Kingston Hall, was designed by Edward Blore and built 1842-6 (photo: A Nicholson, 2006).
Kingston Hall, was designed by Edward Blore and built 1842-6 (photo: A Nicholson, 2006).

WHEN the late Lord Belper, as plain Mr. Edward Strutt, acquired the Kingston property, there was no house in the neighbourhood which could possibly be appropriated as the residence of a man of his estate and position. The house where Babington once lived, whose wicked plot to overthrow the ruling monarch, and to re-establish the supremacy of the Roman Catholic religion, brought him to a disgraceful death, had disappeared, and the estate which had been owned by a succession of illustrious personages was mansionless. Mr. Strutt was probably struck with the quiet pastoral beauty of the surrounding country, and he built himself a handsome mansion at Kingston, selecting a favourable eminence for its site and the beautiful architecture of the Elizabethan period for its lines. Built of good stone, laid with geometric precision, Kingston Hall will last for ages, and will be a conspicuous object in this admirable bit of border landscape, long after its present lord has passed away. For some thirty-five years the late noble owner, who was no less distinguished for his knowledge of, and connection with, the affairs of State, than for his scholarly attainments and profound erudition, made Kingston his home, and within the solid walls of his Nottinghamshire residence, with a magnificent collection of the gems of modern literature to hand, and surrounded by works of art, which at this point may be best described as being every one of them good; with beautiful grounds in which to spend so many of the sunny hours as he chose, he enjoyed that rest which was so essential at the end of a long—a very long and active life. The late Lord Belper was an ex-Minister of State, who had spent a long life in the service of both branches of Legislature, and had been called to a place in the Privy Council of the Sovereign, and for a long period discharged the duties of a chairman of Quarter Sessions with all the dignity and legal acumen of a distinguished judge. In his bright sitting room at Kingston, under the spell of his gentle manners, of his cordial, homely welcome, one might be pardoned for forgetting these facts, and for regarding him simply as a kind-hearted old man, whose engaging conversation could be listened to with a complacency undisturbed by any consciousness of the disparity of position which exists between the hearer and the listener. One felt no hesitation in following him to a small cabinet which stands in a corner of the billiard saloon, and one listened with delight to the few words uttered with the authority of a scholar, in which he told the history of some half-dozen queer looking specimens of old pottery, which were unearthed on the estate not very long ago, A question arose as to whether they were of Anglo-Saxon or some other primitive manufacture. Lord Belper thought they are Anglo-Saxon, and I should not imagine anyone would dispute the accuracy of his judgment. In the same cabinet is some Etruscan ware, which was brought from Athens, together with a number of other curiosities, by the late Bishop of Chichester. One listened with equal pleasure to the concise history from the same lips of a singular unfinished painting by West, once president of the Royal Academy, which hung in his lordship’s room, and in which the figures of three distinguished personages are introduced. Since my visit to Kingston, the first Baron Belper has passed away, and his son, then Mr. Henry Strutt, bears his title and owns the estate.

Lord Belper is the head of a wealthy family, whose representatives have not inherited their property from ancestors who received enormous grants from lavish monarchs. Some of them have amassed wealth in the walks of commerce, and there have been members of the family whose names were, and are, associated with acts of munificence and benevolence. It was Mr. Joseph Strutt who gave an arboretum to the people of Derby. The late Lord Belper was the descendant of Mr. Jedediah Strutt, of Belper, his great grandfather; his father was Mr. William Strutt, of St. Helen’s House, Derby, where the Grammar School of that town new stands. After passing a successful career at Cambridge, where he attained the highest degrees the University could bestow, Mr. Edward Strutt entered Parliament for Derby before the passing of the Reform Bill. He represented that borough for eighteen years, during the two last of which he was First Commissioner of Railways, a post then of some considerable importance. In 1848 Mr. Strutt lost his seat for the neighbouring town, on petition, but in 1851 he found a seat for Arundel, in Sussex. In consequence of religious and political differences between Lord Arundel, the sitting member, and the Duke of Norfolk, his relative, the former accepted the Chiltern Hundreds in the year above named, and Mr. Strutt was elected in his stead. Mr. Strutt represented this small constituency for one year, and then came to Nottingham, for which town he sat in Parliament until 1856, when, in recognition of his services to the State, he was raised to the peerage under the title and sign of Baron Belpor, having previously held the Ministerial appointment of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Such is a brief and bare outline of the career of the distinguished nobleman, who succeeded an equally distinguished peer in the office of Lord-Lieutenant of the County, and whose intellect at the advanced age of eighty was, perhaps, as keen and as clear as at any period of his life.

