Gayhurst House

Coordinates: 52°06′30″N 0°46′00″W / 52.1082°N 0.7666°W / 52.1082; -0.7666
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Gayhurst House
Gayhurst House (32309994215).jpg
The house at night
LocationMilton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England
Coordinates52°06′30″N 0°46′00″W / 52.1082°N 0.7666°W / 52.1082; -0.7666
Architectural style(s)Elizabethan
Governing bodyPrivately owned
Listed Building – Grade I
Official nameFlats 13-26, Gayhurst Court
Designated3 March 1952
Reference no.1115951
Listed Building – Grade II*
Official nameStone pedestals to NW and SE of Gayhurst House (Gayhurst Court)
Designated27 February 1984
Reference no.1115913
Listed Building – Grade II*
Official nameGayhurst Court Mews
Designated17 November 1966
Reference no.1211955
Listed Building – Grade II*
Official nameFormer Servants Lavatory (Cerberus Privy) at Gayhurst House (Part of 12 Gayhurst Court Mews)
Designated27 February 1984
Reference no.1320166
Listed Building – Grade II*
Official nameGayhurst Court Mews (The Dovecote) and Attached Gate Piers
Designated17 November 1966
Reference no.1115911
Gayhurst House is located in Buckinghamshire
Gayhurst House
Location of Gayhurst House in Buckinghamshire

Gayhurst House (now known as Gayhurst Court) is a late-Elizabethan country house in Buckinghamshire. It is located near the village of Gayhurst, several kilometres north of Milton Keynes. The earliest house dates from the 1520s. In 1597 it was greatly expanded by William Moulsoe. His son-in-law, Everard Digby, completed the rebuilding, prior to his execution in 1606 for participating in the Gunpowder Plot. The house was subsequently owned by the Wrightes, and latterly the Carringtons. Robert Carrington engaged William Burges who undertook much remodelling of both the house and the estate, although his plans for Gayhurst were more extensive still. In the 20th century, the Carringtons sold the house, although retaining much of the surrounding estate. It is now divided into flats, with further housing in the surrounding estate buildings.

The house and the adjacent Church of St Peter are Grade I listed buildings and many of the buildings in the grounds have separate listings. Gayhurst House is not open to the public, although it can be seen from the footpath leading to the church.


The house was built in the early sixteenth-century on the site of a Roman villa and Norman manor.[1] It was expanded in 1597 by William Moulsoe.[a] The house was completed by his son-in-law, Sir Everard Digby, one of the conspirators involved in the Gunpowder Plot. In spite of the Digby family's disgrace and Everard's execution, his widow, Mary was able to retain the property. Both of their sons, John and Kenelm, were strong Royalists in the English Civil War, during which parliamentary troops were billeted at Gayhurst and an inscription in the porch showing an 'X' and the date 1649 is said to record the execution of Charles I. The estate was subsequently inherited by Sir Kenelm Digby, the courtier, diplomat and natural philosopher, whose initials are inscribed on stone pillars in the gardens. In 1704 the estate was sold to Sir Nathan Wrighte.[5]

The house was extensively refurbished, 1858–72, by William Burges for Robert Carrington, 2nd Baron Carrington, and his son. Lord Carrington was Burges' first significant patron.[b] In total, some £30,000 was spent which did not include the costs of construction for Burges' planned main staircase that was never built.[7] However, a minor stair, the Caliban Stair, was constructed.[5]

The estate was broken up in the twentieth century and the house was converted into 14 flats between 1971 and 1979.[5]

Architecture and description[edit]

William Moulsoe's house of 1597 was built to a traditional Elizabethan E-plan with projecting wings and a central porch with Doric columns on the south, entrance, front. The matching wings on the north front were infilled during the ownership of the younger George Wrighte, using a Palladian style.[5] The house is of three storeys and seven bays and is built of coursed limestone.[8]

Burges planned a full scheme of reconstruction for the 2nd Lord Carrington, including a new tower and a long gallery. Not all of this was carried out, but much of his plans for internal redecoration were undertaken.[7] The style chosen was Anglo/French Renaissance, which Burges considered in keeping with the date of Moulsoe's rebuilding.[5] Rooms contain some of his most splendid fireplaces, with carving by Burges' long-time collaborator Thomas Nicholls, in particular those in the Drawing Room which include motifs from Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.[5] Burges's contributions to the house were not always appreciated, an undated and anonymous guidebook, probably dating from the 1970s, described his work thus; "Burges made considerable alterations and additions, mostly of a disastrous nature." This view is not general; Burges's biographer, J. Mordaunt Crook, notes the inventiveness he displayed in the Abbess's Room, and considers the Cerberus Privy "one of Burges's happiest inventions."[c][9]

