History of Compton Verney

MARCH 2018
Folk Art Reimagined-image

Folk Art Reimagined

Compton Verney has worked with artist and designer Mark Hearld to re-imagine the British Folk Art Collection. He has been inspired to produce work in response to the collection which included a wallpaper design, collage and metal silhouettes. With a long-standing interest in the British countryside, British Folk Art and popular arts, Mark has recently worked on other curational projects, including with York Museums Trust.

Visit the new website: www.britishfolkartcollection.org.uk

Chapel and Landscape Restoration Project-image

Chapel and Landscape Restoration Project

The 3 year restoration project is completed. The final part of the scheme to be completed is  the Grade I listed chapel designed by ‘Capability’ Brown.

Heritage Lottery Fund grant-image

Heritage Lottery Fund grant

The Heritage Lottery Fund awards Compton Verney a grant of £2.5m towards the restoration of the ‘Capability’ Brown chapel and landscape. The project also includes the construction of a new Visitor Welcome Centre and Grounds Maintenance Building.

Ice House Restoration-image

Ice House Restoration

In 2011, the restoration was completed on the Ice House and the footpaths throughout the Ice House coppice.

March 2004
Compton Verney Opens-image

Compton Verney Opens

Compton Verney fully opened to the public as a major, nationally accredited art gallery in March 2004.

Compton Verney houses six permanent collections, focusing on areas currently under-represented in British museums and galleries. The collections are owned by the Compton Verney Collections Settlement.

Our much-praised special exhibitions programme offers both historic and contemporary shows and is designed to appeal to a wide audience.

The gallery is set in 120 acres of Grade II listed classical parkland, designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the most eminent landscape architect of the eighteenth-century.  Restoration of the parkland continues today with an extensive replanting and maintenance programme, designed to enhance Brown’s grassland, planting, ornamental lake, chapel – and the Cedars of Lebanon for which Brown is famous.

Preview season-image

Preview season

In 1998 Compton Verney opened its doors for a preview season.  The ground floor housed the British Folk Art Collection but there was still much work to be done.

Saved! by The Peter Moores Foundation-image

Saved! by The Peter Moores Foundation

In 1993, Sir Peter Moores, through the Peter Moores Foundation (PMF) bought the site, including the near-derelict mansion, and gifted it to the specially-created charitable trust Compton Verney House Trust (CVHT).

Following a £45 million building project to restore the Grade-I listed Georgian mansion and add a Stanton Williams designed modern wing to house exhibition spaces and visitor facilities, Compton Verney staged a preview season in 1998 on the newly-restored ground floor rooms, showcasing the important British Folk Art Collection, which the PMF had already bought from collector Andras Kalman.

Following this Compton Verney continued to engage with people in the local area via a series of outreach projects and art installations within the park.

Compton Verney Semi-Derelict-image

Compton Verney Semi-Derelict

By the 1980s Compton Verney had become semi-derelict. When Ellard died in 1983, the estate was bought by developer Christopher Buxton, who aimed to convert the mansion to a hotel and build a large opera house in the Old Town Meadow. His ambitious plans failed however, and the estate continued to decay.

Filming of The Bell-image

Filming of The Bell

This photograph was taken in July 1981 on the film set of the BBC production of Iris Murdoch’s The Bell, it shows the extras drawn from local people who formed the choir.

Filming at Compton Verney-image

Filming at Compton Verney

Ellard did occasionally authorised film companies to shoot in the grounds. Peter Hall’s celebrated film of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring a young Judi Dench, Helen Mirram and Ian Richardson, was shot here in 1968.


Harry Ellard acquires Compton Verney

In 1958 the estate was acquired by Harry Ellard, a local property and night-club owner who liked to collect ruined old buildings.  Ellard rarely enter the house, and when he did visit the estate preferred to stay in his caravan in the park.

Camping at Compton Verney-image

Camping at Compton Verney

124th Birmingham Girl Guides.

