Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Tale of Kiplin Hall

Dec 30, 2014 09:00AM ● By Cate Reynolds
English Roots from Which Maryland Grew, Now A Preservation of Things Past

By Cliff Rhys James

This is a tale, if not of two cities, then of two peoples from two continents and the one place they call a beginning. It’s a tale of 20th- and 21st-century Americans who ventured back in time and not unlike their forebears, across an ocean in search of the old world roots to their new world home. It represents the sometimes serendipitous hard won triumph of respect over neglect; of restoration over ruin. This is also the saga of true-to-the-end Marylanders and their English cousins, who four hundred years after it first rose out of the soil planted a flag at a historic estate vowing to preserve and protect it for all the generations to follow.

The world is full of sister cities, but down through the ages and across the groaning continents few transatlantic relationships have blossomed as fully as the one between the State of Maryland and the ancestral home of its English founder. In North Yorkshire County between the North York Moors in the east and the Pennine Hills to the west lies the Vale of Mowbray. It’s a pastoral setting of fertile agriculture and grass lands separated by thickets of ancient forest. Meandering rivers and country lanes checked by hedgerows holding Oak, Ash, and Elm trees wind across the rolling landscape and through rustic villages. Here, small brick houses with clay fired roof tiles shoulder up close to the narrow alleyways that lead on to the next town.

There, between 1622 and 1625 by the banks of the River Swale, George Calvert—the first Lord Baltimore—built a hunting lodge that would eventually become a grand three-story Jacobean-style country manor home. The main structure’s four castellated towers capped off by hexagonally-shaped lead-covered domes were located in the center of each façade—not at the corners as was common in that era. (This forms a cross when seen from an aerial view above the home.) Other noteworthy distinctions include more than forty windows for ample natural lighting, as well as a unique diamond shaped diapering pattern with blue/black salt-glazed headers standing out against traditional red brickwork on the exterior walls. Nearby, a picturesque lake ringed with wildflowers is frequented by geese and wild game amidst the splendid tranquility of the English countryside. In fact, if a picture post card image of 17th century English Renaissance architecture exists, it is surely this. And if a single old world edifice rightly symbolizes Maryland’s birthplace, it is surely Kiplin Hall. An ocean away but linked by the generational bonds of the Calvert family and a land grant north of Virginia that became the colony that formed a state, where a school of agriculture was begun, which became the University of Maryland.

The fate of Kiplin Hall, all that it was, is, or ever will be has always been bound up with the periodic but timely emergence of various rescuers from its very own league of extraordinary ladies and gentlemen. The Primus-Inter-Pares or first among equals was a man born in late 1579. He was a Catholic commoner of uncommon abilities with a gift for foreign languages and municipal law, who would go on to become a member of parliament as well as trusted advisor in the Royal Court of King James I. In 1617 his prestige increased to even greater heights when he was knighted. Two years later, Sir George Calvert’s power and influence reached their zenith when he was named secretary of state.

Despite the obligatory oath of allegiance he’d been required to swear to the Anglican Church, Calvert never truly abandoned his Catholic faith. In fact he was the first prominent person to dream of a new world colony where Protestants and Catholics could live, prosper, and worship freely side by side. Like Moses before him, George Calvert never made it to the Promised Land. But five weeks after his death in 1632 his cherished dream was fulfilled when the Charter for Maryland was approved. His oldest son Cecil, the second Lord Baltimore, after whom the city of Baltimore is named, inherited the colonial grant becoming the first proprietor of Maryland; younger son Leonard later became Maryland’s first governor.

Across time’s changing tides of fortune, Kiplin Hall remained in the hands of the Calvert Family or their progeny’s relatives for nearly 350 years. During the first 270 of those years under the attentive care of the Calverts, then Crowes, Carpenters, and Talbots, the buildings and lands of the estate generally flourished. But upon the death of Admiral Walter Talbot in 1904, Kiplin Hall entered a slow and ruinous decline. The old world aristocracy was losing its grip on power, dynasties were crumbling, and the dark shadow of World War I loomed ominously on history’s horizon. Fighting back valiantly against the vicissitudes unleashed by this great unraveling, the Admiral’s daughter rented out the hall, auctioned off valuable Italian paintings, and sold most of the estate’s acreage, which ultimately contracted from nearly 5,000 to the current 125 acres. With the structure in desperate need of major repairs, it was Kiplin Hall’s darkest hour.

