Belton House

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Belton House, south front Belton House South Elevation.jpg
Belton House, south front

Belton House is a Grade I listed country house in the parish of Belton near Grantham in Lincolnshire, England, built between 1685 and 1688 by Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Baronet. It is surrounded by formal gardens and a series of avenues leading to follies within a larger wooded park. Belton has been described as a compilation of all that is finest of Carolean architecture, said to be the only truly vernacular style of architecture that England had produced since the Tudor period. It is considered to be a complete example of a typical English country house; the claim has even been made that Belton's principal façade was the inspiration for the modern British motorway signs which give directions to stately homes.

Contents

For about three centuries until 1984, Belton House was the seat successively of the Brownlow family, which had first acquired land in the area in the late 16th century, and of its heirs the Cust family (in 1815 created Earl Brownlow). Despite his great wealth Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Baronet, chose to build a comparatively modest house rather than one of the grand Baroque palaces being built by others at the time. The contemporary, if provincial, Carolean style was the selected choice of design. The new house was fitted with the latest innovations such as sash windows for the principal rooms, and more significantly, with completely separate areas for the staff. Successive generations made changes to the interior of the house which reflected their changing social position and tastes, yet the fabric and design of the house changed little.

Following World War I, the Custs, like many previously wealthy English families, were faced with mounting financial problems and finally in 1984 they donated the house, with most of its contents, to the National Trust, which now opens Belton to the public.

History

Alice Brownlow, nee Sherard (1659-1721) by John Riley Alice Brownlow, nee Sherard (1659-1721), by John Riley.jpg
Alice Brownlow, née Sherard (1659–1721) by John Riley

The Brownlow family, a dynasty of lawyers, began buying property in Lincolnshire to augment their income in 1598. Among these properties was the manor of Belton, 2 mi (3.2 km) distant from Grantham. Richard Brownlow, who established the family's wealth, began negotiations to acquire the manor from Sir Henry Pakenham in 1603 and secured its reversion to him six years later. The Pakenhams hosted King James I in the manor for a night in 1617. This occasion financially ruined the Pakenhams and led to the resignation of their interest in the property to Brownlow in exchange for an lifelong annuity. [1] [lower-alpha 1] Brownlow neither much stayed at nor made much change to the Belton manor, preferring to reside at other properties. When he died, Brownlow was succeeded by his son Sir John Brownlow I, who himself died childless in 1679. John Brownlow had, however, become attached to two of his more distant blood relations: a great-nephew, also called John Brownlow, and a great-niece, Alice Sherard, who married in 1676 when both were aged 16. [3]

After inheriting the estates of their great-uncle, Alice and John Brownlow sought to enter London high society. To that end, they bought a town house in the newly fashionable Southampton Square in Bloomsbury and decided to build a new country house at Belton to flaunt their wealth. In 1684, they acquired labourers and materials for the house over 1684, hiring brickmakers, bricklayers, and stonemasons, and carefully demolished the old manor, which stood near the present orangery, to recycle its components. The cornerstone of what became Belton House was laid on 23 March 1685 and its exterior was largely completed by the latter half of the following year. The interiors of the house were completed in 1687. [4]

Private residence

The Brownlows moved into Belton House in November 1688. [5] On 29 October 1695, they hosted William III, who was reported to have enjoyed his stay so much that he was too hung over to eat any of the food provided on his state visit to Lincoln the following day. Two years later, in July 1697, Sir John Brownlow II committed suicide at a relative's residence in Dorset. Ownership of Belton House passed to his brother, William, who was content to permit Alice to remain in occupation until her death in 1721, and she spent that time arranging advantageous marriages for her five daughters. One of those marriages was between her youngest daughter, Eleanor, and Sir John Brownlow III, William's son. John III, made Viscount Tyrconnel in 1718, inherited Belton House on Alice's death and refurnished the house. [6]

