Episode 1: Halswell Park

Episode 1: Halswell Park

The first instalment in the Halswell Park documentary series.

Through interviews with art and architecture historian Roy Bolton, conservation director Mark Lidster and project architect Claire Fear, we delve into the history and legacy of historic Halswell House, how it came into the hands of current owner Edward Strachan and his vision of restoring the manor to its former glory as a true British landmark.

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U3A Visit To Halswell House

On Thursday 18th August , Halswell House hosted a visit by members of the Weston Super Mare U3 (University of the Third Age) Architecture Appreciation Society

Russell Lillford, Chairman of the Somerset Building Preservation Trust had given a talk to their members last winter and suggested that this was followed up with a visit to Halswell.  The visit, led by Martha Perriam,  proved very popular with a full contingent of 30 turning out.

The group were welcomed by Mark Lidster and Sam Foster of Corbel Conservation and Ann Manders of the SBPT.

Following a short site Health and Safety induction from Sam, the group took the opportunity to view the display of maps, photographs and other historical documents set up in the meeting room.  Ann then gave a brief talk covering the history of the site which was followed by a guided tour of the house, taking in the main staircase, the Chinese wallpaper room, the ballroom, the master bedroom, the back stairs and finally up out onto the roof.

During the tour Mark spoke about the various aspects and challenges of restoring and conserving the fabric of the house and the important historical features.  Once on the roof the group were able to view the surrounding countryside and historic parkland, they were also treated to a wonderful birds eye view of the recent roof restoration works to the Tudor range.

Following their rooftop descent the group took the opportunity to wander around the garden and woodland surrounding the house and especially enjoyed visiting the newly restored Rotunda.

The group expressed their thanks to Mark, Ann and especially the owner, Edward Strachan, for a very interesting afternoon and hoped that they would be able to visit again as the restoration work progresses.

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Hoisting Up the New Chimney Pots

11th February 2016

A few days before the chimney pots are put in place they act as useful tables in the Mansion House, with Edward Strachan, Stuart Senior, Claire Fear of Architectural Thread, Helen Senior, Camilla Carter of the Somerset Gardens Trust and Councillor Ian Dyer of Sedgemoor District Council.

A few days before the chimney pots are put in place they act as useful tables in the Mansion House, with Edward Strachan, Stuart Senior, Claire Fear of Architectural Thread, Helen Senior, Camilla Carter of the Somerset Gardens Trust and Councillor Ian Dyer of Sedgemoor District Council.

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The meagre, and often missing, chimney pots of the twentieth century before replacement.

The meagre, and often missing, chimney pots of the twentieth century before replacement.

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Some of the new pots being installed.

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Chimney pot up and chimney stack repairs being carried out, with Robin Hood’s Hut beyond.

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The Temple of Harmony

and Robert Adam at Halswell

“Passing to the Ionic portico, which is excellently placed, the scenery in view is truly enchanting; the lawn is gently waved, and spotted with trees and shrubs in the happiest taste. The water seems to wind naturally through a falling vale; and a swelling hill, crowned by a rotunda, forms a complete picture. The whole scene is really elegant; every part is riant, and bears the stamp of pleasure.”
– Arthur Young, 1771. 

The Temple of Harmony, photographed in January 2016.

The Temple of Harmony, photographed in January 2016.

The Temple of Harmony, photographed c.1898.

The Temple of Harmony, photographed c.1898.

The Temple of Harmony, designed by Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte’s gentleman-architect friend Thomas Prowse (1708-1767) was based on the plans in Isaac Ware’s (1704-1766) influential The Four Books of Andrea Palladio’s Architecture published in 1738. Palladio’s designs were taken directly from the ancient Temple of Portunus which still stands in Rome. Halswell’s Temple of Harmony, though inspired by Palladio’s vision of ancient Rome, was designed and built by gentlemen architects, like so many of the monuments throughout eighteenth-century Britain. The Estate Steward for Halswell, Mr Escott, records in his eighteenth-century memorandum that the building was commissioned in 1764 at a cost of £400 and was dedicated to the memory of two of Sir Charles’ friends: Mr Peregrine Palmer of Fairfield House, Somerset, MP for the University of Oxford, who died in 1762, and Mr Thomas Prowse, the Temple’s architect, an MP for Somerset who died in 1767, the year the building was completed.

Transcription of the Halswell Steward’s diary, Escott’s Memorandum, relating to the commissioning of the Temple in 1764.

Transcription of the Halswell Steward’s diary, Escott’s Memorandum, relating to the commissioning of the Temple in 1764.

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The re-roofing of the Tudor Manor

And the removal of twenty-first-century dormer windows

The roof structures of the old manor complex at Halswell date from the many different phases of building. Roofing evidence from before the Tudor period has not yet been identified; we know there has been a manor here since at least Domesday times but the roof structures have not necessarily survived as well as the stone. From the early and late Tudor periods respectively we have the Great Hall building to the east, the south range and the two sides of the inner courtyard. It is this area of the roofing structures and their associated wood and stone repairs where this current phase of restorations focusses.

The roof plans of Halswell, courtesy of Claire Fear of Architectural Thread Ltd. The areas highlighted in red correspond to the Tudor Great Hall, which takes up the northern half of the east range, the 1590’s south range and the three gabled additions to the Great Hall in the east of the courtyard.

The roof plans of Halswell, courtesy of Claire Fear of Architectural Thread Ltd. The areas highlighted in red correspond to the Tudor Great Hall, which takes up the northern half of the east range, the 1590’s south range and the three gabled additions to the Great Hall in the east of the courtyard.

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The Coach House

And its rebirth as the new bat roost

The coach house under scaffolding while undergoing its full restoration.

The coach house under scaffolding while undergoing its full restoration.

The Coach house, or a building of similar proportions, was on this site by 1756 when it was recorded on the earliest surviving estate map. It is Grade II listed but until this year appears to have had little repair work since it was built. The entire roof structure was being held up by the insertion of two 1950’s red brick partition walls beneath the two original eighteenth-century cross beams.

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The Survival of Halswell

Amidst the Loss of England’s Country Houses

Halswell’s Baroque north range after the fire of 1923. The interiors were immediately restored precisely as they had been, while further upgrades were carried out throughout the whole house, a rare restoration in a century of mass country house destruction.

Halswell’s Baroque north range after the fire of 1923. The interiors were immediately restored precisely as they had been, while further upgrades were carried out throughout the whole house, a rare restoration in a century of mass country house destruction.

Matthew Beckett, in his excellent online catalogue of lost country houses, has compiled a tally of the great estates that have been lost in the last century in England alone, it stands at a staggering 1,935 lost houses. The numbers destroyed in Ireland, Wales and Scotland takes yet more vibrancy from the heritage and cultural life of the home nations. Great houses lost in Somerset alone include the following:

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