This 1929 Article predates the complete gutting by fire of Coleshill House in 1952. It was demolished soon afterward.
A Tablet set up in Coleshill House in 1748 declares that it was "built for Sir Geo. Pratt Bt in 1650 by Inigo Jones." And, moreover, we read in the fifth volume of the Vitruvius Britannicus, published in 1771, "It is perhaps the most perfect work now remaining of that great Architect, Inigo Jones, having undergone no alteration since the year 1650 when it was completed." The Vitruvius Britannicus adopted the information of the tablet, and the author of the tablet was Sir George Pratt's great grandson, Sir Mark Pleydell, a collector of family memorials and the owner of Coleshill for forty years, during which the leaders of the English Architectural School - Campbell and Gibbs, Kent and Ware among professionals, and the Earls of Burlington and Leicester among wealthy amateurs - founded their faith upon Inigo Jones. The two Earls were consulted by Sir Mark on the matter of reparations, and Burlington was so enamoured of the ceilings that he "had for his own study, very correct drawings taken by Mr. Isaac Ware."
Here we seem to get right away from the casual and unsupported phrase "attributed to Inigo Jones," which we find loosely applied to an endless number of English country houses, and we are surely on the solid foundation of reliable evidence. As such it was adopted by Messrs. Belcher and Macartney in their "Later Renaissance Architecture in England," and by Messrs. Triggs and Tanner in their "Inigo Jones"; while Mr. Gotch told us ten years ago in "The English Home from Charles I to George IV," that Coleshill is "attributed to Inigo Jones on fairly good evidence," and adds: "In any case it must have been either Jones or Webb who designed Coleshill, for there was nobody else who had at that time received the training necessary to produce it." But after the body of the book had passed through the press material became known to Mr. Gotch which quite cut away the grounds of this pronouncement, although the only modification he makes in an appendix is to admit that "there is no doubt that Roger Pratt had something to do with Coleshill." As a matter of fact, the "something" was very considerable, for Pratt had more "to do with Coleshill" than Jones.
If we now run through all available evidence, there will arise the conviction that Inigo Jones certainly had an advisory position, but that Sir Roger Pratt was the acting and active architect. Let us first see who were the two Pratts - Sir George and Sir Roger - and what was their respective connection with Coleshill, or Cowsell, as they were wont to spell it.
To a Norfolk man, but a Cirencester clothier, named Pratt was born, in 1573, a son, whom he christened Henry and in due course apprenticed in the Company of Merchant Taylors. He grew to be a wealthy citizen and Alderman of London, and, like many another successful City merchant, sought to invest his gains in real estate near his place of origin. Coleshill lies some fifteen miles south-west of Cirencester, and he became its owner in 1626. Two years later he was Warden of his Company, and in 1641, on his resigning his aldermanship, he was made a baronet. Sir Mark Pleydell, whom we have already seen owning Coleshill from 1728 to 1768, was his great-great-grandson, and, as a youngster, heard from Mary Stewart, an aged relative, that: "Sir H. Pratt Alderm. was a lusty Man, as she has heard. He lived in ye City; but several years before his death he quitted his business & resided partly at Coleshill & partly at his house at Charing Cross. The Marble Statues at ye Monument in ye Chancell resembled him & his wife exactly. That monument was erected by him in his lifetime." The old manor house in which he ended his days in 1647 was near the church, and here his son George established himself. He was born in 1605 and from Oxford passed to Gray's Inn, but we hear nothing of either a professional or a business career. Indeed, his way of life as a young man appears to have caused Sir Henry some concern, for Mary Stewart reports that: "He had lost considerable sums in Gaming, as had his brother Richard wch had made ye Alderman threaten them to sell ye Estate and build Almshouses." Although this crisis was not reached, his present circumstances and his uncertain prospects kept him a bachelor as long as his father lived; but so soon as Coleshill was his he married a young girl, one of the sixteen children of another Berkshire baronet, Sir Humphrey Forster of Aldermaston. Mary Stewart informs Sir Mark that Sir George was "a thin man of middle stature : he was elderly whn his father died. Ye House was burned down soon after his marriage ; he was 30 yrs older than mylady. When she remembers him he wore his own grey hair : he lett his farms himself and was reputed a sharp Ma. He acted on ye Comn of ye peace and used to attend ye Sessions. He usd to walk every day thro' ye Mount to Shortcross Stile where he had a Seat & used to say there was ye best air in England. He passed ye Evenings in his study where he had many books & read much."
