Category Archives: Country Houses of North-east Yorkshire

Elizabethan skyscraper: Burton Agnes Hall

Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire

Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire

I never tire of visiting Burton Agnes Hall in North Yorkshire.  It has so much to offer the visitor.

It’s one of the most beautiful of Jacobean country houses, in warm brick with distinctive round “compass bays”, with extraordinarily fine wood panelling, fireplaces and a magnificent staircase. 

The history of the place goes back a long way.

In the grounds, behind a seventeenth-century façade, are the standing remains of the original Norman manor house.

The Jacobean house was built by Sir Henry Boynton after he was appointed to the Council of the North in 1599.

His daughter Anne was attacked nearby and subsequently died of her injuries.  She asked her sisters to make sure that after her death her skull should kept within the house saying that “if my desire be not fulfilled, my spirit shall, if it be permitted, render the house uninhabitable for human beings”.

Initially, her corpse was buried intact in the churchyard, but the supernatural ructions were such that, in consultation with the vicar, the sisters had the grave reopened and the skull brought within, upon which peace was restored.

Subsequent attempts to remove the skull from the premises – in one instance by burying it in the garden – always led to terrifying consequences until eventually the skull was interred within the walls.  Anne, and Burton Agnes, now rest in peace.

Marcus Wickham-Boynton, who owed Burton Agnes Hall between 1947 and 1989, resolved when he inherited to live “quietly, but not too quietly”, and spent his life modernising and beautifying the house and its gardens.

With the Yorkshire architect, Francis Johnson, he brought in panelling and fireplaces from neglected and unwanted houses and restored the long gallery, which had been divided into bedrooms and a store.

Marcus Wickham-Boynton was an astute art collector, bringing to Burton Agnes an impressive array of English and French paintings by such artists as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin, Duncan Grant, Augustus John, Edward Lear, Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Camille and Lucien Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Walter Sickert and Maurice Utrillo, alongside two impressive bronze busts by Sir Jacob Epstein.

His heir has added further items that are displayed in the Long Gallery, such as a tapestry by Kaffe Fassett and furniture by John Makepeace including the Millennium collection, ‘Tuscan Obelisk’, ‘Spiral’ and ‘Coppice’.

Visitor information for Burton Agnes Hall is at http://www.burtonagnes.com/Home.html.

The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Country Houses of North-East Yorkshire tour, with text, photographs, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

High society

Tuscan Temple, Duncombe Terrace, North Yorkshire

Tuscan Temple, Duncombe Terrace, North Yorkshire

You can spend an enjoyable day in North Yorkshire pretending to be an eighteenth-century aristocrat lording it over the landscape.

Visit (in either order) Duncombe Park [http://www.duncombepark.com/the_garden.shtml] and Rievaulx Terrace [http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rievaulx-terrace].

In the grounds of Duncombe Park, stretching along Ryedale towards Rievaulx Abbey, are a series of artificial high-level terraces.

Duncombe Terrace is significant because it’s one of the first such features to ignore formal geometry and follow the contour.

It’s punctuated by two temples dating from around 1730, an Ionic rotunda which closely resembles Vanburgh’s Rotondo at Stowe (1721), and a circular Tuscan temple.

The terraces at Rievaulx are rather later, dating from about 1758.  The pattern is the same, with a temple at either end, and the Rievaulx temples follow the same classical orders as their companions at Duncombe, but in this case a circular Doric Temple is paired with a rectangular Ionic Temple.

Both are spectacularly expensive ways of giving guests somewhere to stroll, and apart from the landmark temples, each provides dramatic vistas:  the Duncombe terrace looks across to Helmsley Castle, while the walk at Rievaulx provides a whole series of views, cut through the trees, to the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in the valley below.

