and bequeathed to their descendants a patrimony which subsequent generations have preserved or dissipated as the case may be. The Ashleys are not like that. Over some six hundred years they have been actors on the national stage and most generations have thrown up one or more figures who added lustre to the family reputation by their achievements. Above all, they have been a political dynasty from the time of that Robert Ashley who was MP for Wiltshire in 1419, down to Wilfrid Ashley, Minister for Transport 1924-29, and Edwina, Countess Mountbatten, last Vicereine of India in 1947. Indeed, the political tradition may not be over yet, as the present 12th Earl has recently sought election to one of the 91 seats in the House of Lords reserved for hereditary peers. And amongst the political high achievers there have been others of equal note, including one of England's most influential philosophers and a great 19th century social reformer. What follows is a rich and fascinating story.

The Ashley family are said to have come originally from 'Ashley' in Wiltshire, probably the hamlet of Ashley near Box. Their association with Wimborne St. Giles goes back to the early 15th century, when Robert Ashley (fl. c.1410) married Gillian, the daughter and heiress of Sir John Hamely (d. 1398) and the widow of John Plecy. The Wimborne property was intended for their son Robert, but he died before his mother and in due course it passed to his brother Edmund Ashley. From him it descended from father to son to Sir Henry Ashley (1519-88), kt., who made rather more of a figure in the county than his predecessors, serving as High Sheriff, an MP, and as Vice-Admiral of Dorset 1551-82. He was a courtier through several reigns, married one of Anne of Cleves' English attendants, and was knighted at the coronation of Queen Mary in 1553. He may have been the first of the family to feel the pinch as he sold the family's property at Trowbridge in 1571. His son, another Sir Henry Ashley (1548-c.1605), was more seriously financially embarrassed, and in 1589 it was claimed that his estates were encumbered to the tune of £8,000. He fell foul of the Privy Council and the Court of Star Chamber on several occasions in the 1590s as a result of his efforts to recoup his position, but in the end he was forced to sell his property to his cousin, Sir Anthony Ashley (1552-1628), kt. and 1st bt., who as Clerk of the Privy Council must have found him an embarrassing relation.

Sir Anthony was himself no stranger to controversy, since he was accused of murder in 1609 (an allegation that ended his career with the Privy Council although he was cleared) and had a reputation for homosexuality. Despite his personal predilections, he seems to have been determined to continue the Ashley dynasty at Wimborne, though his only child was a daughter, Anne Ashley (d. 1628). He ensured her marriage contract provided that her firstborn son should be christened Ashley, and that if he should be made a baron, would take the title Baron Ashley. She was married in 1617 to John Cooper, a young man noted chiefly for his open hospitality and his addiction to gambling. In 1622 Sir Anthony, who had recently remarried to a sister-in-law of the King's favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, bought himself a baronetcy, and at the same time he also secured one for his son-in-law, thus ensuring that not only his name but also his title would be secured to his successors at Wimborne St. Giles.

Sir John Cooper (1597-1631), 1st bt. and his wife Anne (d. 1628) both died young, and left their three children as orphans. The eldest boy, duly named Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-83) was the first great figure in the family history, and one of the great political survivors of the age. Having commenced the Civil War as an officer in the Royalist army he switched sides in 1644 and became a leading figure in the Commonwealth regime. He undertook the first two big phases of rebuilding of the ancient house at Wimborne St. Giles, in c.1651 and 1672. When it became likely that Charles II would be invited to return to England he manoeuvred himself into the party which conveyed the invitation to him, and was quickly pardoned for his part in the Civil War and Commonwealth. He became one of Charles II's closest advisers and rose to high office in the 1660s and early 1670s as a member of the CABAL, becoming Lord Ashley in 1661 and Earl of Shaftesbury in 1672. When he fell from power and moved into opposition and conspiracy he lived dangerously but avoided the worst consequences of his actions and died in bed, albeit in exile. His legacy to the country was a new and rapidly very powerful political force, the Whigs, who shaped the British constitution and political discourse for well over a century to come.

In this notable family, the 2nd Earl (1652-99) was the exception that proves the rule: a dullard who disappointed his father and his wife so much that the 1st Earl secured the guardianship of his eldest grandson to ensure that he was properly brought up. The 3rd Earl (1671-1713) was educated under the influence of his grandfather's friend, the philosopher John Locke, and turned out to be a philosopher himself, who was widely read in the 18th century. Although he had a taste for politics his asthmatic constitution made it dangerous for him to live in London and he divided his time between a literary and contemplative life in Dorset and restorative trips to the Continent; he died in Naples in 1713 leaving a young widow and an infant son.

The 4th Earl (1711-71) is in many ways the central figure in the architectural narrative of St. Giles House, employing Flitcroft to remodel the house and give the interior much of its present character, and laying out the grounds in a Rococo style of which more survives here than in most places. He inherited his father's literary and artistic interests, and was a friend of Handel, who visited St. Giles House on several occasions. His first wife, to whom he was married when they were both about thirteen, fortunately proved to share his interests, but they had no children. After she died in 1758 he married for a second time, and produced two sons (who inherited in turn) and a daughter. The 5th Earl (1761-1811), who seems to have shared some of his father's interests in art and landscaping, married a Catholic. This might have been the end of the family's low church tradition, but the couple had only a daughter, and the 5th Earl was succeeded by his only brother, Cropley Ashley Cooper (1768-1851), 6th Earl of Shaftesbury who adhered to the family tradition.

