On 13th September, 34 members and friends visited Charlecote Park, the fourth and final outing of the 2014 summer programme. We were again blessed with fine weather. On arrival, we headed for the Orangery restaurant where coffee, tea and biscuits awaited us. Suitably refreshed we gathered the Gatehouse for a short photo shoot before receiving an informative and interesting ‘welcome talk’.
We were then free to meander around the gardens, the house, and outbuildings – which included a laundry, brew house, Victorian kitchen and a coach house containing a magnificent collection of horse driven coaches.
Now owned by the National Trust for England & Wales, Charlecote Park stands almost at the centre of England, on the banks of the River Avon. Ancestors of the Lucy family have lived at Charlecote since at least 1189, when Sir Walter de Cherlecote inherited the estate. But the story really begins with the first Sir Thomas Lucy who was born around 1532. He married 12-year-old heiress Joyce Acton in 1546 and using her money he rebuilt Charlecote as one of the first great Elizabethan houses. Sir Thomas Lucy was a magistrate under Elizabeth I. The Queen spent two nights in the house in 1572. The house is built on the foundations of an even earlier medieval house. Charlecote Park is approached through a long path that leads under an impressive Tudor brick gatehouse. Behind the house is a small formal garden terrace, beyond which is a large deer park. Capability Brown landscaped the park around 1760 and between 1828 and 1844 a Victorian wing was added and the house modernised. The house has not been changed since and the east elevation retains much of the Elizabethan form with pitched gables, ornate Tudor chimneys and octagonal corner turrets finished with lead-clad cupolas and weather-vanes. Within the great hall is a fine bay window filled with armorial stained glass bearing the arms of the Lucy family: white pike or ‘luces’ on a crimson ground and cross crosslets as well as the winged boar’s head crest. The Gatehouse is the only original Elizabethan building to survive unadulterated. The 180 acre park is all that remains of a significantly larger estate which included the adjacent village of Hampton Lucy.
When 20-year-old Mary Elizabeth Williams married George Hammond Lucy in 1823 she fainted during the wedding ceremony. George was reduced to agonised inaction and this set the tone for the rest of their life together. ‘His wife soon learnt to take all irksome decisions on herself.’ Mary Elizabeth’s strength and determination created the Charlecote we see today. In the months before his marriage, George had bought 64 lots of furnishings from the auction of the contents of dissolute William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey. He spent more than £3,400 – over half of that on just one item, the pietra dura table on display in the Great Hall. More furniture was acquired during the Lucy’s second continental tour of 1840-42. This was also when they bought the marble floor for the Great Hall in Venice. After George died, Mary Elizabeth continued improving the house – rebuilding the church, adding the balustraded steps down to the river, creating the drawing room and the billiard room, and acquiring the Charlecote buffet, an astronomical £1,600 in 1858 for the dining room. The estate was soon in serious financial difficulties and inevitably the time came when the heir Henry Spencer Lucy was forced to sell many of the best pictures to pay the bills. Nevertheless, there is tremendous amount of art work on display.
The present baronet, Sir Edmund Fairfax-Lucy and his family still live in one wing of the house.
We had a very enjoyable visit and our thanks go to the National Trust staff for their contribution.