The estate has a fine series of out-buildings including a seventeenth-century dovecote, turreted stables, a brewhouse, bakehouse and dog kennels. Perhaps the most extraordinary addition is the Male Servants' Lavatory, known as the Cerberus Privy, a large circular privy based on the Abbot's kitchen at Glastonbury and surmounted by a, now-eyeless, statue of Cerberus.[5]

The park was laid out by Capability Brown and remodelled by Humphry Repton.[5] Burges undertook the design of a series of formal gardens in an appropriate Jacobethan style but much of these has been lost during the redevelopment of the house in the late 20th-century.[6] The ten carved stone pedestals Burges designed remain in situ.[10]

St Peter’s Church[edit]

The Church of St Peter stands directly to the east of the house. Nikolaus Pevsner described the church, house, and the stables to the west, as a “very fine group”.[11] The present church was built in 1728, on the site of an earlier church, by George Wrighte, in accordance with his father’s will. The architect is unknown and the 2003 revision of the Buckinghamshire Pevsner Buildings of England series considers it “very awkwardly put together”. The interior contains a memorial monument to George Wrighte and his son, Sir Nathan, the purchaser of the house in the early 18th-century, which Pevsner calls “one of the grandest of its type in England”.[11]

Listing designations[edit]

Gayhurst House and St Peter’s Church are both Grade I listed buildings.[8][12] Burges’ Cerberus privy, and the service range he redeveloped, now converted to houses, are listed at Grade II*.[13][14] The pedestals Burges built as part of his creation of a formal garden are also listed Grade II*, as is the 17th-century dovecote.[10][15] The former stable block, now also converted to houses, is listed at Grade II.[16] The lodge at the entrance to the drive, formerly the Sir Francis Drake public house and now derelict, is also listed at Grade II.[17] The landscaped park and formal gardens of Gayhurst are Grade II listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.[18]



  1. ^ The spelling of Moulsoe varies, including Mulshaw, Mulsho,[1][2] Moulso,[3] and Mulso.[4]
  2. ^ Robert Carrington was a noted eccentric. Believing his posterior to be made of glass, he "used to discharge [his] legislative and judicial functions standing". When the journalist Grenville Murray revealed Carrington's "laughable hallucination", Carrington's son horsewhipped him on the steps of the Conservative Club.[6]
  3. ^ Crook notes the influence of Château of Blois on the colourful decorative scheme for the Abbess's Room. He also suggests Harlaxton Manor as another source for Burges's overall interior scheme.[9]


  1. ^ a b "The Owners of Gayhurst House". Milton Keynes Heritage Association. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  2. ^ Charles Thomas Boothman (1913). "Sir Kenelm Digby" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ Jacks, Janet. "Gayhurst". Milton Keynes Heritage Association. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  4. ^ Jacks, Janet. "Gayhurst House". Milton Keynes Heritage Association. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Pevsner & Williamson 2003, pp. 336–338.
  6. ^ a b Crook 2013, p. 110.
  7. ^ a b Crook 2013, pp. 110–113.
  8. ^ a b Historic England. "Flats 13-26 Gayhurst Court (Grade I) (1115951)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  9. ^ a b Crook 2013, p. 112.
  10. ^ a b Historic England. "Pedestals to the NW and SE of Gayhurst House (Grade II*) (1115913)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  11. ^ a b Pevsner & Williamson 2003, pp. 335–336.
  12. ^ Historic England. "Church of St Peter (Grade I) (1211931)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  13. ^ Historic England. "Former Servants Lavatory at Gayhurst House (Grade II*) (1320166)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  14. ^ Historic England. "Gayhurst Court Mews (Grade II*) (1211955)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Gayhurst House Mews (The Dovecote and attached gate piers) (Grade II*) (1115911)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  16. ^ Historic England. "Numbers 2-4 Gayhurst Court Mews (former stable block) (Grade II) (1211992)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  17. ^ Historic England. "Sir Francis Drake Public House, Newport Road (Grade II) (1320165)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  18. ^ Historic England. "Gayhurst Court Park and Garden (Grade II) (1000600)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 12 October 2017.


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