Garendon Hall


Location   nr. Loughborough
Year demolished   1964  
Reason   Death duties, wartime neglect, urban growth  
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Today, the parkland of Garendon Hall is a perfect setting for some of the finest Classical monuments in Leicestershire but until 1964 it also had one of the finest houses in Leicestershire.

Originally the site of one of the earliest of the Cistercian monastaries founded in 1133 by the Earl of Leicester. Over the following 400-years it acquired increasing amounts of land through gifts and acquisitions until, by the 16th century, this powerful Abbey owned the lands for many miles around it. This wealth and power were to come to an end with the Dissolution of the Monastaries. In 1535, a visit from the King's men led to charges of corruption and vice (as these inspections usually did) and the Abbey was demolished in 1536.

The estate and buildings were then granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Manners, the Earl of Rutland, for the sum of £2,356 5s 10d and who built the first house at Garendon. The estate stayed with the Earls as one of their several residences until 1632 when, on the marriage of a daughter, it passed as a dowry to the Dukes of Buckingham. This was a valuable gift - a commission in 1640 reported that the park contained 13,350 trees of various sorts, with an estimated total value of £5,648 (approx. £750,000 - 2007 value).

Bar such incidents little changed on the estate until it was sold in 1684 to Sir Ambrose Phillipps, a successful London lawyer of the Middle Temple and King's Sargeant to James II, for £28,000 (approx. £3.75m - 2007 value). At about the same time he also bought the nearby estate and house of Grace Dieu from the Beaumont family. Sir Ambrose reputedly had bought the Garendon estate for Judge Jeffries, hence also buying Grace Dieu, but was so taken with it that he kept both for himself. An interesting aside is that much as fixtures and fittings can be a contentious issue with today's homebuyers, in between buying the house and deciding to keep it for himself, the vendor, Buckingham, felled approximately £5,000-worth of timber from the estate.

Sir Ambrose did little to the estate and died in 1691, his son William inherited both estates, with Garendon Park now extending to some 420 acres. In 1703 William married Jane, daughter of Sir Samuel Dashwood, a former Lord Mayor of London. William, a merchant in Constantinople (Istanbul), was also content to just enjoy the estate which grew and provided wealth and status sufficient to allow his eldest son, Ambrose, to go on the Grand Tour of France and Italy when he inherited the estates from his father in 1729.

The Grand Tour truly inspired Ambrose. On his return in 1734 (the year he was elected to Parliament) he embarked on significant changes to Garendon Hall and the parkland which reflected his learning and new found passion for the high culture and architecture of the continent and particularly of Rome. Initially, his main activity was focused on the creation of a landscape which not only demonstrated his learning and culture but was to also provide an improved vista from the house. Soon after his return Ambrose had various canals cut and avenues of trees planted as the first stage of his transformation. But it was the buildings which were to be his lasting monument. The house itself sat on a site slightly lower than the ridges which ran along the eastern and southern boundaries of the park. Using these elevated positions to their best advantage, Ambrose had built, to his own designs, a fine collection of Classical eye-catchers; an obelisk, a temple and an arch.

The Obelisk (now Grade II-listed) stands some 700m east of the site of the hall and rises to a height of 24m. Built of slim, stuccoed, red bricks, the main spire sits on four spheres which in turn are placed on a rectangular pediment. A double avenue of trees ran from the house towards the Obelisk.

On the crest of the southern ridge, approximately a kilometre south-west from the hall, is the Temple of Venus. The design is based on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli and now Grade II*-listed. A circular building built of ashlar Mansfield stone, with peristyle of Ionic columns with a carved oak entablature. The temple has no windows and the interior includes various fine architectural features. The domed copper roof replaces a lead one stolen in 1944. The temple also featured a statue of Venus though this was destroyed during local Luddite rebellions in 1811 along with all the other statuary in the gardens and avenues.

The final structure is one of the earliest example of building an interpretation inspired by a Roman original. Built in 1735 and sited on another ridge-top 300m west of the Temple, the Triumphal Arch (now Grade I-listed) is largely based on the Arch of Titus in Rome. A beautiful building with the quality of the workmanship still evident today, it's of ashlar and features a moulded round-headed carriage arch, and on the east side four Corinthian columns on tall pedestals supporting a rich entablature with a fine relief of the Metamorphosis of Actalon. The west side has two Corinthian columns on pedestals with a pediment over the entablature.

As part of his master plan, Ambrose also designed the addition of the grand Palladian south front of Garendon Hall. However, it's thought that little of this building work had taken place when he died, aged just 30, on 6 November 1737. The estate and house now passed to Ambrose's brother, Samuel and it was he who took on the rebuilding of Garendon Hall to the existing Palladian designs.

This work created an elegant, though compact, eleven-bay by one and half storey house fronted by a full-height, tetrastyle portico with Corinthian columns and an open, triangular pediment. Inside, the Great Hall was said to be particularly fine and not unlike the vestibule of the Doges Palace in Venice. On each side were built two gateways to designs by Inigo Jones - one of which still survives. The park is described in Benjamin Disraeli's political novel, Coningsby, who visited Garendon in 1844 shortly before writing it.

As Samuel was the last of the male Phillipps line, on his death in 1796 the Garendon house and estates passed to his cousin, Thomas March, who also adopted the surname Phillipps. Thomas married Susan De Lisles - a member of an old family from the Isle of Wight. Their son, Charles March Phillipps (b.1779 - d.1862) adopted the De Lisle crest and arms.

