Sezincote, Gloucestershire

Secreted in the depths of the Cotswolds, an area famous for its lovely local stone cottages and its picturesque little country villages, is a wonderfully individual house most incongruous to this environment. A large turquoise onion dome is the first clue to its typically Muslim architecture, which is delightfully combined with a strong Hindu flavour. Thought to be the only Moghul building to survive in Western Europe, these imaginative designs were quite the fashion in the early 1800s, and reflected the growing importance of India within the realm. Coupled with the fact that the estate was bought by Colonel John Cockerell on his return from Bengal, it is not difficult to see why the house adopted this 'Indianised' influence.

John Cockerell died only three years after buying Sezincote, and it was his brother, Charles, that commissioned Samuel Pepys Cockerell to complete a house that would make him feel at home, having also worked for many years at the East India Company. The result is a harmonious blend of the cultural influences, creating a decorative house with a long, curved Orangery to one side, that is both pleasing and restful to the eye. Furthermore, the gardens provide a real sense of mystique and tranquillity with their water features, temples and statues, and put the house nicely into context. Humphrey Repton was known to have assisted in the design of the gardens but it is unclear whether the entire project can be attributed to him.

Surprisingly, the internal decor is quite classical and no attempt was ever made to continue the Indian theme so apparent on the outside of the building. Apparently, a local travelling vicar who stumbled upon Sezincote one day was heard describing the house as "a dark and damp house in such vulgar taste". Certainly there is no evidence today that tallies with this rather unkind description. By 1944, when Sir Cyril and Lady Kleinwort bought the estate, the house and gardens were in a very poor condition, and they devoted their time and energy into restoring Sezincote to its original glorious appearance. Every room has received careful and costly attention to detail.

In the drawing room the huge drapes, exact replicas of the originals, have a wonderful deep tufted pelmet fringe which reportedly took one man in London a full two years to complete. Perhaps the most outrageous room in the house is the Peacock bedroom, displaying such an array of styles and influences that they somehow all gel together in a delightfully haphazard way. The centrepiece is a four-poster, canopied bed, built around the original tent poles from Sir Charles Cockerell's tent room, and topped with an onion dome. All the reception rooms used to be on the first floor but the Kleinwort's transformed the ground floor billiard room into the family dining room.

Still very much a family home with lots of trinkets and interesting objects, it is almost inconceivable that this moderate residence influenced John Nash's remodelling of the Brighton Royal Pavilion's fantastic oriental exterior in the 1820s.


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