Saturday, 30 September 2017

(306) Bacon of Redgrave Hall, Gorhambury House, Gillingham Hall, Raveningham Hall and Shrubland Hall - part 1

Bacon of Redgrave etc.
This post is divided into three parts: this section includes the introduction to the family and the descriptions of the houses built by the first Sir Nicholas Bacon, kt.; part 2 covers the further houses built by his sons and their descendants; and part 3 the biographical and genealogical details of the owners.

The surname Bacon is undoubtedly of ancient origin in East Anglia, and one tradition is that they trace their descent from Grimbald, a follower of William the Conqueror. It is said that a branch of the family was established at Hessett (Suffk) by the late 12th century, and there was certainly an armigerous family of Bacons there by the early 15th century. The Bacons of Drinkstone (Suffk) were a cadet branch of that family, and the genealogy in part 3 of this post begins with Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79), kt., who was a son of Robert Bacon of Drinkstone, yeoman.

Sir Nicholas was one of those fortunate men, rare in any age, who possess ability, wit, loyalty, and discretion: qualities that enabled him to rise from relatively humble origins to high office and to earn not just the respect but often the affection of his contemporaries. He progressed from the local abbey grammar school to Cambridge, where his friends included Matthew Parker (later Archbishop of Canterbury) and William Cecil (later Lord High Treasurer). He went on to Grays Inn, became a lawyer, and made a successful career in the Court of Augmentations and the Court of Wards and Liveries. Both offices were especially lucrative, and over the years he was able to invest £35-40,000 in the acquisition of estates in Suffolk, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and elsewhere. One of his earliest purchases was the manor of Redgrave in Suffolk, where he built a new mansion between 1545 and 1554. This gave him a taste for building, and he went on to rebuild the hall of Grays Inn, to construct and later extend a new house at Gorhambury, and to direct the building of his son's house at Stiffkey in his last years. In religion, he was firmly in the reformist camp, but while many of his friends went into ostentatious exile during the reign of Queen Mary, he contrived to remain in office by being very good at his job, keeping his head down, and avoiding inflammatory public declarations. Within weeks of her accession, Queen Elizabeth appointed Sir Nicholas to be her chief law officer, with the title of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, but with all the powers and duties of the Lord Chancellor. She is said to have baulked at giving him the Chancellorship or a peerage because of his plebeian origins, but this seems to have been the only respect in which his background hampered his rise. He held the Lord Keepership until his death in 1579, and the Queen is said to have wept at his passing, so much did she rely on his calm authority and balanced judgement. The motto he bequeathed to his family - Mediocria firma (Moderate things endure) - was a just reflection of the principle which guided his public life.

Sir Nicholas married twice, and by his first wife, Jane Fernley (d. 1552), had four sons and three daughters. After her death he quickly married again, to Anne Cooke (1528-1610), who, as one of the five daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke, had been taught Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian and French at his 'female university' at Gidea Hall (Essex). Anne no doubt provided Sir Nicholas with stimulating intellectual companionship, but her reformist religious opinions were as trenchant as his were moderate. By his second wife there were two more sons, who lived to maturity, and two daughters who died young. As his family grew up, Sir Nicholas provided for his daughters through good marriages and handsome dowries, and he aimed to set up each of his sons on an independent estate. The eldest, Sir Nicholas Bacon (c.1543-1624) received Redgrave and Culford; Sir Nathaniel (1546/7-1622), Stiffkey; Edward (1548-1618) married into Shrubland Hall; and Anthony (1558-1601), received Gorhambury, subject to his mother's life interest. An estate had not yet been bought for his youngest son, Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), later 1st Viscount St. Alban, by the time of Sir Nicholas' death, but it would seem that he had been liquidating other assets with a view to making such a purchase. Unfortunately, Sir Nicholas died unexpectedly, and the operation of his will meant that rather than going to Francis in lieu of an estate, this money was distributed equally among his sons. This unintended effect led to dissension between Sir Nicholas' widow and her stepsons, but it does not seem to have stopped the stepbrothers sharing lodgings in London or to have prevented Lady Bacon from showeing her sons and stepsons equally with letters of unsolicited moral advice. In the end, Anthony predeceased his mother, and she then provided for her younger son by making over Gorhambury to him before she died.

Normally, in telling the story of a large family with several different houses like the Bacons, I would make each branch of the family the subject of a separate post, but in this instance the complex intermarriages between different branches and the movement of properties between them would make this approach very cumbersome, and it seems neater to treat the whole family as one. I shall try to summarise here how the different properties descended through the family.
A simplified family tree of the Bacon family in the 16th-18th centuries, showing the principal property owned by each member of the family.

Sir Nicholas Bacon (c.1543-1624), the eldest son of the Lord Keeper, who in 1611 became the first person ever created a baronet ('of Redgrave'), inherited the largest portion of his father's property portfolio, including Redgrave Hall, an estate at Great Ryburgh, and an estate at Culford (Suffk) (the latter being the subject of a long-running ownership dispute, finally resolved in 1586, after which Sir Nicholas built a substantial new house there). Through his marriage to Anne Butts he also acquired Thornage Hall (Norfk), Foxearth Hall (Suffk) and other property in Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. His purchase of a further estate at Gillingham in about 1600 is no doubt explained by his large family and his desire to follow his father in establishing each of his sons with landed property. Of the six who survived to maturity, Sir Edmund Bacon (1569-1649), the eldest, received Redgrave and Thornage, but when he died without heirs they passed with the baronetcy to his next brother, Sir Robert Bacon (1574-1655), whose own share in the estates had been Great Ryburgh. Of the younger sons, Bacqueville (1578-1635) received an estate at Hockham (Norfk); Sir Butts Bacon (1580-1661), 1st bt. of a new creation, was provided for by property at Mildenhall received through his marriage; Nicholas Bacon (1583-1641) was left Gillingham; and Sir Nathaniel Bacon (1585-1641) inherited Culford Hall.

