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Ashton Wold House and Associated Terrace Walls and Steps to South and East

A Grade II Listed Building in Polebrook, Northamptonshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.4786 / 52°28'43"N

Longitude: -0.4098 / 0°24'35"W

OS Eastings: 508095

OS Northings: 287933

OS Grid: TL080879

Mapcode National: GBR FXZ.R5H

Mapcode Global: VHFNJ.VY6R

Plus Code: 9C4XFHHR+F3

Entry Name: Ashton Wold House and Associated Terrace Walls and Steps to South and East

Listing Date: 17 December 2009

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1393624

English Heritage Legacy ID: 504102

Location: Polebrook, North Northamptonshire, Northamptonshire, PE8

County: Northamptonshire

Civil Parish: Polebrook

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northamptonshire

Church of England Parish: Oundlew Ashton

Church of England Diocese: Peterborough

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Description

ASHTON

1743/0/10053 ASHTON WOLD HOUSE AND ASSOCIATED TERRA
17-DEC-09 CE WALLS AND STEPS TO SOUTH AND EAST

GV II
Country house; 1900, designed by William Huckvale for Lord Rothschild and his son Nathaniel Charles Rothschild; 1971 alterations by Claude Phillimore, commissioned by Dame Miriam Rothschild.

MATERIALS: Ashton Wold House is built of coursed rock-faced limestone, occasionally snecked, with ashlar limestone dressings. Its roof is covered in Collyweston limestone slates, laid to diminishing courses. The balustrades that flank the steps of the upper and lower terrace are of similar construction to the house, and are capped with limestone slabs, while the lower terrace walls are built of random limestone rubble.

PLAN: The house is U-shaped in plan, with the south front range and the east and west wings forming a main courtyard, with a smaller service courtyard projecting west from the west wing. Entrance into the courtyard is between two piers attached to low walls, the piers surmounted by lanterns held in cast iron brackets. Within the courtyard is a full height canted bay to the centre of the east wing, its window lighting a staircase; the corresponding bay to the west has been reduced to single storey height, with steeply sloped lean-to roof. A two-storey porch to the centre of the south range contains the entrance and hall. The main south facing elevation, overlooking the terraces, also has a two storey porch flanked by projecting bays, with a further bay to the east, and at the west end a single-storey crenellated section. The east elevation, which overlooks the terrace and walled gardens, has three slightly projecting bays, the central and northern bay separated by a loggia.

EXTERIOR: The house is built in a neo-Jacobean style. Its appearance is dominated by the strong gables to every bay, below which are projecting ground floor bay windows surmounted by parapets. There are several tall ashlar chimneys with projecting cornices. The central south facing porch has ball finials on the apex of the gable and on the kneelers to either side, and there is a decorated cartouche just below the gable with the date 1900. The porch has a double door with Tudor arch and carved spandrels, flanked by Tuscan order pilasters. Above the door is a three part cartouche decorated with strapwork. Similar detail can be seen decorating the parapets above the window and loggia between the bays in the east elevation, and above the door from the courtyard to the hall. The courtyard porch is now the main entrance to the house and is similar in most respects to that in the south elevation, except for the addition of pinnacles above the pilasters, which frame either side of the first floor window, and of the letters NCR embossed on a shield at the centre of the cartouche over the door (the elaborately decorated hoppers of the lead rainwater goods also carry the initial NCR and the date 1900). This entrance is also flanked by lanterns hanging from elaborate cast iron maces. The first floor window has a label mould over, as do other mullioned first floor gable end windows, while the ground floor bay windows are mullioned and transomed with drip moulds below the parapet. The small hipped-roof dormers set in the roof have leaded lights. The service courtyard is plainer with mullioned windows without drip moulds and an unadorned entrance. However, the courtyard entrance is flanked by piers surmounted by large globular blown glass lanterns carried on wrought iron stands.

INTERIOR: The ground floor of the south range and east wing contains those rooms that were used by Charles Rothschild and his wife Rozsika, and later by Miriam Rothschild. In the south range these originally consisted of, from the west, a dining room, hall (now a living room and library), drawing room, and at the corner, Charles Rothschild's room. North of that was the library and strong room, billiard room, Rozsika Rothschild's room and to the north of that the ballroom. The use of most of these rooms have changed - for example the billiard room and ballroom no longer serve their original purpose - but they remain otherwise unaltered, retaining panelling, Tudor fireplaces and decorated ceilings. Charles Rothschild's strong room also remains. The ballroom is panelled, with carved decoration on the chimney breast, a stone fireplace with Tudor arch, and delicately decorated plasterwork ceiling. It has a bay with full height glazing and French windows opening onto the terrace. Roszika Rothschild's room has a coffered ceiling and stone fireplace with carved decoration in the spandrels of the Tudor arch. The vestibule door, opening onto the east terrace also has a Tudor arch, and is half glazed with twelve small panes, the inner six of which open. The stone fireplace of the billiard room also has carved decoration, and is within a wooden mantelpiece with columns half reeded and with carved capitals. The entrance hall, now library, is lined in limed wood with fielded panels. The dining room is similarly panelled, with a deep moulded limed wood cornice, while in the corridor outside the drawing room is a wide limed wood panelled arch supported on twin reeded pilasters; the drawing room is lined with painted panelling. The entrance hall, drawing room, outer hall and dining room have similar fireplaces to those seen elsewhere. These rooms are all connected by a corridor where there are doors at intervals with moulded architraves. Concrete steps lead down to the basement of the east wing which is lined with white glazed bricks. On the first floor the room over the hall retains its stone Tudor arched fireplace, but the rooms are otherwise plain.

