Thorpe Hall, Peterborough 3253

Northamptonshire, England

Brief Description

Thorpe Hall is a country house surrounded by the remains of walled gardens and a small park dating from the mid-17th century. The house is now a hospice. The gardens have 19th-century additions, and are currently being restored.

History

Thorpe Hall was built between 1650 and 1656 for Oliver St John, at which time the Hall, outbuildings and gardens were all contained within a rectangular enclosure. The 1789 sale catalogue and inventory record show that the formal nature of the gardens had altered little but that the park had become more informal with the removal of some of the avenues. In 1850 the site was purchased by the Reverend William Strong, who was responsible for the next phase of developments. He extended the walled garden to the west to create a large kitchen garden.

Terrain

The Hall occupies an elevated position with views out to the north, east and south.

Detailed Description

The house stands within a rectangle of gardens, the whole being enclosed by a high stone wall contemporary with the house, its four corners surmounted by large stone urns. There are two entrance courts, one a road (mid-19th century) to the north and the other a water access from the River Nene to the south. The gates to these two courts are of elaborate design, the piers finished by pairs of lead falcons.

The principal garden lies to the east front, St John’s original layout was changed by the Reverend Strong in 1850 to an Italian design. Steps lead down from a stone terrace to a parterre of stone-edged beds. At the same time a raised walk to the north was treated as an informal shrubbery walk by the Victorians.

To the south, the raised walk, originally a bowling alley, is now a broad gravel path with banked sides. In the south-east corner is an 18th-century stone summerhouse set against the wall. This marks the eastern end of an axis established in the 1850s which runs across the gardens south of the house. An elaborate arch from the old south wing was placed in line with a gateway on the west wall to line up with the summerhouse.

The south garden walls were sold in 1789, and have been replaced by recently planted hornbeam hedges. The formal flowerbeds are planted with trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs available by 1656. To the south-west of the stable yard, a garden originally laid out by the Reverend Strong around 1850 has a brick summerhouse and a rose garden around an oval pool. The pool was originally a plunge pool for his children. By 1924 the house had been acquired by the Meaker family, whose roses have recently been replaced by healthier late-20th century ones.

Beyond the rose garden is the kitchen garden, now a garden centre, but the central herbaceous borders backed by yew hedges still remain. The earlier kitchen garden included an orchard and is now used by local model railway enthusiasts. Outside the high stone wall is a line of mature conifers and deciduous trees visually extending the garden in side to the park outside. Pairs of seating niches along the outer face of this wall were possibly inspired by similar niches at Wothorpe Towers.

Thorpe Hall is now a Sue Ryder Home, and recently the garden has been restored to reflect the owner’s garden styles.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

A country house, now in a city setting, surrounded by walled gardens and a small park dating from the mid 17th century, the gardens having Victorian additions.

DESCRIPTION

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

Thorpe Hall lies in the district of Longthorpe on the north-west side of the city of Peterborough, beyond the north-west bank of the River Nene and Thorpe Meadows. The site covers an area of c 26ha bounded to the south-east by the A1179 (Longthorpe Parkway), to the north-east and north-west by Thorpe Road, and to the south-west by housing. The Hall occupies an elevated position with views out to the north, east and south.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

Thorpe Hall is approached via a straight drive off Thorpe Road to the north (lodge no longer survives) which leads to the walled entrance court below the north front. A second, service drive leads from a stone-built lodge c 300m further to the south-west on Thorpe Road, c 150m to the west of the Hall. It lprovides access to the stables and domestic wing on the west front. A further drive can still be seen leading off the main drive eastwards towards the city, the lodge and entrance to the road which accompanied it having been removed on the construction of Longthorpe Parkway (late C20). The surviving lodge, together with the demolished north and east lodges, were built in the 1850s by the Rev Strong who reused materials from an old barn which he demolished to make way for a new kitchen garden, to construct the west lodge.

PRINCIPAL BUILDING

Thorpe Hall (listed grade I) is a square, three-storey country house built in the Classical Mannerist style of stone under a hipped tile roof. It was designed by Peter Mills for Chief Justice Oliver St John and constructed between 1653 and 1666. The seven-bay symmetrical entrance front faces north, whilst the garden front looks east and comprises three bays facing onto a raised, stone balustrated terrace.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

The Hall stands within a rectangle of gardens, the whole being enclosed by a high stone wall contemporary with the house, its four corners surmounted by large stone urns. The wall was built with two entrance courts, one to the north and the other to the south, only the former of which remains. The wall is broken on all four sides by carriage gateways, those to the north, south and east being of elaborate design, while that to the west is simpler, its piers being finished by stone balls. To either side of the north gateway are pedestrian doorways with C18 iron grilles.

