06 Discussion

 

Gedling House is of interest for the way in which it and the owners responded to issues of the time; issues of polite parochial style and taste in architecture and changing economic, social and political events. In many ways the house can be read as a document of the Late Georgian and Regency period, a microcosm of taste and events.

By studying Gedling House and its estate I have tried to show how a late Georgian house developed and to look at the contemporary style and taste that influenced the final look of the estate. The house sit well within the perceptions of what makes a Regency-style house. The Greek revival doorcase with its Doric order columns is typical, as is the simple stucco facade broken only by the windows, doors and bow. According to Woodforde a distinguishing feature of a Regency house is a large curved bow at the rear of the house facing the garden (1978 149). However, the owners were not averse to the introduction of simple pointed Gothic sash windows into the wings of a Greek revival facade. In the mix of Greek and Gothic the house shows something of the impending 'Battle of the Styles' that was to develop through the first half of he nineteenth century. The parochial attitude here seems to have been little perturbed by the mix of styles. Other influences may have been more personal allowing the use of the local experience of the owners and builders, so that elements in other Nottingham buildings might be seen in Gedling House.

The initial development of the estate can traced to the early eigthenth century to the involvement of an earlier Thomas Smith and Able Smith, bankers who provided mortgages to the landowners. As the land that belonged to the Smiths increased in Gedling and East Bridgford through the period until around 1780 when Thomas Smith, who built Gedling House, inherited the land, and consolidated it in the run up to the Enclosure Award of 1796. It is interesting that both Gedling House and Bridgford Hill House had grounds that were built up just prior to the Enclosure. It shows an element of design being thought through in the minds of the owners in their desire to have a unified property centred around their main house. The houses were, of course, also the centre of thriving agricultural communities.

The best historic resource for showing the most plausible date for the building of Gedling House lies with the land tax assessments, of 1781-1832, which show that Thomas Smith was until 1795 living in Nottingham, and from that date in Gedling. From 1798 he is recorded as living in Gedling and East Bridgford. The land tax does not prove the date of construction, especially as he could have inhabited one of his other three properties in Gedling. The house was certainly constructed before 1798 when Smith took out a mortgage to cover his liabilities as the distributor of stamps and his land tax was redeemed.

That Thomas Smith built Gedling House is almost beyond doubt but it is not so clear and unequivocal regarding which designed elements of the estate can be ascribed to Smith and which are Elliotts. It is interesting that the farm buildings exhibit a Palladian taste while the main house is more of the Regency. It might be that the older style, harking back to Andreas Palladio, was that originally used for the facades on the main house but this was modernised during the ownership of William E. Elliott. Abigail Gawthern testified that the house and gardens were upgraded by Elliott although the extent of the work is not made clear.

Both of the two early owners inherited substantial parts of large fortunes that were made during the eighteenth century as part of the expansion of commerce and industry during the 'industrial revolution'. The increased wealth and prosperity of the middle classes throughout England at this time allowed for the construction and remodelling of country mansions and estates, including Gedling House. The increased wealth of the middle classes allowed them to indulge their greater sophistication in a lifestyle which can still be seen as expressed in buildings and gardens of fashionable taste.

Other national trends that influenced landscape design at this time was the wood shortage that led to the planting of woodland as a patriotic duty in order to supply the needs of the navy in the numerous eighteenth century wars, allowing the owners to provide a backdrop to the house and fulfil their duty as faithful Tories.

As well as allowing for the owners being aware changes in taste, a parochial inertia in taste can be seen in elements that are based on local fashion and which are picked up by the owners from local buildings. This can be seen in the builder using but stripping down and building on a smaller scale the facades at Colwick Hall, and the possibility that Elliott had the bow constructed, based upon the bow to be found at the rear of Stanford House, which he grew up in and later owned with his brother.

The owners are relatively easy to trace, but the sources of inspiration for the designs are not. Bridgford Hill House, designed by the reverend Thomas Beaumont, has been previously given as the source from which the plans for Gedling House were taken and then expanded. Links between the two houses are provided by Thomas Smith having substantial land holdings in East Bridgford which would have meant that, at the very least, he was aware of any new building by Beaumont. Closer ties are provided by William E. Elliott who was married to Thomas Beaumont's sister, Frances, in 1788. There appears to be closer links between Bridgford Hill and Elliott, than with Thomas Smith. It is possible that the house was bought in 1803 because it was visible from East Bridgford and changes were made so that the garden fronts became similar.

Apart from the owners there are a number of their contemporaries who could have had an influence on the design and layout of Gedling House. James Paine junior is mentioned by Pevsner (1979 113) as helping Thomas Beaumont in designing Bridgford Hill. Paine, who was a cousin of Beaumonts, can be seen as a possible but unlikely design source for Gedling House. Another close relation, the reverend John Swete, not only painted Gedling House, but was also a noted painter of landscape architecture. Swete designed his own house and gardens in Devon. He seems to be a much more likely inspiration behind the design of the houses and gardens in Gedling and East Bridgford. The Strettons were the most noted builders of Nottingham in the late Georgian period, and evidence of their involvement in building Gedling House might be seen through superficial similarities with other Nottinghamshire buildings they were involved with. The use of builders pattern books is noticeable in the design of the front door.

After the development of the house, garden and grounds in the first decade of the nineteenth century very little seems to have occured, except as new owners inherited the estate they immediately made some changes. The later changes have not been properly recorded and were generally fairly minor, not disrupting the Regency air of the place.

The houses of Georgian Nottinghamshire "show us how graceful, how stately, life could be for the fortunate minority in Georgian England. Their mellow brick, the quiet grandeur of classical doorways and big sash windows, all the handsome details of ironwork, fanlights, staircases, the generous airy rooms, exhibit that effortless assurance and disciplined opulence, that exquisite combination of artistic form with ease and comfort which to our less ordered age is one of the most attractive features of the eighteenth century." (Wood 1947 266).