The two sets of terraces are some three miles apart, and it’s probable that they were meant to connect by means of a scenic ride.  Large worked stones found in the intervening river-bed could have been the basis for a viaduct.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s comment [The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The North Riding (Penguin 1966)] on Rievaulx Terrace sums up the breathtaking assurance of the eighteenth-century handling of natural and man-made beauty:

The whole composition…is a superlative example of large-scale landscape gardening and of that unquestioning sense of being on top of the world which the rich and the noble in England possessed throughout the Georgian period.

The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Country Houses of North-East Yorkshire tour, with text, photographs, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Country house survivor

Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire

Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire

After decades of talk of “the destruction of the English country house” it’s refreshing to find more and more houses that were given over to institutional use have been restored as homes in the past twenty years.

One such is Duncombe Park House, North Yorkshire, (1713) designed by the gentleman-architect William Wakefield, possibly with assistance from Sir John Vanburgh, who was at the time coming to the end of his work at Castle Howard.

It’s a house that has survived a succession of crises.

All but the shell of Duncombe Park was destroyed by fire on a snowy night, January 11th 1879.  The parish magazine describes how the maids woke to the sounds of crackling and extremely hot carpets.  The water-supply to the house had been turned off to prevent frozen pipes, so the main block burnt to a shell although all of the family, guests and servants and – after desperate efforts – many of the contents were saved.

Work on rebuilding the main house stopped when the heir, Viscount Helmsley, died unexpectedly in 1881, leaving a two-year-old son to inherit from his grandfather, the 1st Earl of Feversham.

When rebuilding resumed in 1891, the architect William Young based his plans on the original design and some surviving fabric, but with an additional bay projecting the east front further into the garden.  He also made the original round-headed windows square, and reduced the interior size of the entrance hall, converting the design of its plaster ceiling from an oblong to a forty-foot square.

In 1894 a further fire destroyed furniture, tapestries and £6,000-worth of jewellery that had escaped the 1879 fire.  The damage was quickly restored, with the addition of a chapel by Temple Moore, in 1895.

When the second earl, grandson of the first, was killed in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, a year after inheriting the title, his son took the title at the age of ten, inheriting an estate encumbered with two sets of death duties in rapid succession.

Duncombe Park House was let to the Woodard Foundation and opened as Queen Mary’s Girls’ School in 1926.  The third earl throughout his life lived at Nawton Tower elsewhere on the estate.

At his death in 1963 the earldom died out but the older barony passed to his fourth cousin, the 6th Lord Feversham, at the age of eighteen.  It now belongs to his son, the 7th Lord.

The school’s lease did not cover repairs, and Lord Feversham was not prepared to allow modern buildings to be added, so when a break-lease fell due in 1986 Lord and Lady Feversham chose to reclaim the house, and the school removed to Baldersby Park near Thirsk – another fine early-eighteenth century house, though much altered, by Colen Campbell.

The restoration of Duncombe Park was carried out by Martin Stancliffe to such a standard that it’s difficult to visualise that the place was for sixty years a thriving, though apparently well-disciplined boarding school.

It’s a shame that it’s no longer possible for the general public to tour the house at Duncombe Park, though the gardens remain open:  http://www.duncombepark.com/index.php.

The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Country Houses of North-East Yorkshire tour, with text, photographs, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

“A mausoleum that would tempt one to be buried alive”

Castle Howard:  Mausoleum

Castle Howard: Mausoleum

Horace Walpole, a man not easily impressed, was bowled over by Castle Howard:

Nobody had informed me that at one view I should see a palace, a town, a fortified city, temples on high places, woods worthy of being each a metropolis of the Druids, the noblest lawn in the world fenced by half the horizon, and a mausoleum that would tempt one to be buried alive;  in short, I have seen gigantic places before, but never a sublime one.

Charles, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, proclaimed in his inscription on an obelisk near the house that he –

…ERECTED A CASTLE WHERE THE OLD CASTLE OF
HENDERSKELFE STOOD, AND CALL’D IT CASTLE-HOWARD.
HE LIKEWISE MADE THE PLANTATIONS IN THIS PARK
AND ALL THE OUT-WORKS, MONUMENTS AND OTHER
PLANTATIONS BELONGING TO THE SAID SEAT.

Of all these out-works and monuments, the most sublime is undoubtedly the Mausoleum, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1728-9, begun in 1731, and completed substantially to the original design in 1742, six years after Hawksmoor’s death and four years after Carlisle’s.

This great domed rotunda, seventy-six feet high, its twenty slender Doric columns set deliberately narrowly together, sitting on a bastion of gargantuan proportions, is a noble monument not only to Lord Carlisle, whose remains were finally laid to rest there, but also to its designer, who never saw it.

Members of the Howard family continue to be interred in the Mausoleum, which is off limits to ordinary visitors.

But it is possible to see inside the Mausoleum, and to visit other inaccessible parts of the estate, on pre-booked walking tours which are detailed in the Castle Howard website at http://www.castlehoward.co.uk/Whats-On.html.

The walking isn’t strenuous, though the tour can take up to 2½ hours.  It’s worth every step.

The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Country Houses of North-East Yorkshire tour, with text, photographs, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

The Brideshead set

Great Hall with murals by Scott Medd (1962-3), Castle Howard, North Yorkshire

Great Hall with murals by Scott Medd (1962-3), Castle Howard, North Yorkshire

Castle Howard is not Brideshead, though it owes a great deal to Brideshead Revisited.

It’s acknowledged that Evelyn Waugh’s wartime novel was based on the Lygon family who lived at the very different Madresfield Court, Worcestershire, which has its own stock of stories:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/theroyalfamily/8270238/Madresfield-Court-The-Kings-redoubt-if-Hitler-called.html.

The scandal which envelopes Lord Brideshead is nowhere near as dramatic as that which overtook the 7th Earl Beauchamp, a man who always carried £100 in cash “in case I have to hire a train”.  When his brother-in-law, ‘Bendor’, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, maliciously outed him, Lady Beauchamp remarked absently, “Bendor says that Beauchamp is a bugler.”

The only connection between Brideshead and Castle Howard is through television, and it’s proved crucial to the fortunes of the house and its family, the Howards.

The house was built by their ancestor, Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle (c1669-1738), who hired the multitalented playwright, John Vanburgh (1664-1726), to design a baroque palace on the site of the ancient castle of Henderskelfe.

The Great Hall is a stupendous space, seventy feet high and fifty-two feet square, surmounted by the great dome.  The paintings of the hall, dome and high saloon were by the Venetian Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini and the Huguenot Jean Herve.

In the period before the Second World War, canny country-house owners offered their properties to well-behaved girls’ schools:  the Duke of Devonshire, for example, saw to it by this means that Chatsworth was well looked after, but at Castle Howard an accidental fire on November 9th 1940 gutted much of the interior and destroyed Vanburgh’s dome.

The owner George Howard (1920-1984) spent much of his adult life breathing life back into Castle Howard.  The dome was restored in 1960 and the lost Pelligrini murals reproduced a couple of years later by the Canadian painter, Scott Medd (1911-1984).

George Howard, who was at the time Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC, was very glad to hire the place to Granada TV for their series-adaptation of Brideshead Revisited (1981).  The proceeds enabled him to rebuild some of the rooms on the south front, to the designs of Julian Bicknell with paintings by Felix Kelly.

His son, the Hon Simon Howard, the present owner, similarly welcomed Julian Jarrold’s feature-film production in 2007 (released 2008).  This enabled further rooms to be brought back to use, and the story is told in an exhibition ‘Brideshead Restored: The Story of Restoration at Castle Howard and Brideshead Revisited’.

For thousands of visitors and millions of viewers, Castle Howard is Brideshead.  It isn’t really, but it might as well be.

Castle Howard deserves a day to itself, at almost any time of the year:  http://www.castlehoward.co.uk.  If the house is open don’t miss eating in the Fitzroy Room restaurant.

The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Country Houses of North-East Yorkshire tour, with text, photographs, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.