A view of the house at Sledmere, painted in 1795, shows a classical orangery west of the kitchen garden. No trace of this building survives today but, mysteriously, another 18th century orangery can be found between the house and the stables.
Little is known about Sledmere’s first orangery. It must have been built in the late 18th century, and is believed to have been pulled down by Sir Tatton Sykes, 5th baronet (1826-1913) after he succeeded to the estate in 1863. Family legend has it that he was a great eccentric who thought flowers ‘nasty untidy things’ and wore countless layers of clothes. Local children would look out for his discarded coats and jackets, knowing that they would be rewarded with a coin when they returned them to the mansion. It is said that on a train journey, when swaddled in clothes, Sir Tatton became overheated. Rather than remove an outer garment he took off his shoes and socks and stuck his feet out of the window. Not a man to do things by halves, he also financed the building or restoration of 17 churches in the Yorkshire Wolds.
200 miles from Sledmere is Fairford Park, near Cirencester in Gloucestershire. The fine mansion was remodelled by Sir John Soane in the late 18th century, and the park was laid out by William Eames, a designer who created landscapes in the natural fashion made famous by Capability Brown. In 1787 it was said that ‘many alterations and improvements’ were ongoing in the park and gardens, and the new Orangery, with a roundel of Flora in the pediment, and four Coade stone plaques showing putti representing the four seasons, probably dates from this period.
In 1945 Fairford was bought by Ernest Cook, a former partner in the pioneering travel company Thomas Cook & Son. He had used his wealth to acquire 17 country estates, and his original plan was to donate them to the National Trust. At Fairford there were complications as land on the estate was still occupied by a Polish Displaced Persons camp, and until that was legally de-requisitioned the gift could not be made. Later, Cook’s relationship with the National Trust soured (the trust’s James Lee-Milne found the park at Fairford ‘flat and dull’ and decided the property was ‘unacceptable’). Only a handful of the properties were donated, with the others, including Fairford, placed in the Ernest Cook Trust, founded in 1952 and continuing today.
The house at Fairford was demolished in the mid-1950s to make way for a new secondary school, and the orangery, by now in a poor condition, was dismantled soon after and the facade given to the National Trust for safekeeping. For reasons unknown, the trust decided not to re-erect it in one of its many parks as originally planned, but instead gave it to the Sykes family of Sledmere on the condition that once rebuilt there would be public access. The Bath stone front, including the Coade stone ornaments, remained in storage for some years before Sir Tatton Sykes, 8th bart, commissioned the highly-regarded architectural practice Francis Johnson and Partners of Bridlington to restore and reuse the stonework as the front of a new orangery built of local brick. A plaque on the rear (private) elevation, which overlooks a swimming pool, records that it was completed in 2005.
The original design of the orangery is attributed to Sir John Soane, and dated c.1790, although no firm evidence has been found. The new interior was therefore modelled on the Music Room at Earlsham in Norfolk, a Soane garden building of a similar date. New plasterwork was commissioned from the master craftsmen at Stevensons of Norwich, including medallions with the Sykes heraldic triton, seen on many buildings on the estate. The building was awarded a commendation for a ‘New Building in a Georgian Context’ by the Georgian Group in 2012.
For Sledmere see https://www.sledmerehouse.com
For the Sykes churches see https://www.eychurches.org.uk/images/stories/leaflets/Sykes_Open_Churches_Leaflet.pdf
The Ernest Cook Trust continues today as the U.K.’s foremost providers and funders of outdoor learning, helping children and young people, particularly those who are disadvantaged, develop a love and understanding of the natural world. Their offices are in the grounds of Fairford Park https://ernestcooktrust.org.uk
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