A perfect classical house


The Pediment in Northamptonshire is a display of British classical style at its best, discovers Clive Aslet

The sun is shining, tea and Victoria sponge are on the terrace. A magnolia in full flower at the front of the house completes the scene. This is The Pediment, in the stone-built Northamptonshire village of Aynho, the remarkable home of John Jackson, the lawyer, businessman, author and countryside campaigner, and his wife, Rowena.

As you can guess from the name, The Pediment is a classical house – in fact it is one of the prime examples of the classical style in Britain from what was otherwise a dark time for architecture, the Fifties. But it is not a pastiche.

The structure seems to have been pared away until little except the proportions are left. Raymond Erith, the architect, saw classicism as a living language which could be applied to the needs of the present.

His client, the redoubtable Elizabeth Watt, the first female solicitor allowed to practise unsupervised by a man, required a home for her collection of modern British art, some of which was to find its way to the Tate, Ashmolean and Edinburgh Museum of Modern Art after her death.

She was well off, rather than rich. Erith understood her needs (and finances) perfectly, designing a house that, while dignified and elegant, is far from big. Beside Aynho Park down the road, remodelled by Erith’s hero Sir John Soane, it seems something of a doll’s house, being only three bays across; but – with its ashlar walls and sash windows, pediment and oculus window – has a presence that is greater than its size.

Miss Watt treated the 1.9-acre garden as though it were a miniature gentleman’s park, employing Erith to ornament it with a temple, a fountain and urns. In 1966, Erith’s partner, Quinlan Terry, designed a croquet shed, in the centre of which stood a mighty stone pillar, capped by a flaming urn. It is the opposite of The Pediment, being a glorious architectural caprice which is far more elaborate than the occasion required. The veranda provides a fine vantage point to survey the “small herd” of hedgehogs that makes its way, on a summer’s evening, across the croquet lawn from the woods.

While The Pediment perfectly suits two people, it would be cramped for family life. The Jacksons have doubled the accommodation by converting the coach house that used to belong to the rectory next door.

Before finding the property 20-odd years ago, John Jackson had a quite different sort of house in mind; a fisherman who was, until 2005, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, he wanted a river.

Rowena, however, saw an advertisement for The Pediment in Country Life and they fell in love with it. Retaining the mature trees, the Jacksons have introduced a collection of rare peonies, hellebores and cyclamen. By the greenhouse, sheltered by glass, are some Iranian and Afghan irises, “which mustn’t have rain on them”. “It’s my boast that there’s something in flower every day of every month of every year,” says John. “I grow everything as wild as possible.” That, he believes, is how plants like it.

And he should know: as a boy he relied on what he could grow or forage. When John was about one, his father contracted a form of malaria and the family finances collapsed. Renting a cottage in Lyme Regis, they “lived on what we could get out of the sea. By the time I was four, I knew about the land. I knew how to use it”.

Later, John wanted some of the experience of his own early years to be passed on to his children, and — although working in the City — succeeded in bartering enough land near their home in Kent to supply the table with milk, eggs, meat and fruit. His book on self-sufficiency, A Bucket of Nuts and a Herring Net: The Birth of a Spare-time Farm, takes

its title from the method of rounding up sheep. No wonder, then, that he feels strongly about rural politics. The countryside, as he puts it, is “walking hopefully” under the Tories, who always “make pro-countryside noises”. Hunting has, for the time being, gone quiet. “It should be replaced by a better quality act which manages the countryside while allowing country folk to carry on with their lives. The hunting community also are travelling hopefully.”

As are the Jacksons, for they’ve put The Pediment on the market at £1.35m (Strutt & Parker, 01295 273592) . You might have thought that they would now be downsizing. If anything, they’re doing the reverse. “Quite by chance, we heard of a place in Devon, in the Yarty Valley, half a mile from where I was born,” reveals John.

While Rowena notes that Taunton has a fast train service to London, her husband expounds on “the most wonderful wildlife – kingfishers, otters, badgers, foxes. Sea trout come up during the summer”. John Jackson has found his river.

  • Clive Aslet is editor at large of ‘Country Life’

For sale: Elegant summer residences

Clematon, Bigbury on Sea, Devon £1.5 million

Located on one of the most spectacular positions at the top of Folly Hill, with views to the east over the Avon Estuary at Bantham and south over Bigbury Beach and the English Channel. Five bedrooms, garden and path to the beach. Savills, 01392 455 755

Benbuie Estate, Isle of Mull, Argyll £1.55 million

A manageable (3,925 acres) island estate on the shores of a sea loch – a perfect summer holiday property for sailing, stalking and fishing. Six-bedroom lodge with two cottages and farmhouse (available as one or four separate lots). Savills, 01312 473 704.

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