Sir Robert Bacon, 3rd baronet, outlived his eldest son, and at his death in 1655 the baronetcy, Redgrave Hall and Thornage Hall descended to his grandson, Sir Edmund Bacon (c.1634-85), 4th bt. Indeed, only two of Sir Robert's nine sons outlived him; Butts Bacon (d. 1662), who inherited the Great Ryburgh estate, and Peyton Bacon (b. 1620), who may have received a financial legacy, but who appears to have been financially dependent on his brothers and their descendants in the late 17th century. Sir Edmund Bacon, 4th bt., had six sons and ten daughters, but all of his sons died in childhood and at his death the baronetcy passed with Redgrave Hall to his first cousin (the son of Butts Bacon (d. 1662)), Sir Robert Bacon (c.1651-1704), 5th bt. Sir Robert also inherited the Great Ryburgh estate from his father, but the house there - about which nothing is known - may have been abandoned, as he lived at Egmere in north Norfolk until he inherited Redgrave. He found the Redgrave estate heavily indebted, and in 1702 he sold it to Sir John Holt, the Lord Chief Justice of Common Pleas, in order to clear the debts. With the money left over, he bought Garboldisham Hall, a smaller house adjacent to his property at Great Ryburgh. This was the estate which passed to his son and successor, Sir Edmund Bacon (1680-1755), 6th bt., who was one of the MPs for Norfolk for many years. Sir Edmund had no sons, and at his death the Garboldisham-Ryburgh estate passed to his eldest daughter, Letitia (1715-59), the wife of Sir Airmine Wodehouse, who sold it the following year to Crisp Molineux (1730-92).

In 1627, Sir Butts Bacon (1580-1661) of Mildenhall, the seventh son of Sir Nicholas Bacon (c.1543-1624), was also created a baronet ('of Mildenhall'). He purchased an estate at Herringfleet (Suffk), where he built a modest new house. This descended in turn to his son, Sir Henry Bacon (c.1615-71), 2nd bt., and grandson, Sir Henry Bacon (1644-86), 3rd bt.

Sir Butts Bacon's younger brother, Nicholas Bacon (1583-1641) was left Gillingham Hall by his father, and this descended to his son, Sir Nicholas Bacon (1623-66), who was given a third baronetcy ('of Gillingham') at the Restoration. Both this baronetcy and the estate passed in turn to Sir Nicholas' two sons, Sir Edmund Bacon (d. 1683), 2nd bt., and Sir Richard Bacon (d. 1685), 3rd bt. The latter was married to his second cousin, Anne Bacon, the sister of Sir Henry Bacon of Herringfleet, and when he died without issue in 1685 he left Gillingham Hall to Sir Henry. The baronetcy of Gillingham expired at that point, but in 1686 Sir Henry's son, Sir Edmund Bacon (1672-1721), inherited the Mildenhall baronetcy and the Herringfleet and Gillingham estates, and made his home at Gillingham.

Between 1704 and 1750 the holders of both the surviving family baronetcies were named Sir Edmund Bacon, and contemporaries distinguished them as Garboldisham Sir Edmund and Gillingham Sir Edmund. Gillingham Sir Edmund married twice. His first wife was his third cousin, Philippa Bacon, one of the surviving daughters of the hapless Sir Edmund Bacon (d. 1685), 4th bt. of Redgrave, who lost so many children in childhood. They had eight sons and three daughters (all but two of whom survived to maturity). His second marriage was to an heiress, Mary Castell (d. 1758), who brought the adjoining Raveningham (pronounced Ranningham) Hall estate in Norfolk into the family in the mid 18th century. At his death in 1721, Sir Edmund left Gillingham Hall to the eldest son of his first marriage, another Sir Edmund Bacon (1692-1738), 5th bt. The younger Sir Edmund died relatively young and the estate passed to his son, yet another Sir Edmund Bacon (1725-50), 6th bt., and when he died unmarried at the age of twenty-five, it passed to his sister Susan (c.1728-86), who carried it in marriage to the Schutz family.

The Gillingham baronetcy reverted in 1750 to the second son of Sir Edmund Bacon (1672-1721), who was Sir Henry Bacon (1693-1753), 7th bt. Sir Henry was a bachelor who lived in lodgings in Beccles (Suffk). At his death, the title passed to his next brother, Sir Richard Bacon (1695-1773), who was a solicitor in Colchester. Two years later, when 'Garboldisham Sir Edmund' died, he also inherited the original family baronetcy 'of Redgrave' as the senior surviving male descendant of Sir Nicholas Bacon; the two baronetcies have been united ever since. 

