Today we visited another stately home and garden. This is Hanbury Hall, home of the Vernon family from the early 1700s until the 1960s.
Thomas Vernon was a successful London lawyer, and to show off his wealth he built this fine place in the country. The true aristocrats looked down on the nouveau riche, though, and Vernon and his ilk were referred to as “Red brick gentry”. Hanbury did not have the oak panelling of older homes. The wood panelling in the great hall is pine, painted to look like a hardwood.
To class the place up, the Vernons commissioned a set of paintings around the staircase featuring great moments from the life of Achilles. Here is Achilles attempting to dodge the draft.
Odysseus and the gang were off to fight the Trojan War, but Achilles put on a frock and tried to pretend he was a girl. Cunning Odysseus took along a trunkful of gifts for the daughters of King Lycomedes, and in among all the girlie stuff he threw in a warrior’s spear. Not so cunning Achilles chose the phallic symbol rather than the puppy dog, and was dragged off to war. What a prat!
The most spectacular part of the garden is the parterre.
This is only about half of it. There is a huge expense of perfectly manicured plants. The boxwood hedges and topiary cones are all cut by hand with shears.
Not a friggin’ weed anywhere to be seen. The whole thing was designed by the most fashionable garden designers of the early eighteenth century. It was all swept away in the late eighteenth century when the Capability Brown style of landscape gardening was popular, and then lovingly reconstructed from the original plans by the National Trust in the late twentieth century. The plants used are all ones that would have been available to gardeners two hundred years ago.
The last of the Vernons, Sir George Vernon, Bart, also had a thing for country girls. (Oh the Bart bit was not his name, that means he was a baronet, so the “Sir” was inherited. Generally baronetcies were sold by the government, selling titles being an easier way of extracting money from the rich and vain than income taxes.) When he inherited the house, Sir George fired all the male staff apart from the guy who stoked the boilers. He only wanted female servants. He was separated from wife who lived elsewhere, and took up with the teenage daughter of one of his farm workers. He passed her off first as his secretary, and then as his daughter. They travelled widely together and when he died, he left the estate to her. The National Trust guides gloss over the possibility that there may have been a sexual relationship, as she still has relatives living in the area who visit the house from time to time. They do mention the fact that Sir George committed suicide when suffering throat cancer, but they don’t mention that he was a close friend of the British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, who visited Hanbury several times. Mosley and many other British fascists were arrested as security risks during WWII, and it’s possible that Sir George offed himself when he though he might be the next one to be arrested. His wife reclaimed the house, though, and lived there until 1962.