Sir John Brownlow III also died childless in 1754, and like Sir John Brownlow I focused his energies on a nephew, also named John, son of his sister Anne and Sir Richard Cust. [7] The Cust family, who had ties to the slave trade and marriages in Sir John Cust's time to slaveholders, [8] [lower-alpha 2] moved into a house in Grantham and received the Viscount Tyrconnel's political patronage. Upon John III's death, Anne inherited Belton House and lived in it until 1766, when she gave it John Cust—elected MP for Grantham in 1743 and then Speaker of the House of Commons from 1761 to 1770—to provide him a residence befitting his political station. [7] Cust died in 1751—because of the "unusual fatigues" of his station, according to his monument at Belton—and passed Belton House to his son, Brownlow Cust, who was created Baron Brownlow in 1776. [11]

Adelaide, wife of the 3rd Earl Brownlow, in a portrait by Frederick Leighton. Leighton Brownlow.jpg
Adelaide, wife of the 3rd Earl Brownlow, in a portrait by Frederick Leighton.

Brownlow Cust made sweeping changes to Belton House. First, from 1770 to 1771, he arranged for repairs to its interiors and then hired architects James Wyatt and John Langworth to bring the modernise the house over the rest of the century. In 1807, Brownlow Cust died and was succeeded as master of Belton and as Lord Brownlow by his son, John, created Earl Brownlow in 1815. [12] The Earl also made sweeping changes to Belton House and its grounds via the services of Jeffry Wyatville, James Wyatt's nephew, from 1809 to 1820 and Anthony Salvin in the 1830s. [13] [14] In 1853, the Earl died and was succeeded by a grandson who himself died in 1867, leaving Belton House—and the manor and estate of Ashridge in Hertfordshire, inherited in 1849 by the 1st Earl's oldest son, John Egerton, Viscount Alford—to another grandson, Adelbert Brownlow-Cust, 3rd Earl Brownlow. [15] [16]

Although the 3rd Earl preferred to live at Ashridge in or a house on Carlton House Terrace in London, he spent the rest of the 19th-century reverting Belton House to its 17th-century appearance. Consequently the house entered the 20th century in a good state of repair and preservation. However, the 20th century was to present Belton and its estate with serious problems. In January 1921, the 3rd Earl died childless. As a consequence, his title went extinct and his estates were inherited by Adelbert Salusbury Cockayne-Cust, 5th Baron Brownlow. The diminishing value of the family's land and death duties for the 3rd Earl obliged the 5th Baron to sell Ashridge and its art collections. [17] Further death duties were incurred on Adelbert's death in 1927, [18] which passed the house to his son, Peregrine. [19]

Decline

At the beginning of World War I, like many other British landowners, the 3rd Earl Brownlow offered his house and park to the Government for war service. The offer was accepted, and the largest and most drastic changes were made in the park since the time of Viscount Tyrconnel's folly building. In August 1914, the house and park were used as the assembly point for the 11th (Northern) Division before its deployment. In 1915, the home depôt and training ground of the Machine Gun Corps were established in the southern part of Belton park. [20] The lie of the land there, where the River Witham passes between the Lower Lincolnshire Limestone and the Upper Lias mudstone, lent itself to the development of the necessary firing ranges close to good communications by way of the Great North Road and Grantham railway station on the East Coast Main Line. The depôt was closed in 1919, the site cleared and the land restored to Lord Brownlow in 1920. Little sign of the Machine Gun Corps's stay remains in the park, but plaques and inscriptions can be followed from the south gate of Belton park to the memorial gate on the way from there to the town centre and in the north aisle of Grantham parish church. An archaeological dig at the site was undertaken by the Time Team in 2012. [21] [lower-alpha 3]

The years following World War I were severely testing for the owners of many great estates. The staff both indoor and outdoor, which had previously been plentiful, essential, and cheap, were now in short supply. Millions of men had left private service to join the army, and very few returned. [23] Female domestic staff had been called up for war service in factories, and now realised there was an easier and better paid existence outside of the gates of the great country houses. [24]

Belton again saw war service during World War II. From 1942, part of the Royal Air Force Regiment was housed in Nissen huts at the park in a facility named RAF Belton Park. [25]

