Country House Study Day: Lamport Hall

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Lamport Hall hosts a regular series of study days organised by the Centre for the Study of the Country House at the University of Leicester on varying topics related to country houses. On September 9th it was Dr. Peter Lindfield of the University of St. Andrews that provided the lectures with the interesting title; “The good, the bad and the objectionable: Eighteenth-century Country Houses’Architecture and Interiors”.

The print illustrated here published in 1771 was a well chosen example used during the lectures as a recurring theme to demonstrate various aspects of taste, or lack thereof, and how this related to Georgian Architecture. The long eighteenth century saw the transition from a continental inspired Baroque to the widespread use of the Palladian idiom, but it is equally the century when  Gothic inspired creations became fashionable. Throw into this mix an ever growing interest in all things exotic and it becomes clear why such opposing styles ranging from subdued classicism to extravagant Chinoiseries could be employed in the same period, or even the same project.

The three lectures took us through a selection of well known examples of Georgian architecture and interiors that demonstrated the different ways in which these styles had been applied, and how contemporary sources viewed these. It was an interesting topic, and I’m looking forward to next years programme.

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The setting of the conference was well worth the trip on its own. The house is run as a museum and venue for events through a trust set up by the last private owner, Sir Gyles Isham the 12th baronet and one time actor  best known for his role as Konstantin Levin in the 1935 production of Anna Karenina starring Greta Garbo in the title role.

Lamport Hall remained in the hands of the Isham family from its origins as a Tudor Manor built for John Isham in 1568 till its transfer to the Lamport Hall Preservation Trust in 1976. Very little of the Tudor origins remain, most of what can be seen now dates back to the house designed in 1655 by John Webb and the subsequent alterations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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The High Room of 1655 with its elaborate plasterwork and imposing fireplace by Webb is undoubtedly the highlight of the interior. This room also offers a glimpse of the quality of interior finishes the house would have received in in 1655, much of this was lost during later interventions.

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The Oak Room is connected to the staircase and has some fine re-used Jacobean panelling. there is a possibility the panelling might come from the former Great Hall which was located where there is now a rather bland Victorian dining room, though I’m sure this room has its use in generating revenue for the upkeep of the house.

With its long uninterrupted link to one family, there are some amazing collections in the house that reflect the wealth of past owners. Especially the third baronet, Sir Thomas Isham, seems to have been an avid Grand Tour collector. Most impressive amongst his acquisitions are a pair of large cabinets on stands with intricate reverse glass paintings he acquired in Naples in 1677. These cabinets vie for attention with a spectacular ebony Antwerp cabinet with panels and drawers painted by Frans Francken III.

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The first floor is slowly undergoing restoration and re-interpretation, the bedroom evoking the late seventeenth century is a good example of how a house such as this can continue to build on its heritage whilst respecting its past. The gardens are worth visiting and there are some dramatic vistas on the surrounding countryside. It should also be mentioned that we owe the fashion in England for garden gnomes to Sir Charles Isham who was the first to import them from Nuremberg in 1847 for his rockery at Lamport Hall, the original can still be seen in the collections, this of course ties in nicely with the theme of taste discussed during the lectures.

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