Half way up Bowden Hill between Bowood and Lacock Abbey, stood Spye Park House, the seat of the Bayntuns.

"I think Spye Park is one of the prettiest places in the world, or in all events it has more natural beauty than most. In every description the views are so varied and the grounds so picturesque. The park is very large and one could wander about for many hours admiring and exploring".

– Charlotte Wyndham's
sister wrote in one of her letters dated 1834.

The last of the great Bayntun mansions – this marvelous house had many different faces and was twice destroyed by fire

Thomas Dingley's sketch of Spye Park, dated 1st May 1684, shows the original structure and it is exactly as John Evelyn described it in his Diary when he visited there on 19th July 1654, during the course of its complete.

Spye Park, the seat of generations of the Bayntun family and was situated about two miles to the north of Bromham village and close to the great Roman road from London to Bath.

The first mention of Spye Park was found in a Counterpart of Bargain and Sale, dated the 21st August 8 Elizabeth 1 (1566) by Henry Sharyngton of Lacock to Sir Edward Bayntun (1517 - 1593) of Rowden and Agnes his wife, of all his land, within the park called "Spye Park", which were parcel of the Manor of Laycock, to them, and the heirs of Edward Bayntun. It was on this land that his grandson, Sir Edward Bayntun (1593 - 1657) built Spye Park House after the destruction of Bromham House during the civil war.

It is thought a small house stood in the park called "Spye Park Lodge" and it was here that the Bayntun family moved to after the destruction of Bromham House during the civil war in May 1645. Within 9 years, Sir Edward added to, and greatly enlarged this house, which was eventually completed by the end of 1654.

Nothing could be more delightful than the situation of this old mansion, standing in a fine park near the south-west extremity of one of the best wooded spots in the land. The house itself was a plain, but spacious building, seated in a park which had plenty of fine old oak and other timber trees. The grounds were diversified by bold swells and winding valleys and commanded, at various stations, some extensive and interesting prospects.

To the south-east was the bold plateau called Roundaway Hill, with its commanding encampment on the summit, a range of lofty chalk-hills extended thence for several miles and to the east, on the southern face of which was the White Horse of Cherhill, and above it, another encampment called Oldbury Castle.

At the extremity of the park, towards the west, the grounds sloped gradually to the River Avon and its fertile meadows to the old gatehouse called Spye Arch, where a very extensive tract of country unfolded. Whilst the plantations of Bowden Park and the venerable Abbey of Lacock attract the eye near the foreground, the lofty free-stone hills around Bath could be seen in the middle distance and a large tract of Gloucestershire was obscured, extending to the north-east whilst the more picturesque and romantic features of Somersetshire were beheld, stretching to the horizon, in the west and south-western directions.

The sketch (above) shows the house as it was in 1684, with a partially sunken storey at ground level, a principal storey or first floor with nine large windows and steps leading up to the main entrance. The second floor had a range of nine smaller windows and there were two gables with windows in the attic. On the left hand side and four dormer windows equally spread across the roof space to the right.

30 years earlier, John Evelyn mentions in his famous Diaries that he visited the house on the 19th July 1654 before it was completed. He says of his visit: "We went to Sir Edward Bayntun's at Spye Park, north of Bromham village, a place capable of being made a noble seat. But the humorous old Knight has built a long single house of two low stories on the precipice of an incomparable prospect and landing on a bowling green in the park. The house is like a long barn and has not a window on the prospect side".

This cannot be seen from the sketch (above) but there is no doubt the drawing has been carried out exactly as John Evelyn described it in regard to the front of the house. The two stories referred to were those above ground.

It was here the Bayntun family moved to, following the destruction of Bromham House, during the Civil War in 1645 and quite possibly first lived in the small house, or hunting lodge (pictured at the bottom of the above illustration) called Spye Park Lodge, while waiting for the mansion to be completed. By 1654 Sir Edward Bayntun (1593 - 1657) had finished building a large house which was decorated with carved masonry taken from the ruins of the famous Bromham House, which at the time, was used as a quarry. He had also added some very rich furniture.

But before any rebuilding took place, he petitioned for the confirmation of his title to the manor which had been claimed by the Commonwealth Commissioners as having belonged to the Bishop of Salisbury. Sir Edward said that he had lost all his evidence of ownership when the Royalist's burnt down his house during the Civil War.

The new house was enclosed by a high wall and the arched gateway of the 17th century, almost directly opposite the main entrance. The steps from the main doorway at the front of the house led down onto a superb enclosed bowling green. Above the sketch Dingley has drawn the combined Bayntun/Thynne coat of arms. Sir Edward Bayntun, whom Evelyn visited, was at the time married to Stuarta, the daughter of Sir Thomas Thynne, whose brother resided at Longleat.

The sketch also shows the stables to the left, which were outside the main wall. This was a picturesque building of three storeys with five gables and many windows to the front. Steps led up to an opening in the wall which enclosed the bowling green at the front of the house, providing access to the front of the stables from the garden. Obviously there was a more direct and open access at the rear of the building.