Following the wars, many thousands of country houses of great architectural value were demolished, or had whole wings razed to the ground. [26] In 1955 alone one house was demolished every five days. [27] In this respect Belton was fortunate to survive at all, as in addition to the family's problems, the house deteriorated to such an extent that in 1961 the 6th Baron employed the architect Francis Johnson to oversee a large restoration program lasting three years. [28] Not only was the roof repaired but much of the panelling taken down and repaired, and new cornices installed. Also attempts were made to curtail serious infestations of dry rot. [29] In the previous decade, Belton had been listed at Grade I, the highest possible grade reserved for buildings of exceptional interest. [30] The main façade of the house is reputed to have been the inspiration for the modern British motorway signs ( HH icon.png ) which give directions to stately homes. [31]

National Trust

The seventh Baron attempted to retain the house and estate by opening to the public. An adventure playground was built in the nearby woods to attract families to the house as a tourist attraction. However, the financial difficulties were too great and in January 1984 he transferred ownership of the house, garden, and some of the contents to the National Trust, a charitable body experienced in the management of historic properties. An auction of the contents was held at Belton House by Christie's over three days 30 April – 2 May 1984, comprising 1,022 lots. [32] The National Trust then purchased 1,317 acres (5.33 km2; 533 ha) of parkland and much of the remaining contents at a cost of £8 million (worth about £27 million today) with a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. [33] [34] [lower-alpha 4]

The Trust quickly produced a guide book for the 1984 season and opened to the public. [38] A priority was the establishment of a restaurant, which would not only augment the estate's income, but also encourage people to spend more time at Belton, and travel greater distances to visit. [39] [lower-alpha 5] Though the house, its contents, and outbuildings were in an adequate state of repair at the time of the gift, they have since become part of an ongoing programme of conservation and restoration. [42] At the same time, the National Trust has introduced new features and attractions such as a silver exhibition that displays a collection of silver amassed by the Brownlow family, dating from 1698. [43] Further revenue is raised from the use of the property as a filming location, and from licensing the Marble Hall for civil weddings. [44] The house features in the 1988 TV adaptation of the 1987 children's novel Moondial. [45] and also as "Rosings Park" in the BBC's 1995 television version of Pride and Prejudice . [46] It was visited by 340,290 people during 2021. [47]

Architecture

Ethos

The late 17th century in England was a time of great progress in design. Following the austere years of Commonwealth rule, a great flourishing and development in both architecture and the arts began after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. [48] Royalist exiles and wealthy young men who made the Grand Tour, returned home with new ideas—often extravagant variations on classical themes. [49] This was, for England, the dawn of the Baroque era. [48] The new wave of architects such as Roger Pratt, John Webb, and Sir Christopher Wren were not just building vast edifices in Renaissance-inspired styles, but also transforming existing older houses. [50] Representative of the utilisation of older houses is Coleshill House in Berkshire, where Pratt transformed the medieval, but now redundant, great hall into a classically inspired entrance hall complete with an imperial staircase. [51] James Stevens Curl notes the influence of Pratt's designs on Belton House. [52] Great halls were considered redundant now that employers wished to live separately from their servants, and no longer ate with them in the hall. All evidence and odours of cooking and staff were banished from the principal parts of the house. Employers began to live in fine airy rooms, above the ground floor, with privacy from their servants, who were now confined, unless required, to specifically delegated areas—often the ground and uppermost attic floors. This was a period of great social change in British history, and the educated prided themselves on enlightenment and elegance. [53]

Belton was designed in the restrained almost Palladian-inspired architecture of the time immediately before the full emergence in England of the ornate Baroque. The general form this architecture took was of severely symmetrical, often rectangular houses, with a pediment over the central bays. That at Belton is decorated with a carved cartouche, emblazoned with the Brownlow coat of arms. [54] This almost rigid concept was to influence the design of innumerable houses, including Belton. Later to be known as the Carolean style (from "Carolus," the Latin name for the reigning monarch Charles II), it was popular with the minor aristocracy and gentry for both their town and country houses until long after Charles II's death. The writer and publisher Nigel Nicolson called the Carolean the only truly vernacular style of architecture that England had produced since the Tudors. [55] [lower-alpha 6]

