FIRE AND RESTORATION

In July 1828, while the family were away at a funeral, the house caught fire.  The story goes that a footman was carousing in the servants' hall, in the butler's absence and drunkenly upset an oil lamp.  A messenger galloped to Leeds to summon the Fire Brigade, while the estate workers fought the blaze, but to no avail: the house was gutted and many of Robert Benson's treasures lost.  The new billiard table, which the rescuers erroneously believed to be very valuable, became stuck in the hall door, blocking it.  Two younger daughters and their nurse, who had been asleep upstairs, narrowly escaped across the roofs to safety.  Only a few rooms at the South end of the house were saved.

Crippled by gambling debts, the family could not afford to rebuild.  Instead, they moved into a succession of houses on the estate.  For 80 years Bramham Park stood an empty shell, with a temporary roof protecting its interior stonework.  Only the garden was maintained in its original splendour.  By the end of its period of dereliction, an elm tree had grown up beside the house to be considerably taller than the roof.

The combination of marriage to a wealthy wife and the compulsory purchase of his estates in Ireland, together with some other sales of land, enabled George Lane Fox ‘the Politician', by 1906 to afford to rebuild.  He engaged the architect, Detmar Blow to recreate Benson's original design as faithfully as possible.  Externally, the only change they made was to remove the bay on the west front (added only shortly before the fire) and replace it with a curved staircase and doorway into the gallery.

They even considered placing statues along the roof balustrade, a feature of the original design illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus, but never executed.  George Wagstaffe, head stonemason, was persuaded to stand on the balustrade, 80' up, so that Mr & Mrs Lane Fox could see how such statues might look.  His heroism was in vain: they decided to leave the balustrade unadorned.

The work finished just in time for the beginning of the First World War.  However, the new gallery chandeliers, ordered from glassworks in Bohemia, had only reached Antwerp, when the Germans occupied the port.  They were feared lost as a casualty of war, but arrived out-of-the-blue, at Bramham, in 1919.

  • Hall Cornice

    Hall Cornice

  • House Pre-Restoration

    House Pre-Restoration