Tag Archives: 1st Lord Wraxall

High Victorian Splendor at Tyntesfield


TyntFlowersOn my last trip to England, I made my second visit to Tyntesfield, the glorious Victorian country home rescued by the National Trust of Great Britain in 2002.  My first visit was just a couple of years after it opened to the public.  It is now one of my very favorite National Trust properties in all of Great Britain.

Succeeding generations of the Gibbs family lived in it since it was built.  As the family declined in numbers and in fortune, they simply closed up areas and lived in smaller and smaller parts of the mansion. The result is a time capsule. Tyntesfield and its entire contents were on the market by Sotheby’s when the National Trust managed to purchase it lock, stock and barrel. All the contents had already been tagged for separate auction.

TyntesSotheby1 TyntesSotheby3

National Trust Curators have carefully catalogued, cleaned and replaced thousands of items into their original places in the gorgeous home.  They’ve left a few rooms as they found them with groups of housewares and furniture tagged and ready for the auction block.

By the time the 2nd Lord Wraxall, known as Richard, died in 2001, he was the only person living in the house.  The house had been hit by bombs several times during the Bristol Blitz of World War II, and had never been properly repaired. Birds and bats took up residence in whole wings of the house. Tyntesfield was the last High Victorian house available for purchase in all of England.

The market value was about 20 million pounds, or  about $31 million. In addition, double or triple the purchase amount was needed for repairs. Various gazillionaires were interested. (The press reported that Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Andrew Lloyd Webber were looking).  But the National Trust of Britain, one of the two main preservation societies, managed to raise the purchase money within a period of 50 days.  (Controversy arose when a semi-secret deal with the National Lottery provided some of the money for this project that many considered “elitist”). The Trust took possession in July of 2002. This was the first new acquisition by the National Trust in many years, and the largest in its history.  Today, over 800 paid and volunteer staff work on the estate, 3 times the number at any other National Trust property.

Dining Room

Dining Room

Tyntesfield is a breathtakingly beautiful place to spend a day.

Entry Hall

Entry Hall

It is also a unique window into the glory days of the British Empire, when a businessman with no aristocratic background could amass a huge fortune and build a home to rival many royal palaces. I’ll be writing about how the Gibbs family managed to amass such a fortune.  The large family gathered with their servants for prayers twice a day, had their own private chapel, and funded churches and charities all over England.  However, their business and shipping interests were very likely tied up with the slave trade, a fact which must have caused this generous and devout family some feelings of remorse even as they spent their money.


Tyntesfield: Mr. Gibbs Made His Dibs

Entry Hall

William Gibbs’s son Antony did not take over the family business as expected.  The story went that William would not allow it, after he observed that the boy could not add four columns of figures simultaneously (I wonder how many of us would pass that test?)  I doubt Antony was disappointed.  He managed the Tyntesfield estates and charities, became an accomplished carver of ivory, and puttered with inventions such as a bicycle which supposedly stored energy going downhill and used it when going uphill. It didn’t work, though.

Instead, William’s nephew Henry Hucks Gibbs took over the company.  Henry was elevated to the peerage, becoming Baron Aldenham in 1896.  (What exactly is the peerage, anyway?  A subject for another post).  Henry also became Governor of the Bank of England, earning him the popular jingle which forever followed the Gibbs family: “Mr. Gibbs made his dibs, Selling the turds of foreign birds.” Not very elegant, but it certainly told the story. And he must have laughed all the way to the bank.

The little ditty no doubt followed George Abraham Gibbs, a war hero who moved in higher social circles than his humbler ancestors.

George became 1st Lord Wraxall and Treasurer of the Royal Household–an example of the new commercial and industrial wealth overtaking older titled families.

The 2nd Lord Wraxall, known as Richard, inherited the title at the age of 3.  His mother, Ursula, Lady Wraxall, presided at Tyntesfield until she died in 1979.  She received an OBE for her services to the war effort. During World War II, the house became a medical distribution center, with the books in the library replaced by bandages. It was also a convalescent home for American soldiers, who stage reunions there to this day.

When he came of age, the 2nd Lord Wraxall (Richard) served with the Coldstream Guards, then took over management of the estate. He maintained the house and grounds as they were, not following the lead of so many great homes in getting rid of Victorian furniture and features as they became unfashionable. He never married, and ended up living alone in the house with most of the rooms closed. When he died unexpectedly in 2001, the place was a treasure trove of Victorian items from the past 150 years.


Join me next time when I consider the very challenging acquisition of the house by the National Trust.  It’s one of the chapters in the fascinating story of the history and art of the British Isles.