His wild oats had evidently all been sown early, for this is the picture of a sober minded, thrifty country gentleman doing his duty but seeing to his dues. It would seem that he was a man of moderate fortune, so that the burning down of the old home and the building of a new one, which soon took very ample proportions, was a considerable strain on his resources, although it was quite a dozen years in progress. Among other things, the Vitruvius Britannicus is wrong in stating that it was completed in 1650. That was about the time of its inception, and the man who carved the staircase did not finish his job and send in his bill till 1662.
Sir George began by choosing his site, either acting as his own architect or employing a quite unimportant person in that capacity. But after he had commenced operations it appears that his cousin Roger, recently returned from Italy, persuaded him to begin again on another place and plan. As Sir Mark Pleydell afterwards records, "Sir G. Pratt began a Seat in ye prest Cucumber Garden & raised it one Storey, when Pratt & Jones arriving caused it to be pulled down & rebuilt where it now stands. Pratt and Jones were frequently here & Jones was also consulted abt ye Ceilings." This Sir Mark knew through one John Buffin, "who often saw them both," he being "Joyner to ye family for 50 years," and dying an octogenarian in 1711. If we now trace the early history of Roger Pratt, we shall understand how he, accompanied by Inigo Jones, arrived at Coleshill and induced Sir George to scrap the building he had begun. Sir Henry Pratt had a brother, Gregory, also a citizen of London, whose son Roger was born in 1620. The lad matriculated at Magdalen, Oxford, in 1637, and three years later entered the Middle Temple. Then his father died, and, being possessed of fair means, he went abroad in 1643. In that same year John Evelyn obtained a licence to travel, and the two young men, both keenly interested in art and architecture, saw much of each other, for Pratt is called "cohabitant & contemporarie at Rome" by Evelyn, who was there from November, 1644, to the following May. Pratt's stay in Rome will have been longer, his foreign travels occupying about six years. He returned to England in 1649 as fully imbued with, and nearly as proficient in, Italian Classic and Renaissance Architecture as had been Inigo Jones on his return thirty-four years earlier. To him, therefore, Inigo Jones was the one and only English architect, and he declared that in England the only remarkable buildings were those for which Inigo Jones was directly responsible, such as the Whitehall Banqueting House, the St. Paul's portico and the Queen's House at Greenwich. Asked his by his cousin, Sir George, to come and see and give advice as to the new house rising out of the ground at Coleshill, we can well imagine his dissatisfaction at its too native and unclassic character and his desire to get the advice of Inigo Jones in support of his own. Jones was an old and broken man, his pupil and kinsman, Webb, undertaking such architectural work as the troublous Commonwealth times put in their way. But Buffin's evidence may be accepted to show that the aged architect was induced to visit Coleshill, entered his verdict in favour of a new beginning and gave more or less assistance with the plans, and even such details as the ceilings, although these cannot have been actually wrought until after his death in 1653. Thus, as the adviser, the inspirer, even, perhaps, in the initial stages, as the colleague of Pratt, Inigo Jones left his mark on Coleshill, but to attribute it solely to him, without mention of Pratt, is very incorrect. Jones's part therein is vague, Pratt's definite and resting on written evidence.
Later on Roger Pratt became a somewhat voluminous writer of notes on his architectural and other experiences and avocations, but they principally refer to the houses which he designed and carried out after the Restoration. There is not very much in them as to Coleshill, yet quite enough not only to prove his constant attention to it during the dozen years it was in hand, but also to show us what it was like when he finished it and before Sir Mark Pleydell made considerable alterations.
The plan (Fig. 9) and elevations (Figs, 1 and 3) show it to be an unbroken parallelogram 124ft. long by 62ft. wide and four storeys high. Of these, the lowest is part below ground level, and the highest within a hipped roof which rises to a lead flat surrounded by a balustrade and reached through a central cupola (Fig. 2). Much the same description will answer for Chevening as it was originally built, probably before 1630 and by Inigo Jones, whose pupil, Webb, used the same cupolaed "platform" at Thorpe and Ashdown. It continued in vogue and occurs at Belton, which was finished about 1686, and has been attributed to Wren, although without substantial evidence. In one of his notebooks Roger Pratt discusses the construction of this platform and gives his reasons for adopting it: "Ye avoiding all Gables, eaves and gutters between ye roofings. Ye uniting of ye whole in one entire body. Ye Pleasure of ye prospect, walks, &c." At Coleshill it certainly is a pleasant “walk” not only because of the prospect over the fair borderland of Berkshire and Wiltshire, the eye reaching over the whole valley of the White Horse, but also from the beautiful finish and form of cupola and chimney stacks.