Though the mansion at Kingston-upon-Soar is too new  to lay claim to historic associations, there are some very interesting facts connected with, the bygone history of the village. Anthony Babington, who, in 1588, was the ostensible leader of a diabolical scheme, which had for its object the assassination of Queen Elizabeth, a general insurrection, and an invasion of the country by the Powers of France and Spain, in order to raise to the British Throne the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots, and to re-establish the Roman Catholic religion, had a mansion at Kingston. Babington belonged to one of the leading county families whose representatives were seated at Kingston for several generations. In the pretty village church half a mile from the Hall, there is a handsome monument to their memory, and a piece of stone screenwork whose like is not to be found in any part of the county. It may possibly have been at Kingston that Babington and the priest Ballard conceived the outline of that plot which brought them both to the gallows. The manor has subsequently belonged to Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury, and to a former Duke of Leeds. These are matters which have a legitimate place in any account of this residence, but it is with the Kingston of to-day that I have to deal; to give my readers some idea of the nature of the contents of Lord Belper’s mansion, and to convey to them, if it were possible, some of the impressions that I gained during the few pleasant hours I was permitted to spend there on a beautiful day in the early part of the year. There are some very fine works of art in the Kingston collection. We are not all art critics; we cannot all of us appreciate the subtleties of merit which the trained and cultivated judge of pictorial art detects on a canvas; but we know when we are in the presence of a master, and if we can find nothing specially interesting in a gallery of family portraits—of cavaliers and courtiers, who may or may not have been virtuous and good, we can find an almost unspeakable delight in the grand masses of light and shadow, the transparency of still pool or rippling brook of a Ruysdaal, or the charm of colour in a Wynants or a Berchem. The pictures at Kingston are all good. Some thirty of them, distributed over different parts of the house, were purchased by the first Lord Belper from the famous collection of the Duke D’Alberg, and they are all of them very fine specimens of the masters whose names they bear.

