A Summer evening visit to Catton Hall

Catton Hall is situated in the Trent valley, south of Burton, north of Croxall and east of Coton in the Elms and our visit there was enhanced by a glorious summer evening.

The Grade II* listed Hall lies in the Trent Valley plain on the edge of the National Forest and our tour started with a walk around the ornamental garden bounded by the meandering Trent on one side and the ha-ha and the Hall on other sides. Mr and Mrs Neilson are the current owners of the Hall and Mrs Neilson conducted the tour around the House and adjacent Chapel. The Neilsons are descendants of the Horton family who acquired the Catton estate in 1405.

The present building is brick built of three-storey Georgian architecture dating from the mid 18th century. The original design by the celebrated James Gibbs was completed by Smith of Warwick, a builder, at a cost of approximately 7,000. An intriguing but unanswered question is what happened in the relationship between Christopher Horton, the commissioning owner and James Gibbs, the Architect that caused a parting of the ways before completion of the building?

Sixteen members of the Society were hosted by Mrs Neilson and were entertained with a guided tour of the house and chapel with an interlude for food and wine in the Drawing room. Her descriptions of the historic developments of the house and estate and its current commercial activity together with its family associations with some notable Georgians and the legend of the family curse, which was put on Catton that no son would inherit the estate from the father until the destroyed adjacent Chapel was rebuilt, were very evocative.

One story, hopefully not apocryphal, concerned Anne Luttrel, widowed daughter in law of Christopher Horton, and whose portrait hangs over the fireplace in the Drawing Room. Robert Walpole described her as having 'the most amorous eyes in the world', which attribute was clearly a formidable element of her power. Anne left Catton for London after Catton Wood had been cut down to pay off her gambling debts where she met and secretly married Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, and brother of George the Third. George was furious partly because Anne was a commoner but mainly because the marriage was bigamous, Frederick already having a wife living at the time of the marriage. This caused the King to have all records of the marriage destroyed and to bring in the present Royal Marriage Laws, which forbids any member of the Royal family who is in direct line to the throne to marry without the Sovereign's consent.

Catton Hall has been remodelled and extended down the ages and contains a profusion of fine plaster work and furniture and paintings acquired by various generations of the family. There is a chair said to have been used by Napoleon during his exile on St Helena showing notches on one arm said to have been produced by him counting down the time maybe? There are a number of artefacts associated with Napoleon, which were acquired by Anne Beatrix who inherited Catton from the male Horton line. Anne was a great beauty and married to Robert Wilmot a cousin of Lord Byron. There is a portrait of Anne beneath which is framed the manuscript in Byron's hand of his famous poem written after meeting her at a Ball wearing a black dress covered in silver sequins.

'She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes'.

There is also a fine painting hung on the main staircase by Joseph Wright of Derby near to a painting of Jean Jacques Rousseau the French philosopher who was a friend of the family during his residence in England.

A lot of history resides at Catton Hall.

For those who may be interested in visiting, the Hall is open to the public for 26 weeks of the year every Monday afternoon from 2pm as a quid pro quo for recent roofing repair work that has been carried out, grant aided by English Heritage. Please check actual opening times before you go.

Tony Crookes
June, 2003