Eastnor Castle. Robert Smirke (1781-1867). 1811-1820. Nr. Ledbury, Hertfordshire. Source: Orpen, facing p. 33. This Grade I listed mock castle was built for the 2nd Baron Somers, and, apart from its imposing appearance, its great pride is the decorative work in the interior designed by A. W. N. Pugin in 1849-50, and carried out by the Crace firm. Some alterations were proposed by George Gilbert Scott, and another London firm, G. E. Fox, also worked on the interior in the 1860s.
The list entry describes the building neatly as: "A Picturesque, yet still symmetrical castle in a serious neo-Norman and early English style." It also points out its notable features, for example: "the roof trusses and floor beams are cast iron, an early example of the use of iron in domestic buildings; octagonal ashlar stacks disguised as turrets." The once stately home is still partly a private residence, but its use for weddings, corporate retreats and so on has helped to keep it very well maintained.
Design for the Decoration of the Drawing Room at Eastnor Castle, Hertfordshire, watercolour by John Gregory Crace, c. 1850. Sheet: 15 3/8 x 19 13/16 in. (39.1 x 50.4 cm). Met Museum, accession Number: 67.736.49. Credit Line: Dodge and Fletcher Funds, 1967.
This watercolor, with its "touches of gold over graphite" (Met Museum) records the redecoration of the drawing room at the castle, part of the work undertaken largely by John Gregory Crace and his men to Pugin's designs from 1849. In neo-Gothic style, the drawing room has a "blue fan-vaulted ceiling with gilded ribs, green walls ornamented with a striped pattern, red curtains, paintings and a gothic mantlepiece and cabinet" ("Design"). Megan Aldrich writes,
Pugin and Crace were active in 1849-50 in refreshing the Gothic revival interiors for the Earl Somers. Although Pugin’s sketches for this commission clearly indicate his input into the design process, including furniture, he visited the house only once after it had been completed by Crace and his team, and was critical of what he saw.
Today it is possible to appreciate the splendour of the restored scheme for the Eastnor Saloon, where examples of the Pugin-designed Gothic x-frame chairs survive, along with the classic trestle and octagon tables in carved oak and marquetry that were to become recognisable elements in a Pugin-Crace furnishing scheme.
Pugin's distaste for the work here was less for the work itself than for its context — a neo-Norman rather than an authentically Gothic structure, as he had supposed (see Hill 428). Moreover, he had no liking for Smirke, and was feeling put upon, by being roped in to serve another architect. Nevertheless, we are fortunate to see such an outstanding piece of design work from the Pugin-Crace team: "The scheme survives and is a rich and rare example of Pugin's late decorative style — one of only two domestic interiors by him to have remained almost intact" (Hill 428).
Link to related material
First image from Orpen, and watercolour below from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, downloaded by Jacqueline Banerjee, who also added the commentary. [You may use the image above without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. The Met Museum watercolour reproduction below is in the public domain. Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Aldrich, Megan. "Crace, Edward, John, Frederick, John Gregory and John Dibblee (1768-1899)." BIFMO (Dictionary of British and Irish Furniture Makers, 1500-1914. Web. 16 February 2022.
"Design for the Decoration of the Drawing Room at Eastnor Castle, Hertfordshire ca. 1850." Met Museum. Web. 15 February 2022.
"Eastnor Castle." Historic England. Web. 15 February 2022.
Hill, Rosemary. God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain. London: Penguin, 2008.
Orpen, Francis William, ed. "Eastnor Castle."A Series of Picturesque Views of the Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, with Descriptive and Historical Letterpress. Vol. 4. London: W. Mackenzie, 1840. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Last modified 14 August 2009