The architect thought to have been responsible for the initial design is William Winde, although the house has also been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, [57] while others believe the design to be so similar to Roger Pratt's Clarendon House, London, that it could have been the work of any talented draughtsman. [58] The assumption popular today, that Winde was the architect, is based on the stylistic similarity between Belton and Coombe Abbey, which was remodelled by Winde between 1682 and 1685. [59] Further evidence is a letter dated 1690, in which Winde recommends a plasterer who worked at Belton to another of his patrons. [60] [lower-alpha 7]

Whomever the architect, Belton follows closely the design of Clarendon House, completed in 1667. [55] This great London town house (demolished c. 1683) has been one of the most admired buildings of its era due to "its elegant symmetry and confident and common-sensical design". [62] Sir John Summerson described Clarendon House as "the most influential house of its time among those who aimed at the grand manner" and Belton as "much the finest surviving example of its class". [55] John and Alice Brownlow assembled one of the finest teams of craftsmen available at the time to work on the project. This was headed by the master mason William Stanton who oversaw the project and undertook work independently, for example the service wing. [63] His second in command, John Thompson, had worked with Sir Christopher Wren on several of the latter's London churches, while the chief joiner John Sturges had worked at Chatsworth under William Talman. The wrought-ironworker John Warren worked under Stanton at Denham Place, Buckinghamshire, and the fine wrought iron gates and overthrow at Belton may be his. [64] Thus, so competent were the builders of Belton that Winde may have done little more than provide the original plans and drawings, leaving the interpretation to the on-site craftsmen. This theory is further demonstrated by the external appearance of the adjoining stable block. More provincial, and less masterful in proportion, it is known to have been entirely the work of Stanton. [65]

Belton is faced with the local Ancaster stone, [30] with a lighter ashlar from Ketton for the quoining. [5] The "H"-shaped plan was a design which became popular in the late Elizabethan period. However, by the late 16th century, domestic architecture had evolved further than the "one room deep" ranges of the earlier "H" plan houses, such as Montacute House. [66] The new layout placed rooms back to back, creating a house two rooms deep. This became known as "double pile". [67] [68] As at Belton, this permitted rooms to be not just better lit and heated but also better accessed and related to each other, and with the greatest advantage of all—greater privacy. On the construction side, the double room depth allowed the house to be more compact and under one, more easily constructed, roof, thus lowering building costs. [lower-alpha 8]

Design

Unscaled plan of Belton House's piano nobile. 1:Marble Hall; 2:Great Staircase; 3:Bedchamber, now Blue Room; 4:Sweetmeat closet; 5:Back stairs & east entrance; 6:Chapel Drawing Room; 7:Chapel (double height); 8:Tyrconnel Room; 9:Saloon; 10:Red Drawing Room; 11:Little Parlour (now Tapestry Room); 12:School Room; 13:Closet; 14:Back stairs & west entrance; 15:Service Room (now Breakfast Room); 16:Upper storey of kitchen, (now Hondecoeter Room) BHouse2.jpg
Unscaled plan of Belton House's piano nobile. 1:Marble Hall; 2:Great Staircase; 3:Bedchamber, now Blue Room; 4:Sweetmeat closet; 5:Back stairs & east entrance; 6:Chapel Drawing Room; 7:Chapel (double height); 8:Tyrconnel Room; 9:Saloon; 10:Red Drawing Room; 11:Little Parlour (now Tapestry Room); 12:School Room; 13:Closet; 14:Back stairs & west entrance; 15:Service Room (now Breakfast Room); 16:Upper storey of kitchen, (now Hondecoeter Room)