When Sir Richard died in 1773 his two baronetcies passed to his half-nephew, Sir Edmund Bacon (1749-1820), 8th and 9th baronet, who had inherited Raveningham from his father, Castell Bacon, in 1770. As heir to both his father and his uncle, Sir Edmund was well able to afford to build a grand new house at Raveningham Hall, which remains the family seat of the Bacon baronets to this day. Sir Edmund had three sons: Sir Edmund Bacon (1779-1864), 9th & 10th bt; Nicholas Bacon (1786-1863) and Henry Bacon (1788-1862). Sir Edmund was heir to the titles and the Raveningham estate; the spendthrift and gambler Nicholas was established on an estate at Blundeston (which had belonged to the Bacons in the 17th century but which was sold soon after 1700 to the Allins of Somerleyton Hall and now repurchased from them) and Henry became a banker and wine merchant in Kings Lynn. Henry's life was, however, unexpectedly transformed when in 1826 he found himself the heir to a very distant kinswoman, Frances Hickman, who left him the large Thonock Hall estate near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, on the sole condition that he took the name Hickman. Neither Sir Edmund, the 9th & 10th bt., nor Henry Bacon had any surviving male issue, and the baronetcies, and the Raveningham and Thonock estates were all united in the next generation in the person of Nicholas' eldest son, Sir Henry Hickman Bacon (1820-72), 10th & 11th bt., who fortunately did not inherit his father's lack of prudence in financial matters.

Sir Henry Hickman Bacon had five sons. The eldest, Sir Hickman Beckett Bacon (1855-1945), 11th & 12th bt., inherited the baronetcies and the Thonock estate; and the second, Nicholas Henry Bacon (1857-1947), inherited Raveningham. As Sir Hickman Bacon was unmarried and had no children, however, the family baronetcies passed at his death in 1945 to his younger brother, who became Sir Nicholas Henry Bacon, 12th & 13th bt., while the Thonock estate was transferred directly to the next generation, in the person of Sir Nicholas' son, later Sir Edmund Castell Bacon (1903-82), 13th & 14th bt., who also inherited Raveningham from his father. Sir Hickman Bacon left Thonock Hall in a poor and unimproved condition at his death, and in 1956 his nephew, who had made his home at Raveningham, pulled Thonock Hall down. Both estates remain in the possession of his son, Sir Nicholas Hickman Ponsonby Bacon (b. 1953), 14th and 15th bt.

With one exception, the younger sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79), kt. and Sir Nicholas Bacon (c.1543-1624), 1st bt., did not produce cadet branches of the family that survived for very long. The younger Sir Nicholas Bacon left Culford Hall to his youngest son, the painter, Sir Nathaniel Bacon (1585-1627), kt., whose only son died without issue in 1660. The Culford estate then passed out of the Bacon family to his half-brother, Sir Frederick Cornwallis, 1st Baron Cornwallis of Eye, whose descendants retained it until 1824.

Sir Nathaniel Bacon (1546/7-1622), kt., who inherited Stiffkey Old Hall in 1579 and built the house there under his father's direction, was married twice but produced no surviving male heir. When he died in 1622, therefore, the estate passed to his grandson, Sir Roger Townshend (1596-1637), 1st bt., who proceed to build Raynham Hall (Norfk). Stiffkey became a secondary house on the estate and later a farmhouse, and was partly abandoned before 20th century restoration.

Sir Edward Bacon (1548-1618) married into Shrubland Hall, and was the one younger son to found a cadet branch of the family. The Shrubland estate passed through four generations, all of whom were called Nicholas Bacon, down to Nicholas Bacon (d. 1767). His son, the Rev. John Bacon, employed James Paine to rebuild the house, but when he died unmarried, the estate was sold out of the family. A further subsidiary branch of the family was created by one of Sir Edward's younger sons, Francis Bacon (1600-63), who seems himself to have lived at Kensington (Middx). However, his son, another Francis Bacon (d. 1679), married the heiress of Thomas Waller of Earlham Hall, Norwich, and came into that property in about 1666. His son, Waller Bacon (c.1669-1734), who was a long-serving MP for Norwich, lived at Earlham and altered the house, and so to did his son, Edward Bacon (1712-86). After Edward's widow died in 1793, however, the estate passed to Bacon Frank (d. 1812) of Campsall Hall (Yorks WR) and passed out of the family.

Lastly, there are the two sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79), kt., by his second wife. As was outlined above, Anthony Bacon (1558-1601) was left Gorhambury subject to his mother's life interest, but died before her, leaving his younger brother, Sir Francis Bacon, later 1st Viscount St. Alban, as his heir. Their mother had a much better relationship with her younger son than his brother, and she promptly released her life interest in the estate to him. However Sir Francis, like his brother, had no children, and he left his estate to his friend and secretary, Sir Thomas Meautys (d. 1649), kt., whose brother sold it in 1652 to the Grimston family, who retain it today.

Finally, it falls to mention the Bacon family's London property, a small but remarkably valuable slice of legal London between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane, which has been in the family since Sir Nicholas Bacon bought it in the days of Queen Elizabeth I. It seems to have descended at first to Sir Edward Bacon (1548-1618) and his successors in the Shrubland estate, but after the death of the Rev. Nicholas Bacon in 1795 to have been transferred to the branch of the family at Raveningham. In the 1880s, Sir Hickman Bacon also bought, jointly with Edward Strutt, a larger estate at Notting Hill in West London around Powis and Colville Squares, and formed the Colville estate company to manage both this land and the Chancery Lane estate. The Notting Hill lands were sold in the early 1950s, so the Colville estate name is now attached to the property management company responsible for the Chancery Lane estate.

Redgrave Hall, Suffolk

The manor of Redgrave in Suffolk belonged from Saxon times to Bury St Edmunds Abbey, and by the early 13th century the abbots had a hunting lodge here, set in a deer park. At the dissolution of the abbey in 1539 the estate passed to the Crown and was sold in 1542 to Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79). The house he acquired was described at the time as 'sore decayed', and between 1545 and 1554 he created a new mansion, incorporating part of the old building. The new house was an unusually early example of a perfectly symmetrical building, although we cannot be certain that the symmetry dates from the 1540s: the flanking wings which turned the original half-H plan into a U-plan were only added in 1560-62, and there were further changes in 1569-71 when the original layout could have been updated.
Redgrave Hall: reconstruction of the plan of the house built 1545-54.
Image: Suffolk Institute of Archaeology.

