Kelmarsh Hall, a country house built in the 'Palladian' style, was completed in 1732 to the design of the famous architect, James Gibbs. Set in the natural landscape of Northamptonshire, the mellow brick of the central block with its projecting pavilions appear quite at one with their surroundings, and are a testament to its designers.
The estate has been home to many families over the centuries, but one of the earliest recorded owners was the Osborne family. They are known to have held the estate in 1485, when King Richard III was killed in battle at Bosworth Field, and remained at Kelmarsh Hall until Sir Robert Osborne was forced to sell the estate in mysterious circumstances in 1617.
Three years later, John Hanbury paid £11,600 for the estate but it remains unclear as to whether he was responsible for rebuilding the original house, or simply enlarged it. The estate passed through several more members of the Hanbury family before being inherited by William Hanbury I, who constructed the Kelmarsh Hall as seen today.
Many famous names, apart from James Gibbs, have contributed to the internal decor of the house. Plasterwork in the Entrance Hall can be attributed to the Italian craftsmen, Artari and Bagutti, as well as work by Francis Smith of Warwick. During subsequent alterations in 1770, James Wyatt is known to have decorated the Dining Room and Saloon on instructions from John Hanbury II.
In the early part of the 19th century, when Kelmarsh was in the ownership of John Hanbury III, the roof of the main hall and north pavilion were raised to provide additional accommodation for the staff. He was also responsible for in installation of water closets in 1825.
This family's long association with Kelmarsh Hall eventually came to an end with the death of William Hanbury III. When William, 2nd Baron Bateman inherited the estate he decided to move his household to Shobdon Court, letting Kelmarsh Hall to William Angerstein, of Lloyds of London fame.
In 1865 the estate was purchased by Richard Christopher Naylor, and it was he who commissioned James Kellaway Cooling to create the ballroom, as well as to restore the interior to Kelmarsh Church. On the death of the Naylors, the trustees sold the estate to the Lancaster family who, in 1927, rented it on a 'repairing' lease to Ronald Tree and his American wife Nancy. It was due to Nancy's natural flair, and her keen eye for detail, that Kelmarsh was able to be transformed. The house which had become somewhat gloomy, cluttered and 'frayed around the edges', was given a new lease of life. Having created a light, airy and inviting property, Nancy turned to her attention to the outside and, with the assistance of Norah Lindsay, created the flower gardens.
Disappointed that they were unable to purchase Kelmarsh Hall, the Trees surrendered their lease in 1933 and subsequently bought Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire. However, Nancy Tree did return to Kelmarsh Hall when she married Colonel 'Jubie' Lancaster in 1948, but the marriage did not last. The Lancaster family remained at Kelmarsh Hall and, in 1982, Cicely Lancaster set up the Kelmarsh Hall Trust to ensure the future conservation and management of the estate.