Earl of Harrowby - Dowty Chairman 1986 - 1991

The present Earl of Harrowby pictured holding the last set of Dowty Accounts for the year ended 31 March 1991

The present Earl of Harrowby at Burnt Norton

The month of November in the 2024 Dowty Calendar shows the present Earl at Burnt Norton holding the last set of accounts the Dowty Group produced – for the year ended March 1991

The Earl in the picture is the son of the Dowty Chairman from 1986 – 1991

The following article is taken from The Daily Telegraph.

Caroline Harrowby, Countess of Harrowby, moved to Burnt Norton with her blended family in 1998

‘The house was a complete wreck when we moved in – half the ceilings had fallen down’

Great Estates: The Countess of Harrowby had to undertake a huge renovation project to make Burnt Norton liveable

Eleanor Doughty
9 December 2023 • 10:00am

In the summer of 1935, the poet TS Eliot stumbled upon Burnt Norton, a charming manor house near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, while visiting the county with his muse and confidante, Emily Hale.

Theirs was a chance visit and, as it happened, the house was empty, so they walked around the grounds. Burnt Norton had, since 1753, been owned by the Earls of Harrowby, but mainly used as a holiday home from their main house, Sandon Hall in Staffordshire, and little life had taken place there for some time.

The result of Eliot’s trip was the poem Burnt Norton, the first of his Four Quartets, inspired by the gardens, and described by Eliot as his “love poem” to Hale. Shortly after their visit, he wrote to her that “our being in the rose-garden at Burnt Norton is one of the permanent moments for me”.

Burnt Norton continues to inspire writers – most recently its chatelaine, the author Caroline Montague, aka Caroline Ryder, Countess of Harrowby, who lives there with her husband Conroy Ryder, 8th Earl of Harrowby.

Caroline Harrowby, Countess of Harrowby, with her dog

Caroline’s first historical novel was about Sir William Keyt, the original occupant of Burnt Norton

“There is something about Burnt Norton, there’s no getting away from it,” she says. “It’s got this extraordinary atmosphere. It’s beautiful and fabulous, and the grounds are magical – there’s a real presence here of the past.”

Eliot got that right in his poem, as he writes, “The bird called, in response to/The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,/And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses/Had the look of flowers that are looked at”.

Burnt Norton was not always called Burnt Norton. Originally built as a farmhouse in 1620, it began as Norton House, and in 1716 became the home of Gloucestershire landowner and MP Sir William Keyt, 3rd Baronet, pronounced “Kite”.

Not content with the existing building, Keyt built a mansion opposite Norton House on the lawn, “probably called Over Norton”, says Caroline, laying out a garden to go with it.

When he left his wife Anne Tracy for her maid Molly Johnson, upon seeing the new house, Johnson asked him, “What is a kite without wings?” Inspired, Keyt extended his new house, adding two wings.

Their happy idyll didn’t last. After Johnson left him, Keyt took to the bottle, and on September 4, 1741, a fire broke out in the new house, thought to have been started by Keyt himself. It spread to the whole house, taking Keyt with it.

As a local antiquarian wrote, the blaze seemed “to be like Mount Etna, the force of the fire throwing up incredible quantities of smoke and flame a most prodigious height in the air”.

In 1753, Keyt’s estate was sold to the lawyer and politician Sir Dudley Ryder, whose son was created 1st Baron Harrowby in 1776. “He was looking for a grand house,” explains Caroline. “Appointed solicitor-general in 1733, he was coming up in the world – he was going to be ennobled, but died the day before.”

Originally built as a farmhouse, Burnt Norton is now a comfortable family home 

Some families might have considered Burnt Norton – so named since part of the original house was scorched by Keyt’s fire – plenty. Not so the ambitious Harrowbys.

They originally planned to rebuild Keyt’s mansion on the same footings, but after Nathaniel Ryder was ennobled in 1776, he fancied a bigger pile. That year, he bought Sandon Hall in Staffordshire from the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon’s family.

