History and museums
Hylands House is a Grade II* neo-classical villa situated within Hylands Park a 232-hectare (574 acre) park south-west of Chelmsford in Essex in South East England. It is owned and operated by Chelmsford City Council.
The last private owner lived in Hylands House until her death until 1962. It was in 1966, with the House in a desperate state of disrepair, that Chelmsford Borough Council purchased the Park for the people of Chelmsford to enjoy. Hylands Park was opened to the public only 10 days later. It was agreed by Chelmsford Borough Council that Hylands House should be restored to its former glory and having stood empty for 20 years, the first phase of restoration took place in 1986. The final stage was completed in 2005.
Around 1726, a local and well respected lawyer, Sir John Comyns, purchased the manor of Shaxstones in Writtle, and commissioned the construction of a new family home on the estate, suitable for a man of his standing. Completed in 1730, Hylands House was an elegant two-storey red brick building in Queen Anne style architecture. The grounds were set out in the formal geometric style fashionable at the time, with a pleasure garden and small kitchen garden to the north of the house.
Sir John Comyns died in 1740, without surviving children, and left the estate to his nephew, John Comyns of Romford. In 1759, John Comyns commissioned a monument to the life of his beloved uncle, which can be seen at the family vault in Writtle Church. John in turn left Hylands to his son, John Richard Comyns in 1760.
In 1797 Cornelius Kortright purchased Hylands House and employed the well-known landscape architect Humphry Repton, who set about redesigning the gardens. Kortright planned to add the east and west wings, a colonnaded portico and cover the whole house in white stucco. However, despite the grand plans Kortright did not see the House through to completion as his ever increasing family required them to relocate to a much larger residence, in nearby Fryerning.
Pierre Cesar Labouchere, a Dutch born merchant banker, purchased the estate in 1814 and set about completing Repton's design for expansion and improvement of the house and parkland. This resulted in the symmetrical neo-classic facade that can be seen today. Labouchere created the formal Pleasure Gardens and under the guidance of architect Williams Atkinson, the Georgian Stable Block and Coachman's Cottage. He also collected neo-classical sculptures, including works by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, replicas of which are on display in the house today.
After Labouchère's death, his son Henry Labouchere sold Hylands House and Estate to Mr John Attwood, former owner of an ironworks in Birmingham. Attwood was an ambitious entrepreneur who wanted a property to befit his new status and promote his quest for a peerage. As MP for Harwich, he decided that Hylands was insufficiently grand to reflect his position in society, and had the house considerably enlarged and fully redecorated. He purchased over 3,500 acres (14 km2) of additional land surrounding Hylands and privatised the road from Writtle to Margaretting that ran through the estate.
Arthur Pryor was a partner in the Truman, Hanbury and Buxton Brewery and purchased a much reduced Hylands Estate in 1858. He did little to the house other than some redecoration, although some of the exuberant decoration in the Banqueting Room is credited to him.
Having originally rented the House and land in 1904, Sir Daniel Gooch purchased Hylands in 1907, and modernised the House, with the installation of electricity and telephones. The Gooch family entertained regularly, with shooting parties and fetes, including a memorable celebration for the coronation of King George V. During World War I, Hylands House was requisitioned for use as a military hospital, and over 1,500 patients were treated there. Sir Daniel was also a keen explorer and accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton on the first leg of his bid to reach the South Pole, but returned home early, suffering from severe frostbite.
In 1920, Hylands was sold to a syndicate of local gentlemen, but only two years later it was purchased by John Hanbury. Like Arthur Pryor, John was chairman of the brewers Truman's. However, John Hanbury died suddenly in 1923 before taking occupation of Hylands. Christine was later left alone when Jock became one of the first pilots to die in the Second World War in a flying accident. Christine Hanbury made great changes to the grounds, including a lawn tennis court, rhododendron borders and a private area in the gardens dedicated to the memory of her husband and son. During World War II, the estate was the site for a German Prisoner of War Camp, and the house was used by the SAS as their headquarters.
