Southill Park, Bedfordshire

I visited Southill Park under the HHA’s ‘Invitation to View’ scheme.
Southill Park House was built in brick c. 1720-1729, and then remodelled c.1796 for the second Samuel Whitbread by architect Henry Holland, who clad it in ashlar stone and moved the formal entrance from the south to the north side. Holland also constructed colonnaded loggias to the south and built the eastern “service wing”, and the stables. A late 19th century brick-built orangery, with stone pilasters and a hipped glass roof is attached.
The Whibread family, who made their money from the eponymous brewery, acquired the estate in 1795. The site of an earlier house, Ghastlings, on the estate is marked by a mound 400m to the north-east. It was demoiished 1720-29.
The principal floor contains a number of fine rooms whose decor dates from various periods, some retainimg more of the original Holland features than others. The discovery of dry rot in 1989 prompted a three-year programme of repair and refurbishment in which various rooms were redecorated and the placement of furniture and pictures rethought. Many items have remained in the house for hundreds of years.
The gardens and grounds (not all seen on my visit) are impressive, with flower borders, lawns, wooded reas and statues bordering some avenues.

Finding Southill village is straightforward, but finding the house defeated me as well as about ten other visitors who asked the same locals for directions. Unless you have a passenger who can help you follow the directions to the letter, your best bet might be to use ‘What 3 Words’ or find the White Horse pub and look around for the entrance gates. They are set back from the road and have no signage other than ‘No Entry, Private’. Unhelpfully, the ‘Southill Park’ pin on Google Maps is nowhere near the house or the entrance.

South side
Small pond
Kitchen Garden
North Parkland

St. Pauls Walden Bury, Herts

The garden was laid out in the early 18th century, and its original concept of a formal woodland garden, with temples, statues and ponds has not changed. Beech hedged allees of the traditional goose foot design fan out from the north front. Parts of the house (the north front) date from the 18th century, while other parts (the southern part) are Victorian. Inside, on the ground floor, can be found some fine painted plaster ceilings in the older part, and some interesting paintings and other objects.
Royalists however will be most interested in the Bowes-Lyon connection. This was the childhood home of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, a.k.a Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and the late Queen Elizabeth II also visited here. A photograph of the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret seated on a rocking horse, still in the house, can be viewed here. Other mementoes are in the billiard room.
The extensive gardens are well worth a tramp round. Statues or temples appear at the end of long straight vistas, and flowering bushes can be found among the trees in the western part. According to the guidebook, the garden is planted to display different flowers throughout the year. On my visit in February, camellia bushes in flower were lurking among the trees to the west.
The soil in the gardens is clay, so after heavy rain there is much surface water everywhere with slippery mud underfoot. Suitable footwear is advised.
The house is rarely opened to the public but the gardens open more often – see their website.
If travelling from a west or north-westerly starting point, you are advised to travel via Hitchin to avoid a maze of narrow twisting lanes.

Chamber’s Temple
Garden House
Flowering bush
Camellia bush
North front

Fulham Palace, London

Fulham Palace Trust
Fulham Palace was formerly the palace of the Bishops of London. The older part of the palace, the Tudor Courtyard, dates from around 1495. In the 1760s the house was remodelled in a Gothic style, with crenellations, but in 1813-30 it was remodelled in a Georgian style.
The last bishop to reside in the palace left in 1973.
Now the site offers a small museum, a number of viewable rooms on the ground floor with good plasterwork ceilings but little furniture, a chapel, shop, and a cafe.
The extensive grounds, originally enclosed by a moat, now filled in, include a walled garden. The site extends alongside the Thames on the west side of Putney Bridge.
If you approach from Putney Bridge tube station you will come to first a church, then an inconspicuous entrance that leads to the east end of the grounds, then a long fenced path that takes you to the main entrance.
Worth a visit if you are in west London.
Admission to the Palace and grounds is free.

