Elton Hall, near Peterborough, is a house of many faces. It is formal and Classical on the approach, yet reveals on inspection a complex architectural history stretching back to the Middle Ages. All this with gardens that extend and frame it with a kind of painterly stillness. Inside, the house has one of the best private art collections in the East of England.
As it survives today, the house bears the stamp of important changes undertaken from 1857 by Granville Proby, the 3rd Earl of Carysfort, which is remarkable, given that he was 74 when he inherited the estate in 1855. He had grown up on the family’s Glenart estates in Co Wicklow, Ireland, fought at the Battles of the Nile and Trafalgar asa naval officer and later rose to the rank of Admiral. What inspired him to undertake this work is not now clear, but it may have been the poor condition of the building.
The architect he chose was Henry Ashton, a pupil of Smirke who served as an assistant to Sir Jeffry Wyatville from 1828 during the latter’s transformation of Windsor Castle (and who edited Wyatville’s posthumously published Illustrations Of Windsor Castle, 1841). It must have been through Windsor that Ashton caught the eye of the anglophile Willem II (Prince of Orange until 1840), who commissioned him, in 1838, to design a summer palace at the Hague. Nothing came of the project.