Madresfield Court

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Madresfield Court
Madresfield Court - - 1764467.jpg
The court across the moat
TypeCountry house
LocationMadresfield, Worcestershire
Coordinates52°07′30″N 2°16′51″W / 52.1251°N 2.2808°W / 52.1251; -2.2808Coordinates: 52°07′30″N 2°16′51″W / 52.1251°N 2.2808°W / 52.1251; -2.2808
OS grid referenceSO8087347463
Builtlate Medieval (original house), 1866-1888, Victorian reconstruction
ArchitectPhilip Charles Hardwick, for the Victorian rebuilding
Architectural style(s)vernacular
Listed Building – Grade I
Designated25 March 1968
Reference no.153385
Madresfield Court is located in Worcestershire
Madresfield Court
Location of Madresfield Court in Worcestershire

Madresfield Court, Malvern, is a country house in Worcestershire, England. The home of the Lygon family for nearly six centuries, it has never been sold and has passed only by inheritance since the 12th century, a line of family ownership that is reputedly only exceeded in England by homes owned by the British royal family. The present building is largely a Victorian reconstruction, although the origins of the present house are from the 16th century, and the site has been occupied since Anglo-Saxon times. The novelist Evelyn Waugh was a frequent visitor to the house and based the family of Marchmain, who are central to his novel Brideshead Revisited, on the Lygons. Surrounded by a moat, the Court is a Grade I listed building.


Early history: 1086-1746[edit]

The origin of the name of the court is Old English, 'maederesfeld', mower's field.[1] Madresfield is not recorded in the Domesday Book but is mentioned in the Westminster Cartulary of 1086 as a possession of Urse d'Abetot (or d'Abitot), Sheriff of Worcestershire.[2] Dorothy Williams, the Lygon family historian, notes that, by 1196, the manor was held by the de Bracy family who retained it for three centuries[a][4] until the marriage of Joan Bracy to Thomas Lygon in 1419-1420.[5] The marriage between Thomas, and the Bracy heiress established the connection between the court and the Lygon family which has continued into the 21st century. Their only son Willam was bequeathed the manor of Madresfield by Joan's mother in 1450[6] and the house has been the home of the Lygon family since that time.[7] The Lygons were substantial landowners, although minor gentry, until an advantageous marriage between Richard Lygon and Anne Beauchamp, one of three daughters and heirs of Richard Beauchamp, 2nd Baron Beauchamp in the late 15th century.[8] In 1593 Madresfield Court was rebuilt, replacing a 15th-century medieval building.

A less Bleak House: 1747-1865[edit]

In 1806, William Lygon was made a baronet and subsequently ennobled as Earl Beauchamp in 1815.[7] The family's position had been transformed by the death of a distant relative, William Jennens, in 1798. Known as "William the Miser", and "the richest commoner in England", Jennens had amassed a very large fortune through inheritance, stock dealing, property investments and money lending. His death saw his fortune split between three distant relatives, with William Lygon's share equating to some £40 million pounds at 2012 values.[9] The lack of a will saw the estate become subject to one of England's lengthiest court cases, Jennens and Jennens, which ran for over 100 years. The case formed the basis of the suit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, used as the main plot device by Charles Dickens in his 1852-3 novel, Bleak House.[10]

Brideshead and Hetton Revisited: 1866-1938[edit]

Madresfield was the home of the 7th Earl Beauchamp. Despite a prominent political and social career, the earl's homosexuality was a relatively open secret; Harold Nicolson recorded a dinner at Madresfield where a fellow guest asked incredulously if the earl had just whispered "Je t’adore" to the butler. "Nonsense," Nicolson replied, “he said ‘Shut the door.’"[11] In 1931 the earl was forced abroad following a sexual scandal instigated by his brother-in-law, the Duke of Westminster, Bendor Grosvenor.[b][13] Jealous of the earl's "public reputation, his splendid offices and his male heir", Westminster intrigued to bring about Beauchamp's destruction.[c][15] Following the earl's exile, Evelyn Waugh became a close friend of three of the Beauchamp daughters and a frequent visitor to the house.[16] Waugh had previously been close to Hugh Lygon, Beauchamp's second son, at Oxford.[17] The central family of his novel Brideshead Revisited, the Flytes, are modelled on the Beauchamps.[18] After their father’s disgrace, most of Beauchamp’s children took his, rather than their mother’s side, and a marble bust of the countess was consigned to the moat.[d][20] Charles Ryder, the narrator in Brideshead Revisited noted "More even than the work of great architects, I loved buildings that grew silently with the centuries, catching and keeping the best of each generation".[21] The historian David Dutton considered that Beauchamp's most lasting legacy was "the assumed portrayal of his family tragedy in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited". [22]

