A stark silhouette against the gently rolling hills of Northamptonshire, Lyveden New Bield has all the romance of a stately ruin, but was never completed. Constructed by Sir Thomas Tresham on his estate in Aldwinkle St Peter, it boasted a great hall, parlour, bedroom, buttery and a servants’ kitchen, in which the bread ovens and fireplace can still be seen. The house was probably built as a garden lodge, a place where Thomas could retire with a minimum of servants, while the principal dwelling was cleaned.
The Tresham family was fervently Roman Catholic, and it appears that Thomas copied the design of St Peter’s in Rome, because the house is symmetrical in shape like a Greek cross, with four equal arms stretching out from the centre.
His passionate Catholic beliefs are highlighted by religious friezes and various inscriptions on the walls, which include the phrase ‘Gaude Mater Maria’ (Rejoice Mother Mary). Most inspirationally, when the sun shines through the parlour window in the morning, it casts the shadow of a crucifix against the wall behind.
In 1605, after decades of religious persecution, Thomas died and the estate passed to his son Francis. However, he perished in the Tower of London after becoming involved in the Gunpowder Plot. Francis’s wife managed the estate on behalf of his younger brother Lewis but, as a spendthrift, Lewis squandered the family’s wealth and the estate was sold after his son’s death. As a result, Lyveden New Bield remains exactly as it was when the builders left.
In recent years the remains of an enchanting Elizabethan pleasure garden with spiral mounts, terraces and moats, believed to be one of the oldest layouts in Britain, has been rediscovered. The orchard has been restored and new walks linking the house to the once-popular hunting grounds of Rockingham have also been created.
Don’t miss: The channels in the walls where lead pipes would have carried water from the roof above.
Lyveden New Bield
Near Oundle, Peterborough, Northamptonshire
Open 1–28 Feb Sat & Sun 11am–4pm;
1 Mar–30 Jun Wed–Sun 10.30am–5pm;
1 Jul–31 Aug daily 10.30am–5pm;
1 Sep–31 Oct Wed–Sun 10.30am–5pm;
1–30 Nov Sat & Sun 11am–4pm.
Adults £4.50, children free
Oundle tourist information: 01832 274333