Visit a Country House: Hylands House

Hylands House - Exterior
Hylands House – Exterior

The visit for this section of the course is a country house. Seems like they should have out this visit in the next section because most country houses that still survive are probably not as old as 15th-17th century, the period I’m covering now.

A large town house will be impressive and is likely to have classical features. Reception rooms may be spacious, perhaps with murals, tapestries or sculpture. In a smaller house your interest is likely to focus on private rooms, with their more intimate detail and decoration – a drawing room or a study containing well-loved objects.

Country houses come in all sizes, but the question of how a house relates to its setting is always interesting, just as the placing of works of art in a house is instructive. In a country house, particularly, be alert to any architectural additions or alterations that may have affected its character. Think about the grounds too. Are there any statues or follies in the grounds, for example, and how are these used? (course notes p106)

Looking around for a country or town house to visit I came across Hylands House in Chelmsford which is not too far from where I live.

The history:

The history of ownership of the estate has been tracked through nine private owners since it was finished in 1730, each making modifications and redesigned.

1728 to 1797 – Comyns Family

Sir John Comyns was a wealthy, well respected local lawyer. He bought the grounds as it was then the “manor of Shaxstones in Writtle”. He commissioned a fashionable new red-brick house in Queen Anne style with two storeys and grounds set out in formal geometric design. There was a pleasure garden and small kitchen garden to the north of the house. This was completed in 1730 and is the central part of the house we see today. Sir John Comyns died in 1740, with no children to pass the house to. He left the estate to his nephew, John Comyns of Romford, who, in 1759, commissioned a monument to the life of his uncle, (currently at the family vault in Writtle Church). In 1760 the estate passed to John’s son, John Richard Comyns.

1797 to 1814 – Cornelius Hendrickson Kortright 

Cornelius Kortright, a wealthy Danish merchant, bought the estate for £14,500 at auction. He commissioned Humphry Repton, who is now generally regarded as one of three outstanding designers who dominated the English Landscape movement from about 1720 to 1820 to update the Hylands estate to the fashionable Romantic Movement (eg landscape gardening and neo-classical architecture).

The Essex Herald in January 1810 reported Kortright’s hospitality during the Napoleonic Wars “an elegant ball and supper at his beautiful seat Highlands… at which all the fashionables in the neighbourhood were present, including many military gentlemen”

“Kortright purchased a further 150 acres of land to create Repton’s vision for Hylands. Hylands House became a winged, neo-classical villa, covered in white stucco. With its portico and Ionic pillars, Hylands was considered the height of Georgian elegance. An Estate map of 1814 also shows extensive changes to the Estate, including changes to the approach roads, servants’ quarters to the west, a new site for the Kitchen Garden, Ice House and Pleasure Gardens, the Serpentine Lake and a lodge to the entrance near Widford.” (Chelmsford council, 2016)

Kortright sold the house to move to a larger estate in Fryerning to support a larger family before the house redesign was finished.

1814 to 1839 – Pierre Caesar Labouchère

Pierre Labouchère, a Dutch merchant banker, bought the estate un 1814 and finished off the Humphry Repton redesign of the house and parklands. This is the symmetrical building encased in stucco, fronted by a huge neo-classical portico we see today.

Labouchère was a “keen horticulturalist, and had a 280 ft long conservatory built, with innovative heating techniques that enabled him to grow award winning forced exotic fruit and vegetables.” (Chelmsford council, 2016) He also added a pleasure garden, stable block, and is responsible for filling the interior with neo-classical statues, replicas of which can be seen in the house today, including works by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.

1839 to 1858 – John Attwood

John Attwood was an ironworks entrepreneur and MP for Harwich, he bought the estate from Labouchère’s son Henri after Labouchère’s death. Attwood wanted peerage so needed the place to be more impressive, so set about updating and enlarging the house to better show his status and wealth. He purchased over 3,500 acres of additional land surrounding Hylands, privatised the road from Writtle to Margaretting that ran through the estate and considerably enlarged the house and fully redecorated.

“However, he spent such a large proportion of his fortune on Hylands that when problems in his political career heralded financial difficulties, debts of £300,000 forced him to sell the house and estate. John Attwood eventually moved to France, where he died a pauper, never having realised his dream to become a peer.” (Chelmsford council, 2016)

1858 to 1904 – Arthur Pryor

“Arthur Pryor was a partner in the Truman, Hanbury and Buxton Brewery and purchased a much reduced Hylands Estate in 1858. He did little to the house other than some redecoration, although some of the exuberant decoration in the Banqueting Room is credited to him.

Pryor served as a Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant of the County and High Sherriff of Essex, and became a patriarchal figure in the community. He purchased the living of Widford Church, and had it rebuilt, as well as commissioning an entirely new church for the community in Galleywood, the only church in the country built on a racecourse. Arthur’s eldest son inherited the estate but let Hylands House rather than living in it himself.” (Chelmsford council, 2016)


1905 to 1920 – Sir Daniel Gooch

Sir Daniel Gooch was a Edwardian country gentleman who, having initially rented the house and estate in 1905 finally bought it in 1907. He modernised the house and installed electricity and telephones and entertained regularly. Gooch was a keen explorer and part of the Shackleton polar expedition, but had to return home with frostbite before reaching the South Pole.

“In 1912 the Gooch family hosted a society wedding that made national headlines, as the groom (Mr Claude Graham-White, a well-known aviator) and his friends flew in and landed their aeroplanes in the estate.” (Chelmsford council, 2016)

During World War I, Hylands was requisitioned as a military hospital and Sir Gooch had installed the most modern medical equipment at his own expense. Over 1,500 patients were treated here during the war, and both King George V and Lord Kitchener inspected troops here, in 1914 and 1915 respectively. The family fêtes and parties turned into fundraising events and the hospital finally closed in 1919.

In 1920, Hylands was sold to a syndicate of local gentlemen and sold again two years later…

1922 to 1962 – Mr John and Mrs Christine Hanbury

John Hanbury, chairman of the brewers Truman’s (like Arthur Pryor), bought the estate in 1923 but died suddenly so his wife and son took over. Tragically, his son, Jock, was then one of the first pilots to die in the Second World War in a flying accident. In memory of her husband and son, Christine Hanbury dedicated a private area in the gardens to them. She made a lot of changes to the grounds, including adding rhododendron borders and a lawn tennis court.

During the second world war the SAS had their headquarters at Hylands, it was a POW camp and also a wireless command post for the 6th Anti-Aircraft Division.

“On one memorable occasion, Captain Paddy Blair Maine (who went on to become this country’s most decorated soldier) attempted to drive a Jeep up the Grand Staircase for a bet. The incident caused much commotion and Christine Hanbury dispatched the men to bed with instructions to remove the Jeep in the morning when they had clearer heads. The Jeep had to be dismantled before it could be removed.” (Chelmsford council, 2016)

In 1962 Christine Hanbury died, leaving Hylands to her trustees.

1966 to present: Chelmsford City Council

Chelmsford City Council bought the estate and opened it up to the public in 1966, since then the house and grounds have been restored in phases to their former splendour. The house has been classified a Grade II* listed building (in 1985). By 1996 the external work to the House had been completed, the Entrance Hall restored to its Georgian grandeur and the Blue Room and Boudoir were refurbished.

“The east wing was fully restored and opened to the general public at Easter 1999. The west wing and basement restoration quickly followed and their grand opening took place at Easter 2004. The restoration of the basement area has brought to life the original red brick Queen Anne house and a number of exciting discoveries were made. Interpretation boards throughout the house offer visitors an informative and photographic display of the restoration process.” (Chelmsford council, 2016)

By 2005 the house was finally completely restored. By 2007 the gardens designed by Humphry Repton were restored (financed by the Council and a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £3.4 million).

“The main elements of this project are detailed below.

  • Restoring Repton’s parkland – the original ‘Widford Approach’ drive has been reinstated for pedestrians and cyclists, providing beautiful framed views of the estate, before finally revealing the house itself. Repton’s spectacular views of the lake from the house can now also be enjoyed, especially from the Repton room located with Hylands house.
  • Conversion of the stable block – the Georgian stables have been restored and converted into The Stables Visitor Centre which incorporates a new visitor centre, with craft studios. gift shop, cafe, interpretation rooms, education room and stabling for horses.
  • Home Farm – these farm buildings have been restored and adapted for storage and offices for the Grounds Maintenance team.
  • Flint Cottage – a former gamekeeper’s cottage and now derelict, has been brought back to its original appearance and is now used as a store to support the Council’s events in the park.

(Chelmsford council, 2016) 

As well as being open to the public to visit the house and grounds, Hylands Park is now used stage large events for example the V Festival (since 1996) and it was the venue for the Essex overnight stop of the 2012 Olympic torch relay.

“The great house or planned public building, with its combination of architecture, landscape, and decorative art (as well as the paintings hung in its rooms), has frequently been seen as the total expression of a single philosophical, political and aesthetic point of view.” (Pointon, M, 1997)



The place had a rather good set of information for visitors. They handed us a sheet with a map on it (luckily it was laminated and dribble proof for my toddler).

Hylands House - floor plan
Hylands House – floor plan


Small Dining Room

We started in the small dining room (the main entrance was full of people) which had no door to it but was accessed through columns from the hallway. There was supposed to have a Victorian Oval Stretcher table (2 in the plan) but that now resides upstairs in the saloon. The Torchere is now in a space opposite the fireplace (i.e. in the other side of the room to (1) in the plan). Beside the left hand column (when looking into the room as on the plan) there now stands an undescribed wooden table with pamphlets on it.

On the right hand side wall beside the columns is a door with tiny faces in the frame (pictured), next to that opposite the mirror was a hanging space for a painting but with no painting hanging there anymore.

The wall lighting fixtures and mirror match the style of the chandelier with little cherubic faces etc. Each of the curtained windows actually also has folded back wooden window blinds (pictured).


Oppoisite the small dining room is the study. Its a very small wood panelled room which seemed to be part comfy meeting room for bridal prospectives and part storeroom. There was a modern display case along one side of the room, a desk with wedding album on it and a comfy sitting area. towards the back of the room was a globe (which presumably opens into a bar as I’ve seen before) and some odds and ends.

Banqueting room:

Next to the small dining room is a rather ostentatious gold and pink banqueting room. In here is plenty of hanging artwork as well as mouldings and soft furnishings. At one end of the room, so you see it as you enter, is a large oil painting, Portrait of Arthur Pryor, 1865, (and his dog Satan), by Sir Francis Grant. Opposite him, at the other end of the room (just beside the entrance), hangs a another large oil painting, Portrait of Mrs Elizabeth Pryor, also attributed to Sir Francis Grant, 1861. On the left in front of a large mirror is a fireplace with a Victorian Mantel Clock sitting on top. The ceiling and mouldings are ornate with gold patterns and four symmetrical coats of arms (all the same), above the fireplace, window and large portraits. One assumes this is the coat of arms of the Pryors given the other decoration?

Terrace Room:

The Terrance had large viewing windows onto the gardens but it was a rather funny shaped room. In this room I could just imagine Mr Darcy chatting in the corner during a ball. I think this must primarily be used for weddings now given the decor and lack of furnishings.


We skipped straight through when we arrived because there were people there arranging their wedding. However when we exited the Terrance they were gone and we were able to appreciate the entrance and its Venus status.

Grand staircase hall:

Onwards from the Entrance was the staircase hall. It has a checked floor and some classical mouldings along the ceiling. The grand staircase was designed by Humphry Repton.


This seemed more of a very wide corridor connecting all the rooms than a room of its own, perhaps its because all the doors were open. It had lots more objects to see than the first few rooms though.

Drawing room:


The drawing room is the room with a piano. This room was highly decorated with cherubs and gilding. Also, some painted decor to match the raised relief patterns.


This room had the most paintings in it, and a dining table & chairs, candlesticks etc

Grand Staircase Gallery (upstairs)

Going back through the Saloon, we went up the Grand staircase to the Grand Staircase Gallery (the little landing outside the Repton room).

The Repton room – upstairs

The Social History room

Next to the Repton Room is the social history room, sort of a poor-mans V&A.

The basement

Not uploaded these photos yet – todo

The basement is accessed outside the Banqueting room (you can also go upstairs here too but the Bridal suite was in use and closed to the public when we went.



BBC news. (2011) Hylands Park in Chelmsford to host 2012 Olympic torch, 2011, bbc news online, At:
(Accessed on 14 Jun 16)

BBC news. (2012) London 2012: Olympic cauldron lit in Chelmsford At:
(Accessed on 14 Jun 16)

Chelmsford council. (2016) “The History of Hylands” 2016 by Chelmsford City Council At:
(Accessed on 13 Jun 16)

Pointon. (1997) History of Art: A Students’ Handbook. (4th Ed), London, Routledge.
Ross. (2016) Hylands House, History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation At:
(Accessed on 13 Jun 16)


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