In the summer we visited the wonderful Knightshayes National Trust house in Devon. We knew nothing about the house or its history, it was just a place to stop and have a coffee on our journey home from our summer break. What a treasure we found!
‘In 1869 Sir John Heathcoat Amory commissioned the design of Knightshayes from one of the most extraordinary architects of the 19th century, William Burges. His designs were extravagant, lavish, hugely ambitious and all too much for the family. The designs were covered up by successive generations off the family from the late 1880s right up until the 1960s’.
‘Knightshayes was the family home of the Heathcoat Amory family for 125 years. From a farming family in Derbyshire they grew, through their industry, to become the owners of the largest lace-making factory in the world’.
John Heathcoat, after completing a number of apprenticeships within the textile and weaving industry went on to complete the model of his first bobbin net machine. This machine, which was patented when he was still only 25 years of age transformed the lace making industry. Prior to these machines lace was made using the very slow, hand made ‘pillow and bobbin’ method.
His machine transformed both his life and the lace making industry. He became one of the largest employers in the Midlands when he moved to Loughborough to start his factory.
Life took a dramatic turn in 1816 when Luddite wreckers, angry bands of English craftsmen attacked his factory, demolishing 55 lace frames with axes and hammers. This event, rather than destroy him and his business made him stronger and more determined. He decided to move to Tiverton in Devon where he converted a disused textile mill to a state of the art factory. Many of his previous 200 employees, who had lost their jobs after the attack followed him to Devon and worked in this new successful factory.
He repaid these workers loyalty by building houses, school and churches for them, these are still distinguishable by their grey painted doors. From industry to local government, John became Member of parliament for Tiverton in 1832.
This house is a real gem but, the most stunning room in my opinion is the Burges Room – the following description is taken from the National Trust guide book.
‘When the National Trust acquired Knightshays, the room was painted a neutral colour and, apart from a fireplace, it had no architectural features whatsoever. In 2001 it was decided to arrange and decorate the room as Burges had intended.
The upper walls are painted with birds perched on stylised branches and identified in Gothic script, a similar theme to that used in his Buckingham Street house in London.
In total 87 native and exotic species of birds and one monkey are depicted, each different – with the exception of two geese and two magpies. These have been faithfully reproduced from Burges’ design for the room. the room was opened by Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin, on 28th May 2002. A passionate collector of Victorian Gothic furniture, Jimmy lives in Tower House in Kensington, Burges’ former home’.
Altogether, Knightshayes House is a stunning National Trust house and I would highly recommend a visit.