Friday, 15 March 2013

Hamstead Marshall Palace

Today we’ve reached H in the A – Z of Ashdown and I’m writing about a house built for love of a queen: No, not Ashdown this time, but the grand mansion of Hamstead Marshall, near Newbury. It was at Hamstead that William Craven planned a “miniature Heidelberg” for Elizabeth of Bohemia, The Winter Queen. The intention was to model this mansion on the Palatine palace lost during the 30 Years War. As with many things to do with Craven and Elizabeth the term “miniature” was relative. This was a very grand house indeed. However, after the death of Elizabeth in 1662 its design did not mirror Heidelberg much at all.

Lady Craven, the widow of Sir William Craven, bought the estate of Hamstead from Francis Jhones in 1620 as part of her policy of turning the vast Craven fortune into land ownership. As at Ashdown, building work started some time in 1661 as soon as Lord Craven had returned from exile in Europe. The grand house at Hamstead Marshall was designed by Sir Balthazar Gerbier with the assistance of William Winde. When Gerbier died in the early 1660s Winde took over the design and build. Papers in the Bodleian Library in Oxford give a detailed description of work on the house, which continued for the rest of the 17th century. They include 40 drawings that show designs for gateposts, porticoes and stabling and a floor plan with 30 rooms including a “withdrawing room to repair the records” a “room to repose after bathing” and a distillery, spicery, confectioner’s room and “Lardery.”

As with Kyp’s view of Ashdown, his engraving of Hamstead Marshall is stylised but there is no reason to suppose it is inaccurate in detail. Aerial photographs have shown the outlines of the parterre gardens, and the remaining gateposts show very fine details.

In 1718, 21 years after the death of the first Earl of Craven, Hamstead Marshall burned to the ground when a brazier was left untended on the roof. Very little is left of this magnificent mansion that was originally intended as a palace for a queen.

In her book Craven Country Penelope Stokes writes extensively about the fascinating history of Hamstead Marshall. You can find more information here.