As some of you may know, Lyme Park’s gardens were left devastated following a harsh storm and a flood last month. It truly broke my heart when I heard the news. This place is such a special place to me as it is the first stately home I visited and worked at when I arrived in England. Most of you might remember the place being used to picture Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s house in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Who does not remember Colin Firth’s dive in the pond?
Lyme Park has such a long and rich history. Let us discover it…
Lyme Hall / Park: a history.
Today, Lyme is situated in the town of Disley, a parish south of Stockport, about 15 miles from Manchester. Lyme borders the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, surrounded by the forests of the Peak District and Macclesfield. Its geographical situation, at the limits of these three counties, may explain the etymology of its name. It may refer to the French word limites which means “limits”, “borders”.
The parish town of Lyme Handley, on which lands the house was built, was given by King Richard II to Sir Piers (or Peter) Legh, the founder of the Leghs of Lyme dynasty, in the late 14th century. The Leghs of Lyme became the most important gentry family of Cheshire. Via several marriages to wealthy heiresses, most of Lancashire and Cheshire was owned by the family. In the 15th century, a house was built but unfortunately nothing of it remains today. One of the earliest feature from this time is a building set in the park and called the “Lyme Cage”.
This now Grade II listed building was commissioned by Sir Piers Legh, fifth of the name, in 1467. First, the Cage was used as a hunting tower from where the ladies could follow the hunts on the estate. It was then used as prison for poachers waiting to be transferred to Chester for their trials (the forest around the house belonged to the king). This quadrangular building with four corner towers was largely altered by Italian architect Giacomo Leoni in 1726.
The present house was built by an unknown, or at least uncertain, architect for Sir Piers Legh VII (c. 1513-1590). Some art historians have attributed the construction of Lyme Park to John of Padua, the obscure and possible architect of the first Somerset House in London and Longleat House in Wiltshire, amongst other buildings. The avant-corps (projecting facade) on the North front is said to be one of his surviving realisations.
Following the precepts of Classical architecture, the columns on this part of the building are arranged in a specific way: Doric (bottom), Ionic (middle) and Corinthian (top). In architecture, it is called the Classical orders or architectural orders, elements coming from Ancient Greece and Rome. The windows were mullioned originally. On the pediment (top), a statue of Roman goddess Minerva was added. In early paintings of the North facade, in place of the statue there was a bell-cote. This architectural element was taken off, replaced by the statue and placed in the gardens by Lewis Wyatt in 1810.
In the 1720s, Giacomo Leoni was commissioned by Sir Piers Legh XII to remodel the house. Influenced by the works of Palladio, Leoni transformed the interior courtyard in the Italian style. He tried to remedy the symmetry problem by adding arches. His most famous realisation is probably the South front.
He built the Ionic portico, in the style of antique buildings. The balcony on the first floor rests on rusticated arches at the bottom. The addition of this element gives movement, dynamism to the facade. Leoni’s portico has become the most recognisable architectural landmark of Lyme Park.
In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, the exterior was left practically unchanged (I will write a separate article on the interiors). In 1946, Lord Newton (heir of the Leghs of Lyme) gave the house and estate to the National Trust. A year later, it was given to Stockport Corporation, before going back to the custody and care of the National Trust in 1994.
- Archeology: The Neolithic burial sites of Brittany (France).