Deep in the heart of leafy Northamptonshire lies Lamport Hall, an Italianate Mansion set amidst 10 acres of gorgeous gardens within its own parkland.
I had not heard of Lamport Hall since it is not owned by the National Trust or English Heritage and is definitely off the beaten track, although it does promote itself locally and is the venue of many local antique fairs. What makes it all the more remarkable is that is is run by a very small number of staff, two of whom we met and were utterly charming and full of enthusiasm for the Hall and gardens.
FAMILY LINKS AND A REMARKABLE STORY
The former home of the Isham family who lived in the mansion for 400 years, Lamport Hall is now run by a board of trustees and receives no government or lottery funding. The renovated hall contains collections of books, antiques and art and is surprisingly homely inside, despite the grandeur of the building, which looks almost austere from the front. Apparently one of the former residents disliked being viewed by commoners passing by on the nearby road, so set about commissioning banks to be built beside the road to shield the view of the house from locals.
FORMAL GARDENS, ENGLAND’S FIRST ROCKERY AND PIET OUDOLF INSPIRED PLANTING
The garden divides itself into three distinct areas. The formal lawns, bordered with clipped yew and box sweep towards the house, and are punctuated with ubiquitous cedar trees. In the centre of the main lawn lies a circular stone structure, rumoured to be a former cock-fighting pit, but no records are able to confirm this.
During the mid 1800s, Sir Charles Isham made several changes to the garden. To the south-west front, a box parterre surrounding a stone fountain was created and nearby, one of England’s earliest documented rockeries was built. To be honest, it’s not hugely exciting (especially since you have to view it from the wall of the house since it does not face the garden) but in Charles Isham’s day it was a bit of a trend setter! Created in the style of a ruin, the rockery faced Sir Charles’ bedroom, so fond was he of his masterpiece which he adorned with miniature garden gnomes, thought to be the earliest to be introduced to England. A spiritual man, Sir Charles believed in the myth that gnomes protected the garden and worked on it at night! Sadly only one of these little chaps survives, and now lives behind glass in the Hall. Known as ‘Lampy the Gnome’ he is quite a celebrity and even has his own Blue Peter badge! I was surprised at how tiny Lampy the Gnome was, and fully expected him to stand at around a foot, rather than his rather diminutive 5″ or so.
THE OUDOLF INSPIRED CUTTING GARDEN
The triumph of Lamport Hall surely has to be the cutting garden, housed in the former kitchen garden. Planted as recently as 10 years ago, the walled cutting garden was inspired by the planting of Piet Oudolf and using plants from his nursery, now forms a dreamy landscape in which to wander and marvel at the contrasting shapes, colours and textures of the perennials planted here. Ornamental grasses dance in the breeze beside echinacea, agapanthus, rudbeckia and asters amongst many more late summer flowers which surprisingly do not seem to encroach upon their neighbours. Great swathes of grasses lie at the centre of the garden, adding movement and grace to this peaceful area.
Despite being called a cutting garden, none of the flowers are cut for sale or arranging, and instead are left until February when the entire space is cut down and fertilised in preparation for new growth. This allows birds to feed on seed heads and indeed many of the flowers continue flowering into December if it is mild.
BUT SADLY NO TEA ROOM…..
What a beautiful and peaceful place Lamport Hall is. Tragically lacking in tea room facilities, there is at least the nearby Swan pub (named after the Isham family mascot, also featured on the great gates to the front of the property) and plenty of nearby villages to explore in search of refreshment!
As mentioned at the top of this review, Lamport Hall has frequent antique and collectors fairs held throughout the year, do check the link on the right hand column for details of the property.
August 2016 update. My visit to Lamport Hall was with photographer Clive Nichols and the feature we were reporting on is now in print. See August 2016 issue of The English Garden magazine for full article.