Let us take a general glance at this very valuable collection, the existence of which, it is fair to suppose, is not generally known. In the library, with its rows upon rows of well-bound and well-read books, its lofty ceiling and handsome proportions, there is fixed over the mantel-piece, in a deep framing of oak, a grand composition by Vandyck. It is a procession of Bacchanalian boys, one of whom is leading a panther, which is bearing the drowsy Wine god. There are a number of figures in the picture—rosy-limbed children in various attitudes, and the composition is one which possesses all the splendour of a Titian. This picture long adorned the Balbi Palace in Genoa, and was originally painted for that family by the famous artist whose name it bears. A large portion of the D’Alberg collection is spread over the walls of the drawing room. My attention was drawn to two fine specimens of the work of Jacob Ruysdaal’s spirited pencil, which rarely touched any subject that did not include a river, a brook, a ford, or water of some kind. One of these is a view of the Castle of Bentheim, and the hill on which the castle stands is bathed in glorious sunlight. It is said to be one of the finest productions of the artist. On the same walls is a fine specimen of the joint work of three of the most eminent masters of the Dutch school—Vander Heyden and the brothers Adrian and William Vandervelde. Not only the pictures of Vander Hayden, but those of Ruysdaal and even of the great Wynants, whose disciple he was, owe much of their beauty and worth to the embellishment of Adrian Vandervelde. The beautiful slave engaged in dissolving pearls, is by Guido; that chaste picture of the Virgin and Child, remarkable for its natural tone of colour, and truth of expression, was painted by Andrea Vannuchi, commonly called Del Sarto, the famous Florentine, who has been described as prince of the Tuscan school. Amongst the other pictures which form part of Lord Belper’s magnificent purchase is a sketch in chiaroscuro, by Rubens, of Christ bearing the cross, representing the procession to Calvary; in another part of the mansion there is a fine head by the same master, which formerly belonged to the Elector of Bavaria, and was preserved in the gallery at Munich. Returning to the drawing room, one is permitted to make a passing study of the art of such masters as Wynants, who is here represented by a couple of landscapes, Delorme, Nicholas Berchem, Vanderneer, and Polemburg, the last-named of whom excelled as a flesh painter. One of Berchem’s pictures here is a bridge over the Tiber, and in the foreground is the white horse, which this painter was so fond of introducing into his compositions—a work remarkable for the power of its pencilling, and the effective tone of the colouring. Vanderneer painted moonlight effects perhaps as no other artist did either before or since his time, and Lord Belper has a fine example of this artist’s speciality in his drawing room at Kingston, free from that intense blackness which characterises some of his works. It is a river scene in Holland, and the moon rising behind an old mill illumines the somewhat weird landscape with a soft and silvery light. The other portion of the purchase has found its way into the dining room. Here, above the mantel-piece, is a grand painting by Weenix—dead game with some landscape in the background. A dead hare, painted with such fidelity that one would hardly be alarmed if the draught from an open window disturbed its fur, is a prominent object in the picture. The representation of the Camps Vaccino at Rome is by Romeyne; the figures were introduced by Cornelius Begs. Three admirable works by Wright, of Derby, which hang in this goodly company, are not unworthy to be mentioned in conjunction with those masters who have contributed so largely to the Belper collection. Wrights pictures are ever becoming scarcer and more valuable, and the fact that he is allowed so much space on the walls at Kingston is sufficient testimony to the excellence of his work. Two of the best of the family portraits at Kingston came from his pencil and brush. Amongst this class are two portraits by Linnel, and an admirable portrait of the first Lord Belper by Richmond, whose likenesses are always faithful. In other parts of the house are pictures by Tintoretto, whose art here is represented by a mythological subject; Holbein, Cuyp, Sebastian Ricci (The Last Supper), Isaac and Adrian Ostade,, the elder Teniers, Mass, and Frank Hale, who may perhaps be classed with Vandyck, as the greatest of portrait painters. Hals’ portrait of the two boys singing in the streets, is amongst a number of other pictures in one of the upstairs corridors at Kingston, and it bears evidence of that extraordinary rapidity of execution for which the artist was remarkable.

Two or three excessively cold days during a recent winter, destroyed acres of shrubs. Laurels and bays, whose development had been the work of years, were utterly ruined, and there they remain so many clusters of withered leaves in the midst of the rich foliage of late spring. The frost knew no distinction. It chilled the life out of the shrubs in the gardens and pleasure grounds of the rich ; it worked equal ruin in the few roods of ground in which the working man had planted his rose trees. Here and there in the pleasure grounds at Kingston, small open spaces were left by the removal of laurels; and graceful shapes of shrivelled foliage, shown by Cedrus Deodara and evergreen oak, marked the ruin wrought by those two or three cruel days. But there still remain innumerable sturdy and graceful firs of different varieties. The common pine, the Cedar of Lebanon, the spruce fir, the Wellingtonia, and other favourite shrubs bravely lived through the hard winter, and were left to impart picturesqueness and beauty to the Kingston gardens.

It is a pleasure garden of shrubs and emerald turf—not flat and conventional, but undulating and diversified. A lake of some nine acres extent, has been formed in the grounds, and this is agreeably broken by projections of sward, so that it has a variety of pleasant aspects. In one part of the garden there is a patch of ground bright with the turqoise stars of myosotis, the pale petals of primrose, and the modest colours of some of the commonest spring flowers. This plot, I was told, was the Dowager Lady Belper’s special care, and really it is one of the prettiest bits in the grounds. Under ranges of glass, pines, grapes, peaches, and nectarines are grown in abundance and perfection, and flowers and plants are ‘warmed into exotic brilliance in the spacious stove houses. One of them is a bower of pale yellow roses this morning; another contains a wealth of geraniums of dazzling brightness. Not far from the margin of the lake a cluster of miniature tombstones publishes facts concerning the canine mortality of Kingston, and furnishes an assurance that “Sprite,” “Madge,” Fritz,” and a number of other defunct favourites, have received a decent interment in unconsecrated ground. Beyond the gardens is the estate, covering some 3,000 acres, some 400 of which are farmed by Lord Belper’s bailiff. A good deal of planting has been done during the time the property has been in the hands of the Strutte, and the limits of the estate are being gradually extended.