The long-lived 6th Earl was very different: he comes across as effective but stubborn, cocksure, and hard to like. He held strong Tory views in contrast to most of his family, and adhered to the Church of England. Despite being the younger son, he married the daughter of a Duke (his Catholic brother had married a baronet's daughter) and he produced a large family of six sons and four daughters. Before he succeeded his brother, he filled his time with being both an MP and a clerk in the Royal Ordnance, but he really blossomed after he inherited the earldom and took his seat in the upper house, where he became Chairman of Committees in 1814 and deputy speaker in 1829; his career culminated in being Lord Steward of the Royal Household for the coronation of William IV in 1831.

The eldest of his six sons, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1801-85), succeeded as 7th Earl in 1851. He was thought exceptionally handsome in his youth, and in the 1830s was described as a ‘complete beau idéal of aristocracy’, a comment on his appearance which might also be applied to his whole outlook and career. He entered Parliament at twenty-five and although he held Government office intermittently until 1841 he was fundamentally independent in his outlook, not a party man. He was progressive where his father was reactionary, and in 1843 his support for the repeal of the Corn Laws brought about a lasting breach between them. Through patient argument and unremitting hard work he drove through Parliament a series of social reforms in the care of lunatics, employment law and public health that earned him the nickname of 'the poor man's earl' and ultimately brought thousands to his funeral. He seems to have been motivated by paternalistic humanitarian concerns and from the 1830s increasingly by an evangelical Christian zeal for human dignity. He was deeply conscious of rank and opposed to the extension of democracy, but it seems too cynical to suggest (as left-wing historians have) that he worked for social reform only to avert revolution, so that the class he represented could sustain its social and political position.
The Angel of Christian Charity (Eros) by Alfred Gilbert
at Piccadilly Circus, London, erected as a monument
to the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury
Not only did he have a real social conscience, he was motivated by a belief in the imminent second coming of Christ, an expectation which drove him to reform national life so as to mitigate the impact of the forthcoming divine judgement and to save souls. When he died he was commemorated by a monument in Westminster Abbey and more popularly and more publicly by the statue known as 'Eros' at Piccadilly Circus.

The 7th Earl found time in his long and busy life to considerably alter and extend St. Giles House to the designs of P.C. Hardwick, and also to father as many children as the 6th Earl. His favourite was reputedly his second son, Francis, who died while a schoolboy at Harrow. His eldest son, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1831-86), 8th Earl, was not academically gifted and joined the navy at seventeen. After the Crimean War he joined the British delegation to the coronation of the new Russian Czar, Alexander II, and over the next thirty years occupied himself with commissions in militia regiments. In 1857 he married the only daughter and heiress of the 3rd Marquess of Donegall (d. 1884), from whom he and his wife eventually inherited the extensive and valuable Belfast Castle estate in Co. Antrim, as well as property in Co. Donegal. These estates, which included a sizeable chunk of Belfast, were worth two and a half times as much as the family's Dorset estate. When he came into the Dorset property as well in 1885 the family was at the apogee of its fortunes, despite the impact of the Agricultural Depression over the last ten years. It is therefore deeply ironic that when the 8th Earl became depressed in the months after his father's death he convinced himself that he was utterly ruined, and shot himself in a cab travelling through London.

His only son, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1869-1961), 9th Earl, thus inherited unexpectedly at the age of sixteen. He is perhaps the most underrated and unjustly forgotten of the Earls. After a decade of soldiering in the 1890s he married a granddaughter of the 1st Duke of Westminster and settled at Belfast Castle in Northern Ireland (an account of the Castle, which was begun by Lord Donegall and finished for the 8th Earl of Shaftesbury while he was Lord Ashley, is reserved for a future post on the Chichester family, Marquesses of Donegall). He seems to have stepped fully into the life of Belfast, becoming Lord Lieutenant, Chancellor of the University, Colonel of the Northern Ireland Horse, and even, in 1907, Lord Mayor. But in the years just before and during the First World War, when he returned to active service, English affairs progressively reclaimed him. The decisive step was probably when he became Chamberlain of Queen Mary's household in 1910 and needed to attend the court regularly; he remained in Her Majesty's service until 1936. St. Giles House was at this time occupied by his spinster aunt and widowed uncle, but after they died in 1913 and 1914 he settled in Dorset, becoming Lord Lieutenant in 1916 and Chairman of the County Council in 1924. His arrival in Dorset coincided with a withdrawal from Belfast: he gave up the Lord Lieutenancy of Antrim in 1916 and the Chancellorship of Queens University in 1923 and in 1934 he presented Belfast Castle and the remainder of the estate to the city. How far his shift from Belfast to Dorset was due to the 'push factor' of the Irish troubles is not clear, but his association with the royal family and his high profile roles would inevitably have made him a target, so prudence may have played its part in his decision.