The Coleshill elevations (Figs. 1 and 3) are dignified, but plain to severity. The stairways and pediments to the doorways and the consoled heads to the windows are the chief outstanding details of the admirable ashlar-built walls. But the far projecting eave is supported by a rich modillioned cornice, and there is much architectural effect and varied skyline given, not only by the cupola and balustrade, but still more by the eight tall, massive and symmetrically placed chimney stacks, enriched with panels and cornices. Beyond necessary repairs, Mark Pleydell made no exterior alteration except that caused by his substituting sash for mullioned window frames. Sashes were not introduced until the close of Charles II's reign and did not become usual till that of William III. Their coming had nothing to do with the adoption of single, wide openings for windows as opposed to the multiple ones, divided up into narrow sections by structural mullions, which our Early Renaissance had inherited from Gothic times. This form Inigo Jones cast aside when he designed the Whitehall Banqueting House. The frame to fit within the opening did not concern him architecturally. Neither he nor his pupil and followers introduce it in their sketches or elevation drawings, which show a mere void. But, glazing and a system of opening and shutting being necessary, they merely modified the older method. A light, flat, unmoulded wooden frame, with mullion and transom, was glazed with lead quarries, and casements, generally of flat iron, opened to let in air. Such the Banqueting Hall must have had and also all houses built in the new style during the following half century and more. But, in the case of most large houses, these were afterwards replaced with sashes, as at Coleshill. What the originals were at that place we know from Pratt's notes. He tells us that though the openings were 5ft. wide they "seemed somewhat narrow & whither because not sufficiently splayed on ye sides or because ye wooded frame & ye iron one tooke soe much from ye glasse. The glasse onely 2f. broad in each casement." This glass was divided up into panes 5ins. wide and 7ins. high, and a detailed description of the iron casements and of the precautions taken to make them watertight is given. Tyttenhanger, probably built by Webb while Coleshill was in progress, retains on the north side such window frames and glazing untouched. So also does the Wolvesey Palace at Winchester, built a quarter of a century later. Although symmetry was essential to both Jones and Pratt, the Coleshill window scheme shows some variety in its spacing. As the hall and great parlour, occupying the centre of the entrance and garden fronts were to take up more than a third of the length of the house, the doorways and flanking windows are further apart than the three windows at each end; and at the sides the planning accounts for a central trio of close-set windows and then considerable blanks (up which run chimney flues) before the end windows are reached. After the Restoration a slight break in the walling surmounted by a pediment would have been considered necessary to create a division of these sections. But Inigo Jones and those who, like Webb and Pratt, accepted him as master were chary of the use of the pediment in their elevations - much as they liked it for doorways - and the quite satisfying effect of grouped windows, as we get them at Coleshill, without emphasis by wall break and pediment, shows the extent to which restraint of ornament and feature may prevail in design in the hands of a master of proportion, and the entirely effective and satisfying use of whatever detail he does allow himself.
It is rather curious that this restraint, so marked in the house, was abandoned in the gate piers. Not only were they freely used, but there was resort to variety and elaboration. Piers and arched portals were favourites with the Elizabethans for their forecourts and walled gardens. Inigo Jones was equally favourable to their use, but, of course, altered their style and design in accordance with his more classic taste.
The arched entrance especially appealed to him, and niches were an integral part of it. They appear on each side of the pedimented arches at the Oxford Physic Gardens and at Kirby Hall, of which 1632 and 1638 are set down as the respective dates. But the use of niches in gate piers begins at Coleshill, where they occur in all four sets. The noblest of these are off the high road into the park, with the house seen lying below (Fig. 4). The frame of the panels is set with nail head rustication and the same bold egg and tongue that appears on the chimneys. Indeed, except for the nail heads, the chimneys and the piers on the roadside are of the same design. But on the park side (Fig. 5) there is much richer treatment. The panels have at their tops framed and recessed roundels holding classic busts, while, below, the shell-headed niche is arranged as a seat. The same shell-headed niche, with slight variants, appears in the two pairs of piers on the drive (Fig. 8) and also in the pair flanking the yard entrance (Fig. 7). These last are in a position where we should expect them. But in 1650 such features were usual only in direct architectural relation to the house and its immediate and formally laid out environment. The position of the two pairs on the drive is unexpected, and that of the park pair positively abnormal. Nor do the latter appear to have been designed for hanging gates any more than those at the yard entrance, and I suspect them to have been designed for and placed in some similar but more important position near the house and moved to the roadside by Sir Mark Pleydell, whose alterations were probably directed by William Kent, an early devotee of the "Landscape" school.
