Windows to the past

PUBLISHED: 15:25 10 July 2009 | UPDATED: 08:56 21 February 2013

Clive of India nurtured Walcot Hall and took pleasure in its views. Two centuries on, residents and visitors are doing the same

Clive of India nurtured Walcot Hall and took pleasure in its views. Two centuries on, residents and visitors are doing the same

Many times a day Clive of India must have paused and gazed through the windows of his South Shropshire mansion to drink in the beauty of the landscape.
The theatrical scenery was one reason why he ensured the elegant Walcot Hall, re-designed for him in 1763 by Sir William Chambers, at Lydbury North, incorporated towering Georgian windows.
Little has changed the view in over 200 years. Lush meadow sweeps down to a mile-long lake and a backdrop of rustling woodland and plump hills.
Yet Lord Clive didn't want his servants getting too distracted by the panorama. In the west wing, which housed many of the domestic rooms, these graceful10 feet- tall windows lit only a corridor. The rooms leading off looked out onto the tradesman's entrance at the rear of the house.
By the 1970s the west wing had become a comfortable holiday apartment, but the corridor still remained. Then six years ago it was the turn of Walcot's current owners, Robin and Lucinda Parish, to be inspired by the scenery and make some long overdue alterations.
"It was such a shame that the corridor looked out onto the view. You couldn't see it from the rooms at all," Lucinda explains.
A refurbishment of the apartment, one of nine luxury holiday homes on the estate which boasts 30 acres of gardens and one of Britain's finest arboretums, was just the excuse they needed.
"We wanted the guests to be able to sit down, relax and enjoy the view of the lake and we also wanted to enlarge some of the rooms," says Lucinda.
A partition wall between a small bedroom and a galley kitchen was stripped away and part of the wall to the corridor was removed to create an open sitting room with views directly across to the lake.
The three-bedroom apartment was now also in need of a new much larger kitchen so a defunct electricity room, housing an old generator, was easily knocked through into a storeroom at the end of the wing Re-creating a room that had probably previously existed, they formed a perfect light and airy kitchen that also came with an original quarry tile floor.
Robin and Lucinda are sticklers for detail and, wherever possible, they use local suppliers and craftspeople. In fact the country-style kitchen cupboards were handmade by estate workers using Walcot's own oak. Even the beautifully hand painted ceramic mugs, nestling in one of the antique kitchen dressers, were made by potter Rachel Barker who lives on the estate.
Guests are made to feel instantly welcome by pots of homemade Walcot jam, eggs from Walcot's chickens, milk, bread and butter from the local village shop and seasonal flowers picked from the garden.
A reconditioned Rayburn completes the homely charm of the kitchen which comfortably accommodates up to 10 guests for dinner. Weather permitting, the Georgian sash windows are easily thrown open to head height so guests can nip over the low sills to enjoy alfresco dining on the terrace just outside.
The apartment, called Berkeley, is one of the most popular of Walcot's holiday homes which have all been given a name associated with Lord Clive. Many guests return to stay year after year. Some have been coming back for 30 years.
Because of its romantic architecture and setting Walcot is also a sought-after wedding venue. An impressive chandeliered ballroom caters for up to 200 guests and a luxurious bridal suite is provided within the main house. One of the most recent brides first stayed at Walcot as a baby.
Berkeley's position and spaciousness make it a favourite among wedding guests.
"Usually the groom or the bride's family stay in Berkeley because it's an ideal gathering place. Often the night before the wedding they have a big dinner here," says Lucinda.
Today little can be glimpsed of the Elizabethan origins of Walcot Hall. Lord Clive, probably the wealthiest man in England during his time, bought the estate from the Walcot family in 1763 and immediately called on the leading architect of the day, Chambers, to radically transform the house into a fine Georgian mansion. This included changing the perspective of the house, unusually, from south-facing to north easterly solely to take account of the view of the hills and the man-made lake that Lord Clive had dug, reputedly, by prisoners of war.
On his death the estate, which then stretched for 80,000 acres, passed to his son Edward who was later made Earl of Powis. He made further alterations to the house, even having the ballroom built so he could display an enormous carpet that he'd been presented with while governor of Calcutta.
Edward also developed the arboretum. In 1842 he planted a Douglas fir which has since grown to be one of the largest specimens in Britain.
Alternating between Walcot and their other residence, Powis Castle, the Powis family decided to put the hall up for sale or demolition in 1929. It was snapped up by a wealthy Birmingham industrialist. Walcot was sold to Robin's father, Major Michael Woodbine Parish, in 1956.
The installation of central heating has certainly made Berkeley and the other holiday homes modern comfortable places to stay, however, Robin and Lucinda have been at pains to retain enough of the old charm to enable guests to imagine what it once would have been like to live in an old stately home.
Original paintings, many by artist friends of Robin, line the walls of Berkeley. He has an eye for art; he has an eye for antiques. He would quite happily admit that he also cannot resist an antique bargain. And one of these is the formidable marble fireplace that dominates the sitting room.
Robin was walking near his London office one day when he spotted a period house that was being modernised and stripped of its old fixtures and fittings. "What else have you got?" he asked workmen carting old furniture and sinks through the front door. He was shown the fireplace.
Despite a huge amount of care to remove the thing without damage, the marble eventually split along a previous breakage point. Fortunately Robin knew just the person to seamlessly repair the cracks, a craftsman specialising in the rare art of scagiola (the making of imitation stone from plaster of Paris, glue and pigment). He just happened to be renting a workshop at Walcot Hall.
For further information on weddings and holiday homes at Walcot Hall ring 01588 680570 or visit walcothall.com.

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