The Estate Settings
Entry to the Cambray demesne was obtained through a handsome gateway known as The Gatehouse. This was subsequently enlarged, and additional buildings added to the east end to accommodate the family.
Entering the gateway, the long drive up to the house was lined with 300-year-old oak trees, known as the Great Oaks Avenue, and flanked by large stretches of lawn, known as the Great Lawn, dotted with several clusters of trees and hedgerows. The drive led to a larger circular fountain, named The Falconer’s Fountain, and a court which enclosed the front part of the house with an imposing portico marking the Hall’s entrance.
The house was entirely surrounded by a wall within which were formal gardens – the Rosery, the Walled Garden, and the Long Garden, containing, among other things, a number of ancient trees that proved the age of the Hall’s majestic gardens.
The architect was instructed to fit the Cambray Hall building in between a row of lime trees on the east and a row of elms on the west, and this was accomplished with great precision. The limes still flourish, tall magnificent trees bordering the main walk on the east side of the gardens. They have passed their zenith, but will survive for many years.
Stretching away on the East side were the stables, kennels, barns and granaries, each with their own spacious yards, and various other large yards specific to a purpose, such as a Timber Yard, Dung Yard, Coal Yard, Gardener’s Yard, etc. These buildings and yards occupied the north-eastern side of the garden. Some originally tithe barns, but now restored in many places and with the beautiful lines of the red tiled roof broken by dormer excrescences, the old buildings stood as a memory of other times. At the outer end of these buildings, just behind the Cambray Stables, stood the Lodging Barn which housed many of the outdoor lower servants and their families, with detached cottage buildings clustered in the vicinity for the outdoor upper servants – a special consideration as befitted their higher servant status.
The Cambray Stables were outrageously extravagant both in size as well as in comfort for their residents. Their opulence showed that no expense had been spared in their construction and signified the immense worth they beheld for its owners. Nearby, within the same compound, stood the great Cambray Kennels, equally as opulent and studious in their design and beheld in equal measure as the stables.
The nearest stream, which was situated a mere mile away from the main building, fed a large well as the estate’s main water supply, which in turn supplied the water system of the entire Cambray estate. This stream was fed by the Great River Ouse and ran from the highlands, branching also into the village in front of the old Church of St. Ives.
A cemetery at the end of The Long Garden revealed some exquisite headstones, many so old that erosion had started to set in some of them. In these burial grounds were interred many members of the de la Valette family over the previous five centuries, except the great Lords themselves. In the centre of this burial ground stood the old Mausoleum built by one of the de la Valette forebears.
A short stroll from Cambray Hall, lying in secluded privacy in the adjacent valley, is one of the finest landscape gardens in England, quite often referred to as ‘Paradise’. The famous 18th-century Landscape Garden was considered the jewel in the Cambray crown. A magnificent lake shimmered with reflections of classical monuments and rare and exotic trees. The main lake gave the impression of being split in two, as the larger expanse of water, known as Greater Springlake, was situated on higher ground and flowed naturally into the lower part of the lake, known as Lower Springlake, via a small cascade, Spring Falls.
The route around the lake was 3 miles long. Across the lake, sitting on a little hilltop, was The Temple of Venus, the memorial and resting place of the 7th Lord and Lady Dunholme, Perceval and Alice de la Valette, the family ancestors who epitomised the romanticism of the area and around whom sprung the family legend and superstition. In the centre of the vast Greater Springlake, a tiny island, Valetta, seemed to be holding a little wooded area in suspension on top of the glassy lake and gave the impression of floating about without actually moving.
The lake and house were at the heart of the estate, ancient woods and farmland, while the main lake and its soothing cascade leant an ambience of tranquility.
Beyond the main lake to the east lay the vast Cambray parklands. These were split into three main areas: Cambray Park, North Deerfield Park, and South Deerfield Park. A portion of Cambray Park extended from the northern and northwestern sides of the Hall, creating a dividing line between the Hall grounds and the farmlands in the northern region of the estate – Northacres, one of the two largest farming regions of the Cambray estate, forming its northern and northeasterly boundaries. The whole of Northacres measured 10,000 acres of rich farmland, holding several hundreds tenant farms.
Just a mile south from Cambray Hall was the village of Dunholme, holding within its rural community, a 600-century old Church of St. Ives and its Vicarage, situated directly opposite the Cambray Estate administration building; the village’s popular public house, The Grimoire & Staff Tavern, frequented by both locals and visitors as well as the residents of Cambray Hall; the coaching inn, The Black Eagle Inn; the Village Market; the Village School; a posting-house, and several quaint cottages and houses.
Beyond the village of Dunholme to the far southeast were situated the Eastmorton Farmsteads, the third and smallest farming region at 5,000 acres of rich farming land worked by several tenant farmers.
To the farthest westerly and southern region of Cambray estate, beyond North Deerfield and South Deerfield parks stood the next largest farming region of Westacre, a 10,000 acre area holding several hundreds tenant farms.