If outward severity were a principle with Jones and his first followers, the rule was relaxed when the interior was reached; and if the Coleshill rooms have not the elaboration of houses such as Wilton, Forde Abbey and Thorpe, where Jones and Webb had very wealthy clients, this is due, more probably, to the lack of means on the part of Sir George than to any lack of capacity and desire for decorative completeness on the part of Sir Roger. Thus only the plasterer - and he on ceilings only - was allowed free play. The joiner and wood carver were very much restricted to the hall.
With their Italian training and experience, Jones and Pratt were inclined to give greater expansion to the staircase than was consonant with the habit and feeling of Englishmen, to whom the hall was a living room, while the staircases, including the main one, were in smaller, narrower spaces off it. But at Chevening Jones put his main stair in the hall, satisfying himself with a single flight; while at Coleshill, having Pratt to back him up, it was decided to have a double flight, so that the big two-storeyed hall is largely taken up and wholly dominated by it. On each side of the great and dignified entrance portal spring the wide and easy treads, bounded by great newel posts and a broad rail supported by enriched balusters (Fig. 11). Reaching the side walls, each stairway turns at right angles and rises to first floor height at a point that leaves space for a hanging gallery running the length of the back wall. The balustrade scheme - posts, rail and balusters - is reproduced in half-section against the wall. The newel posts are panelled, and in the panel is a lion's mask with ring from which depends a fruit "drop." This scheme is elaborated along the string, where a series of ribboned swags springs from each side of a cartouche in the middle of the gallery and meets a draped female head at the corners. All the carving is excellent in quality. Inigo Jones' strict decorative purism would probably have held Grinling Gibbons' style a little too natural, too imbued with pride of technique. But in his time the difficulty was to find craftsmen deft enough, and the solidity of most English carving, until Gibbons' influence permeated the craft, must have worried him. But the Coleshill staircase (carved a decade before Griming Gibbons came to the fore), while, in design, it avoids such excessive realism as may mar decorative principle, shows admirable execution. That is especially true of the draped female masks (Fig. 13). Here is the perfection of decorative treatment, there is nothing coarse, wooden or inanimate about them; but they are not so movingly alive and realistic as to jar with the reposeful composition of which they are a part. The face is alive and full of expression, but the expression, sought and rendered, is impassiveness: the parted lips and half open eyes are very human, but they express a dreamy sadness that will go on changeless for ever. Who carved them we know not. They were evidently by a choicer hand than that which executed the rest of the carving, good and crisp as that is, for there is no mention of them in the surviving bill for this work, which begins: "May, 1662. The Bill of Carvers work done for the Right worthy Sir George Pratt for his house at Cowsell by Richard Cleare." Then follow the items for the great doorways leading from the hall to the principal rooms on both storeys, where the detail consists of egg and tongue, dentells, leaves," costing from 2d. to 4d. per foot run. Next we come to the items for the staircase itself, such as: "The Railes of the Stayres : ffor 95 whole banisters at 3s. a peece, £14 8s.; ffor 20 yards & a halfe of the festoones in ye freeze at 20s. the yard, £20 10s.; ffor 8 ffestoons for ye Lyons heads for the postes at 10s. a peece, £4." For chirnneypieces and door-cases 38 "Cartooses" were supplied at 6s. each. The festoons were sent in "a large basket," together with a man who gets 26s. "ffor his goeing down to set up the ffestoons on the stayres." Richard Cleare or Cleere was a well established London carver, whose name afterwards appears in the Wren accounts for London churches, such as St. Olave's, Jewry.
The hall, as it appears on crossing the threshold, is so capitally rendered in one of the illustrations (Fig. 14) as to make much description unnecessary. The precise run of the double stair, the quality and position of the six doorways, the plaster enrichment of the gallery soffit, the decorative wall scheme attained by the recessed roundels - all are seen at a glance in their due relationship. The roundels, fourteen in all, are of the same design as those in the great piers Fig. 5), except that, being framed not in stone but in plaster, there is a richer treatment taking the form of a ribboned wreath of bay leaves. Similar to the piers also are the shell-headed niches, which, in groups of three, cleverly occupy the rather awkward space under the main flights of steps (Fig. 10). Another illustration, taken from the gallery (Fig. 12), shows the disposition of the window side of the hall and also its ceiling, typical of the heavy beam-like ribs, with enriched soffiting which Inigo Jones favoured.
