For those of us who love our country houses, the weekly delight of the new Country Life magazine are the many pages of houses for sale. Although the space is usually dominated by the major players such as Knight Frank, Savills etc, a particular joy is when you discover, tucked away with a smaller agent, an especially good house which deserves to be better known.
One recent house which falls neatly into this category is Forcett Hall, near Richmond in North Yorkshire. Grade-I listed, this house forms part of the spread northwards of the fashionable ideas of Lord Burlington and the Palladians. ‘Palladianism’ (as it became known) formed a new movement and became the dominant architectural taste from around 1710 until around 1750 but which is still very popular and influential today.
The Palladians were largely influenced by the work of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (b.1508 – d.1580) whose work, particularly around Vicenza, drew heavily on the ancient classical form of Roman architecture. The ideas were spread to Britain initially through the work of Inigo Jones, a multi-talented theatrical designer to the Court who also became the Royal Surveyor of Works which gave him the platform to spread the ideas of Italian Renaissance architectural classicism to these shores, starting with the Queen’s House in Greenwich, London.
Key to the spread of these new ideas were two books, volumes 1 & 2 of ‘Vitruvius Britannicus‘, which took the form of a folio of one hundred classical buildings, published by the architect Colen Campbell. Campbell also created one of the most important buildings of early Palladianism, Wanstead House in Essex, (dem. 1824) which re-interpreted the form of Vanbrugh‘s Baroque Castle Howard but in a new, more austere architectural language. This was then followed by Wilbury House, Wiltshire, designed and built in 1710 by William Benson who succeeded Sir Christopher Wren as Surveyor of Works. Wanstead inspired several derivatives in the years following its completion including Moor Park, Hertfordshire (1720s by Thornhill and Leoni), Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire (alterations of 1733 by Flitcroft), Nostell Priory, Yorkshire (1733 by Paine) and Prior Park, Wiltshire (1735 by John Wood I).
Richard Boyle (b.1694 – d.1753), the 3rd Lord Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork, played a significant role in firmly establishing Palladianism as a movement through his own influence, patronage and his circle of followers. Burlington employed Colen Campbell to remodel his London house (taking over the work started by his rival James Gibbs) but Burlington was also a skilled architect, building the beautiful Chiswick House, in west London, in 1729, not so much as a home (it contains only state rooms) but as an architectural statement of his new principles.
One of Burlington’s protégés who assisted him as clerk of works on some of his earlier projects was Daniel Garrett (b.? – d.1753). A measure of his competency can be seen in a letter sent in 1737 by Sir Thomas Robinson to Lord Carlisle regarding proposed works to complete the Mausoleum at Castle Howard:
“My Lord Burlington has a much better opinion of Mr Garrett’s knowledge and judgement than of Mr Flitcroft’s or any person whatever, except Mr [William] Kent…”
However, despite his skill, Garrett was dismissed from his role in the Office of Works in 1737 for ‘not attending his duty’. This was probably related to his absences caused by his own growing architectural practice in the north of England. In 1735 he was remodelling Wallington Hall, Northumberland for Sir Walter Blackett, in 1736 he was at Castle Howard, and in 1737 he was working for Lord Derby, and between 1739-40 working for Sir Hugh Smithson, Bart, (later 1st Duke of Northumberland) on the rebuilding of Stanwick Park, Yorkshire (sadly demolished in 1923). He was later to work at other distinguished houses including Raby Castle in Co. Durham, Warwick Castle, Northumberland House in London (dem. 1874), Horton House in Northamptonshire (dem. 1936), Uppark in Sussex, Kippax Park in Yorkshire (dem. 1956-59) and most notably Foots Cray Place in Kent (dem. 1950).
This gives a measure of Garrett’s skill and his client list. It was following his work at Stanwick that he started work at Forcett Hall in 1740 – though there does seem to be some debate as to what he did. A list at Alnwick Castle says that the house is by ‘Mr Garrett for Mr Shuttleworth’, the latter being Richard Shuttleworth, the local MP who commissioned the house, whose family owned the estate between 1582-1785. Although the estate agents state that the design of the house can be attributed to him as a rebuild following a fire in 1726, Howard Colvin thought him an unoriginal architect but skilled in providing handsome houses and instead only gives him a now demolished part of the east wing, the lodges and park entrance, the ceiling of the saloon (copied from the dining room at Chiswick House), and the grotto.
So if he didn’t design the main block, here’s an alternative theory; the house wasn’t completely burnt down in 1726 but was just seriously damaged, and Garrett gave a Palladian flavour to the house as part of the restoration. The south front of the original house was drawn by Samuel Buck in his usual technically flawed idiosyncratic style (see right). This is the same view in the picture of the house at the top of the post but the current house lacks the projecting wings but it does share the exact same form of three storeys over a semi-sunken basement. Looking at the main house now (there’s an excellent picture on flickr: Forcett Hall – and also see the paintings in the comments), it could be argued that the elements of Palladianism – Ionic pilasters, quoins, external staircase have merely been applied to the house rather than forming a fundamental part of the design. By excavating the semi-sunken basement (note the level of the lawn to the left), Garrett creates not only the appearance of a piano nobile, but also creates the space to add the staircase which is also in a typical Palladian style (and appears to be a modified form of the one at Stourhead as shown in ‘Vitruvius Britannicus‘) – but which seems to be an addition rather than a focus. Elements such as the pilasters with their Scamozzi Ionic capitals almost seem to be copied from the entrance front of Marble Hill House in Twickenham (built 1724-29 by Roger Morris). Conversely, the north (entrance) front of Forcett is almost a different house; looking far more like an Italian villa than a Yorkshire country house (and I’m sure I recognise it from somewhere…). Or perhaps I’m completely wrong and it is a new house, the design of which exposed the limitations of the architect.
This is a fascinating house, well worthy of it’s grade-I listing, though the photos on flickr show it’s in need of some care and restoration to fully bring out the beauty of this wonderful house. The interior boasts some fine plasterwork and the house is set in a perfect small park which includes a 17-acre lake, no public footpaths and a grotto. If someone is looking for a house with privacy but also a history to be explored there are few better houses available.
Property details: ‘Forcett Hall‘ [GSC Chartered Surveyors] – comes with over 230-acres, guide price £5.5m.
Property brochure [PDF]: ‘Forcett Hall‘ [GSC Chartered Surveyors]
British and Irish Stately Homes blog – more property for sale
This is also a good point to highlight another blog you should find interesting. British and Irish Stately Homes is written by Andrew who is a frequent contributor to the comments in this parish. Featuring houses for sale, TV programmes involving country houses, books on the topic plus much more it covers some more of the areas I just don’t have time to! Do bookmark it, subscribe and let Andrew know if you spot anything you think ought to be added.