In the early 1950s, owner Samuel Lamb allowed many groups of Guides and Scouts to camp on the grounds of Compton Verney.

We have many happy memories of Guide Camp at Compton Verney in August 1952. We went with 124 Birmingham Girl Guides for a week. A Scout troop who had camped there the previous week left us their mud oven in which we cooked our Sunday joint; delicious! We had lots of fun that week. One abiding memory, though, is of the Friday night when we had a terrific storm. We all gathered in the bell tent and sat round with cups of hot cocoa and singing campfire songs while the rain lashed down outside. We learned later that this was the night of the Lynmouth floods.”

Memory by Mrs Patricia Partridge


Hosting of two Hunt Balls

The Hall was twice used for Hunt Balls during the 1950s.

Army requisition Compton Verney-image

Army requisition Compton Verney

In World War II when Compton Verney was requisitioned by the army. The notice for this was dated 28 October 1940 and by September 1941 a hundred Pioneers were billeted here.

During the war the grounds were used as an experimental station for smoke-screen camouflage, as an outstation of the Camouflage School established at Stratford-upon-Avon.

After the army left in 1945 the house was never lived in again, buildings were demolished or fell into disrepair, and large parts of the estate were sold off.

Samuel Lamb-image

Samuel Lamb

Samuel Lamb and his family move into Compton Verney and live there until WWII breaks out.

Joseph Watson-image

Joseph Watson

Financial pressures force the Verneys to sell Compton Verney.  The new owner in 1921 was Joseph Watson, a soap manufacturer and racehorse owner. In 1922 he was made 1st Baron Manton of Compton Verney the following year – only a few months before he died in a local hunting accident.

The house and landscape at Compton Verney was owned by the Verney family – later created Lords Willoughby de Broke – from the mid-fifteenth century to 1921, when the 19th Baron sold the estate.

His son George Watson (1899-1968), the 2nd Baron, sold the house in 1929, having first removed the valuable stained glass from the chapel.

The new owners of the estate are business tycoon Samuel Lamb and his family.

1870 - 1880

The agricultural depression

Compton Verney suffered in the agricultural depression of the 1870s and 1880s, in common with other landed estates across the country, as they were dependent on agricultural rent for income.

The house was let out from 1882 to 1912 due to this.

The last Verney’s-image

The last Verney’s

After 1862 Henry Verney, 18th Baron Willoughby de Broke, undertakes further works to the park including planting the spectacular Wellingtonia Walk.

He invites the architect John Gibson to make alterations to both the park and the house, most notably the addition of the spectacular frieze in the Adam Hall.

The last Verney to live in the mansion was Richard Greville Verney (1869-1923), 19th Baron Willoughby de Broke, whose nostalgic memoir, The Passing Years, offers a sentimental description of life in the house before he was obliged to sell it in 1921. He died two years later, in 1923.


The Family Vault

In about 1848 an obelisk was erected over the old family vault near the lake.


The Honorary Henry Peyto-Verney

John Peyto Verney, 14th Baron Willoughby de Broke died in 1816.

The house and estate was then inherited by the 16th Baron, Henry Peyto Verney (1773-1852) who was an eccentric character and became increasingly reclusive.

He made minor alterations to the building, such as architect Henry Hakewill’s transformation of the Saloon into a Dining room in 1824. There was also some work in the grounds, including the extension of the lower lake in around 1815 by the engineer William Whitmore.

Directing Nature-image

Directing Nature

The 14th Baron commissions Lancelot ‘ Capability’ Brown to redesign the landscape of the estate.  He transforms the formal gardens into a ‘natural’ landscape.

Brown also builds a Greenhouse, Ice House and Chapel.

Robert Adam’s New Style-image

Robert Adam’s New Style

John Peyton Verney (1738 – 1816), 14th Baron Willoughby de Broke commissioned the prominent Scottish neo-classical architect, Robert Adam, to propose alterations to Compton Verney.

