Turvey House (Bedfordshire): the 1790s in the 1840s

The wildcard visit: Hudson’s and the Historic Houses Association both give a 2 line description of this house, described as neoclassical with 18th and 19th century contents.  It is a 30 minute drive from Woburn Abbey, and with the alternative option being an afternoon at Ascott and Kelmscott Manor, given the rain which was beating down we went for the ‘wildcard’ and took a punt.

What we got was a lovely village, offering cream teas in the church (where some of the Mordaunt family are buried, closely associated with the reigns of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor), a 1790s pile that was reconfigured and altered rather late in the day in the 1840s to create a little-known neoclassical gem in a round about way, and a whole load of very good Chinese pots.

Reason to visit:  see a staircase from the Great Exhibition of 1851, which solved the dilemma of how to get up to the top floor without extending the cantilevered staircase.  The Chinese contents are also worth a peek.  I liked that the library is arranged by continent, with a pull-down map rolled up on the front of each, including a map of Turvey.

We visited the day after the Hadburys’ (the current owners, descended via the female line from the original Higgins family responsible for the current construction) eldest daughter (of two) had been married in the church that sits at the gates.

We drove up, around the turning circle at what seems like the back of the house (the original 1790s front is around the other side overlooking the river Ouse but a later Higgins who decided to redesign the house in the 1840s made the front door into a window and pierced a hole in the back and then promptly built some outbuildings, making the entrance a little bit too ‘Stratfield Saye’ “are we at the back or the front confusion?”).

The house itself has a detailed front overlooking a field of sheep.  The frontage looks symmetrical but the windows inside, made out of earlier rooms, lack the symmetry that I need to please my eye.  The current owner inherited eight years ago and the house looks very much like his mother moved in circa 1935, recarpeted the place then, added a fashionable 1940s kitchen and nothing has been done since.  In short, a little tired and needing a massive injection of cash.

The house is grade 1 listed, has a pretty double cupola in the hall, incorporates some Soane influences because Mrs Higgins who was involved in the 1840s redesign was brought up in a Soane house, has some interesting classical landscape paintings collected on the Grand Tour, incorporates some good Chinese pottery from the family’s trade with China (at one point they owned part of Shanghai), and shows a family once very grand (the family’s Botanical gardens in Italy were handed over to the Government because they couldn’t meet the financial demands of the upkeep).

So as to the official blurb:

“Turvey is full of different architecture and as you drive through the main street along the A428 you can not help but notice the handsome stonework throughout the village. Approaching Turvey from Northampton, Turvey House can be seen on the left of the bridge.

The house itself was built in 1794 and has seven bays. The central bay is flanked by two giant fluted pilasters, the outer bays are supported by Corinthian columns and these support a frieze of cherubs and rich foliage. Five low windows can be seen in the roof as the attic floor and inside the house is a cast iron spiral staircase which comes from the Crystal Palace.

John Higgins, the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1797, was the owner of Turvey House and it was built for him. His son, Mr T.C.Higgins, inherited the house in 1813 and added the top storey whilst making further additions. He contributed to the village, restoring nearby Nell’s Well in 1873 and shaping the entire village through his concern for his tenants. He was Lord of the Manor of Turvey.

Built in Italian style the house stands on an estate of 150 acres. It is now in the hands of Mr and Mrs Daniel Hanbury who open the house to the public on designated days and also host some of the Baroque music evenings.”

As the house is open due to IHT exemptions following the death of the last owner and Mr Hanbury are presumably still within the 10 year period for making 10 yearly instalments of IHT, I would like to go back in another 20 years and see if they’ve replaced the carpets and the kitchens.

Perhaps lesser-known houses such as these really need the owner to show them, such as at Island Hall and Brockfield Hall (more about them both in later posts), but given that there were hints that the current owner (whose wife, the newspapers reveal, was tragically killed in January 2012 in a road accident) lives ‘up at the farm’ rather than in the house, perhaps this house is no longer a family home and is waiting for the next generation to move in and spruce it up.

When visited: May 2012

Website: (none) but see  http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-431167-turvey-house-turvey

House * out of 5: **

Garden * out of 5: **

Theme tune: Price Tag (overwise I don’t think we’d have been there)

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