Documents released by the National Archives in January 2006 showed that emergency plans were made to evacuate Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to Madresfield in the event of a successful German invasion following the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. Five years later, Worcestershire County Council's Historic, Environment and Archaeology archive confirmed that the 1940 plan was part of pre-existing 1938 invasion contingency plans. In the event of an invasion breaking out of a likely lodgement in Kent and threatening London, the whole UK government would move to Worcestershire with the Royal family residing at Madresfield.[23]

Modern times:1939-the present[edit]

After the 7th earl's death in New York in 1938, his son Lord Elmley inherited the court. The atmosphere created by the 8th earl and his Danish wife, Mona, was uncongenial to most of the rest of the family and Mary, Dorothy, and Sibell left the house, none returning for fifty years.[24] Before her death in 1989, Mona, Countess Beauchamp, endowed the Elmley Foundation to support the arts in the counties of Herefordshire and Worcestershire.[25] The house was never opened to the public during her lifetime.[26]

From 1970, Madresfield Court was the home of Rosalind, Lady Morrison, William and Mona's niece[27] and, as of 2012, it is run and lived in by her daughter, Lucy Chenevix-Trench.[28] In 2014, an extensive remodelling of the interior of the house was undertaken by the interior designers Todhunter Earle.[29] Madresfield Court has never been sold or bought in its history, passing by inheritance through the Lygon family, although on three occasions this has been through the female line.[30]

Architecture and description[edit]


"A moated house of considerable size,"[31] the existing building has its origins in the 16th century, the site having been occupied earlier.[32] The Tudor house followed the plan of a standard moated manor.[33] The original bridge and entrance tower are 16th century in origin, although they have been restored.[31] A panel above the gatehouse, which has been moved from its original position, bears the names of Sir William Lygon and his wife, Elizabeth, and the date 1593.[5] The house was extensively restored and rebuilt between 1866-1888 by Philip Charles Hardwick[34] for the 5th Earl, creating the current "Victorian fantasy."[e][33] Hardwick followed his father in developing a large commercial practice, specialising in banking houses, but also undertook a considerable number of country houses, often for his City clients.[36] Notable examples were Aldermaston Court, for D. H. D. Burr, and the now-demolished Addington Park for the then deputy governor of the Bank of England, Lord Addington.[37] Hardwick's connection to Madresfield began with the commission for the Newlands Almshouses in Malvern.[38] As was common for Victorian aristocrats contemplating a rebuilding of their houses, the Beauchamps began with an act of piety. The Lygon’s being satisfied with the result, Hardwick began a fifteen-year association with the family and the court, which the architectural writer Herminone Hobhouse describes as "characteristic of Hardwick at his best".[38] Although "the principal lines of the old building" were followed, the work became more of a reconstruction than a restoration; only two rooms in the total of over 150 were unaltered.[38] Work continued under the 6th Earl and was completed c.1890.[39] The original Great Hall, built in the 12th century, stands at the core of this building. The architectural historian Mark Girouard considers Madresfield's internal courtyard to be its most impressive feature.[31]


An exceptionally complete piece of Arts and Crafts decoration of 1902. The furnishing was done by Birmingham craftsmen for Countess Beauchamp, as a wedding present to the seventh earl. The paintings are by A. Payne. The stained glass is by him and others. The triptych is by Charles Gere. The small crucifix and the candlesticks are by A. J. Gaskin. The ornamental glass quarries of the screen, especially pretty, are by M. Lamplough. C. R. Ashbee's guild also did woodwork." – Nikolaus Pevsner's "prosaic list" describing the Madresfield chapel.[f][40]

The chapel[edit]

The chapel was decorated in the Arts and Crafts style by Birmingham Group artists including Henry Payne, William Bidlake and Charles March Gere.[g][32] It was a wedding present of 1902 from the countess to her husband, although work on the decoration continued until 1923.[42] The critic Jonathan Meades, in the BBC TV series Travels with Pevsner, contrasted the "inviting prose" used by Waugh to describe the chapel at Brideshead with the "prosaic list" written by Nikolaus Pevsner to describe Madresfield's chapel.[43]

The library[edit]

Charles Robert Ashbee decorated the library.[33]


