COUNTRY LIFE - NOVEMBER 10, 1966

LYNDON HALL, RUTLAND

THE HOME OF LADY CONANT By JOHN CORNFORTH

Lyndon, built in the 1670s by Sir Abel Barker, is unusually well documented and provides an apparently unique opportunity to relate a Caroline house to the architectural literature read by its builder. The architect appears to be John Sturges.

To devotees of Gilbert White, the naturalist, Lyndon is probably familiar, if only in name, as the home of his sister Anne, who was married to Thomas Barker, and of their son Samuel, who became one of his correspondents. From their letters, combining as they do family gossip, the fruits of research and "all manner of hints for Natural History" asked for by Gilbert White, we get an attractive picture of life at Lyndon. It was an easy, comfortable existence, with an air of enviable improbability hanging over their deliberations on the sexuality of mosses and their experiments to test the effects of condensation by hanging sponges over a pond.

The South Front

1. LYNDON HALL, RUTLAND: THE SOUTH FRONT FROM THE PARK. This was the original entrance front

The historical background to this atmosphere of unhurried enquiry is one of concentrated estate building in the 17th century, in the time of the two Abel Barkers, father and son. It is likely that the first Abel's father, Baldwin, who died in 1603, was descended from yeomen who are recorded in Lyndon in the reign of Henry VIII. He lived at Hambleton, the next village to the north . In 1634 his son Abel bought the Old Hall at Hambleton, a fine, small Jacobean manor house (COUNTRY LIFE, September 27, 1930) still part of the Lyndon Estate, and now the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. E. M. Conant.

The younger Abel, who succeeded his brother in 1639, is the principal figure in the history of Lyndon, and it is convenient that he can be distinguished from his father by the baronetcy conferred on him in 1665. This honour, however, takes us too rapidly into his years of prosperity. During the Civil War he seems to have avoided committing himself, and all he lost was £200 exacted in 1644.

According to a letter of December 28, 1646, he (or his first wife) was eager that he should be High Sheriff, and he served in that office in 1647. In 1660 he was granted pardon for any misdeeds he might have committed during the interregnum and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant, a position he perhaps owed to his second wife's kinsmen the Noels of Exton.

The East Front

2. THE EAST FRONT. ''Sir Abel took care with the proportions and details, but nothing about the design strikes us as Palladian, and it would never occur to one that he had read Palladio''

Two years later he and his brother Thomas bought Lyndon from Hugh Audley, of the Temple, who had acquired it in 1654, Abel putting up £6,133 towards the purchase price of £9,400. The survey of the manor, which the brothers had made the following year, still hangs in the hall at Lyndon and shows a gabled manor house apparently more or less on the site of the present one, but perhaps a little farther to the east. Nothing is known about it, and the only reference to it in the accounts is "taking down tymber in old house" in the accounts for 1673.

Sir Abel was a man who was thorough in all he did, and fortunately most of his notes for his new house at Lyndon survive, having been left back to the family in the late 19th century. They are still kept at Lyndon although other Conant papers, including most of those described in the Historic Manuscripts Commission, 5th Report Appendix (p.387), are deposited at the County Record Office, Leicester.

The East Front

3. THE EAST FRONT. Originally all four elevations were identical

Of these notes the most valuable are on the books Sir Abel read before he began to build. Occasionally we know the architectural books a Caroline patron owned for instance at Lamport there are books that belonged to Sir Justinian Isham and at Weston Lady Wilbraham's Palladio is preserved but, as far as I know, Lyndon is the only Caroline house that can be related in detail to the architectural literature on which it is based. Fortunately the south and east facades survive unaltered and the north side has only had a Victorian porch built on, but no details of the west side were discovered when the Victorian wing was demolished a few years ago. All the original interior was swept away in the mid 19th century, and so we cannot be sure of the appearance of the rooms, but it is possible to reconstruct the layout .

Sir Abel's notes are headed Observations concerning Architecture taken out of Palladio, Gerbier and the Act for rebuilding the City of London- at first sight an odd trilogy. His Palladio could have been an Italian or French edition, but more probably was the first English translation of 1663. The Gerbier is the Counsel and Advice to all Builders, also of 1663. The Act for Rebuilding the City of 1667 contained useful technical details. With this information Sir Abel worked out his ideas for a house during the winter of 1667-68, producing a specification dated March 10, 1668. He must have discussed it before this with an architect or a surveyor, because another piece of paper of

