Ickworth house designed to impress

Ickworth House far from being just a comfortable home, was designed to impress; grand yet functional, austere and splendid and designed to entertain on a grand scale for favoured guests. It was built as an 18th century palace to showcase the many treasures and art collected by the Earl Bishop who despite being a third son, eventually inherited the Estate in 1779. You can explore time and time again to uncover unique treasures, art and the stories of this extraordinary family and their staff.

The flamboyant 4th Earl of Bristol

The house you see today is the vision of the 4th Earl of Bristol, known as the Earl Bishop. He was decended from a rather eccentric family. His father, John, Lord Hervey, third son of the 1st Earl of Bristol, was a notorious bisexual and prominent figure at George II’s Court. His mother was the beautiful Mary 'Molly' Lepel, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Caroline.

As expected of a third son of a third son, the Earl Bishop entered the Church as a career but when his two elder brothers died prematurely, he became the 4th Earl of Bristol. He was mightily impressed with his own career moves.

" In my time I have made three jumps, and I think each of them is better than yours. I was a curate, and I jumped into the bishopric of Derry; I was a commoner, and I jumped into the earldom of Bristol; I was a younger son and landless and I jumped into the Bristol estates – not bad jumps eh "
- The Earl Bishop, 4th Earl of Bristol

An impudent house

The Earl Bishop upon inheriting the Ickworth Estate and having a deep passion for the curation of art, aspired to build a house that would in his own words unite ‘magnificence with convenience’. A man of his time, he was keen to follow the latest styles. He greatly admired all things classical, especially simplicity and proportion and thus Ickworth, his masterpiece, was conceived. Started in 1795, the building was still just a shell when he died in 1803 and his son was left to complete his vision.

The Earl Bishop had spent his life travelling in Europe and secured a vast collection of art and treasures. Ickworth was to be the home of this extensive collection and his wish was to create a gallery to enlighten and educate receptive minds. Sadly his collection was confiscated by Napoleonic troops in 1798 and he spent the remainder of his days trying to recover his losses. His son, the 5th Earl who later became the 1st Marquess, took over the building project and eventually moved in with his family in 1829.

Instruct the young mind and edify the old

The original concept of a magnificent central house with two wings as galleries was changed by his son, the 5th Earl and 1st Marquess, who settled upon making the East Wing the family home and the central Rotunda as the gallery to impress visitors and also for grand entertaining. The West Wing was simply built for symmetry and remained an empty shell with occasional storage until 2003. Later generations of the Hervey family carried on the Earl Bishop’s passion for collecting. Today the house boasts an impressive art collection with paintings by renowned artists such as Hogarth, Velázquez, Kauffmann and Vigée Le Brun, an impressive ambassadorial silver collection, amongst the largest in the National Trust and a wide variety of objets de virtu, fans, books and furniture.

The impressive Fury of Athamas by John Flaxman dominates the entrance hall with an intriguing story to tell
The Fury of Athamas marble sculpture by John Flaxman
The impressive Fury of Athamas by John Flaxman dominates the entrance hall with an intriguing story to tell

The focal point of the main hall is a large sculpture of The Fury of Athamas depicting a Greek tragedy of madness and murder. The Earl Bishop commissioned this immense statue from John Flaxman whom he considered to be a rising talent.

Our collection

Our house is crammed full of treasures collected by generations of Herveys. Every time you visit you'll discover new treasures you missed and new delights in this grand house. Use the links below to explore our National Trust collections and some of our special places close by.