DiCamillo Companion

Cobham Hall

  • Earlier Houses: A manor house existed on the site of the current house as early as the 12th century; this house was fully demolished in 1662.

    Built / Designed For: 10th Baron Cobham

    House & Family History: Cobham Hall dates back to the 12th century, when a manor house stood on the site. In the 16th century, the 10th Lord Cobham was responsible for the building of the great Tudor wings which gives the house its distinctive character. In 1612 James I gave Cobham to his cousin, Ludovic Stuart, 2nd Duke of Lennox. Queen Elizabeth I visited on two occasions and Charles I spent a night of his honeymoon at Cobham. Queen Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, spent a few days at Cobham Hall in 1837, just before Victoria succeeded to the throne. Charles Dickens often walked to the house from his home at Gad's Hill to visit his friend, the 7th Earl of Darnley, and often traversed the grounds on his way to the Leather Bottle pub in Cobham Village. Cobham Hall also has a unique place in the history of cricket. The 8th Earl of Darnley captained the English team on the Australian tour of 1882-83. After the English victory, a group of Melbourne ladies ceremoniously burned the bails and presented the ashes to the English captain. The ashes were kept on the Library mantelpiece at Cobham Hall until the earl's death, when the countess presented them to the MCC. The West Façade is attributed to the outstanding British architect of the 17th century, Inigo Jones. The jewel in Cobham's architectural crown is the exquisite Gilt Hall. In the 18th century extensive improvements were carried out, including the conversion of the main hall to a music room. The walls were clad in scagliola and embellished with musical motifs and the whole room lavishly gilded. Much of the carved decoration at Cobham was carried out by Thomas Vardy, brother of the architect John Vardy. Cobham Hall remained the family home of the earls of Darnley until 1957; it became the home of Cobham Hall School, a girls' boarding school, in 1962. (We are most grateful to Cobham Hall School for providing much of this history of the estate).

    Collections: In June of 1896 Bernard Berenson acquired Titian's 1562 "The Rape of Europa," painted for Philip II, King of Spain, from the 6th Earl of Darnley (the painting's ninth owner) for Isabella Stewart Gardner, who paid $100,000 for the masterwork (approximately $16.8 million in 2019 values using the labor value commodity index). The painting, once part of an outstanding collection of Old Masters at Cobham, is today in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, where it is acknowledged to be one of the greatest Italian paintings in the United States (see photo in "Images" section). The 4th Earl of Darnley acquired "The Rape of Europa” at the 1827 sale of the contents of Attingham Park. In the Dining Room at Broadlands, Hampshire, once hung van Dyck's famous "Lord John Stuart With His Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart," circa 1639. In the 17th and 18th centuries the painting hung at Cobham as part of the collection of the dukes of Lennox (the brothers pictured were the younger sons of the 3rd Duke of Lennox and brothers of the 4th Duke) and the earls of Darnley. Sir Oliver Millar, writing about the painting in "The Treasure Houses of Britain" exhibition catalog: "No picture illustrates more clearly the revolution van Dyck brought about in the development of British portraiture." The painting was sold from Broadlands to The National Gallery, London, in 1987, just a year after it triumphantly returned from the National Gallery of Art's "Treasure Houses" exhibition in Washington. Gainsborough was obsessed with van Dyck's painting, producing a copy of it (today in the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum) in 1785 for the 4th Earl of Darnley. The majority of contents of Cobham were sold by the 8th Earl of Darnley on July 22, 1957. In November 2001 a 1st century AD Roman marble fountain with a reclining river god from Cobham was auctioned at Sotheby's; the fountain is today in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (see "Images" section).

    Comments: Cobham has been called, "One of the largest, finest and most important houses in Kent," and is considered one of the finest country houses in England. George IV thought the Gilt Hall at Cobham to be the finest room in England. Speaking of Wyatt's mausoleum of 1783, The Georgian Group said that "its design is of a quality unparalleled in the rest of Wyatt's work or indeed in anyone else's."

  • Garden & Outbuildings: The 150-acre grounds, once a medieval deer park, were laid out in the 18th century by Humphry Repton for the 4th Earl of Darnley. The Park still retains some magnificent specimen trees planted in the 16th and 17th centuries. James Wyatt designed a Gothic Dairy and a Rustic Cow Byre. Lady Darnley's Garden features local sarsen stones and a Tuscan Temple, plus an Aviary and an Orangery. (This history of the Cobham Hall grounds kindly provided by Cobham Hall School). The Darnley Mausoleum was listed for sale in March of 1999 for £200,000. Built by James Wyatt for the 3rd Early of Darnley, but never consecrated, Pevsner described it as one of the two best mausolea in Britain. The Grade I-listed mausoleum and was heavily vandalized in the late 20th century before being gloriously restored in the early 21st century (see photos in "Images" section). In 2003 the Park at Cobham received a grant of £4.98 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund; the project restored the buildings and landscape of Cobham Park. Charles Dickens's Swiss Chalet, once on the grounds of the author's house at Gad's Hill, was used by Dickens as the model for The Nuns' House in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" and Westgate House Seminary for Young Ladies in "The Pickwick Papers." After Dickens's death, the Chalet was exhibited in London, before being presented to Lord Darnley and erected in the Park at Cobham. In 1960 the Grade I-listed Chalet was moved to the rear gardens of Medway Council's Eastgate House in Rochester, which was the Charles Dickens Centre from 1979 until 2004.

