Wimpole through the ages
Wimpole has been continuously occupied for at least 2000 years with evidence from Roman, Anglo Saxon and medieval times. It has been owned by a number of different families. The earliest maps show a four gabled manor house surrounded by a moat.
The Chicheley family
The Chicheley family dominated Wimpole for 250 years from 1428. The gabled manor house was demolished and parts of the house you see today were built in the 1640s and 1650s by Thomas Chicheley, MP for Cambridgeshire and member of the Royalist army. Debts forced him to sell Wimpole in 1686.
Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford and Mortimer
Harley gained Wimpole through marriage to Lady Henrietta Cavendish-Holles and set about enlarging the house. An obsessive collector, Lord Harley wanted to make Wimpole one of the main centres of art and learning of the early Georgian age. He wanted it to be the main location for the books that the Harley's collected. By the end of his life he had collected 50,000 printed books, 41,000 prints and 350,000 pamphlets. Harley amassed huge debts and he, too, had to sell the estate. The manuscript collection was acquired for the nation in 1753 and formed the foundation of the British Library.
The Earls of Hardwicke
Lord Hardwicke, the first Earl of Hardwicke and Lord Chancellor, bought Wimpole in 1739. He rebuilt the north and south fronts of the house in red brick with Portland stone dressings. Harley's cabinet rooms were made into one ground floor gallery for Lord Hardwicke's famous picture collection.
The second Earl of Hardwicke was more interested in books and manuscripts than political life so Wimpole once again become the centre of a great book and manuscript collection. It was the second Earl of Hardwicke who, in the 1760s, commissioned 'Capability' Brown to landscape the North park including the building of a gothic tower, still standing today; shallow belts of trees and serpentine lakes crossed by a 'Chinese' bridge.
The third Earl of Hardwicke was a politician with an interest in architecture and agricultural improvement. Uniting these interests, in 1790, he commissioned Sir John Soane, celebrated architect, to make dramatic alterations to the interior of the house including the stunning Yellow Drawing Room, Bath House and the Bookroom and secondly to build a model farm.
Vice Admiral Charles Yorke ('Old Blowhard') became the fourth earl in 1834. With rigorous efficiency he regulated the estate finances. Changes to the house and gardens included the new servant wing, giant conservatory and new stable block. He even founded an estate fire brigade. He entertained Queen Victoria and Price Albert for two days in 1843.
The fifth Earl of Hardwicke was an inveterate gambler, in the circle of the Prince of Wales and was known as 'Champagne Charlie'. He amassed huge debts with the Agar-Robartes Bank, and Wimpole was put up for sale but failed to find a buyer. Lord Robartes took over the house and estate in his capacity of chairman of the bank.
The Viscounts Clifden
Lord Robartes, the sixth Viscount Clifden, took over Wimpole from Charles Yorke and settled Wimpole on his son Gerald in 1906. The maintenance of Lanhydrock and Wimpole proved too expensive, and Gerald Agar Robartes, the 7th Viscount Clifton felt obliged to move to Lanhydrock in Cornwall. Wimpole was then only occupied occasionally, usually for game shooting, racing at Newmarket or cricket in front of the house.
Captain and Mrs Bambridge
Captain and Mrs George Bambridge first rented Wimpole in 1937 and had bought it by 1942. The house was largely empty of contents, they set out buying pictures and furniture to fill the house. During the war the household moved into the basements. The house itself was not requisitioned by the War Office due to lack of mains electricity and primitive drainage and water supply. Captain Bambridge died in 1943 as a result of chill caught whilst out shooting. Elsie Bambridge was the only surviving child of Rudyard Kipling. She was able to use the substantial royalties from his books to refurbish the house. Mrs Bambridge bequeathed the house to the National Trust on her death aged 80 in 1976.