Friday, March 8, 2019

Church Langton, Leicestershire

The old order

This house, which I’ve admired several times when I’ve been driving northwards through the Langtons, a cluster of villages in Leicestershire north of Market Harborough, seems to be the epitome of Georgian country life, something that looks as if it has been at home in its setting since the 18th century, an admirable and unchanging bit of domestic architecture in the style of the great Robert Adam. The balanced composition, the central arch, the urns and swags – all these evoke the age of Adam (1728–92) beautifully. And yet, although I can do no more than scratch the surface of a building I’ve never been inside, it has actually changed a bit over the years.

The house was built, probably in the 1780s, for a member of the Hanbury family, one of a line of Hanburys who were rectors of this once prosperous living. Its architect is not known for certain, but the design is very similar to that of a house in Mountsorrel and both buildings have been attributed to the architect William Henderson of Loughborough. However, it’s now the Old Rectory, so is no longer the home of the rector. A friend who lives locally showed me a photograph taken in the 1970s from the rear, which shows that the side wings were then little more than brick walls – dummy wings, in short, made to make the house look larger and to balance the grand centrepiece; now they seem to be proper wings with rooms in them.

A further change is that at some stage the urns on the parapet were removed, along with the decorative relief of swags and urn in the central pediment. An illustration in the old Highways and Byways book on Leicestershire, which came out in 1923, shows the front of the building without these adornments. By the time the revised Pevsner Buildings of England volume on Leicestershire and Rutland was produced and published in 1984, there were urns on the parapet once more (modern cement ones, as now) but no pediment decoration. But the other day when I passed and took the photograph above the decorative ensemble had been restored (my local friend assures me it was there in 2007 when he took another photograph), so perhaps the house now looks as good as it ever did. Which in my book is very good indeed.

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J. B. Firth, Highways and Byways in Leicestershire (Macmillan, 1923)


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

As the original urns got weathered on their moorings, I imagine some occupier of the house would be nervous of them coming down in a strong wind.I understand from a publication I picked up at Leicester Museum that there were perhaps dozens of very local architects in Leicestershire at that precise period: some might have been better called builders, with sophisticated pattern books.The rather advanced design of the big arch, for instance, for the date would have suggested to me somebody a bit classier than that: and it probably wasn't built just to house the incumbent out of scarce diocesan resources!

Where were the bricks made?

Stephen Barker said...

A few years ago the owners of the house won an award from the Georgian Group for work carried out on the house. An earlier Hanbury, William was the promoter of a number of concerts, including three at Church Langton 1759-61 which included the Messiah, the first time it was performed in a parish church. the aim was to raise money for a school, a college and ultimately a Minster to be built at Church Langton. The first concert attracted a large number of visitors including the Duke of Devonshire who had to lodge with a tradesman as the was insufficient accommodation available locally.

His dreams were not fulfilled but a Trust was formed and the money did and does go to he local school. William Hanbury was not an easy man to get along with, he appears to have been the music promoter from Hell and his later concerts barely covered their costs with disputes with performers over payments.

William Hanbury created a number of nurseries for growing trees to fund his building schemes. Unfortunately in Church Langton he encroached on Common Land without permission and was in dispute with his neighbours who turned their cattle out who ate the saplings. One of his nurseries at nearby Gumley was sold and became part of the grounds of the now demolished Gumley Hall. Hanbury published two books on gardening which were well received as he appears to have had a natural talent for planting and gardening.

In the churchyard can be seen the outline of the octagonal Hanbury mausoleum which was demolished in the 1860's when coffins were removed to a crypt under the new vestry.

In answer to Joseph Biddulph, the bricks would have been made locally as suitable clay for bricks is widely available, the red/orange tinge to the bricks comes from ironstone which is part of the local geology.

As for William Henderson alias Anderson 1737-1824 he had an active career locally, building Leicester Infirmary under the direction of Benjamin Wyatt, he had rebuilt Staunton Harold Hall for the 5th Earl Ferrers and in Nottinghamshire Stanford Hall and Wilford Hall, both of which are described as substantial Georgian houses with restrained neo-classical detailing in the style of Adam.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: Thank you, as usual, for the information. I was vaguely aware of the concerts, but not about the nurseries. I'm planning one more Leicestershire post when I get Ruskin off my chest.