Halswell’s Lost Orangery

and a history of Orangeries in the Country House. 

The Orangery at Halswell existed from at least 1756, the date of the earliest map of Halswell known to exist. It appears to have still been standing in 1956 when the Ordnance Survey map of that date still shows the building.  The exact dates of its construction and demolition are otherwise uncertain.

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Halswell from the South Meadow, with the agricultural buildings in the foreground, the Dovecote and Tudor Manor in the centre ground, the Baroque North Wing in the distance and the Orangery to the right.

The Orangery, Halswell Park, in c. 1905

The Orangery, Halswell Park, in c. 1905

The orangery at Halswell appears to have had nine window bays each separated by pillar of redbrick as thin as the architect felt able to make them. The windows themselves were enormous, four glazing panes across and four down in each of the two sashes, a total of 288 glazing panes to the south side alone. In this respect it would appear close in scale and proportions to that at Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire, which was built c. 1745. While Hanbury has a brick and stone dressed parapet with pediment decorated with a fruiting basket, all surmounted by five urns, Halswell had a simpler south face with a pitched roof. The Halswell orangery did not, as at Hanbury, face into a garden but up the meadow and away from the main garden areas which were further north and as such too much decoration on this elevation may have been felt unnecessary. The interior and east and west fronts remain a mystery until more photographic of painted images are found.

The Orangery, Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire, c. 1745.

The Orangery, Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire, c. 1745.

The Orangery, c. 1898

The Orangery, c. 1898

We know that the original purpose of the orangery, as a building to keep exotic orange trees or other delicate plants sheltered during the winter months, was still being maintained at Halswell right up to 1950 when the estate was broken up. Though there are currently no visual or other records that relate to the interior orangery, there are repeated pictorial views of the north wing of the house which show potted trees placed outside during the summer months, while there are no potted trees outside in images taken during winter months. A strong indication that the building was still being used for the purpose for which it was built.

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On This Day In 1908

Country Life magazine published the first of two articles focussing on Halswell.

This article contains valuable photographic evidence of the internal layouts of the rooms at the height of the Edwardian period.

(Click page below for full article)



Halswell Monuments

At St. Edward’s Church, Goathurst. 

The monuments erected to the Halswell / Kemeys-Tynte family include names of some of the greatest sculptors to have worked in Britain, John Michael Rysbrack (1694 –1770) and Joseph Nollekens RA (1737 –1823). The seventeenth century monument which includes sculptures of all the members of the family at that time is also a triumph to an anonymous master sculptor of the time.


John Michael Rysbrack (1694 –1770) by John Vanderbank, c. 1728.


Joseph Nollekens RA (1737-1823) by Sir William Beechy.

There is speculation as to where the Halswell family worshipped and were buried before the seventeenth century. The tenancy of Taunton Priory of some parts of the Manor of Halswell, from at least 1285 and possibly right up to the Reformation in the 1530’s, poses interesting possibilities, as does the discovery in 2015 of six thirteenth century gothic windows in the Gatehouse, or Stable, block at Halswell.  However what we do know at present is that the first monument and seemingly the first burial of a member of the Halswell family in St Edward’s Church, which is within the boundaries of the Manor of Goathurst, rather than Halswell, was only after 1558.  It was in 1558, to settle a dispute between the Paulet family of the manor of Goathurst and Niclolas Halswell about title and rights to the church, that Nicholas Halswell obtained a plot of land to the north of the Chancel, St Edward’s Church, Goathurst, upon which to build ‘an Ule or Chapell for himself and his heirs forever’.

Nicholas Halswell died in 1564, his son Robert in 1570, and Robert’s son Sir Nicholas Halswell (c. 1560-1633) died in 1633. It is for Sir Nicholas and Lady Bridget that the magnificent early seventeenth-century Halswell monument was erected.


St Edward’s church, Goathurst The C14 west tower is the earliest part of the church which has diagonal supporting buttresses. The rest of the church is entirely Perpendicular.

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The Venison Hut

Restoration of the Venison Hut

The Venison Hut, located in the South meadow of Halswell Park between the house and Robin Hood’s Hut on the crest of the hill, had all but disappeared completely by 2010. All that remained was a broken up flagstone and red brick floor and a pile of rotted eighteenth century timbers, some with paint fleck and old nails. Luckily these few remaining fragments were enough to piece back exactly the dimensions of the original building as well as its wooden structure. Enough remained that our on-site carpenter, Mr Mike Bridgwater who lives in Dormer House within the old Halswell estate, was able to precisely reproduce the building using traditional methods, materials and to the original specifications. Though the building does not appear on the eighteenth-century estate maps this seems likely to be an oversight due to its size and location under the large branches of some very early chestnut and oak trees. The building is due to be completed in the more clement weather of next spring, 2016, when its traditional weatherboarding is attached and the thatched roof is completed. The park may one day again see deer roaming through its fields, however the venison hut’s function as a larder to hang slaughtered deer is unlikely to see such a revival. The hut is in an ideal location as a viewing folly, commanding wonderful views over the Halswell estate and across the countryside out over the Bristol Channel and beyond to Wales. As such it will become a resting place hung with antlers for walkers or riders on their tours of the parkland.

