Enville, together with Hagley and The Leasowes, was one of the triumvirate of famed eighteenth-century Midland estates. The seat of the Earl of Stamford, it was ornamented with a variety of features: some have disappeared over the years, but fortunately many survive. A number of regular readers were intrigued by the image of the exquisite Museum at Enville which appeared in these pages in April, and asked to know more. So the Folly Flâneuse asked The Garden Historian, aka Dr Michael Cousins, to explain its history…
Various contenders for designer of the unusual garden building have surfaced: Sanderson Miller, the gentleman (i.e. amateur) architect who favoured the Gothick style, for one. Discussion with his mason about ‘Ld Stamfords Green House’ was underway in October 1749 and he spent the rest of that month, and most of the next, drawing up a design. Miller (1716-1780), besides his own inclination to the ‘Gothick’, had a well-stocked library to call upon that included Batty Langley’s Ancient Architecture Restored and Improved (1741/2). This was a pattern book which builders and owners used for ideas, and may have provided inspiration. By June 1750 William Shenstone, the poet and acquaintance of Stamford, was able to note the new ‘Gothick Greenhouse’ at Enville.
By 1756 Miller’s building had been renamed, with the peregrinatious Dr Pococke noting an elegant ‘Gothick Summer house of Mr Millers design’. Clearly then the greenhouse and summerhouse were one and the same building, and although it has been suggested that the first incarnation of the greenhouse was a wooden structure, no evidence has come to light to support this.
Sandy Haynes, the former archivist at and authority on Enville also concludes that the greenhouse and summerhouse were two names for the same building, writing that: ‘Sanderson Miller’s name is mentioned by too many different sources to be discounted and although Pococke refers to it as a summer-house there is no other building at Enville that he could be describing.’ Sadly no records seem to survive in which the exact use of the building is noted, so we don’t know for sure if the building ever housed plants or was simply a pleasure pavilion, or dual purpose.
By 1770 the building had been repurposed as a billiard room. Joseph Heely’s guidebook of c.1773 described it as being fitted out with a billiard table, a chamber organ, and ‘the inside richly adorned with stucco, the cieling remarkably so’. This work is more difficult to date: Haynes believes that it was during the transition to billiard room that the building acquired its elaborate interior plasterwork, and this brings in another contender: Henry Keene (1726-1776). This rare photograph of the inside of the building as it was in March 1952 shows stucco work that bears a strong resemblance to that in the chapel at Hartlebury Castle in Worcestershire, which Keene refitted and reroofed in the Gothic style in around 1750.
The association between Miller and Henry Keene was strong, with the two working together at Hagley in Worcestershire, Chart Park in Surrey and at Arbury in Warwickshire (where Keene probably took up reins as architect following Miller’s deteriorating mental ill-health at the end of 1759) and it is possible that he undertook the interior work of Enville’s summerhouse. To add to the naming confusion the summerhouse was referred to as a ‘Gothic room’ in 1759, yet was still being called a greenhouse by a visitor as late as 1777.
In 1846, soon after the 7th Earl of Stamford inherited, it was refurbished as a Museum for the display of ‘shells, fossils and curiosities’, and that name has now stuck for almost two centuries. By the middle of the twentieth century the building had decayed significantly and its plight gained public attention. Ultimately the principal structure was restored and reroofed by William Hawkes of Cave-Browne-Cave architects in 1988-9. The interior awaits restoration.
There was another Gothic feature at Enville, a ‘Gothic Seat’ which is sometimes misinterpreted as Miller’s building. It is mentioned in a letter of 1754 from John Ivory Talbot of Lacock Abbey to Miller ‘at Enville we saw an Horrid Massacre of a Fine Gothick design of yours: committed by the Hands of some Shrewsbury man…’ (it was an occasional hazard for architects to have their plans tweaked by owners or masons as soon as their backs were turned). Haynes believes it was the Gothic Seat sited at the west edge of Essex Wood that Talbot was referring to – no views survive, and it fails to get mentioned in any visitors’ accounts after 1759 and so probably disappeared soon after.
Enville is a private estate but opens very occasionally for special events. Keep an eye on their website for details https://envilleestate.com
Please get in touch if you have any thoughts or further information – scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the comments box. Please note that your email address will not be published – only your name will appear. Thank you for reading, and thank you to Michael for this guest post.