|Howard Tower viewed across the lake|
|View from the gardens|
Levens Hall lies about five miles south of Kendal in South Cumbria. It is known for its fine house, interiors and pictures, its topiary gardens and indeed its refreshment facilities. The Redman family built a pele tower at Levens in about 1350. This was an area of Scottish border raids and fortified dwellings were common. In 1562 Levens was sold to Sir Alan Bellingham. His son James succeeded in 1580 and was responsible for much of the building seen today, incorporating the original pele tower into an Elizabethan house. The plasterwork inside includes the coat of arms of Elizabeth I. James Bellingham was one of the many notables who met the new King James I travelling south from Scotland and was knighted at Durham.
From 1689 the house was purchased by Colonel James Grahme. He had been keeper of the privy purse to James II but when James was displaced by his daughter Mary and his nephew and son-in-law William of Orange, Colonel Grahme retired from court life. He used a French gardener to create a topiary garden at Levens, developed between 1694 and 1697. In 1709 Grahme' daughter married Henry Bowes Howard, 4th Earl of Berkshire. When Grahme died in 1730, the house passed to his daughter Catherine Howard. In 1745, her husband also became Earl of Suffolk and he died in 1757. When Catherine died five years later the estate went to her grandson and became the home for his widowed mother, Mary Howard, until her death in 1804. When she died the estate passed to her daughter Frances Howard, who had married Richard Bagot, who changed his name to Howard. Their daughter Mary was the last of the Grahme descendents; she married Colonel Upton who thereupon changed his name to Howard. This couple had several homes and visited Levens only on alternate Autumns but in 1820 the Howard Tower was completed for Mary. Mary was a widow for thirty years and when she died in 1877 the property went to her husband's nephew, General the honorable Arthur Upton. When he died without issue in 1883 the estate descended by a complicated route. It went to Sir Josceline Bagot, Mary Howard's father's great-great nephew. His son Alan Desmond Bagot succeeded in 1913 but he died of pneumonia in 1920 aged about 24 so Levens went to his uncle Richard Bagot. However, he lived only a year and was succeeded by the seven-year old Oliver Robin Gaskell, Sir Joceline Bagot's grandson by his daughter Dorothy Gaskell. Oliver Gaskell changed his name to Bagot in 1936 and in 1938 married Annette Dorothy Stephens. During the Second World War, Oliver was captured and became a prisoner in Germany. His wife managed to get the house used to accommodate nuns rather than soldiers. This was a wise move as so many historic houses were badly damaged as billets during the war. The estate had another brush with danger in 1960 when the line of the M6 was planned to go through it but Oliver fought a legal battle to save it. In 1975 the Bagots retired and their son Charles took over running the estate. Thus Levens has had a very complicated descent for the last 300 years with very few occasions on which it went to the eldest son.