Adam’s proposed remodelling was much more extensive than anything that had taken place before. His drawings of the ground, first and attic storeys show what was to be retained from the original building and what was demolished. Three of the four sides of the original courtyard house (the east, north and south wings) were to be torn down, and Adam proposed the addition of a portico on the new east front and the reconstruction of the north and south wings, giving the house its present U-shape.

The building work for Adam’s alterations was carried out from about 1762-1768, supervised by the Warwick architect and mason, William Hiorn, who was also employed locally at Charlecote House and Stoneleigh Abbey. The stone came from the estate and the surrounding local quarries of Warwick, Hornton, Gloucester and Painswick. The most important changes include the removal of the Great Staircase on the west front and its replacement by a Saloon with pairs of columns, plus alterations to the Hall, as well as the creation of an attic storey above it. Adam also added a library and octagonal study to the south wing and adapted the brewhouse and bakery to the north of the house.

The floor plans of the house were published in the fifth volume of Vitruvius Britannicus in 1771, and show various differences from Adam’s drawings, some of which suggest that some of the Baroque interiors had been left as they were. Robert Adam was often responsible for the interior decoration as well as the architectural design of his buildings. However, at Compton Verney he designed the decoration of only a few rooms, including the Hall and the Saloon. The rest were decorated by local craftsmen using their own pattern-book designs.

His drawing for the decoration of the Hall in the Victoria & Albert Museum shows three large plaster picture frames placed high on the walls that originally contained large landscape paintings with classical ruins. These landscapes were painted by the Venetian artist and favoured collaborator of Robert Adam, Antonio Pietro Francesco Zucchi (1726-1795). They were removed from the house and sold at a later date, and only the plaster frames remain. It is this period in the history of the house that is captured in the famous painting by the artist Johann Zoffany, now owned by the J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The painting shows John, 14th Baron and his family in the breakfast room on the ground floor at Compton Verney.

Although Adam’s work on the mansion was completed in 1769, building work continued on the other buildings at Compton Verney until the 1780s.

John Peyto Verney, the 14th Baron-image

John Peyto Verney, the 14th Baron

After both sons died, the estate was inherited by George’s great-nephew, John Peyto Verney, (1738-1816) who then became 14th Baron, who also luckily inherited the neighbouring estate of Chesterton, thus raising the family’s income to a substantial £4,000 a year. This additional income and his marriage in 1761 to the sister of Lord North (from nearby Wroxton Abbey, Oxfordshire) may have been what encouraged John Peyto Verney to improve the estate and completely remodel the house as George had done.

This image is a group portrait of John, 14th Baron, and his family in the breakfast room at Compton Verney by Johann Zoffany, c1766.  By courtesy of The Paul J Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

The Stable Block and Formal Gardens-image

The Stable Block and Formal Gardens

Stables were built to the north of the house in 1735 by architect James Gibbs, these can still be seen today. Extensive formal gardens were also added to the north and south, and the main approach to the house ran east to west, with an ornamental canal on the west lawn.

A visitor, John Loveday of Caversham, described the house in 1735, writing:
Just on the right of the road between Little Keinton [sic] and Wellsburn [sic] is the seat of the Hon. Mr Verney . . . It stands low and is built of Stone; the front is towards the Garden and has 11 Windows…

Below there is a handsome Gallery or Dancing Room…The Gardens, with the room taken up by the house contain 20 Acres. The Gardens rise up a hill, and are well-contrived for Use and Convenience. There are Views down to a Pond; of these Ponds there are 4 in a string, which make a mile in length.

1711 - 1750

The classical remodel

In 1711 George Verney (1661-1728) the 12th Baron Willoughby de Broke, inherited the estate and decided to rebuild the house and lay out the gardens in a formal Baroque style.

This was a period when medieval houses were being remodelled in the classical style, and new country seats such as the Duke of Marlborough’s Blenheim Palace in nearby Woodstock were being built. George commissioned an extensive reconstruction of the earlier house, whilst preserving much of the plan of the original building.