St. Giles House was requisitioned for military use in 1939 and the family moved into the dower house in the village of Wimborne St. Giles. After the war, the house was let to a school but maintenance of the building was neglected and there was an outbreak of dry rot in the west wings. When the 9th Earl died in 1961 he was succeeded by his grandson, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1938-2004), the 10th Earl, who decided that the only way to save the house was to drastically reduce its size. Work began in 1971 on a scheme to remove the towers and rear wings added by Hardwick in the 19th century and remove the cement render from the rest of the house. Unfortunately, the work stopped short of making good the exposed and scarred walls and the problems of decay accelerated while the 10th Earl turned his attention to the estate and planted 1,000,000 trees. In 2000 the Earl abandoned his responsibilities in England for a playboy lifestyle on the continent and his tragic death in 2004 was quickly followed by the sudden death of his elder son and heir in New York the following year. This brought to the earldom and the estate his younger son, Nick Ashley-Cooper, 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, who has risen splendidly to the many challenges his inheritance provided. Most particularly, he has succeeded in restoring the house and returning it to use as both his own home and as a base for business ventures. In 2015 he won the Sotheby's/HHA Restoration Award for his progress so far, and although much remains to be done, the fabric of the house and the decoration of the principal rooms of the house are once more in sound condition.

The 7th Earl of Shaftesbury married Lady Emily, officially the daughter of the 5th Earl Cowper but generally understood to be a love-child of Lady Cowper and the 3rd Viscount Palmerston. When Lord Palmerston became Prime Minister he took as his private secretary the 7th Earl's fourth son, the Hon. Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (1836-1907), who was thus probably his own grandson. This was the start of a literary and political career in Liberal circles which showed Evelyn as the most gifted member of the family in his generation and the only one to maintain the strong political tradition of the family. He benefited further from his maternal family in 1888 when he was left the heir to his uncle, William Cowper-Temple, 1st Baron Mount Temple, who bequeathed him Lord Palmerston's great house in Hampshire, Broadlands, and the Classiebawn estate in Co. Sligo. He was succeeded in both by his son Wilfrid William Ashley (1867-1939), who also had a political career that culminated in five years as Minister of Transport in the 1920s, and who was created 1st Baron Mount Temple of Lee on his retirement in 1932. His first wife was the daughter of the immensely rich financier, Sir Ernest Cassel, whose fortune was eventually divided between Lord Mount Temple's two daughters, Edwina (1901-60) and Mary (1906-86). Their wealth, glamour and social skills placed them at the centre of the haut monde in the mid 20th century. Edwina, who inherited Broadlands and Classiebawn, married Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-79), the present Queen's cousin, who was made 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma in recognition of his role in British India during the Second World War and as the last Viceroy. Although they had a stormy and reputedly open marriage they stayed together until her unexpected death in 1960. Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA on his yacht while sailing from the Classiebawn estate in 1979. Broadlands is now the property of his grandson, the 8th Baron Brabourne.

Note: From the time of the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, the family surname was usually given as Ashley Cooper. The 7th Earl seems to have been the first to routinely hyphenate the name and his successors have continued this practice. However, while the Earls and their heirs apparent have always used the two names in full, whether hyphenated or not, some of the younger sons and daughters in several generations have chosen to drop the second element. One example of this was the 7th Earl's fourth son, Evelyn Melbourne (1836-1907), who was always Ashley not Ashley-Cooper.

St. Giles House, Wimborne St. Giles, Dorset

St Giles House: the east front before the reduction of the house and the removal of the render, 1964.
Image: Historic England (BB82/2248)

Already in 1542, when John Leland came through Wimborne St. Giles, he was able to record that "Mr. Ashley has a fair manor house and park", but only a moulded Gothic doorway in the cellar of c.1500 seems to survive from the house of this time, which may have been an L-shaped building occupying part of the site of the later north and west ranges, and with a detached service, stable or lodging block to its west. In the late 16th century the west range was extended to the south, and after Sir Henry Ashley sold the estate to his cousin, Sir Anthony Ashley in 1600, there were two further phases of construction that involved the rebuilding of the part of the house where the north and west ranges joined and the construction of a surviving stable block north-east of the house.
St Giles House: the early 17th century stable block.
Image: Mike Searle. Some rights reserved.
This forms the south side of an informal stable court and has four gables with kneelers and small obelisks, four-light windows with ovolo-mouldings and rather old-fashioned arched lights. 

Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-83), 2nd bt. (later 1st Baron Ashley and 1st Earl of Shaftesbury), who inherited as a child in 1631, began work on a new house after the Civil War, recording on 19 March 1650/1 'I laid the first stone of my house at St Giles'. Whether or not he ever intended the complete replacement of the existing building is uncertain, but by the time of the earliest illustration of the house - a small representation on an estate map of 1659 - what he had done was to build a new two-storey east-facing block seven bays by five, which remains substantially intact.    
St Giles House: the house on the 1659 estate map: north at the top.
Image: Historic England (AA71/4087). From Dorset History Centre....

