Beyond the flamboyant gateway, which forms the main entrance to Sir Baptist Hicks's Campden House, are two pavilions, or banqueting houses. They stand at either end of a broad terrace, overlooking the bones of an extensive and elaborate formal garden. These buildings are all that remain of what was once one of the grandest of Jacobean houses, razed during the Civil War. Today it is one of the most important Jacobean sites in the country, its importance recognised by Scheduled Ancient Monument designation for the site as a whole and Grade II* status for the banqueting houses and Almonry. These minor buildings serve as a reminder of the richness and quality of the ‘great burned house’ itself, and are also a notable collection in their own right.
The Hicks family originally came from Gloucestershire, but Baptist's father was a mercer in London and his mother ran a flourishing business as a moneylender. Baptist carried on and excelled in both activities, helped greatly by the position of his elder brother Michael, who was Secretary to William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Lord Treasurer, and close friend of Robert Cecil who inherited his father’s position. When James I came to the throne in 1603, Baptist provided much of the finance for the King and Court’s extravagant lifestyle. This canny move made him an immense fortune and led first to his knighthood and later to his being created Viscount Campden. By 1609, Sir Baptist had bought the manor of Chipping Campden. Campden House itself was built from about 1613: until then Sir Baptist was busy building Cam(p)den House in Kensington. Sir Baptist was a self-made man (his motto was Non dum metam – not yet at my goal) and he wanted to indulge in a great show of magnificence and was lucky to live at a time when the architecture of display was at its most dramatic. We do not know for certain what his house looked like, but an impression can be gained from some 18th-century views which are thought to be based on a single, contemporary, original. To judge from these, the result was all that Sir Baptist could have hoped. It is still reflected in miniature in the Banqueting Houses, which combine an eye-catching Jacobean roofline with confident, if irregular, Classical detail to produce an effect that is both stately and delightful. There are grounds for suspecting that the designer may have been John Thorpe, who designed Sir Baptist’s London house when he was still plain Mr. Hix. Sir Baptist also provided Chipping Campden with its almshouses, market hall and water, brought by conduit from Westington Hill.
The banqueting houses served as places of retreat for the family and their guests, to which they would withdraw at the end of the main afternoon meal, away from the rest of the household. In the fine rooms at terrace level they would drink fine wines and eat what we would now call dessert, dried fruit, small cakes and sweetmeats, while enjoying the outlook over the gardens and the surrounding countryside. Below, hidden by the fall of the ground and entirely separate from these upper rooms, were further rooms which in the case of the East Banqueting House at least, probably served as lodgings for servants.
The light and glitter of a great house, especially when lit up by candles at night, was a favourite Jacobean spectacle and there are stories of how the lantern on the top of Campden House could be seen from far off. Never was this more true than on a night in 1645 when a Royalist garrison, withdrawing from the house which had served as their local headquarters, set light to it. 'The howse (which was so faire) burnt' wrote one of them in his diary. By the light of the blaze Prince Rupert's army marched over Broadway Hill to Evesham.
The mansion was never repaired. Gradually over the years its shell was raided for building stone, some reddened by the heat of the flames. Some found its way fairly soon into the banqueting houses whose open loggias were blocked to adapt them for humbler domestic use for the estate stewards and, by the early 18th century, for a fruit farmer who planted orchards in the former gardens. Such gentle adaptation ensured that the site remains largely undisturbed to this day.
The manor descended continuously through the Noel family from Sir Baptist's daughter Juliana, who married Edward Noel in a classic alliance of ancient lineage with new money. The Noels had other estates, especially in Rutland, although their link with Chipping Campden persists until the present day; a descendant still lives in the former stable block, long known as the Court House. In 1987, Lady Maureen Fellowes and her husband Peregrine granted a lease of the East Banqueting House and the gate lodges to the Landmark Trust. In 1998, they agreed to transfer care of the West Banqueting House, the Almonry and the rest of the house and garden site to Landmark’s care.
Both Banqueting Houses illustrate the ornamental, even flamboyant, style of architecture favoured by Jacobean architects and patrons for their garden buildings. Both are embellished with strapwork parapets, basket finials and twisted chimneys, in a display that recalls the fantastic structures shown in engraved frontispieces to the works of Spenser and Sidney. This high London fashion must have puzzled local masons used to the simpler local architectural tradition. The upper rooms, decorated with plaster friezes and with open arched loggias, made a fitting setting for the fanciful displays of pastries and sweetmeats that made up the banquets. Apparently symmetrical at terrace level they are, in fact, different in form.