From the sketch, there appeared to be hedging rather than a wall at the back of the house and to the right there was a Pavilion or Summer House which was built incorporating part of the wall which seems to imply that the beauties of nature were not entirely neglected.

The stables also appear to have chimneys and it is thought that these stables could perhaps have been an original house. Another theory is that Sir Edward Bayntun had them built at the same time as the main house as offices.

The original house had windows on the side next to the park and there may very well have been a practical reason why there were no windows on the prospect side. In those days, people were far less fond of exposed situations and therefore it was very likely the windows were put on the side least exposed to the wind.

A passage from the diary of John Evelyn, dated July 19th 1654, of his visit to Spye Park, tells how he and his party played bowls after dinner with the then Lord of the manor, Sir Edward Bayntun. But while this took place the coachmen were being treated to much drink, as was the custom of Sir Edward that all gentlemen's servants be so treated. Evelyn further mentions that in returning home they escaped great dangers as a result of this drinking.

The gateway that was erected at the entrance to Bromham House, as a gift from Catherine of Aragon, was all that escaped the fire in 1645 and Sir Edward had it carefully dismantled and rebuilt once again, on it’s third site, at the entrance to the Spye Park estate. It stands today as the only evidence of the Bayntun's two fine houses and fully bears out the tradition of the magnificent character of the former Bromham House. Originally the gateway was the entrance to Stanley Abbey and is now known to locals as Spye Arch.

Spye Park House was often let to others, not necessarily connected to the family, when the head of the household chose to live elsewhere. They also had houses at Bath, Bathampton and Notton and most likely a town house in London as well.

Between 1716 and 1734, Ann Bayntun – the first Bayntun Heiress – who was married to Edward Rolt, built a further two rooms on the south side of the house. Then some time around 1749 the whole front of the house above the sunken storey was completely altered and a massive portico added.

 

This included a magnificent triangular shaped concrete structure at roof level with eight concrete pillars towering above the entrance (pictured above). The alteration was carried out by Edward Bayntun Rolt, the son of the above mentioned Anne Bayntun and heir to the Bayntun estate. The main entrance to the house, or doorway retained the same, or nearly the same, position as in the original structure.

But this transformation into a Georgian manor was not just restricted to the outside of the building. Sir Edward also added a fine upstairs drawing room with a marvelous view on the south or prospect side of the house. This will be remembered as 'the handsomest room in the house' and projected from the old part of the mansion. It was later discovered that part of the walls for this extension were built from fragments which were definitely brought from the ruins of Bromham House.

There was also a cellar under this particular room, with access through an arch in the wall of the old house, which at one stage had been an external doorway. This archway appeared to have dated from the Tudor period, perhaps as late as Henry VIII, and again suggests that it too was taken from the ruins of Bromham House. This cellar would have been part of the sunken area of the original house of which the windows were by then walled up and the garden area level raised.

There was a fireplace in the south wall of the old building with a moulding of late Perpendicular character. This was on the second floor or above the sunken storey.

During the time of Sir Edward Bayntun Rolt, the park's venerable forest-like trees were sacredly preserved from the axe, but after his death in 1800, his son Sir Andrew Bayntun Rolt was criticised for removing a large amount of trees surrounding the mansion. The house stood upon lofty ground near the southwest extremity of the park and commanded great views of one of the best wooded areas in the county.

In 1812, Spye Park was rented to Colonel Thornton, of Lincoln's Inn, Middlesex, a gentleman much noted in the annals of sporting and racing. The lease was for 21 years, if Sir Andrew should live so long, and included the mansion, with a mill, a herd of deer and lands, at an annual rent of £750.

The new tenant wanted to replace the Bayntun portraits in the house with those of his own. He had an immense number of sporting and other valuable paintings of his own, together with a collection of rare and exotic plants and the lands were stocked with three wagon loads of bald-faced and other red deer, roebucks, Asiatic deer and partly-coloured fallow deer.

Some time after 1816, Dr. John Starky, husband of Maria Barbara, the daughter of Sir Andrew Bayntun Rolt, added some more rooms to the house and pulled down the small detached building, floored with marble, shown at the bottom of Thomas Dingley's sketch (pictured above), marked 'A Private Room in the Garden'.

In 1833 Charlotte Wyndham, the wife of John Edward Andrew Bayntun Starky – Maria Barbara's son and Lord of the Manor of Bromham – described Spye Park in one of her letters as: "One of the prettiest places in the world, or in all events it has more natural beauty than most. The views are so varied and the grounds so picturesque. The park is very large and one could wander about for hours admiring and exploring".

But in 1864 John Bayntun Starky – heir to the Bayntuns and the last Lord of the Manor of Bromham to live at Spye Park House – had debts so bad, his creditors foreclosed on him and all his estates were sold, including Spye Park House and the Abbey of Stanley.

