Reinstatement and rearrangement
The details of the work carried out at Fox Hall by the Landmark Trust can be seen by looking at the 'before' plans and elevations. Apart from straightforward repairs, such a renewing rotten window frames, this largely fell into two categories. The first was that of reinstatement, where the building had been altered in the past but the original form was still reasonably obvious; the second was that of rearrangement, which occurred where the building had been altered so much that there was no way of telling how it was originally and so new work had simply to be designed to fit in as well and sensibly as possible with the rest.
To guide this work the Landmark employed the architect Philip Jebb, who has a particular understanding and knowledge of this period of early Georgian architecture. He was working at the same time on another early 18th century Landmark, The Library at Stevenstone in Devon. The main contractors were T. Couzens and Sons, with Chichester Cathedral Workshops providing new stonework.
Into the first category falls the work to the outside of the house. The walls were covered with a coat of stucco, which was decayed and had to be removed. When this had been done, it was found that not only were there a number of good rubbed brick details but that the joints or pointing of the brickwork were carefully `scored' as well, a technique used in the 17th and 18th centuries to give the impression of very fine work. The implication of this, together with the fact that the stone quoins were not prepared for it in the usual way, was that the building had not originally been covered with stucco at all, as might be expected in Palladian architecture, but was of plain brick. A coat of plaster had only been added at an unknown later date. For this reason the stucco was not replaced.
From the proportions of the building it seemed likely that the gables were intended to appear like pediments, by means of a moulded eaves cornice, linked by a main horizontal cornice. These have been reconstructed in a contemporary style, after reference to similar buildings. In the space inside the pediment, the tympanum, rectangular windows had been inserted to light the attic bedrooms at both ends of the building. If there had been windows there they were more likely to have been round and were reinstated accordingly.
The cill of the window on the front with the `Gibbs' surround had been cut away to make it deeper. A new stone cill was fitted, at the original height. On the east elevation, the window on the first floor at the back of the bed recess was found to have been cut into the brickwork, showing it to be a later insertion. It made more sense of the recess to brick it up again.
Inside Fox Hall the work of reinstatement continued in the main room. The plasterwork of the ceiling was in good condition, only one section needing to be renewed. It was in need of cleaning, regilding and decorating, however, all of which was carefully carried out by John Dives. The colours of the room as a whole are those that might have been used in the early 18th century. No traces of the actual wall covering survived, but fragments of backing showed that it had originally been fabric. The silk brocade with which they are now hung came from the Gainsborough Silk Mills at Sudbury in Suffolk.
There was evidence for a dado rail, and this has been replaced, the detail being copied from the main chamber in the Chichester Council House. The same building provided a source for the new fireplace surround, carved in the Chichester Cathedral workshops from a French stone called Lepine, an exact copy in size as well as form.
It would have been difficult to find paintings of the right proportions to fit the existing frames, instead reproductions on canvas of three paintings at Goodwood House have been inserted by kind permission of the Trustees of the Goodwood Collections. The one over the fireplace shows Sheldon, a hunter belonging to the 2nd Duke of Richmond, held by a groom wearing the blue and gold livery of the Charlton Hunt, with the Jacobean Goodwood House in the background; it was painted in 1746 by John Wooton, along with several others of the Duke's horses. Those over the doorways are by George Stubbs, painted at Goodwood 1759-60. Both show the 3rd Duke and members of his family, in one with the Charlton Hunt and in the other watching three racehorses training. They are later in period than Fox Hall, but appropriate in subject matter.
Many of the floorboards were in poor condition; those that were sound were re-used downstairs, while a completely new floor was laid upstairs. The boards were cut from a single oak tree, which was found in the store of Messrs Lillywhite, the saw mill opposite. The kitchen remained in the same position as before, in the closet, but was refitted and redecorated.
Great trouble was taken to restore the wind direction indicator on the overmantel to working order, but to no avail. Even when the new wind vane to which it is connected was given extra leverage, with a sail of hardboard on a windy day, nothing happened.
The main alteration to the building lay in the closing off of the attic floor and the removal of the upper flight of the stair leading to it. The evidence was that in the Duke's time the attics, if they existed, had not been in general use and had no stair leading to them and in fact all the joinery up there dated from the 19th century. The extra accommodation was no longer needed and the building seemed better off without them. The lower part of the stair stayed in roughly the same place but was rearranged to make better use of the space and to allow the reopening of the window. Without more certain evidence of the original arrangement this was the only solution. The handrail, balusters and caps to the newel posts were reused from the existing stair.
The whole of the ground floor likewise fell into the category of rearrangement rather than reinstatement. The hall was enlarged to be more in keeping with the character of the building, with a paved floor and fireplace both in Lepine stone. The bedroom was meanwhile made smaller to allow for a new bathroom. To light this, a blank window on the north side was opened up.
The people who now stay in Fox Hall, as a Landmark, are using it in very much the same way as in its days as a hunting lodge, though their exploration of the Sussex countryside is of a different nature. It was never meant to be commodious, but a certain standard of decoration and of convenience was required and this has been upheld. The main room in particular is arranged much as it might have been for the Duke himself, with the bed in its recess, a table, a desk and some chairs. Sitting here around the fire, it is easy to imagine the Duke and his Duchess spending the night in this room 'to be ready for the early Meet' and the ensuing day's chase.
In 2010 the unfinished business of the weather vane was at last resolved thanks to the skill of Thwaites & Reed, a small firm of Brighton clock repairers. A fine new vane of a fox was designed by artist Caroline Hill and the missing needle on the fireplace dial of the wind indicator was replaced.
Experience Fox Hall
For up to 4 people
The Palladian simplicity of Fox Hall’s brick exterior belies the exuberant decoration of the upstairs sitting room, and with the bed nestling in a gilded alcove it makes an extremely elegant bedsit.
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