Saturday, October 22, 2016

Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire

Lyveden Hall and mound reflected in the moat in the autumn sunshine

A couple of weeks ago I visited the National Trust property of Lyveden New Bield, an unfinished Elizabethan summer house in the east of Northamptonshire, and a Grade I listed building.

It was constructed for Sir Thomas Tresham, who was a figure of national importance and a talented designer, and also a fervent Roman Catholic, for which he suffered persecution a good portion of his life. Much of the garden design and cultivation instruction were penned by Tresham from his prison cell. The house is thought to have been designed by Robert Stickells. The exact date is unknown but can be estimated to circa 1604–05, the year of Tresham's death. 

Trees and clouds reflected in the 400 year old moat at Lyveden New Bield
A section of the moat, which is over 400 years old.

The New Bield was on the estate of Tresham's second home, Lyveden Manor House, also known as Lyveden Old Bield, the once grand principal house of the estate, and had belonged to the Tresham family from c.1450. Today, little remains and what does was probably built by Thomas Tresham's grandson Lewis. 

Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire under white clouds and a blue sky
The house stands exactly as it did when workmen downed tools in 1605.

The original oak staircase from the New Bield was transported to America, where it was incorporated in the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House near Detroit. It’s believed the staircase was removed from Lyveden House in payment of a gambling debt to the Ford motor family around 1920. Henry Ford’s son built his country house around the staircase, which still stands and can be seen in the house.

Looking up from the interior of Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire
Looking up from the basement of the house.

Tresham died leaving extensive debts, and his son and heir Francis Tresham was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot that same year, and was executed in the Tower of London. Francis' wife administered the estate for his younger brother Lewis, but the younger Tresham's lavish lifestyle meant that the money soon disappeared, and the house was never finished. The incomplete shell of Lyveden House stands essentially as it did in 1605.

Afternoon sunshine lights up the trees and ancient moat at Lyveden New Bield
The house can just be glimpsed beyond the gardens. This section contained a spiral maze, which was only
discovered when photographs taken from planes during WWII were analysed. 

The house was sequestered in 1649, during the Civil War, because of continued Catholic links. In 1660 Charles II granted Lyveden to the Earl of Sandwich, and from then the house passed through various family members, ending up with 1st Lord Lyveden who acquired the house in 1841.

Northamptonshire Lyveden New Bield under fluffy clouds and a blue sky
The house reflected in the moat.

The New Bield has a religious design full of symbolism. Designed on a plan reminiscent of a Greek cross, the facades have a strict symmetry. The exterior of the building is decorated by friezes of a religious nature. Including the "IHS" christogram.

Orchard in the afternoon sunshine in the grounds of Lyveden New Bield
This apple orchard is the largest orchard owned by the National Trust. In the background is Lyveden Cottage,
listed at Grade II, and known to be present in 1721.

The design may have been modelled on St Peter's in Rome, with a symmetrical cruciform layout. Religious carvings and Biblical inscriptions decorate the walls. The most compelling piece of Catholic symbolism in a house built with symbolism in mind is the parlour, where the morning sun casts a shadow on the wall in the shape of a cross.

Northamptonshire Lyveden New Bield run by the National Trust
A view of the house from between two trees.

The house was obviously meant for occupation, as it has a great hall and parlour on the first floor, kitchen and buttery in the basement, and a bedroom on the upper floor. However, it was probably never intended for full-time occupation. It is very close to the main house, and may have been intended for use as a ‘Secret House’. 

Lyveden New Bield 400 year old moat system in the autumn sunshine
A corner of the moated garden taken from one of the two pyramidal mounds that border the east and west of
the garden.

Keeping a secret house was a custom of the 16th century. Often within a mile of the main house, the secret house was a place where the head of the household would retire for a few days with a minimum of servants, while the principal house was thoroughly cleaned and, bearing in mind the sanitation of the time, fumigated.

Trees tower over the medieval hall of Lyveden New Bield with ancient moat in the foreground
The garden is home to some impressive trees.

Tresham designed extensive gardens between the manor house and the New Bield, but for centuries little evidence of the gardens remained. In 2010, National Trust experts studying photographs taken by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War discovered the remains of an Elizabethan labyrinth, garden and orchard in the grounds. It is believed to be one of the oldest layouts and best preserved sites of its date in Britain.

Stormy atmosphere over Lyveden New Bield as it's lit up by the evening sunshine
The New Bield makes copious use of religious symbolism in the decoration and construction. For example,
there are 5 sides to each bay of the house (the number 5 being a common symbol for Jesus and Mary).

Old moat and tree covered mound in the grounds of Lyveden New Bield
The little hill to the left of the house is a snail mound, it has a path curls its way up to the top.

Stormy skies gather over Lyveden New Bield in the Northamptonshire countryside
An atmospheric shot of the house under some broiling storm clouds.

Atmospheric black and white image of Lyveden New Bield under stormy skies
And to finish off, a view of the imposing structure looking all moody.

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