The present Georgian house is the third to have been built upon the same site. In the 12th century there was a stone built castle, a small corner of which remains in the cellars of the present house. The original house was replaced by Sir John Giffard in the mid-sixteenth century.
Peter Giffard began the 18th century rebuilding by having part of Sir John’s Tudor house demolished and replaced in 1724 by the existing south front to three storeys in red facing bricks with stone dressing. The heads of the lead rainwater pipes bear the initials P G B for Peter Giffard and Barbara Throckmorton, and the date 1724. The architect was Francis Smith of Warwick. Peter Giffard also rebuilt the kitchens, servants’ hall and other domestic offices which now surround the Dairy Courtyard. Here there would have been the dairy and cheese presses; the wash house and laundry and many bachelor quarters.
The remaining part of the Tudor structure (including the Gatehouse and Chapel) were replaced by the present-day main portion of the house, built between 1786 and 1789 during the ownership of Thomas Giffard the younger, grandson of Peter Giffard.
The original plan was to build an entirely new house designed by Robert Adam but it was finally decided to employ (Sir) John Soane who incorporate the 1724 south range with the two new wings of three storey height and the entrance front with its portico. The latter’s columns are composed of huge drums of Tunstall stone of a creamy colour streaked with dark brown veins and have Ionic capitals designed after those of the Temple of Fortune in Rome.
Today much of the stonework appears to have been blackened, no doubt, by smoke blown by the prevailing wind from the direction of Wolverhampton and the Black Country. Soane intended that the walls of the house should be faced with stucco but the stucco facing was never applied. This will explain why the bricks have a rough surface and the arching is visible above each window.
The long avenue of oak trees which formed the original approach to the house was planted by Peter Giffard about the year 1725 but must have incorporated many existing trees. One tree which was felled 40 years ago had 390 rings. It will be seen that some have passed maturity and a number of young oak trees have been planted to take their place.
The landscape park and lake to the south of the house were designed by Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown during the 1760’s for Thomas Giffard the elder. The lake or The Pool, as it is called, was formed by constructing a high dam which flooded three ponds to form one large stretch of water. Along the dam runs a drive which provides an alternative entrance from the Shropshire side. James Paine designed the stone bridge at the lower end of the lake; he described The Pool as follows:
‘In this park is confessedly one of the finest pieces of water, within an inclosure, that this kingdom produces: the verges of which are bounded by fine plantations, intermixed with groves of venerable stately oaks’
On the southern side of The Pool close to the drive is the Grecian Temple, possibly designed by Adam. It has an Ionic portico and a low dome above an attic storey which has pedestals for four statues. In the woods across the water can be seen another temple built in the Italian style and further away a Sham Bridge by Brown with five arches built to impound the water at the northern end of The Pool.
In the gardens on the west side of the house is a large brick and stone screen with a pair of niches which frame an archway behind which there was once a bowling green. The archway is filled with wrought iron gates in which are incorporated the initials of Peter Giffard in the form of a monogram. The whole structure dates from 1730 and the gates are thought to be the work of Bakewell of Derby.