SUBSIDIARY ITEMS: To the south and east of the house are terraces, three to the south and two to the east, the first banked, the second retained by a wall. The final terrace to the south is retained by the boundary wall. The steps to the south are in line with the entrance to the house. The first set of steps have parallel balustrades, which open out to curve around the steps as they fan out on the second terrace. The steps between the second and third terrace fall in three flights between parallel balusters, the random rubble wall standing to a height of about 1.5m. To the east the steps lead down from in front of the loggia, the first terrace with parallel balusters, the lower terrace with two flights, the second fanning out beyond the wall into a semi-circle. The random rubble wall here is skilfully constructed with polygonal stones. This construction allows for small niches for plants.

HISTORY: The Ashton Estate, stretching from the River Nene near Oundle in the west to Ashton Wold in the east, has been occupied since Roman times. In the C18 it was a well-known sporting estate, with avenues of chestnut trees planted in a cross as rides, and a number of fox coverts. In the early C19 the estate was owned by William Walcot and was largely farmed by tenants, with Ashton Wold continuing as a sporting ground. However, there is no evidence that it had ever contained a manor house, and when in 1860 it was purchased by Lionel Rothschild the sale particulars described it as 'a very valuable and important landed estate', with sporting advantages, but no house adapted for the occupation of a gentleman. Both Lionel Rothschild and his son Nathaniel Mayer, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915), showed little interest in the estate, and the only structural work undertaken in the C19 was the building of a hunting lodge at Ashton Wold. However, when Lord Rothschild's second son, Nathaniel Charles (1877-1923) - known as Charles - discovered Ashton by accident whilst on a butterfly-collecting expedition with the vicar of Polebrook, he was so impressed by the rich fauna and flora of Ashton Wold that he persuaded his father to build him a house on the site of the hunting lodge. In 1900 Lord Rothschild commissioned William Huckvale to design not only a house, but a model farm, an entire complement of estate buildings which included the Steward's house, stables, gardeners' accommodation, a building to house a fire engine, a petrol store, kennels (now derelict) and a dog hospital. Most of the cottages at nearby Ashton were rebuilt to create a model village. The Rothschilds also became the first landowners in the country to provide their tenants with the luxury of both running filtered water and electricity, the latter generated by turbines housed in an old mill below the village on the River Nene, from where water was pumped to a water tower and so to the estate buildings. Each cottage had a bath house and was placed in a large garden planted with a lilac, a laburnum and fruit trees.

High quality design and workmanship were consistent themes throughout the estate, where traditional vernacular building traditions - Collyweston stone slate and thatch roof coverings, steeply pitched roofs, tall chimneys, limestone masonry walling and dressings and mullioned windows were all faithfully referenced. Simple working buildings - cart hovels, wash houses and potting sheds - were consciously afforded the same care as were the dwellings, farmsteads and garden structures.

Little is known about William Huckvale (1847-1936) who worked mainly for the Rothschilds and therefore had no need to publicise his work in the architectural journals, and was not a member of the RIBA. After setting up his own practice in London he came into contact with Alexander Parks, agent to Lord Rothschild. He designed a number of buildings for the Rothschilds on the Tring Park estate, undertook considerable work at the Rothschild bank in New Court in the City of London, and was the architect for the Royal Mint Refinery. He also carried out work on the Rothschild estate at Aston Clinton. The quality of his work is reflected in the 42 listed buildings he already has to his name, 13 in Tring and 29 on the Ashton Estate.

Charles Rothschild not only worked full time for the family banking firm, but was also a renowned naturalist, becoming the leading expert on fleas in the country. He published around 150 scientific papers and was also interested in other fields, including the cultivation of rare orchids, irises and water lilies. The gardens at Ashton Wold are contemporary with the house, and the terraces, with their walls and steps, are shown on the 1901 estate map. The walled rock garden with dovecot had also been constructed by then, but the other formal gardens, the lily pond and rose garden, seem to have been a slightly later addition; they appear on the 1926 OS map, and a photo dated c1906. Charles Rothschild was also a pioneer conservationist, arguing that the whole natural habitat needed to be protected, not just rare species. He bought part of Wicken Fen in 1899, donating it to the National Trust two years later, and formed the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves in 1912 (now the Royal Society for Nature Conservation). Although the terraces and walled gardens around Ashton Wold House took a conventional Edwardian form, he took care to ensure that the planting attracted butterflies and other wild life, while new habitats were formed in the wider designed landscape, much of which remained as woodland.

