Wimpole Hall has a rich history of many different owners, all putting their mark on the architecture and interior design of the building.
It is a complex house with a spectacular architectural pedigree. The original building (1640-70) was almost certainly designed by its owner, Sir Thomas Chicheley. It was extended in 1713-21 by James Gibbs and decorated by Sir James Thornhill. In the mid-18th century, Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, commissioned Henry Flitcroft to re-face the central block and to make various internal alterations.
The 3rd Earl called in Sir John Soane to design the Yellow Drawing room, with its sophisticated arches and vaults, and an austere but beautiful bath house. Wimpole’s interior is a rich mixture of mainly 18th-century decoration, including a spectacular Baroque chapel with trompe l’eoil murals by Thornhill. There is also a library designed by Gibbs for Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford.
Furnishing the house
Captain George and Mrs Elsie Bambridge bought Wimpole in 1938, with the Hall almost entirely empty of contents.
Over the next 40 years the Bambridges slowly furnished and decorated the house, seeking out pieces that were either once at Wimpole or had strong connections to the estate or previous owners.
Highlights such as the 1780s state bed, and the exquisite gilded sofas made especially to fit the curved walls of Sir John Soane’s Yellow Drawing Room, show how a grand country house would have looked in its heyday.
Alongside the more formal rooms sit the cosier more personal spaces that make the house a home and reflect the Bambridges’ personalities and tastes. Look out for the collection of 18th and 19th century conversation pieces that decorate the drawing rooms, delicate French porcelain figures, and collections of carriage prints.
The Four Caesars
Four magnificent Caesars are on display in Wimpole’s grand entrance hall. The spectacular marble busts are back on show in a room they last graced in the time of Elsie Bambridge, Wimpole’s last private owner.
Yellow Drawing Room
Sir John Soane designed this dramatic interior in 1793, removing seven rooms and a staircase to make way for it. This was the setting for Queen Victoria’s reception 50 years later.
The library was built by James Gibbs in 1730.
Among Wimpole’s few indigenous contents is the great library of the Earls of Hardwicke (owners of Wimpole from 1740 to 1894), which the Bambridges chose to buy with the estate. The 1st Earl of Hardwicke who was an avid collector and lover of books.
With over 6000 books (4000 pre-1810), Wimpole’s library is one of the National Trust’s largest and most varied, enhanced by Elsie Bambridge’s own collection that includes books that belonged to her father, the author Rudyard Kipling.
The basements at Wimpole give a fantastic example of life below stairs.
The Housekeeper's Room and Dry Store evoke memories of times past.
Imagine the bells ringing, cooking smells and the hustle and bustle in the basements, providing an excellent service to the owners upstairs.
The owners of Wimpole Hall commissioned some of England’s finest architects to make their mark on the building.
Gibbs, Flitcroft, Soane and Kendall have all left fantastic examples of their work - some of which can be seen side by side.
Did you know...
- There are 88 lion heads in the Yellow Drawing Room
- Thomas Chicheley was considered one of Britain's best tennis players
- Queen Victoria stayed here for two nights in 1843
- Edward, Lord Harley's library had 50,000 books and 350,000 prints
- Mrs Bambridge, Rudyard Kipling's daughter, gave us Wimpole in 1976