I feel like most people have a National Trust Property, garden or historic site so nearby to them, they often take it for granted. Ickworth House, near Bury St. Edmunds is definitely mine. I visit Ickworth at least five times a year and after exploring the house multiple times, I now just visit with friends or family to relax or go on a walk around the grounds and garden. However, I thought it was about time a read a bit more about the house and put together a post about such a unique architectural icon in the Suffolk landscape.
Ickworth is a traditional National Trust Property with the historic house, gardens and extensive grounds. It also has a plant shop, gift shop and two cafes, one in the house and another in a Porter’s Lodge near the entrance. Sadly the East Wing is now a Hotel, and although I can imagine it’s a pretty amazing place to stay there, it’s a shame it wasn’t preserved for visitors.
Ickworth was home to the Hervey family for over 500 years which saw it transform from a deer park into an aristocratic seat. However, the house you see today is not the original building on the site. The Hervey family originally lived in Ickworth Lodge, a converted farmhouse which saw a number of additions which made it into a house more suitable for a prominent family, yet it still remained mildly cramped. There were also numerous changes made to the landscape which included the demolition of the village of Ickworth, whose residents were rehoused in the neighbouring village of Horringer. This made way for extensive pastures, suitable for a grand estate which led to the desire to move out of Ickworth Lodge and ensue the construction of the Rotunda in 1795, which still stands today. The new building was initially intended to house the Earl Bishop’s (4th Earl of Bristol’s) art collection, showcasing the hoard of treasures he’d acquired during his Grand Tour. Inspired by his time abroad, the Earl Bishop commissioned Italian architect Antonio Asprucci to create a neo-classical villa on his Estate. Unfortunately, the Earl Bishop’s collection was confiscated by the Napoleonic army in Rome 1798 and the Earl Bishop died in 1803, never seeing his creation come to fruition, with only the shell of the Rotunda complete.
The work on the house continued in the 1820s under the Earl Bishop’s son, the future 1st Marquess of Bristol. He made some adaptions to the function of the house, intending to use the East Wing as family quarters rather than extensive gallery space. The work continued on the house into the 1840s, due to a series of financial issues and remained in the Hervey family until, 1956 when Ickworth fell into the hands of the National Trust. Since then the empty West Wing was transformed into a visitors centre restaurant, shop, and function rooms in 2005 and the basement was restored to its former glory and reopened in 2009 to reveal the servants quarters.
There are some great exhibits and collections on show, including an enormous display of silver and a series of portraits line the walls of each room. Despite the impressive museum-like collection, I’m always particularly drawn to the architectural details whenever I visit. I particularly like the overall curving, almost organic feel of the whole building, the round central Rotunda is emphasised by the curving corridors, rounded windows and columns that feature throughout the building. The frieze on the Rotunda is another element of great interest to me, it can often be overshadowed by the sheer size of the rotunda itself, but if you look closely you can pick out scenes from the Olympics, and illustrations depicting Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
Another element which always leaves me in awe with every visit is the enterance hall with its enormous scagliola columns and John Flaxman’s ‘The Fury of Athamas’ taking centre stage. This imposing marble group was comissioned by the Earl Bishop in Rome 1790 for £600 and represents a scene from Ovis’ Metamorphoses. This sculpture was among those confiscated by the French in 1798, however it was luckily bought back by the 1st Marquess in Paris in the early 1820s. I absolutely love how the sculpture can be both grand and imposing, yet display such detail at the same time, quite like the Rotunda itself.
Hope you enjoyed this post and are inspired to visit Ickworth! Ickworth is about to undergo an intense conservation project from late 2018 to 2020, helping to restore the rotunda and preserve it for years to come. Sadly this means part of Ickworth will be closed throughout the period and the rotunda will be covered in scaffolding. So, if you haven’t visited Ickworth yet, now is the time to do it before all of the conservation work takes place!