In planning terms the house was more traditional, with the central entrance leading into a screens passage with the two-storey hall to its left and the family rooms in the left-hand wing, whereas the service rooms lay to the right. We know an unusual amount about the building of the house from the accounts, which survive among the estate archives in Chicago. Sir Nicholas, who had a considerable interest in architecture and was able to make plans himself, appears to have played a major part in its design, but he was advised by John Gybbon, a London mason who made plans and selected workmen and materials, and by William Ponyard, the mason who created the great oriel window at Hengrave Hall, who was paid for four days work in 1553 'for drawing a platt of the gate'. A kinsman, John Bacon, and later James Lynn (who went on to be bailiff of the estate) acted as successive clerks of works, supervising the project on site. The workmen came chiefly from London, but Bacon's friend and fellow-builder, Edmund Withypoll of Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, also sent a group of masons to work at Redgrave in 1550. Up to 1554, the house cost just £1,253, which is about half what was spent on Hengrave Hall a few years earlier and less than half what Bacon himself would spend on Gorhambury in the 1560s.

Redgrave Hall: the only record of the appearance of the Tudor house is this mid-late 17th century painting. Private collection.

The appearance of the house is known from a mid 17th century view, which shows the gabled house approached through two balustraded forecourts, which were probably 17th century additions to the original scheme. 
Redgrave Hall: carved panel above the doorway with Sir Nicholas Bacon's
motto, revealed during demolition, 1946. Image: Historic England AA50/6559

The centre of house had crowstepped gables to either side and a central octagonal turret above a decorated centrepiece incorporating a sculptural panel with Bacon's motto, 'Mediocria firma' (moderate things endure); outside this were the wings of the 1560s. The house was supplied with running water, piped from a spring in the park through a system of conduits of which a contemporary plan survives; another rare survival. The house was complemented by two walled gardens decorated with turrets or pinnacles, and in the 1560s a viewing mount was constructed in the park from which hunting or deer coursing could be viewed. A new approach was made from the south, crossing the stream valley below the house by a bridge and causeway.

Redgrave Hall: view across the Capability Brown lake to the Round House, 2014.
In 1702, Sir Robert Bacon, 5th bt., sold Redgrave and moved to Garboldisham (Norfolk). Nothing is known of any changes the new owner, Sir John Holt, Lord Chief Justice of Kings Bench, or his immediate successors may have made. However, in about 1763 Rowland Holt (1723-86), whose mother was a cousin of George Washington, the first US President, brought in Capability Brown to improve the park. By 1766 a lake had been formed by damming the stream south of the house, which submerged Bacon's bridge and causeway, and new stables, an orangery and a boathouse were built, together with a domed octagonal cottage known as the Round House, carefully sited as a landscape feature to the south-east. 

Redgrave Hall: the park and the mansion from the 1st edition 6" map of 1885.

Redgrave Hall: the house as remodelled by Capability Brown, c.1768-73, showing the south and west fronts. Image: Historic England BB46/2880.

Plans for remodelling the house followed in about 1768. A new south range was built across the ends of the wings of the Tudor house, enclosing a courtyard, and the whole building was clad in Suffolk white brick with stone dressings. The new south front was of nine bays with a central portico of four Ionic columns supporting a pediment: a beautifully proportioned statement of neo-classical architectural purity. The west side was made to echo the south front, with a further three-bay pediment, but the side elevation to the east, also of nine bays, was rather less successful, for while the end elevation of the new block matched the front, the encased older range behind was given different ground-floor fenestration, with taller arched windows set in recesses. Brown proposed the addition of flanking wings, which might have hidden this awkward conjunction, but these were never carried out.

Redgrave Hall: the south and east fronts.
The reception rooms of the remodelled house were in the south and west wings. The entrance hall (which doubled as a saloon) was in the centre of the south front, with the dining room to its right, the main staircase behind it, and drawing room to its left. Down the east side of the house ran an enfillade of interconnecting rooms: two libraries, a morning room and a billiard room. The great hall of Bacon's house became the kitchen, and the rest of the ground floor of the old house was service accommodation. On the first floor, a corridor ran around three sides of the courtyard, giving access to the bedrooms. The new house was largely complete by 1771, when the Hon. William Hervey visited. Brown was paid £10,000, most of which was passed on to Henry Holland, who oversaw the brick and masonry work, and John Hobcraft, who supervised the carpentry and joinery.

In the 1830s, King William IV visited Redgrave, and considered it 'the most beautiful combination of land and water in Eastern England', but the early 19th century owners lived beyond their means, and in the 1840s the house had to be let. John Wood Wilson (1812-72), who inherited in 1852, worked hard to put the estate back on a sound footing, and by the 1860s he was able to afford the redecoration of some of the principal rooms, with the entrance hall/saloon ceiling being given a Pompeian treatment.
Redgrave Hall: Pompeian decoration of the 1860s on the saloon ceiling.
Image: Historic England.
The house was then handed over to his nephew, George Holt Wilson (1836-1924), but with the onset of the Agricultural Depression he too found the house too expensive to live in, and it was again let from the 1890s onwards. During the First and Second World Wars it was used for billeting troops, and in the Second World War the park was occupied by the largest US military hospital in Europe and a PoW camp. The occupying troops did a great deal of damage to the house, and after the War, John Holt Wilson decided to demolish the Hall to raise money to plough into the Estate. The interior features - fireplaces, ceilings, staircases - were sold, and then the house itself was taken down carefully so that all the materials could be salvaged and reused.
Redgrave Hall: the fragment of the mansion spared in 1946 but demolished
in the 1960s when it became dangerous.
Image: University of London, Institute of Archaeology.
All that he left standing was part of the Tudor house that emerged during the demolition process, which he hoped to restore as part of a smaller new house. Even this surviving fragment was demolished in 1960s after it became dangerous, and the Capability Brown orangery was also pulled down at about this time.