The plan of the rooms at Belton was outdated for a grand house of its time. Following the Restoration and the influx of European ideas, it had become popular for large houses to follow the continental fashion of a suite of state rooms consisting of a withdrawing room, dressing room, and bedroom proceeding from either side of a central saloon or hall. [70] These rooms were permanently reserved for use by a high ranking guest, such as a visiting monarch. While Belton does have a saloon at its centre, enfilades of state rooms of lessening grandeur do not flank it. The possible reason for this unusual layout is that, while the Brownlows possessed great wealth, their title was only a baronetcy, and their fortune was barely a century old. They would have been regarded as gentry, not aristocracy. As a result, building a suite of state apartments would have been in hope rather than anticipation of a royal guest. When William III stayed at Belton House, he occupied the "Best bedchamber", a large room with an adjoining closet, directly above the saloon, that led directly from the second floor Great Dining Chamber. [71]

This design followed the older style of having reception rooms and bedrooms scattered over the two main floors. The layout used followed Roger Pratt's theory that guest and family rooms should be quite separate. [72] As a consequence of this philosophy, the family occupied the rooms on the first and second floors of the west and east wings, with the state rooms in the centre. The great staircase, designed to be grand and imposing, rose to the east side of the house, and formed part of the guest's state route from the Hall and Saloon on the first floor to the principal dining room and bedroom on the second. [73]

The principal entrance hall, reception and family bedrooms were placed on the ground and first floors above a low semi-basement containing service rooms. [5] The two principal entrances to the mansion in the centre of both the north and south facades were accessed by external staircases, originally a single flared flight on the north side and a double staircase on the south, each of which have since been replaced by single broad flights of steps. [lower-alpha 9]

The second floor has a matching fenestration, with windows of equal value to those on the first floor below. The very latest innovation, sash windows, was used on both floors. [lower-alpha 10] The semi-basement and attic storey used the more old-fashioned mullioned and transomed windows, indicating the lower status of the occupants of these floors. It was clearly emphasised from without that the two main floors of the house were purely for state and family use, and the staff and service areas were confined to the semi-basement and attic floors. This concept of keeping staff and domestic matters out of sight (when not required) was relatively new and had first been employed by Pratt in the design of Coleshill House in Berkshire. The contemporary social commentator of the day Roger North lauded back stairs, of which Belton has two examples (5 and 14 on plan), as one of the most important inventions of his day. [75] [76]

The Marble Hall Belton House stairwell-geograph-3397778.jpg
The Marble Hall

The principal room is the large Marble Hall (1) at the centre of the south front; this hall is the beginning of a grand procession of rooms, and corresponds to the former Great Parlour or Saloon (9) on the north front. The Marble Hall is flanked by the former Little Parlour (11, now the Tapestry Room) and the Great Staircase (2), while the Saloon is flanked by two withdrawing rooms (8, 10). The bedrooms are arranged in individual suites on both floors of the two wings (3, etc.) that flank the state centre of the house. The main staircase, set to one side of the Marble Hall, is one of the few things at Belton which is asymmetrically placed. It has a robust plaster-work ceiling incorporating the Brownlow crest by the London plasterer Edward Goudge, "now looked on as ye best master in England in his profession," William Winde reported in 1690. [lower-alpha 11]

Bodily and spiritual needs were balanced symmetrically within the mansion: the kitchen (16) and the chapel (7) were both large two-storied halls, rising from the semi-basement to the first floor. This design not only provided a great and lofty space, but also allowed the servants to worship in the chapel without leaving the service floor, while their employers would worship from a private gallery, complete with fireplace, overlooking the chapel on the first floor. [77] The chapel has a notable ceiling undertaken by Goodge, [78] and an elaborate reredos. [79]

One of the most Carolean features of the house is the balustrade and cupola surmounting the roof, another element introduced to English architecture by Roger Pratt. The cupola at Belton does not light a lofty domed hall, as is often the case in Europe, but houses a staircase which gives access to a large viewing platform on top of a lead roof, concealed from the ground by the balustrade which tops the more conventional and visible hipped roof. From this vantage point, the owners of Belton could admire the perfect symmetry of their avenues and formal gardens spreading from the house. This feature of the house was removed by the architect James Wyatt when he modernised the house in the 18th century. [80] It was restored to its original form in the 1870s by the 3rd Earl Brownlow. [81]

