Discover the house at Hinton Ampner
Ralph Dutton had a particular appreciation of Georgian architecture and furnishings, and was in his element when scouring the country for features that could be incorporated into his home. The Hinton Ampner of today is a showcase for his work in rebuilding after the devastating fire of 1960.
The Entrance Hall
The Entrance Hall occupies the front half of the original Georgian manor, built in 1793. Ralph removed the later Victorian alterations and filled the interiors with 18th century architectural features to match. For example, the porphyry chimneypiece came from Hamilton Palace in Lanarkshire, and although it was badly damaged in the fire, it was expertly restored by the same masons responsible for the black and white marble floor.
Most of the paintings at Hinton Ampner were purchased after the fire, including the imposing depiction of fishermen by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi, and two works by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini - Selene and Endymion, and Susannah and the Elders. Flanking the door to the library are a pair of giltwood torchéres whose bowls would have carried gilded fruit, while under the stairs is an early 17th century marble table-top inlaid with semi-precious stones.
The Drawing Room
Although in his 1936 remodelling Ralph had elected to retain some of the Victorian features, after the fire he chose to redecorate the Drawing Room solely in the Regency style. The colour scheme was chosen to match the French Savonnerie carpets, complemented by the giltwood furniture.
Ralph's skills at rescuing Georgian architecture continued to be put to good use, salvaging the door-cases and marble chimneypieces from Ashburnham Place in Sussex.
This is where the fire of 1960 started, after a spark leapt from the fireplace and settled on a nearby sofa. The blaze that followed destroyed the room, including the porphyry chimneypiece, and the remains of the books "had become almost petrified as if engulfed by a volcanic eruption."
The Library was rebuilt much as it was before, although it took some time before Ralph found a suitable replacement chimneypiece - this time, in Paris.
The Sitting Room
Many of the items in this room were saved from the fire by brave firemen passing the contents out through the windows. The Robert Adam chimneypiece, having been saved from Adelphi Terrace, London, before demolition in 1937, thankfully survived the fire largely unscathed. On its mantelpiece are several urns made from Blue John, a material that always appealed to Ralph. Don't miss the roundels either side of the door by Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, depicting Shakespearean scenes.
The Dining Room
The Robert Adam plasterwork ceiling originally came from Lord Rosebery's house at 38 Berkeley Square, London. Although half the ceiling was destroyed in the fire, as were the original Angelica Kauffmann-painted roundels, enough survived so that moulds could be taken to reproduce the damaged sections. Elizabeth Biddulph was then commissioned to paint new roundels in an 18th century style.
The giltwood pier-glass (or mirror) is another Robert Adam design. Dating from 1773, it is one of a pair, the other can be found in Basildon Park. The mahogany sideboard in the alcove was something of a bargain - Ralph picked it up during the war for just £8.
After a year’s essential conservation repairs, Hinton Ampner’s first floor has re-opened, so that once again, Ralph Dutton’s beautiful bedrooms and bathrooms can be enjoyed. There are new discoveries to make too - visitors can now explore the South Bedroom and take in the delightful views over the South Terrace. This room, closed since November 2017, reveals more about ongoing conservation plans to restore the entire South suite, as well as the preventative work carried out throughout the year.
Ralph Dutton's Bedroom
Ralph's bedroom enjoys fine views over the garden and across the surrounding countryside. Ironically, the fire made these easier to appreciate, since it gave Ralph the opportunity to lower the floors thereby achieving a more natural relationship with the windows.
Having been deprived of a bathroom when living at Hinton Ampner as a boy, Ralph made up for it in later life. He retained the black panelled style from his earlier 1930s rebuild, and this was used in other bathrooms throughout the house. His own was complemented by a semi-sunken bath top-lit by a round skylight.
The South Bedroom
The principal guest bedroom is also home to one of the more elaborate chimneypieces in the house, featuring an eagle with a snake in carved white marble.