Built in 1732, successive owners and influences have left their imprint on this elegant Palladian style manor. Kelmarsh evokes the warmth of a family home, with the stories of past owners and residents for visitors to discover today.
An old Jacobean manor once stood overlooking of the lost village of Kelmarsh – in 1618, this is what the Hanbury family purchased when they paid £11,600 for the ‘Mannor of Kellmarsh’, along with 1000 acre of pasture around the house. John Hanbury, who bought the land, was a successful wool merchant who went on to become Sherriff of Northampton in 1637.
Eight generations of the Hanbury family lived on Kelmarsh land until the 1860s, in both the old, demolished Tudor halls and the current palladian manor, completed in 1732, which replaced them.
William Hanbury, a noted antiquarian and great grandson of John Hanbury commissioned a fashionable new hall, designed by virtuoso architect James Gibbs. Gibbs trained in Italy, looking at and learning from the buildings built in the classical period, through to the popular baroque style.
Completed in the early 1730s Kelmarsh hall is a remarkable example of a private home designed by Gibbs, who is best for his public building such as the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford and St Martins-in-the-Field, London.
Richard Christopher Naylor, a Liverpool banker, cotton trader and horse racing enthusiast purchased the estate in 1864, probably due to the old connections the estate had to horse racing and hunting. Although Naylor was once described as the ‘wealthiest commoner in England’, he and his two daughters were avid riders and socialised amongst the local gentry at parties for the hunt.
Naylor made many improvements to the servants’ quarters whilst the hall was in his care. He built a new servants’ hall, developed the modern village, the laundry block and had new kitchens built; whilst he owned the estate it prospered, despite the agricultural depression of the late 19th century.
Thanks to a fortune founded in iron and coal, George Granville Lancaster bought the estate at the start of the 20th Century. His wife, Cecily, was from the Hugenot family Champion de Crespigny and inherited the collection of family portraits seen throughout the hall.
Their son Claude Granville grew up to be a Colonel in the Sherwood Foresters and an MP for Fylde and South Fylde and his sister, Cecily Valencia, joined the Women’s Royal Army Corpe and rose to the rank of Commandant Captain.
The Anglo-Americans Ronald Tree and his wife Nancy rented the Hall from 1928 to 1933 from Claude, who inherited the hall a few years earlier. The couple paid nothing to rent the hall, but invested in the repair and improvement of the building as part of their lease.
Ronnie used his position as Master of the Pytchley Hunt as a launch pad into British politics becoming MP for Market Harborough, and Nancy, a society decorator, turned the dark, Victorian interiors of the hall into the ‘most inviting Hunting Box in England’. She would later become a partner in the firm Colefax and Fowler and a famed interior tastemaker.
Nancy returned to Kelmarsh in 1947, having divorced Ronnie a year earlier, as the wife of Claude Lancaster, but the marriage was short-lived and lasted less than a decade.
Above all other, this arbiter of fashion has left her mark on the hall’s interiors and the design of the gardens. Drawn by the house’s fine bone structure, her taste for combining comfort with formality set the trend for the Twentieth Century’s English 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, and her techniques would be emulated in country homes across England, and across the sea in America.
After Nancy left Kelmarsh in the mid-1950s, Claude continued to manage the estate alongside his military, mining and political careers. He started plans to form a trust to preserve the estate in the early 1970s. His sister, Cicely Valencia Lancaster inherited the hall, the estate and the plans for the Trust when Claude passed away in 1977.
Valencia was in her 70s when she inherited the hall and estate to manage. She created an apartment in the North pavilion and formed the trust to care for the hall, gardens and wider landscape. After her death in 1996, the Trust took over the care of the estate and continues to manage it to this day.