Interior and contents

Some of Belton's many rooms have been altered over the last 300 years both in use and design. One of the principal rooms, the Marble Hall (1), the first of the large reception rooms, serves as an entrance hall from the south entrance, and takes its name from a chequer board patterned floor of black and white marble tiles. By the time of Belton's conception, the great hall was no longer a place for the household to eat, but intended as a grand entrance to the house. The hall was originally hung with 28 portraits of Kings, Queens, and Emperors, from William the Conqueror to William III, intended to give the house an air of dynastic importance. The less numerous and far newer Brownlow family portraits were originally hung in the Great Dining Room immediately above. [75] The room is fully panelled, and parts of the panelling contain lime wood embellishments attributed to Grinling Gibbons. [82] In the early 19th century, this room, and some others, were re-modelled by Jeffry Wyatville, who in addition to graining and painting the panelling to imitate oak installed new doors. [62]

The second of the principal reception rooms, the Saloon (9), opens from the Marble Hall. This large panelled room is on an axis to the avenues of the formal north gardens. Originally known as the Great Parlour, this has always been the chief reception room of the house. It retains its original marble fireplace and has an ornate plaster ceiling which is a Victorian copy of the original ceiling by Goudge. The centrepiece of the room is a large Aubusson carpet made in 1839 for the 1st Earl Brownlow. [83]

Either side of the Saloon are two smaller drawing rooms (8, 10), which would originally have served as private withdrawing rooms from the more public activities which would have taken place in the Marble Hall and Saloon. One of these rooms, now called the Tyrconnel Room (10), was transformed into the principal or state bedroom during the occupancy of Lord Tyrconnel in an attempt to create a more fashionable suite of Baroque state rooms on the first floor. After his death in 1754, it became a Billiard Room, until the 3rd Earl Brownlow had it refurnished more than a century later. Unusually, the floor is painted with the family arms and crest. The date of the floor is not known for certain but the early nineteenth century has been suggested. [84]

One of the three large canvasses by Melchior d'Hondecoeter in the room named after him at Belton House. The paintings were acquired in 1873 by the 3rd Earl Brownlow. They had been already cut to fit their previous setting. There was insufficient space at Belton for a fourth canvas of the set. This is now in the US. Belton M dHondecoeter.jpg
One of the three large canvasses by Melchior d'Hondecoeter in the room named after him at Belton House. The paintings were acquired in 1873 by the 3rd Earl Brownlow. They had been already cut to fit their previous setting. There was insufficient space at Belton for a fourth canvas of the set. This is now in the US.

The final large reception room on the first floor is the Hondecoeter Room (16), so named because of the three huge oil paintings by Melchior d'Hondecoeter (1636–1695), depicting scenes of birds in courtyards, which are fitted into the neo-Carolean panelling. The panelling was introduced to the room by the 3rd Earl Brownlow in 1876, when it was furnished as the principal dining room of the mansion. The room was initially created as a library in 1808 from the upper part of the earlier kitchen which had originally risen two stories. [85] The West staircase (14) was originally a service stairs, and would have been plainer in decor, but by the late nineteenth century it was in regular use by the family. [86]

Either side of the Marble Hall, lie the Great Staircase (2) and the Tapestry Room (11), which contains a collection of early eighteenth century Mortlake tapestries. The Great Staircase to the east of the Marble Hall is unusually placed at Belton, as in a house of this period one would expect to find the staircase in the hall. The stairs rise in three flights around the west, north, and east walls to the former Great Dining Room above the Marble Hall. Thus the staircase served as an important state procession link between the three principal reception rooms of the house. The Great Dining Room, now the Library, has been greatly altered and all traces of Carolean decoration removed, first by James Wyatt in 1778 when it was transformed into a drawing room with a vaulted ceiling, and again in 1876, when its use was again changed, this time to a library. The room contains some 6000 volumes, a superb example of book collecting over 350 years. [87] The Custs' passion for book collecting saw the original library on the ground floor, formerly a schoolroom, become too small for their needs and Wyatt created a new one in the early 1800s. This was itself replaced when the Great Dining Room was converted. [88] When Lord Tyrconnel died in 1754 a catalogue of his library identified almost 2,300 books. Almost all of these remain in the Belton library today. [lower-alpha 12] Rupert Gunnis attributed the carved marble chimneypiece depicting two Roman goddesses to Sir Richard Westmacott. [90]

