Reason to visit: to see what are supposed to be the first Italianate gardens in England.
While I was taken by surprise at Ickworth to learn that Lady Elizabeth Foster, the Duke of Devonshire’s mistress (and later wife) and friend of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, as portrayed in the film The Duchess, came from Ickworth and that the last two owners were criminals, it didn’t really matter to me what the interiors of this property looked like.
The exterior is so unusual, two houses with curved walkways leading to a central tower reminiscent of The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford that formed essentially an art gallery and entertaining space. In one house the family lived (it is now a hotel) and in the other there were kitchens but it is largely a folly of a shell to create balance and symmetry (the National Trust finally completed the shell house above the kitchens in 2006 and run a café, restaurant, shop and conferencing centre from it).
Such was the grand ambition of the builder, Bishop Frederick Augustus Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol (1730-1803) in a time long ago when long life was unlikely/unexpected, that the reality never quite came to fruition, in part stifled by the loss (theft) of the antiquities collected to fill the ‘art gallery’. The bishop earl’s large collection that he had been amassing in Italy and intended to bring back to Ickworth was for the large part stolen by the French. There are however still the type of contents by the type of artists and makers one would expect to see in a house of this age and pedigree.
We didn’t visit the kitchens (due to general Victorian kitchen fatigue) but I’m told the NT have just refurbished them and they’re interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. See here for more information.
I preferred admiring the curved floorboards (like at Kedleston!)
Forgive me, the autofocus on my camera jammed while at Ickworth so some photos are a bit fuzzy.
That’s Lady Elizabeth to the left of the doorway.
The guides were at pains to point out that the family never lived in the rooms on show and that there were total constructions for entertainment.
The last two owners were into drugs and the last owner squandered his fortune. A guide told us that while he married a very beautiful woman, on his wedding night he deserted her to join his male lover. Apparently she thought things would change when they were married. Thankfully the National Trust got their hands on the house so we can all go and spend a couple of hours looking at the ambition of his ancestor.
When visited: June 2012
House * out of 5: ***
Garden * out of 5: ****
Theme tune: Walk on the Wild Side