Personal events in the years of 2004 and 2005 and their memory will forever be emblazoned on the psyche of one Nick Ashley-Cooper of Dorset, England. It was in the year of 2004 that the then twenty-four year old Brit, a techno DJ and events planner living and working in New York City, learned a horrifying and haunting fate: his father, the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, had been found dead, murdered, in a ravine in France. His older brother by two years, Anthony, had been preparing himself as heir apparent and found himself instantly thrust into his father’s role as the 11th Earl of Shaftsbury and chatelain of their ancestral estate, St Giles House. However, in six months time that would not come to be: Anthony would die of a heart attack at the age of 27. And if this were not enough, his father’s third wife, Jamila M’Barek, a Playboy model turned prostitute, and her brother were convicted of his father’s murder.
The approach to St Giles before (above) and after (below) the grounds were returned to their original plan.
Suddenly twenty-five year old Nick was faced with the dilemma of trading his music career in New York with that of saving his family’s crumbling pile from extinction. Though his father had hoped to restore and move into St. Giles, up to this point in time the house had been for over forty years merely used as a repository for generations of furniture and collections while the family lived in the dower house, Mainsail Haul. St Giles was in a derelict state, its walls crumbling with damp and rot, floor boards buckling, plumbing outdated and with no electricity. Yet Nick, now the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, found himself in a position pivotal to the restoration of not only his ancestral home but to his family’s legacy. And so, he packed up his life in New York and moved to England with his soon-to-be-bride, Dinah Streifeneder, to take on his role as custodian of his ancestral estate. Ever since, the couple have been diligently and thoughtfully restoring St. Giles to its current state of grace.
The World of Interiors met up with Nick Shaftesbury in 2012 to report on the earl’s leviathan responsibility and his progress in restoring St Giles over the past seven years. Shaftesbury had cleared away debris and brought order to generations of furniture, paintings and things with a family connection. Realizing the need to begin somewhere the library was the first room he sought to bring order to, where stacks of books were piled on its floor in no particular order. After clearing the room each book was dusted, cleaned and put on a shelf, organized by period with the assistance of a Christie’s book expert. And so it has gone with many of the other rooms at St Giles since. In 2009 he and his wife Dinah made the decision to permanently move to St Giles after several years of commuting between the estate and their apartment in London. With the assistance of Philip Hughes, an historic-buildings conservation specialist, they devised a $1.97 million plan to renovate part of the south wing of the house to create a three-bedroom apartment for his family. The World of Interiors was invited to return to St Giles to celebrate their achievements, which you can read about in this October’s issue.
I would typically dedicate a large investment of time in retelling the history and documenting the magnificent architectural contribution of such an important property as this Classically-inspired 17th-century estate but, alas, I am lucky if I can find the time to write this much. It seems with each passing day, week and month it becomes more difficult to find the hours to write. Adding to my frustration, Firefox crashed while I was writing this – much of it lost. It took everything in me to return here rather than toss the iMac through the window! I have provided descriptions borrowed from The World of Interiors, The Wall Street Journal and The Telegraph for each photo to assist in your appreciation of this remarkable story and historic property. While the tragic details of those six months from 2004 to 2005 is the stuff of tabloids the final chapter in this story has a happy ending: On Sunday, October 25th, 2015, St Giles was winner of this year’s Historic Houses Association and Sotheby’s Restoration Award. Congratulations to the Twelfth Early of Shaftesbury!
THE WHITE HALL
A portrait of Mr. Hastings, an eccentric, sports-minded neighbor in teh 17th-century, presides over the White Hall. The east wall of the White Hall (second photo), with all its paneling and plasterwork, had to be entirely reconstructed in the recent restoration.
THE ENTRANCE LOBBY
A marble bust of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, who campaigned vigorously for better working conditions for the Victorian poor, has now returned to the new entrance lobby.
THE GREAT DINING ROOM
By the 1980’s the Great Dining Room, which looks through to the Tapestry Room, was stripped out to cure dry rot. Family portraits are stored behind thick canvas drapes on the right.
In c1744, Henry Flitcroft created the white-and-gold Palladian decoration in the Great Dining Room. Ravaged by dry rot, the wall was partially stripped back to its bare brickwork in the 1970’s, and has been deliberately left as is.