The new house, aptly described by Tim Mowl as "an expression of joyless Puritan Republicanism" is an austere and astylar classical block, faced in brick with large raised brick quoins and regular fenestration. It is an early example of a type which was to become extremely common for smaller country houses in the mid to late 17th century, although to say that it was influential is to assert the existence of mechanisms for dissemination of the design which may not have existed. The stone window surrounds, with the probable exception of the rusticated surround to the central first-floor window, are likely to be original, as are the keystones, but the extensions of the latter on the ground floor to link with the 18th century stucco plat band are later. The doorcase with its scrolled pediment is also later, and probably contemporary with the window above. As first built, the piano nobile stood above a basement, the window embrasures of which survive within the present vaulted cellar, and there is clear structural evidence of a flight of steps leading up to the east entrance. This would have given the range much more of the vertical emphasis of other houses of its date; something that would have been emphasised by the hipped roof with rows of dormer windows and three formally arranged chimneystacks. No architect's name is securely associated with St. Giles House, but as a member of the inner circle of the Cromwellian regime Ashley Cooper was in a position to command the services of the best workmen in the land. In 1935 Arthur Oswald stated that the architect was Richard Ryder but gave no source for this statement. Ryder, who had been a Captain of the Parliamentarian militia in London, was responsible for rebuilding the west wing of nearby Cranborne Manor (Dorset) after Civil War damage in 1647-50 in an advanced classical style. On political, geographical and stylistic grounds he is thus quite a likely contender, but one cannot say more than that.
St Giles House: plan showing the phased development of the building.
Reproduced by kind permission of Mike Hill.

Internally, the 1651 block was divided into five rooms: large dining and drawing rooms facing east and behind them two smaller square rooms and the staircase. One of the small rooms was referred to as the 'cabanett', and the room below this in the basement was fitted up as a 'bathing room'; presumably a cold plunge bath. Later alterations have removed most of the interiors of this period, but a stone fireplace with an enriched frieze of bold garlands, acanthus brackets and floral drops survives in the former dining room (now the North Drawing Room), while the South Drawing Room retains its compartmented ceiling with rich decorative platerwork wreaths within the panels and enrichment on the beams.

By 1672, when a further estate map shows how work on the house had progressed, a new south-facing range had been built, extending westward from the south end of the new east range to join up with the older part of the house and thus completing the enclosure of a central courtyard. According to Lord Shaftesbury's notes on a building agreement for this work, it was entrusted to Thomas Glover (c.1639-1707), a mason who was capable of making designs himself, but who was here probably working to the plans of William Taylor, an architect much employed by others in Lord Shaftesbury's circle, and who must be the 'Mr Taylor' whose design for the staircase Glover was required to follow.

St Giles House: ceiling of the South Drawing Room.
Image: Crown Copyright. Licenced under the Open Government Licence.

The next changes to the house of which anything is known were made for the 4th Earl of Shaftesbury, who came of age in 1732. His architect, attested by surviving accounts, was Henry Flitcroft. Although the documentary evidence relates only to interior work, and to the creation of the Great Dining Room on the north front, it would seem likely that the external changes of this period are also by Flitcroft. The chief of these were the removal of the hipped roof of the 1651 block and the substitution of what were probably lead-flat roofs and battlemented parapets to all the main ranges of the house; the demolition of the 16th century buildings west of the house and their replacement by a long new service range projecting west from the house; and the reconstruction of part of the north range. There were also some elaborations of external detailing, such as the addition of plat bands, shaped window aprons and a new doorcase on the east front, designed to give the 17th century block a more fashionable air, although not, it is interesting to note, a Palladian one. Flitcroft also seems to have retained the exposed basement storey, with the raised terrace around the south, east and north fronts being formed later, but when the house was drawn for Hutchins' History and Antiquities of Dorset in 1774 only the perron of steps to the door was shown.

St Giles House: elevation of the east front after Flitcroft's work in the 1740s.
Engraving by W. Pryce from Hutchins' History and Antiquities of Dorset, 1774.

Three new interiors on the piano nobile are identified in the accounts: the Great Dining Room in the section of the north front which was rebuilt at this time and the 'New Hall' (now the Tapestry Room) to its east; and the 'Musick Room' which is believed to be the present White Hall in the west range. Payments relating to the fitting up of these rooms are dated 1740-44, and the finest of them is the Grand Dining Room, which, with its high coved ceiling, gilded cornice and vine-scroll enriched frieze, is related to the state saloon which Flitcroft designed at Woburn Abbey, both being based on the double-cube room at Wilton. Later alterations to the 'New Hall' have left only the pedimented doorcases of this date, while the 'Musick Room' retains its fine ceiling amid later changes. 

St Giles House: the White Hall created by Henry Flitcroft, 1740-44. 
Image: Crown Copyright. Licenced under the Open Government Licence.

