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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Gloucestershire (Unitary Authority)
Iron Acton
National Grid Reference:
ST 67710 84203




I Acton Court, a Tudor courtier's house, dating largely from 1534-5 and the 1540s, with a mid-C16 gateway and flank walls circa 40m to the east of the house.

MATERIALS: It is constructed of local Pennant sandstone, which would originally have been rendered, with Cotswold limestone dressings, many re-used. The roofs, which have raised, coped verges with finials are covered with double Roman tiles, replacing Pennant slates.

PLAN: Acton Court has an L-shaped plan consisting of the surviving east and north ranges. The demolished west range would have created the original U-plan. The principal rooms are located to the first floor of the east range and, from south to north, include the presence chamber, private chamber and king's chamber. To the first floor of the north range is the truncated long gallery.

EXTERIOR: The principal two-storey elevation (east) is dominated by two large, projecting stacks finished with stepped coping and surmounted with two square, diagonally-set, shafts. One of the shafts on the central stack has been rebuilt and there were originally three shafts to the north stack, which has been replaced with a buttress. The south stack was removed in 1888 and the wall rebuilt. At the same time buttresses were added to the central stack, and the front of the vaulted porch was rebuilt with a brick relieving arch. The vaulted porch, lined with stone benches, leads to a four-centred arched doorway which forms a cross-passage with an opposing door, which has a similar architectural treatment. To the first floor are three six-light stone-mullioned and transomed windows beneath relieving arches. To the far left of the ground floor is a re-used three-light Perpendicular window with cusped cinquefoil heads: the mullions have been reduced in length. The fenestration to the ground floor is irregular. To the left of the north stack is a low porch with a pointed-arched doorway and a small traceried window. The north elevation consists of the gable end of the east range, and the main elevation of the truncated north range. To the gable end is a small attic window with hood mould, beneath which is an eight-light stone mullioned and transomed window; to the ground floor is a six-light stone mullioned and transomed window; each is set under a brick-tile relieving arch. There is evidence of a further ground-floor window, which has been infilled. To the north range are three single-storey lean-to structures; above the central lean-to is the stack with diagonally-set shafts. The window to its right has been infilled, but to the first floor, two six-light stone mullioned and transomed windows with leaded lights survive. The gable end of the north range is supported by a substantial raking buttress with dove holes to its south face; the top hole is surrounded by a piece of re-used Gothic tracery. To the angle of the inner courtyard, between the north and east range, is a polygonal stair turret with single rectangular lights under square hood moulds. The stair turret corbels out form a square base to the gabled roof. Beneath the eight-light window to the south elevation of the north range is a stone plaque with a coat of arms in relief. To the ground floor of this elevation is a lean-to and a single-storey projection. To the west elevation of the east range is the opposing door to the cross-passage with a four-centred arched opening and flanking windows. There are further projections to the south end of this elevation. The gabled south end of the east range has pilasters and buttresses and retains some of its rendering. This was formerly the principal elevation and had a substantial oriel window, the jambs of which survive internally.

INTERIOR: The mid-C16 internal layout of the building remains legible and much historic fabric survives, including stone doorways, panelling, fireplaces and decorative friezes, plasterwork and graffiti. The fireplaces to the Presence Chamber and King's Chamber have shallow Tudor arches with chamfers and mouldings; that to the Long Gallery is a more elaborate example, with a projecting, moulded chimneypiece breaking forward and carried on scrolled brackets. The Private Chamber retains some plain square panelling, which survives to a much greater extent in the King's Chamber. There is no surviving principal staircase and a newel staircase to the King's Chamber has been removed. The stair turret retains its solid-tread newel stair.

The roof to the east range, which has been dated to 1535, survives largely intact and consists of twelve trusses with tie beam, collar and queen posts, with arched wind braces. The roof to the north range consists of six alternating A-frame trusses and arch-braced trusses. This roof has been dated to the late-C15 and is said to have been re-used from Kingswood Abbey, which was surrendered at the Dissolution, and acquired and demolished by Sir Nicholas Poyntz from 1538 onwards.