A century later, this too was struck by fire when a workman left a blowtorch on by mistake, and the house was destroyed. Instead of moving again, the Harrowbys chose, “in good Victorian style”, says Caroline, “to pull the whole house down and build something bigger and better”. The result is modern-day Sandon, a neo-Jacobean house, now run as a wedding and exclusive-use venue by the family.

With Sandon the main home, Burnt Norton lingered in the background. During the Second World War, it was used by Tudor Hall School, and post-war Conroy Harrowby’s grandparents Dudley Ryder, 6th Earl of Harrowby and Lady Helena Coventry, moved into Burnt Norton.

Norton House was renamed Burnt Norton after a fire broke out at the property in 1741

Norton House was renamed Burnt Norton after a fire broke out at the property in 1741
After Dudley’s parents died within three days of each other in 1956, he and Helena upped sticks to Sandon, which sorely needed bringing up to date, and Burnt Norton was let to a boys’ school.

When the school left, 13 years later, Burnt Norton fell into disrepair; as the years went by, no one showed any interest in doing anything with the deteriorating house. “Every year that passed it had become a larger project and everyone was beginning to get a bit frightened,” says Caroline.

The current Harrowbys moved to Burnt Norton in 1998 as a blended family. Conroy Harrowby’s first wife Sarah had died four years earlier, leaving him with four young children, and just a glimmer of an idea that he might one day restore Burnt Norton.

When he met Caroline, divorced from her first husband with three young children and working as an interior decorator, they saw that Burnt Norton could be a happy family home for all of them. “I always used to say that Conroy married me for my curtains,” she laughs.

Caroline says the grounds surrounding Burnt Norton are ‘magical’

The house was a “complete wreck”, she remembers. “It was watertight, but half the ceilings had fallen down.” Now, it is a comfortable private family home, not open to the public. Its lovely kitchen in the former dining room has giant sash windows opening on to the lawn.

As well as a home and a top-to-bottom decoration project, what Caroline found in Burnt Norton was a place where she could write. This had always been her dream; having applied to read English at university, she swapped to law, encouraged by her barrister mother and brother, but, hating it, dropped out.

Coming to Burnt Norton, with its Eliot link, she discovered her “final push to write” and in the house had the “ready-made story of William Keyt”. This was published in 2013 as Burnt Norton, her first historical novel.

She has since published three others, and out now in audiobook and ebook, with the paperback publishing in February, is her latest novel, The Pieces of Us. In this, a tale inspired by the Staffordshire Potteries and the woman who worked in them, Sandon appears as one of the main characters, made “real Jacobean, more romantic than Neo-Jacobean”.

The book has involved an enormous amount of research in and around the Potteries, but “I love the research part of writing books”, Caroline says. “Half the joy for me is learning. I don’t just write a novel, I learn about the things I’m writing about.”

She finds Burnt Norton the most wonderful place to write, read, and be inspired – just as Eliot was. Walking around the gardens and William Keyt’s empty pools, immortalised by Eliot, it is easy to see why. It is a special place; Eliot’s biographer Peter Ackroyd is wrong to describe Burnt Norton as “not particularly memorable”.

What does the house mean to Caroline? “Everything,” she says. “It means home, it means beauty. I am so aware of how privileged I am to live here. I find it the most magical place on this earth.”

Caroline Harrowby, Countess of Harrowby, moved to Burnt Norton with her blended family in 1998
Jay Williams
The present Earl of Harrowby at Burnt Norton
Caroline Harrowby, Countess of Harrowby, with her dog
Originally built as a farmhouse, Burnt Norton is now a comfortable family home 
Jay Williams
Norton House was renamed Burnt Norton after a fire broke out at the property in 1741
Caroline says the grounds surrounding Burnt Norton are ‘magical’

Comments about this page

  • Alan enjoyed this story very much. Thank you

    By Mrs Mary Love (18/12/2023)

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