The main garden area lies below the east front. Steps lead down from a balustraded terrace next to the Hall to a parterre of stone-edged beds laid out in the 1850s. Along the walls of the north and south sides of this area are raised walks, that to the north being treated as an informal shrubbery walk, that to the south being a broad gravelled path. In the south-east corner of the garden, set into the east wall, is an C18 stone summerhouse. This marks the eastern end of an axis established in the 1850s which runs east/west across the gardens south of the Hall. An arch saved from the old south wing's central doorway was placed to form the continuation of a line with the gateways in the east and west walls of the then new kitchen garden. The entrance to the west kitchen garden wall is an earlier feature and originally stood to the west of what is now the south entrance to the kitchen garden.

When the site was first laid out there was a walled court beneath the south front of the Hall, the lines of which have been picked up in the newly planted (late C20) hornbeam hedges. The garden to the west of this is laid to lawn with specimen trees, but originally contained a simple parterre bounded on its western edge by the stable yard (Thorpe Hall Working Party report). Both the walls of the court and the stables had been demolished by the 1850s.

South-west of the Hall, partly on the site of the stables, is the Victorian Children's Garden, previously a swimming pool, now (1999) a rose garden, laid out around an oval pool. The brick summerhouse in the south-east corner was brought from Stanground Manor in the 1850s.

PARK

The Hall and walled gardens are set in a small park, level to the north and sloping away to the south and east. Of the C17 avenues which radiated from the centres of the north, south and west garden walls, only traces of the lime avenue to the north survive. In the south-west corner of the park are the Holywell Ponds, a complex of fishponds dug to accompany the medieval manor house (no longer standing) and later incorporated as a feature into the C17 park.

KITCHEN GARDEN

The kitchen garden lies beyond the rose garden c 100m to the west of the Hall. The walls, built in the 1850s, are stone, faced with brick. To the north of the service wing, within the mid C17 walls, is an area of orchard. Originally this was two garden divisions but these had been amalgamated into one for use as a productive ground by the 1820s (Thorpe Hall Working Party report). In the 1850s a secondary wall to the west was put up to separate off the servants' entrance from this enclosure.

REFERENCES

Country Life, 16 (13 August 1904), pp 234-243; 46 (6 September 1919), pp 300-304; (13 September 1919), pp 330-338; 48 (18 December 1920), pp 833-834; no 44 (31 October 1991), pp 70-73

C H Poynton, Oliver St John (1909), (Peterborough Natural History, Scientific and Archaeological Society leaflet)

Gardeners' Chronicle, i (1939), p 379

Report on the development of Thorpe Hall Gardens, (Thorpe Hall Working Party, September 1986) [Copy on EH file]

Description written: March 2000

Amended: December 2000

Edited: January 2001

Features

Plant Environment

  • Walled Garden
  • Environment

Style

  • Formal
  • Hall (featured building)
  • Now Hospice
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Access & Directions

Directions

Off the A1179, one mile west of Peterborough city centre.
History

Detailed History

This three storey stone house was built between 1650 and 1656 for Oliver St John, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Oliver Cromwell. Although there have been modifications to the detail of the internal arrangement of the garden, its basic layout reflects the original design of the mid-17th century.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

Thorpe Hall was built between 1650 and 1656 for Oliver St John, at which time the Hall, outbuildings and gardens were all contained within a rectangular enclosure (Thorpe Hall Working Party report). The earliest known plan of these gardens dates from 1760 and shows a series of courtyards surrounding the Hall as well as a pattern of avenues radiating out into the park from the garden walls.

Frances St John, the last of the family, died in 1789 and the estate, having reverted to the Dean and Chapter of Peterborough Cathedral, was then sold to the Fitzwilliam family (of neighbouring Milton Park). The 1789 sale catalogue and inventory record show that the formal nature of the gardens had altered little but that the park had become more informal with the removal of some of the avenues.

The Hall was occupied by tenants until 1850 when it was purchased by the Reverend William Strong. Strong was responsible for the next phase of developments, which are recorded in a series of journals he kept of the work to the gardens, partly carried out within the 17th century framework (Northamptonshire Record Office). He extended the walled garden to the west to create a large kitchen garden.

The gardens changed little until 1947 when the Hall became a hospital, although some modifications were undertaken by the Meaker family who purchased the estate in 1927. After 1947 the gardens became neglected but (late 20th century) have become the subject of a major restoration plan, following the purchase of the Hall by the Sue Ryder Foundation in the late 1980s and the formation of the Thorpe Hall Gardens Working Party. The site remains (1999) in institutional use.

Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust