The History of Hylands
Hylands House is now owned by Chelmsford Borough Council. Grade II listed Hylands House has been extensively altered since it was originally built about 1730 by lawyer Sir John Comyns. For many years Sir John was an MP representing nearby Maldon and the Queen Ann style mansion he built forms the nucleus of the house as it is today.
family remained owners of the house until 1797 when it was sold to Cornelius
Hendrickson Kortright, a Danish born merchant
who owned estates in the
Among the proposals were a winged villa in a "Grecian" style and a tetrastyle portico in the Corinthian Order. Some of Repton's suggestions were followed with curves introduced into the approach roads and a serpentine artificial lake introduced.
The house was to change hands again
in 1815 when it was sold to Pierre Caesar Labouchere, partner of banking firm Hope & Co as well
as being a collector and secret envoy to
John Attwood took ownership of the property he re-built the east wing
and the back of the west wing to create a suite of reception rooms. Despite
trying to expand the grounds even further his possessions were seized
by creditors after his political career floundered. In 1858 the grounds
and house were split up for sale after remaining unoccupied for four years.The
three owners following Pryor made few changes to the home and after the
deaof Mrs Hanbury, wifckenize Hanbury, in 1962 the house was left vacant.
Hylands House through the ages
THIRTY years ago Hylands House was an archetypal example of how badly a local council could treat a fine country house. Today it is the very opposite — a model of enterprising use and painstaking restoration of almost vanished interiors.
Hylands is open to visitors on Sundays and Mondays, and from Tuesdays to Thursdays it bustles with corporate events, from business breakfasts to seminars and evening receptions. On Fridays and Saturdays the house is redesignated as a venue for civil marriages, and offers wedding breakfasts or banquets, depending on the time of day.
Add to this a series of absorbing workshops and soirées, including Murder Mystery Evenings (meet the suspects over a two-course meal), a Masked Ball, a Dickensian Christmas Market, Christmas Soirées with the Chelmsford Theatre Workshop and Boxing Day drinks, and it is clear that this is the least stuffy of publicly owned country houses.
The 550-acre landscaped park
is the setting for many events, including the popular V Festival in August,
which attracts 100,000 over two days. It will welcome a worldwide gathering
in 2007 to celebrate the centenary of the Scouts, and is being talked
of as a venue for equestrian events if
The Hylands House estate was bought by Chelmsford Borough Council in 1966 to create a public park outside the town. However, the house stood empty and decaying while Conservative councillors decided that it was a burden on the rates and should become a golfclub, and Labour rejected any private use on public land.
The only proposal to attract a majority was for demolition, in what just happened to be European Architectural Heritage Year, 1975. Happily, after fierce opposition at a public inquiry from Essex County Council and preservation groups, demolition was rejected.
a classic example of the way in which many English country houses have
been adapted and extended over the centuries. A Baroque house built for
Sir John Comyns, an MP and judge, was remodelled
in 1810 for Cornelius Kortright, a Danish merchant
with large estates in the
then bought in 1815 by Pierre Caesar Labouchere,
a partner in the leading Amsterdam bank Hope & Co, a Dutch-born Huguenot
and secret envoy for Napoleonic France. Labouchere
was a patron of Bertel
Thorvaldsen, the Danish sculptor, and commissioned
the architect William Atkinson to design new greenhouses and a large netted
cage for a cherry garden. After Labouchere’s death, Hylands was
acquired by a
The preservation of Hylands
mattered the more because
The last private owner of Hylands, Christine Hanbury (of the Truman Hanbury brewing family), wanted the house to become the centre of the new University of Essex, but Chelmsford was deemed too near the fleshpots of London for the good of students, and Wivenhoe Park outside Colchester (famously painted by Constable) was chosen instead.
In the 1980s Esmond Abraham, the borough architect, removed the Victorian upper floors and restored the Regency appearance of the house. Yet, for all the gleaming stucco, the house remained empty, surrounded by a wire fence. It featured as “Heap of the Week” in The Times in 1991.
But now the interior is largely complete. A long-derelict west wing was opened this year. Original hand-painted oak graining and gilding has been reinstated, with mirrors creating multiple reflections in all directions. Composite and papier-mâché ornaments, where missing, have been replaced using latex moulds.
Nick Whittington, the curator, now hopes to win Heritage Lottery Fund support for the restoration of Repton’s park and serpentine lake, plantations and a rustic flint cottage. This next phase will include restoration of the grand staircase — which is presently displayed with bare brick walls to show just how decayed the house once was.
More information is at www.chelmsfordbc.gov.uk/hylands/index.shtml