The Crowes – Kiplin in the 18th century

Kiplin Hall passed to the Crowe family in 1722, when Christopher Crowe purchased the estate from his wife’s eldest son Charles, 5th Lord Baltimore, for £7000 – almost £600,000 today. The Crowes were not aristocracy, but belonged to the rising class of 18th century country gentry.

Christopher Crowe was born near Ashington in Northumberland in 1682. When quite young, he was taken under the care of his elder brother, Mitford Crowe, who held business, banking, military and diplomatic posts in England, Spain and Barbados.

In 1705, at the age of only twenty-four, Christopher Crowe was appointed British Consul at Livorno or Leghorn on the west coast of Italy near Florence. He also received the lucrative contract to supply the British fleet in the Mediterranean with wine and olive oil during the War of the Spanish Succession between 1703 and 1711. He acted as a prize agent for captured enemy merchant ships in the area and as an agent acquiring works of art for English nobles, such as the statues for the Duke of Marlborough’s new salon at Blenheim Palace. Between 1705 and 1716, Crowe amassed a fortune and purchased his own substantial collection of paintings and art objects.

In 1715, he married Lady Charlotte Lee, the widow of George Calvert’s great-grandson, Benedict, 4th Lord Baltimore. Her mother was Lady Charlotte Fitzroy, a favourite daughter of Charles II by his mistress Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and later Duchess of Cleveland. When Charlotte Fitzroy married Henry Lee, Charles created him 1st Earl of Lichfield. She became known for her beauty and virtue and they had 13 sons and 5 daughters, one of whom was Lady Charlotte Lee.

In 1699, at the age of twenty, Charlotte Lee married Benedict Calvert and bore him eight children in seven years. It was an unhappy marriage which ended in separation in 1705, with stories of his cruelty, her extravagance, mutual adultery and even his bigamy. Charlotte may have left for Europe with one of her lovers, Count Castelli, by whom she was said to have had several children. Her husband died in April 1715.

Charlotte Lee and Christopher Crowe were married in Geneva in August 1715. They returned to England and settled at Woodford Hall in Essex, which Crowe had bought in 1707 and where they had four children. Charlotte died in 1721, aged only forty-two.

The following year Christopher Crowe bought Kiplin from his stepson, the 5th Lord Baltimore, who was in financial difficulty. It became the family home for the next 100 years and Christopher added the land and manors of nearby Ellerton-on-Swale and Tunstall to his own in 1724 for a price of £17,000. His son, Christopher Crowe the younger, may have built the little Gothic-style folly across the parkland to the west - now on the far side of the lake - although it possibly dates from the Carpenter period of the 1820s. He also purchased property in Bolton-on-Swale and Scorton and became a noted farmer and agricultural experimenter. In his Six Months Tour through the North of England, published in 1770, Arthur Young describes the superior methods of cultivation and husbandry at Kiplin, particularly the growth of enormous cabbages to provide winter fodder for livestock. When his great-niece, Sarah, inherited Kiplin from her father, Robert Crowe, in 1818, the estate had reached about 4500 acres.

Christopher Crowe the younger was also involved in the local militia, as a Captain from 1745 and as Deputy Lieutenant in 1757, when he led 700 horsemen and 200 foot soldiers in defending the nearby town of Richmond from a mob of Wensleydale and Swaledale miners protesting at the price of corn. He was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Richmond and promoted to Major. In 1761, he led the militia in a pitched battle against the rioting pitmen of Hexham in Northumberland.

There were no children from Christopher’s marriage to Barbara Duncombe of Duncombe Park near Helmsley, so in 1776 his younger brother George inherited Kiplin. However, financial difficulties meant that George diverted funds away from the estate rather than adding to it. George Crowe’s elder son, Robert, inherited in 1782. He continued the family traditions of purchasing large areas of land locally and of serving in the local militia, being Captain of the Kiplin and Langton Troop of Yeomanry Cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1814.

Christopher Crowe the elder also made substantial changes to the Jacobean house, which was almost 100 years old when he acquired it and not equipped to serve as an elegant, fashionable and comfortable family home in the Georgian period. He inserted a central staircase, changing the previously symmetrical layout on all three floors, and added decorative features such as ceiling cornices, dado rails and fine fireplaces. He built a large service wing and kitchens to the north of the Hall, connected through the north tower on the ground and first floors to passageways in the main building, which gave the servants access to the family rooms. In the grounds, he or his son dammed the Kiplin Beck to create a ‘fish pond’ or serpentine lake to the west of the house, created a large walled garden close to the house on the north-east and planted many trees in the parkland and woodland.

The rooms and staircase of the Hall were hung with the many paintings Christopher Crowe the elder had acquired in Europe and with family portraits. Much of the surviving Georgian furniture presumably belonged to the Crowe family. The most important piece has been in the Drawing Room for at least 150 years – the ornate Chinese Chippendale-style cabinet inset with panels of pietra dura (coloured hard stones) inlay, showing delightful scenes of the Italian countryside (see pages 4-5). The Library still houses books which belonged to the Crowes in the late 17th and 18th centuries.