- Address: The Stables, Althorp, Northampton, NN7 4HQ (Map)
- Tel: +44 (0)1604 770107
- Fax: +44 (0)1604 770042
- Owner: The Earl Spencer
- Administrator: Visitor Manager
- E-mail: Click here to contact
Althorp has been home to the Spencer family for nearly 500 years, and contains a fascinating variety of pictures, furniture and ceramics, as well as boasting some fine interiors. Like many great country houses, it has benefited from the discriminating and varied collecting of generations of occupants, their marriages and chance provisions.
But the Spencers have also had the knack of going to the right people; its collection of portraits is particularly fine, and justly famous. As a record of a family, and of English portraiture, it is outstanding. The roll-call of names - Rubens, Van Dyck, Reynolds, Gainsborough - will be familiar to everyone. In the decorative arts, from carpets to candelabra, there is much that is distinguished. Likewise, the house itself is not the product of any one period, but has changed over the years; its re-modellings naturally show the prevailing taste of the time. The true medium for harmony, however, has been the house's continual ownership and occupation by the same family.
There has been a house at Althorp since, at the latest, the beginning of the 16th century. Sir John Spencer acquired a 300-acre estate around Althorp in 1508; the house Sir John erected at Althorp provides the shape for the one today, and consisted of an enclosed courtyard with projecting wings on the south side. There are no surviving illustrations, but it is presumed to have been unaltered until Dorothy, long-widowed wife of the First Earl of Sunderland, roofed in the courtyard and installed the grand staircase across the central axis in 1660-62.
The house was then of red brick. However, the well-travelled 2nd Earl of Sunderland introduced an Italian architect who set about 'classicising' the façade. Weldon stone Corinthian and Composite columns were added, and a balustrade placed on the elevation. In the upstairs west wing he transformed the great hall into the long gallery. Outdoors, Le Nôtre, of Versailles fame, laid down the designs for the garden.
In 1772, part of the roof fell in. Years of benign neglect were compounded by the First Earl Spencer's prior interest in the construction of his London mansion, Spencer House. Only after his son's accession was an overhaul considered; the architect taken on was Henry Holland. On the outside, the house is much today as Holland decreed, characterised above all by conscious restraint and a lack of ornament. The style is party dictated by Holland's desire to respect Caroline and Palladian antecedents, but also by his innate Englishness. There are classical and French elements, but they are subservient to the overall modesty of the scheme.
Internally, Holland's precepts were tempered by practical concerns. He relocated the state rooms to the west wing of the ground floor (in a reversion to pre-Palladian practice). Low ceilings confined his scope for grandeur, but not that for domestic convenience. The Long Library was extended and the gallery painted. Holland's last act was to extend the house to the east with offices screened by shrubbery. He undertook this landscaping himself, much to the fury of his assistant Lapidge, an understudy to Lancelot 'Capability' Brown - who was also Holland's father-in-law.
Holland's general scheme was barely touched for a hundred years. Two libraries on the north-east corner came - and went - according to the demands of book-buying Earls. The present gardens, including the oval pond, were laid out in the 1860s by W.M. Teulon. Then in 1877 the Fifth Earl had J. MacVicar Anderson add the State Dining-Room, and so remove the anomaly of cooking and eating in opposite wings. He also enlarged the Saloon and opened up the west and north ranges more or less into the continuous reception suite seen today.
Opening Times - 2014
Please visit www.spencerofalthorp.com for the 2014 Opening dates and times.
Admission Prices - 2014
Please visit www.spencerofalthorp.com for the 2014 admission prices.
Your Reviews of Althorp
Eve Roberts (10 July 2011)
We had a most wonderful time at Althorp. The Diana Exhibition is poignant without being mawkish and very understated and tastefully done. The house and gardens, whilst stupendous, come across nevertheless as a well loved family home. Worth every penny and a privilege to visit.
H. Davison (27 January 2003)
We had a beautiful afternoon at Althorp. It appeared that the Earl had capitalised on Diana's death with the development of the stables area and the burial site, but it was a very scenic estate. One can also see Diana's wedding gown. The most spectacular part of the visit was strolling through the gardens. I would recommend this home to anyone to visit.
Additional Info for Althorp
- Disabled Access
- Meals Available
- Car Parking
- Historic Houses Association
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