History

Sir Francis Crane

The 400-acre deer park at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire was acquired in 1541 by Henry VIII, who used to come hunting here with his second wife, Anne Boleyn, whom he later had executed. It remained crown property until Charles I, in payment of a debt, gave it in 1629 to Sir Francis Crane, a courtier and entrepreneur, who had founded the Mortlake Tapestry Works at London in 1619.

Crane quickly proceeded to replace a mediaeval hunting lodge at Stoke Park with an impressive new country house, the first in England built in the Italian Palladian style, being linked by colonnades to two pavilions, one serving as a chapel and the other as a library. The design is generally attributed to Inigo Jones, a fellow courtier and celebrated architect who went to Italy and became an enthusiast for the neo-classical style pioneered in Europe by the great Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.

Crane, who entertained King Charles I here in 1635, died the following year, and the house then passed through his sister Edith into the Arundell family, who in 1672 enjoyed a long visit by the great scientist Isaac Newton who wrote a number of letters from this address. Disaster struck in 1886 when the house was burnt down “through the carelessness of servants” (according to the then owners, Arundell relatives named Vernon). Five years later, the Vernons replaced it with a new house in the “Jacobean” style, strangely sited not between the pavilions, as the previous house had been, but attached “in a most unfortunate way” (Nikolaus Pevsner) to the back of the east pavilion.

Thereafter, encumbered by debt, Stoke Park entered a long period of decline that culminated in its requisitioning in World War Two for use by Canadian troops, who left it in a shocking condition. The estate was later sold to timber merchants, and the buildings, remaining empty, were so heavily vandalised that the magazine Country Life lamented in 1953 that “unless active steps are taken in the near future, they [the pavilions] will be past preserving”. Robin Chancellor, a London publisher, then bought them, demolished the house of 1891, and with the help of a government grant restored the pavilions to their former appearance. He later made them over to his nephew, Alexander Chancellor, who now lives here.