The fateful decision by Manners to employ Sir George Gilbert Scott on the Foreign Office, which led to so much anguish, was, it seems, prompted by a design that Scott was preparing for Manners’ second cousin, John Henry Manners-Sutton (1822-98), for the reconstruction of Kelham Hall. This stands on the river Trent, just outside Newark in Nottinghamshire. Here in Newark, in 1855, Scott had addressed a combined meeting of the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire architectural societies, as he was completing his restoration of the town’s church.
Scott, however, did not discuss the church restoration but told his audience in a particularly forthright manner of his concern for the present state of secular architecture and asked for a return to the old traditional ways of building. It is not certain if Manners-Sutton was in the audience that heard Scott proclaim the suitability of Gothic for secular buildings, but it is quite certain that Manners-Sutton was dissatisfied with Kelham Hall. In 1843 he had commissioned Anthony Salvin to turn his eighteenth century house into something more fashionable for the period.
Salvin produced a scheme to transform the house into a Jacobean style mansion, and £9,000 was spent between 1844 and 1846. Manners-Sutton was still not satisfied with the alterations and, after Scott’s address at Newark, he called in Scott who seems to have had no misgivings in superseding his friend Salvin. Scott was carrying out various alterations when on the night of 26 November 1857, the whole house, apart from Salvin’s new service wing, went up in flames.
Scott was probably instructed to prepare designs for a new mansion very soon after the fire, and as the first edition of the Remarks had just appeared, it must have seemed amazingly fortuitous that he was now given the opportunity to put into practice the ideas that he was advocating in the book to such an influential, and apparently wealthy, client. As a local landowner, Manners-Sutton held considerable sway over the 1,600 voters of Newark, and at the 1841 General Election he was able to give his cousin, Lord John Manners, his first step in his long political career by persuading the voters of Newark to elect him as their M.P. But at the General Election in July 1847, Lord John stood aside to allow Manners-Sutton himself to become one of the Members for Newark. This resulted in Lord John being out of Parliament for three years. Manners-Sutton’s own political career was less distinguished than that of his cousin and he seems to have decided to stand down at the 1857 General Election to become a country gentleman and to return to his ideas of improving Kelham.
Kelham Hall is the largest and most spectacular mansion that Scott ever built. Whether his appointment came through his connection with Lord John Manners or his views on secular architecture as expressed in the Newark address or in his Remarks is not clear, but it seems that Manners-Sutton was anxious to make a grand display of opulence. He probably employed Scott as the only Gothic architect of the day whom he felt could turn his classical mansion into something appropriate to his own dignity and his station in society.
The apparent death of the Foreign Office scheme in August 1857 meant that Scott could turn his attention to remodelling Kelham, and with the fire two months later, he was thankfully able to avoid any chance of producing another hybrid like Brownsover. The design of the new house was worked out in 1858 and Scott’s office started to produce the numerous working drawings required in January 1859. The contractors appointed were the well-known London firm of William Cubitt & Co., of Gray’s Inn Road. Cubitt attended the meeting at the Office of Works on 24 March 1859, when tendering arrangements for the Foreign Office were discussed, where he not only met his rivals for the work but Scott was also present. It must have been very soon after this meeting that Cubitt was awarded the contract for Kelham, so perhaps Scott had told him about the large and elaborate house that he was designing and Cubitt asked to be considered for the work. Cubitt also probably knew Manners-Sutton as they both entered Parliament at the 1847 General Election as Liberal Conservatives. Otherwise it would seem unlikely that an organisation such as Cubitt’s would have wanted to become involved in a single country house, however big and ornate, so far from London. But for Scott there were obvious advantages in reviving his connection with the, by then, influential Cubitt, who apart from continuing as an M.P. until his death in 1863, was set to become Lord Mayor of London in 1860. Perhaps most significantly in the progress of Scott’s career, it was William Cubitt who, after the death of Prince Albert in December 1861, took the initiative to call a meeting to discuss the provision of a public memorial for the Prince.
Another appointment which had future implications for Scott was the recruitment of Joseph Sheffield as Clerk of Works for Kelham. He was clearly so dependable that after his spell on the Foreign Office he supervised the construction of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, ending up with a total of thirteen years as one of Scott’s Clerks of Works.
The foundations of Kelham Hall were laid in April 1859 and it took more than two years to build. It is built of red bricks from Retford, to the north of Kelham, with stone dressings from the famous quarries at Ancaster, which are twelve miles to the south-east. Many of the details are repeated from the Gothic Government Offices designs, including alternating voissoirs to the window arches, stone balconies and balustrades, a strongly emphasised cornice with a variegated roof-line and a variety of window traceries.
