Noseley Hall, Leicestershire

The seat of Lord Hazlerigg

Remarkably few houses in England have descended in the male line of the same family from the Middle Ages to the present day, and still retain some architectural evidence of their antiquity. Noseley is one of these; it has belonged to the Hazlerigg family since 1419, when it came to them as a result of the marriage of Thomas Hesilrige (d.1421) of Fawdon, Northumberland, to Isabel Heron (d.1438), heiress of the Martivals of Noseley. The present Georgian house on the site perpetuates the courtyard plan of its medieval predecessor, and on the lawn beside it sits a complete medieval chapel.

The manor of Noseley was originally granted to the Martivals, sub-tenants of the Norman Earls of Leicester, in the early 12th century as part of the process of sub-infeudation after the Conquest. A licence to maintain a domestic chaplain was obtained from the bishop of Lincoln by Sir William de Martival, Knight, about a century later, and the present chapel was built in about 1274 as a collegiate establishment by Anketil de Martival, whose arms embellish the south doorway. It was completed by his son Roger, who became Bishop of Salisbury.

Noseley’s chapel is a noble rectangular structure combining a nave and chancel, and originally had a bell tower on the north side. It was remodelled by William Hesilrige (d.1474), who had married Elizabeth Stanton or Staunton of Staunton Harold. The crenellated parapet, low-pitched timber roof embellished with shields carved with emblems of the Passion, and the large east and west windows date from then, as do the splendid stalls arranged college-wide and carved with the Stanton crest, life-like cockerels perched at the base of the finials.

The heraldic theme was originally continued in stained glass in the windows. At the Visitation of Leicestershire in 1618, William Camden, Clarenceux King of Arms and the greatest antiquary of his generation, noted “the glass very old, and many old coats in the windows”, but by 1714 the windows were said to be “decayed through time”, and only a few shields now remain, in the east window. The loss of much of the stained glass is made up for by the long succession of family monuments.

No descriptions survive of the house of the Martivals or their successors, the medieval and Tudor Hesilriges. But there was once a village and parish church as well as the manor house, park and collegiate chapel at Noseley. The parish church, however, was already described as “in ruin” by 1338, when the advowson was combined with that of the chapel. Most of the village disappeared in the course of the 15th and 16th centuries, when the parish was enclosed and converted to pasture for sheep. In 1645 it was noted that at “Noseley, Sir Arthur Hesilrige’s parish”, there was “not above two cottages besides his (house); a sweet place. A neat church.” Today most of the parish is occupied by the park, which is an early 18th century enlargement of the smaller medieval park, first recorded in the 12th century.

The designation of Noseley as a “sweet place” implies that the large new mansion envisaged by Sir Thomas Hesilrige in the reign of James 1 was never built. “Sweet” is not the adjective that would have been applied to the proposed impressive pile with large mullioned windows and prominent staircase turrets shown in a plan and elevation dated 1606 among the John Thorpe drawings at the Soane Museum. The interest of Thorpe drawings is that they help to confirm that the courtyard plan of the present house perpetuates the layout of the medieval one, with an entrance on the north side, and the great hall and family apartments on the south.

Another reason for supposing that the Thorpe plans were not carried out is that Thomas Hesilrige spent most of his time at Alderton in Northamptonshire, the property of his heiress wife, Frances Gorges. In the 17th and 18th centuries the family lived more in that county where they had a substantial town house in Gold Street, Northampton than in Leicestershire. It was at Alderton that Sir Thomas and Dame Frances entertained James 1 in 1608 during the King’s progress to Grafton.

Thomas Hesilrige was knighted on that occasion, and was created a baronet in 1622. On his death seven years later he was, however, buried at Noseley, where his large alabaster tomb, which includes little portraits of his eight sons and six daughters and brightly coloured heraldry is the most impressive in the chapel. The epitaph records that his wife, Dame Frances, “clothed her family with fine clothe of her owne spinning.”

