The stables of Lamport Hall

2023 wasn’t the best year I’ve had for visiting stables, or writing about them. This piece I’ve had brimming away since 2022, but here it is at last. Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire is now run by the Lamport Hall Preservation Trust, and it’s very well worth visiting. The house itself is beautiful, as are the gardens. We filled an entire day there very happily. I already knew about the stables, as I’ve visited them several times over the years and always thought I’d like to write about them and how they came to exist in their present form.

Lamport Hall was built and lived in by the Isham family, who made their money in wool.

Sir John Isham (c.1525–1596), who built the hall, was a successful wool merchant. He built a manor house on the site, which his son greatly extended. There were stables, but only part of that original block still survives. It’s part of the eastern range of the courtyard — an earlier western range was demolished in 1829. The house itself was changed quite drastically during the 1800s.

Mary Close, who was married to the 8th baronet, employed Henry Hakewill to build a neo-Tudor house replacing the Jacobean manor, and in 1842, Henry Goddard of Leicester rebuilt the south-east front. The next baronet did not like the new main entrance, and he arranged for William Burn to construct a new façade, at the same time moving the main entrance. This resulted in the house as you will see it today, but not the stables. Their great construction moment was yet to come, and only resulted because the Isham family hit the financial buffers.

Sir charles Isham

Sir Charles Isham (1819–1903) cared more for his rock garden, and his garden gnomes (which he introduced to Britain), than horses and hunting. He lived at a time when life was changing for aristocratic landowners. Then as now, country estates were expensive to keep up. Added to this, Lady Isham loved entertaining, her son-in-law had expensive political ambitions, and probably most significant of all, the agricultural depression of the 1870s hit income from land. Grain prices in Britain fell dramatically once the prairies of the United States were opened up, and the advent of the steamship meant it was much cheaper to import grain than pay British farmers the prices they had been used to.

Incomes from land tumbled. To put this into perspective, David Cannadine, in The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, wrote that 88% of British millionaires were landowners between 1809 and 1879. From 1880 to 1914, when the agricultural depression bit hard, just 33% of millionaires were landowners.

Lamport, like many other country estates, relied on its farm income. With that income slashed, and nothing to replace it, a hard decision had to be taken: sell or let? Lamport’s fate was to be let out for the hunting season.

The hunting box

Had you £100 a month spare in 1884 (around £6,600 today), you could have rented the entire estate, furnished, said the advertisement in The Evening News of December 2. An 1899 advertisement in The Field described what you would get, including stabling for twenty (and one bathroom):

Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire to let, furnished for the hunting season, or on a Lease, in the centre of the Pytchley Hunt, half a mile from station, two hours from London, eight miles from Market Harboro’ surrounded by a beautiful park; the hall contains eight reception rooms, billiard room, twenty-four bedrooms, six dressing rooms, bath room and w.c.’s, good kitchen and offices; good stabling for twenty horses, coach houses, good water and drainage.

The Field, 1899

That year, Lamport was let for the hunting season to Count Larisch, whose son married the Empress Elizabeth of Austria’s niece, Marie. The count’s stay at Lamport was short. The Northampton Mercury of 7 June 1884 reported that the ‘count was taken ill on the day he arrived at Lamport, just thirteen weeks ago, and never recovered from his malady.”

Lamport and its stables were advertised to let again.

When Lady Isham died in 1897, Sir Charles made the estate over to Sir Gyles’s father, Sir Vere Isham (1862–1941). The family lived there for eight years, and Gyles was born there in 1903. Four years later, Sir Vere gave up the unequal struggle to maintain the house, and the family moved out. Sir Vere and Lady Isham never returned.

The new stables

When I read Pevsner’s entry on Lamport Hall, which said the stables had been built in 1907, I wondered how the financially embarrassed Ishams had managed this. 

The answer was that they had not: Lord Ludlow, one of their tenants, was a wealthy barrister. He had no qualms about spending his money on Lamport, and spend he did.

He bought an entire oak panelled room that had been removed from another house (possibly in Kent) and installed it at Lamport.

He was responsible for building the stable. The cost, in 1907, was £40,000 – a massive sum, equivalent to £3.1 million today.

The stables were absolutely top of the range. They were a mix of stalls and loose boxes, with wooden partitions and cast iron fittings.

Every modern convenience and best practice of the time was followed. Much attention was paid to drainage, to ventilation and to cleanliness. The area above the mangers was tiled: recommended in the higher class stable as the tiles were impervious to moisture, were easy to clean, and would resist damage from the horse’s breath.

Each box or stall had a brick paved floor, sloping very slightly towards the drainage system.