Walled Garden

Courteenhall House, Northamptonshire

The Wake family has owned the Courteenhall estate since the Tudor period, and the current Georgian house was built in 1792 for Sir William Wake, the 9th baronet. It has changed little since then. The house and adjoining outbuildings and stables stand in extensive parkland designed by Humphry Repton. The family has always been involved in the business of farming.
The house has rooms of handsome proportions on the ground floor, with fine plasterwork, filled with good furniture and many beautiful objects collected over the centuries. Family portraits hang in most of the rooms.
In front of the house, to one side is the Arboretum with an attractive rustic pond. Behind the house there is a small formal garden with pool, and the parkland which extends as far as the Church (not part of the estate) and the listed stable block.
I visited Courteenhall on an ‘Invitation to View’ tour (this one for EH members only.) On arrival we were served tea or coffee and a biscuit, and then our host gave us a lively and informative tour of the principal ground floor rooms. Guests were then at liberty to walk around the grounds.
The estate, positioned between the A508 and the M1 near J15, is relatively easy to find, and well worth a visit. Be aware that the town of Roade to the south has a brand-new bypass.
For those interested in the history of the family, a handsome and substantial hardback volume ‘The Wakes of Northamptonshire’ is available for £20 (collected) or £25 with postage.

The pond
The pool
Garden front

Stable block
Stable block

Stable courtyard

Toddington Park, Beds

Not to be confused with the nearby Toddington Manor.
The house had changed hands about two years before the date of my visit. I visited via the HHA’s ‘Invitation to View’ scheme.
The house is early 19th Century with late 19th century additions. The family who built it also owned Toddington Manor at the time. The extensive grounds are attractive. Mostly laid to lawn, they include a pond, a lake and a large number of trees, some of which are rare species. The period features of the house interior were mostly removed by a previous owner in the 1970s, consequently there is very little to see inside other than some attractive cornices. The house tour included only two of the principal rooms, one of which was used to host the afternoon tea. We did have the opportunity to look in the cellars, which contain an impressive array of central heating equipment and pipework. The grounds include an original Victorian dairy.
Our host gave an informative tour of the gardens and a description of the house and its history.

Front entrance
Side view

Croft Castle, Herefordshire

National Trust. The present version of the castle was built in the early 17th century in a ‘medieval revival’ style, but has undergone some revisions since, including the demolition of the servants’ wing. The Croft family were forced to sell in 1746 but their trustees repurchased the castle in 1923.
In the late 1580s, the original castle was converted into an Elizabethan house, which was severely damaged during the Civil War. The house was remodelled in a Gothic style in the 1760s by its then owner Thomas Johnes. A lesser remodelling took place in 1913, with changes made to the entrance front and the crenellations. In 1937, a 17th century service wing to the north-west was demolished. In 1957, after fears about demolition, funds were raised for an endowment and the house was donated to the National Trust.
The principal rooms have some fine interiors with furniture and paintings.
The adjacent church is older than the house. The walled garden and glasshouse are also worth a visit. On the wider estate you can find the Fishpool Valley and an ancient hill fort.

Library ante-room fireplace
above fireplace
china cabinet
Pietra Dura table
Blue Room
Chest of drawers
Oak Room
Dining Room
Gothick Bay Room
Tiles in church
Monument in church
West front
Walled garden
Walled Garden
Repro. picture in walled garden
Walled Garden
Walled Garden
East side

National Botanical Garden of Wales

The National Botanical Garden of Wales has (they claim) the largest single span greenhouse in the world. The site is set in a large park where you can go for walks of up to 1 or 2 hours. The less adventurous can walk or (if you have an excuse) take the buggy ride from the entrance up to the Great Glasshouse, and make your way back via the Double Walled Garden, Tropical House and whatever catches your eye on the way. The site owners say that to see everything requires an all-day visit.
The Great Glasshouse contains endangered plants from a number of regions with a Mediterranean climate, including South Africa, Australia, California and Chile as well as the Mediterranean basin. There are a number of specialist gardens and exhibitions scattered around the site.
Worth a visit if you are interested in plants, particularly exotic ones. When I visited at the end of June, there were not many flowers to be seen. Some familiar vegetables were growing in part of the Double Walled Garden.
Some re-purposed older buildings remain on the site, but not the mansion, which burnt down in 1931.