    Chapel & Church: James Wyatt designed the Chapel.

  • Architect: George Stanley Repton

    Date: 1817-18
    Designed: Tudor style alterations

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    Architect: William Oldham Chambers

    Date: 1768-70
    Designed: Alterations for 3rd Earl of Darnley

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    Architect: Peter Mills

    Date: 1661-63
    Designed: Additions and alterations for 3rd Duke of Richmond

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    Architect: James Wyatt

    Date: 1771
    Designed: Marble decoration, organ, and Gallery at north end of the Gilt Hall for 4th Earl of Darnley

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    Architect: Inigo Jones

    Date: 17th century
    Designed: West Facade
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: James Wyatt

    Date: 1780s
    Designed: Mausoleum, Chapel, Gothic Dairy, and Rustic Cow Byre.

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    Architect: John Webb

    Date: 1654
    Designed: Decorated Gilt Hall

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    Architect: James Wyatt

    Date: 1791-93
    Designed: Decorated interiors

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    Architect: Humphry Repton

    Date: 1770s
    Designed: Landscaping for 4th Earl of Darnley

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  • Vitruvius Britannicus: C. II, pls. 29, 30, 1717.

    John Bernard (J.B.) Burke, published under the title of A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. II, p. 143, 1853.

    John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. II, 1819.

    Country Life: XV, 906, 1904. XCIV, 1124, 1943. CLXXIII, 448, 568, 1983.

  • Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - HARDBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 2008
    Reference: pg. 697
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 9780300125085
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Mount Vernon Street Warrens: A Boston Story, 1860-1910, The
    Author: Green, Martin
    Year Published: 1989
    Reference: pg. 126
    Publisher: New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
    ISBN: 0684191091
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald, The
    Author: Newman, John
    Year Published: 2000
    Reference: pg. 233
    Publisher: London: Penguin Books
    ISBN: 0140710388
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Country Houses of Kent
    Author: Oswald, Arthur
    Year Published: 1933
    Reference: pg. 38
    Publisher: London: Country Life Ltd.
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Spencer House: Chronicle of a Great London Mansion
    Author: Friedman, Joseph
    Year Published: 1993
    Reference: pg. 75
    Publisher: London: Zwemmer
    ISBN: 0302006176
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Frick Collection: Handbook of Paintings, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 1990
    Reference: pg. 92
    Publisher: New York: The Frick Collection
    ISBN: 0912114096
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A Companion Guide and History, The
    Author: Goldfarb, Hilliard T.
    Year Published: 1995
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300063415
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: No Voice From the Hall: Early Memories of a Country House Snooper
    Author: Harris, John
    Year Published: 1998
    Publisher: London: John Murray
    ISBN: 0719555671
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Georgian: The Magazine of the Georgian Group, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: January 1999, pg. 13
    Publisher: London: The Georgian Group
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Magazine

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade II

  • "Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London" (2004 - for the fight scene in Buckingham Palace). "Tittybangbang" (2005-07 - BBC TV series). "Bleak House" (2005 - TV series, as the exteriors of Chesney Wold). "Wild Child" (2008 - as Abbey Mount School). "Hetty Feather" (2015–20 - TV series, as the Foundling Hospital).
  • Past Seat / Home of: SEATED AT EARLIER HOUSES: de Cobham family, 13th century. SEATED AT CURRENT HOUSE: Sir William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham, 16th century; Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham, 16th century. Ludovic Stuart, 2nd Duke of Lennox, early 17th century; Esmé Stewart, 3rd Duke of Lennox, early 17th century; Charles Stewart, 3rd Duke of Richmond and 6th Duke of Lennox, 17th century. John Bligh, 3rd Earl of Darnely, 18th century; John Stuart Bligh, 6th Earl of Darnley, 19th century.

    Current Ownership Type: Preservation Organization

    Primary Current Ownership Use: School

    Ownership Details: Owned by Cobham Hall Heritage Trust; since 1962 the home of Cobham Hall School, a day and boarding school for girls.

  • House Open to Public: Limited Access

    Phone: 01474-823-371

    Fax: 01474-822-995

    Email: enquiries@cobhamhall.com

    Website: http://www.cobhamhall.com

    Historic Houses Member: Yes