The stable fittings were made by Musgrave Brothers of Belfast, who from 1868 held a royal warrant for the Prince of Wales. They supplied all the iron fittings, from grilles to posts to mangers and bridle racks.

The stables still remain, with, their paved floors, mangers, and even their nameplates, including the quirky Brown Bread, and the rather more conventional Beauty.

There is little other remembrance of the horses’ existence save for the kick marks that still remain on the partitions and stall posts, testament to the particular difficulties of keeping horses in stalls.

Stalls were common in the heyday of the working horse: they allowed more horses to be stabled than if each had a loose box, which was an issue if you were attempting to stable many horses at a time. It was not without its risks. Horace Smith, who was a director of the Cadogan Riding Stable in London, and who started work in the Victorian era, wrote about the drawbacks:

… some horses contracted the habit of trying to kick their next-door neighbour, although every night huge chaff bags were hung around the stall posts, packed tightly with straw, in order to try and prevent accidents. Despite this precautionary  measure …. I still sometimes saw broken legs when I came down in the morning…. Kicking horses are quite dangerous enough in a stable, but I think the horse that breaks loose at night is far worse, for in a large stable he can cause a virtual stampede. I have seen a loose horse which had entered another horse’s stall and bitten him so viciously that by the time the night watchman… arrived on the scene, the victim’s neck was one large mass of raw flesh.

Horace Smith, A Horseman through Six Reigns (1955)

One can only hope the horrors Horace Smith described did not happen at Lamport.

And afterwards

During WWI, the horses moved out and the stables housed corps of soldiers, and at the end of WWII, Italian prisoners of war were billeted there. Between and after the wars, the horses returned, and I’ll write another piece on them and their owners soon.

Sir Gyles came to an arrangement with the Northamptonshire Record Office after WWII to use part of the house as its offices. Much, he said, remained to be done, “… but I think that we may have found a way not only of preserving, but of using an historic house, at a time when such things appear to some useless anachronisms.”

The Lamport Hall Preservation Trust was established in 1974, and since then the stables have been restored, and thankfully have mostly kept their original format. The grooms’ quarters have been converted into flats, but Lamport Hall is open to the public and you can visit the stables (and the rural museum, gardens and the hall itself) in the season. The stables and the coach house also house exhibitions and craft and Christmas fairs. There is also a working horse exhibition of Bryan Horgan’s working horse collection: alas closed when we were there.

The stables are still there, and even the obligatory café has not disturbed them too much. You eat at a table and chairs carefully balanced on the original stable floors, sitting in the original stalls. Someone loves those stables.

It’s wonderful to be able to visit stables that are pretty much as they were in their heyday. Do go if you’re in Northamptonshire. It is very well worth it.

In the meantime, if you’re a fan of The Crown, you might well have seen Lamport. It appeared as Clarence House, and the stables too were brought back to life.

More

There’s plenty more on Lamport Hall itself and its gardens (which are, I realise, what most people go there for) from their website: Lamport Hall.

Sir Gyles Isham was something of a Renaissance man. He was educated at Magdelen College, Oxford, and was president both of the Oxford Union, and the OUDS (Oxford Union Dramatic Society). He went on to act professionally, appearing at the Old Vic. He moved to America where he appeared in several Hollywood films, including Anna Karenina in 1933.

The Bryan Horgan collection: an exhibition on working horses at Lamport. Bryan Horgan wrote the excellent The Railway Horse, which was one of my main sources for my post on Railway Women and the Horse. The Railway Horse is well worth reading if you can find a copy.

The Northampton Mercury thrilled (or appalled) its readers in 1930 with a tale of Sir Justinian Isham, who recorded that in 1676 hounds made a particularly gory discovery in a field near Lamport of a man who had been murdered a few days earlier.

Sources

Cannadine, David: The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy. Pan, 1992.
Isham, Sir Gyles: The Historical and Literary Associations of Lamport. Paper read at a meeting of the Northamptonshire Record Society, 27 September, 1947.
Lamport Hall, guide book, nd
Pevsner, Nikolaus, Northamptonshire. Penguin Books, 1998 2nd revised edn.
Pipe, Marian: Northamptonshire Ghosts and Legends. Countryside Books, 1993.
Smith, Horace: A Horseman through Six Reigns, 1955
Wortley Axe, J.: The Horse – Its Treatment In Health And Disease, 1905 

Newspapers
The Evening News, December 2, 1884
The Field, 1889



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One response to “The stables of Lamport Hall”

  1. Ginger Isham avatar
    Ginger Isham

    I enjoyed the Lamport Hall and grounds story. I visited Lamport Hall a few
    years ago but never read such history.

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