The house was commissioned by Sir John Heathcoat-Amory and the foundation stone laid in 1869. By 1874, the building was complete, although not to Burges' original designs, and work had begun on the interior. However, unlike Burges' partnership with John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, the relationship between architect and client was not successful, Sir John objecting to Burges' designs both on grounds of cost and of style. "Heathcoat-Amory (had) built a house he could not afford to decorate, by an architect whose speciality was interior design." This disagreement led to Burges' sacking in 1874 and his replacement by John Dibblee Crace. Nevertheless, Knightshayes Court remains the only example built of a medium-sized Burges country house, to the "standard" Victorian arrangement. Its virtues were recognised in its own time; "Knightshayes is eminently picturesque, executed with great vigour and thorough knowledge of detail.." The plan with hall, drawing, morning and smoking rooms, library and billiard room is conventional and the exterior is, by Burges' usual standards, restrained. A massive tower, to have been constructed over the West end, would have given the house "a more overtly romantic silhouette"but only the base was built.
The interior, by contrast, was to have been a riot of Burgesian excess but "not one of the rooms was completed according to Burges's designs." Of the few interior features that were fully executed, much was dismantled or covered over by Sir John and his successors, who followed the twentieth century distaste for Victorian architecture, and for the work of Burges in particular. The attitude persisted on the National Trust's acquiring the house in 1973. Writing at the time of the acquisition, the Secretary, R.R. Fedden, wrote; "the house was built by an architect called Burgess (sic). I expect it is coming back into fashion but the house could be regarded as irrelevant except as part of the setting in the garden." A more enlightened approach since Burges's rehabilitation has seen the Trust seeking to recover and restore as many of Burges's fittings as possible, including some "sparkling" ceilings, such as that in the Drawing Room, which was discovered in 1981, having been boarded over as early as 1889. In a number of instances, the Trust has brought in Burges furniture from other locations, including a bookcase from The Tower House, now in the Great Hall, and a marble fireplace in the Drawing Room, from Burges's redecoration of Worcester College, Oxford. The presentation album which Burges prepared, and which can be seen at the house, shows what might have been. "At Knightshayes Burges was on top form. But (his) magical interiors remained a half-formed dream." The Victorian critic Charles Locke Eastlake described the house in his A History of the Gothic Revival; "For this quality of design as well as for a certain vigour of treatment, Knightshayes may be considered a typical example of the Revival."
|exposure mode||full manual|