  1. ^ Dorothy Williams' position as Madresfield's archivist and librarian led to her producing a somewhat circumspect family history, The Lygons of Madresfield, which contains no mention of the homosexual scandal that brought down the 7th Earl. Mrs Williams provides an explanation in the Acknowledgements to the history; "in order to avoid perpetuating hearsay it has been necessary to omit the occasional 'pretty' or 'scandalous' tale. The aim has been to include only those matters which it has been possible to verify."[3]
  2. ^ The obituary of Beauchamp's last surviving child, Lady Sibell Rowley in 2005, saw the reigniting of the scandal with correspondence in The Times suggesting that Beauchamp's fall had been brought about by George V, rather than Westminster. Although George did became involved, the consensus view is that he did so at the prompting of the Duke.[12]
  3. ^ Westminster's final communication to Beauchamp comprised a terse note; "Dear Bugger-in-Law, You got what you deserved. Yours Westminster".[14]
  4. ^ The countess's pastimes included "fastidiously correcting the titles by which she was addressed on the envelopes of the day's post".[19]
  5. ^ Hardwick is often wrongly credited with the design of the Euston Arch, which was designed by his father Philip Hardwick.[35]
  6. ^ In the recording, Meades omitted such 'colour' as Pevsner did provide; details of the chapel being a "wedding present" and of the "especially pretty" character of the glass quarries were not included.
  7. ^ Another designer who worked on the library, carving the Lygon coat of arms, was Joseph Armitage who later designed the oak leaf emblem used by the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty.[41]


  1. ^ Catling, Patrick Skene. "The epicentre of 'Brideshead'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  2. ^ Williams 2001, p. 2.
  3. ^ Williams 2001, vi.
  4. ^ Williams 2001, p. 3.
  5. ^ a b "Parishes: Madresfield - British History Online". Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  6. ^ Williams 2001, p. 4.
  7. ^ a b Hall 2009, pp. 97-100.
  8. ^ Mulvagh 2008, p. 49.
  9. ^ Mulvagh 2012, pp. 112-115.
  10. ^ Polden, Patrick (1 July 2003). "Stranger Than Fiction? The Jennens Inheritance in Fact and Fiction Part 1: The Jennens Fortune in the Courts". Common Law World Review. 32 (3): 211–247. doi:10.1177/147377950303200301. Retrieved 28 April 2019 – via SAGE Journals.
  11. ^ Byrne, Paula. "Waugh and Brideshead". Vanities. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  12. ^ Douglas-Home 2006, p. 168.
  13. ^ Mulvagh, Jane (8 June 2008). "Scandal of the real Brideshead". Irish Independent.
  14. ^ "LGBTQ History: Lord Beauchamp and Walmer Castle". English Heritage. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  15. ^ Cannadine 1990, p. 381.
  16. ^ Mulvagh 2008, p. 2.
  17. ^ Green 1992, p. 218.
  18. ^ Tinniswood 2016, p. 257.
  19. ^ Conrad, Peter (7 June 2008). "Review - Madresfield: One House, One Family, One Thousand Years by Jane Mulvagh". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  20. ^ Leith, Sam (26 August 2009). "Let me not be Mad". The Spectator. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  21. ^ Byrne 2009, p. 326.
  22. ^ Dutton, David (25 August 2012). "William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp, 1872-1938" (PDF). Journal of Liberal Democratic History. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  23. ^ Neil Tweedie (20 January 2011). "Madresfield Court: The King's redoubt if Hitler called". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  24. ^ Zinovieff 2014, pp. 103-104.
  25. ^ "The Elmley Foundation - The Elmley Foundation". Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  26. ^ Hastings, Selina (2 September 2009). "House of memories". The Spectator.
  27. ^ Hall 2009, p. 100.
  28. ^ Stocks, Christopher (June 2014). "Madresfield Court - A new chapter". House & Garden.
  29. ^ "Madresfield Court portfolio". 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  30. ^ Beauchamp 1929, p. unknown.
  31. ^ a b c Girouard 1979, p. 412.
  32. ^ a b "Madresfield Court - 1098779". Historic England. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  33. ^ a b c Jenkins 2003, p. 854.
  34. ^ "Madresfield Court". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  35. ^ Desmond, Steven (12 April 2018). "Madresfield Court: A Worcestershire garden where new and old combine in perfect harmony". Country Life.
  36. ^ Hobhouse 1976, p. 42.
  37. ^ Hobhouse 1976, pp. 42-44.
  38. ^ a b c Hobhouse 1976, p. 48.
  39. ^ Brooks & Pevsner 2007, p. 441.
  40. ^ Pevsner 1968, p. 218.
  41. ^ "A trove of timely treasures". National Trust. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  42. ^ Brooks & Pevsner 2007, p. 443.
  43. ^ Murphy, Douglas (1 April 2014). "Sad storeys". RIBA Journal.


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