We have seen how Lord Burlington, visiting Sir Mark Pleydell at Coleshill, was so struck with the ceilings that he employed Isaac Ware to make for him "very correct drawings" of them. We learn from Sir Mark's MS. notes that Inigo Jones not only came with Roger Pratt to Coleshill, but "was also consulted abt ye Cielings." Ceilings somewhat of the same character, but on a grander and more ambitious scale, were used in Italy during the Renaissance period and will have been known to Jones. He returned to England to discard the style of the Jacobean plasterers and produce his translation of Italian models. Such we find at Rainham and at Forde. The narrow ribs of Elizabethan days had been widened under James, but they now became massive frames to panels, often arranged in the manner of structural beams covered with enriched plasterwork. The structural character is present in the saloons of Rainham and Forde, but is still more marked in the three most important Coleshill ceilings. The plan of the house (Fig. 9) gave the space to the south-west, corresponding with the two-storeyed hall on the northeast, to a "Great Parlour" (Plan I e) below and a state dining-room (Plan II g) above. They are now the library (Fig. 20) and the saloon (Fig. 16). In these two rooms, as well as in the hall, the ceilings take the form of two cross-beams running from end to end and two from side to side, forming nine panels. The largest panel is in the centre, and here an oval or circle overlays the rectangle, while on each side of it is a long, narrow panel, and at each end are a central square and side oblongs. In the hall the enrichment, though considerable, is reticent. The ribs or beams equal in depth and continue the mouldings of the section of the cornice that is supported by the modillions. The beam soffits, as also that of the overlying oval, are enriched with an interlaced guilloche, precisely similar to one on a ceiling in the Palazzo Massimi at Rome, which both Jones and Pratt are likely to have seen when there. The oval panel is left plain, intended, no doubt, for pictorial treatment ; but of the other eight panels, four have oak leaf and four bay leaf wreaths. Much richer is the ceiling of the saloon. The beams are the depth of the whole cornice and repeat it in its entirety. The oval soffit is enriched with fruit and flower, that of the rectangles with acanthus leafage, amid which amorini disport themselves (Fig. 15). There are whorled rosettes at the intersections, and the wreaths of the lesser panels are set on a raised egg and tongue moulded centre. The cornice is a member of a full entablature, of which the frieze is occupied by ribboned swags of fruit and flower standing clear and starting from forward-tilted cartouches. In the library the scheme is somewhat similar, but the beams, as in the hall, are only half the depth of the cornice. The centre is a circle leaving segmental panels at each end ornamented with linked dragons, while the side panels have linked cornucopiae. The end panels, again, have wreaths, but variety is given by a free and extensive ribboning (Fig. 19). Next to the library is what was at first a bedroom (Plan I f), but is now the billiard room. Here the structural beaming is abandoned in the ceiling (Fig. 22), where a large central circle is connected with four smaller ones, so that the enriched soffiting of oak leaves may be continuous.
The walls of the rooms are now papered, and there is no treatment of overdoors and over mantels dating from the time of the Pratts. That was certainly not the intention and probably not the case, as we know from one of Sir Roger's notes (Fig. 28), which gives the exact measurements of the most important wall and overdoor spaces for "Landskippes." For instance, two large ones occupied the only considerable spaces in the hall free of roundels, and, again, in the "Greate Parlour" the main "Landskippes" were to be 6ft. 9ins. high and 8ft. broad, while one, 6ft. long by 2ft. deep, was for over "ye greate door," and over "ye lesser" a shorter one. Moreover, we hear of hangings. Whether they were all window curtains, or some of them tapestry for the walls, is uncertain, but we do know from Sir Mark Pleydell that the "Tapistry of ye history of Moses hung in Lady P's room."
