sezincote case study: sezincote in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries

Sezincote, Glos  12 August 2013 (49)

Figure 17: Indian Ambassador taxi, Sezincote. Photograph by Diane James © 2013.

Sezincote in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

In 1884, Sezincote was bought by James Dugdale. It was to remain in the Dugdale family until 1944 when Sir Cyril and Lady Kleinwort took over the house and estate in a somewhat dilapidated state. In the 1950s, the Kleinworts restored the exterior and interior of the house to their nineteenth-century splendour. Renovations to make the house smaller and more manageable took place but did not ‘in any way impair Cockerell’s general design’.[1] The gardens were also rescued and the Indian, or at least Asian influence extended. The Brahmin bulls originally made of Coade stone have been recast in bronze and remain on the bridge over the waterfall and pools, and by the steps to the orangery where they were originally placed. New, imposing elephant statues oversee what is now called the Paradise Garden at the southern façade of the house. This part of the garden was not originally Indian in style; it was laid out in the style of a Mughal paradise garden, by Lady Kleinwort in 1965, with the help of her garden advisor, Graham Thomas. The Temple and the pools remain as they were originally depicted in Daniells’ paintings of Sezincote; the serpent fountain still rising from the depths of the pool below the Indian bridge, and surrounded by rich vegetation. In 1961, Sir Cyril and Lady Kleinwort erected an Indian style tennis pavilion.

On the drive in front of the house stands a modern Indian Ambassador taxi, bedecked with silk flowers – somewhat incongruous in the Cotswold countryside, but strangely fitting in its new ‘Indian’ home creating a dialogue geographically and temporally between its origins in Calcutta and Sir Charles Cockerell who spent so many years in Calcutta and in a way ‘updating’ Sezincote, to the twenty-first century (see figure 17). The Indian bridge built to withstand the weight of an English Phaeton, now bears the passage of the Ambassador taxi. 

Sezincote, Glos  12 August 2013 (10)

Figure 18: Chair, sandalwood with ivory veneer, black lac and gilt, cane seats, maker unknown, Vizagapatam, c.1770, Sezincote. Photograph by Diane James © 2013.

There are many Asian treasures in the house itself, largely collected by Lady Kleinwort, including a set of six sandalwood chairs, veneered with ivory, highlighted with black lac and gilt, with cane seats (see figure 18). The chairs, bought at auction by Lady Kleinwort in the 1940s, were probably made in Vizagapatam c.1770, and are believed to have been originally given by Warren Hastings to Queen Charlotte, an avid collector of ivory furniture.[2] These chairs are indicative of global exchanges in much the same way that Sezincote itself is, but in reverse. Apparently modelled on patterns in Thomas Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Director (1754) the chairs were made by Indian craftsmen with Indian materials to European designs. Sezincote, in contrast, was modelled on Indian designs inspired by the drawings of Englishmen in India and built with English materials by English craftsmen.

Lamps made from metal Chinese tea caddies light up the entrance hall where six of the seven paintings (commissioned by Sir Charles from Thomas Daniell) of the remodelled Sezincote once again hang, having been traced and bought by the Kleinwort family. Their presence is a testament not only to Daniell’s work as an artist and at Sezincote, but it is also a testament to the longevity of Sezincote: they are a rare reunion of subject and painting. The set of ornamental spears said to have been used by Charles Cockerell as tent poles in his former bedroom, are now used as bedposts in one of the main bedrooms; rich and elegant fabrics now drape over them in much the same way that Sir Charles draped Indian architectural features over his Georgian country house. His former bedroom, the tent room, has been reimagined as it might have been and now houses a canopy depicting the stars on its underside whilst the walls are draped, tent style, in printed cotton specially commissioned from India. The current owners (the third generation of the Kleinwort family at Sezincote), travelled to India to commission and oversee the production of the fabrics. [3] In the dining room a trompe l’oeil mural painted by George Oakes in 1982 reimagines the view of the house as a visitor might have seen it in the early nineteenth century.[4] Such gestures in the house and gardens suggest a reconstitution of the heritage of Sezincote and its connections to India and generate a sense of the present reaching back into the past to continue the legacy of translating cultures across the globe, began by Charles Cockerell and his intimates in the early nineteenth century.

If Sezincote had sparked a new and enduring national style then in terms of The East India Company at Home project’s questions surrounding the country house, Sezincote would surely be a symbol of the physical impact of empire on domestic Britain. In tribute to the Duke of Wellington, Sir Charles Cockerell erected the Wellington Pillar, designed by Daniell. The square, tapering pillar was once the chimney for the orangery and bears a cast iron plaque commemorating the military successes of Wellington, tacitly endorsing a wider sense of empire. But Sezincote was essentially a private country house and remains so today, open to the public only at the discretion of the family, who control its fate and choreograph its performance. In so doing they perpetuate not only the heritage of the house, but also offer a romantic and nostalgic notion of empire. That Sezincote has endured and now attracts many visitors, including wedding parties, is testament to the enduring aesthetic and visual impact of empire on Britain. The sense of the exotic ‘other’ still pervades the experience of the visitor, two hundred years on.

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[1] Lady Kleinwort, quoted in Clisby Kemp, ‘Out of the East’, House and Garden, November 1968, pp. 60-65 (p.64).

[2] Personal correspondence with Edward Peake 14 February 2013.For a detailed explanation of the provenance and commissioning of chairs similar to these see Amin Jaffer, Furniture from British India and Ceylon: A Catalogue of the Collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum (London: V&A Publications, 2001), pp. 199-200 and fn.9.

[3] Personal conversation with Edward Peake, 30 January 2013.

[4] Edward Peake suggests that the mural is a recreation of Thomas Daniell’s vision of India, rather than a reimagined view of the house. Personal correspondence 26 February 2014.