Fire is a devastating and remorseless enemy of the country house; consuming not only the house but the contents, interiors, and even history; breaking the links which once bound a family to an area. The indiscrimate nature of fire means that the houses taken are sometimes some of the finest - and in Lincolnshire, Uffington House was perhaps one of the few to compare to such sublime beauties as Belton House.
What set Uffington House apart was that it was one of the earlier post-Restoration country houses which clearly signposted the strength of the coming classical influences. The dark period of the Commonwealth had been a relatively architecturally dormant time as few of the newly wealthy (or those who had managed to hold onto their existing fortunes) felt secure enough to commit to the huge expenditure of a new country house. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the subsequent largesse of the new king, Charles II, sparked a revival in the building of new status symbols to reflect new titles and recovered fortunes. Luckily, the genius of Christopher Wren (developing the ideas of Inigo Jones combined with some European influences) was available to accelerate the process - even if his contributions were exceptionally rare. One of Wren's few country house designs was for Tring Manor House, Hertfordshire which was built between 1669-71, an innovative design in the now familiar 9-bay by 2-storey layout with pediment. By c1678, the design had travelled up to Northamptonshire, creating the elegant Walcot House.
The Uffington estate was bought for Charles Bertie, the 5th son of the 2nd Earl of Lindsey, and Uffington House was designed in 1675 and owes much to Walcot House. The design is attributed to a rather anonymous 'Mr Grant, Surveyor' who is mentioned in the account books as receiving £4. 2s. 6d. '...for making a plan of Uffington House and surveying several parcels of land adjoining to it'. Work started in 1681 and was largely completed by 1686-88 - Bertie wrote in August 1687:
'The house which I am now building "in the afternoon of my age" you must not call a fine house: but I hope it will be big enough for a younger brother's family,'
The interiors were some of the finest in Lincolnshire with the staircase walls and ceilings being decorated by Antonio Verrio who also worked at Windsor Castle and spent a decade at Burghley House, which contains his masterpiece, the Heaven Room.
The title of the Earl of Lindsey did eventually descend to the Berties of Uffington and the house and estate was the home of the 12th Earl of Lindsey when a devastating fire on 18 December 1904 completely destroyed the house, leaving nothing of the main house but smoking rubble. The outbuildings, ballroom and orangery (dating from 1845) initially survived the blaze - the orangery was particularly interesting as an example of work by Samuel Gray - but permission was granted in 1979 for these to be demolished so that the materials could be used to repair the estate walls. This work was completed in 1980, removing the last remnants of a great Lincolnshire house which had once stood so proudly.