History of the House
The story of Fawsley Hall through the centuries.
The South Wing
The earliest part of the house is the Tudor South Wing, built by Richard Knightley in the early 16th century. The hotel restaurant now occupies most of the ground floor of the South Wing.
The early house is exceptional in that it contains two kitchens, each having a large back-to-back fireplace served by a common chimney. Above the kitchen is the room in which Elizabeth I slept during her visit in 1575.
Following the completion of the South Wing, three further wings were soon added. These were the Great Hall, Brew House and Gate House, thereby forming an inner courtyard.
The Great Hall
Sir Edmund Knightley commissioned the building of the Great Hall in 1537 in the traditional open hall style of the period. Its fine roof was removed in 1966 but was reconstructed in 1988 using an engraving from 1816 and a few surviving beams. These original beams are much darker than the new beams, which otherwise are an exact copy.
As you face the original Tudor fireplace you can see the coat of arms of the Knightleys and those of Richard I and 26 knights who accompanied him on his first crusade.
On high, are copies of the original, exquisite stained-glass panels, now in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. The large aperture in the end wall to your right was originally a squint, allowing observation by servants.
Immediately facing the fireplace is the large bay window, with its fine carved ceiling. Above that ceiling, now inaccessible, is a hidden room, commonly thought to be the place where Puritan material was secretly printed for which Sir Richard Knightley was subsequently imprisoned. It was reached originally by a spiral staircase outside, and the outline of the entrance archway can still be seen.
The family crest can also be seen above the window outside. The large shield in the Great Hall on the left beside the bay window contains 334 quarterings of heraldry, showing the Knightley marriage alliances up to the 19th century.
The West Wing or Brew House
This was built around the same time as the Great Hall. The bar and lounge are located on the ground floor of this wing. It is constructed of golden Northamptonshire sandstone and contains a very fine oriole window on the upper floor at the north end.
The Georgian or North Wing
In 1732 Lucy Knightley commissioned the North Wing. The original gatehouse and North Wing were demolished. It is constructed at an angle, which is not symmetrical with the rest of the house, possibly due to boundary constraints. It has been attributed to Francis Smith of Warwick, as was the very fine, Grade I listed, red brick, contemporary stable block next to it on the north side.
The main house addition is three storeys and was topped with a balustraded parapet. In 1815 Sir Charles Knightley, 2nd Baronet (died 1864), commissioned Thomas Cundy to remodel it in Gothic style, which included demolishing part of the eastern end and replacing it with a three-storey constructlon and a single-storey porch for the new main entrance. Corner turrets were added at the top, with battlements replacing the parapet.
Not to be outdone, his son Rainald, 3rd Baronet, commissioned Anthony Salvin for a further remodelling of the wing in 1868. He removed the battlements, turrets and porch and replaced them with another porch, large enough for coaches to pass through.
The Victorian or South-East Wing
In preparation for the wedding of Sir Rainald, (later) Baron Knightley, to Louisa Mary Bowater, Anthony Salvin was commissioned in 1869. His brief was to demolish the south-east corner of the house and build a two-storey block including apartments above and two very large rooms on the ground floor. These are now the hotel's main function rooms.
This was covered over in the 19th century and divided into rooms with interconnecting passages, which were lit by skylights.
The 20th Century
After the auction of its contents in 1914, the house was requisitioned by the army during the First World War.
The Gage family, who inherited the house in 1932, already had a family seat in Sussex and had no need for another one. The future of Fawsley was uncertain.
It was again requisitioned in the Second World War, and in the 1950s and 60s a timber company leased the building as a workshop. Further deterioration occurred following the departure of the timber company. Its sorry state was highlighted when Fawsley Hall was featured in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum entitled 'The Decline of the English Country House'.
In 1975 it was purchased by a successful entrepreneur and antiques dealer, Mr E A Saunders, and his wife. The monumental task of restoring the house continued until the recession of the late 1980s bit. Work restarted in 1996, when a consortium, including the Saunders, reinvested and created the wonderful hotel that it is today.
In the 1760s and 70s, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the landscape gardener, was engaged to transform the estate viewed from the manor house.
He transformed the park by creating sweeping vistas, planting trees and laying lawns. The three lakes are Horsepond on the north side, the Canal on the south side and the largest of the three, Bigwaters.