words supplied by Sandra Noon
Visit Arbury website at www.arburyestate.co.uk
Arbury’s origin dates back to the time of doomsday book when it was known as Erdbury, it could be found near the northern border of the Arden forest.
In the 12th century Ralph de Sudeley, who owned a large proportion of land in the area, granted the area known as Erdbury to the Augustinian Canons, who constructed a Priory on the site Arbury Hall now occupies. Later when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries Erdbury Priory was confiscated and bestowed upon Charles Brandon, Henry’s brother-in-law.
In 1567 Sir Edmond Anderson purchased Erdbury Priory which he had converted into an Elizabethan manor house, the work took 17 years to complete to form Arbury Hall, and the design was that of a quadrangle with a central courtyard. Just two years later Sir John Newdigate and his family became the residents, after exchanging properties with Edmund Anderson who needed to move to be closer to his work. In the late 16th century Sir John’s son John and his wife Ann moved into Arbury, which was bestowed to them as a wedding gift.
In the early 17th century Arbury was inherited by Sir John’s grandson John and his wife Susanna, they become the owners after the death of John’s widowed mother Ann. Richard Newdigate, John’s brother and his wife Juliana came to be the owners of Arbury Hall in the mid 17th century, when his brother died without producing an heir. 23 years later all lands in Warwickshire owned by Richard Newdigate were entrusted to his son Richard, along with his wife they took up residence the following year. During that same year the north walk was created by the planting of Norwegian firs. Sir William Wilson and Sir Christopher Wren were consulted regarding plans for the new stable block; work began the following year using stone from Attleborough quarries, along with bricks made at Adam Broughton’s yard adjacent to Arbury. Work also began on the family chapel. Upon the death of Sir Richard in 1710 his son Richard became 3rd Baronet, and 2 years later took up residence at Arbury with his wife Elizabeth. A few years later the firm of Francis Foljambe were commissioned to construct a pair of wrought iron gates beside the stable block were the access to the gardens began, which can still be seen today. At the time of Sir Richard death in 1727 his son Edward inherited the land and tile at the age of 11; unfortunately he did not live passed 18, so it passed to his brother Roger on his coming of age in 1740.
It wasn’t until ten years later that Sir Roger commissioned work to transform Arbury Hall from an Elizabethan manor house into the Gothic revival design we see today, after one of his trips abroad where he was inspired by the architecture. With the help of architect Sanderson Miller work began with the installation of a Gothic style bow window situated at the south west corner, which formed part of the library.
During 1752 further work was carried out in the library, the woodwork was in the capable hands of Benjamin King, and Robert Moore was commissioned to design and mould the plasterwork. Ten years later, when the library was completed, work began on the drawing room situated at the south east corner, the design was the work of architect Henry Keene, and in 1764 the family chapel was renovated and a new floor laid. The parlor chimneybreast was created in the style of a fourteenth-century tomb and was created by Richard Hayward. The Gothic design for the south side of the hall was completed with the transformation of the great hall into a dinning room by Henry Keene in 1770, the ceiling of which is reminiscent of a Cathedral, the Stone chimney breast was replaced with a Gothic style Oak surround, and Italian statues collected by Sir Roger were placed around the room. The dinning room was completed in 1779. Grey sandstone from the quarries at Wilncote and Attleborough were used to finish the outer wall, which exhibits detailed stone carvings. Also at this time the old tea house, umbrella house as it was fondly recognized, was converted into a dwelling to the east side of the main house.
Construction began on Round Towers farm in 1772 which included a single tower. Ten years later work focused on two lodges, which took just a year to complete and became an impressive entrance to the hall, I remember as a child being fascinated by this structure, and always wondered what was beyond, this twin towered gateway and the single tower of the farm have both become local landmarks today.
The next part of the hall to be transformed in 1783 was the east wing, by the addition of a corridor linking the rooms; it was given the name the cloisters because of its origin as an Abbey, the work on cloisters took 2 years to complete. It is also believed that Gothic decorations were also fitted to the school room and small sitting room at this time.
