The house built between 1795 and 1829, was formerly the chief dwelling of an estate owned by the Hervey family, later Marquesses of Bristol, since 1467. The building was the creation of Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry who commissioned an Italian architect to design him a classical villa in the Suffolk countryside. The Earl died in 1803, leaving the completion of house to his successor.
In 1956, the house, park, and a large endowment were given to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. As part of the handover agreement, a 99-year lease on the 60-room East Wing was given to the Marquess of Bristol, but in 1998 the 7th Marquess of Bristol sold the remaining lease on the East Wing to the National Trust and this wing is now a 27-bedroom hotel.
This is one of our more unusual great houses. Ickworth has been unflatteringly described as resembling "a huge bulk, newly arrived from another planet" and as "an overgrown folly" Yet, is now being architecturally re-asessed and recognised as the only building in England comparable with the monumental works of Boullée and Ledoux.
The design concept was based on the designs of Italian architect Mario Aspruc ci, most noted for his work at the Villa Borghese. Asprucci's plans were adapted and the building work overseen by English architects Francis Sandys and his brother Joseph Sandys.
The façades are of brick covered in stucco; beneath a roof of slate and lead. The central rotunda 105 ft. high with domed and balustraded roof. The building is entered through central entrance ionic pedimented portico.
The rotunda is decorated with pilasters, which on the lower floor are Ionic and Corinthian above. The ground and first floor and the third floor and the balustraded parapet are divided by friezes in bas-relief. The rotunda is flanked by segmental single story narrow wings (appearing as a blind arcade) linking, in the palladian fashion, to two terminating pavilions; these segmental wings are broken at their centre by projecting bays which house the smoking and Pompeian rooms, both later 19th century additions.
Unlike the design of a true Palladian building, the terminating pavilions are in fact large wings, complementary to the rotunda which is their corps de logis rather than minor balancing appendages. The East Wing, a small mansion in itself, was designed to be the everyday living quarters of the family (which it remained until 1998), thus permitting the more formal rooms of the rotunda to be reserved for entertaining and display. The west wing, intended as an orangery, sculpture gallery and service rooms remained an unfinished shell until the beginning of the 21st century. For much of the time it was used as an agricultural store.
The house contains paintings by Velázquez, Titian, Poussin, and Claude Lorraine, as well as an unrivalled series of 18th-century family portraits by artists such as Gainsborough, Reynolds, Vigee-Lebrun, Batoni, Angelica Kauffman, Ramsay, Van Loo, and Hogarth. In addition, Ickworth has arguably the best collections in Britain of fine Georgian silver. The house also contains very good examples of Regency furniture and porcelain.
Ickworth in the 21st century
The 7th Lord Bristol sold the remaining lease of Ickworth to the National Trust in 1998; the Trust then refused to sell the remaining lease term back to the 8th Marquess, thereby contravening the Letter of Wishes which states that the head of the family should always be offered whatever accommodation he chooses at Ickworth.
The family's once private East Wing is now run as The Ickworth Hotel and apartments, on a lease from the National Trust. The apartments are in Dower House which is in the grounds.
The West Wing at Ickworth House went uncompleted until 2006, when a joint partnership between the National Trust and Sodexo Prestige led to its renovation and opening as a centre for conferences and events. The first wedding in the property's history took place in 2006.
Ickworth House, Park and Gardens also hold many children's events throughout the year.
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- Jackson-Stopps, p.118.
- Marcus Scriven (2009). Splendour and Squalor.
- Gervase Jackson-Stops (1990). The Country House in Perspective. Pavilion Books Ltd.. ISBN 0-8021-1228-5.