architecture, church, Essex, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, Northamptonshire, Uncategorized

An Air of Detachment: Stoke Park, Northamptonshire and Mistley, Essex.

On recent sedate tours of Britain The Folly Flâneuse was intrigued to find two pairs of pavilions which had sadly lost their principal part. Near Towcester in Northamptonshire are the Palladian pavilions that once flanked a fine house. Meanwhile at Mistley in Essex the twin towers of a Robert Adam church have long since lost their linking nave. The surviving pairs are, however, far from forlorn and seem to be throughly enjoying their independence.

The eastern pavilion at Stoke Park reflected in the pool brought from another family seat, Harefield Hall in Middlesex..

The mansion at Stoke Park  was built for Francis Crane in c.1630 and is attributed, with some authority, to Inigo Jones. It is claimed as the first house in Britain to use the Palladian model of a central villa with two flanking pavilions linked by colonnades. This is of course ironic, as the main block was destroyed by fire in 1886 leaving only the pavilions. Curiously, when a new house was built a few years after the fire, it was constructed on a virgin site behind the eastern pavilion rather than on the footprint of the lost house. Stoke Park was requisitioned by the military during World War Two, and allowed to fall into decline when the war ended.

Robert Duff Chancellor became the saviour of Stoke Park when he bought the estate in 1954. He demolished the derelict Victorian house, leaving only a very pretty service wing, and put all of his efforts into restoring the pavilions, with one being converted into a private home. The setting, with ornamental pond and overflowing borders is fabulous.

Until 1928 the estate had stayed in the hands of the same family for around 300 years, but had never once passed from father to son.  Stoke Park then had a number of commercial owners until Robert Chancellor bought it in 1954. He bequeathed it to his nephew, Alexander Chancellor, and as he and his wife Susanna have only daughters the pattern looks set to continue for another couple of generations at least.

At Mistley in Essex two elegant towers look out across the estuary of the River Stour, close to the border with Suffolk. These towers are also the work of a major architect, in this case Robert Adam who designed only one other church: Gunton in Norfolk.

Early 20th century postcard view of the Robert Adam church before demolition of the central block, courtesy of a private collection.

Robert Rigby of Mistley Hall had grandiose plans to turn Mistley into a spa and attract prosperous visitors to the area. The mediaeval church was not considered an attraction so Rigby asked Adam to come up with something a little more modern and elegant. Sadly, Rigby’s plans came to nothing, and by the mid 19th century Adam’s design was in turn considered dated.  Another new church was built nearby, but the towers of the Adam church were remodelled to make them symmetrical and left standing as seamarks for ships on the river.

The village sign

The towers were sold to local families who planned to use them as mausolea but this plan also failed*. The pavilions were restored in the 1950s and are now in the care of English Heritage.

The Stoke Park Pavilions are used as a stunning wedding and events venue, but are open to the public from 24 July to 20 August 2019 between 3pm and 6pm. Don’t miss this chance to visit.

The exteriors of Mistley Towers can be visited at any time, and the key to one of the towers is available locally, for more information see

* There is however a very curious black granite mausoleum in the churchyard, the resting place of the Norman family.

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2 thoughts on “An Air of Detachment: Stoke Park, Northamptonshire and Mistley, Essex.”

  1. Gand says:

    Thanks. That reminded us of our visit on a lovely sunny day to Stoke Park pavillions many years ago.

    1. Editor says:

      The Folly Flâneuse suspected you might have been, knowing your Northants connections!

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