Following his death in 1923 and that of his wife Rozsika in 1940, their daughter Miriam (1908-2005) inherited the estate. The house was commandeered for use as a hospital during the Second World War and the gardens and estate suffered much damage and neglect, while dispersed accommodation blocks were built in Ashton Wold woods for the RAF and the American Eighth Air Force billeted at nearby Polebrook Airfield. On Miriam's return to live permanently at Ashton Wold in 1971 she commissioned Claude Phillimore to reduce the size of the house by lowering the roof to create first floor attics (previous plans commissioned from Phillimore in 1948 and 1967, had envisaged, respectively, the conversion of the east wing into a self contained dwelling, and the creation of six separate dwellings). Phillimore made a specialty of the modification of large houses, which was viewed in a period of post-war austerity as an alternative to complete demolition. His other work of this kind includes Brocklesby Hall in Lincolnshire, listed at Grade I. He also restored buildings, for example the early C18 Hill House in Gloucestershire, listed at Grade II.

The work at Ashton Wold was undertaken using original materials and detail, for example the plaque over the entrance and the pierced parapets over the bay windows; the pitch of the roof was also retained. The main changes to the ground floor plan and interiors were the conversion of the hall into a living room, with the staircase moved to the former outer hall which then became the main entrance from the courtyard. The west wing remained the service wing with staff accommodation, although the arrangement of rooms was altered.

Like her father, Miriam Rothschild was deeply involved in conservation, and her approach to gardening developed into a preference for wildness over formality. She transformed the Edwardian garden at Ashton Wold by planting trees on the terraces and sowing wildflower meadows on the lawns, while the house was concealed under a cover of climbing plants (removed since her death). Her advocacy of wildflowers became highly influential in the gardening world. Her father had taught her to be a naturalist, and she continued his work with fleas to become an international expert in her own right. She was a fellow of the Royal Society, was awarded eight honorary degrees and was appointed DBE for her services to the study of natural history.

SOURCES: Enclosure map of Lordship of Oundle with Ashton (1810), Northamptonshire Record Office 2858.
Map of estates belonging to William Walcot (1811), Northamptonshire Record Office 3703.
Map of Ashton Estate by Messrs Hayward, Surveyors (1853), Northamptonshire Record Office 1728a.
Catalogue of sale of Ashton Estate (1858), Northamptonshire Record Office ZB 706/24.
Map accompanying Conveyance of Ashton Estate to Lionel Rothschild (1860), Northamptonshire Record Office 5173.
Map of Ashton Wold (c1901), in Ashton Wold House.
Ordnance Survey maps 1886, 1900, 1926.
Rothschild, Miriam, The Rothschild Gardens (1996), 82-107 & 169.
'The Hon. Nathaniel Rothschild', obituary in The Times, 15 October 1923.
'Dame Miriam Rothschild', obituary in The Guardian, 22 January 2005.
John Minnis, 'Ashton Wold Defined Area Survey' Internal English Heritage Report. August 2009.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: Ashton Wold House and associated terrace walls and steps are designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architecture: The house is of special architectural interest as an Edwardian country house reduced in size and recreated for mid-C20 use, and for the quality of design, architectural detail, craftsmanship and materials. Its ground floor interiors are intact, and contain good quality examples of Edwardian decorative taste.
* History: They have special historic interest as the central element of an estate built and developed by members of the internationally important Rothschild family. In particular, the house in its setting reflects the conservation principles of two renowned naturalists, Charles Rothschild and Miriam Rothschild.
* Group Value: They form the central point of an important and unusually intact and coherent Edwardian model estate, and have group value both with immediate neighbours and with the estate as a whole.

Reasons for Listing

Ashton Wold House and associated terrace walls and steps are designated at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* Architecture: The building is of special architectural interest as an Edwardian country house reduced in size and recreated for mid-C20 use, and for the quality of design, architectural detail, craftsmanship and materials. Its ground floor interiors are intact, and contain good quality examples of Edwardian decorative taste.
* History: They have special historic interest as the central element of an estate built and developed by members of the internationally important Rothschild family. In particular, the house in its setting reflects the conservation principles of two renowned naturalists, Charles Rothschild and Miriam Rothschild.
* Group Value: They form the central point of an important and unusually intact and coherent Edwardian model estate, and have group value both with immediate neighbours and with the estate as a whole.

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