Sunday, 19 April 2015

What's in a Name?

Apethorpe 'Palace' © English Heritage

In the continuing effort to conserve and hold on to our built past, it is sometimes worth stopping and asking ourselves what should be preserved? As I have said in previous blogs, our historic buildings can't remain in aspic. Sometimes we need to be pragmatic and accept new buildings, new vistas, and even new towns! Somehow, some way, we carefully move forward holding onto the past but attending to the present.

However, there is an aspect of our heritage that does not need to change to keep up with modern times. It is something that doesn’t get in the way of the present. It doesn’t cost anything to maintain and most significantly links us directly to our past and our heritage.

I am talking about place names. The origin of these can stretch back centuries even millennia. Today modern England is full of ancient names for cities, towns, villages, streets and alley ways. These names root us in our history, whether that is Roman, Saxon, Norman or later. Sometimes names have changed in the last 1000 years, but this has been through social evolution, common usage over the long slow passage of time.

With this in mind, I am surprised that English Heritage, our national champion in protecting our built past has allowed one of our most historically important buildings to have a cosmetic change of name. 

Apethorpe Hall has been renamed Apethorpe Palace. No reason for this change appears to have been given. It has just been presented as a fait accompli in the listing description. There is only one other non-royal residence in England with the title “Palace” and that is Blenheim Palace. The difference is that that early 18th century house was always called a Palace. That is its original historical legacy.

The East Courtyard © Ellen Leslie
South Range © Ellen Leslie
View from the East Courtyard © Ellen Leslie
Apethorpe Hall is a beautiful Grade I manor house with origins that go back to the 15th century. In my opinion one of the most impressive houses England can boast about, and England has many. Its long history is full of highs and lows, from being the residence of the future Elizabeth I, the weekend retreat for King James I, later becoming an approved school in the 1970s and finally being rescued by government compulsory purchase. It was however, never called Apethorpe Palace, even during its days as a royal residence. 

The new owner is Frenchman Jean Christophe Iseux, Baron von Pfetten. Apparently he is very sympathetic to the house’s history and says “Our vision for Apethorpe is to help this house regain the place in British history that it deserves." I think that is heartening, even laudable. But by changing the name, in a stroke you deny its past. If the name Apethorpe Hall was good enough for King James, it should be good enough for Baron von Pfetten and certainly English Heritage. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

To The Manor Born?

The Old Manor, Dorsington 1870s

A common name for an old house in England is The Manor House. I have researched several properties with this name, but often the title was not a true description of the building’s historic status or function. Many weren’t and have never been the residence of the lord of the manor. But this fact is not detrimental to the house or its history. Often these Manor Houses had an equally interesting albeit alternative life and place in the story of the area.

The Old Manor in Dorsington, in Warwickshire was originally built in the 16th century. Research revealed that this timber-framed and liasic stone construction had in fact been the farmhouse to the estate’s principal farm, The Manor Farm.  Interestingly, there wasn’t a manor house at all in the village; certainly from the 16th century onwards. There is a moated area (with a later house built on it) and early reference to a manor house “site” ;but historically, the lords of the manor of Dorsington were absent and simply leased the various farms and small holdings on the estate. 
The Old Manor Dorsington in the 1920s
The Old Manor, Dorsington © Ellen Leslie 2012

In the late 18th century with improvements and expansion in agriculture, a new principal residence for the farm’s tenant farmers was constructed just down the road and the old thatched farmhouse was usefully converted into 5 dwellings for the increasing numbers of farm workers. With a new house for Manor Farm, a new name was needed for the old house … The Old Manor Farm was an obvious choice and The Old Manor was how it evolved up to the present day.

Manor House in Ware may not have been the home of the Lord of the Manor either, but in this case its own history goes back to the 12th century, when it was part of the Priory at Ware and probably contained the monks' dormitories. It has been suggested that the existing building sits on the footprint of those original sleeping quarters. 

Manor House, Ware ©Ellen Leslie

Manor House in 1671 ©Trinity College Cambridge
For this building, the title of Manor House came relatively late. Certainly since the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, this house was the main residence for tenant farmers, leasing the property and surrounding agricultural land from the estate owners, who were Trinity College, Cambridge.  It had many names over the centuries, but mainly The Rectory Farm or The Old Parsonage

These titles are also misleading, as the house was not attached to the local church or vicar, but the house’s ecclesiastical roots may have been to blame for these monikers and because it sits opposite the parish church. Today though the title Manor House suits it well, as it is certainly one of the largest, oldest and most impressive buildings in the town.

But not all manor houses are large or imposing. The Old Manor House in Cholesbury, in Buckinghamshire looks like a typical cosy village cottage, rather than the primary building of a large estate.  One thing is for certain, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the village. Over the centuries the residence of the Lords of the Manor has changed; but this house was never their home. So why is it called The Old Manor House? Unlike my previous two examples, this house wasn’t even the estate's farm house. 

The Old Manor, Cholesbury ©Ellen Leslie
The Old Manor House in 1753
What I did find was this was the house where the business of the estate was managed from. Court Barons and payment of rents and the hearing and resolution of local disputes would be held here. I also found that this house had once been double the size, losing half its structure at some time in the 19th century. So originally a greater building but only losing its role in the administration of the estate in the late 19th century when its freehold was sold.

So a property's name cannot give you a guaranteed indication of its past. Names change over time, with origins mixed up or forgotten. But whatever the name of a building, its past entitles it to be of equal historic interest whatever the real story.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

It's Show Time!

2015 will be the sixth year that I exhibit at the Listed Property Show at Olympia, run by the Listed Property Owner's Club. It will also be my fifth year giving one of the expert talks at the show. The Show takes place on a weekend around the middle of February every year. Usually it means clashing with Valentine's Day, as it does this year. But if historic buildings are your first love, then there's no dilemma whether to choose a romantic weekend away with your other half or immerse yourself in all things lime mortar, lathe and plaster, timber-framed and listed. Some people combine the two!

Professional Advice
Naturally, the core attendees are owners of our country's protected house, looking for ideas and advise to conserve, repair and maintain their precious properties. There are approximately 374,081 listed  uildings in England so you can see there is a vast number of people for whom this show would apply! Of course, there are many people who are not owners and come along just because they are interested in old buildings - or they got lost looking for the National Wedding Show next door, and decided to stay!
Decorative Plaster Specialists

Stone Carvers

The show provides a mixture of professional advice, traditional building crafts demonstrations as well as showcasing new technology and products to benefit a historic home.  Past years have included; metal, plaster and timber craftsmen giving demonstrations; societies like The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), The Georgian Group and English Heritage giving technical advice; as well as conservation architects, interiors specialists and garden designers. This is in addition to the Listed Property Owner's Club itself imparting tax, planning and insurance advice to its members and visitors on the day.
Specialist Talks


At the show I offer free house history research and historic/architectural feature advice on my stand and I find the range and rarity of privately-owned historic buildings presented to me quite amazing. It is obvious these people love their historic homes and are keen to do the best they can for them. It is great to be able to help them turn around from a dead end in their own research, whether it's through a one-to-one with me on the stand or as a result of something I said in my Beginner's Guide talk.

The show gets bigger every year, with more specialists exhibiting and demonstrating and more
owners of listed buildings coming along and gaining first hand information. I find it all great fun and
judging by the faces of those who come along, so do they!

If you would like to come to the show click here for details - >