In 1971 the park was sold to Guy and Elizabeth Topham, who created a modern industrial farm at Redgrave. The walled gardens were demolished, much of the park was turned over to arable farmland, and many old trees were removed, including the shelter belts laid out by Capability Brown on the north-east side of the park. 
The Capability Brown stables were partly demolished and the rest remodelled out of all recognition as a new house, while a large group of prefabricated farm buildings was erected in the centre of the park for agricultural storage. Of the buildings erected by Brown, only the Round House and the kennels survive, but the lake still gives a coherence to the estate. In 2014 the whole property was put on the market, and it would be splendid if what is still a noble park could be restored and become again the setting for an appropriate mansion. [A fully-illustrated account of this house, with many images from private collections, can be found here.]

Descent: Crown sold c.1542 to Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79), kt.; to son, Sir Nicholas Bacon (c.1543-1624); to son, Sir Edmund Bacon (1569-1649), 2nd bt, to brother Sir Robert Bacon (1574-1655), 3rd bt.; to grandson, Sir Edmund Bacon (c.1634-85), 4th bt.; to cousin, Sir Robert Bacon (c.1651-1704), 5th bt, who sold 1702 to Sir John Holt (d. 1709), Lord Chief Justice of Kings Bench; to brother, Rowland Holt (1652-1719); to son, Rowland Holt (1698-1739); to son, Rowland Holt (1723-86); to brother, Thomas Holt (d. 1799); to nephew, Admiral George Wilson (1756-1826); to son, George St. Vincent Wilson (1806-52); to brother, John Wood Wilson (1812-72); to nephew, George Holt Wilson (1836-1924); to son, George Rowland Holt Wilson (1867-1928); to son, John Holt Wilson (1900-63); to son, Peter Holt-Wilson (b. 1924); sold 1971 to Guy and Elizabeth Topham; on the market 2014.

Gorhambury, St. Albans, Hertfordshire

By 1559, when Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79) purchased the Gorhambury estate near St. Albans in Hertfordshire, he was an experienced builder. He had already been closely involved in the construction of his own house at Redgrave Hall, 1545-54, and as Treasurer of Gray's Inn he had supervised the rebuilding of the Inn hall, 1553-60. Gorhambury was probably bought for its convenience for London, where his political career was advancing, and Bacon may also have had in mind that he was more likely to attract the Queen to stay in Hertfordshire than in deepest Suffolk.
Gorhambury Park: plan showing the location of the medieval house (GI), Old Gorhambury House (GII), the present mansion (GIII) and Verulam House (VH). Image: St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society.
The Gorhambury estate had belonged to St. Albans Abbey from 996 until its dissolution in 1539, and took its name from a 12th century abbot, who created a hunting park and built a house here, which passed by dubious means into the possession of his relatives. They held it until 1307, by which time there was a substantial manor house. This stood on a site to the east of the later houses. Almost immediately he gained possession, Sir Nicholas planned a new mansion and began pulling down the old one to provide building materials. Construction of the new house began in 1563 and was completed in 1568, at a cost of £3,177: more than twice what Redgrave had cost fifteen years earlier. Building materials seem also to have been reused from the abbey buildings in St. Albans, which were being demolished at the time. We are fortunate to have both a view of the new house and its plan, and descriptions of visits by John Aubrey in the 17th century and by Horace Walpole in 1751.

Gorhambury House: an 18th century watercolour of the house built by Sir Nicholas Bacon in 1563-68, with the Gallery Wing of c.1575 to its left.
It seems probable that only the main court of buildings was constructed in 1563-68. The main front was about 115ft long, with octagonal towers at the angles, and a central gateway leading into a courtyard some 80 x 72ft. On the far side was the hall, entered through a tall projecting porch with open arches on three sides, which forms the most speaking part of the surviving ruins. The porch was decorated with classical medallions (one of which survives ex situ) which were unusually advanced for their time and were perhaps imported from Italy. The hall behind was relatively small (35ft long) and two-storeyed, but not open to the roof as attics above it are mentioned later. To the right of the hall were the original service rooms, while the family rooms ran around the courtyard to its left. In 1572, Queen Elizabeth paid the first of two visits to Gorhambury and is said to have said "My Lord Keeper, what a little house you have gotten", to which he is said to have replied, in a nicely turned compliment, "My house is well, Madam, but you have made me too great for my house". He was, nonetheless, apparently spurred to extend Gorhambury, adding the rear kitchen court, which freed up more space in the front court for lodgings and reception rooms, and the great gallery above a Tuscan loggia that projected to the west. The gallery was panelled and had quotations from Sir Nicholas' favourite authors inscribed on the walls between the pictures, as well as painted glass in the windows (some of which survives in the present house), and an elaborately painted barrel-vaulted ceiling, 'with heads and busts of Greek and Roman Emperours and heroes', Aubrey tells us. The work was complete by the time Queen Elizabeth came again in 1577 (for a five day stay that cost Bacon nearly £600).