The setting up of the staircase carvings appears to have been a finishing touch. The year before Sir Roger had given "a dinner to Sir G. & his Lady" at a cost of £2 2s., and in November, 1662, "my cousen Pratts man" gets 2s. 6d. That is the last item of payment made by Sir Roger on account of Coleshill. But payments to him were long deferred. He seems to have helped his cousins financially or met some of the building expenses, as the amount in which Sir George becomes indebted to him (some £1,300) is more than fees would have been. Much of this had to remain on loan. An "obligacon of £600. for payment of £300. & interest" passes from Sir George to Sir Roger, which the latter loses, so that in 1672, after he is paid, he has to sign a declaration releasing his cousin from "the obligacon which ought to have been delivered up." By that date Sir Roger had finished his professional career and was living as a country gentleman, much absorbed in farming, at Ryston in . Norfolk, an estate he inherited from a cousin and where he, in 1669, built himself a house, somewhat smaller and simpler than Coleshill, but much on the same lines. For how inconsiderable a sum a capacious, well built country house could be erected in his day is shown by his careful Ryston accounts. He tells us that the full out-of-pocket amount was £2,880 7s. 7d., but that he had got something back for the bark of the oaks used and on some other heads, "and soe count onely to have bin clearly expended for ye maine Howse all out walling and makeing ye court and gardens £2800. 0s. 0d." The house was a good deal altered by Sir John Soane, but is still there in substance and was the home of Sir Roger's direct descendant, the late Mr. E. R. Pratt, to whom thanks are due for much of the above information and for the loan of one of the precious and illuminating note-books, a leaf of which is reproduced (Fig. 28). On finishing Coleshill Roger Pratt undertook Horseheath in Cambridgeshire for Lord Allington, Kingston Lacy in Dorset for Sir Ralph Bankes, and Lord Chancellor Clarendon's great house in Piccadilly. Evelyn went carefully over it in 1666, and then wrote to Lord Cornbury, the Chancellor's son, that his "fellow traveller" Pratt "had perfectly acquitted himself." He considers it "without hyperboles the best contriv'd, the most usefull, gracefull and magnificent house in England." He declares that he has no design "to gratifie the architect beyond what I am oblig'd, as a profess'd honorer of virtue wheresoever 'tis conspicuous; but when I had seriously contemplated every roome (for I went into them all from the cellar to the platforme on ye roofe) scene how well and judiciously the walls were erected, the arches cut & turn'd, the timber braced, their scantlings and contiguations dispos'd, I was incredibly satisfied, and do acknowledge myself to have been much improved by what I observed." But he was by no means always in agreement with Pratt. About the time he was at Clarendon House a commission of which both were members visited Old St. Paul's with a view to its repair and "improvement." Wren and Pratt disagreed on various points, Evelyn supporting the former against Pratt's conservative wish to repair the existing steeple, while Wren and Evelyn thought the "shape of what stood was very meane and we had a mind to build it with a noble cupola, a forme of churchbuilding not as yet known in England; but of a wonderful grace." While the great Gothic cathedral still stood the "noble cupola" would assuredly have been out of place. But before the commission passed from dispute to deeds the Great Fire brought complete ruin to the decayed fabric and Wren had his opportunity of introducing the new "forme of churchbuilding." Pratt was engaged in the schemes for rebuilding the city, and was knighted by Charles II in 1668. That was the date of his inheritance of Ryston, and his notebooks begin to speak of cattle and sheep rather than of stone and brick.
Of Coleshill in Sir George's time, we get a glimpse from Celia Fiennes who, as a girl, was there with her mother shortly before his death. Gardens lie below the house in a set of terraces with steps down to them "and walkes one below another, a green walke with all sorts of Dwarfe trees, fruit trees with standard apricot and flower trees.'' The loftiness of the hall is noted and "all the walls are Cutt in hollows where statues and Heads Carved finely are sett." The parlours have "good ffurniture, tapistry, Damaske etc.," and the chambers are "well and Genteelly furnisht, damaskes Chamlet and wrought beds fashionably made up." All is abundant and of the best, so we feel that the old kinswoman did not exaggerate when she told young Mark Pleydell that his great-grandfather kept house in a large manner, being "32 in family. One servant lay over ye brew-house & another in ye stable to guard against Robbery." The plan (Fig. 9) is taken from Sir Mark Pleydell's notes and shows the disposition at this time. The great parlour and the dining-room above were reserved for company days, and the ordinary family life went on in the rooms to the right of the hall. An ample stairway leads down to the kitchen floor (Fig. 30). The room next to it (Plan I c), now the dining-room (Fig. 17), is called the living parlour, while the room on the other side of the passage is called the nursery. Over these rooms were the chambers and ante-chambers of Sir George and his wife and there also a Mrs. Atkinson had her chamber (which she shared with her maid) and her closet. On this upper floor the two principal; chambers on the other side of the hall were occupied by Sir Humphrey Forster, Lady Pratt's nephew, and a Sir Thomas Doleman, both of whom we shall find attending with their coaches the reception of Lady Pratt's grandaughter-in-law in 1692. She had then long been a widow. Sir George had died in 1673, and his bachelor son, dying six months later, ended the male line. Whether for that short time Coleshill was his does not appear, but certainly after his death it was his mother who ruled there and not his sister Mary, who, in her father's lifetime, married Thomas, son and heir to Oliver Pleydell of Shrivenham, a neighbour of some landed estate and of the family which had owned Coleshill in the fifteenth century. The date of this marriage is given by Sir Mark as 1665. In due course a son was born and then the father died of smallpox. In 1670 the widow took as her second husband Henry Webb of Charlton, and by him had a son and a daughter. By 1683 he also is dead, and, as the mother suffered from infirmity, the three children are committed to their grandmother for custody and tuition. The Pleydell boy, being then fourteen, signs a separate declaration accepting irrevocably his grandmother's guardianship until he comes of age. Soon after that event we find negotiations going on for his marriage with Jane, daughter of Sir Nicholas Stuart, Bt., of Hartley Mauduit, to whom his prospective son-in-law writes: "Since your fair daughter has made the conquest of my heart it is impossible for me to subsist without her." Lady Pratt is for quick action, and urges her nephew, Sir Humphrey Forster, to hasten on the dilatoriness of the London lawyers. The wedding takes place early in 1692, and there are great doings at Coleshill:
"Jane Stuart came from Hartley attended by ye Coaches of Sir N. Stuart, Lady Pratt, Sir H. Forster, Mr Ruddyard, Sir Tho. Doleman, Sir - Moor & 4 or 5 more & Sir H. Winchcomb. A vast concourse at ye house to receive them. They saw ye Coaches coming down ye White horse hill. All ye gentlemen stayd a fortnight & were entertained by Lady Pratt with great magnificence."