Historic lore from King Alfred’s time in the ninth century has been attached to the old medieval Royal Park which stretched from North Petherton to the Quantock Hills. Though by the thirteenth century most of the Royal Park had been gifted away by successive post-Conquest kings, at Halswell memories of this survived well into the nineteenth with parts of the park ‘still’ being named The Royal Meadow, as one 20 acre field was titled in the 1597 survey of the Halswell estate. Those field boundaries were mostly removed as the eighteenth century parkland swallowed them up, but the importance of a deer park, and the only building associated with it, the Venison Hut, remains as important for local history today as ever. The hut will have appeared as an ideal marker to the historical and pastoral idyll that Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte was creating when the great travel writer Arthur Young wrote of the park in 1768:

“What chiefly attracts the notice and attention of strangers are the decorated grounds. The riding which leads to the principal point of view crosses the park from the house, commanding a fine view of the rich vale of Bridgwater. It then runs by the side of a woody precipice and up through some new plantations, from a dark part of which you entre through a door into a temple dedicated to Robin Hood; upon which a most noble prospect breaks at once upon the beholder. The ground shelves from it in front and to the right gradually, but to the left in bolder slopes where the dips are beautifully grouped with woods, and the hills above them rise in waving enclosures. As we advance the character of the ground changes most happily. A break through the trees to the right lets in a view of the rotunda. Passing to the Ionic portico, which is excellently placed, the scenery in view is truly enchanting: the lawn is gently waved; the water seems to fall naturally through a falling vale; and a swelling hill crowned by the rotunda forms a complete picture. The whole scene is really elegant; every part is riant, and bears the stamp of pleasure.”

Deer hut

The Halswell Venison Hut, 2015, during re-construction by carpenter Mr. Mike Bridgwater.

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The Historic Portraits of Halswell House

Dispersed during the break-up of the estate in 1950

Of the many paintings that hung at Halswell during the 900 years of Halswell/Kemeys-Tynte family possession, it is the portraits that are of the most significance. Many of these, including a portrait by William Hogarth of Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte, are now in the Pennington-Mellor-Munthe Collection at Southside House in Wimbledon, London. The Hogarth is particularly interesting as Sir Charles is posed as a garden designer with the Bath Stone Bridge in Mill Wood painted in the distance, still under scaffolding with masons carving and fixing stone. Sir Charles himself has a book titled Garden Plans at his side. The implication is that the sitter is not just a knight of the county but an active renaissance man of the Age of Enlightenment, bringing the newest forms of natural thinking to what was once a formal and rigid garden landscape. Generations earlier his forebears posed with the attributes of their military power that granted such local prestige to the family. But for Sir Charles art through architecture and nature were the attributes he wished to display to the world.


Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte by William Hogarth

The Saloon at Halswell has a large open frieze above the wall panelling in which used to hang 21 family portraits, this collection of pictures still exists in full at Southside, though dispersed throughout the house itself.


Country Life 1908, the Saloon


Country Life 1908, the Staircase.

There is a more famous collection of portraits that bears the title Wharton, the Barony that a later Charles Kemeys-Tynte (1876 – 1934) had revived in his name in 1916, the Kemeys-Tyntes becoming the Lords Wharton from that date.  It was deemed by parliament that the title had been left in abeyance, rather than become extinct, when all the Duke of Wharton’s titles were revoked in 1729 upon that Duke being declared a treasonous outlaw. Charles Kemeys-Tynte argued that the title of Baron Wharton could pass through the female line and thus had descended to him, as a direct heir through a female line from the Duke’s family. The connection between Charles Kemeys-Tynte, the 8th Baron Wharton, and his eighteenth century relation, The 1st, and last, Duke and 6th Baron Wharton did not however result in any of the Duke’s famous art collection descending to the 8th Baron. This important collection had been sold before the spendthrift Duke’s death in 1731, mainly to Robert Walpole. However Oliver Millar’s scholarly essay for the Burlington magazine brings them back together in this attached article.



Somerset Gardens Trust

Annual General Meeting and 25th Anniversary

Many thanks to Mrs Camilla Carter, the Chairman of the Somerset Gardens Trust, for holding such a hugely enjoyable gathering to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Trust. The afternoon party was held at Halswell on the 19th September 2015.


Edward Strachan addresses the SGT’s AGM in the Saloon of the 1689 Baroque Wing

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A love late summer’s day greeted the 100-strong members of the SGT’s 25th Anniversary lunch party at Halswell


Halswell’s Baroque Wing

Development seen through historic images from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Halswell Baroque north wing, c. 1710

Halswell Baroque North Wing, dated 1689. Painting c.1710

Halswell Formal Gardens c. 1710.jpg

Formal Gardens, c.1710, by the same hand. The high redbrick walls, gate pillars with armorial beasts, fountain and formal layout were all demolished during the 1740’s as was the rectangular Banqueting House of c. 1690 in the centre ground which was gone by the mid-eighteenth century to make way for the circular Rotunda of 1755.

Halswell Formal Gardens c. 1710 - Copy.jpg

Detail, from left to right: St Edward’s Church, Goathurst, the walled garden and the c. 1690 Banqueting House.

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