The 5th Earl, who inherited in 1771 and came of age in 1782, made few changes to the house but was responsible for applying a coat of render to the exterior which significantly changed its appearance (and not for the better). In 1793-94 he engaged Sir John Soane to prepare plans for improving the house, but nothing seems to have been done before the Earl died in 1811. His brother, who succeeded to the estate as 6th Earl, commissioned Thomas Cundy in about 1816 to create a new 70-foot library out of three smaller rooms on the south side of the house, to replace the staircase in the 1651 block, and to roof over the central courtyard to form what became known as the Stone Hall. This has a plaster rib-vaulted ceiling, the pendentives of which support an oval dome above a glazed drum. There are columned galleries at either end of the hall with a linking iron-balustraded landing.

St Giles House: watercolour of the south front by an unknown artist, made after the 7th Earl's additions of 1853-54.
Image: Government Art Collection. Licenced under the Open Government Licence.

St Giles House: north front in 1970. The pavilion roofs on the towers were removed ...
Image: Historic England (NMR BB71/3353).
When the 6th Earl died in 1851, his successor was the great social reformer, the 7th Earl. He promptly engaged P.C. Hardwick to make further changes to the house. In line with his concern for the welfare of workers, in 1853 he built a new north-west service wing containing kitchens to improve conditions for his own servants. He also remodelled the south-west wing so that the inner elevations were matching, parallel and aligned more carefully on the west front of the house. In the following year two strikingly incongruous towers were added to the house, set at either end of the main west range; that to the north was an entirely new structure and was fronted by an arcaded porch leading into a new entrance vestibule. Both towers had an Italianate balustraded parapet and tall French pavilion roofs crowned with decorative ironwork. At the same time, new pitched roofs with dormer windows were erected over all the main ranges, replacing the 18th century lead flats, and a start was made on replacing the 18th century battlemented parapets with widely spaced ball finials, although this was never completed. Finally, a two-storey canted bay window was added to the south end of the east range. By contrast with the scale of these external works, the internal changes were minor.

From the death of the 7th Earl in 1885 the house entered a long slow decline. The only addition to it in the 20th century was the construction of a private chapel within the south-west for the 9th Earl in 1905-07. Rather surprisingly, for a family with such a low-church tradition, the job went to the Anglo-Catholic Sir Ninian Comper, who later also refitted the parish church after a fire.

The house remained the home of the 9th Earl until 1939, when it was requisitioned by the War Office, and the family moved to a dower house in the village. After the War, the house was let as a school, but the fabric of the building deteriorated, allowing an outbreak of dry rot to occur in one of the west wings.  The challenge of maintaining such a vast house, coupled with the death duties that arose on the death of the 9th Earl in 1961, led his grandson and heir to plan a drastic reduction in the size of the house, focusing on the removal of the Hardwick additions and the removal of the external render from the whole house. Work began in 1971 with the demolition of the north-west kitchen wing and the following year the towers were taken down, together with the majority of the south-west wing. This work involved the removal of the 19th century entrance under the north tower. The Comper chapel in the south west wing was retained, although the part of the house in which it stood was pulled down, and it is now a separate building.

St Giles House: north front after the demolition of the north tower and north-west wing.
Image: Trish Steel. Some rights reserved.

Unfortunately, having pulled down significant parts of the house the 10th Earl did not finish the job by tidying up the scarred walls. Furthermore, where the late 18th century cement render had been removed to expose the brickwork, the bricks proved to let in the damp. As a result, the decay of the house accelerated and the problem it posed became bigger, so that by 2002 some parts of the house were in danger of collapse. Eventually, overwhelmed by the challenge, the 10th Earl withdrew to France, where he was tragically murdered in 2004. The unexpected death of his elder son and heir the following year brought to the estate Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, who has devoted the last decade to reviving the fortunes of the house. He and his family live in a private apartment created within the house, while the rest of the restored rooms are used for weddings and corporate events. Much remains to be completed, but the biggest challenges have been addressed and many of the best rooms have been restored or conserved, and in 2015 the house received the prestigious HHA/Sotheby's Restoration Award.

St Giles House: the Philosopher's Tower
built by the 3rd Earl.
John Leland noticed the existence of a park at St. Giles House in the mid 16th century, but the development of it as a landscape setting for the house seems to have begun with the philosopher 3rd Earl. In about 1701 he built a two-storey domed pavilion on the edge of the park with views over Cranborne Chase now called the Philosopher's Tower, where he could enjoy "Ye Fields and Woods, my Refuge from the toilsom World of Business" and entreat the landscape to "receive me in your quiet Sanctuarys, and favour my Retreat and thoughtful Solitude". Shaftesbury was one of the most widely read English philosophers of his day, and even if his writing about garden aesthetics was intended to be understood metaphorically, as modern revisionists have suggested, it seems likely that his readers understood it literally when he wrote:
"I shall no longer resist the Passion growing in me for Things of a natural kind; where neither Art nor the Conceit nor Caprice of Man has spoil'd their genuine order, by breaking in upon that primitive state. Even the rude Rocks, the mossy Caves, the irregular unwrought Grotto's and broken Falls of Waters, with all the horrid graces of the Wilderness it-self, as representing NATURE more, will be the more engaging, and appear with a Magnificence beyond the formal Mockery of Princely Gardens".
and were moved to incorporate these principles in their approach to gardening.