Mrs Christine Hanbury died in 1962, aged 89, leaving the house and estate to her trustees, and for the final time in its history Hylands was again offered for sale. Chelmsford Borough Council purchased the house and estate at auction in 1966 and set about opening it to the public and eventually restoring both the House and the grounds.
The House was in a state of progressive deterioration but, despite its poor condition, in 1967 Hylands House became a Grade II listed building. In 1985 the Borough Council set up a restoration fund and later that year English Heritage gave their consent to the Council's proposal to reduce the house to its 19th-century appearance. Prior to work commencing Hylands House was re-graded to become a Grade II* listed building.
As a result of the collaboration of the Director of Leisure Services, Malcolm Gilham and the Borough Architect, Esmond Abraham, phased restoration work began in 1986, and by 1996 the external work to the House had been completed and the Entrance Hall restored to its Georgian grandeur. The Blue Room and Boudoir were refurbished and once again the house was full of the sound of people. The Friends of Hylands House was formed and they have undertaken fundraising to assist with the frnishing of the House.
During 1998 planning began to celebrate the opening of the East Wing. The Manager, Linda Pittom (then Palmer) and her team, worked to ensure that not only the 'VIP 'official opening, the celebrations for those working on the project and the very first Wedding Ceremony at Hylands, and the celebrations of the public open days were a success. The east wing was fully restored and opened to the general public at Easter 1999. The west wing and basement restoration quickly followed and their grand opening took place at Easter 2004 - the Manager and her team in conjunction with the Special Events Team at Chelmsford Borough Council provided a comprehensive,exciting and entertaining programme of events. The restoration of the basement area has brought to life the original red brick Queen Anne house and a number of exciting discoveries were made. Interpretation boards throughout the house offer visitors an informative and photographic display of the restoration process.
The final phase of restoration in the House was completed in September 2005, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Hylands House is now fully restored to its Victorian splendour. Hylands Park is the venue for the 'V' Festival and other events.
Intensive work on restoring the historic landscape of Hylands Park to its 18th-century splendour, designed by famed landscape architect Humphry Repton, began in 2004 and was completed in 2007. The restoration of Hylands Park was financed by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £3.4 million and by the Council.
Restoring Repton's parkland - the original 'Widford Approach' drive has been reinstated for pedestrians and cyclists, providing beautiful framed views of the estate, before finally revealing the house itself. Repton's spectacular views of the lake from the house can now also be enjoyed, especially from the Repton Room located with Hylands house.
Conversion of the stable block - the Georgian stables have been restored and converted into The Stables Visitor Centre which incorporates a new visitor centre, with craft studios, gift shop, cafe, interpretation rooms, education room and stabling for horses.
Home Farm - these farm buildings have been restored and adapted for storage and offices for the Grounds Maintenance team.
Flint Cottage - a former gamekeeper's cottage and now derelict, has been brought back to its original appearance and is now used as a store to support the Council's events in the park.
Since 1996, the park has hosted the annual V Festival. In the 2004 film Chasing Liberty, Hylands House doubled as the US White House. In 2005 Hylands Park was the venue for the European Scout Jamboree and in 2007 Hylands welcomed scouts from over 160 nations for the 21st World Scout Jamboree, which celebrated 100 years of scouting. The One World Garden was created to commemorate this historic event, and now forms part of the estate.
The Stable section of the house is now a visitor centre containing working stables, a restaurant and a gift shop. The upper part of the stables houses resident artist james Wilkinson's studio. James has been artist in residence since 2009 and was made the Official artist to the V Festival in 2012.
Hylands House and Park is the second most visited attraction in England according to the 2014 annual survey by VisitEngland.
VisitEngland’s Annual Attractions Survey showed that Hylands has a huge popularity with 1.9 million people entering its Grounds in 2014, the Tower of London reached 3.1 million.