Their eldest son, Sir Arthur, second baronet, is the most famous of the Hazleriggs. He was a Roundhead and supporter of Cromwell. The epitaph on his tomb in the chapel captures the essence of the man: he “enjoyed his portion of this life in Ye times of greatest civill troubles yt Ever this Nation had. He was a lover of liberty, and faithful to his Country. He delighted in Sober company.” According to Clarendon he was “brought up by Pym”, and he married as his second wife Dorothy, sister of Robert Greville, Lord Brooke.

As a result of these connections he became a staunch Parliamentarian and a bitter opponent of Archbishop Laud. As MP for Leicestershire in the two parliaments of 1640 he was the proponent of the Root and Branch Bill and the Militia Bill. He has a distinction of being one of the five members impeached by Charles 1 on January 3, 1642. Clarendon, in splendidly prejudiced style, called him “an absurd, bold man” who was used by his party” like the dove out of the ark, to try what footing there was” when new propositions were brought forward.

Best remembered as the head of a regiment of cuirassiers known by opponents as “the lobsters”, he took part in the Battles of Edgehill, Lansdown and Cheriton and in the capture of Chichester, where he supervised the melting down of the cathedral plate for the benefit of the Parliamentarian army. Appointed governor of Newcastle by Cromwell, he was a recognised leader in the Commons, but refused to act as one of the King’s judges and on the expulsion of the Long Parliament moved into opposition to Cromwell. This saved his life at the Restoration; he was merely sent to the Tower, where he died in January 1661.

After the dramas of the mid 17th century, the family lived quietly, mainly in Northamptonshire. It was only in the early 18th century, in the time of Sir Arthur, seventh baronet, that the idea of building a substantial new mansion at Noseley was revived. Sir Arthur was the model of the cultivated 18th-century squire, as interested in the arts and letters as in sport; his wife is said to have been the model for the heroine of Richardson’s Pamela.

Described by John Nichols in The History and Antiquities of Leicestershire (1798) as “an admirer of the fine arts”, he went on a Grand Tour to Italy in 1723, and spent a considerable time in Rome. There he commissioned paintings from Trevisani and collected many “curious antiques, with which he embellished the old family mansion, which he in great degree rebuilt.” The rainwater heads bear the date 1728 but no building accounts or other contemporary evidence survive to throw light on the identity of the architect or craftsmen employed.

There are however strong stylistic grounds for attributing Noseley to Frances Smith of Warwick (1672-1788) and his son William (1705-47), the leading master builders of the Midland counties. They are recorded as working at the same time at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire and Lamport in Northamptonshire, both only a few miles from Noseley. Moreover, Sir Arthur’s trustee was Sir Toby Chauncey of Edgcote in Northamptonshire, and the Chaunceys are known to have been patrons of the Smiths.

The pilastered façade of Noseley in its original form had many Smith characteristics, and the interior with its straightforward layout of convenient and handsome rooms embellished with fine wainscoting and elaborate plasterwork, has all the hallmarks of the Smiths’ school of craftsmen. Sir Arthur raised the money for rebuilding Noseley by taking out a mortgage on his property at Swarland in Northumberland for £40,000 in January 1727.

As well as rebuilding the house, Sir Arthur refurbished the chapel. His elegant new fittings included an altarpiece of carved wood which was “painted well in imitation of marble and finely adorned with figures of Moses and Aaron.” Unfortunately, these were swept away during the restoration by Charles Kirk of Sleaford in 1890.

Sir Arthur also enlarged and laid out the park with two formal pieces of water in front of the house and diagonal vistas and avenues focused on local landmarks such as Langton church. The bones of this layout still survive, though most of the original planting has disappeared, thanks to the depredations of his heir.

Under the terms of Sir Arthur’s will, the life-interest in Noseley was left not to the eldest son , Sir Robert, eighth baronet, who lived in London but to the fourth son, Charles, who behaved extravagantly and got into financial difficulties. When high sheriff of Leicestershire in 1770, for example, he astonished the county by the lavishness of his turn-out. His carriage was drawn by horses which cost £500, and he was accompanied by a procession of 30 halberdiers in green livery, two trumpeters, a marshall, two French horn players, two servants out of livery , several footmen and two pages.

