|Original Article by Douglas Ashby, transcribed by Sarah Gilbert|
In my mind I often revisit the old house, alas now no more, and recall the treasures that filled the lofty rooms, presided over by a kindly and courteous incumbent for thirty years. The Revd Ronald Williamson Sharpley came to Burton Latimer in September 1937 after exchanging livings with the Revd H.T.A. Edwards, and remained here until 1967 when mainly ill-health forced him to resign and retire to the former rectory at Little Oakley which he had purchased a few years before. Sad to say he died on Easter Monday in 1969 and was buried in our lower churchyard next to the grave of the Revd W.B. Jacques (Rector 1895-1911).
A bachelor, Ronald Williamson Sharpley took on the rambling 18th century rectory where he was ably looked after for many years by the late Mrs. Hilda Capps and then Mrs. Zella Aveling. In those pre-war days the large early Victorian wing was still standing that had been built on by the Revd David Barclay-Bevan (Rector 1843-1857) in 1844 who had also added the bay windows. An earlier rector, Sir John Dolben (1719-1756) had refronted the house in 1750. An old print dated 1809 showed two lower wings either side of the original house.
During the last war the military occupied most of the house and their graffiti remained on the attic walls. Initially Ronald Williamson Sharpley moved out into the School House where he was looked after by Mrs. Doris Smith the headmistress of the Church Infants School, but he later moved back into the rectory and lived solely in the large drawing room which was partitioned off to serve as living room and bedroom. In 1953 the Victorian wing was demolished and the house reverted to its original size.
Mr. Sharpley’s family name was Lamplugh. His brother Norman was Bishop of Southampton and their grandfather was a cousin of the Duke of Hamilton. An ancestor, Thomas Lamplugh had been Archbishop of York in the 1660’s. The grandfather and two bachelor uncles lived at The Old Court House, Hampton Court which had been the home of Sir Christopher Wren, and it was in this environment that many of Ronald Williamson Sharpley’s childhood years were spent. After the death of an uncle in 1947 many of Mr. Lamplugh’s antiques and works of art found a new home at Burton Latimer Rectory and when garden fetes and festivals were held Ronald Williamson Sharpley would open the house to the public. Showing visitors round for one shilling and describing the contents gave me many hours of pleasure. So perhaps you would like to join me in a “conducted tour”.
The entrance hall was lofty and impressive with a beautiful wide walnut staircase and gate at the top to safeguard children. Just inside the front door a Jacobean oak cradle c1630 was a suitable resting place for Ronald Williamson Sharpley’s hat and his storm lamp. Above it was a large “repeater” clock on an ornate wall bracket. Over the study door hung a portrait of the Earl of Orrery and nearby was a portrait of Sarah Jennings the first Duchess of Marlborough, a disagreeable lady never known to smile, and perhaps better known on one occasion for having slapped Queen Anne’s face in a fit of temper. There is a similar sour portrait of her hanging in the Bow Room at Deene Hall. By the kitchen door a choice 17th century Charles II oyster walnut chest of drawers. Against the opposite wall two large 17th century oak court cupboards on the tops of which were collections of Stuart armour and 19th cavalry helmets. Tall James II chairs with cane backs and seats. Framed on the wall the first Christmas Card and first Valentine card.
To the right the study was a large lofty room used by Ronald Williamson Sharpley as a living room and was dominated by the fireplace on which was a huge overmantel reaching almost to the ceiling, elaborately carved with figures. It was formerly the back of an Elizabethan four-poster bed. I think more thought could have been given to its disposal prior to the house being demolished in 1971. To the left of the fireplace hung a portrait of Thomas Lamplugh, Archbishop of York and the red tippet (cape) he was wearing was actually framed in the case hanging beneath, also the prayer book in the Archbishop’s right hand was in the case too. One vivid painting in this room hung by the kitchen door and was by J.F. Herring and depicted “Pharaoh’s Horses”. This was a well known painting and had been copied for the Christmas cards. A fine yew wood chest inlaid with marquetry bore the date 1643 and the large top drawer would have held the plumed hats of the period.
A charming portrait by W. de Geest dated 1618 of a Stuart child holding a rattle, hung by the fireplace and amongst the various family portraits was one by Sir Peter Lely of Miss Lamplugh of Cumberland.
A small dining room faced north and some fine pieces of silver and old Sheffield plate were displayed on the large mahogany sideboard that was carved with the Lamplugh crest. In front of the window a choice Chippendale chest supported a collection of Waterford glassware and nearby hung a portrait of Charles Edward Stewart (Bonnie Prince Charlie).
The most impressive and richly furnished room was the drawing room, in fact it was so full of fine things at times it was difficult to move around!! A large 17th century Mortlake tapestry which was lighted by a pair of gilt candelabras on pedestals almost filled one wall. This was one of a set of seven depicting scenes from the Acts of the Apostles. One of the set hangs in the Jerusalem chamber at Westminster Abbey and the other five are at Boughton House. The Duke of Buccleuch’s Montagu ancestors had an interest in the Mortlake factory. This particular tapestry showed the angel releasing Peter from prison.
Perhaps startling to the casual visitor was the Georgian sedan chair facing the hall door and containing a Victorian effigy of a life size Regency lady wearing a gold wig and fine satin clothes. One hand rested on a gold topped walking stick and the other held a painted fan. Affectionately known as “Araminta”. The sedan chair was made of beaten leather and lined with silk and would have been used by Mr. Sharpley’s forebears when visiting in London. Surprisingly this only realised £75 when sold at Sothebys in 1967.
A Hepplewhite high backed winged suite stood in front of the fireplace. The room contained several beautiful clocks, in fact there were 27 altogether in the house and they would all be wound every Sunday morning after church. Amongst the paintings was a portrait of William Pitt by Thomas Gainsborough. A large 18th century mahogany break front display cabinet contained many interesting pieces, including a silver gilt casket which held a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair. There was Nelson’s shaving mirror, and a ring set with a diamond which came from Disraeli’s Order of the Garter. A portion of a china tea service bore the label that it was used on the occasion of a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to Ronald Williamson Sharpley’s grandfather’s villa near Florence in Italy. Another old tea service once belonged to Madame Tussaud. A Regency bird in a gilded cage chirped away when wound.
On the angle of the staircase stood a suit of armour 16th century, affectionately known as “Horace” to which Ronald Williamson Sharpley always said “goodnight” when passing. An upstairs sitting room was beautifully furnished and the main bedroom contained the fine 18th century Hepplewhite four-poster bed that is now my property; this originally came from The Old Court House where old photographs show it in a beautifully panelled room.
Only a portion of the contents has been mentioned, the house had to be visited to appreciate all it contained. Many of the rooms were photographed in 1965 by Helen Speight as a memento before the collection was broken up. As sad as Mr. Sharpley was to see most of it go he was more upset over the treatment of the rectory, but dying when he did in 1969 he was spared the tragedy of seeing his old home, which had been shockingly vandalised, finally demolished in 1971.