As the young folk were to make their home at Coleshill, there had evidently been much discussion at Hartley around how the bride would get on with her grandmother-in-law. Her first letter to her mother must have contained complaints; but things improve, and she writes to her father wishing she had left them unsaid, and adds: "She is, I really think, a very good woman in her own nature & one who, though she expects to be observed & to direct in almost everything, yet will give a great deal of respect herself." The arrival of an heir in 1693 will have greatly pleased the old lady, who, in the next year, writes to Lady Stuart that little Mark, who has been ill through "the breeding and bringing forth of a great eye tooth," is quite well again and "runs about lustily as any child in the world & is, without partiality, an admirable Creature in everything."
Lady Pratt, now getting rather infirm, takes a somewhat minute interest in her health, so that when her doctor sends her a "purge" for gout, he adds, in answer to her anxious enquiry, that he does not think it very much matters whether she drinks her milk "hott from ye cow or made warm by ye fire." But she is the dominant character at Coleshill until her death in 1699. Her grandchildren are of as little importance as her daughter, so that the education of little Mark, who was six years old when she died, is directed less by his parents than by his maternal grandfather, Sir Nicholas Stuart, by whom, in 1706, he is "removed to Eton school." Next year he is admitted a fellow commoner at Oriel College, where the chief event he records during his freshman's year is that he is "thrown into a violent Cholick by drinking ill Malt liquor." But in 1709 he goes up for a few days to London and sees the sights - the Tower and the Monument, the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. He also sees Mrs. Oldfield play in the "Marriage a la Mode" at the Haymarket. After passing from Oxford to the Temple he takes his first trip abroad, visiting Holland in 1711. France was not then open to him, but after the Treaty of Utrecht is signed we find him in Paris. Then his education is complete and he becomes of marriageable age. We hear of several proposals, and in 1719 there is much negotiation for paying his addresses to the daughter and co-heir of Robert Stewart of Ascoy, County Bute. All is eventually arranged, and we get the curt entry in his diary: 1720. Jan 14 at ten a clock married.
Although his father is still alive, he seems to take the lead at Coleshill, and there are entries during the four following years of his alterations to the gardens, making hedges of lime and elm, and setting yews, hollies and hornbeams "trimmed into standards." Indeed, the diary and estate notes lead one to suppose that the property was already his until we reach the mention of his father's death, followed two months later by the entry: "1728, March. I began keeping house at Coleshill." Three years later his younger brother died of smallpox: "By wch as he dyed unmarried ye entire estate of ye family is again united & vested in me & my Heirs." The death of his Webb cousins and his inheritance from his father-in-law afterwards added further to his means and enhanced his position, so that he obtained a baronetcy in 1732. Then it will have been that he began to make such changes at Coleshill as he deemed improvements. Fortunately, they were not very considerable. Inigo Jones had come into his own. The Burlingtonian School accepted him as their prophet. Kent published two folio volumes of his designs (one of them being the rusticated Coleshill gate piers) and used some of them, more or less altered to suit his own taste, at Lord Burlington's villa at Chiswick, and for Thomas Coke, afterwards Earl of Leicester, at Holkham. The former was completed and the latter begun soon after the baronetcy was conferred on Mark Pleydell, who obtained advice as to Coleshill from both Burlington and Leicester, and probably employed Kent, to whose design a great gilt side-table (Fig. 29) must certainly have been made. To these men Inigo Jones represented all that was worth having in the past architectural history of England, while Roger Pratt was unknown. Through this influence Sir Mark must have permitted himself to forget that, among his notes, he had written of Coleshill: "The Seat was finished by Sir Geo: Pratt 1662. Sir Roger Pratt of Ruston in Norfolk Knight, Cousin to Sir G. was the Architect in Friendship to Sir G. Mr. Mildmay apprehended it was built by Inigo Jones & Ld Barrington says it was built by one Webb a Disciple of sd Inigo there fore Q.E.D." Here, relying on the evidence before him, he is laughing at the assumptions of would-be authorities. Yet he omits Pratt's name from the tablet and calls the house "built in 1650 by Inigo Jones." This