Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Great Country Estates of Britain Series. Part Five: Wrest Park

Wrest Park is a the country seat of the de Grey family, and is located outside Silsoe, Bedfordshire. The present house was built in 1834-39, to designs by its owner the Thomas de Grey, 2nd Earl de Grey.

De Grey was the eldest son of Thomas Robinson (2nd Baron Grantham) and Mary Yorke (daughter of the 2nd Marchioness Grey). He succeeded his father as the third baron in 1786, and became the sixth baronet Robinson of Newby in 1792. In 1833 he succeeded his aunt as second Earl de Grey according to a special decree and also inherited Wrest Park.

He was an amateur architect and was the first president of the Royal Institute of Architects. He drew inspiration from French architecture, especially architects such as Jacques-Francois Blondel.

Wrest has some of the earliest Rococo revival interiors in the UK:

Above: The Stairs and main foyer
Below: The Library

Above: The Blue Drawing Room
Below: The Dining Room

Wrest Park Gardens are some of the grandest remaining examples of the early eighteenth century, are spread over 150 acres (607,000 m²). They were originally planned by George London and Henry Wise for Henry Grey (1st Duke of Kent). They were later remodelled by our favourite 18th century landscape garden proponent, Capability Brown (who, unlike in his remodelling of Blenheim Palace) kept the original parterres (modelled on Versailles).

A pavilion, originally a banqueting house, was designed in the baroque style by Thomas Archer in 1709 and was completed in 1711 having cost £1,809.

Above: Etching of Archer's Pavilion from Vitruvius Brittanicus (c.f. Photo below)

Below: Exterior of Archer's Pavilion

Below: Interior of Pavilion

During the later 18th and 19th centuries, the Bath House (designed by Edward Stevens or Thomas Wright, 1770), and marble fountains were added. The huge Orangery was built by Thomas de Grey.

From 1906 to 1911 Wrest Park was leased to the American Ambassador, Whitelaw Reid, during which time it was visited by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, and later Theodore Roosevelt.

Thomas Carew (1595-1640) wrote his poem 'To My Friend G.N. from Wrest' in 1639 that described the old house which was demolished between 1834 and 1840:

Such pure and uncompounded beauties bless
This mansion with an useful comeliness,
Devoid of art, for here the architect
Did not with curious skill a pile erect
Of carved marble, touch, or porphyry,
But built a house for hospitality;
No sumptuous chimney-piece of shining stone
Invites the stranger's eye to gaze upon,
And coldly entertains his sight, but clear
And cheerful flames cherish and warm him here:
No Doric nor Corinthian pillars grace
With imagery this structure's naked face,
The lord and lady of this place delight
Rather to be in act than seem in sight;
Instead of statues to adorn their wall
They throng with living men their merry hall,
Where at large tables filled with wholesome meats
The servant, tenant, and kind neighbour eats.
(lines 19-36)
Amalthea's horn
Of plenty is not in effigy worn
Without the gate, but she within the door
Empties her free and unexhausted store.
Nor, crowned with wheaten wreaths, doth Ceres stand
In stone, with a crook’d sickle in her hand:
Nor, on a marble tun, his face besmeared
With grapes, is curled Bacchus reared.
We offer not in emblems to the eyes,
But to the taste those useful deities.
We press the juicy god and quaff his blood,
And grind the yellow goddess into food.
(lines 57-68)

The old manor house was demolished when the present house was completed by 1839. It is set further north than the site of the old house, and new formal gardens were laid out between the mansion and the woodland garden. The Orangery, Italian Garden and Parterre with magnificent lead statues date from the 1830s.

Lily Allen shot the video for her song "The Fear" at Wrest Park (Rumoured to have cost 50,000 GBP!).

1 comment:

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