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Eye Manor

A beautiful Herefordshire country house built with the proceeds of slavery

Historic Environment Record reference no. 5294

In 1673 Ferdinando Gorges, known as "King of the Black Market", purchased Eye Manor in the north-west of the county (Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Herefordshire, 1963, p. 130). The family seat of the Gorges family, originally of Norman origin, was at Wraxall near Bristol; they also owned a house in Chelsea, London. Ferdinando had started his career in Barbados, working for one of the earliest planters of sugar cane, Colonel William Hilliard. He subsequently married Hilliard's daughter Meliora and proceeded to make a fortune as a slave trader and sugar plantation owner. Rebuilding Eye Manor was his retirement project.

Eye Manor is not only an attractive building; it also has two interesting and unusual features. One of these is an underground passage that leads from a trapdoor in the floor of the inner hall via the basement to the far side of an ancient outbuilding. No one knows the purpose of this mysterious tunnel, which was discovered in 1944. Less romantically-inclined people would argue that this passage was used for rolling beer casks from an outbuilding into the basement.

The other remarkable feature is the ornamental plasterwork on the ceilings. The Renaissance designs at Eye Manor belong to the Naturalistic School. Each element of the design - figures, animals, flowers, fruit and leaves - was laboriously modelled by hand, in contrast to repetitive ceiling mouldings which are cast. There are fewer than twenty houses in Britain today that still contain plasterwork of this School. The names of the craftsmen are unknown, but one panel at Eye is of exactly the same design as one at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh (Christopher Sandford, "Notes on Eye Manor", in Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, Volume XXXIV Part I (1952), p. 26).

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2004]