In 1579 Gorhambury passed to Sir Nicholas' eldest son by his second marriage, Anthony Bacon (d. 1601), who lived largely abroad and neglected the house. When he died, it passed to his brother, the great philosopher and statesman, Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who was created Baron Verulam and later Viscount St. Albans. It is no surprise to find that Francis, who penned the immortal essays 'Of building' and 'Of gardens' in the 1620s, used Gorhambury as a canvas for his ideas. He built on a new site in the north-east corner of the park a compact square house, called Verulam House, of three storeys and five by five bays, with a central chimneystack surrounded by a leaded viewing platform. 

Verulam House, Gorhambury, built c.1618 and demolished 1663,
drawn from memory c.1671 by John Aubrey.
Full height bay windows in the end bays on each front clasped the angles of the house and gave a rippling effect of movement. The building has a passing resemblance to the Elizabethan house at Culford, but was on a rather smaller scale. Sir Francis was undoubtedly the designer of this, but he had practical assistance in the building from a Mr Dobson of St. Albans (father of the painter, William Dobson). According to Aubrey, this house cost £9,000-£10,000 to build, presumably because it was so richly finished inside with painted decoration and marble fireplaces. In the centre, next to the chimneystack, was an open-well timber staircase with carved newel posts and doors painted with classical figures. From the leads, there was a view over a complex water garden which Bacon designed and laid out, with a series of rectangular moated islands (the pools being paved with carefully selected and coloured pebbles) decorated with summer houses, grottoes, sculptures, trees, and scented flowers. Sadly, although there are remnants of the gardens still today, Verulam House itself was pulled down as early as 1663, later owners not agreeing with Francis Bacon that it was necessary to have one house for summer use and one for winter.

Verulam House, Gorhambury: an aerial view of the surviving earthworks of Sir Francis Bacon's garden.
Sir Francis Bacon put the Gorhambury estate into the hands of trustees for his friend and secretary, Sir Thomas Meautys (d. 1649), to whom he owed money. In 1651, Meautys' widow married Sir Harbottle Grimston (1603-85), 2nd bt, and when the Meautys' heir died in 1652 Sir Harbottle bought the estate. He does not seem to have made many changes to the Elizabethan house, except that in 1672-73 the chapel was rebuilt, apparently with design input from Richard Ryder. When Sir Samuel Grimston, 3rd bt., died in 1700, he bequeathed the estate to his nephew, William Luckyn, on condition that he adopted the name of Grimston and paid a legacy of £1,000 a year (up to a maximum of £30,000) to Sir Samuel's one surviving granddaughter. Raising this sum caused him to fell timber in the park, let half the house, and to marry for money a rather stout and tempestuous lady, to escape whom he is said to have built a study approached by a narrow flight of stairs which she was too fat to ascend!

Gorhambury House: a watercolour of 1787, showing the old house partly demolished.

In 1773, the estate descended to James Bucknall Grimston (1747-1808), 3rd Viscount Grimston, who found the old house in sad disrepair. Approaches were made to several architects for schemes of restoration and updating, but it was eventually decided to build a completely new house. Lord Grimston, who had done the Grand Tour of Europe and collected art on his travels, was perhaps nothing loath to have more fashionable home, and for this a fourth site in the park was selected. The old house had been partly taken down by 1787, when a drawing shows it with the wings of the main court truncated.

Gorhambury House: an engraving published in 1818 showing the new house as built by Sir Robert Taylor, 1777-89.

Gorhambury House: the entrance front in the mid 20th century. Image: Historic England CC56/491.
The new building was one of Sir Robert Taylor's last commissions, and the central nine by five bay block (120 x 70 ft) was built in 1777-84. The lower pavilion wings containing service accommodation (kitchens on one side; laundry and brewhouse on the other) were for some reason not built at the same time, but were added in 1788-89, apparently under the direction of William Pilkington, as Taylor died in 1788. According to the building accounts, the house cost some £17,800. The principal rooms were on a piano nobile, with further service accommodation in the basement. On the east (entrance) front, a grand flight of steps leads up under a Corinthian portico with Coade stone capitals to the main entrance. The garden front has a centrepiece of attached columns and French windows approached by curving staircases. Alongside the new house, a garden temple was built with a classical front and including part of a grand fireplace from the old house (perhaps that in the Gallery): this was made into a house in the late 19th century.

Gorhambury House: garden front, as it is today. Image: Srlee. Some rights reserved.
Gorhambury House: entrance hall designed by Sir Robert Taylor; the gallery balcony replaced by William Burn, 1846-47.
Inside, the front door brings you into a very handsome two-storeyed galleried entrance hall, with the library behind it, while to the left are the dining room (now Ball Room) and drawing room and to the right the oval staircase and Lord Grimston's study (now the dining room) and his bedroom suite. The house contains several fine Italian chimneypieces acquired by Lord Grimston on his travels, which are attributed to Piranesi, as well as Bacon and Grimston family portraits, stained glass from the old mansion, and terracotta busts of Sir Nicholas Bacon, his wife and of Francis Bacon as a child.