Leading from the Library is the Queen's Room, the former "Best Bed Chamber". This panelled room was redecorated in 1841 for the visit of Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, when its former function as a state bedroom was resurrected. It contains the great canopied Rococo-style bed in which the Queen slept, complete with the royal monogram "AR" (Adelaide Regina) embroidered on the bedhead. Other rooms on the second floor are mostly bedrooms, which include the Chinese Room (directly above the Tyrconnel Room) with its original hand-painted 18th-century Chinese wallpaper, the Yellow Room (directly above the Blue Room), and the Windsor Bedroom (directly above the School Room), so-called following its use by King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, who became the Duke of Windsor after the abdication crisis of 1936. Edward visited Belton in the 1930s with his mistress Wallis Simpson, and the 6th Baron Brownlow was heavily involved in the crisis thanks to his position as the King's Lord-in-waiting. [91] Today, Belton has a permanent exhibition devoted to that event. Another royal visitor, Charles III, also used the room frequently while a cadet at nearby RAF Cranwell. [92] [93]

Gardens and park

In 1690, Sir John Brownlow was granted permission to enclose an area of 1,000 acres (400 ha; 4.0 km2) to transform into a park, with a grant to keep deer. There is evidence to suggest that some of this area had been a park since at least 1580. The park was laid out with avenues, including the still surviving Eastern Avenue which led east from the house. Brownlow also had a large pond or lake dug and planted 21,400 ash trees, 9,500 oak trees, and 614 fruit trees. It is thought that William Winde may have advised on the layout of the gardens. [94] Closer to the house were a series of more formal gardens, including canal ponds bordered by plantations containing symmetrical walks resembling the "rond-points" (circular clearings in a garden from which straight paths radiate) introduced by the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre. By the end of the eighteenth century, these formal parterres had been removed and the canal ponds filled in. [95] Lord Tyrconnel, a dilettante of no great intellect, inherited in 1721 and was responsible for many of the architectural features which survive in the park and garden. [96] Between 1742 and 1751, a series of follies, including a Gothic ruin, a cascade, and a prospect or belvedere known as the Bellmount Tower, were constructed for him. When built the tower had two small wings flanking each side, since removed. [97] [98]

John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow, owner of Belton House from 1807 to 1853, had Jeffry Wyattville turn his attention from the house to the park and Wyattville created the Italian Garden, embellished with the Orangery [99] and, following its re-siting, the Lion Exedra. [100] In 1838 Brownlow commissioned Anthony Salvin to undertake improvements to the estate in 1838. Salvin's additions included a public house, estate cottages, a hermitage and the boathouse. [101] The gardens and park at Belton are listed at Grade I on Historic England’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. [102]

Listing designations

The estate at Belton has a number of listed buildings. The house itself is listed at Grade I, [30] as are the stables, [40] while the screen to the West Courtyard, [64] the West Wing, [63] and the brewhouse are listed at Grade II*. [103] To the northwest of the house, the Italian Garden has a number of listed structures including; the Orangery at Grade II*, [104] and steps [105] and matching pairs of urns to the north, [106] and south, [107] [108] the fountain, [109] the terrace wall, [110] and the Lion exedra, all at Grade II. [111] To the north of the house, on the terrace are two pairs of statues, [112] [113] and urns, [114] eight further urns on the main garden axis, [115] two cisterns in the Dutch garden, [116] and a statue, [117] all listed Grade II, while the culminating sundial is listed at Grade II*. [118] The Belton Park Wilderness includes a number of listed features; its entrance gates are listed at Grade II*, [119] while a boathouse, [120] a Gothic folly, [121] and a pumphouse are listed at Grade II. [122]

