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THE REAL 'GOSFORD PARK'
Furniture removed from Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire
The great Palladian mansion at Wrotham Park - hidden within the M25 only 14 miles from Central London - was designed circa 1754 by Isaac Ware (d.1766) for that unfortunate victim of 'Judicial murder' Admiral John Byng (d.1757). Executed by firing squad on the quarterdeck of HMS Monarque in Portsmouth Harbour in 1757 for the loss of Menorca, it was Byng's demise that prompted Voltaire's celebrated quip:' Dans ce pays-ci il est bon de temps en temps de tuer un amiral pour encourager les autres'.
Inherited by the 'neither learned, eloquent or profound' George Byng on the death of his father in 1789, this libellous dismissal of the Father of the House and Whig Member of Parliament for Middlesex does not fairly reflect his connoisseuship. Following the improvements of 1811-12 , whereby the wings flanking Ware's central block were raised to provide further State Rooms, Byng proceeded to enrich the house with exceptional Italian, Spanish and Dutch pictures, as well as furniture predominantly in the French taste. The French furnishings acquired for Wrotham typified the fashionable 'gout' expounded by the marchand-mercier Edward Holmes Baldock (d.1854), to whom Byng turned for his purchases at such great sales as Fonthill and Wanstead in 1822 and from H.R.H. the Duke of York's Collection at Christie's London, 5 April 1827. Further improvements were undertaken under the watchful eye of Cubitt & Company, in conjunction with the London firm of upholsterers and decorators Morant & Boyd in the 1850's and 1860's , and it was to Cubitt & Co that Lord Strafford again turned following the disastrous fire of March 1883, when almost all but the shell and its contents was razed to the ground.
The Strafford collections at Wrotham were also enriched through the marriage of Florence Miles (d.1862) of Leigh Court, Bristol, to Edmund, later 5th Earl of Strafford. The 'very wealthy merchant and manufacturer' Philip John Miles (d.1845) had commissioned Thomas Hopper circa 1814 to design Leigh Court in the French Grecian taste, and some of the furniture offered here may well have originally come from Leigh Court, as well as the Strafford's London house in St. James's Square.
Wrotham owes its recent celebrity to celluloid, however, as the evocative and magical backdrop to Ken Russell's Gothic, Kenneth Branagh's Peter's Friends and, most recently, Robert Altman's Gosford Park.
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