Scott seems to have been determined to use as much of his High Victorian vocabulary as was possible on Kelham. But it is perhaps the application of a public building scale to a domestic structure which makes it seem so much smaller than it actually is. Its massive form completely dwarfs the modestly scaled earlier and later structures which adjoin it on the north side. Even the smallest bedroom is twenty feet square and the cloistered carriage forecourt, which has a glass roof, has been described as ‘rather like a station forecourt, 58 ft square and large enough for two or three carriages to turn in’.
Scott produced a picturesque composition with an informal arrangement of towers, gables and chimneys, to harmonise with the idyllic riverside landscape in which the house is set. This was enhanced when the road to Southwell was diverted away from the river bank to the other side of the house. The sheer size of the house, particularly its height, gives it the requirements of dignity, as set down in the Remarks, and it can be seen for miles around. Scott also provided designs for a variety of features on the estate. These included an entrance lodge, a pavilion, an alcove, a barn and stables, and walls and terraces. A gas works was specially built to serve the house and its spare capacity also gave street lighting to the village of Kelham. As well as the gas lighting, Scott provided Manners-Sutton with many of the other modern conveniences of the time. Central heating was installed, a luggage lift was provided, and presumably because of the fire in 1857, the building was made entirely fire-proof. All the rooms have either ceilings of vaulted brickwork, iron beams with arched brick infill, or thick unreinforced plaster vaults provided by C. C. & A. Dennett of Nottingham. This was the first time that Scott employed this firm, but he obviously liked their product as he used it on the Foreign Office in 1866 and throughout the Home and Colonial Offices in 1870.
Scott tried to ensure a successful outcome by employing some of his favourite craftsmen. Francis Ruddle signed a contract for the provision of internal finishings on 23 April 1860, and William Brindley carried out a considerable amount of carving. Brindley’s work is most noticeable in the Music Hall, which is the grandest space in the house. It goes through two stories, with a double height screen of pointed arches along one side where the first floor corridor emerges as a gallery overlooking the hall. All the surfaces throughout the more public parts of the house were painted or stencilled with medieval inspired motifs, but many have since disappeared. Scott even designed some of the furniture including a writing table for a bedroom and bookcases. In its heyday the whole interior must have been a dazzling display of opulence. It is difficult to know how much personal involvement Scott had with Kelham. Certainly before he was awarded the Foreign Office commission he probably gave this work considerable attention. But after November 1858, the Foreign Office took priority and the job of supplying the vast number of drawings required, it seems, went to Bignell at Spring Gardens.
In the end Kelham cost £40,000, but it was all too lavish; the clock tower never received its clock, and some parts, particularly the conservatory, were never built. Manners-Sutton, in spite of owning a vast estate, ran into debt and at the time of Scott’s death, £63 in outstanding fees were written off as a bad debt by Scott’s executors. After failing to make his mark as a politician, Manners-Sutton’s aspirations to acquire the trappings of landed gentry had ended in ignominy. It is now the headquarters of Newark and Sherwood District Council.
Today Kelham Hall is considered to be Scott’s best mansion, and he was clearly proud of it as part of his development of a secular style. ‘In domestic architecture I do think that I struck out a variety eminently practical & thoroughly suited to the wants & habits of the day’.
Scott, G. G., Remarks on Secular and Domestic Architecture, Present and Future (John Murray, London, 2nd ed. 1858), pp. 1, 5.
Allibone, J., Anthony Salvin, Pioneer of Gothic Revival Architecture (Lutterworth Press, Cambridge, 1988), p. 168.
Parliamentary Papers, 1857-8, (417) XI, l.q. 1027.
Vincent, J., and Stenton, M., (eds), McCalmonts’ Parliamentary Poll Book, British Election Results 1832-1918 (The Harvester Press, Brighton, 1971), p. 209.
Whibley, C., Lord John Manners and his Friends (Blackwood, Edinburgh and London, 1925), p. 95.
Girouard, M., The Victorian Country House (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1979), pp. 225- 7.
Fisher, G., Stamp, G. and Heseltine, J., (eds), The Scott Family, Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Avebury Publishing, Amersham, 1981), 39 [b], 40 [b], 42 [a & b], 49 [a].
Pevsner, N. and Williamson, E., Nottinghamshire, Buildings of England (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1979), p. 152.
Franklin, J., The Gentlemen’s Country House and its plan, 1835-1914 (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, Boston and Henley, 1981), pp. 76-7.
The Building News, VII, 28 June 1861, p. 543.
Eastlake, C. L., A History of the Gothic Revival, Mordaunt-Crook, J. (ed.), (Leicester University Press, Leicester, 1978), p. 99.
RIBA Drawings Collection, Ledger of Scott’s Office, 1875-1914, p. 57.
Bennett, F., and Stobbs, G., Kelham Hall, a Family and a House (Newark and Sherwood District Council, Newark, 1980), p. 38.
Scott’s Recollections, II 271.