Restored by the Vivat Trust in 1984, The Summerhouse is all that remains of Eyton Hall, formerly the home of the Newport family. This rare surviving example of an octagonal banqueting tower, built for Sir Francis Newport at the turn of the seventeenth century, is noted for its diapered brickwork and carved newel post.
The Eyton Estate
The manor of Aitone was part of the original endowment made to Shrewsbury Abbey in 1083. When the Abbey was dissolved in 1540, the estate was sold to Sir Thomas Bromley. A member of the Council that ruled the country during the minority of Edward VI, he was involved in the plot to enthrone Lady Jane Grey. Bromley's only daughter, Margaret, married Sir Richard Newport. It was their eldest son, Sir Francis Newport, who commissioned the construction of two identical banqueting towers. One of the wealthiest gentlemen in Shropshire, like many of his contemporaries, building was his ruling passion.
The construction of the towers flanking the bowling green was part of a substantial building scheme initiated by Sir Francis that continued for almost 30 years. Work began on a new house at Eyton during the early 1590s and in 1608 he rebuilt his other Shropshire residence, High Ercall Hall.
The towers were probably designed by Walter Hancock, a master mason who had worked for Sir Francis prior to 1595. Walter Hancock also worked on Condover Hall (on the opposite bank of the River Severn) and is generally thought to have designed the Old Market Hall, Shrewbury in 1596.
Sir Francis Newport's admiration for his "scyence and jugement of workmanship" was not idle flattery At this time, Hancock was one of the few builders capable of drawing plans. The basic Renaissance characteristics that can be found in his buildings are indicative of his relative sophistication.
Banqueting towers built at a distance from the main house had become increasingly popular in the late sixteenth century. Dinner guests retired to these intimate rooms to enjoy the panoramic views and the exotic food. The 'banquet' was a dessert course of spiced wine, sweetmeats and decorative sugar moulds served either as part of a larger feast or as a meal in itself. The Summerhouse's likeness to a sugar-spun fairytale castle is intentional. The intricate architecture of these towers came to reflect the elaborate dishes served within them.
Edward, Lord Herbert of Chirbury
Born at Eyton on Severn in 1583, Sir Francis's nephew Edward, Lord Herbert of Chirbury, became a famous poet, philosopher and diplomat. An edition of his memoirs published by Horace Walpole in 1764 was widely read, and prompted several visits to the picturesque "ivy clad ruins" of the house at Eyton.
The Earls of Bradford
During the Civil War the Newport family remained staunch Royalists. Although Richard, 1st Baron Newport, and his eldest son, Francis, suffered under the Cromwellian regime, when Charles II ascended to the throne the family fortunes improved. Francis was made both Comptroller and Treasurer of the Royal Household. One of the chief supporters of the Glorious Revolution, he was created 1st Earl of Bradford by William III.
His dissolute grandson Henry Newport, the 3rd Earl, passed the estate to his illegitimate, lunatic son, John Smyth. When Anne Smyth, John's scheming mother died, she left Eyton to her new lover, William Pulteney, Earl of Bath. It was through Pulteney that the estate passed to the Dukes of Cleveland and was absorbed into the Raby Estate.
Following the destruction of the main house by fire, the western banqueting house at Eyton was incorporated into a larger residence in 1770. In 1867 the remaining gable of the mansion and the octagonal dovecote were pulled down.
Restoration of The Summerhouse
The Summerhouse, listed Grade 11*, was the Vivat Trust's first project. The building had been deteriorating gradually. By 1981 when The Summerhouse was brought to Vivat's attention, it was derelict. In 1982 Lord Barnard agreed to lease The Summerhouse to the Trust for a period of 50 years and the restoration work began. There were three main problems that required immediate attention. The south-west elevations had been built using Severn Valley sandstone. Due to the combined effects of wind, rain and frost this soft red stone had crumbled and large cracks had appeared. These had to be re-faced using new red Grinshill sandstone of a superior quality. The balustrade on the roof had partially collapsed. Many of the balusters were rescued and repaired and others were replaced using local white Grinshill stone. Extensive repairs had to be carried out upon the original leadwork as it proved difficult to match.
The arches to the ground floor were unblocked and glazed to provide a kitchen and dining room. The rare carved newel post was treated for deathwatch beetle, and a small shower room was inserted beneath the oak spiral staircase. The hard work did not go unrewarded. The project won two awards, one under the RICS/Times Conservation Scheme, and a Commendation from the Civic Trust.
The Summerhouse has remained one of Vivat's most popular holiday properties. The four-poster bed together with the wood-burning stove have, over the years, become great favourites with visitors.
The Vivat Trust would like to thank the following for their generous support: Albert Bertram Reproduction Pewter; Bart Spices, Belevedere Reproduction Furniture Ltd, Brights of Nettlebed, Bristol Guild, Crabtree & Evelyn, Creda Limited, Isfahan Trading Co. Ltd, Isis Ceramics, The Lakeland Lighting Cormpany Limited, Liberty of London Prints Limited, Lister Garden Furniture, Mason's Ironstone, Penrith Steam Museum, Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council, Slumberdown Enterprises Ltd, Stoneham Designed Kitchens & Zoffany Ltd.