Babworth Hall, c. 1935.
SOME of the most delightful scenery in the county is about Babworth. It is as varied as it is beautiful. From one point, close to the house, the eye travels over a bit of open landscape, with a foreground of thriving trees, and further away the crown of gently swelling hills. Looking across the bright and gracefully designed gardens, either from the terrace or from the windows inside, one catches the shimmer of water—of a large and pellucid lake, on the other side of which rises a picturesque bank of sandstone, completely covered with rich foliage, save in one or two places where the red of the sandstone peeps out from the thick mass of leaves and branches, acquiring a still ruddier tint in the light of the summer sun. A skilful artist might make a charming picture out of those trees and those bits of sandstone rock, with the lake and the sedges, and the bright emerald of fertile pasturage in front.
Anyone who has visited the home of the Bridgeman-Simpsons will have been struck with the singular beauty of the place and its surroundings. Nature and art have here allied their gentle forces to produce a scene of almost surpassing sweetness. The red sandstone rock, with its sylvan burden is Nature’s ; the water has been made to accumulate in a graceful sheet by artificial means. In the laying out of the pleasure grounds, which are marvels of picturesqueness, Nature has been aided by art, but the former offers splendid facilities for the operation of the latter, and the result could not be more satisfactory. A more agreeable association of natural scenery with artificial embellishments it would be difficult to meet with, and on all grounds-on account of its situation, of its natural advantages, of the size and character of its house, of the repute of the family that has long possessed it, and of the broad acres by which it is surrounded, Babworth deserves to take a prominent place among the great houses of the county. It is not a little remarkable that a house like this should exist in such a locality. Babworth is but one mile removed from Retford, a town of considerable dimensions, which if it does not boast a staple trade, is at any rate a by no means insignificant centre of activity. And within a few hundred yards walk of some of its dwellings, is a house possessing a seclusion as perfect as though it were situated in the depths of some primeval forest and surrounded by scenery which is as unsuggestive of urban life as is the deer-haunted bracken of Sherwood. It is as noiseless, as secluded, and as solitary, by the side of that pretty sheet of water at the foot of the sandstone rock, as it is in the quiet precincts of the little church at Babworth, approached from the house by shaded walks which no sound enters.
Babworth Hall from the lake, c.1905.
The hall at Babworth, a solid handsome building of red brick relieved by white stone dressings, is, and has been for a considerable period the residence of the Simpsons—the Bridgeman-Simpsons now, and I suppose hereafter. For many years Simpson has followed Simpson at the hall, and Simpson Simpson at the rectory—the latter a large and commodious building not more than two hundred yards removed from the hall. The first of the family who resided at Babworth was Mr. William Simpson, of Sheffield, son of Launcelot of that name, somewhere about the end of the seventeenth century. John Simpson, who was born in 1668, resided at Stoke Hall, in Derbyshire, and married a daughter of the famous Admiral Benbow, by whom he had one surviving daughter who married Sir Henry Bridgeman, afterwards created Earl of Bradford. In 1785 the Babworth estate descended to the Hon. John Bridgeman, who took the surname and arms of Simpson. This gentleman was succeeded by a son of his second wife, Mr. Henry Bridgeman-Simpson, who in 1830 married the daughter of Mr. Henry Baring, brother to Lord Ashburton, the lady who now owns the estate, and to whose courtesy and kindness I am indebted for what information I possess about this truly charming place.
Babworth Road, Retford, c.1905.
