Gopsall Hall

Gopsall Hall was once the grandest Georgian country house in Leicestershire

Charles Jennens (1700-1773)
Charles Jennens (1700-1773)

1086 In the The Domesday Book Gopsall was referred to as 'Gopeshill', at this period it was held together with the village of Twycross by Earl Henry de Ferrers.

1148 The Lordship was passed to his son Earl Robert de Ferrers who built a beautiful chapel on the park in which a divine service was performed three times a week by the Rector of Orton-on-the-Hill, unfortunately there is no trace of this chapel today. In the same year the "Park" was given by Earl Robert to the Abbey of Mere vale.

1286 Orton, Congerstone, Bilstone, Twycross and Gopsall all answered as one village for almost a century. The Lordship of Gopsall was held by the Longham family.

1560 After having the Gopsall Hall being in the Longham family for quite sometime, they sold to The Earl of Huntington.

1618 Gopsall Hall was purchased by Sir Thomas Merry and his wife Dame Elizabeth. They had fourteen sons and five daughters, but Dame Elizabeth tragically died in childbirth of their 20th child at 39 years of age,

1677 Sir Thomas Merry conveyed the manors of Gopsall and Twycross to Sir John Sowther.

1685, Humphrey Jennens an extremely wealthy Birmingham businessman, who had amassed an incredible fortune with his iron foundry business, bought Gopsall Hall. His eldest son Charles Jennens lived at Gopsall and it was his other son, also named Charles, who succeeded him to the estate and built the magnificent mansion Gopsall Hall.

1750 Gopsall Hall was built on a park of 300 acres for Charles Jennens a collector of fine art (his collection was one of the best in Britain at the time), the hall was designed by local architect John Westley and built by David Hiorns of Warwick, and the building and extensive gardens came to an estimated cost of more than £200,000.

The south front had an extremely imposing aspect, six Corinthian pillars supported friezes and bolsters of very graceful design while a receding pediment bore a sculpture of a ship in a storm to commemorate the naval victories of Lord Howe.

The picture gallery supported on five Corinthian columns was most impressive with a portrait of the Queen Dowager, a full-length picture of Handel and also members of the Jennens family. The ceiling in this room was most elegant as it represented Neptune riding in a Nautilus' shell, drawn by horses and accompanied by a small figure playing on a conch (a shell with a high spire and comes to a point at both ends).

The wings on the south front form respectively the chapel and library. The library contained a magnificent stained glass window, the painting of which was executed by Baroness Howe. The chapel was regarded as the finest private chapel in the country.

Every portion of woodwork in the hall was made from Lebanon cedar with the exception of the communion table of which the legs were carved from Boscobel Oak.

gopsall hall
Gopsall Hall

Van Dyke's painting of the crucifixion adorned the chapel together with works of other old masters and there was also an Egyptian white marble chimney piece with an entablature of a dove pecking olives. The elaborately-gilded lectern was surmounted by a golden eagle. The magnificent organ was designed especially by Charles Jennens in honour of his lifelong friend George Frederick Handel the German composer (The organ is now being preserved in the village church of Packington in Warwickshire).

The red brick walled garden was magnificent and covered an area of almost 20 acres. In the garden was a sunken cricket pitch which was regarded as one of the finest grounds in the county.

In front of the mansion a large ornamental lake was dug and various temples and pavilions were erected in Gothic, Chinese and classical-styles to create the appropriate picturesque effect.

Near to a row of cedar trees stood a huge stone obelisk, which the great poet Pope had erected in memory of his mother at his home in Twickenham and conveyed by a coal-barge via the Ashby-de-la-Zouch canal which passes through the north side of the estate (The obelisk is now in the Earl Howes' garden at the Penn House in Buckinghamshire).

The 300 acers of park were well wooded and contained hundreds of deer. The game-keepers were provided with special buildings where different species were reared to provide game for the 'Royal Schools'.

1761 Louis Francois Roubiliac a French sculptor who worked in England at the time was commissioned to sculpt the fine structure of 'Fides Christiana', below this was a cenotaph which was topped by a fluted vase which commemorated the English classical scholar Edward Holdworth that died of fever at Lord Digby's house, near Coleshill, Warwickshire in 1741 (both the statue and the cenotaph are preserved in the gardens of Belgrave Hall Museum in Leicester).

1773 Charles Jennens died, his monument can be found in the vestry of Nether Whitacre Parish Church near Coleshill, Warwickshire. Charles died unmarried and without a direct heir. The house and estate passed, after some epic legal wrangling, to his cousin Penn Assheton Curzon.

1797 On the death of Penn Assheton Curzon, Gopsall Hall was passed to his son, Richard William Penn Curzon-Howe who was the first Earl Howe.

gopsal hall - north front
Gopsal Hall - North Front

1819 Sir Jeffrey Wyattville of Burton upon Trent designed the main entrance gate which was a triumphal entrance gate and arch, it was based on the arch of Constantine.

1858 A full-length portrait of the Earl Howe was presented to the family by the tenants of the estate.

1880s The Gopsall park was increased from 300 acres to 830 acres and was the centre of an estate of over 33,000 acres which spread over 11 counties.

The Earl Howe also had the railway line extended at Shackerstone to accommodate the Royal train.

1902 Gopsall Hall was visited by King Edward VII for the sport on the estate which culminated in a full Royal Visit by the King and Queen and various members of the Royal Family for a shooting weekend in during December. Earl Howe was a particular close friend and confidante of Queen Alexandra. King George V was always regarded as the finest shot of any of the Royal visitors to Gopsall. A silver bath with gold fittings was installed just for the King's pleasure.

9th February 1906 Georgina the wife of the 4th Earl Howe passed away after a long illness at the early age of 46. Her body was brought from Curzon house in London's Mayfair to Shackerstone where it was placed on a hearse drawn by two magnificent black horses. After a short service in the chapel at Gopsall, the Countess was buried in Congerstone churchyard.

1919 Lord Howe was reported to be in financial difficulties and consequently the entire estate had to be sold. The house was bought by Barron Samuel James Waring, of the famous furniture firm 'Waring and Gillows'.

1922 Samuel James Waring was made up to Lord Waring of Foots Cray Place. The fact that Waring chose Foots Cray Place as his title rather than Gopsall Hall indicates that he considered Gopsall Hall either a temporary possession or as a mere country retreat rather than his main home.

1927 The country was on the verge of recession and once again Gopsall Hall and the estate which comprised the villages of Bilstone of Congerstone, Shackerstone, Twycross were offered for sale by Lord Waring. Only a few cottages were sold and almost 800 lots were withdrawn.

gopsal hall
Six Corinthian pillars supported friezes and bolsters

1932 Lord Waring sold the remaining land to the Crown estate. The Government stepped in and purchased the entire estate and the hall for around £1 per acre. The house was never to be a stately home again and was shut up until the Second World War.

1942 Gopsall Hall was taken over by the No.1 Radio Mechanics School of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) who used the house and estate as an experimental radar base until 1945.

After the Second World War, the house was again abandoned as there was no family to take back possession, the house was not in particularly good condition after three hard years as a military base and succumbed to severe decay. Lead was pillaged from the roofs and fittings were taken as souvenirs.

30th May 1951 In an article written in the Hinckley Times it was given that Gopsall Hall was to be demolished.

1952 Most of the buildings were demolished and Gopsall Park Farm was built over most of the original site.

For 200 years this magnificent mansion was part of our heritage. All that remains today apart from the crude outline of the former parkland and avenues of trees are sections of the walled garden, an underground reservoir, the gatehouse and the temple ruins associated with Handel.

Gopsall in the Domesday Book

There were 102 places in the hundred of Guthlaxton in Domesday Book, Gopsall was one of them.

Guthlaxton was a hundred of Leicestershire.

domesday book gopsall
Gopsall in the Domesday Book.

Tip: Click on the i (top-left) on the photo viewer for a description of the photo.

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