Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire

Wimpole Hall, regarded by many as the most majestic house in Cambridgeshire, was strategically located close to two Roman roads giving easy access to London. The house has changed a great deal since it was originally built in the late 1630s in the form of a four-gabled manor house surrounded by a rectangular moat.

For 250 years the Chicheley family dominated the history of Wimpole Hall, and the south western area of Cambridgeshire, purchasing an increasing number of manors into their possession. After demolishing the old property at Wimpole, Thomas Chicheley built the new Hall to the south east of the old site. It was built in the 'new-style', allowing the symmetrically placed hall to be entered through the centre of the south range, with a long gallery above. At the time this was considered to be an extraordinary curiosity, but Chicheley's novel plan allowed for the development of a typical, later Stuart country house. However, building costs, and Chicheley's expensive life style, soon forced him to sell Wimpole Hall to Sir John Cutler.

In 1693, on Sir John's death, Wimpole Hall passed to his daughter and then, only four years later on her death, by her husband Lord Radnor, who spent some £20,000 on refurbishing Wimpole Hall. These works included the construction of the Orangery to the west of the house, and a service wing to balance it on the eastern side. Once again, however, Wimpole Hall had to be sold because of the incredible financial strain it imposed.

With the marriage of its new owner, Henrietta Cavendish-Holles to Lord Harley in the Ante Room, Wimpole Hall was to enter an even more memorable phase. Lord Harley had a passion for collecting and his aim was to make Wimpole Hall an important centre for art and learning in the Georgian age. He dramatically changed its interior, to the grand Baroque style, of which the chapel is the finest surviving example.

By 1720, Harley's guests were able to view his massive collection of books in the five rooms built specifically to house them, and then later in the Great Library, built as a major extension to the main house. Some of the beautiful and intricate plasterwork on the Great Staircase survives today. Unfortunately, with changing times the house became unfashionable and, in the 1730s, was purchased by Lord Hardwicke, who converted Wimpole Hall to the Palladian style we see today. Externally, he produced a more harmonious effect to the structure, but inside the house was decorated in a more ostentatious nature.

A most exceptional room at Wimpole Hall is the Yellow Drawing Room, designed by Sir John Soanes for his friend, Philip Yorke who had recently inherited the property. Quite fantastically, Soanes literally inserted a new room, combining both ground and first floor rooms, with a dome at one end and a barrel-vaulted section. This room is so spectacular, and splendidly decorated, that it alone warrants a visit to Wimpole Hall.

In 1843, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arranged a visit for two days and, in their honour, two huge new wings were added. By 1930, with the maintenance of country houses being so prohibitive, Wimpole Hall was let to tenants and in 1936 Rudyard Kipling's daughter occupied the house. On her father's death, she was able to purchase the estate and subsequently lavished much care and attention on the restoration of Wimpole Hall. When she died in 1976, the house's future was secured by her bequest to the National Trust.


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