Monday, 27 June 2011

Ettington Park


Ettington Park, former seat of the ancient Shirley family, is a spectacular neo-Gothic mansion situated six miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in the picturesque Stour Valley. The River Stour weaves its way through the estate.

The family of Shirley still own the Lough Fea estate in County Monaghan.

Behind the impressive mid-Victorian Gothic exterior of the house we see today lies a very complex building and family history of the Shirleys.

They are one of Warwickshire’s oldest families whose lineage, by uninterrupted male descent, can be traced back over a thousand years to the Domesday Book of 1086 and beyond.

In 1740 George Shirley, an army officer, made a series of alterations and additions to the house which included a new Entrance Hall, now the library. He redecorated the Dining Room which originally was the hall of the old house and also had a stable block built nearby.

In 1767 he added a new Great Drawing Room with its elaborate rococo ceiling and a bedroom over it.

In 1795, another George Shirley, a member of Parliament for Warwickshire, “enclosed” the estate by Act of Parliament.

The village was demolished and the inhabitants removed to a new site, two miles away at Upper Ettington, where a new church and village were built.

The mill was demolished and the church dating from 1198 partially demolished, leaving only the tower, the walls of the nave and the south transept chapel containing the family mausoleum. The bells and furnishings from the church were transferred to the new church at Upper Ettington.

The remains of the old village cross and village graves can still be seen today.

In 1820 the Entrance Hall was gothicised and converted into a library. Overhead a new storey was added.

A new chimney piece was installed in the library, a copy of one at Windsor Castle, and surmounted by a Gothic stain-glass window retrieved from a redundant chapel near Chipping Campden. At the same time a new conservatory was built.

 In 1858, Evelyn Philip Shirley, “finding the property in much need of repair”, decided to carry out a major rebuilding programme. He opted for the services of John Prichard the Llandaff diocesan architect.

Prichard regarded himself as a “true disciple of Pugin”. The work lasted from 1858 to 1862 and involved taking down the external walls and rebuilding around the core or interior of the old house.

The house was completed with the heightening of the roof-line and the addition of tall chimneys and contrasting round and square turrets. A Long Gallery was built on the second floor and features a carved star window based on a 15th century Venetian design.

The Gallery staircase in the square tower is made from teak and acacia wood grown on the estate. A carved Saracen’s head forms the end-piece of the banister rails.

The entrance hall was also enhanced by the building of a new glass vaulted cloistered conservatory of a classic 13th century French design, as well as a vaulted carriage-porch leading into the cloister from outside.

The Dining Room, now the Oak Room Restaurant, was also remodelled to a design by Prichard. Wood panelling by Charles Steinz of London was used extensively and was inlaid with the coats of arms of the many families into which the Shirleys have married over the centuries.

A private domestic chapel, also designed by Prichard, was built adjoining the Dining Room after 1865.This has painted glass windows depicting the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

On the side windows are the coats of arms of eight of  E.P. Shirley’s closest friends, with the motto: “True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and choice”.

A brass plate on the wall reads as follows:
“In the eight hundredth year from the Norman conquest of England, when Saswalo the Saxon was lord of Eatendone, his descendant, Evelyn Philip Shirley, built this chapel for the praise and worship of Almighty God, in whose sight a thousand years are but yesterday.”

Unfortunately, the chapel was severely damaged by fire in 1979 and the decorative wall paintings lost. On the exterior of the chapel are two verses from the 145th psalm on a band round the building.

Outside in the newly landscaped gardens the 17th century summer loggia was purchased nearby from the demolished Coleshill Hall and re-positioned in the gardens with adjoining glass houses, sadly no longer with us.

The overall result of Prichard’s design and work was a magnificent building which is perhaps the best example we have today of the French and Italian Gothic style of architecture promoted by John Ruskin and skilfully adapted by Prichard for domestic purposes.

The striking visual impact of the building on the eye was achieved by the use of layers of contrasting stone – yellow limestone from Gloucestershire, ironstone from Edge Hill, blue lias from Wilmcote and white lias quarried locally.

In keeping with the antiquarian interests of E.P. Shirley the house was further embellished with scores of statues and carved stone friezes by Edmund Clarke of Llandaff according to the designs of the well-known sculptor H. H Armstead.

The stone friezes are placed over the windows and illustrate important events in the family’s history. It can be truly said that the walls of Ettington Park tell a story of outstanding architectural and historical interest, the total cost of the work was £13,025!

The neo-Elizabethan oak mantle-piece installed in the entrance hall, now the reception area, was carved by Wilcox of Warwick in 1857. It features two shields bearing the ancient and modern coat of arms of the family.

The Shirley family motto “Loyal Je Suis” is carved over the window-heads in Reception. Note the shamrock design incorporated into the family motto. This is indicative of the fact that the family motto comes from the Irish side of the family.

The Shirleys acquired their Irish estates at Lough Fea, County Monaghan, in 1600 when Henry Shirley married Lady Dorothy, the daughter and co-heiress of Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I.

The marble pillars framing the windows in Reception came from Lough Fea. The Irish estates have accounted for the bulk of the wealth that financed the expansion and rebuilding of Ettington Park throughout the 19th Century.

E.P. Shirley died in 1882 and his son Sewallis was the last member of the family to live at Ettington Park. For most of the 20th century and indeed to the present day, the family have resided in Ireland.

After his death in 1912, the house was leased to private individuals, at first to Mr. Robert Guinness and then to Constance, Duchess of Westminster.

In 1935 it became a nursing home and during the Second World War a prisoner of war camp for Italian prisoners. For a brief period Ettington Park was the venue for a night club/disco.

Unfortunately, in 1979 a fire did severe damage to the house. It remained locked up and left to deteriorate for three years.

However, in 1983 the house and forty acres of land were leased to the Isis Hotel Company and after a multimillion-pound restoration programme Ettington Park opened as a luxury hotel

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