Ickworth past, present, and future
Ickworth is a vast canvas on which generations of one wealthy family have expressed their passions and personalities. Its colourful heritage, once reserved for the privileged few, is now on show for all to see.
You can trace Ickworth’s origins back to the Domesday book when it was merely one of hundreds of assets belonging to the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds. Its association with the Hervey family began three centuries later in 1432, when Thomas Hervey acquired the land by marriage. Through success and scandal, Ickworth was the family’s home for the next 500 years. Thomas’ descendants set about transforming the ancient deer-park into an aristocratic paradise.
Prior to the iconic building at Ickworth you know and love today, an earlier manor house stood near the church. The house dates back to the 13th century, but had been added to over the years by the Hervey family, it was demolished around 1700. There are no pictures and remarkably little is known about the house. We do know that Lord Arthur Hervey made a plan in 1844, during an exceptionally dry summer, when the foundations of the house and garden walls were identifiable as parch marks in the grass. Part of the site was excavated in 1982 proving that his plan was substantially correct.
The manor house was rented out in the late 17th century and seemed to have become quite derelict. The rambling old house was also outdated and too unfashionable for an affluent mover and shaker like the 1st Earl of Bristol.
He took the decision to demolish the old house and build a new one, apparently consulting Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim Palace. Unfortunately, he never got to build his new house and instead a smaller house elsewhere on the estate was converted and enlarged. He also renovated the church, where all Ickworth’s owners have been laid to rest. Residents of the tiny hamlet of Ickworth were rehoused in neighbouring Horringer, and their former dwellings demolished to make way for pasture. The next generation of Herveys made even more of an impact on the landscape.
Sadly the site of the manor house was ploughed during the Second World war, but dry summers can still reveal some of the parch marks, which Lord Arthur recorded. The house probably resembled a rather more irregular version of Melford Hall.
Aptly, construction began on the Earl-Bishop’s ‘stupendous monument of folly’, the Rotunda you see today, in the middle of the reign of infamous ‘Mad’ King George III. Society held its breath as the building began to take shape. Nothing like it had ever been seen in this country before and even now it’s unique. Irish architects, the Sandy’s brothers brought Italian designs to life, but their illustrious client never saw his dream become reality. The House took 47 years to complete. In 1829, the family moved into the East Wing of their (nearly finished) palatial new home. Surrounded by beauty, both inside and outside, the Herveys enjoyed Ickworth until well into the 20th century.
For ever, for everyone
As the glory days of the country house came to an end in the post-war period, so did the Hervey’s tenure at Ickworth. In 1956, the 4th Marquess presented the house and estate to the Treasury in lieu of death duties. The Treasury passed Ickworth to the National Trust and now it belongs to everyone. Ickworth has continued to evolve in exciting new ways under its latest ownership.
In 2002, the East Wing was opened as a luxury hotel. The West Wing, (previously only an empty shell), was completed in 2005 and houses an inviting visitor centre, restaurant, shop, and function rooms. The Ickworth Lives project, begun in 2009, saw the servants’ domain in the Rotunda basement restored to its former glory, offering a doorway into a forgotten way of life. Once, footmen and maids scurried up and down backstairs, corridors and basements, performing their duties unseen. Now the work of a dedicated team of staff and volunteers is clearly on show, keeping this stunning place open for the enjoyment of everyone and conserving it for future generations.