In the end Charles was forced to retire to Boulogne in order to economise, and sold most of the timber at Noseley to pay his creditors. Throsby in 1789 lamented: “the woody scenery is no more; many of those friendly ornaments which once sheltered it from storms and tempest, the axe has removed forever.”

When Nichols visited the house in 1797, he found it “uninhabited, except some of the outbuildings, which are occupied by Mr.Blackshaw, a respectable farmer; but a considerable part of the old furniture remains; and a large collection of the family pictures, some of them of considerable excellence.”

The early 19th century saw a succession of childless owners who mainly lived elsewhere, and it was not till the time of Sir Arthur’s great grandson, Sir Arthur Grey Hazlerigg, twelfth baronet, who inherited in 1819 at the age of seven, that Noseley once again became a family home (the house in Northampton had been sold in 1813). Following his marriage in 1835 to Henrietta Philips, he carried out various improvements to the place, including the remodelling of the drawing room with a plaster cornice and marble chimneypiece, but retained the fluted Tuscan pilasters from the old wainscot.

He also rebuilt the west wing to create a fine neo-Classical library, thus converting the seventh baronet’s L-shaped main block into a U, the fourth side being closed by a stable range with a central entrance arch. The receipts for these alterations, dated 1835 and 1836, record the names of the workmen employed but not any architect.

Further and more drastic alterations were carried out 1890-91, at a cost of £8,890 by the widow of his eldest son and her second husband, Major Henry Pelham Burn, during the minority of her son, the 13th baronet, who was raised to the peerage as 1st Lord Hazlerigg in 1945. Their architect was J.MacVicar Anderson, who designed a boat house, new cottages, added a clock turret to the stable range on the north side of the courtyard, and remodelled the exterior of the house. He created a new main entrance on the west wide, removed the pediment, pilaster capitals, and crowning urns from the south front, and added a pair of canted bay windows. He also substituted plate glass for the original glazing bars and coated the warm red brickwork with grey cement render, an unfortunate change which gives the exterior a heavy Victorian air.

It is surprising that MacVicar Anderson, who was usually sensitive in his handling of Georgian buildings, behaved in such a heavy-handed manner at Noseley. His internal alterations were very much more tactful. He installed two bathrooms, WCs, central heating and a lift, all necessary modern conveniences. His chief innovation was to create a new entrance hall on the west side by knocking together some smaller rooms; he also formed a large new dining room by combining the old Best Parlour and Brown Parlour. In the new dining room the original brown and gilt wainscot, which fluted Corinthian pilasters, and the marble fireplace with giant egg and dart mouldings were kept, so that apart from its dimensions the room still has an early 18th century character.

The inside of Noseley remains largely in its 18th century state, with a handsome timber balustraded staircase, wainscoted bedrooms, and two exceptionally fine rooms on the ground floor, the saloon and the old dining room or study. The former fills the centre of the south front and is two storeys high. It has a pair of Baroque chimneypieces, a carved and painted wainscot with Corinthian pilasters, and an elaborate stucco ceiling embellished with the Hazlerigg arms, a canting coat with three hazel leaves.

Inset in the middle of the ceiling is a large painting brought back by the seventh baronet from his grand tour. It is a copy of Pietro da Cortona’s Planetary Cycle in the Jupiter room of the Pitti Palace at Florence. Several other paintings in the room still hang in their 18th century positions.

The study, originally the dining room, is an equally well-preserved 18th century decorative survival. It, too, is a remarkably complete example of the integration of paintings into an architectural setting. The stucco ceiling is an elaborate composition of trellis, shells and festoons. The six doors are made of mahogany, a comparatively early use of the wood. In the middle of the end walls are large full-length portraits of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, which are recorded in the same positions in the 18th century. So were the six overdoors and the painted overmantel, which form a set of school of Pannini capricci of Roman antiquities.