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Country houses

Known as the county of spires and squires, Northamptonshire has more country houses than any other county. Many have been owned by the same families for centuries. The houses show varied architectural styles from different time periods.

You can view the visitable country houses on our Heritage map by selecting the 'Country Houses' layer.

Click on the photos below to learn more about each property or scroll down to read about the history of the English country house.

  • Althorp Althorp

    John Spencer purchased Althorp estate in 1508 and built the country house shortly after. It has remained in the Spencer family ever since. The Spencers are an important family. Many members of the family have held roles in politics and royal service, as well as the titles Viscount Althorp and Earl Spencer. Several additions were made to Althorp in the 17th century and the house was greatly altered twice. The redesign by Architect Henry Holland in the 1780s is what remains today.

    Image © Althorp

  • Apethorpe Palace Apethorpe Palace

    Formerly known as Apethorpe Hall, Apethorpe Palace is famous for entertaining Tudor and Stuart monarchs. Henry VIII bought the country house in 1543 and left it to Elizabeth I. Later owners developed and updated the estate, adding state rooms for James I's visits. James I loved Apethorpe and personally contributed to its expansion. English Heritage renamed the hall Apethorpe Palace in 2014 to reflect its royal connections.

    Image courtesy of English Heritage

  • Ashby St Ledgers Ashby St Ledgers

    ​Ashby St Ledgers Manor House is a mansion formed of a group of buildings around a courtyard. It is famous for its role in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. The Catholic Catesby family acquired the house in the 14th century and lived there for nearly 250 years. Robert Catesby helped finance the Gunpowder Plot and was one of the key plotters alongside Guy Fawkes and Rushton-born Francis Tresham. They held their meetings at Ashby St Ledgers Manor House in the room above the gatehouse. The plotters also stored their arms and gunpowder in the house. The Catesbys sold the mansion shortly after the Gunpowder Plot and it has been owned by multiple families since.

    Image © Baz Richardson

  • Astrop House Astrop House

    ​Astrop House was built around 1740 for Sir John Willes. It was redesigned in the 19th century by the famous architect Sir John Soane, although some of his alterations were later removed. It is now a private residence.

    Image © Stephen Richards, licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

  • Boughton House Boughton House

    Records of Boughton House date back to the 1400s when its grounds were developed from a medieval deer park. The Montagu family entertained royalty at the estate on several occasions, including Elizabeth I and William III. Charles I also visited to play bowls while he was being held prisoner at Holdenby House after the First English Civil War.

    In the 18th century, Ignatius Sancho, a writer who helped expose the horrors of slavery, worked as a butler at Boughton House. He had escaped slavery in London with the help of the Duke of Montagu.

    Ralph Montagu rebuilt the house in the 1680s and shaped the gardens in a French style. It is his vision that you can see today.

    Image © Boughton House

  • Brigstock Manor Brigstock Manor

    ​​Brigstock Manor is a medieval manor. It originally had a moat, but it has been altered several times. Most notably, it was altered in the Jacobean era and again later by the Victorian architect John Alfred Gotch. It remains a private residence.

    Image © Strutt and Parker

  • Brockhall Brockhall

    ​Thomas Thornton bought the estate in 1625 and it stayed in the family until the 20th century. Successive family members made alterations and enlargements to the buildings and the gardens were landscaped in the 1720s and the 1800s. The family sold the estate when the M1 was built nearby. The manor is now an apartment block.

    Image © Oast House Archive, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

  • Burton Latimer Hall Burton Latimer Hall

    ​The present Burton Latimer Hall was built around 1620 by the Bacon family. However, it includes parts of a medieval building on the same site. During the Second World War it served as an orphanage, then as a Land Army hostel. Apart from this, and a 25 year period at the turn of the 19th century when it was let, it has been occupied by the same family since 1760.

    Image © Marion Phillips, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

  • Canons Ashby House Canons Ashby House

    ​Canons Ashby House is built on the remains of a medieval priory. It was built by John Dryden in the 1550s and stayed in the family until 1981. Famous Drydens include the poet John Dryden and the Victorian antiquary (a person with a passion for the past) Sir Henry Dryden. Several family members altered the house and gardens in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, the estate has been largely untouched since Sir Henry Dryden’s days. It is now a National Trust site.

    Image © National Trust Images / James Dobson

  • Castle Ashby Castle Ashby

    ​The Compton family bought Castle Ashby in 1512 and still own it today. They have made many alterations over the centuries. These included expanding buildings, creating a royal apartment, and landscaping the formal gardens. Court architect Inigo Jones is believed to have designed part of the house. In the 17th century, the Comptons spent large amounts of money on the house and lavish entertainment. James I, Charles I, and Charles III all spent time on the estate.

    Image © Baz Richardson

  • Coton Manor Coton Manor

    ​The present Coton Manor was built in 1662 from stone taken from Holdenby House. It was remodelled in the 20th century. The previous country house was destroyed during the English Civil War.

    Image © Barney Leith / Flickr, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

  • Cottesbrooke Hall Cottesbrooke Hall

    ​The Langham family bought Cottesbrooke estate in the 17th century. Sir John Langham, 4th Baronet, began building the country house in 1702. Architecture was one of his personal interests. Cottesbrooke Hall is a fine example of the Queen Anne style, the English architecture of the time. Some people claim that the manor was the inspiration for Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park.

    Image © Elliot Brown, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

  • Cranford Hall Cranford Hall

    ​Cranford Hall is a Grade II-listed Georgian mansion. It is now a wedding venue.

    Image © Baz Richardson

  • Croyland Abbey Croyland Abbey

    ​Croyland Abbey was never an abbey, but a manor house for monks. It was named after an estate in Lincolnshire. The building dates to the 16th century, but many alterations and additions were made in the 1800s. There is also evidence of a 13th-century building on the site.

    Image © Borough Council of Wellingborough

  • Deene Park Deene Park

    ​Deene Park dates back to the 14th century. It belonged to Westminster Abbey until Robert Brudenell bought the estate in 1514. There have been several additions to the house and it has been home to the Brudenells ever since. The family includes the Earls of Cardigans. Sir Edmund entertained Queen Elizabeth I in 1566, and the 1st Earl of Cardigan was held in the Tower of London for supporting the Royalists during the English Civil War. The 7th Earl of Cardigan led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. After he died, his wife took over the estate. ​​Adeline Louisa Maria, the Countess of Cardigan and Lancastre, defied Victoria norms and was often seen cycling around Deene village in the Earl's regimental trousers.

    Image © Deene Park

  • ​Delapré Abbey ​Delapré Abbey

    ​Delapré Abbey is a country house built from a medieval abbey. The second Earl of Northampton founded the abbey around 1145. It was one of only two Cluniac (a religious order) nunneries in the country. It also played a role in local history when the funeral procession for Eleanor of Castile stayed overnight. A memorial Eleanor Cross still stands outside. However, King Henry VIII shut the abbey in 1538 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was converted into a courtyard house afterwards. When it was due to be demolished in 1953, there was public outcry and local historian Joan Wake campaigned to save the building. It is currently being restored and will open to the public in 2017.

    Image © Delapré Abbey

  • Drayton House Drayton House

    ​Drayton House is a large limestone country house. It has been a family home for hundreds of years. Simon of Drayton built the house in the 1300s, but it has been altered in every century since. The largest changes were made in the baroque style of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The most notable features of the manor are its impressive State Bedroom and unique spiral staircase.

    Image © Baz Richardson

  • East Carlton Hall East Carlton Hall

    ​​East Carlton Hall is believed to be the third manor on the site. The current hall was built in 1870 for the Palmer family. The park surrounding it was originally a deer park that was part of the estate. Stewart and Lloyds, the local steel company, bought the building in 1934. After the Second World War, it housed managers and guests.

    Image © Corby Borough Council

  • Easton Neston Easton Neston

    ​Easton Neston was built in the late 17th century for Sir William Fermor. It was designed by the famous architect Nicolas Hawksmoor, with one wing designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The house stayed in the Fermor-Hesketh family until 2002. Its style is a mix of classical and English baroque and other than the repair of the east wing after a serious fire, it remains unaltered.