It is Charles' son, Ambrose Charles Lisle March Phillips de Lisle (b.1809 - d.1878), who makes the next series of significant changes to Garendon - though not as dramatic as he would have like. Ambrose had converted to Catholicism in 1825, at the tender age of 16, which later had several impacts in terms of the architecture of the estate. On his father's death in 1862 Ambrose, due to his father's expenditure, inherited a house in a slightly dilapidated state so between 1865-6 he called on Edward Welby Pugin (son of the famous Augustus Welby Pugin), to update and alter the existing house. Given the potentially generous budget available, Pugin set to work creating a set of elaborate designs, presented as an aerial view, of almost what might be an 'ideal' of a Gothic house. Pugin usually only had the opportunity to alter or decorate existing houses so his plans for Garendon are important as they show how he would have approached the design of an entirely new house. However, the plans weren't implemented and Pugin's design remained only on paper. It is possible that if the plans had implemented it might have created one of the great Gothic Revival houses of England.

It's clear that Ambrose chose E.W. Pugin for his Catholic faith and the hope that he had inherited the skill of his father but the arranged marriage of Palladianism and Gothicism was unhappy and the end result, as with most compromises, was unsuccessful. E.W Pugin added an over-sized mansard roof with dormers to the south front (Pevsner: "...really rather horrible...") which breached the Palladian proportions and made the building appear top-heavy. He also added a huge new wing to the rear of the house which contained, amongst other things, a new 100ft-long picture gallery which contained a fine collection of paintings including Italian and Dutch Old Masters including three of Salvator Rosa's largest and finest landscapes and series of family portraits by Sir Peter Lely. Ambrose was apparently happy with the work as he again called on Pugin to convert the Temple of Vesta into a small chapel on the occasion of a visit by Cardinal Manning in 1873.

Straightened financial circumstances at the end of the 19th century and the death of Ambrose Lisle March Phillips de Lisle in 1878, and his son Ambrose Charles Lisle March Phillipps de Lisle in 1883, forced a rationalisation. The new heir, Everard March Phillips de Lisle (b.1862 - d.1947) and his family moved out of Garendon in 1885 and into Grace Dieu manor. This house had been built between 1833-4 in their nearby estate centred on the abbey ruins of the same name as a residence for the newly married Ambrose Phillipps. This house (and private chapel) was also built in the Tudor Gothic style by William Railton and had been altered (in 1837) and enlarged (in 1847) by A.W.N. Pugin. In 1907, after a revival in the family fortunes, he returned with his wife Mary and family to the family seat at Garendon, to much local acclaim. A newspaper report in the Coalville Guardian, dated 25 June of that year, goes into much detail as to the celebrations, speeches, and bands and the estimated crowd of 6,000 who heralded the arrival back after 22 years of voluntary 'exile'.

The good fortune unfortunately wasn't to last. In the early part of the 20th century parts of the estate were used as a training camp. The estate had its own rail stop called Snell's Nook Halt and was, in its early days, used almost exclusively by the De Lisle family and their guests. Later on, the halt was very busy when the Leicestershire Yeomanry and the Territorial Army held training camps at Garendon before the First World War. Over 17,000 passengers passed through in 1911 on their way to such camps. This has now also been demolished.

Wednesday 13 May 1964: the last day of Garendon Hall - the fire and demolition
(Video © TimelessMoments)

In the Second World War, the Army was billeted in the house and caused their usual level of damage. By this time the estate had passed to Ambrose Paul Jordan March Phillips de Lisle (b.1894 - d. 1963), who remained at Grace Dieu. When eventually the De Lisle's took up residence again in 1955 the writing must have already been on the wall as all over the country houses of a similar size were demolished in the face of a hostile tax regime and insufficient wealth to maintain such huge houses and put right the abuses of the troops. This must have been particularly acute for the De Lisle's as they also retained the estate at Grace Dieu.

As with many demolished houses, there were multiple contributing factors. The death of Ambrose Paul Jordan March Phillips de Lisle in September 1963 would have triggered punitive death duties. In addition, the urban sprawl of Loughborough was creeping ever closer, so the arrival of the M1 motorway, which cut through the western edge of the estate, provided another reason to abandon the house and also a solution for what to do with it. In May 1964, Garendon Hall was demolished and the rubble used in the construction of the road. Remarkably, as part of the demolition process, on Wednesday 13 May, the first stage was to deliberately set fire to the house as part of a training exercise for the the Leicester County Fire Brigade (see video on the right).

The family moved back to Grace Dieu but this was eventually sold and became a Catholic preparatory school. In 1972, Gerard March Phillipps de Lisle (b.1940) and family bought the the beautiful Jacobean Quenby Hall.

So what remains today? Though the house is gone and the parkland has now been converted to agricultural fields, its beautiful monuments remain and the estate is still owned by the De Lisle family. The estate now forms a green wedge between Loughborough and Shepshed, and although private property, is partially accessible to the public who value the area. Development proposals have led to much local opposition and today there are several campaigns which seek to stop any building on the estate and possibly even turn it into a country park. The financial pressures of estate ownership which led to the demise of the house could also yet compromise what remains of Ambrose Phillipps' superb design.