A Fascinating Visit to Flintham Hall with the Attingham Summer School

The start of the 68th Attingham Summer School yesterday brought back wonderful memories from attending last year.  Attingham was an amazing experience to study the architecture, art, decorative arts, landscape and material culture of English country houses from medieval times to the late 19th century.  It was an incredible opportunity and I am still learning from it and I expect that I will for years to come.  I posted about Attingham last year both here on the blog and on Instagram, but there were a few places I did not get around to writing about, one of which was Flintham Hall in Nottinghamshire. 

The southern end of the house features a porte-cochere tower.

Flintham was my favorite as it is a family home and the property to which I could most relate to my experience here at the Chancognie House, albeit on a vastly smaller scale.  The property has been in the same family since the late 18th century, but the site dates to Saxon times with 12th century cellars surviving under the current house.  Flintham was purchased in 1789 by Colonel Thomas Thoroton and in 1797 work began on remodeling the existing medieval and Jacobean house into a nine bay wide stuccoed house with a single-story parlor and a two-story east kitchen wing. 

View from the east side of the house. Last summer was one of the driest summers on record in the UK.

Colonel Thoroton died in 1813 and his son inherited the property.  When he married the heiress of the Hildyard family of Yorkshire in 1815, he took her name.  In the mid-1820’s, Lewis Wyatt (1777-1853) was hired to enlarge the house, but only the library had been built when Hildyard died in 1830. 

The most extensive remodeling of Flintham was undertaken by Thomas Blackborne Thoroton Hildyard from 1852-57.  Rather than a prominent London architect, Hildyard hired Thomas Chambers Hine (1813-99) a Nottingham based designer of commercial buildings.  Hine encased the stucco house in stone molded in an Italianate style and added offices, kennels and additional lodging. 

View of the library looking into the conservatory.

But Hine’s masterpiece at Flintham is the conservatory.  No doubt inspired by Crystal Palace, built in London’s Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 (it was later demolished in 1936), the 40-foot high, cast-iron barrel-vaulted conservatory was designed to house palm trees and features a three-tier marble fountain in the center.  A remarkable survivor, it is one of the few Victorian conservatories still attached to an English private home serving in its original capacity and is arguably the finest. 

View from Hine’s stunning cast-iron and glass conservatory at Flintham.

Unfortunately, the great expense of the project caused severe financial hardship for Hildyard. The north facade remains red brick as money was not available to reface it with stone. In 1880 he attempted to sell the house, but a buyer was not found, and the house remained in the family.  In 2005 the house passed from Miles Hildyard to his nephew Robert.  Sir Robert Hildyard and his family are the current stewards of this remarkable property.  They have undertaken many projects including the restoration of the roof over the main hall, removal of iron fixtures from the masonry and most recently, the conservation of the cast-iron and glazed glass conservatory roof. 

View into the conservatory from the second floor of the library.

As financial hardship pressed on later generations, the surrounding property was sold off and the house can no longer be maintained by the property that it still holds.  As a result, Sir Robert and his wife both work in London in order to sustain Flintham and the upkeep necessary for such a property.  Sir Robert spoke quite frankly about these challenges which as the owner of a historic property, I could relate to on a much smaller scale.  The Hildyard family is to be commended for their outstanding stewardship of this property, but the most appealing aspect of Flintham for me was that it felt like a home because it still is very much a family home.  Sir Robert, his wife Lucy, daughter Lottie and dog Ben welcomed the Attingham Summer School to their home with gracious and generous hospitality that made for a truly marvelous and memorable visit! 

An Attingham Summer School tradition is for students to thank property owners for hosting visits. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to thank Sir Robert and his family.

Information for this blog post was taken from John Cornforth, ‘Flintham Hall, Nottinghamshire: the seat of Mr. Myles Thoroton Hildyard, I-III’, Country Life, 20 & 27 December 1979, pp. 2374-77, 2454-57, January 1980, pp. 18-21. 

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