The Doorway and Central Window on the South Front

4. THE DOORWAY AND CENTRAL WINDOW ON THE SOUTH FRONT

the same date, making 12 points and raising four queries, is beaded Haec Varianda de Modello nuper facto per Johem Sturges. As Mr. H. M. Colvin says in his Dictionary of English Architects, Sturges "appears to be the architect," the doubt arising from the single reference to him in the accounts, a payment of only 30s. for advice in 1672, the first year of building. Sturges's name also crops up in the Belton accounts, at Chatsworth and at Milton. With Barker's knowledge an architect was scarcely needed and it is likely that he superintended the work himself. It is as if he followed Roger North's unpublished advice: "A profest architect is proud, opiniative and troublesome, seldome at hand, and a head workman pretending to ye designing part, is full of paultry vulgar contrivances; therefore be your owne architect, or sitt still."

Having got so far, Sir Abel paused and did no more at Lyndon for four years. Perhaps he had taken notice of Palladio's warning, which he wrote down: "The changes, which must be diligently calculated before hand & tymeley provision of money made that the worke may not be hindered." Or Palladio's advice on seasoned timber, transcribed as "planks for dores & windows take 3 years" might have held him up. In the interval his widowed sister, Thomasin Collin, built a house at Medbourne in Leicestershire Sir Abel copied out details of the contracts made with the craftsmen on March 11, 1668, and perhaps he watched over the progress of building for her.

In January, 1671-72, Sir Abel made a contract with John Sutton of Stamford to build the two middle walls of Lyndon and all the chimneys, the work being measured on October 27, 1673. By the end of the second season of building £725 had been spent, and the roof must have been on as slate had been bought and nine slaters paid £28. A start was made on the interior in 1674, the summer and winter parlours being wainscotted that year. Decoration continued in 1675 and 1676, the 200 yd. of wainscot in the gallery being done for £28. The total cost at the end of 1677, excluding internal painting which was charged separately, was £1,690.

One of four Chimneystacks

5. ONE OF THE FOUR CHIMNEY STACKS. According to the specifications the 16 chimneys were "to come up 4 square in 4 pyles, 4 in each pyle, each pyle 4 ft. square, 16 ft. from the other".

The steady progress was no doubt the result of careful planning, and indeed, even from the specification it is clear what the finished house would eventually look like. Palladio had said: "It will be handsome when uniforme: because a building should be like an entier & perfect body where each member agrees with the other." And Sir Abel wrote in his specification: "A house may be built in this manner on all sydes alike," with all the facades 64-ft. long and of seven bays. Four seems to have been a magic number for him and it was used as a module as far as possible; the 16 chimneys were to "come up 4 square in 4 pyles, 4 in each pyle, each pyle 4 ft. square, 16 ft. from the other and 8 for the railes and ballisters of the roof platform, with a lanthorn in the middle." Whether the roof platform and lantern were actually built is open to doubt, for among the queries he notes down: "If 2 little roofs on ye top, each 10 ft. wide & 24 ft. long to crosse each other & no lanthorne." As can be seen from the photograph of the chimney (Fig. 5), it rises from the valley between two ridges of roof, a design that corresponds to that suggested in the query. Sir Abel could have seen a lantern on a number of Caroline houses, but it is likely that the silhouette of Thorpe, in its original form, was in the back of his mind; although built 20 years earlier it was a key house in the region, and Lyndon, like Thorney Abbey House, Cambridgeshire, owes a debt to it.

Although his house was much smaller than Thorpe, Sir Abel was concerned that it should be a work of architectural merit, and this is brought out by a comparison with Top Hall, another Barker house in the village, probably built within ten years of it. Top Hall is an attractive small manor house, typical of vernacular architecture on the limestone belt stretching from the Cotswolds to Grantham, but it displays none of the learning evident at Lyndon. Sir Abel took great care with the proportions and the details, but nothing about the design strikes us as Palladian and but for irrefutable evidence it would never occur to one that he had read Palladio. There is a certain lack of confidence in the way the elements are put together, and insufficient contrast of light and shade created by the mouldings-weaknesses that occur when heavy reliance is placed on books.

Another sign of book learning is in the inconsistency of fashion in the details. We still know very little about the circulation and life expectancy of books and engravings in the 17th century, but I suspect that at Lyndon Sir Abel or his men were using some designs for detail 20 or 30 years old. The central window on the first floor (Fig. 4) on all three facades, with its side scrolls running up towards the lugs of the architrave, might be found on an artisan house of the 1650s, while the swan-necked pediment above the door is an up-to-date design of the 1670s. The chimneys, which are particularly handsome, are related to those at Thorpe, Thorney and Clare College, Cambridge, where a somewhat similar design was used before the Civil War and repeated in the 1669-76 phase of building

Without quoting long sections from Sir Abel's notes, it is difficult to suggest quite how he used his authors. For instance, he got his information on sewers from the Act for Rebuilding the City, and he combined extracts from all three sources in a section on foundations. Details on prices are quoted from Gerbier, while details on the placing and strength of joists and rafters are drawn from the Act for Rebuilding the City. On window design he quoted Gerbier: they "must be as high again as wyde, the middle transome about 6 ft. from the fore," but he does not give Gerbier's reason that "otherwise the middle transome would be opposite to a mans eye hindering some to the free discovering of the country." However, he records Gerbier's vivid comparison of mouldings round doors and windows to "the broad brim of a good hat to a travailleur on a rainy day."

Reconstructed Plan of Ground Floor

6. RECONSTRUCTED PLAN OF THE ORIGINAL LAYOUT OF THE GROUND FLOOR

The house was originally approached from the south (Fig. 1), the road winding through the park rather than north of the house and the church. The visual effect of this was that the house was seen standing up at the head of a rise, a situation favoured at that time. The south door was the main entrance to the house, and a corridor aligned on it ran the length of the house to the north door, as at Thorpe, but here inspired by Palladio: "It is graceful, cool in summer and hath many other conveniences" to have doors placed "to give prospect from one end of the house to another," Sir Abel noted, and his idea was to have a "Ground Gallery through the middle of house 60 ft. wyde 8 ft. doore windows at both ends." About midway along rose the great stairs, leading to an upper gallery; this arrangement survives, but restated in Victorian terms (Fig. 7).

The entrance hall was 16 ft. wide, with the winter parlour on the left, 18 ft. square, pallet and on the right the great hall, 1 ft. taller. This is now the drawing-room (Fig. 8), but the winter parlour and most of the hall have been remodelled as the library. In the centre division of the house between Sutton's spine walls were the back hail and offices on the left and on the right the great stairs and drawing room. In the north-west corner of the house was the kitchen and, in the north-east, the summer parlour, now joined to the "Ground Gallery" to form a larger hall.

The Head of the Staircase

7. THE HEAD OF THE STAIRCASE. The stairs and the screen are Victorian

On the first floor, over the great hall, were the great chamber, three lodgings, two pallet chambers and closets. In the roof, lit by dormers, were a further four lodgings, pallet chambers, closets, and a wardrobe and laundry. Altogether there were 44 rooms in the house, that is 4 cellars, 12 rooms on the ground floor, and 14 each on the first and second floors.

There is little about decoration in Observations or in the specification, but the accounts do not suggest lavish decoration. Sir Abel bought a certain amount of furniture for the new house in London in 1677, including a "mohayre bed lined with gilt head board, and 6 chairs" for £31, "a painted paragon bed lined with callico & four chairs" for £8, and 18 turkey-work chairs for 18s. each.

Two years later, in the inventory made on his death, the contents of the house were valued at £278 18s. Linen, pewter and plate were worth £53, and plate and jewels £120. To he give some idea of this sum in proportion to his estate, the inventory lists his stock and grain at £2,700; 150 cows were worth £430 and 800 sheep £908.

Drawing Room

8. THE DRAWING ROOM

Neither Sir Abel nor his brother Sir Thomas had sons and on the death of the latter, in 1708, the property went to the Barkers of North Luffenham, who produced in succession three remarkable squires of Lyndon. The first, Samuel, was a noted Hebrew scholar, who married Sarah Whiston, the daughter of William Whiston, the divine. He died in 1759. His son Thomas, who married Gilbert White's sister, wrote on a variety of subjects, including comets and their orbits, A Treatise on the Duty of Baptism and On the Nature and Circumstances of Demoniacs in the Gospels.

The last Samuel Barker, Gilbert White's nephew, died in 1835 and his two unmarried sisters (who inherited from him) in 1843 and 1846. Under their wills the property was sold to the Rev. Edward Brown, who had married Sarah Barker. He spent £5,000 on the house in 1847. He left it to his nephew, Mr. E. N. Conant, who added the west wing (now demolished) in 1867.

To the two 17th-century Rutland houses which they inherited, the Conants have added one more, The Pastures, at North Luffenham, designed by Voysey in 1901 and enlarged by him in 1909. Together they form a trilogy illustrating in a remarkable way the development of the middle-sized country house in England, and it is fascinating to work out the changes in the pattern of life implicit in their designs. While to sit in Sir Abel's house and read his notes is to be brought into unusually close touch with the processes of building 300 years ago.


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