Great Glasshouse
Wild flowers
Apothecary’s Hall
Tropical House
Tropical House
Tropical House
Tropical House
Double Walled Garden

Doddington Hall & Gardens, Lincolnshire

Front of house

Privately owned
Doddington Hall was built between 1593 and 1600 for Thomas Tailor, who was a lawyer. This Elisabethan prodigy house has a wide frontage but is only one room deep in the centre. Internally it was largely updated in the 1760’s, and underwent some restoration in the mid 20th century.
The interior is said to be impressive but the house was not open at the time of my visit.
The grounds include floral and kitchen gardens which are pleasant but not exceptional. Behind the house a vista extends to a pyramidal obelisk. To the right of the house front is a small church, rebuilt in the 1760’s.
On the other side of the house are various outbuildings including a farm shop, and a barn containing a collection of farm wagons.
Rear of house
Farm wagon
Temple of the Winds
Kitchen Garden
St Peter’s Church
St Peter’s Church

Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire

House front
National Trust
Construction of the present house by Sir William Massingberd began in 1696. The house was extended in 1873 and 1896 with a two-storey extension in a matching style. The stables and coach houses were built by William Mieux Masingberd in 1735/6.
The musical Lushington family is associated with the house.
The gardens were in existence in the 18th century and restored to their present form in the 20th century. They include a kitchen garden and some fine trees, notably a Cedar of Lebanon planted in 1812.
The basement, ground floor and first floor of the house can be visited, and have interesting contents.
St Peter’s parish church stands just outside the gardens.
The house and garden are both well worth a visit. To avoid disappointment, check the house opening hours.
Dining Room
Circle of friends
Field Marshal’s Bedroom
Field Marshal’s Bedroom
Guide plays piano
St. Peters Church

Abbots Ripton Hall, Cambridgeshire

Privately Owned
I visited Abbots Ripton Hall under the Historic Houses Association’s “Invitation to View” scheme.
The Hall was built in the 18th century of red and gault brick, with a plain entrance front to the northeast and a garden front to the south-west, with shutters and loggia. The house was altered in the 1850s and again in the 1970s.
The house has some pleasant ground-floor rooms, including a library, containing some good furniture and pictures. The contents were mostly acquired by the current owner. The glory of the property however lies in the extensive gardens. A huge London Plane tree stands close to the house and is contemporary with it. A series of lawns and paths spread out from the house into wooded gardens containing a long double herbaceous border, a rose garden, a rose tunnel and pergola, and other features.
The Abbots Ripton Brook flows through the gardens, feeding a canal near the house, and a lake.
Many of the plants have numbered labels, and visitors are provided with a guide to the plants. I spotted one flower that was the same as a plant in my garden I had never been able to identify (Anemone).
A view across the lake provides a glimpse of a Chinese fishing pavilion (built by Peter Foster in the 1970s, like many of the garden features.)
The gardens in particular are well worth a visit. I would have liked to explore them further but one of our party was on an electric buggy which might have induced our host (Lord de Ramsey) to shorten the tour.
Finding the Hall, near Huntingdon, was straightforward except that my sat-nav took me to a commercial courtyard on the B1090. Exiting from there to the left, the inconspicuous gates to the Hall were about 100 yards further on to the SE, on the same side of the B1090. Hall Lane, shown on the maps, is the road behind the gates. Once one has actually visited the gardens, the main features are clearly identifiable on Google Satellite View.

Long Border
Long Border
Grey Border
Entrance front R
Entrance front L