Sunday, 3 August 2014

Spye Arch

Spye Arch stands in splendid isolation at the top of Bowden Hill in Wiltshire, where it forms the main entrance to Spye Park. This extraordinary, beautiful building  is a palimpsest of stones. This is the Arch's third location and it has been the entrance to not one, not two, not three but four great buildings. It started out as the gatehouse to Stanley Abbey near Chippenham, a Royal foundation of Henry II and the Empress Maud, dating back to 1151.


At he Dissolution Sir Edward Bayntun (1480-1544) obtained a grant from Henry VIII and bought the demesne of Stanley Abbey. The Abbey was demolished soon after he bought it  but the gatehouse was carefully dismantled and re-erected as the entrance to his new home Bromham House. The Arch was rebuilt as a gift from Sir Edward's friend, Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII. The Arch bears the arms of Henry VIII below the oriel window on the first floor and in the spandrels of the arch those of Sir Edward Bayntun and his first wife Elizabeth Sulliard. Bromham House was to be destroyed by Roundhead troops from the Devizes garrison during the Civil War. They set fire to the house on 5th May 1645. The gatehouse was the only part to survive.


Sir Edward Bayntun (1593-1657) built a replacement for Bromham House nearby at Spye Park. The house was finished in 1645. The gatehouse was dismantled once again and re-erected at its third location as the entrance to the Spye Park estate.The Bayntuns certainly knew how to move in style,  taking their Arch with them.


In 1860 the Bayntun family were forced by debt into selling all their estates including Spye Park. Derry Hill was sold to Lord Landsdowne and the Spye Park estate was bought for £100 000 by Major John Spicer. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) had tried previously to buy both estates for £300 000 but the offer was refused. So he bought Sandringham instead. Major Spicer decided to demolish the existing house and  replace it with an enormous Neo-Jacobean mansion designed by Scottish architect William Burn (1795-1860). Completed in 1869 the house was visible for miles around.



Captain Frank Spicer was a keen fox hunter and master of the Avon Vale Hunt whose hounds were kenneled at Spye Park. (As they still are) Captain Spicer and his wife Lady Avice were great friends of the Queen Mother who used to stay with them every spring while attending the Cheltenham Festival. Lady Avice , daughter of the Earl De La Warr was the younger sister of Lady Indina Sackville(1893-1955). Lady Indina was an infamous  member of the Happy Valley set in the White Highlands of Kenya  whose promiscuous lifestyle scandalized British society.. Her parties were the stuff of legend, sex and drugs available in copious quantities. On her visits to England f Lady Idina visited her sister and her husband in Wiltshire. Married five times her second husband was the Hon. Jocelyn Hay, later the 22nd Earl of Errol whose unsolved murder continues to fascinate to this day. Frances Osbourne wrote a best selling  account of her great- grandmothers life entitled 'The Bolter.'

I have a childhood memory of a meet of the Avon Vale Hunt at Spye Park in 1968. Hacking up Bowden Hill and turning through Spye Arch on my beloved pony "Smudge". Riding along the magnificent drive to the house, full of expectation for the fun that lay ahead. I caught a glimpse of Lady Avice watching proceedings from her wheelchair positioned in front of a ground floor window.Captain Spicer continued to hunt into old age, like his great friend the 10th Duke of Beaufort. Wearing a top hat, his red coat faded to a shade of pink that no amount of money could afford. He died in 1973, the end of an era.

Spye Park was gutted by fire on the 8th August 1974, on the day following  the house-warming party of the fifth generation of the Spicer family toe take up residence. The ruins were razed and nothing remains of the house. In 2005 the Spicers decided to sell 'the most beautiful estate in England' for £8 000 000 to the Enthoven family from South Africa, the Nando Chicken kings. Perhaps Spye Arch will become the entrance to a fifth great house?