St Giles House: the 'Great Arch' of 1748 formed part of an intricate Rococo layout. 
Image: Mike Searle. Some rights reserved

In the 1740s, the 4th Earl and Countess laid out a Rococo garden based around a carriage drive through the park, of which some elements survive. Bishop Pococke visited in 1754 and described how:
"The gardens are very beautifully laid out, in a serpentine river, pieces of water, lawns &c., and very gracefully adorn'd with wood. One first comes to an island in which there is a castle, then near the water is a gateway, with a tower on each side, and passing between two waters there is a fine cascade from one to the other, a thatch'd house, a round pavilion on a mount, Shake Spear's house, in which is a small statue of him, and his works in a glass case; and in all the houses and seats are books in hanging glass cases. There is a pavilion between the waters, and both a Chinese and a stone bridge over them... There is a most beautiful grotto finished by Mr. Castles of Marybone; it consists of a winding walk and an anti-room. These are mostly made of rock spar &c, adorn'd with moss. In the inner room is a great profusion of the most beautiful shells, petrifactions, and fine polished pebbles, and there is a chimney to it which is shut up with doors covered with shells, in such a manner that it does not appear. The park also is very delightful, and there is a building in it."
St. Giles House: the grotto. Image: SSH Conservation.

St. Giles House: the restored grotto interior. Image: SSH Conservation.
The sham castle has gone but 'The Great Arch', which was being constructed by a mason called Barrett in 1748, has recently been restored, as has the grotto, decorated in 1749, which is a miraculous survival given the 20th century history of the estate. The grotto is reputed to have cost the 4th Earl £10,000, and used exotic shells imported from Jamaica with the assistance of the Earl's neighbour, Alderman William Beckford of Fonthill. The composer Handel, who was a frequent visitor to St. Giles House, took tea at the grotto after a voyage on the lake on one of his visits.

Later in the 18th century a longer carriage drive was laid out around the margins of the 5,000 acre estate, but if, as seems likely, this was associated with a further phase of landscaping by the 5th Earl, it did not result in the removal of the Rococo layout nearer to the house, even if some of the more ephemeral structures vanished through neglect over the years. The last major change affecting the park was the construction of a great terrace around the north, east and south sides of the house in the 1850s, which finally concealed the basement storey of the east range.

St. Giles House: north front in 1862. The new terrace wall is apparent on the left.

Descent: Robert Ashley (d. 1432/3); to son, Edmund Ashley (fl. c.1460-80); to son, Hugh Ashley (d. 1493); to son, Henry Ashley (d. 1549); to son, Sir Henry Ashley (1519-88), kt.; to son, Sir Henry Ashley (1548-c.1605), kt., who sold 1600 to his cousin, Sir Anthony Ashley (1551-1628), kt. and 1st bt.; to daughter Anne (d. 1628), wife of Sir John Cooper (1597-1631), 1st bt.; to son, Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-83), 2nd bt., 1st Baron Ashley and 1st Earl of Shaftesbury; to son, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1652-99), 2nd Earl of Shaftesbury; to son, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671-1713), 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury; to son, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1711-71), 4th Earl of Shaftesbury; to son, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1761-1811), 5th Earl of Shaftesbury; to brother, Cropley Ashley Cooper (1768-1851), 6th Earl of Shaftesbury; to son, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1801-85), 7th Earl of Shaftesbury; to son, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1831-86), 8th Earl of Shaftesbury; to son, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1869-1961), 9th Earl of Shaftesbury; to grandson, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1938-2004), 10th Earl of Shaftesbury; to son, Anthony Nils Christian Ashley-Cooper (1977-2005), 11th Earl of Shaftesbury; to brother, Nicholas Ashley-Cooper (b. 1979), 12th Earl of Shaftesbury.

Broadlands, Hampshire

Broadlands from an early 19th century engraving

When Celia Fiennes visited Broadlands in about 1696 she described it as 'halfe a Roman H': that is a Tudor house with the wings projecting to the east, which had already been substantially altered for Sir John St. Barbe after 1661. This E-plan house remains the core of the present building, but the space between the wings has been filled in and a whole new west range has been built parallel to the original main block. 
Broadlands: the 17th century overmantel of the Oak Room
Image: Historic England (BB79/7990)
Almost the only survivor of the old house is a room o
n the first floor (the Oak Room) with late 17th century panelling including a very fine carved overmantel. The stables, north-east of the house, also survive from the late 17th century, but were altered in the 19th century. They have wooden cross-windows, vertically set oval windows and a hipped roof.

Various minor changes were made to the house by the 1st Viscount Palmerston between his purchase of the estate in 1736 and his death in 1757. The major remodelling of the house was done for the 2nd Viscount Palmerston by Capability Brown, who was working here on the house and landscaping the grounds between 1766 and 1779. He cased the old house with white brick and built a new range of rooms immediately to the west of the original main range. In 1788 his son-in-law, Henry Holland, filled in the gap between the 16th/17th century wings on the east front with a new entrance portico in antis. The result is a square house, nine by nine bays, mostly of two storeys above a basement, with a hipped roof and dormers.  The west-facing garden front, which seems to have been finished by 1771, has a giant portico with a pediment; the quoins at the angles are an addition of the 1850s. The south front is also pedimented over the central three bays, but there is no giant order on this more minor elevation. The north front is similar, but plainer still. 