To the south wall of the Private Chamber is a painted frieze of "antike" work [incorporating motifs derived from newly-discovered ancient Greek and Roman sources]. The design is painted in grisaille with touches of red, green and ochre on a black background. The wall paintings consist of three symmetrical panels, each flanked by trompe-l'oeil columns, and include a portrait bust in a cartouche, flowing foliate and animal motifs, and a classical urn. There is further painted decoration, in the form of friezes in the Presence Chamber, and a series of elegant, painted inscriptions in Latin in the Long Gallery. All the painted work has suffered some damage.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The gateway, which has been re-located to the east, dates from the mid- to late-C16. It is built of limestone ashlar with a four-centred arch. To the spandrels are strapwork cartouches of the Poyntz crest on a background of oak branches. The three-panelled entablature is surmounted by a triangular pediment with a lion mask and bases for missing finials. The adjoining flank walls, defining the eastern edge of the east courtyard, and built of coursed rubble stone, are lower than the gateway, and sweep upwards to meet either side of the gateway. The walls are surmounted by a course of upright stones.

HISTORY: Acton Court was built as a moated manor house in the C13 for the Acton family, and probably replaced an earlier Norman house. The manor house became the principal seat of the Gloucestershire branch of the Poyntz family from 1364, when it was inherited by Sir John Poyntz from his aunt, the widow of the last of the Actons, to 1683. Following the Battle of Bosworth, Sir Robert Poyntz was knighted, and raised the status of the family significantly. Henry VII came to Acton Court on 23 May 1486 en route to Bristol, during a royal progress. Sir Robert remained in favour when Henry VIII succeeded the throne, and achieved the position of chancellor to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Sir Robert's grandson, Sir Nicholas Poyntz, a courtier and naval commander, inherited Acton Court in 1532 and continued to enjoy the royal favour bestowed on his grandfather. He was given a command during the Irish rebellion of 1534-5, and was knighted after this campaign. The ceremony may have taken place at Acton Court when Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and their retinue, stayed there from 21 to 23 August 1535, during the course of their royal progress of the west of England during that summer.

Acton Court, as it survives today, is a mid-C16 court-style house. Dendro-chronology has confirmed that the east range was built and decorated specifically for the royal visit of 1535. The C16 buildings were tightly-set within the medieval moat; the earlier manor house was partly retained, though the medieval kitchens were taken down. The construction of the east range marked the start of a major programme of rebuilding by Sir Nicholas, which continued intermittently until his death in 1556. New north and west ranges were built, and the south range modernised, to create an outwardly-regular courtyard house. Much of the earlier manor house was demolished soon after 1550, and the medieval moat filled in.

The descendents of Sir Nicholas Poyntz undertook no major building work to alter or add to the house. A polygonal stair tower was added between the north and east ranges in 1576, and before the Civil War the present east courtyard was created, altering the axis of the house from south to east. The family was progressively encumbered by debt and in 1680, following the death of Sir John Poyntz (who had no male heirs), the house was sold, altered and reduced in size, becoming, and remaining until 1984, a farmhouse. During this time substantial parts of the house, including part of the north range and the west range as well as the service buildings, were demolished. In 1888, the south stack to the east range was removed and the wall rebuilt. The internal layout was altered and some rooms converted to agricultural uses; some of the fixtures and fittings were removed, primarily panelling.

Acton Court was purchased at auction by the Bristol Visual and Environmental Trust who subsequently sold Acton Court to English Heritage in 1989, and then to The Rosehill Trust in 2000. The Rosehill Trust were able to purchase the rest of the South Courtyard and the surrounding fields, which housed the original gardens and fishponds.

SOURCES: Robert Bell, 'Fit For A King' in Heritage Today, (September 1990), 12-13 Bristol Visual and Environmental Group, Rediscovering Acton Court and the Poyntz Family (2009) Kirsty Rodwell and Robert Bell (English Heritage), Acton Court: The evolution of an early Tudor courtier's house (2004) David Verey and Alan Brooks, The Buildings of England. Gloucestershire 2: The Vale and The Forest of Dean, 548-550

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: Acton Court, its gateway and flanking walls are designated at Grade I, for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the house is an important survival of a C16 courtier's house, which represents a highly-significant point in the evolution of Tudor domestic building, prefiguring the later prodigy houses * Innovation: the house and gateway make use of some of the earlier examples of classical design and detailing in the country, part of an innovative and influential development in style among courtiers in the period * Intactness: despite some later losses and alterations, the C16 house remains remarkably complete * Rarity: the house is one of the best-preserved mid-C16 houses in the country, its contemporaries having undergone significant later alterations * Artistic: the east range retains very rare and highly-important trompe-l'oeil classical painted panels of the 1530s which were almost certainly the product of artists of the Royal Works, together with painted inscriptions of the 1540s in the long gallery * Interior: the house retains numerous features of the C16, including fireplaces, panelling, doorways and plaster friezes * Historic association: the east range was specifically built and decorated to house King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn during their stay in April 1535


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 11 Jul 2002
Reference: IOE01/04018/13
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Peter Clark. Source Historic England Archive
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