Apethorpe Hall

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Apethorpe Hall in 1829

Apethorpe Hall, recently renamed Apethorpe Palace, in Apethorpe, Northamptonshire, England is a Grade I listed[1] country house dating back to the 15th century. The house is built around three courtyards [2] lying on an east-west axis and is approximately 120 feet (37 m) by 240 feet (73 m) in area. It is acknowledged as one of the finest Jacobean houses in England, and was the main seat of the Fane family, Earls of Westmorland.

The house has a Royal connection. Elizabeth I was given Apethorpe by her father Henry VIII. Her successor James I provided oak trees for the building of a set of impressive State rooms [3] featuring some of the most important surviving plasterwork and fireplaces of the period.[4] There were at least thirteen royal visits - more than to any other house in the county - between 1566 and 1636,[5] and it is said that it was at Apethorpe that James met George Villiers, his favourite, later to become Duke of Buckingham.[3] A series of Court Masques written by Ben Jonson for King James I were performed while the King was in residence at Apethorpe.[5][6] His son Charles I was also a regular visitor.

After funding an extensive programme of restoration, English Heritage sold the house into private hands in 2014. Before the sale English Heritage and the new owner agreed to rename the house Apethorpe Palace. In a video introducing the sale, English Heritage director Simon Thurley described the house as "the Royal Palace of Apethorpe." [7] However the change of name has proved controversial on the grounds that some commentators have claimed that the house's royal connections are not strong enough to merit the title palace, which is customarily only conferred on official residences of royalty or bishops.[8][9]


Apethorpe Hall

In May 1231 Henry III granted the manor of Apethorpe to Ralph le Breton; however on 21 June 1232 the manor was taken back into the King's hands.[10][11]

In the 15th century the manor was owned by Guy Wolston, esquire, who on 16 April 1487 granted his manor of Apethorpe, his manor of Hall in Wollaston, Northamptonshire, and other lands to Sir John Browne, John Fineux and Robert Rede, serjeants at law, John Mathew, John Tate, alderman of London, and others.[12] Apethorpe later passed to Wolston's son-in-law Thomas Empson.[citation needed] In 1515 Audrey, daughter of Sir Guy Wolston and wife of Thomas Empson, eldest son and heir of Sir Richard Empson, is said to have released Hall Manor to Richard Fitzwilliam of Milton, a younger son of Sir William Fitzwilliam.[13] In 1515 Apethorpe manor and hall were purchased by a London grocer, Henry Keble, grandfather of Lord Mountjoy, who sold them to Henry VIII.

Apethorpe Hall - main courtyard

Apethorpe was given to Princess Elizabeth by her father. In April 1551 Sir Walter Mildmay acquired it from Edward VI in exchange for property in Gloucestershire and Berkshire. Queen Elizabeth dined with Mildmay at Apethorpe on her summer progress in 1566. He added little to the hall apart from a stone chimney-piece in 1562,[14] and after his death it was inherited by his eldest son Sir Anthony Mildmay (c.1549–1617), from whom it passed to his daughter Mary (1581/2–1640) and her husband, Sir Francis Fane (1617),[15] later Earl of Westmorland. In 1622 King James I gave Fane 100 trees and permission to buy 100 more 'at reasonable rates' to enlarge Apethorpe Hall 'for the more commodious entertainment of his majesty.' The rebuilding of the South range provided a new suite of state rooms, clearly intended for the entertainment of the King, on the first floor. This suite of state rooms consisted of a chamber, withdrawing room, bedroom, back stair, a room for the Duke of Buckingham, the king's favourite, and a long gallery. The entrance was surmounted by a statue of James I, the bedroom was embellished with a hunting scene over the fireplace and the royal arms decorated the ceiling. These state rooms contain a notable series of fireplaces incorporating in the carving iconographical statements such as the nature of kingship.[16] Apethorpe remained in the Fane family for nearly three centuries.

The interior of Apethorpe Hall

The 12th Earl and his son, the 13th Earl, came into financial difficulties and, in 1904, the family seat was sold to Henry Brassey, later Lord Brassey of Apethorpe.

After World War II much of the adjoining parkland was sold and the house became an approved school. In 1982 the school closed down and in 1983 the building was sold to a Libyan businessman, Wanis Mohamed Burweila, for £750,000. Burweila, who made his money in electronics, wanted to found Britain's first Libyan University in the cloisters and courtyards of Apethorpe. The shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher at the Libyan embassy siege in 1984 put paid to these plans, however, and, along with much of Britain's immigrant Libyan community, Mr Burweila left the country.

Burweila left the building vacant leading to its deterioration; this in turn led to him, in 2001, being served a Statutory Repairs Notice, which is an order from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, requiring him to undertake certain urgent works to ensure the future of the building. In order to avoid doing this, Burweila sold the property to a developer called Kestral Armana Ltd, (subsequently renamed Apethorpe Country Estate Ltd (ACEL)).

As the hall was empty and neglected from the late 1970s it was becoming dangerously unsafe, with incipient damp and rot. When English Heritage started its Buildings at Risk Register in 1998, the hall was included on it as one of the most important houses at risk.[17]

In September 2004 the Hall was compulsorily purchased by the British Government under section 47 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (only the second time the Government has had to use these powers). English Heritage has spent £10 million refurbishing it to make it waterproof and to restore the interiors. Much of the work was carried out by Stamford restoration and conservation builders, E. Bowman & Sons Ltd.

From 2007, buyers were sought, in spite of an estimated £4 million still required in renovation (as of 2014, the house was without any plumbing, power or heating). In 2008, the asking price was between £4.5 and £5 million.[18] In May 2012, the Daily Mail reported that the asking price for the property had been reduced to £2.5 million.[19]

In December 2014, English Heritage announced that Jean Christophe Iseux, Baron Von Pfeffen a French anglophile and keen field sportsman had bought the house.[7]

Simon Thurley, English Heritage's chief executive, warmly welcomed the purchase: "Since 2000 English Heritage has consistently said that the best solution for Apethorpe is for it to be taken on by a single owner, who wants to continue to restore the house and to live in it; especially one who has experience of restoring historic buildings and is prepared to share its joys with a wide public, as Baron Pfetten will do. Apethorpe is certainly on a par with Hatfield and Knole and is by far the most important country house to have been threatened with major loss through decay since the 1950s." Baron Pfetten has agreed to an 80-year commitment of 50 days public opening a year, a far more extensive undertaking than the normal period of 10 years in the case of English Heritage grant-aided properties.[7]

Film location[edit]

The house has been used for filming scenes in Another Country and Porterhouse Blue.

The restoration and attempts to sell the property were the subject of a fly on the wall documentary first shown on BBC Two in April 2009.[20]




Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, Jennifer S.; Morrison, Kathryn A. (2007). "Apethorpe Hall and the workshop of Thomas Thorpe, mason of King's Cliffe: a study in masons' marks". Architectural History 50: 59–94. 
  • Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus; Cherry, Bridget (2002) [1973]. The Buildings of England – Northamptonshire. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09632-1. 
  • Smith, Pete (2007). "The Palladian Palace at Apethorpe". English Heritage Historical Review: 84–105. 
  • BBC Radio Northampton - 6 March 2007
  • BBC Look East - 5 March 2007 + 18 June 2007
  • "Northampton Evening Telegraph" - 22 March 2007

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°32′50″N 0°29′32″W / 52.5472°N 0.4922°W / 52.5472; -0.4922