But it was also during this hour of need that the home would be delivered up by the next rescuer from the league of extraordinary ladies and gentlemen who would take up the challenge and put her shoulder to the wheel. “Bridget Talbot was a remarkable woman,” Joe Scholten tells me. He’s the Associate Director for the University’s Office of International Affairs and current director of the Maryland Study Center at Kiplin Hall. “She was a caregiver for troops returning from the front during WWI. Most of the eligible men her age were killed and so Kiplin Hall became her life,” he adds. 

Fighting a rearguard action against the ravages of time and although unable to keep pace with needed maintenance, she held off the demolition man for a period of twenty years during which time the wrecking ball shattered two to three historical estates each and every week throughout England. If the destruction was relentless, she was tireless in her efforts to solicit help from the English National Trust as well as other historical, educational, and environmental organizations. She even traveled to America to plead for financial assistance. At one point serious thought was given to literally deconstructing the estate and moving it brick by brick to Maryland for reconstruction. During World War II, when Kiplin Hall housed RAF fighter pilots between sorties, she valiantly tried but only partially succeeded in preventing the military from using paintings for target practice and furniture for fire kindling. She even ran around the house frantically posting notes such as, “please do not carve your initials in the woodwork.”

 Throughout her life Bridget Talbot blazed with a mother’s protective instincts—and Kiplin Hall was her only child.

Then, during the decade prior to her death in 1971, fate had occasion to once more intervene producing yet another savior from the league of extraordinary ladies and gentlemen—this time an American. Leonard Crewe was a successful Baltimore industrialist and entrepreneur traveling about England in search of business opportunities in the 1960s when he learned of “a grand historical house not too far away connected to Maryland’s founding.” Crewe was a forceful, resourceful man of bold action. He was also president of the Maryland Historical Society and so he set off immediately for Kiplin Hall to meet its owner and occupant, Bridget Talbot. It was a fortuitous encounter between a doggedly determined Brit and a strong willed Yank who would soon join in battle against the forces of decay. She eventually appointed him as Kiplin Hall’s only American Trustee and in 1975 he was instrumental in raising $750,000 for the critically needed roof replacement.

Despite his busy schedule, Kiplin Hall was never far from Crewe’s thoughts and one day years later he was intrigued by a Philadelphia newspaper article about a University of Maryland architecture professor named David Fogle. It was the late 1970s and it seemed the good professor, originally from Kentucky and an early proponent of hands-on experiential learning, was directing students each summer in the historical renovation of the Chalfont Hotel—which laid claim to being America’s oldest resort hotel in Cape May, New Jersey—which labeled itself America’s oldest sea side resort. In typical fashion Leonard Crewe went right to the top. “The next thing I know,” Professor Fogle explains, “The president of the University calls and says, ‘Hey David, how would you like to visit Kiplin Hall in England?’”

Fogle not only visited, over the years he returned again and again with University of Maryland students who under his guidance and through the process of hands on experiential learning bent to the task of preserving portions of the ancestral home of Maryland’s founder. Their experience was further enriched by visits to other historical sites and structures so abundant throughout the North Yorkshire region. For David Fogle it was a labor of love.

Today this unassuming pioneer sits calmly at the center of storm like forces that he helped unleash; a whirlwind of preservation projects propelled by a combination of academic rigor and roll up your sleeves enthusiasm. It’s a good and constructive storm drawing category III forces from the fields of architecture, history, anthropology, sociology, law, economics, and the building trades. In fact, if Architecture Professor Emeritus David Fogle isn’t the father of the modern academic discipline of Historical Preservation within America’s hallowed halls of higher education—I don’t know who is. Which places him securely in our league of extraordinary ladies and gentlemen. Such is the esteem by which he’s held that during his most recent visit to Kiplin Hall, the English Trustees and staff abandoned the instinctive reserve for which they’re known and sang Happy Birthday to their beloved 85-year-old American friend and benefactor. And I mean benefactor in the literal sense; Professor Fogle is gifting his multi-story, five-bedroom Rehoboth Beach summer home, from whose back porch we sit enjoying this panoramic view to the University of Maryland in support of historical preservation professorships and the Kiplin Hall Student Study Center.

The crooked timber of humanity may never grow straight, at least not in this world, but people of goodwill, acting together in good faith can sometimes cut through the trifling diversions of the present moment in search of a more lasting meaning and majestic permanence. Their example speaks loudly saying we can preserve the heritage that history bequeaths to us; we can join the league of extraordinary ladies and gentlemen—if only we’ll try.