I have long wanted to visit Cranborne Manor House and in July 2019 I did just that. During the summer months Cranborne Manor House opens its gardens ever Wednesday to the public. It is in a stunning setting with fabulous gardens. Whilst the house is closed and private, visitors can wander up to examine the fine architecture. I can understand why Robert Cecil (1563-1612), 1st Earl of Salisbury, politician and courtier, decided to create his unique lodge in this restful corner of England. It is still in possession of his descendants.
He was the son of Elizabeth I’s, royal minister, William Cecil. He gained the manor of Cranborne around the turn of the 17th C. This provided the ranger-ship of the royal hunting ground of Cranborne Chase. Cecil decided to remodel the medieval hunting lodge, which had been a favourite of King John, to provide a residence that could be used during the summer months.
King John’s journey accounts show he visited Cranborne 14 times during his reign. It is not far from the royal palace of Clarendon and the royal castle at Corfe. In 1207-8, the chief forester, Ralph Neville spent £67.6s.4d on ‘building the king’s houses of Cranborne’. (‘Cranborne’, British History Online)
Aspects of the 13th C building are preserved in the early 17th C architecture. Fortunately, John Norden prepared a survey of the manor of Cranborne in 1605 for Cecil (now in the Hatfield archives). This has enable an idea of what the 13th C hunting lodge looked like.
Figure 1: Cranborne Royal Hunting Lodge 13th C – View from the south-east & ground plan (based on the survey by John Norden in 1605) (Source: Anthony, Emery, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500: Volume 3, Southern England (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006) pg. 453.)
Figure 2: The 13th C building can be seen in the part corbel table, stair turret, arrow loops & buttress. Battlements may have been remodelled.
Cooper notes that there is uncertainty around whether the 13th C building was complete as understood. It may have been a solar attached to a great hall. However, there is no physical evidence of a great hall.
Because part of the 13th C architecture it still in situ, it makes this one of the oldest surviving domestic houses in England. The three-story house that Cecil built is in the main what is seen externally today. The west wing (left in main picture) was designed and built in 1647/8 by Captain Richard Ryder. In 1643 troops had been quartered at the house and did considerable damage.
The south loggia leads directly into the screens-passage, which also has an entrance from the north loggia. The service wing is on the righthand side. The hall is to the left. The RCHME plan demonstrates how the 13th C wall thickness is much greater than later phases of building. Hutchins, in the mid-18th C wrote that ‘The kitchen, with its groined ceiling and smoke-grimed walls, and the adjoining ale-cellar, recall the good cheer of olden time’ (Hutchins, p. 380).
Figure 3: Plan of the Ground Floor of Cranborne Manor House (RCHME)
(Source: ‘Cranborne’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 5, East (London, 1975), pp. 4-16. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/dorset/vol5/pp4-16 [accessed 11 July 2019].)
Cranborne Manor House was remodelled and extended between 1601 and 1636. Cecil died in 1612. The house must have been habitable and presentable for James I’s visits from 1607 to 1623.
According to Bettey the poor estate management and profligacy of Sir Ralph Horsey (d.1612) of Clifton Maybank, Dorset, resulted in him selling his rectory and other property at Cranborne in 1601 to Robert Cecil for £2000. Cecil went onto to rebuild Cranborne Manor with the mason William Arnold, who had designed and built Sir Edward Phelips’s grand house at Montacute in Somerset (completed circa 1601).
Phelips’s (d. 1614) political and legal career flourished under James I as he had powerful patrons who supported James’s accession. He rose to become Speaker of the English House of Commons and Master of the Rolls. He would have known Cecil at court. Courtiers were sharing architectural ideas and plans. It is highly likely they recommend masons to each other. Cecil would have very likely been aware of the fine architecture of Montacute, even if he hadn’t seen it.
William Arnold was employed by Cecil to remodel and extend Cranborne, including a new gatehouse. The fact he was reported to have had hour-long meetings with Cecil evidences that Cecil’s input to the design was significant.
Cecil had a passion for his own architecture with Hatfield House and Cranborne Manor House being prime examples of fine, early Jacobean work. His own man of affairs, John Daccombe, communicated his despair Cecil when he wrote to him late in 1611 ‘I beseech your Lordship to forbear buildings’ (Stone, p. 32). Cecil was also as passionate about his gardens as he was his houses.
I find it interesting that often the 16th and 17th C wealthy gentry appeared to value the architecture of the medieval period. There were many who had acquired new residences from old monastic houses and upgraded them without destroying the old. Rather than completely demolishing Cranborne, it appears Cecil wanted to preserve something of the old architecture and not conceal it. This is not just about the practical re-use of sound structures that are in place. The idea of ancient and royal is preserved in the architecture.
Bettey, J. H., ‘Horsey family (per. c.1500–c.1640)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/71919>[accessed 12 July 2019]
Cooper, Nicholas, Houses of the Gentry 1480-1680 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999)
‘Cranborne’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 5, East (London, 1975), pp. 4-16. British History Online <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/dorset/vol5/pp4-16>[accessed 18 July 2019]
‘Cranborne Manor House’, Historic England List Entry 1120172, (1955), <https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1120172> [accessed 15 July 2019]
Croft, Pauline, ‘Cecil, Robert, first earl of Salisbury’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/4980> [accessed 10 July 2019]
Emery, Anthony, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500: Volume 3, Southern England (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006)
Girouard, Mark, Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009)
Hutchins, John, The History And Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rd edn, 4 vols (London: John Bowyer Nichols, 1868), III
More, Rebecca, S., ‘Phelips, Sir Edward (c.1555–1614)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/22089> [accessed 12 July 2019]
Stone, Lawrence, Family and Fortune: Studies in Aristocratic Finance in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973)