Just a couple of miles outside Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, Ickworth is well worth a visit.
In the 15th century, the Ickworth Estate was owned by the Drurys, passing from them to the Herveys through marriage. The Herveys married well and their wealth increased over the centuries along with their influence. Lord Bristol was replaced by the Earls of Bristol and eventually the Marquess of Bristol.
Frederick, younger brother to Lord Bristol, was made Bishop of Derry, the richest Bishopric in Ireland. He built several houses for himself in Ireland, but in 1779 he succeeded his second brother as Earl of Bristol and with lots of money and a penchant for fine painting and sculpture he decided to build a ‘villa’ in Ickworth to replace the disused manor house.
Travelling around Italy acquiring art, he commissioned the architect Francis Sandys to build it, but rejected many of his plans. Frederick wanted a house to “unite magnificence with convenience and simplicity with dignity”.
The colossal domed rotunda with principal rooms of 30 feet in height, its exterior banded with columns and decorated with terracotta friezes, was to be his home whilst the wings and pavilions were designed to hold his art collection.
Sadly for us much of his collection never reached England, having been seized by the French army in Italy in 1798. Frederick died just five years later leaving his son to finish the project.
Ickworth is now run by the National Trust and open to the public. The house includes exquisite craftsmanship by the finest Huguenot silversmiths and some outstanding portraits by Gainsborough, Hogarth and Reynolds.
Ickworth contains the earliest Italianate garden in England and the park is open for walks and cycling – a great day out for children.