12 October-Bedfordshire Country Visit , Hexton Manor & Luton Hoo

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Hexton Manor was owned by St Albans Abbey until the dissolution and incorporates a C17 farmhouse. It passed through several families, developing into a classical house from the early C18. Purchased in 1789 and enlarged by William Young into an irregular 6-bay, 3-storeyed house with a hipped roof and parapet, Hexton passed to his de Lautour (later Young) descendants who stuccoed it and added single-storey wings in the 1820s. George Hodgson, owner c 1900-18, built the SW tower with rusticated quoins. Internally the double-height hall and arcaded first floor are lit by an oval lantern. For three generations Hexton has been the home of the Cooper family who have kindly agreed to this special visit by the Group.

Luton Hoo was built on a palatial scale by Robert Adam (1767-74) for the former Prime Minister 3rd Earl of Bute, who employed Capability Brown to design the park and form lakes by damming the River Lea. Adam’s external work can still be seen beneath an overlay by Robert Smirke who extended the house from 1825 (hexastyle two-storey pedimented portico and full-height angle bows). In 1843 a fire gutted the interior which was reconstructed in his elder brother’s style by Sydney Smirke for John Leigh, who had bought the estate in 1848. Leigh’s descendants sold Luton Hoo in 1903 to Sir Julius Wernher, the diamond merchant, who employed Mewes & Davis to add mansard roofs and remodel the interior in the Second Empire style for his collection, of especial interest to members who visit Ranger’s House on 14 September. His family still own the estate while the house became a 228-bedroom hotel in 2007.

Ayot St Lawrence church: At the end of the afternoon we shall visit Nicholas Revett’s unique church for Sir Lionel Lyde (1778), with his signature columns fluted only at their extremities (after the Temple of Apollo at Delos), and separate mausoleum pavilions for Lyde and his wife. The church’s restoration was partly funded by the Georgian Group’s Cleary Fund. Lunch is included and Andrew Wells leads.