Sir John Comyns, were he alive today, would barely recognise, Hylands House, his family home, first completed in red brick Queen Anne style in 1730. Merchant, banker or industrialist, subsequent owners left their mark. Cornelius Kortright turned it into a Neoclassical mansion, covering the red brick in white stucco. Pierre Labouchere arrived in 1814.He added the flint cottage and stables block, collected sculptures, created the west wing and almost bankrupted the nearby railway with a compensation claim for disturbing his peace.
Parliamentarian John Attwood purchased the estate in 1839. Keen that the house should reflect his status, he rebuilt the east wing and staircase and redesigned the west wing to include a lavish banqueting room. By 1854, debts had forced him to sell and little changed in the house after that. The last private owner died in 1962 and Chelmsford Borough Council later purchased the property, undertaking its restoration as a Grade II* listed building.
In times of peace, Hylands House was the scene of grand weddings and receptions. Some 700 guests were invited to George V’s Coronation. In times of war, it did its duty. Troops manoeuvred on the estate prior to the Crimean war, a hospital was set up in the First World War and a POW camp in the Second. It became SAS headquarters in 1944, although Mrs Hanbury, the owner at the time, was not amused when an officer tried to drive his jeep up the grand staircase.
After the death of Mrs Hanbury, the mansion was damaged by fire and the content auctioned. Restoration began in 1986.
Today, Hylands is once again a stunning country house. It has an elegant facade and a sumptuous interior. A gracious Venus with the Apple sculpture greets you in the entrance hall that divides the two wings. To the west, is the pine panelled study, the Georgian small dining room fronted by Ionic pillars and John Attwood’s banqueting room with its magnificent ceiling and exuberant neo-Baroque decorations.
The east wing of Hylands House includes a saloon with marble fireplaces and a double-back Victorian settee, a drawing room graced by a gilded and painted coffered ceiling and a library where pride of place goes to the Victorian mahogany table. Carpets in the east wing were hand-woven to period designs.
Near the blue room and boudoir, the Victorian grand staircase leads up to the Social History Room displaying silk dresses and Georgian glassware. The original Repton Room overlooks the extensive gardens that were landscaped by Humphry Repton in Georgian times. In the old basement, you can still see some of the original windows, ceilings and floors, a pantry, brick bread oven and a model of Cornelius Kortright auditing his wine and beer with the butler.
Don’t miss: the cartouche in an original “Horn of Plenty” frame, in the west wing corridor.
Hylands House, Hylands Park, London Road, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 8WQ
tel: 01245 605500