Visit to Renishaw Hall

Friday 10th June 2011

This visit was kindly organised by Paul Waite who has written the following account.

The baroque Italianate atmosphere at Renishaw Hall, the famous home of the three Sitwells, Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell, was not created by them but by their antecedents and in particular their father, Sir George Sitwell. It was he who took his family’s sixteenth century house with late eighteenth century additions and brought Sir Edwin to make alterations in 1908. The central part of the house contains the core of the C17 house, with a wing to one end with the 1793 Dining Room and the other side holds a Great Drawing Room of 1803 and a Ballroom of 1808.

The Billiard Room, a lobby or anteroom to the Ballroom, was remodelled by Lutyens in 1909. Here he undertook his favourite form of a coved double cube with a moulded ceiling and a columned recess. We found that he had also remodelled the ballroom fireplace and entrance doors but the marble fire surround had been moved to a small breakfast room.

From 1879 Sir George Sitwell began remodelling the garden in the Italian style of villas around Florence with levels dropping away from the house, garden rooms created by hedges, stairs and baroque statuary. Steps and paving were attributed to Sir Edwin and the head gardener showed us a garden room built on a little island that he believed was a design by Sir Edwin as well. Then it was off to lunch at the Renishaw Park Golf clubhouse. The early C17 former coaching inn had had a major extension in 1914 by Sir Edwin. The original L-plan house, with long range to west had a concave three bay dining room with pilasters dividing the window bays built inside the crook of the L, thus hidden from the street. Above this dining room was staff accommodation behind a mansard roof lit by three sash windows. In the centre of the building is a glazed dome that lights the meeting point of three internal corridors, which radiate outwards through semicircular headed double archways. Sir Edwin’s original plans for the golf club – much larger free standing grander building, were brought from the archive as were the plans for the garden at the Green.

Sir Edwin, probably in conjunction with Gertrude Jekyll, or Sir George Sitwell, Bart, created a garden for a farmhouse, called the Green, outside the gates to Renishaw Hall in 1916. Recently restored with great care by Alex Styan for the owners, it is a water garden designed as a narrow grassed court, cut into the shape of the ground, with its long axis on the centre line of the house, which stands at a higher level on a high terrace at the south west end. To either side of the water garden eight stone piers, approximately 3 metres high, with slightly battered stone revetting between each, to about half the height of the piers and carrying parallel oak beams to pergola. The revetting in each of the third bays from the south-west end is curved out to form a semi-circular apse filled with a pond. A similar apse enclosing a pond at the south-west end of the court, pairs of piers to revetting on either side, all coped at terrace level, and surmounted by a wrought iron balustrade with alternating plain and twisted balusters around apse. More elaborate balustrades above the piers to the sides with gilded knops to either side at southwest end, flights of steps in dog-leg plan provide access to water garden from the terrace level. Within the court, the three-apsidal ponds are linked by a continuous stone lined water channel or rill. The northeast end of the court is terminated by a gate set between ashlar piers with moulded bases and caps. Decorative wrought iron gate and balustrades on coped stone walls to either side of gate piers link with pergola piers. Gate and balustrades have alternating plain and shaped balusters with several moulded knops on the boldly curved top rails.

Paul Waite