Many books in the library date back to the “Philosopher Earl” (1670-1713). It was Nick’s first challenge to safeguard the collection and put it back in order.
The south-facing Regency library was added by the sixth earl.
The 12th earl of Shaftesbury, Nick Ashley-Cooper, is now 33 years old.
Workers help restore books damaged by dampness and dust before the renovation of St. Giles House.
Today the library’s walls are lined with family portraits hung against plum-colored velvet. Thomas Cundy modernized the room as part of general alterations to the house between 1813 and 1820.
THE TAPESTRY ROOM
The Tapestry Room owes its name to a set of Brussels tapestries depicting “The Triumph of the Gods”. It also used to contain the St Giles suite of furniture commissioned by the fourth earl from Chippendale, who was particularly admired by the earl’s wife.
The Tapestry Room during renovations.
After years of neglect, the home’s collection of heirloom paintings and furniture had been left to rot; now they have been carefully restored.
THE NORTH DRAWING ROOM
The North Drawing Room’s walls had once been covered in yellow silk but were redone in a dark green by Nick’s parents. A large portrait of the First Earl of Shaftesbury is flanked by the next earl and countess.
The walls of the North Drawing Room were rehung with yellow silk in the style of its original design. Oil paintings of previous residents line the walls, owned by the same family since 1651.
THE GREEN DRAWING ROOM
The Shaftesbury’s use the Green Drawing Room – which incorporates a comfortable mix of upholstered furniture and Victorian and Edwardian ancestors – as their private sitting room. Enough family portraits survived the sales in the 1970’s and 1980’s to furnish the restored state rooms. The flock wallpaper was carefully copied from unfaded sections of the original early 19th-century paper that once hung here.
THE DINING ROOM
The ceiling and giltwood details in the family dining room were restored by Humphries & Jones. The George II mahogany chairs are upholstered in green baize and the portrait, by Harrington Mann, is of Anthony, Lord Ashley — Nick’s grandfather — in 1904.
Two strips cut from a rare tapestry portrait of the bewigged Augustus III, King of Poland, hang either side of a door in the Shaftesbury’s private apartment.
The kitchen was once the bathroom of Nick’s great-grandmother, the ninth countess.
Lord Shaftesbury’s study in lined with an assortment of family photographs and engraved portraits.
THE AVENUE ROOM
A plaque in the Avenue Room celebrates the memory of the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, and contains echoes of the family motto: “Love, Serve”. As its contents indicate, the space has for a while been used as a general store room.
MAIN STAIRCASE AND UPSTAIRS HALL
Faded blue striped wallpaper lined the walls of the main staircase, and names above the doors — “Rose Dressing Room” and “Avenue Room” – – recall a golden age of country-house life.
A doorway on teh first-floor landing leads to the Handel Room, named after the composer, who often visited the house. The fourth earl was his patron.
THE CHINOISERIE ROOM
This bedroom’s chinoiserie wallpaper probably dates from the end of the 19th-century or early 20th-century.
The Chinoiserie Room’s private bathroom was most likely installed at the end of the 19th-century, when the 9th earl embarked on a program of modernization, including electricity and a new plumbing system. Boxed-in toilettes, like this one, were de rigueur at the time.
THE MASTER BEDROOM
A lace hanging worked with the Shaftesbury coat of arms serves as the headboard for the bed in the master bedroom.
The private bathroom is furnished with pieces found in the attics and restored. The 18th-century watercolors depict the surrounding St Giles Park.
ST GILES PARK
The newly landscaped grounds recapture the original intent.
The gardens on the 5,000-acre estate have also been restored.
The World of Interiors, August 2012 with photography by Tim Beddow; The World of Interiors, October 2015 with photography by Tim Beddow; “How a Tattooed Young Raver Unexpectedly Became 12th Earl of Shaftesbury” for The Telegraph by Anna Tyzack, August 2015,photography by Andrew Crowley; “How a New York DJ Turned Earl Revived an English Manor” for The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2015, by Ruth Bloomfield, photography by Dylan Thomas; Blouin ArtInfo, photography by Marcus Peel