Listed features within the park include; the Bellmount Tower, [123] and a temple, [124] both listed at Grade II*, a cascade at Boating House Lake, [125] Anthony Salvin's boathouse, [126] a ha-ha, [127] an icehouse, [128] a wellhead [129] and a conduit [130] and memorials to John Egerton, Viscount Alford, [131] and some Brownlow family dogs' [132] all at Grade II. Listed features at the perimeter of the park, all listed at Grade II except the South Lodge Gates, include the North Lodge, [133] and its adjacent screens, [134] and walls, [135] the South Lodge, [136] and its Grade I listed gates, [137] and four boundary walls. [138] [139] [140] [141]

Owners

The funerary chapel of the owners of Belton House, in the Church of St Peter and St Paul adjacent to the mansion's garden. Belton Church Giano.jpg
The funerary chapel of the owners of Belton House, in the Church of St Peter and St Paul adjacent to the mansion's garden.

The owners of Belton are buried in the village of Belton, in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul. [142] The church stands close to the house. The Brownlow tombs are collectively one of the most complete sets of family memorials in England—continuous generation to generation for almost 350 years. [58] [lower-alpha 13] The earliest Brownlow buried here is the founder of the family fortune, Richard Brownlow (1555–1638), and one of the most recent is the 6th Baron Brownlow (1899–1978).

The owners of Belton House have been:

Notes

  1. This annuity was paid until 1641, when Sir Henry Pakenham's wife, who survived him by 20 years, died. [2]
  2. The Custs' links to the slave trade were principally through Earl John Cust's younger brother, Edward, whose wife, Mary Boode, came from a Dutch family with extensive slave plantations in the West Indies. [9] On the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, the Cust brothers both received compensation for the loss of their slaves; John received some £5,000 as a trustee. [10]
  3. Belton Park Golf Club, which was founded in 1890 on land donated by Lord Brownlow who became its first president, housed part of the Machine Gun Corps training ground. [22]
  4. The contents, comprising just under 20,000 items of art, antiques, silver and other artefacts, represented some four hundred years of collecting by the Brownlow family. [35] A modern example is a portrait by the African-American artist Richmond Barthé, bought by the 6th Earl, who had a holiday home in Jamaica when Barthé was resident on the island. [36] The sitter has recently been identified as Lucian Levers. [37]
  5. Following a major restoration begun in 2016, the restaurant is now housed in William Stanton's stable block, one of only twenty-one Grade I listed stables in England. [40] [41]
  6. Progressions of this style are often referred to as "Queen Anne" in Britain, after the monarch who reigned from 1702 to 1714; this should not be confused with the Queen Anne style. [56]
  7. Howard Colvin, in his Biographical Dictionary of British Architects: 1600-1840 argues for Winde as the architect on both stylistic and evidential grounds. [61]
  8. The costs of building were a perennial concern to owners contemplating the embellishment of their house. Balthazar Gerbier, the Anglo-Dutch courtier and amateur architect, writing in the 1660s, suggested, "a wise man never ought to put his finger into mortar." [69]
  9. Compare original blueprints and old depictions of the hall (e.g. Tinniswood (1999), 11, 22, 72) with current designs.
  10. Sash windows had first been used on a grand scale at Chatsworth House in the late 1670s but not become popular until installed at Whitehall Palace in 1685, while Belton was under construction. [74]
  11. Winde to Lady Mary Bridgeman, 8 February 1690, noted by Beard, 221 and Tinniswood (1999), 9.
  12. The library at Belton today houses the second largest collection of books held by the National Trust. [89]
  13. Pevsner describes the, "badly over-restored", church as "brimfull of Brownlow and Cust monuments". [143]

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Sources

Coordinates: 52°56′35″N0°37′04″W / 52.9431°N 0.6178°W / 52.9431; -0.6178