Monday, February 27, 2012

Gervase Jackson-Stops' Folly, The Menagerie

As incredible as it was to have the scholarly visits to all the historic sites, an even more valuable experience of my time as an Attingham student was getting to know so many talented historians, curators, and conservators.  Easily at the top of this list is Gervase Jackson-Stops, my architecture tutor.
Gervase Jackson-Stops.

Grandson of the founder of the eponymous up-scale British real estate firm, Gervase was educated at two of Britain's top schools, Harrow (secondary school) and Christ Church, Oxford (a college of the University of Oxford).  He was trained at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1969-71 and was a Research Assistant at the National Trust from 1972-75.  As Architectural Advisor to the National Trust for over 20 years, he was responsible for instituting many policies for the first time.  Canons Ashby, an Elizabethan manor house built from the stone of the Augustinian priory that occupied the Northamptonshire site, was saved using Government funds, a first in Britain.
Head of the National Gallery of Art, J Carter Brown, gives HRH Princess Diana
a tour of The Treasure Houses of Britain exhibit.

Gervase was the curator of many exhibitions, most notably "The Treasure Houses of Britain", held at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 1985-6;  a product of six years of preparation, it was an enormous success that contributed to the growing trend of admiration for the stately British country houses, their collections, and their decoration.  (U.S. sales of flowered chintz skyrocketed).  In 1987, Queen Elizabeth II named him Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contributions to the heritage of Great Britain.
Horton House as it was remodeled by Thomas Wright.
The cupolas were removed in a 19th century remodeling.
Image from

When Gervase bought the dilapidated folly in Horton Park in 1973, it was being used for agricultural storage.  Horton House, the ancestral home of the Earls of Halfax, built in the 17th century on the site of a medieval village, had been demolished in 1936.  The park, some of the auxiliary buildings, and some alterations to the main house were designed by astronomer Thomas Wright.  Today, thirteen listed buildings remain, including the folly known as the Menagerie.
Horton House as it appeared in a view by J. Storer, July 1812.
Image from

The Menagerie, built in the late 1750s, was an eye catcher for the main house.  It was the architectural feature of a private zoo beyond where the animals were kept in cages in an enclosure of approximately two acres surrounded by a circular moat, which may or may not have contained water.  An account by Horace Walpole who visited in 1763 listed storks, racoons, a young tiger, a bear, 'uncommon martins', 'wart hogs with navels on their backs', and 'many basons [sic] of gold fish'.
This drawing of the Menagerie was used as the letterhead of Gervase Jackson-Stops' stationary.

Although the folly was purchased for only GBP 500, the roofs of the end pavilions and the lead dome on the projecting bay had been stripped off and the windows were boarded up (though none of the original sash remained).  The Menagerie's main room, the Saloon, was filled to the cornice with hay.
The Saloon.
The chimneypiece is painted to resemble porphyry.
Photo by Bruno de Hamel for Architectural Digest.
Another view of the Saloon, from the opposite direction.
The urns are copied from the limewood models Rex Whistler made for Samuel Cortauld.
Photo from Country Life magazine, October 12, 1995.
The bay of the Saloon opposite the fireplace.
Photo from Country Life magazine, October 12, 1995.

Originally, the Saloon was used as a banqueting hall with the food prepared in the brick-vaulted kitchen below.  Although the exceptional plasterwork, attributed to Thomas Roberts of Oxford, had been badly damaged and large portions were missing, there were 1945 photographs to provide documentation.  Christopher Hobbs and Leonard Stead and Son of Bradford restored the decoration, improvising where there was no other evidence.   In keeping with Wright's status as a distinguished astronomer, the ceiling had been given a cosmos motif with Father Time in the center and the Four Winds at each corner.  According to the Walpole account, there was a plaster urn, representing the animals of the four parts of the world, painted to resemble bronze in each of the four niches;  these have also been recreated.  Analysis of the paint in protected areas enabled the restoration of the original color scheme.
The rear of the Menagerie showing the additions behind the screen wall.
Photo by Bruno de Hamel for Architectural Digest.

With the help of his mother, an architect, Gervase added a room behind each of the screen walls that had given a visual connection of the two flanking pavilions to the central block.  The arched openings on the stone facade, originally gates to the zoo, were given windows.  The additions on the brick side were designed to appear as glassed-in loggias, adding a dining room and a bedroom.
The added Dining Room.
Photo by Bruno de Hamel for Architectural Digest.
The added Bedroom.
Photo by Bruno de Hamel for Architectural Digest.
Originally, the end pavilions were probably used to store garden equipment and food for the animals.
The Guest Cottage.
Photo from a private collection.
The gardens around the Menagerie began to be further developed in 1992 to a design by Ian Kirby, Gervase's partner.  Two thatched roof Gothick arbors were built in the garden;  one was later converted into a chapel and the other, a guest cottage.
A detail of the shell Grotto.
Photo from a private collection.
A shell grotto was created in the cellar of the Menagerie, substantially completed by 1995.