Babworth gives the name to a parish of considerable extent, the inhabited portions of which are removed from the house. It is pretty certain that for a very long period a house of considerable size and consequence has existed there. Less than half a century ago the present mansion was built to supply the place of an old building, which is said to have been extremely commodious, but somewhat ugly externally. So that the present mansion, so far as the exterior is concerned, may be described as a modern structure. In the interior some of the older features are still to be observed, and there are a number of family portraits and other things up and down the house, which tell of its antiquity. Among the more recent of the portraits is an excellent one of the Hon. John Bridgeman, son of Lord Bradford, who died in 1850, and who took possession at the death of Mr. Lindley Simpson, in 1785. This gentleman, whose portrait hangs in the billiard room, was a man of considerable taste, and made several improvements on the estate and in the house. He it was who enlarged the lake, having previously made a successful appeal to the county magistrates to effect a deviation in the course of a public highway that ran from Retford to Worksop, which he did at considerable cost to himself. This gentleman was succeeded by his son, Mr. Henry Bridgeman-Simpson, who, in the costume usually worn by country gentlemen of a more modern school, occupies a prominent place among the family portraits at Babworth, where he lived so long. Of these portraits there are a great number in different parts of the house, and some fine faces are to be seen amongst them—handsome men and beautiful women, who in their day have been influential members of a refined and cultivated society, and who have enjoyed the pleasures of opulence and position. These canvases, which go back to the seventeenth century, throw some light upon the history of the family—how it came to acquire a compound name, and from whence its wives have been selected. In these halls one is reminded of the Stringers, who formerly lived at Eaton, in the neighbourhood of Retford, and at Sutton-cum-Lound, and who are connected by marriage not only with the Simpsons, but with the Eyres, the Souths, the Copleys, the Worsleys (Earls of Yarborough), and the Fitzwilliams. One of them fought bravely for his country, and was a distinguised naval officer. The last action in which he was engaged was off Carthegena, between the English and French fleets, in 1782, under Admiral Benbow, whose granddaughter was espoused to the Rev. John Simpson. In the house is a drinking tankard which was used by the Admiral, and which accompanied him through all his naval engagements. It came into the family by the marriage of the Admiral’s daughter to Sir Henry Bridgeman, in 1735. In the engagement above referred to, Mr. Stringer received wounds from which he never recovered, and he died in Jamaica at the close of the year. There is also a portrait of the first Lord Bradford, which reminds one of the connection of the Babworth family with that of Bridgeman, of which the present Earl of Bradford is the head. The Hon. John Bridgeman, to whom the Babworth estate descended on the death of Mr. Lindley Simpson in 1785, was of a family formerly settled in Devonshire for several successive centuries, one of them having been Sheriff of that county in 1578. Subsequently a branch of the family, now represented by the Earl of Bradford, nephew of the Mr. Simpson who died in 1850, settled at Great Lever, in Lancashire. A son of Edward Bridgeman, who was High-Sheriff of Devonshire in 1578, became bishop of Chester, and the eldest of this prelate’s five sons, named Orlando, successively became Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and afterwards Lord Chancellor. The third son was consecrated Bishop of the Isle of Man, in 1671. These scraps of family history are suggested by the portraits which are distributed over Babworth Hall, and which include Simpsons, Bridgemans Stringers, and Bridgeman-Simpsons. But interesting as many these portraits undoubtedly are, it is pleasant to turn from the contemplation of unknown features which have become somewhat dimmed in course of time, to brighter scenes which a deft hand, a trained eye, and a tender appreciation of the beautiful, are capable of perpetuating. It is pleasant to turn from the strange faces in the dining room and hall to a beautiful collection of water colours with which the walls of the drawing room, and of a brightly furnished ante-room, and of other parts of the house, are liberally covered. Every picture in this interesting and almost endless collection, which represents an immense amount of patient toil and graceful labour, is the work of Mrs. Bridgeman-Simpson, the lady who at the present time owns this charming and extensive North Nottinghamshire estate. This lady is a great traveller; she is away for months together, and these are the sunny memories of her travels. Several charming pictures there are of the beautiful scenery of Sicily—of its seaport capital, with its numerous domes and spires, and the lofty hills by which it is surrounded. With the beauties of the largest island in the Mediterranean Mrs. Bridgeman-Simpson has made herself acquainted, and she has looked upon them with the eye of an artist. She has reproduced some of the most interesting scenes to be met with at Palermo, and has searched beyond the confines of the capital for material wherewith to make those bright water-colours which now adorn the walls at Babworth. Mrs. Bridgeman-Simpson has visited the ruined temples of Girgenti, where once stood the famous city of Agrigentum, and one of them, that of Castor and Poller, has been admitted to this beautiful collection. An animated scene, as it appeared from the windows of a hotel at Innspruck, the Tyrolese capital, with its houses of limestone breccia, forms the subject of a clever and spirited drawing, and the citadel of strongly fortified Corfu has been treated with the same consummate skill. Castles in the lovely country of the Moselle ; Egyptian architecture at Cairo ; temples in Sicily ; lakes in Italy, and, coming nearer home, the banks and braes of Scotland and the sweet landscapes of Devon have been sketched and developed by this gifted lady, whose travels have taken her to some of the brightest spots in Europe. I have specially mentioned a few of these pictures, or rather their subjects, because they form a remarkable collection. They are works of art of a very high order ; they have been inspected and scrutinised by distinguished persons, and I learn that they have been made heirlooms, in such esteem have they been held. If this is so, Mrs. Bridgeman-Simpson has been deprived of the pleasure she would have had in presenting some of her exquisite work to intimate friends, but the proviso which keeps them in the family, will secure to the house of Bridgeman-Simpson a collection of paintings that will not only make their possessors familiar with scenes which perhaps they may never visit, but will serve to remind after generations of the talented and gracious lady who now owns the estate.