Broadlands: west front. Image: Historic England (BB79/7962)
Broadlands: Capability Brown's design for the south front. Image: Southampton University/Broadlands Archive

Inside, it is hard now to be absolutely confident about which of the interiors are Brown's work and which were replaced or altered by Henry Holland. The entrance hall, which doubles as a sculpture gallery, is clearly of Brown's time, and was created out of the two-storey great hall of the Tudor house. 

Broadlands House: inner entrance hall, of the Brown period, with a colonnade inserted by Holland.

The main staircase is left of the entrance hall and has an iron balustrade of simple lyre-shapes; that could be Brown or Holland. Several rooms have good plasterwork ceilings thought to be by John Rose, which are probably of the Brown period, while the accompanying wall decorations may belong to the Holland alterations, but the two tie together a seamless way. 

Broadlands: the saloon
The climax of the house is the saloon in the centre of the west front, which has Adamish stucco; this now connects through a 20th century archway with the drawing room next door, where the decoration incorporates painted panels attributed to Angelika Kauffmann (who painted a portrait of Lord Palmerston).

Broadlands: east front, as altered by Henry Holland, 1788 and with the top storey added by T.L. Donaldson, 1850s
Image: Historic England (BB79/7972)
In 1788-92, soon after his second marriage, Lord Palmerston embarked on a further phase of work to designs by Henry Holland, who created a new entrance on the east front by building a three bay loggia of slender Ionic columns between the ends of the wings of the old house. The loggia leads into an octagonal lobby with a skylight which is typical of Holland's work, and then into Brown's entrance hall, which has become a kind of inner hall, and which is decorated with a collection of sculpture. The colonnade of three bays at the north end of the inner must be an addition by Holland. The dining room was also altered by Holland. By 1792 more than £7,000 had been spent on the alterations and on new furniture for the house. In the 1850s, T.L. Donaldson added the third storey to the east front, and the quoins to the angles of the other facades. He also built a service wing to the north of the house, which was demolished in the 1950s.

Broadlands: the Brown landscape from the west front.
Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Some rights reserved.

Celia Fiennes remarked on the formal gardens at Broadlands at the end of the 17th century, but the 1st Lord Palmerston had cleared these away in 1739, soon after acquiring the property, "giving away all the fine pyramid greens to those that will fetch them, of which many cartloards are gone already", as he wrote to his son.  Even before that, in 1736, Lord Palmerston wrote that he was making 'a fine gentle descent from the garden to the river, a little walk on each side, and a walk by the river half a mile long'. It is reputed that William Kent was involved in the redesign of the gardens at this time, but there seems to be no evidence to support this, and it is not clear how far the clearance of the formal gardens was followed up by the creation of new pleasure grounds before Brown arrived on the scene.

When Brown was appointed, the house was still approached axially from the east up a double avenue of trees, which he removed and replaced by clumps in the rather flat parkland. South of the house, he built (or perhaps extended an existing) orangery, and created a vista from it down to the River Test. On the west side, a simple lawn slopes gracefully down from the porticoed main front to the river, the course of which Brown altered to create an attractive curve at this point.
Broadlands: the Spursholt eyecatcher, 1944.
The Gothick part has since been demolished.
Image: Historic England
There was also originally a long view towards a Gothick eyecatcher on the skyline at Spursholt. Brown made three entrances to the park: the present main drive from the Romsey Lodge; another on the Southampton Road with a pair of lodges; and a third north-west of the house, from which a drive offering views of the house approached over an ornamental bridge designed by Robert Mylne in 1783. 

An extensive second phase of tree and shrubbery planting, which established the present character of the pleasure grounds, was begun in 1807 by the 3rd Viscount. Over the next few years he acquired land to the west and south of the original estate, which allowed him to extend the park to its present boundaries and continue its improvement by adding to Brown's work and by new planting in the same style in the areas added to the park. He also moved the Southampton Road from its original position (running due south from the Romsey Lodge) to a new alignment further east to enlarge the park on this side; as a result Brown's original lodges were demolished. After his death, the estate passed to his stepson, Lord Mount Temple, for whom W.E. Nesfield designed a new formal garden with a pool on the south front in 1868-75, and built a new lodge on the Southampton road (now Sunflower Lodge) as a picturesque red brick and half-timbered lodge with tile-hung gables and patterned pargetting.  The walls which enclose the present forecourt were built in 1899 by C.H. Nisbett. 

The Romsey by-pass was built along the northern edge of the park in the 1930s, destroying the lodge north-west of the house, and after the Second World War the Earl and Countess Mountbatten began planting asking their many distinguished visitors to plant commemorative trees in the eastern park. These were placed rather randomly and came to frustrate long views of the house on this side. After the loss of elms from the park in the 1970s and the damage caused by the Great Storm of 1987, the park has undergone comprehensive replanting to restore the structure of the Brown design as shown on estate maps of 1785 and 1787, and the additional area laid out in Brown's style in the 19th century.