The new design that was commissioned – the basis of the house which we see today – has been convincingly attributed by architectural historian Richard Hewlings to the Oxford master-mason John Townesend (1678-1742) and his son William, who had worked at Blenheim Palace and at many of the new college buildings being built in Oxford.

The basic layout of Compton Verney in the 1730s can be reconstructed from the surviving evidence, which includes two inventories dating from this period. It was a courtyard house, entered from the east (as today), through an archway with a cupola in the now-lost east wing. The main apartments were in the west and south wings, with the servants’ quarters on the north side where the service buildings were. The west wing was dominated by the Great Hall, which probably occupied the same site as the original medieval Hall built in the 1440s. The Great Staircase (now lost) led up from the Hall to the main apartments above.

William Dugdale-image

William Dugdale

In 1656 William Dugdale wrote in his Antiquities of Warwickshire:

Richard Verney Esquire (afterward Knight)… built a great part of the House, as it now standeth, wherein, besides his own Armes with matches, he then set up…towards the upper end of the Hall, the Armes of King Henry the Sixth.

This image is a portrait of Richard Verney (1621-1711).

Tudor and Stuart-image

Tudor and Stuart

The house was further extended in the late sixteenth century, following the advantageous marriage of Sir Richard Verney (1563-1630) to Margaret, daughter of Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke. Richard inherited her family estates and claims to the barony of Willoughby de Broke.

Very little is known about this early house at Compton Verney. A drawing by Wenceslaus Hollar of about 1655, published by William Dugdale, shows a great hall, a long south wing with gabled dormer windows and chimneys looking down to the lake. It had octagonal turrets at end, kitchens to the left (south west) and a chapel.


The English Civil War

The first surviving inventory of the house, which dates from the middle of the Civil War in 1642, describes a house of thirty rooms (including a hall, two parlours, seventeen bedrooms, an armoury and study as well as servants’ quarters and outbuildings), furnished with velvet, tapestry and pictures to a total value of £900. A silk and wool embroidery showing Lucretia’s Banquet may have been one of the original pieces hanging in the Great Hall from this period.  Records show that this was sold in 1913 to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Lord and Master-image

Lord and Master

Sir Richard Verney claims the right to the barony of Willoughby de Broke through his wife, Margaret.

His only son, Greville Verney, inherits the title of 7th Baron Willoughby de Broke on the death of his mother in 1631.


Creation of Compton Verney

By about 1500 the Estate was so closely associated with the Verney’s that it began to be known as Compton Verney.


Manor House

According to William Dugdale they also built a manor-house there in about 1442.


Richard Verney

The Estate was acquired by the ruthless and ambitious Richard Verney (1435-1490) with the assistance of his younger brother John Verney, Dean of Lichfield, and the powerful Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. The Verney family had begun acquiring lands in the area of Compton Murdak and the surrounding villages in the 1430s before purchasing the estate.



Surrender of the estate

In 1370, after two hundred years of Murdak ownership, Sir Thomas Murdak surrendered the estate to Edward III’s unscrupulous mistress, Alice Perrers.

Compton Murdak-image

Compton Murdak

Sometime before 1150, the manor was granted to Robert Murdak and the village became known as Compton Murdak, passing by inheritance to the heirs of the Murdak family.

The Medieval village of Compton Mudak was located in what is now the Old Twon Meadow.


Domesday Book

By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 (a survey carried out for the Norman king, William the Conqueror, to record land ownership and values), the village was divided into two manors. The largest manor was held by the Count of Meulan, and this was inherited by the Earls of Warwick, who held it in the king’s name.

899 - 1066

The Saxon Settlement

The first record of a settlement at Compton Verney was the late Saxon village of Compton. It had good communications, being served by the Fosse Way, which ran north-south half a mile from the site and led from the Roman settlements of Cirencester to Leicester.