Tag Archives: Henry Gibbs

Tyntesfield: The House that Guano Built

In 1842, William Gibbs’s brother Henry died during a visit to Venice.  In the same year, the South American agent for the family firm, Antony Gibbs and Sons, made a risky decision. He took out government contracts for the collection and shipping of guano from barren islands off the coast of Peru.  What is guano?  Solidified bird droppings!  William Gibbs was alarmed by the large loans necessary, but the gamble paid off.  Soon the company had a monopoly on the business, which shipped vast amounts of agricultural fertilizer all over the world.

William became a very rich man. He happily set about transforming a fairly simple Georgian house into a dream home for his growing family.  The beautiful result was Tyntesfield, completed in 1865.

William lived contentedly with his family until he died in 1875 at age 85.

Themes from nature appear everywhere in the house.

In his later years, he was affectionately known as “Prior,” because he turned his attention to spiritual matters and to good works in his community. The exquisite chapel was never consecrated, but it’s beautiful all the same. Family and servants gathered for daily prayers, and I doubt that anybody minded taking a break in this beautiful space.

Subsequent Gibbses made substantial additions of their own, and the house rang with the laughter of family and friends for many happy years.

Unlike grand houses built for show, Tyntesfield was built solely for the enjoyment of a family.  The wonderful library was filled with carefully catalogued books that were used on a daily basis by anyone interested.  Those books are still there.  As soon as the room was completed, the family began using it for amateur theatricals.

By all accounts, servants at Tyntesfield were well treated and stayed with the family for many years.

On my very first visit, shortly after the house opened, the servant quarters were just being explored.  It was possible to see, behind the scenes, how a grand home actually operated.  There were laundry rooms, boot rooms, a still room for making jams, a luggage room, rows of large containers for carrying hot water to the main bedrooms, and a kitchen with a fireproof ceiling.

House staff included a butler, two footmen, a housekeeper, a lady’s maid, a cook, six housemaids, a nurse, two nursery maids, two scullery maids, and a hall boy.  Actually, this was  a fairly modest staff for such a large house and family.  I like to think the Gibbs children, raised with the strong Gibbs work ethic, made their own beds.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!

A Victorian Father

William Gibbs, a successful businessman and model of Victorian rectitude, built what we now know as Tyntesfield for his large family.  He was an example of the new wealth that started to overtake the traditional wealth of the British nobility.

He is shown in a photo from around 1862:  the cheerful white-haired gentleman, seated with his adoring youngest daughter on his knee.  His wife, 28 years younger, is on his right.  On his left, seated at the table, is the house chaplain.  At Tyntesfield, servants and family alike attended morning prayers. Aside from his grand house, William built and supported several churches in the area.

William inherited the family shipping and trading business from his father, who had made some bad calls and gone bankrupt in 1789.  Together with his brother Henry, William worked all his life to re-establish the family business.  In 1818 they set up a “sacred debts” account to pay off the creditors of their father’s business, although they had no legal obligation to do so.  In 1840, over 50 years after the bankrupty, all the debts were paid in full.

Today, we can visit the home he built, Tyntesfield, one of the most beautiful in England.  It evokes happy family life in a lost era.  Here’s to all fathers! May they love their families, meet their obligations, and leave lasting legacies.

Tyntesfield, a glorious Victorian mansion

Tyntesfield, a glorious Victorian mansion

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!