tablet is dated December 31st, 1748, and is at the head of the service stair (Fig. 25). Kent was called in to alter several of Inigo Jones's houses, such as Wilton and Rainham, and as he had adopted him as his master he was apt to copy his work very closely, so that there are cases where it needs careful observation to detect his alterations and additions. That is hardly the case at Coleshill. Whereas the mantelpiece at the south end of the library (Fig. 21) has the arms of Pratt of Coleshill empaling those of Forster of Aldermaston, and is such as we may suppose Roger Pratt to have designed, the one in the saloon (Fig. 16) is surmounted by the arms and bust of Sir Mark Pleydell and the date 1755. These details are in connection with the not satisfactory broken pediment with a swag clumsily shooting out of its whorled ends. Hence Messrs. Belcher and Macartney speak of the "badly designed mantelpiece, evidently modern." As no part of it can date from later than 160 years ago, the attribute "modern" seems out of place, and, as to the bad designing, that description ceases to apply if the pediment is blotted out. It may even have belonged to the period of Roger Pratt and, to give it greater presence, Sir Mark may have added the pediment. It is noticeable that Richard Cleare charged for carving thirty-eight cartouches, not only for door cases but "for the chimney peeces." It would seem, therefore, that there must have been wooden overmantels in 1662. But now there are none of that date, and only two of Sir Mark's time, in the boudoir (Fig. 24) and in the billiard-room (Fig. 23), framing Hudson's portraits of his son-in-law's sisters, Anne and Mary Bouverie. Sir Mark had an only child, his daughter Harriett, married in 1748 to the Hon. William Bouverie, who, in 1761, succeeded his father as Viscount Folkestone and owner of Longford Castle. Four years later he was created Earl of Radnor, and in 1768, on the death of Sir Mark, succeeded to Coleshill. His portrait is seen over the fireplace in the illustration of the library (Fig. 20), although it would be more appropriate to hang there the picture of Sir George and Lady Pratt - now over the doorway - as their arms are on that chimney piece, whereas at the other end of the room there is a similar, but imitative, chimneypiece with the Radnor arms.
Beyond wallpapers and other such small renewals, it does not seem that the Radnors made any considerable alteration at Coleshill. Certain wainscotings, such as that in what was "Sir Thos Dolemans' Chamber" (Fig. 25), but is now the Oak Room, are not of the Pratt but of the Pleydell time. It is more difficult to say when the "Living Parlour" was panelled. Quite likely the wall linings are a survival of the fire that wrecked the older house soon after Sir George's marriage in 1647. It is of Jacobean type, and therefore cannot have been made for the room, as, indeed, the fitting at the corners discloses. The mantelpiece (Fig. 18), as regards its two shelves, certainly shows a re-adaptation. But it is a very successful introduction, and its association with a Late Renaissance doorway (Fig. 17) proves it to have been done before the imitative age. There are charming Chippendale chairs in this room belonging to the time of Sir Mark. Of his time, too, is most of the furniture in what is now the saloon (Fig. 16). The two linked side-tables are admirable examples of Chippendale's Chinese manner with a touch of the "Gothick," and there are chairs and sofas in the same manner. But the best example of the Chinese style is the looking-glass (Fig. 26) that hangs between the windows in the Oak Room. A little earlier than these pieces is a set of cabriole-legged chairs, with eagle-headed arms, shell knees and ball and claw feet; while again earlier are the tall-backed walnut chairs of William III type (Fig. 27), which may well have served the gentlemen whom Lady Pratt entertained for a fortnight when she married her grandson to Jane Stuart in 1692.
The Earls of Radnor retained Coleshill until it passed, in 1889, at the death of the fourth Earl, to his second son, the Hon. Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie, whose only son, Lieutenant Jacob Pleydell Bouverie, was one of the many heirs to our historic seats who fell in the Great War. It is the home of his mother and sisters, whose loving interest in the place has brought to light the manuscript collections of Sir Mark Bouverie, the courteous loan of which has made it possible, in connection with the Roger Pratt notebooks, to obtain, for the first time, something approaching to a correct account of the building of a house of much value in the annals of our domestic architecture.
Reproduced from H. Avray Tipping's "English Homes: Late Stuart, 1649-1714" (1929).
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