There was good news in autumn 2019 with the announcement that the great Georgian estate of Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, had been awarded National Heritage Lottery funds to allow work to begin on the restoration of the Camellia House. Originally known as the Greenhouse, the building was part of a menagerie complex which housed exotic pheasants. Only 20 miles away, in Bawtry, another curious aviary has sadly not survived.
The 18th century saw a mania for ornamental birds, and particularly pheasants, introduced into Britain from ‘exotic’ lands. Shops were established where ladies could choose the finest specimens, and architects and landscape designers were kept busy designing menageries and aviaries. The colourful birds also appeared on wallpaper, porcelain, and needlework panels as the fashion took hold.
The menagerie at Wentworth Woodhouse was created in the 1730s by Lord and Lady Malton, later the 1st Earl and Countess of Rockingham, and it took the form of a grass meadow edged with shrubberies. At the side were pens for the birds, mainly ornamental pheasants from around the world, although visitors were impressed by a ‘pair of Cockatoos flying at liberty in the gardens’. Alongside the imported curiosities there were also domestic poultry, and cows grazed nearby, adding to the pastoral scene. Over time more exotic creatures, including an eagle and a moose, were added, and by the middle of the 19th century sheep, goats and llamas lived alongside an American bear, ring-tailed lemurs, kangaroos and many other species.
The double-faced ‘pavilion and greenhouse’ at the upper end of the menagerie provided a place for ladies to drink tea when visiting to admire the flora and fauna. The building must have been a real opportunity for the family to impress guests – exotic birds, an ‘architectural greenhouse’, and a cup of tea – at that date still a luxury item.
The Greenhouse, which was described as ‘new’ in 1724, was remodelled later in the century, but was still home to ‘many fine and rare birds’ when Princess Victoria visited in 1835. Later in the 19th century it was adapted as a home for an important collection of Camellias, and was suitably renamed. Camellias provide welcome winter colour, and were in bloom when they were placed on the coffin of Viscount Milton, son of the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam, in January 1877. The Camellia House fell into disrepair after the house was requisitioned during World War Two, although the Camellias still grew amid the dereliction, and recent clearance work has re-revealed their glory. The building will be restored as a cafe and tea will once more be drunk there, which is appropriate really as tea (Camellia sinensis) is a close relation of the ornamental camellia.
Not too far away from Wentworth is Bawtry Hall, which can be found on the edge of the village of the same name, close to the border with Nottinghamshire. The estate was purchased by Pemberton Milnes in 1779, and soon after that date he built a new mansion to the design of Doncaster architect William Lindley. Milnes died in 1795, and the estate passed to his daughter, Bridget, who in 1775 had married Peter Auriol Hay Drummond, a son of the then Archbishop of York. The couple had lived at Bawtry Hall during her father’s lifetime, paying a peppercorn rent from at least 1789. In 1793 a visitor described ‘Mr Drummond’s very pretty grounds’; the highlight was ‘a Charming Avery (sic) fancifully built, enclosing some beautiful Pheasants, particularly the golden.’
Drummond died in 1799, and in 1803 Bridget married Robert Monckton-Arundel, 4th Viscount Galway. They lived at nearby Serlby Hall until Galway’s death in 1810, but the Viscountess made visits to Bawtry to manage her estate. In 1804 Doncaster’s historian Edward Miller wrote that she ‘has the groves and grounds in the nicest order; and in a beautiful little area, surrounded by shrubs, has erected the annexed elegant menagerie for the reception of curious and rare birds to which she pays great attention.’ It is only thanks to Miller’s ‘annexed’ engraving that we know that the aviary took the form of a large round cage.
Following the death of her second husband, Bridget returned to Bawtry Hall and to the care of her gardens and aviary. Peck’s Topographical History of Bawtry, published in 1813, notes that the menagerie’s principal inhabitants were three species of ornamental pheasant; the golden, the silver and the common. The aviary was still in use in April 1835 when a reward of £5 was offered for information on the theft of a silver pheasant. The dowager died in November of that year and the house was then rented out, the aviary probably declining from that date.
The Dowager Viscountess Galway’s heirs sold the estate in 1904 and in 1939 it was acquired by the Ministry of Defence, who made it the HQ of Bomber Command from 1941. After the war the hall was retained by the RAF although much of the grounds was developed for housing. The hall was sold in the 1980s and was subsequently used as offices and as a religious retreat until in 2017 it became a wedding and events venue. The plantation called Menagerie Wood is the only reminder of the unusual building that once ornamented the grounds.
There’s more about the Chippendale Society here https://museumsandgalleries.leeds.gov.uk/temple-newsam/
and much of the society’s wonderful collection is on display at Temple Newsam, near Leeds https://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/templenewsamhouse
For Wentworth Woodhouse see https://wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk