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Posted Saturday, July 7, 2007
Wingerworth Hall & Menagerie:
`the man-in-the-street wouldn't have known a lion, tiger - or hippopotamus if it had bitten him on the bottom!'
In our modern age, especially with the televised success of wildlife programmes such as David Attenborough’s `Planet Earth’, and the plethora of detailed knowledge of wild animals available to us both on screen and in print, it is worth recalling the fact that until the advent of the zoo in Victorian times, the man-in-the-street wouldn’t have known a lion, tiger or hippopotamus if it had bitten him on the bottom!
The very word `Zoo’ wasn’t coigned until the 1840’s - prior to this the only exotic wild animals in Britain after the native bears, wolves and wild boars had been hunted to extinction were in private collections, gathered together as curios and status symbols; statements of wealth, imported privately by the landed gentry and kept in menageries on a handful of country estates.
Indeed, many of the animals so familiar to us today were not discovered until the advent of overseas expeditions in the eighteenth century, a good example being Capt. James Cook’s voyage to Australia in 1789 which reported `sea monsters with many arms’ (octopus), and `a strange creature that moves upon it’s hind legs by a series of jumps or hops’. For a century afterwards the aforementioned lions, tigers, hippos and kangaroos if seen at all, were only line-drawings in books to the majority of people.
Of course, only royalty and the rich could afford expeditions to foreign climes, and thus, they alone had access to the exotic zoological specimens to be found abroad; thus, as the `Continental Tour’ became fashionable, so did the passion for collecting together a menagerie.
Exotic wild animals were treated as status symbols, and the lords and ladies of the land engaged agents and explorers to seek out and find prize specimens to display at home in their menageries. The expense was enormous; expeditions could involve dozens of native bearers or guides, and the cost in manpower alone of moving live and often heavy cargo hundreds of miles across mainly unmapped terrain to the nearest sea-port would tax any but the super-rich.
These privately collected menageries were the forerunners of the later Victorian `zoo’s, and one of the earliest known was at Wingerworth Hall, near Chesterfield in Derbyshire, a large country estate of almost three thousand acres held at the time by Sir Thomas Windsor Hunloke 4thBart. (1773-1816).
Wingerworth Hall had been built in 1726-29 on the site of a previous manor house owned in medieval times by the Brailsfords and later by the Curzons of Kedleston, and the design, which was said to have imitated Chatsworth, was attributed to the architect and master mason, Francis Smith of Warwick.
The Hunlokes were lords of the manor of Wingerworth for over three hundred years after the first Henry Hunloke, a rich merchant tailor from London purchased the freehold of the manor, including the ironworks, and built his first house here around 1600. His grandson, another Henry, was awarded a baronetcy in recognition of his loyalty and service to King Charles during the Civil War, following which the family professed Roman Catholicism, a religion which restricted their liberty and caused some social ostricism until 1829, nevertheless they still managed to convert a quarter of the population of the parish to Catholicism during the 18th century!
It was towards the end of this period that Sir Thomas Windsor Hunloke, who by all accounts was quite an eccentric character, began his zoological collection by housing animals in the stable block, and actually inside the hall itself! During the Napoleonic Wars he invited a group of French Catholic prisoners of war from Chesterfield to attend mass in his private oratory at the Hall. But by law they were only allowed to move freely within a three mile limit of the town, and Wingerworth Hall was just beyond the third milestone along the Chesterfield to Wingerworth road. Sir Thomas simply got a gang of estate workers equipped with picks and shovels to move the offending milestone `just a little way down the road, past our gate’ – and thus created what was known as `the longest mile in England!’
His menagerie proved decidedly unsatisfactory and quite dangerous too, especially after one of his French Catholic guests was frightened out of his wits upon coming face to face with an escaped bear in the park!
So, in 1809 Sir Thomas engaged the famous lansdcape designer and successor to Capability Brown, Sir Humphry Repton to redesign the hall and grounds, and to build a menagerie for his animals.
Historical records are scarce, for although Repton was engaged by country estates throughout the land with two hundred and fifty landscape design commissions during his career, and for each one produced one of his famous `Red Books’ (so called because they were expensively bound in Red Morocco leather and hand-tooled in gold leaf) – for almost two hundred years the one for Wingerworth Hall was thought to be `lost’.
Then in September 1988, Tim Warner writing in Country Life reported the `New Red Book Discovery – Humphry Repton at Wingerworth Hall’ which describes Repton’s `skill and artistry in producing extensive illustrations with a series of charming watercolour paintings’, and his unique system of using folding flaps to overlay the original painting, thus showing a before and after view which highlighted his suggested improvements to his clients.
The Wingerworth Red Book is held in a private collection and unavailable to the public, but according to Warner it gives details of the proposed menagerie:
“In the southern extremity of the park in a sequestered romantic spot amid some woodland, Repton proposed a smaller lake to accompany the rehabilitation of Sir Windsor Hunloke’s menagerie. This collection, comprising wolves, bears, monkeys and exotic birds had hitherto been housed at the Hall. Repton gives no indication of how the animals are to be restrained, but concentrates instead on creating a new landscape for their exhibition’.
The centrepiece of the proposed menagerie was to be a `rusticated keeper’s cottage wherein one room on the lower level was to be reserved for Lady Hunloke. From here three windows or glass doors would command very interesting scenery: that in front looks upon the quiet pool, whose surface is only ruffled by the aquatic fowls, while the other two windows may look on cascades, or water in violent and rapid motion, capable of being increased at pleasure’.
However, Repton’s suggestions were almost totally ignored and the menagerie was never built. Had it been, then the `rusticated keeper’s cottage’ would have stood beside today’s Smithy Pond.
Warner speculates that the reason the plans were never implemented was `because in the years following Repton’s visit the Hunlokes faced acute financial difficulties, and thoughts of beautifying the park were necessarily precluded. Indeed, Sir Windsor ultimately abandoned Wingerworth altogether following the untimely death of his second son, and moved to a less costly town house in Paris where, in January 1817, at the age of only 43 he died of a fever’.
Although Warner goes on to state that: `the demise of Sir Thomas Windsor Hunloke heralded the beginning of a century of slow decline at Wingerworth’, it is interesting to note that thirty years later under the control of his grandson Sir Henry Hunloke the sixth baronet, the estate boasted three iron works, four full-sized collieries and a host of small coal pits, four quarries, a stone-sawing mill, a lead mine, clay works, and a gravel pit in the deer park!
Sir Henry apparently also kept the menagerie going until his death, following which the animals were sold at an auction sale conducted by a Mr. Nicholson of Sheffield on April 19th 1856.
The following week the Derbyshire Courier reported the sales as:
`Pair of wolves from Sweden for 19 guineas to Mr. Youdan, Surrey Music Hall, Sheffield.
Brown Bear from Sweden to Mr. Youdan £26-5s-0d.
Very handsome Russian Bear – Mr. Youdan, 11 guineas.
Pair North American Brown Bears, Youdan, £24-3s-0d.
Pair Esquimaux Dogs (Huskies), Youdan, £7.
Bloodhound for £10 to His Grace the Duke of Portland.
Pomeranian Dog for 4 guineas to Mr. H. Bowdon.
Nasicus Cockatoo and cage, for £3-7s-6d to Dr. Durrant, Sheffield.
Nacisus Cockatoo and cage, for £6-5s-od to Mr. Barrow, Staveley.
Blue & Yellow Macaw for £10 to Sir Joseph Paxton (for the Crystal Palace)
A very large Eagle Owl (European?) and cage for £14 to Sir Joseph Paxton.
The rest was mainly a collection of exotic birds sold to dealers from London and Sheffield, although a footnote adds:
“The emus, which were very fine specimens of their kind, were purchased by Sir Joseph Paxton, M.P., to be placed, as it was stated, in the garden of the Crystal palace, at Sydenham”.
Henry Hunloke died unmarried and without issue, thus when the male line died out in 1864 the estate was settled on Adelaide Fitzclarence (nee Sidney), descended from a female line who took the surname Hunloke.
After her death in 1904 the estate passed to her nephew Philip, who was sailing Master to King George V. but heavily burdoned by debt, he sold it to developers in 1920.
Wingerworth Hall was demolished in 1924, apart from two minor wings which still remain, and a modern housing estate now stands in the `sequestered romantic spot’ which Repton once designated as the place for Sir Thomas Windsor Hunloke’s Menagerie which, if not Derbyshire’s first `Zoo’ - was most certainly it’s first ever Wildlife Park!