An exceptional survival of a model dairy, now ruinous
Cobham Dairy, a Gothic-revival eye-catcher in the grounds of Elizabethan Cobham Hall, is listed Grade II* and on the Buildings at Risk Register. It was built in the 1790s by James Wyatt, one of the period's most prolific architects, for Elizabeth, Countess of Darnley. Humphry Repton, the great landscape designer, simultaneously remodelled the parkland.
Cobham Dairy is crumbling away. It only has a future with your help
“ Cobham Dairy is a rare and fragile survival. It is uniquely captivating: both as a miniature masterpiece by a brilliant architect, but also as a window onto the hidden world of 18th century women. Today it stands in ruins; with graffiti on the walls, boarded gothic-arched windows, collapsing plaster vaulting and its exterior stripped bare of slate. A new future as a Landmark is the only way this gem can survive.”
Dr Anna Keay, Director
Ornamental estate buildings were the height of architectural fashion in the 18th century. The Dairy at Cobham Hall was conceived to represent a tiny Italianate chapel topped with a bell tower, and with four corner pavilions. The central chamber is encased behind miniature arcades of 'cloisters', fronted by an open loggia facing north towards Cobham Hall. This picturesque exterior concealed living quarters for a Dairymaid and a central dairy whose exceptional plasterwork and finishes make it as suited to aristocratic tea parties as to butter production.
Please help today and your gift will be matched by Ecclesiastical Insurance
Every £1 you give now will make double the difference to Cobham Dairy, making it more likely that work can start before next winter. We first need to raise £200,000 from supporters by 31 March 2017 to unlock a matching donation from our generous friends, Ecclesiastical Insurance. Please help now if you can.
Guardians of Cobham Dairy can have a deeper involvement in this rescue. Find out more here.
Cobham Dairy stands in the grounds of a great Elizabethan house
The manor of Cobham in Kent dates back to 1208. In 1584, William Brook, the 10th Lord Cobham, remodelled the main hall into a spectacular Elizabethan great house, much of which exists today. Surviving the upheavals of the 17th century intact, in 1720 the estate passed by marriage to John Bligh, a wealthy Irishman, who was elevated to the earldom named after James I's kinsmen, the Darnleys. From 1747, the 3rd Earl of Darnley developed Cobham Hall and its estate further, so that by the time the 4th Earl inherited in 1781, it was once again the main seat of a powerful aristocratic family.
The 4th Earl brought in architect James Wyatt to design his father's spectacular pyramidal mausoleum and to work on the interiors of the hall. In 1790, the great landscape designer Humphry Repton was commissioned to remodel the park, working as so often in partnership with Wyatt.
In 1791 the Earl married Elizabeth Brownlow (seen in this portrait with their daughter). It was probably as a result of Elizabeth's feminine influence that the idea of a model dairy was born, in gentle strolling distance of the hall. Its pedigree could not be higher.
The romance of a decorative dairy
Supervising the making of cream, butter and cheese was a recognised country pursuit for elegant Georgian ladies. Dairy pursuits personified a nostalgic yearning for simple goodness and simplcity popularised by contemporary writers, as industrial and political revolution gathered pace all around. Marie Antoinette's 1783 dairy at Versailles is often cited as the prototype, yet Queen Mary had a model dairy at Hampton Court in the 1690s.
Model dairies were among the most exquisite estate buildings, fitted out as elegant pavilions with tiled or marble walls, plentiful water, a copper warming pan and charming porcelain vessels, sadly all lost at Cobham, but intact at the other, even smaller dairy in Landmark's care, at Endsleigh.
With your support, Cobham Dairy can have a new future, safe in Landmark's care. Please donate to the appeal if you can.
Without a use, the Dairy has deteriorated to the point of ruination
In 1962, when Cobham Hall became an independent boarding school run by a charity, the Dairy was already derelict. The charity re-roofed it and boarded it up, but such measures alone cannot prevent the ongoing deterioration, and the Dairy’s full restoration is far beyond their means.
Its condition today is desperately sad: the ornate plaster vaulting hangs in collapsed canopies and the exterior stands stripped bare of its original sophisticated slate dressing.
It seems the end of the road for this charming little building, unless Landmark can step in.
James Wyatt’s original 1794-5 drawings for the Dairy survive at the Yale Centre for British Art and will guide our approach to return the building to its original 18th-century appearance. The Dairymaid’s modest rooms will become a bedroom and bathroom for two people and the main chamber will become a sitting room. The elegant cloisters and fragile gothic vaulting will be reinstated. The project will require specialist craft skills and be a springboard for the training of conservation apprentices. On the exterior Wyatt’s remarkable cut slate cladding will be replicated, returning to the building its original crisp white appearance, intended to keep the Dairy cool.
The rescue of the Dairy will be an exacting task that will demand detailed historical research, careful conservation decisions and specialist craft skills. For modern use as a Landmark, new services for water and electricity must be brought in some distance underground, and sewage treatment installed. Our furnishings team will then work their magic to add the finishing touches to bring the building to life as a Landmark. The total project cost is estimated to be £950,000, including professional fees, a sensible contingency and an allowance for inflation assuming work can start before the end of 2017.
With the skills of specialist craftspeople, and your support, we can save Cobham Dairy from ruin.
A magical Landmark for two
The central chamber will become a sitting and dining room, the vaulted ceiling reinstated. The room will echo the features of its original function, including the Carrara marble shelf where the Dairymaid once moulded pats of butter. Her bedroom will sleep two, with a kitchen along the rear, southern arcade. The open west cloister will catch the setting sun, whilst the north cloister will offer distant views of the main house, and serve as the main entrance.
The remnants of the patented slate cladding to the external walls are an exciting survival. Though presenting as brick today, the external walls and window reveals were originally clad in butt-jointed slate, used by Wyatt in promotion of the Penrhyn quarry in which his family had a financial interest. The slate was then limewashed to imitate stone. We will seek to replicate this short-lived innovation, and it will take unusual skill to produce and install these slates.
The project will draw on the conservation skills we have been passing on to our apprentices, and they and the other craftspeople involved will be the heroes of this scheme.
James Wyatt was one of the most popular and influential architects of his age, well known for his romantic country houses. Born in 1746, his early career took him to Italy, where he studied in Venice and Rome. Upon his return to England, he was given the commission to build the Neoclassical Pantheon in Oxford Street, proving to be a huge success and gaining him the attention of the nobility. His other early work included Neoclassical country houses such as Heaton Hall near Manchester and Heveningham Hall in Suffolk.
Wyatt was appointed surveyor general to the Board of Works in 1796. He was engaged with the restorations of cathedrals in Hereford, Lichfield, Salisbury and Durham, where his controversial plan to remove the Galilee Chapel was reversed by a preservation lobby. He also worked on Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey.
One of Wyatt's most famous creations was Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire, an extravagant Gothic fantasy based on mediaeval monastic buildings, designed for William Beckford. The central tower, close to three hundred feet high, collapsed several times over the years and the entire abbey was later completely demolished.
In addition to Cobham Dairy, Wyatt was the designer of another Landmark - The Birdhouse, a Greek-revival pavilion at Badger in Shropshire.
James Wyatt’s 1794-5 drawings for the Dairy survive to aid our restoration