Home is the Collector

Home is the Collector

A lot of people find collecting pretty pathetic. Anal, obsessive, pointless, where does it end, what’s it for, haven’t you anything better to do. Certainly as a man who collects tiles, ceramics, postcards, ephemera, oh god I could go on, I stand guilty as charged. And then along comes a man who makes us collectors proud, who shows the world what its all about. Step forward Colonel Abram Arthur Lyle.

This scion of the  (Tate&) Lyle sugar  shipping and refining empire, grandson of the man who invented Golden Syrup, he did his bit. In more  ways than one. He collects historic oak panelling. I know it doesn’t get more obscure. In the early 20th century as large and small estates  fell into rack and ruin this was easy to collect. Lyle started to fill warehouses with the stuff.

As part of the way the nation reacted to the decline of its architectural and landscaped history the National Trust was formed in 1895. Barrington Hall in Somerset once an Elizabethan treasure was almost a ruin . The Trust bought it in 1907. But couldn’t afford to renovate. In fact the millstone it became put the Trust off buying other similar properties.

The poppy fields of Europe turned into killing fields. Arthur Lyle led his men at the Somme and bought the Blighty one and was invalided out the Army. What to do? It’s a question all collectors ask themselves daily.

It was a marriage made in in an English heaven, none finer. He took over Barrington Hall and  used his vast collection  and wealth to restore the magnificent rooms, stairways, corridors, outhouses,and cottage . Leading his mission was the arts and crafts architect JE Forbes. The last Lyle family member left the house in 1991.A job well done.

But a grand house without grounds misses a major point. When one first arrives at Barrington Court you are greeted by imposing walls , which screen a complex series of walled gardens so much admired by the original Elizabethan owners. It is here that garden-designer Gertrude Jekyll joins the story, Forbes asking her for advice on how to plant out the expansive gardens. Sadly only the area to the west of the adjoining 17th century Strode House was completed but when you walk and admire the gardens you will see how things might have been had the project been completed.

Arthur Lyle scoured the country for unique woodwork that would become lost as old stately homes and manor houses became derelict. The main staircase, which although grand, doesn’t quite ‘fit’ the main halls dimensions. This is because it originally came from a Scottish grand house that was being demolished. Arthur purchased it, got local carpenters to dismantle it, and then transported the same carpenters and stairs, now in many pieces, to Barrington Court, and had it re-assembled.

The staircase turns to the right. it sits roughly midway between the original floors, with the garderobe (the loo to you and me) suspended halfway between in the wall! Other anomalies are the loft spaces, lined with classic Elizabethan English oak panelling, some of it inlaid with expensive woods, and a massive leaded highly decorated wooden screen salvaged from a grand Kings Lynn, Norfolk house. Elsewhere  carved wood work from Sir Christopher Wren’s house in London features.

During the Second War the house housed a prep school but more recently it gained prominence as a major set for the filming of Wolf Hall. Last week costumes from the brilliant TV film were on show.


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