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Earl Summerhouse Restoration Project

Ickworth Church and Summer House from Canal Lake
Ickworth Church and Summer House from Canal Lake | © Michael Graham

The 1st Earl’s Summer House is one of the oldest buildings at Ickworth Estate. This year we are carrying out vital conservation work on the Summer House so that you can experience the Walled Garden from this idyllic setting once again.

History of the 1st Earl's Summerhouse

John Hervey, later 1st Earl of Bristol, inherited Ickworth in 1694. He moved to the estate around 17011702 and made Ickworth Lodge the temporary family home. The 1st Earl had plans to build a grand new house and set about transforming the grounds. It was the Walled Garden that was his outdoor masterpiece. This area of the estate contains the most important remains of the early 18th century built landscape. The 1st Earl’s Summer House is Grade II listed and is built of nely gauged brickwork laid in Flemish bond (a type of brickwork pattern). It features a decorative Gothic ceiling centrepiece dating to the late 18th or early 19th century. It was initially used as a heated summer house before later being used for protecting tender plants such as lemons, seedlings, and bedding plants over winter.

The history of the Summer House is complex and some parts remain uncertain. The design is thought to be attributed to English architect and landscape designer William Talman, and dated to c.1703, but may be a little earlier. Talman, along with Sir John Vanbrugh, English architect and designer of Blenheim Palace, were consulted over the building of a new family house. However, no new building was begun and it would be nearly a century before the 4th Earl (the Earl-Bishop) started to build the Rotunda and two wings we see today.

It is thought the garden reached its full size by the 1770s. In a painting by artist George Quinton in 1805, we can see the southern end of the Walled Garden is divided into three sections. Each section is walled on three sides, but open on the fourth which faces the canal. These are separated by treed areas, possibly planted with fruit trees. The walls do not extend to the water’s edge but stop short, thought to allow access for a donkey cart between them. These walls would have provided protection for growing crops and an additional area of support for wall-trained fruit trees.

Restoration Project begins

In 2012 a building survey was carried out highlighting areas of damage and decay inside and outside the Ist Earl's Summer House. Some minor repairs have been undertaken over the years, however in 2018 and 2020 further reports showed an increasing demand for conservation and repair.

During this project some of the works will include replacing the iron railings that once surrounded the basement steps, repairing the retaining wall to the basement steps, brickwork and floor repairs to the cellar chambers and new drainage to be incorporated to the rear of the building to alleviate flooding in the cellar.

The building requires masonry repairs and repointing particularly to the parapet walls and cornices. Pointing is the external part of mortar joints in brickwork. Over time, weathering and decay causes damage in the joints allowing in water. Some areas of the parapet are suffering due to delaminating brickwork and there are some areas where brickwork is missing altogether. These repairs are essential to prevent further water penetration to the brickwork which if left unrepaired will lead to considerable damage, loss of historic material and increasingly expensive repairs.

Inside the Summer House the plasterwork on both the ceiling and walls has suffered water damage. During this project the ceiling is being repaired and the missing cornicing will be replaced. To replicate the intricate cornicing, moulds will be taken of the existing plaster cornice so a new section can be produced to replace the damaged area.

The cast iron grille covering the floor duct is also broken in several places and has partially collapsed. It will be repaired and replaced when the internal works are carried out.

The work is underway and some of these tasks are already finished. The project is set to be completed over the next couple of years.

Surrounding area of Gardens House, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Support us

There are many ways you can support and get involved with the conservation projects at Ickworth Estate. Making a donation, or signing up to be a volunteer, are fantastic ways to help the team carry out this vital work. Your help allows us to protect buildings like the Summer House and preserve the parkland for years to come. If you are interested in further ways to support our cause, chat to the team.