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Latitude: 51.8646 / 51°51'52"N
Longitude: -2.805 / 2°48'18"W
OS Eastings: 344664
OS Northings: 218748
OS Grid: SO446187
Mapcode National: GBR FG.SNTZ
Mapcode Global: VH794.BDGG
Entry Name: Hilston House (aka Gwent Outdoor Centre)
Listing Date: 1 May 1952
Last Amended: 19 March 2001
Source ID: 2059
Building Class: Education
Location: Approximately 2km SW of Skenfrith village, standing in its own parkland on the SE side of the B4347.
Locality: St Maughan's
Traditional County: Monmouthshire
A country house which was formerly the centre of the principal estate in St Maughan's parish, property of the Needham family from the late C17 to 1803, when it was sold to Sir Robert Brownrigg Bart., who died in 1833. It was then bought by one Thomas Coates of Lancashire, but the house having been severely damaged by fire in 1836, the whole estate was sold by auction in 1838 to George Cave, a Bristol banker, who undertook the main phase of rebuilding (completed in the 1860s by a subsequent owner, John Hamilton of Liverpool). Service block and ballroom added 1912. Although changing hands eight times after 1838, it remained in domestic use until 1957, when Monmouthshire County Council purchased it for use as a Special School. Since 1968 it has been used as an Environmental Studies and Outdoor Pursuits Centre.
An unusually late example of Palladian classical style (perhaps replicating that of the building destroyed in 1836), the main range is a symmetrical 2-storey composition, 2:1:3:1:2 windows, with a 3-bay pedimented Ionic portico to the centre and the 2-window outer bays set back. Built of painted stucco with hipped slate roofs. It has a double-pile plan on a NE/SW axis, facing NW, with an L-plan service wing attached to the NE end. The entrance front has a stone plinth, as has each of the four columns of the portico, paired pilasters to the corners of both the centre block and the outer bays, a simplified entablature matching that of the portico, and a low blocking course clad with lead. Each bay has a plain string course over the ground floor and a sill-band to the upper floor. Under the portico the 3-window centre, which is slightly set back with pilasters to the re-entrant angles, has a wide central doorway with a pedimented architrave and part-glazed double doors, a cross-window on either side of the doorway, a tall 2-light casement above the doorway and 12-pane sashes either side of that. All the other windows of the facade are 12-pane sashes with raised architraves.
The right-hand (SW) return wall (which Bradney's photograph of 1907 shows formerly had a large conservatory attached), is divided into 3 bays by paired pilasters and now has a modern external staircase in the centre leading to an inserted doorway at first floor; a 12-pane sash at ground floor of the first bay and smaller 12-pane sashes at first floor of both outer bays.
The SE (garden) front is a more informal composition of 1:3:2:3:1 windows, with large full-height canted bays flanking a narrow 2-window centre, and a continuous verandah to the ground floor. This is composed of cast-iron Ionic colums with an entablature and dentilled cornice, 11 bays in all and the last 3 bays now filled with large small-paned windows. Otherwise, the ground floor has tall round-headed French windows, except the centre which has a pair of coved niches. At 1st floor the centre has a pair of round-headed windows with radiating glazing bars (lighting the staircase), the right-hand (NE) bay has a bowed 5-light mullion-and-transom oriel window with small-paned casement openings (probably early C20); but all the other windows are 12-pane sashes with raised architraves. Over the centre bay is a domed lantern to the staircase.
The front of the service wing attached to the NE end of the main range, which is L-shaped with a projecting wing and 2-storeyed to a lower level, is distinguished mainly by plain pilasters and a pedimental gable to the wing containing an oculus. The fenestration includes tall 12-pane sashes at ground floor and small 2-light casments above; and there is a Georgian-style doorway in the 3rd bay of the gable. This part of the building screens extensive later-C20 service extensions to the rear which are not of equivalent historical or architectural interest.
A wide entrance hallway opens onto an imperial staicase (mounting in 1 and returning in 2 flights), the hallway, stairwell and landing lined with ex situ C17 panelling, the staircase in C18 style with cut string and turned balusters alternately twisted, and the stair-well lit by a glazed domed lantern. The principal rooms to the right (SW) of the hallway contain fine C18-style panelled doors and wall panels, elaborate overmantels, moulded plaster cornices and ceilings. To the left (NE) of the hallway is a large dining room with simpler decoration. At 1st floor level are two bathrooms, one on each side of the landing, both with walls clad in streaked marble and cast-iron baths furnished with glazed shower frames: probably early C20, but perhaps earlier. There are also some original bedroom fireplaces, including one with a hob-grate decorated with figures in medallions. (For some further detail, see Pevsner and Newman, referenced below.)
Listed as an ambitious late-Georgian country house, a fine essay in Palladian classicism with good contemporary interiors.
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