Gorhambury House: the east front today, showing the 19th century service wing added in two stages by William Atkinson.
James Walter Grimston (1775-1845), 4th Viscount Grimston and later 1st Earl of Verulam inherited the house in 1808. He found some aspects of the 18th century house inconvenient, and the connecting link to the service wing on the north was replaced by a two-storey building in 1816-17. This was designed by William Atkinson, who in 1826-28 returned to rebuild the north pavilion itself on a larger scale and to demolish the southern pavilion and link. At one stroke, this improved the view from the drawing room and moved the offensive smells of cooking away from the drawing room windows. These changes had little impact on the central block, but in 1846-47 the 2nd Earl brought in William Burn to alter the main house. The staircase originally rose from the basement to the top floor, and provided a means of access through the basement to the garden. Burn removed the bottom flight down to the basement, providing garden access instead through French windows from the library down new curving staircases on the west front. He also replaced the wrought iron balustrade of the gallery in the entrance hall with a heavier cast iron balustrade and re-roofed the portico. There was a major programme of repairs between 1957 and 1967, when the original soft Totternhoe chalk ashlar of the exterior was removed and replaced by Portland stone, and since 2014 the family has embarked on some changes to adapt the house for contemporary needs. The service wing is being subdivided into several smaller dwellings and the main block made more 'family friendly'. The dining room is being moved back to its original position where it can be connected by a lift to a kitchen below. The library is being moved to where the dining room was, and the former library is becoming a new ‘family room’ with a kitchen at one end. 

Descent: Crown granted 1541 to Ralph Rowlatt (d. 1543); to son, Amphibalus Rowlatt (d. 1546?); to brother, Sir Ralph Rowlatt, kt., who sold 1559-61 to his brother-in-law, Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79), kt.; to widow, Anne (c.1528-1610), Lady Bacon, who gave it c.1602 to her son, Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), 1st Baron Verulam and 1st Viscount St. Albans; to friend Sir Thomas Meautys (d. 1649); to daughter (d. 1652); to uncle, Henry Meautys, who sold 1652 to Sir Harbottle Grimston (1603-85), 2nd bt.; to son, Sir Samuel Grimston (1644-1700), 3rd bt.; to nephew, William Luckyn (later Grimston) (1684-1756), 1st Viscount Grimston; to son, James Grimston (1711-73), 2nd Baron Grimston; to son, James Bucknall Grimston (1747-1808), 3rd Baron Grimston; to son, James Walter Grimston (1775-1845), 4th Viscount Grimston and 1st Earl of Verulam; to son, James Walter Grimston (1809-95), 2nd Earl of Verulam; to son, James Walter Grimston (1852-1924), 3rd Earl of Verulam; to son, James Walter Grimston (1880-1949), 4th Earl of Verulam; to son, James Brabazon Grimston (1910-60), 5th Earl of Verulam; to brother, John Grimston (1912-73), 6th Earl of Verulam; to son, John Duncan Grimston (b. 1955), 7th Earl of Verulam.

Stiffkey Old Hall, Norfolk

In 1571 Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79) bought an estate at Stiffkey on the north Norfolk coast for his second son, Nathaniel Bacon (1546-1622) and by March 1573 plans were in hand for building a new country house on the site adjacent to the parish church where the previous manor house stood. Sir Nicholas designed the house, with some (but not much) advice from London craftsmen, and directed its building by letter from London, with Nathaniel merely controlling matters on site. Construction began in August 1576 and finished in about 1581, when a mason was contracted to rebuild the tops of four chimneystacks.  

Stiffkey Old Hall: aerial view of the site, 2014. Image: John Fleming. Some rights reserved.

The original intention was to build a courtyard house, with eight round towers at the external and internal angles of the building, entered from the south. Perhaps because Sir Nicholas died in 1579 and Nathaniel did not share his interest in architecture, or perhaps because Nathaniel was always short of money, building came to a halt in 1581 with only the hall range and the west side of the house completed. The east wing was added in 1589-92, and either then or in 1604 the planned south range, with the towers at the inner south-east and south-west angles, was abandoned, so that the house ended up as the fashionable U-plan form of the mid-late 16th century. In 1604, a freestanding gatehouse was built, partly filling the space between the east and west wings, and reusing a classical doorcase which had probably been intended for the centre of the south range. This is the only explicitly classical reference in the whole building, and perhaps reflects the fact that Sir Nicholas' architectural tastes were formed in the 1540s rather than the period when the house was built. The house was then complete, unless, as there are some grounds for thinking, the south-east and south-west round towers were not constructed until c.1630.

Stiffkey Old Hall: north side of the house in 2016, showing the house after recent restoration. Image: Abaroth.

The walls of the house are of flint with brick dressings, and the surviving original windows have mullions and transoms. Nathaniel reported to his father that he intended to borrow the brick-moulds used for the windows at Oxnead Hall to make the windows at Stiffkey, perhaps thinking moulded brick would be cheaper than stone. Inside, the towers in the courtyard were intended to hold staircases, while the outward-facing towers provided closets off the rooms they adjoined. There is a surviving newel staircase in the remaining inner tower. The abandonment of the south range left the rooms at the far end of the west range rather hard to access, and so a new staircase was built, perhaps also in 1604, in a square projection added to the west side of the house close to the south-west tower; it has stepped windows that reflect the rise of the staircase inside. Relatively little survives of the original interiors, thanks to remodellings in 1791 and 1911, but the attic of the west range has a barrel-vault and there are some early fireplaces downstairs.

Stiffkey Old Hall: west front in 1984. Image: © George Plunkett. Some rights reserved.

Stiffkey Old Hall: gatehouse of 1604, as recently restored. Image: Blosslyn.
Stiffkey Old Hall: looking through the newly restored gatehouse, 2014. Image: Draper & Nicholls Ltd.
The house was several years in the planning, and one reason for this seems to be that Sir Nicholas was keen to make a geometrical statement in his building, and found it difficult to accommodate this to the site, which was constrained on the south by the river and on the north-east by the church and churchyard. It would appear that he wanted to make the house the central square of a nine-square grid (as Smythson had done at Wollaton), but in the end some compromises were necessary. The churchyard was made the north-east square of the grid, and the southern three squares were not square but rectangular. The gardens and courtyards around the house were, however, laid out within this conceptual framework, and since they largely survive today are a rare example of a Tudor garden layout. The whole design is almost, in the Elizabethan sense of the word, a device, in the same way as Sir Thomas Tresham's triangular lodge at Rushton is a meditation on the number 3, although since the Bacons had Puritan leanings, no religious symbolism is apparent. 

