Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Wimpole Hall I

When we returned from Wales I spent a few days with the bf - one of our excursions was to Wimpole Hall.  As the Cambridgeshire edition of 'The Buildings of England' points out it is the county's 'most spectacular' Country House.  It is certainly the largest, though as Pevsner also points out the architecture is domestic in scale; the fireworks are on the inside.  And it is those fireworks - a chapel by James Gibbs and James Thornhill, and rooms by Sir John Soane that were the reason for our visit.
Wimpole Hall sits on the southern slopes of the clay uplands that make up the majority of SW Cambridgeshire; to the south the house looks out over the wide, gentle valley of the Rhee to the chalk hills of Hertfordshire. (Hertfordshire, I think, has some of the most beautiful country in England.)
The hall is the focus of the remains of a vast and monumental Baroque layout of avenues - south, west and north - the work of  Charles Bridgeman.  The longest avenue stretches south from house for two miles to the old Roman road 'Ermine Street' - in the distance, half way down, is an octagonal pool that I can't believe didn't have a fountain in it. To the north, the avenue, which can never have been very long due to the hills rising in steps behind the house, was partly removed by Capability Brown to make one of his most successful, and beautiful Landscape Parks; the axial vista being closed by a folly, a sham ruined castle designed originally by Sanderson Miller and erected by James Essex of Cambridge, the architect and antiquarian.  In the early 19th century Humphrey Repton, in keeping with the then Picturesque theory, began a process which has restored some of the original formality to the gardens immediately around the house.









The building of the house has been a long and complicated story.  It goes something like this: the original house, which forms the central 3 storey section, was started in the 1640s.  It was a triple pile house of brick and stone.  In the early years of the 1700s it was extended to the east and west in a sympathetic style by James Gibbs for the Tory politician Lord Harley partly to hold Lord Harley's vast collection of books and artifacts - his book collection alone consisted of over 50,000 items. Gibbs's library is on extreme right of the photograph. In the 1740s the Neo-Palladian architect Henry Flitcroft ('Burlington Harry') refaced the original part of the house, adding the three bay windows to the north front.  Further additions, including a tower, were made in the nineteenth century by H E Kendall, but most of those, including a tower, have been swept away with the exception of the central chimney stack.

Thought (21.10.15):  There's a similarity between the centre of the south front of Wimpole and the centre of the Gibbs Building, King's College, Cambridge.  Wimpole is roughly twenty years after King's.  Was Flitcroft influenced by James Gibbs?  It would make sense if he had been.


To the east of the house, and the Neo-baroque stables by Kendall, is a model farm designed by Sir John Soane, 1794-5 (which was, for me, surprisingly vernacular); the octagonal dairy (inside like a Medieval English chapter house)and the adjoining farmhouse however are later, 1860 and 1862.










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