Belton House is a country house in Belton near Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. Belton has been described as a compilation of all that is finest of Carolean architecture, the only truly vernacular style of architecture that England had produced since the Tudor period.
The house has also been described as the most complete example of a typical English country house; the claim has even been made that Belton’s principal facade was the inspiration for the modern British motorway signs which give directions to stately homes.
Belton House was the seat of the Brownlow and Cust family, who had first acquired land in the area in the late 16th century. Between 1685 and 1688 Sir John Brownlow and his wife had the present mansion built.
Despite great wealth they chose to build a modest country house rather than a grand contemporary Baroque palace. The contemporary, if provincial, Carolean style was the selected choice of design.
The old house was situated near the church in the garden of the present house and remained largely unoccupied, since the family preferred their other houses elsewhere.
John Brownlow had married an heiress but was childless. He became attached to two of his more distant blood relations: a great-nephew, also called John Brownlow, and a great-niece, Alice Sherard.
The two cousins married each other in 1676 when both were aged 16; three years later, the couple inherited the Brownlow estates from their great-uncle together with an income of £9,000 per annum and £20,000 in cash.
This great London town house has been one of the most admired buildings of its era due to “its elegant symmetry and confident and common-sensical design”.
Sir John Summerson described Clarendon House as “the most influential house of its time among those who aimed at the grand manner” and Belton as “much the finest surviving example of its class”.
Belton is faced with the local Ancaster stone, with a lighter ashlar from Ketton for the quoining. The “H”-shaped plan was a design which became popular in the late Elizabethan period. However, by the late 16th century, domestic architecture had evolved further than the “one room deep” ranges of the earlier “H” plan houses, such as Montacute House.
The new layout placed rooms back to back, creating a house two rooms deep. This became known as “double pile”. As at Belton, this permitted rooms to be not just better lit and heated but also better accessed and related to each other, and with the greatest advantage of all—greater privacy.
On the construction side, the double room depth allowed the house to be more compact and under one, more easily constructed, roof, thus lowering building costs.
In 1984 they gave the house away complete with most of its contents. The recipients of their gift, the National Trust, today fully open Belton to the public. A priority was the establishment of a restaurant, which would not only augment the estate’s income, but also encourage people to spend more time at Belton, and travel greater distances to visit.
Though the house, its contents and outbuildings were in an adequate state of repair at the time of the gift, they have since become part of an ongoing programme of conservation and restoration.