In the year 1784 the north walk was lengthened so it reached Swan Lane, now known as Arbury Road, and Arley Street, which is now Ansley Road. A 3rd gate house was also constructed and given the name Astley Lodge because of its proximity to Astley Castle, work on this was completed the following year. During the same year Sir Roger purchased continental glass from James Broden and sons to be placed in the cloisters, which were also completed the following year. Once the Cloisters were complete plans were submitted by Henry Couchman for work to begin on the Lofty Saloon, which were approved and work began in 1786 with an amazing plaster work ceiling designed by W Hanwell. The Saloon was described as ‘magnificent’, it also boasts a bay window which has filigree tracery and tinted glass, the walls were decorated with 20 Scagliola columns, and it later became the music room in memory of Lady Hester, Sir Rogers second wife.
During the late 18th century a bath house was built over a natural spring, the water of which was believed to be therapeutic, this building was located beside the north walk. Shortly after Sir Roger armed his staff with bayonets to ward of rioters, this was due to the social unrest at that time, which is believed to be linked to the food riots of 1756, when the poorer people of the area were starving due to low wages.
The work to transform this imposing structure into the Gothic splenduor we see today was completed in 1803 with the purchase of a special chandelier for the Saloon from Perry and Parker of London to celebrate the completion. However Sir Roger’s enjoyment of his creation was short lived, just three years later he died, and the estate became the property of Francis Parker, Sir Rogers cousin as there was no direct heir. Francis took on the name Newdigate, however the baronetcy was lost. Robert Evans became Francis Parker Newdigate’s land agent, and moved into South Farm on the estate. In 1819 Robert Evans wife Christiana gave birth to Mary Ann, not knowing that she would become the famous authoress George Eliot, growing up on the estate became a big influence on her work, and she wrote about Knebly Church and Knebley Abbey, which were based on Astley Church and castle, she also referred to Arbury Hall as Cheveral Manor and Sir Roger as Sir Christopher Cheveral.
During 1832 there was further unrest on the Arbury estate when poachers attacked Simon Clay the game keeper after he disturbed them, six of the twenty men were arrested, two of which Henry Parker and Robert Twigger were sentenced to execution for attempted murder. Just five years later Charles Newdigate Newdigate, Francis’s nephew and grandson of Sir Roger inherited the estate after his uncle’s death two years previous, when he was only twelve. When Charles died fifty years later the estate was passed to Lt General Sir Edward Newdigate Newdigate, the grandson of Francis Parker Newdigate. Upon his return from Bermuda, where he had been governor, Sir Edward commissioned the construction of a small miners village he called Bermuda, with a lane linking it to the park around the estate, called Harefield after the family former home. Sir Edward died age 77, was buried at Astley and a commemorative window was placed in the south wall of the church. The estate was then passed down to Sir Francis Newdigate Newdigate, the nephew of Sir Edward, until his death in 1936 when the estate passed to his daughter the Rt Hon Mrs Lucia Charlotte Susan FitzRoy – Newdigate.
Just after the turn of the century when the world was in the grip of the First World War Arbury Hall was used as a military hospilal. The hall was also taken over again during the Second World War when it was used to house both British and American soldiers, and later was used as a prisoner of war camp, when the war ended there were no fewer than 10,000 German prisoners held there. The occupants during this time did considerable damage, which left the FitzRoy – Newdigate’s with the immense task of returning the hall to its former glory. The prisoners did however help to rebuild All Saints Church in Chilvers Coton, which was on land belonging to the estate. In 1950 Lady FitzRoy – Newdigate signed the estate over to her son Humphrey FitzRoy – Newdigate, who later became the third Viscount Daventry. In 1951 Sir Humphrey won a battle to save both Arbury Hall and Astley Church from underground mining works, this was achieved with help from Harold Macmillan, who was the minister for Housing and local Government at the time. Two years later Sir Humphrey secured a grant from the Historical Buildings Association for repair work to be carried out on the stonework, this was granted on the understanding that the hall be open to the public, this was carried out the same year, and is still in place today. Sir Humphrey and his new wife Rosemary moved into Temple House in the grounds after there marriage in 1959, due to repair work that needed to be undertaken.
During the later part of the 20th century a great deal of work was carried out, part of which was new mullions on the 17th century stables, repair to stonework on the Porte Cochere, and inner courtyard chimneys all this was overseen by the Architect Peregrine Bryant. The work took a total of 17 years to complete before the family were able to return.
In the year 2000, The Hon James Edward FitzRoy – Newdigate took over the estate after his father’s death, later that year he commissioned Peregrine Bryant to undertake a millennium project, which included a swimming pool with pool house, and landscaping in the walled garden. In 2005 it was revealed that extensive work was needed on the exterior stonework and roof, which should now be completed.