His stud was sold at Spye Park and his estates were sold the following year. Derry Hill and Bromham portions were sold for £175,000 to Lord Landsdowne and Mr Goldney and the Spye Park Estate was bought for £100,000 by Major John W.G. Spicer (1817-1883), an army officer whose investment in a Brewery had made his fortune.

The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) had previously offered £300,000 for the estates but John Bayntun Starky had refused it and the Royal Family bought Sandringham instead.

Six model farms were rebuilt, cottages were demolished and their inhabitants moved to new roadside hamlets at Westbrook and Chittoe Heath and at Sandridge (in Melksham Without). A school was built with teacher's house attached, a vicarage for the new church, an enormous kitchen garden and a transept for Chittoe church. However Major Spicer was dissatisfied with the look of this 17th century mansion and had it demolished the same year and he rebuilt another mansion of red brick that many considered far worse in appearance.

The new neo-Jacobean mansion was completed in 1869 and a tower was added in 1870 by A. J. Humbert, who had also designed Sandringham and the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore. Visible for miles, perched on the hillside, this red brick mansion was a sore thumb, which provoked Spicer's neighbour, Lord Methuen of Corsham Court to complain about it in "The Times", calling it a hideous new house.

During the demolition of the old house, fragments were found in the walls of one room which were, beyond all reasonable doubt, from Bromham House and date back to Henry VIII's time, remarkable for richness of ornament than for beauty of design. Mr. C. H. Talbot visited the house on 11th September 1868 before it was completed and described seeing ornate fragments of an even older building, among the ruins.

 


This confirms that the ruins of Bromham House were used as a quarry and had been incorporated into the building of Spye Park by Sir Edward Bayntun in 1654 and again in 1749 by Sir Edward Bayntun Rolt for his alterations. Pictured (above) are some of the carved stones found during the demolition at Spye Park by the Spicers.

Talbot said, at the time, there was little in its appearance at first sight to make a visitor suppose that it could be of any antiquity, although what he saw left no doubt on his mind that this was the house which John Evelyn visited and described.

Talbot had another theory, that perhaps Spye Park was older than 17th century and more probably of the time of Henry VIII. This of course is contrary to Evelyn's assertion that it was built in 1654, but it often happens that a person is described as the builder of a house, who in reality only altered it. However one thing is certain – Spye Park was built from materials salvaged from the ruins of Bromham House and this would indicate that Evelyn's account would be more accurate.

There was also a small house, or hunting lodge there originally – this is shown at the bottom of Dingley's sketch (see illustration at top of page). This appears to have been the principal family residence of the Bayntun family after the fire at Bromham House while they waited for the completion of Spye Park. Talbot was convinced that this small house or hunting lodge was there long before the main Spye Park mansion was built and before Bromham House was destroyed.

 


The new house was on a grand scale, with a huge hall, library, dining room, billiard room and several drawing rooms of various colours (red, white and green). It was completed in 1869. It was a large three-storey gabled building of red brick and had pierced strapwork parapets, slated roofs and a wide balustraded terrace to the principal front. The park surrounding the house was well wooded and in 1939 comprised of more than 500 acres.



Unfortunately this house was gutted by fire on the 8th August 1974, on the day following the house-warming party for the fifth member of the Spicer family to have taken up residence there and again had to be demolished. The fire destroyed all the principal rooms in the main part of the house but the entire structure could not be saved as it was riddled with dry rot and had to be demolished.

These photos show the house from two further angles, before the fire in 1970 (above) and afterwards in 1976 (below). These photos were kindly supplied by Frank Lane.



 


Middle Lodge (pictured above) is a modest two-storey brick cottage, most likely dating from the latter part of the 19th century. It was constructed to house an estate labourer and his family and is located on the main entrance road from Spye Arch to where Spye Park House stood. The name Middle Lodge is derived from the fact that the cottage was situated approximately mid-way between the main house and Spye Arch. (The above photo was also kindly supplied by Frank Lane, whose great-grandfather, John Thomas Smith, was an employee of the estate and a resident there, at Middle Lodge, in the period 1903 to 1928).

After the fire, the charming 17th century stable block, built by the Bayntuns, was converted to a dwelling for the Spicer family rather than horses. This revitalised this marvelous building and most certainly saved it from decay and subsequent dereliction in later decades.

The stables (pictured left) with its chimney structures, gabled roofing and windows are all accurately featured in Thomas Dingley sketch (top of page) from 1684.

Another interesting find, at that stage, was that when the roof timbers were uncovered during the conversion, they were found to be from ships from the navy of Charles I and a delightful turret clock mentioned in Kilvert's diary.

There is no trace of the great Spye Park mansion today – even the foundations have been covered over with grass – as if there had been no house there for 100 years or more.

The Spicers decided to tear down the ruin as it was riddled with dry rot, which was worsened by the drenching which the house received from the firemen's hoses. It would have been more romantic to have left the ruin standing, gradually fading away over hundreds of years.

 


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