Descent: Crown granted 1544 to Sir Thomas Seymour; sold 1547 to Sir Francis granddaughter, Frances, wife of Edward St. Barbe... 1661 to Sir John Barbe (d. 1723); to cousin, Humphrey Sydenham; sold 1736 to Henry Temple (d. 1757), 1st Viscount Palmerston;  to grandson (d. 1802), 2nd Viscount Palmerston; to 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865); to step-son, William Cowper-Temple (1811-88), 1st Baron Mount Temple; to nephew, Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (1836-1907); to son, Col. Wilfrid William Ashley (1867-1939), 1st Baron Mount Temple of Lee; to daughter Edwina (1901-60), wife of Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-79), 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma; to grandson, Norton Knatchbull (b. 1947), 8th Baron Brabourne.

Classiebawn Castle, Mullaghmore, Sligo

The Classiebawn estate belonged to the Temple family from the 17th century, but they seem not to have had a main residence here until the mid 19th century, when Henry John Temple (1784-1865), 3rd Viscount Palmerston, who was Prime Minister, 1855-65, decided to build a holiday home on the windswept western Irish coast north of Sligo. His architect was James Rawson Carroll (1830-1911) of Dublin, who had trained under George Fowler Jones of York. The first site chosen was on Dernish Island, a little to the south-west, but experiment showed that it would be impossible to construct a causeway linking the island to the mainland, and this site was abandoned for the present location on the clifftops close to Mullaghmore.

Classiebawn Castle against the spectacular backdrop of Benbulben. Image: Gerard Lovett. Some rights reserved.

The house was built of Donegal sandstone in a monumental Victorian Baronial style that opposes the Atlantic gales with an appropriate solidity. The house is composed of a gabled main range with a central tower and conical-roofed turret. The entrance front is decorated with carved coats of arms. Inside, the principal rooms are raised on a very high basement.

Classiebawn Castle in the early 20th century.

The house was unfinished when Lord Palmerston died, and his step-son and heir, William Cowper-Temple completed the house. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ashley family came here annually for the month of August, but in 1916, at the height of the Irish uprising, the house was cleared of its contents and the family stopped coming. However, it was neither unroofed by its owners nor burned by the Nationalists, perhaps because Wilfrid Ashley, then the owner, was popular and regarded as a fair-minded landlord. It remained unoccupied and decaying until the Second World War, when Lord Mountbatten visited the estate and was enchanted. 'You never told me how stupendously magnificent the surrounding scenery was', he wrote to his wife in 1941; 'No place has thrilled me more…'. Renovations began after the war, with electric light installed in 1947 and a programme of repairs and redecoration lasting until 1950, after which the family resumed their habit of spending August here. From 1976 the castle was leased to Hugh Tunney, with the proviso that Lord Mountbatten could return each year for August. However that regularity of habit was ultimately fatal, for the IRA chose his annual holiday as an opportunity to murder to him and other members of his party by blowing up his yacht in 1979.

Descent: built for Henry John Temple (1784-1865), 3rd Viscount Palmerston; to step-son, William Cowper-Temple (1811-88), 1st Baron Mount Temple; to nephew, Hon. Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (1836-1907); to son, Wilfrid William Ashley (1867-1939), 1st Baron Mount Temple of Lee; to daughter, Edwina (1901-60), wife of Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-79), 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma; leased 1976 to Hugh T. Tunney (1928-2011), who bought the freehold in 1991. 


Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 2003; Debrett's Peerage, 2016; Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, 2nd edn., 1841, pp. 18-19; VCH Hampshire, vol. 4, 1911, pp. 452-54; Country Life, 31 March 1923, pp. 434-41; 7 April 1923, pp. 466-73; 11 December 1980, pp. 2247-50; 18 December 1980, pp. 2334-37; Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown, 2nd edn., 1957, pp. 122-23; Dorothy Stroud, Henry Holland, 1966, p. 133; Sir Nikolaus Pevsner & David Lloyd, The buildings of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, 1967, pp. 144-45; John Newman & Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the buildings of England: Dorset, 1972, pp. 471-73; Timothy Mowl & Brian Earnshaw, Architecture without Kings, 1995, pp. 101-04; Roger Turner, Capability Brown and the Eighteenth-Century English Landscape, 1999, pp. 108-10; Timothy Mowl, Historic gardens of Dorset, 2003, pp. 68-73; Richard Hewlings, 'Architaphel's architect', Georgian Group Journal, 2008, pp. 3-4; Michael Hill, East Dorset Country Houses, 2013, pp. 282-93; ODNB entries on the 1st, 3rd and 7th Earls and on W.W. Ashley, 1st Baron Mount Temple and Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma.

Coat of arms

Quarterly, 1st and 4th, argent three bulls passant sable armed and unguled or (for Ashley); 2nd and 3rd, gules a bend engrailed between six lions rampant or (for Cooper).

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 3 March and was updated 11 March and 19 December 2016.

1 comment:

  1. I can trace my lineage to these great people (the Ashleys), at least as far back as Sir Henry Ashley.


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