Fire seemed to dog the lives of the Dukes of Newcastle. In 1831, an irate mob had burned down the ducal mansion of Nottingham Castle in protest at Henry Pelham Pelham-Clinton, the 4th Duke of Newcastle's, passionate opposition to political reform. But fire was also to severely damage and then damage again their main seat, Clumber, an architectural jewel, beautifully set in the 3,800 acres (15 sq. km.) of Clumber Park.
Originally built sometime between 1760 and 1770 for the 2nd Duke by Stephen Wright it was regarded as one of the finest non-Royal houses in the country. A classical building of white freestone (brought from the Duke's own quarry), flanked by a square wing at each corner, with the central portion, which faced the lake, containing a light Ionic colonnade. The core of the house was the original ducal hunting lodge which had previously existed on the site. This meant that rooms in the centre of the house were not particularly grand however those in the new flanking wings more than compensated. The State dining room was 60ft long and 34ft wide and designed to accomodate 150 guests seated at one table. The 4th Duke was a renowned collector and filled Clumber with many of the finest objets d'art including paintings by Rubens, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Reynolds, Van Dyke, Poussin, Rembrandt, Titian, Brueghel, Holbein, to name a few. There were also various busts, statues, china and an extensive collection of rare books including a Book of Hours, a first folio Shakespeare and three Caxtons.
The gardens and parkland of the estate were particularly impressive both in scale and the care and money that had been lavished upon them. Writing in 1896, Cornelius Brown1 stated that "The lawns and terraces are laid out with much skill, and tastefully adorned with lofty vases and graceful statuary" and Leonard Jacks2 in 1881 described the lawns as "...very fine, smooth, velvety". The park also contained the a double avenue of lime trees, created for the 5th Duke, which at three miles long, was the longest in Europe. The lake was created by damming the River Poulter and excavating the river bed and was further enlarged and extended in 1817 and 1885 until it covered 87 acres and was almost two miles long.
The fire on 28 March 1879 was all the more devastating, not only for the extensive damage to the house (gutting 20 of the 105 rooms) but also the loss of many fine artworks - though many were rescued. The fire destroyed the central core of the house, leaving the wings standing round a hollow shell. The trustees of the 7th Duke (who was 15 at the time) were faced with the quandry as to whether to rebuild. The 6th Duke had been an extravagant spender who had significantly reduced the family fortune. However, as Leonard Jacks stated, the Dukes of Newcastle's rent roll was vast, though they could not replace the artworks, they could rebuild the house. Charles Barry (whose father was the famous Sir Charles responsible for the Palace of Westminster) was put in charge of the work. He replaced the lost eighteen rooms in the centre of the house with an enormous entrance hall, which featured balustraded galleries, tessellated pavements and various niches for the surviving statuary.
However, the 7th Duke showed little interest in the house. Though, in 1889, he commissioned the huge Victorian Gothic Revival chapel from G.F. Bodley, the Duke himself, having no family and no interest in sport, lived at the smaller Forest Farm in Windsor from 1908 until his death in 1928. Another fire in April 1912 ravaged the upper two floors and, whilst not as serious as the previous fire, added to the burden. When the decision to demolish the house, taken by the Earl of Lincoln who had inherited it, was announced in local paper it stated that "the decision to completely to demolish the mansion has been taken with great reluctance by the present owner...but it has been neccessitated by heavy taxation". Though it played a part, a more significant factor was that Clumber had been built for a different age. Like Eaton Hall, Clumber was from the age of huge, lavish house parties and vast wealth. With the passing of the former and major pressures on the latter, houses on this scale were just no longer sustainable. The sale of the library raised £70,000 (approx. £3m) and other contents £60,000. The house was eventually pulled down in August 1938. The park was bought by the National Trust in 1948 and is now enjoyed by the general public - something that would undoubtedly horrify the 4th Duke.
1 - 'A History of Nottinghamshire' - Cornelius Brown (1896) - 'Clumber'
2 - 'The Great Houses of Nottinghamshire and the County Families' - Leonard Jacks (1881) - 'Clumber'