Sadly, Gervase died in 1995 at the age of 48.  After several years of being leased, Timothy Mowl, the historic landscape author and professor, another of my tutors at Attingham, bought the property and made additional improvements to the folly.  He also added a walled kitchen garden designed by Jinny Blom.  (Post-script:  thanks to information from BISH - BRITISH & IRISH STATELY HOMES who referenced COUNTRY LIFE magazine, Timothy Mowl was not an owner of The Menagerie).

The last known owner, however, was the film-maker Alex Myers.  Around this time last year, the Menagerie with 4.3 acres was offered for sale, soliciting offers in the region of GBP 1,600,000.  As the property no longer appears among the current listings, it is assumed to have been sold.

More information about Horton Park and the surviving features can be seen at the website of The Horton Park Conservation Group.

All the Architectural Digest photos come from the book CHATEAUX AND VILLAS, THE WORLDS OF ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST edited by Paige Rense, published by The Knapp Press, 1982.

Note: As a service to my readers and in addition to a selection of new books at a substantial discount of the published price, The Devoted Classicist Library offers a number of interesting used and out-of-print books for as little as under $1.00 plus shipping and handling, including the title featured in this post.

Addendum February 28, 2012
The Devoted Classicist is grateful to devoted reader Toby Worthington for bringing to light two additional photos of the Saloon from Gervase's time from an article by John Cornforth.  These have been incorporated into a revised version of this post.

Addendum March 1, 2012
The Devoted Classicist is also grateful to devoted reader Mrs. Beverly Hills for letting us know that the grotto is pictured in Hazelle Jackson's book SHELL HOUSES AND GROTTOES, available through The Devoted Classicist Library.


  1. John,

    Incredible post! I am reminded of my apprenticeship at Claverton Manor, near Bath, (American Museum in Britain) and meeting Peter Hood, who worked for John Fowler...lucky me, I lived in The Royal Crescent for three months!


  2. Great post. Would love to see more photos of the menagerie.

  3. DF, education and training are essential elements that too many try to skip over these days and go directly to opening their own firm and hiring a publicist.

    TDM, there are some recent photos on the real estate site, for now, but I did not include them since they represent the time since Gervase's ownership. Also, there was once a website for The Menagerie, but that does not appear to be currently available.

  4. My ideal house: a folly with one grand room!

  5. Positively, the ideal house!
    Lucky you, being tutored by Gervase Jackson Stops.

  6. He was just an amazing connoisseur. So sad to have gone so early!

  7. I have been enchanted by the Menagerie since I found it in the AD book many years ago- Love the fact that it was done with the stone front and common brick in the rear where no one was supposed to see it- What a treasure

  8. Thanks again. I'd be very interested in your educational journey and suggestions for young folks who have similar interests today.

  9. R, I think I could happily live in one great room.

  10. TW, the whole Attingham experience was a great one.

  11. MfB, it is always a great loss with such a talent, and the relatively young age just makes it more so.

  12. Th, yes the use of stone vs brick really added to the architectural identity of the building.

  13. Te, there's something to be said for personality, passion, and publicity, but nothing beats education.

  14. I got a copy of the book for only 28 cents! My last local bookstore was part of a big chain, but now even that has closed. So I was so happy to learn about your recommendations. And great prices too!

  15. The real estate link shows the Saloon as it appears today, and it was as I imagined
    it would be, with all of Gervase's carefully considered paint colours obliterated
    and the room furnished stiffly and unimaginatively. All of it proving once again
    just what a remarkably free and enlightened period was the final quarter of the
    20th century in terms of design and decoration. So far as I can tell, that approach
    is gone with the wind.

  16. TW, I was surprised at seeing the photo and intentionally did not include it in the post. But then, I was surprised that John Fowler's scheme for the Hall at Syon was painted over. Still, with these "boutique" companies putting out special collections - there is even one for the Guggenheim - surely there is increased awareness on historic colors.

  17. ML, some of these old books are truly classics and still relevant. I am glad some are finding an appreciative home.

  18. I'm intrigued by the shell grotto. Do you know if any photos of it have been published?

  19. TPoC, surely the now-defunct Menagerie website had photos, but since it was not a historic feature and was located in the cellar of the original folly where access was limited, it was never particularly publicized. I have seen non-published photos; the story of Orpheus was the theme. My devoted readers might be able to point us to a published article, however. I will let you know if more comes available. Thanks for commenting.

  20. Mrs. Beverly HillsMarch 1, 2012 at 7:10 AM

    John, there are a couple of pictures in "Shell Houses and Grottos" by Hazelle Jackson. I absolutely love your blog because you always touch on interesting stories that you have a connection with. The people in Baltimore are so lucky you are coming to speak -- we need you out here in Los Angeles!

  21. MBH, many thanks for this information and your kind comments. Both new and used copies of this book are currently available through The Devoted Classicist Library starting at only $2.00. And I would like nothing more than to come speak to a group in the L.A. area.

  22. Thank you for every other informative website. The place else may just I am getting that type of
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  23. Sadly the latest owners have set about destroying the grotto - they are going to replace it with a kitchen!


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