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Carl Stoke Park, Wiltshire ;
THE SEAT OF
GEORGE WATSON TAYLOR, ESQ. M.P.
This Mansion, which is large, elegant, and commodious, was erected from the designs, and under the superintendence, of George Stewart, between the years 1786 and 1791. Its principal front, on the south, is extended by two projecting wings, which are appropriated as offices, and exhibits an elevation of classic architecture, remarkably chaste and simple, in length three hundred and fifty-six feet from east to west, the whole of stone. In the centre is a handsome Doric colonnade, leading to the hall of entrance, which is adorned with a skreen, composed of six fluted Corinthian columns, and corresponding entablature, communicating with the Drawing-room, Dining-room, Library, Breakfast-room, and Dressing-room, which constitute the principal apartments on the ground floor. The Staircase leads to a Gallery, distinguished by the style and chasteness of its architecture, opening to the chief Bed-rooms and Dressing-rooms, above which are others, not less convenient in their arrangements, the principal apartments are ornamented by valuable paintings of the ancient and modern schools.
It stands on a rising ground in the valley which separates the north and south divisions of the county, at the distance of seven miles from Devizes and six from Westbury, in an extensive and well-wooded park, ornamented and enlivened by a large sheet of water. About half a mile from the front of the house is seen one of the bold ridges of Salisbury Plain, the sides and summit of which are thickly planted with wood. The Pleasure Grounds, corresponding in taste with the Mansion, occupy a narrow winding valley, watered by a rivulet, which forms in its progress several cascades; the Plantations are admired for their variety, and unison with the hill and vale, lawn and water, exhibiting a sylvan scene not frequently met with.
Earl Stoke is a parish in Melksham Hundred, and the village is situated at a short distance from the Park, consisting of several detached cottages, built in rustic simplicity, and embellished with neat gardens, rich in native plants.
This Estate was the lordship and inheritance of the noble family of the Monthermers, Earls of Gloucester and Hertford, from whom it passed to the Montacutes, Earls of Salisbury : it afterwards fell to the crown. In the reign of Charles II. it was the seat of William Brounker, Esq., and became the family mansion of the Paulets, Marquesses of Winchester, and Dukes of Bolton ; after whom it was held by Peter Delmé, Esq., who sold the Estate about the year 1780, to Joshua Smith, Esq., Member of Parliament for the neighbouring town of Devizes, who rebuilt the Mansion, and laid out the Grounds ; of whose representative it was purchased by the present proprietor in the year 1820, together with the Estate and Manor of Edington. The village of Edington and Tuihead is about two miles and a half from Earl Stoke, and was the birth-place of William de Edington, Bishop of Winchester in the time of King Edward III., who founded a considerable Priory at Edington, under the patronage of Edward the Black Prince, the extent of which is shewn by its fine Church now remaining, used as the Parish Church. This part of the county is generally supposed to have been the scene of the battle of “Ethandum,” where Alfred obtained a most signal victory over the Danes, and forced them to sue for peace. Camden and his commentators agree in identifying Ethandum with Edington, near Bratton Castle, and conceive the latter to have been the fortress to which the Danes retired after the battle. It is the remains of a strong entrenchment, occupying a point of land projecting towards the north-west, at the distance of about two miles from the village of Edington.
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Littlecot Park, Wiltshire;
THE SEAT OF
GENERAL EDWARD LEYBOURNE POPHAM.
This Mansion was erected in the early part of the sixteenth century, and, though considerable alterations have necessarily been made, it still preserves many features of the architecture of that interesting æra.
The entrance is by, a low door, communicating with a passage leading into an interior court.
The great Hall is very spacious, measuring in length 46 feet, in width 24 feet, and 25 feet in height, lighted by large mullioned windows, and paved with stone. The furniture partakes of the style of the chamber; here is the large oak table, reaching nearly from one extremity of the hall to the other, at which, in days of yore, the vassals feasted with their lord ; also an arm-chair, said to have been used by Sir John Popham, Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. ; it is curiously turned, has a very lofty back and a triangular seat. The walls are hung with numerous pieces of ancient armour, helmets, breastplates, &c., arranged together with the leather jerkin, and various weapons, as crossbows, carbines, antique pistols, &c.; also a pair of elk's horns, measuring 7 feet 6 inches from tip to tip.
On the first floor is a gallery, about 110 feet in length, hung with many curious portraits of the sixteenth century; one of Judge Popham, and one of Nell Gwynn, by Verelst : here is also a curious piece of needle-work, representing a large Roman tessellated pavement, discovered in the Park, in the year 1728, by Mr. George, steward to Edward Popham, Esq.; the pavement measured 41 feet by 33 feet, it consisted of two divisions, and is supposed to have been the floor of a temple ; the one division forming the pavement of the templum, the other the floor of the sacrarium : a coloured drawing was made of the whole, and presented to the Society of Antiquaries, who ordered it to be engraved by Vertue.
The Park, about four miles in circumference, is adorned with clumps of various kinds of trees; on one side of it rises a lofty hill, crowned with wood, forming a fine contrast with the luxuriant and level meadows, spread along the banks of the river Kennet.
Picketfield, which formerly constituted part of Littlecot domain, was purchased by Government in the year 1803, for the purpose of establishing a depot for the interior ; it includes about forty acres of ground, on which are erected three magazines, capable of containing nearly 11,000 barrels of gunpowder, also a mixing house for the powder, storehouses, apartments for the labourers employed upon the establishment, barracks for a detachment of the military, and houses for a store-keeper, and clerk of the cheque.
A very mysterious story is recorded in a note to Scott's poem of Rokeby, traditionally said to refer to an old bed-room at Littlecot; which tale is also to be found in the Lives of Eminent Men, by John Aubrey, Esq. vol. ij. p. 493, but too long to insert here.
Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench, was one of the lawyers detained, in 1601, by the unfortunate Earl of Essex, when he formed the absurd project of defending himself in his house, and, on the Earl's trial, gave evidence against him relative to their detention. He died in the year 1607. He was esteemed a severe judge in ths case of robbers, but his severity was well-timed, as it reduced the number of highwaymen who infested the country; but if Aubrey, whom we have quoted, may be believed, his character was liable to many serious exceptions. His grandson, “ John Popham, Esq., was the greatest housekeeper in England, and would have at Littlecot four or five lords at a time.”
The present proprietor is the son of Edward Leybourne, Esq., who was governor of Grenada in 1772, by Anne, daughter of Edward Popham, Esq. and changed his name to Popham upon coming to this estate.