    Image © Public domain

  • Edgcote House Edgcote House

    ​The Chauncy family bought the Edgcote estate in the 1540s. In 1742, it passed to Richard Chauncy, a London merchant, who designed the gardens and commissioned William Jones to build the house. Edgcote House remains a private residence.

    Image © CarolAnn Photos

  • Highgate House Highgate House

    ​Highgate House was built in 1663 as a farmstead and inn. After the local roads were improved, it served as an important coaching inn and posting station in the 18th century. The house has had many owners over the centuries, including the Langham family of Cottesbrooke Hall. The Chudley family bought and restored the house in the 1960s. Continuing its inn tradition, it is a hotel today.

    Image © Sundial Group

  • Holdenby House Holdenby House

    ​Sir Christopher Hatton was Lord Chancellor and Elizabeth I’s favourite courtier. He built Holdenby House in the late 16th century to honour the Queen. With hundreds of windows across two courtyards, it was the largest private house in the country. James I bought the estate in 1607 for entertaining. However, it became a prison for his son during the English Civil War. Charles I was held under house arrest at Holdenby before his trial and execution. After the war, most of the house was demolished. It was rebuilt in the 19th century.

    Image © Smb1001 / Wikipedia, licenced under the GNU Free Documentation Licence

  • Kelmarsh Hall Kelmarsh Hall

    ​​Kelmarsh Hall was built for the Hanbury family between 1727 and 1732. It was designed by the respected architect James Gibbs. He also designed the rebuild of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London and several monuments in Westminster Cathedral. With Kelmarsh Hall, Gibbs helped make Palladian architecture popular in Britain.

    Image © Kelmarsh Hall

  • Kirby Hall Kirby Hall

    Kirby Hall is an Elizabethan country house. Its construction began in 1570 for Sir Humphrey Stafford, but he died before it was completed. Sir Christopher Hatton, Chancellor to Queen Elizabeth I, took over the estate and finished the hall on a larger scale. The Hatton family continued to make changes and added the formal gardens. When they sold Holdenby House, Kirby Hall became their main home. However, after Christopher Hatton IV died in 1706, the house was neglected. Its remains are well-preserved and unaltered, and its formal gardens have been recreated. It is now managed by English Heritage.

    Image courtesy of English Heritage

  • Lamport Hall Lamport Hall

    ​Wool merchant John Isham bought Lamport Hall in 1560 and rebuilt the manor shortly after. It was remodelled in the 1600s and is now known for its classical front. Sir Charles Isham, owner from 1846, added a rockery to the gardens. He is believed to have introduced garden gnomes to England after he filled the rockery with small, hand-made figurines from Germany. Lamport Hall stayed in the family until 1976. It is now owned by a trust.

    Image © Lamport Hall and Gardens

  • Lyveden New Bield Lyveden New Bield

    ​The Tresham family bought Lyveden Old Bield in 1468 and gradually extended the estate. The New Bield addition was planned by Sir Thomas Tresham in the 1590s. Thomas was a Catholic at a time when Catholicism was hated. He was fined and imprisoned for his beliefs throughout his life, but remained devout. Like the Rushton Triangular Lodge, he designed the New Bield as an expression of his religion. It is in the shape of a Greek Cross, decorated with Catholic symbols. However, Thomas died before it was completed and his descendants never finished the building. Today it is a National Trust site.

    Image © National Trust Images / Paul Harris

  • Milton Malsor Manor Milton Malsor Manor

    ​Milton Malsor Manor was built in the late 17th century, but has late 16th-century origins. It has had numerous owners over the centuries. Its current owners have restored and repaired the building and it remains a private home.

    Image © Public domain

  • Orlingbury Hall Orlingbury Hall

    ​Orlingbury Hall has 16th-century origins but was rebuilt in 1706 for its new owner Richard Young. It remains a private residence.

    Image © Baz Richardson

  • Prebendal Manor Prebendal Manor

    Built from an early 13th-century hall, Prebendal Manor is the oldest manor in Northamptonshire. Until 1845, it was owned by Lincoln Cathedral. Important church members lived in the house until 1836. Now it is a heritage site.

    Image © Prebendal Manor

  • Rushton Hall Rushton Hall

    ​The Tresham family bought the estate in 1438 and built the family manor soon after. Sir Thomas Tresham extended the house and developed the gardens a century later. He also constructed the Triangular Lodge on the estate in the 1590s as an expression of his religion. Thomas was a Catholic at a time when Catholicism was hated. He was fined and imprisoned for his beliefs throughout his life. Rushton Hall features a secret escape tunnel for Catholic priests to use during house raids. After the Tresham family sold the estate, it passed through many other families. It was divided up in 1957 and Rushton Hall is now a hotel.

    Image © Rushton Hall

  • Southwick Hall Southwick Hall

    ​Southwick Hall is medieval country house, with Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian alterations. It was built in 1300 for the Knyvet family and passed to the Lynn family through marriage in 1441. George Lynn attended Mary Queen of Scot’s funeral. Legend has it that her burial certificate is hidden in the house walls. The Capron family bought the house in 1841 and continue to live there.

    Image © Southwick Hall

  • Stoke Park Pavilions Stoke Park Pavilions

    ​The Stoke Park Pavilions once belonged to a 17th-century country house. Henry VIII bought the estate in 1541 to hunt deer and it remained royal property until Charles I gave it away. Its new owner, Sir Francis Crane, built the house in 1630. With a row of columns linking the two pavilions to the manor, it was the first house in England to be designed in the Italian Palladian style. However, the main building burnt down in 1886 and the pavilions are what remain.

    Image © Stoke Park Pavillions

  • Sulgrave Manor Sulgrave Manor

    ​Lawrence Washington bought and rebuilt Sulgrave Manor in 1539. Washington was a wool merchant who had also been mayor of Northampton. The family stayed in the house until they sold the property in 1659. Three years earlier, his relative John Washington had moved to Virginia. John's great-grandson George became one of the leaders in the American Revolutionary War, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first President of the country. Sulgrave Manor was restored in the 1920s.

    Image © Sulgrave Manor

  • Thenford House Thenford House

    ​Thenford House is a Grade-I listed country house. It was built for Michael Woodhull, a book collector and poet, in the 1760s. As he had no children, he left the manor to an old school friend and the house has had many owners since. The building was used as a school during the Second World War. It is now a private residence.

    Image © David P. Howard, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

  • Triangular Lodge Triangular Lodge

    Sir Thomas Tresham built Rushton Triangular Lodge in the 1590s as an expression of his religion. Thomas was a Catholic at a time when Catholicism was hated. He was fined and imprisoned for his beliefs throughout his life, but remained devout. The number three, representing the Holy Trinity, is throughout the Triangular Lodge. There are three walls, three floors, and three windows per section. Each side of the lodge is 33 1/3 feet in length and contains a quote from the Bible with 33 letters. Rushton Triangular Lodge is now an English Heritage site.

    Image courtesy of English Heritage

  • Winwick Manor Winwick Manor

    ​Only half of Winwick Manor remains. It was originally built as an H-shaped manor house by the Andrewes family in the 16th century. It was reduced to an L-shape after part of the building fell into disrepair. However, other parts have been added. The manor was divided into two houses in the 1980s and they remain private residences.

    Image © Dave Thompson, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

The origins of the English country house are in the 11th century when Norman nobles built manor houses on land given to them by William the Conqueror. Estates expanded rapidly in the following centuries as nobles tried to improve their social status by buying land or receiving property seized from the church.

However, most surviving country houses were built or remodelled in the 17th century. In this period of stability, land owners constructed stylish mansions that would reflect their wealth and power. This was often at the cost of local tenants. In order to create gardens from farm land, houses or whole villages were demolished.

In the 18th century, the industrial revolution shifted power to cities and country houses began to decline. Financial pressures led many owners to sell or leave their estates. Others turned to tourism. Today, many country houses are open to the public.

In Northamptonshire, two are now National Trust properties (Canons Ashby and Lyveden New Bield). Another three are managed by English Heritage (Apethorpe Palace, Kirby Hall, and Rushton Triangular Lodge). Many others are still privately owned but can be visited. Nine are members of the Historic House Association.

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If your question is research-related, please contact the Northamptonshire Archives.