Stiffkey Old Hall: the courtyard side of the surviving building in 1984. Image: George Plunkett. Some rights reserved
When Sir Nathaniel Bacon died in 1622 he had no sons to inherit Stiffkey, and the estate passed to his grandson, Sir Roger Townshend, who lived here while he built Raynham Hall (Norfk) in the 1620s (and this may provide the context for the belated addition of the south-east and south-west towers). Thereafter, Stiffkey became a tenanted property on the Raynham estate. At first, there were gentry tenants (Sir John Tracy (d. 1664) and Mildmay Fane, 2nd Earl of Westmorland (d. 1666)) for the estate as a whole; then the house and its gardens were let separately from the lands; and by the mid 18th century the house was occupied by tenant farmers. Farmers did not need such a large house, and only a part of the building (the west wing and half the middle range) seems to have been kept in repair. According to one account there was a fire in the 18th century which destroyed the east wing and damaged the great hall; but these parts of the house may just have been abandoned and allowed to collapse over time. By the time Humphry Repton made a sketch of the place in 1779 the surviving part of the house was in a half-ruined state. Recorded renovations began in 1791, when new casement windows were introduced into the west range and the interior was altered, but more substantial restoration had to wait until after the Townshend estate sold the house in 1911. It was then restored by Harry Redfern for Col. & Mrs. John Robin Gray (d. 1926), and a new main entrance was created on the west front. 

Stiffkey Old Hall: the house from the north-west after recent restoration. Image: Draper & Nicholls Ltd.

After the Second World War the house again fell into considerable disrepair, from which was rescued by the conservation architect, Sir Bernard Feilden, who divided it into four units and lived here with his extended family. In 2001 the whole house was sold to the present owners, who have carried out a major programme of restoration work to both house and gardens, and who occupy the whole building.

Descent: sold 1571 to Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79) and given to Sir Nathaniel Bacon (1546/7-1622); to grandson, Sir Roger Townshend (1596-1637), 1st bt.; to son, Sir Roger Townshend (1628-48), 2nd bt.; to brother, Sir Horatio Townshend (1630-87), 3rd bt. and later 1st Baron and 1st Viscount Townshend; to son, Charles Townshend (1674-1738), 2nd Viscount Townshend; to son, Charles Townshend (1700-64), 3rd Viscount Townshend; to son, George Townshend (1724-1807), 4th Viscount and later 1st Marquess Townshend; to son, George Townshend (1755-1811), 2nd Marquess Townshend; to son, George Ferrers Townshend (1778-1855), 3rd Marquess Townshend; to cousin, John Townshend (1798-1863), 4th Marquess Townshend; to son, John Villiers Stuart Townshend (1831-99), 5th Marquess Townshend; to son, John James Dudley Stuart Townshend (1866-1921), 6th Marquess Townshend; who sold 1911 to Lt-Col. John Robin Gray (d. 1926)...Miss Greenyear (d. c.1976); to Sir Bernard Feilden (1919-2008)... sold 2001 to John & Anne Bell.

Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 2003, pp. 209-11; J.C. Rogers, 'The manor and houses of Gorhambury', Transactions of St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society, 1933, pp. 35-112; Ernest Sandeen, 'The building of Redgrave Hall, 1545 -1554', Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, 1961, pp. 1-31; R. Tittler, Nicholas Bacon: the making of a Tudor statesman, 1976; M. Airs, 'The designing of five East Anglian country houses, 1505-1637', Architectural History, 1978, pp. 58-68; P. Leach, James Paine, 1988, pp. 33, 202, 209-10; Sir N. Pevsner & B. Wilson, The buildings of England: Norfolk - Norwich and North-East, 2nd edn., 1997, pp. 344-45, 675-77; T. Williamson, Suffolk's gardens and parks, 2000, pp. 22, 59-60, 81-82; H. Smith, 'Concept and compromise: Sir Nicholas Bacon and the building of Stiffkey Hall', in C. Harper-Bill, C. Rawcliffe & R.G. Wilson, East Anglia's History: studies in honour of Norman Scarfe, 2002, pp. 159-88; D. Clarke, The country houses of Norfolk: part 1 - The Major Houses, 2006, pp. 90-91; Diarmaid MacCulloch (ed), Letters from Redgrave Hall: The Bacon Family, 1340-1744, 2007; W.M. Roberts, Lost country houses of Suffolk, 2010, pp. 125-29; P. Dallas, R. Last & T. Williamson, Norfolk Gardens and Designed Landscapes, 2013, pp. 378-81; H.L. Meakin, The painted closet of Lady Anne Bacon Drury, 2013, esp. pp. 19-102; University of East Anglia, Ziggurat, 2014/15, pp. 23-26; J. Bettley & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Suffolk - West, 2015, pp. 464-66; ODNB articles on Anne, Lady Bacon (d. 1610); Anthony Bacon (d. 1601); Sir Edmund Castell Bacon, 13th/14th bt.; Edward Bacon (1548-1618); Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Alban; Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-79); Sir Nicholas Bacon (c.1543-1624);

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 30 September 2017 and was updated 6 September 2019.

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