Built for the Hanbury family in the 1730s by virtuoso architect, James Gibbs and builder, Francis Smith of Warwick, Kelmarsh Hall was praised by historian Nikolaus Pevsner as, “a perfect, extremely reticent design, done in an impeccable taste.”
One other arbiter of fashion to leave her mark on the Hall was society decorator Nancy Lancaster. Drawn by the house’s fine bone structure, her taste for combining comfort with formality set the trend for the Twentieth Century’s Country House look. Her spirit still pervades the house today in the delicate terracotta colouring of the Great Hall, the exuberant Chinese wallpaper and seasonal flower arrangements.
The Osbornes - it was the Osbornes who first enclosed the land, uniting it into one estate. They are also thought to have built the village church St Dionysus/St Denys.
The Hanburys - William Hanbury, a noted antiquarian, completed the current Hall in the early 1730s. His fortunes were bolstered by an advantageous marriage to a niece of Viscount Bateman. His grandson, William Hanbury III, succeeded to the baronetcy.
The Naylors - Richard Christopher Naylor, a Liverpool banker, cotton trader and horse racing enthusiast purchased the estate in 1864, probably for its fox-hunting potential.
The Lancasters - thanks to a fortune founded in iron and coal, George Granville Lancaster bought the Estate at the start of the 20th Century. His wife was from the Hugenot family Champion de Crespigny. Their son Claude Granville Lancaster, (Jubie) was a Colonel in the Sherwood Foresters and an MP for Fylde and South Fylde. His sister, Cicely Valencia Lancaster inherited on his death in 1977. At her demise in 1996 The Kelmarsh Trust took over the estate’s custodianship.
The Trees - the Anglo American Ronald Tree and his wife Nancy rented the Hall from 1928-1933. Tree used his position as Master of the Pytchley Hunt as a launch pad into British politics becoming MP for Market Harborough. On their divorce in 1948, Nancy Tree returned to Kelmarsh Hall as the wife of the owner Colonel Lancaster, but the marriage was short-lived. She is best remembered as a society decorator and partner in the decorating firm of Colefax and Fowler
The Ground Floor
The Great Hall is the centrepiece of the house and is the first room to be entered through the front door. With its Italian pink walls and fine 18th century ceiling plasterwork this room has welcomed many guests during its history. Beyond the Great Hall is the Saloon resplendent with chandeliers, polished oak floorboards and far reaching vistas. Left of the Great Hall is the Chinese Room with 300 year old hand-painted wallpaper. To the right is the formal Dining Room displaying many female portraits. Left of the Saloon is the Library complete with secret door opening into the Hall from which the ornate cantilever staircase ascends. Right of the Saloon is Nancy Lancaster’s Yellow Drawing Room. The final room to be seen is the Ballroom, a Victorian extension, with views over the West Terrace and the lake beyond.
Paintings at Kelmarsh Hall (BBC website).
Guidebooks are available to buy from the visitor centre.
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