Brougham Hall

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Just a mile south of Penrith is the estate of Brougham Hall. Originally a medieval manor house, the site has been fortified since 1307 and the last battle on English soil was fought in the meadows below Brougham on 18th December 1745 – the climax of the ’45 Rebellion (Jenkins, 2003). The ruin of Brougham Hall conceals a long history. The name Brougham derives from Brocavum, celtic for home of the badgers, and was adopted by the Romans for their fort located one roman mile north east of the Hall. Brocavum Fort commanded the bridge over the River Eamont and controlled the junction of the principle roman road from York to Carlisle with the secondary roman road to Ambleside and Hardnott. Until 1237 Scotland started at Brougham and the St Andrews Cross still flies from local churches. King Alexander, Prince Charles Stuart of Scotland, King Henry II, King Richard I, King Henry III, King Richard III, King James I and King Charles I of England have all had an influence on this area. With history that can be traced back to the Late Neolithic Period, Brougham Hall has been host to many great characters. From Hadrian and his northern defences to Winston Churchill, accompanied by Eisenhower, who came to inspect his top secret C.D.I tanks. These vehicles were used in the first Rhine crossing at Remagen on 7th March 1945. Initially owned by the de Burgham family, ownership of the house was divided into three parts during the 13th century and remained this way until 1676. On the death of Lady Anne Clifford, her share was sold to James Bird, her trusted agent, which gave him full ownership of Brougham. James was responsible for extensive building work and the expansion for the Hall. Part of the estate was already owned by the Broughams prior to James Bird and it wasn’t until John Brougham of Scales bought Brougham Hall in 1726 that the Hall was returned to Brougham ownership. The Lord Chancellor of England, Lord Brougham and Vaux, also lived at Brougham Hall and after successfully defending Queen Caroline against King George IV in 1820, he went on to design the famous Brougham Carriage.

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Brougham Hall received license to crenelate in 1307 and the oldest surviving building above ground level at the Hall is the Tudor building in the courtyard. Dating to around 1480, the door, lower windows and upper west window are all original with two upper windows later installed, as is the machicolation over the door. The date of the building falls at about the most turbulent time in British history when no fewer than four monarchs came and went within a three year period. Richard III was well known in the Penrith area as ‘Lord of the North’ and his reign, between 1483-1485, was also short-lived. The fine studded panelled entrance gates (above) are made of Oak and date to the Tudor period. Still in use every day, the gates have been repaired in finest quality English Oak by a master craftsman, in memory of Brougham’s Clerk of Works, Don Mawdsley, who sadly passed away in 2003. The gateway doors are in a round chamfered arch under a machiolated parapet and originally there was an inner lock which was dated and inscribed AP 1680 (Anne Countess of Pembroke). The nails, bolts and hinges attached to the door also date from the Tudor period. History was made at 11am on 15th October 1905 when King Edward VII set off through this early 17th century gate to Raby Castle, over Stainmore, in the first motorcade in the north of England driven by a British monarch. Setting off along a 54 mile stretch of road (which had been hand-swept to ensure that the king did not get a puncture!), there was a policeman at every intersection pointing in the direction that the king should go. A 40hp plum coloured Mercedes was taken to Brougham Hall from Balmoral specially for the journey and various other motorcars joined in this historic event.

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The First Lord Brougham acquired the Hall in 1810 and under the stewardship of his younger brother William, the house was restored and improved. As Brougham Hall is en route to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, it was host to royalty on several occasions and became known as The Windsor of the North. The house remained in the Brougham family for four generations until the 4th Lord Brougham, Victor Henry Peter, accrued numerous debts and was forced to sell the estate in 1934. Purchased by his neighbour, Major Carleton Cowper, Brougham Hall was stripped and partly demolished. The site retains the fortified walls of the original enclosure and the ruins of the Hall, billiard room, coach archway and the cellars beneath. The remaining buildings are constructed from mixed sandstone rubble with ashlar dressings and the hall range has only the cellars and a few courses of stonework that still survive. The last substantial structure to be built at Brougham was the tower, Lord Chancellor’s Den (below), built by Richard Charles Hussey, Vice President of the RIBA, in 1864. The tower sits on huge foundations of a much earlier tower and incorporates an early example of a Bitumastic damp-proof course. On the ground floor there was a full sized billiard room and in the office above, Henry Peter, Lord Chancellor of England, thought out some of his famous contributions to British history – the Great Reform Bill of 1832, the establishment of the Charity Commission, the reform of the Privy Council, the establishment of the Old Bailey, the establishment (with Bentham and the Prince Consort) of London University and many other far reaching pieces of socialistic legislation. Phase I of the restoration of this tower was completed in 2012 and involved the de-vegetating, stabilising and reinforcing the upper-most part of the ground floor of what will eventually be a three floor tower. The ultimate aim is to house an extensive collection of site specific Regency State papers (an archive containing many of Lord Brougham’s more important documents, which are of national and international importance) and become a public exhibition and scholarship centre. Phase II will involve the reconstruction of the first and second floors and Phase III will involve the archiving and conservation of the aforementioned documents.

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Winston Churchill commandeered Brougham Hall, Lowther Castle and Greystoke Castle in 1942 for the development of an extraordinary weapon. The Canal Defence Light was a top secret weapon devised between the two great wars and a development and testing site was set up in and around Brougham Hall. The tank was equipped with a 13 million candlepower white arc light which had a strobe operating at a frequency that had the effect of temporarily blinding the enemy. These tanks were without any other offensive weaponry and the intention was to move forward in a V formation of 150 tanks which comprised three squadrons of 50 tanks. On 5th May 1942 Winston Churchill drove through the 17th century gateway arch to inspect the Canal Defence Light Tanks and in December of the same year, he returned to watch the trials of this secret weapon. Although the tanks were never used as intended, they were used to illuminate the Rhine for the Remagen crossing on 5th March 1945 and for operations in Mesopotamia and north Eastern India. A plaque under the staircase in the courtyard has been erected, unveiled by Brigadier Ewan Morrison on 16th July 1992, dedicated to the memory of the officers and men who served at Brougham Hall between July 1942 and June 1944. These men were drawn from the 1st and 35th Tank Brigades of the 79th Armoured Division and were supported by the R.E.M.E. who left in 1945. After the war, the army camp at Brougham was used as a displaced persons camp until the early 1950’s and thereafter, it was used by the Ministry of Supply as a petrol dump.

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Over the next couple of decades Brougham Hall became a neglected ruin despite being purchased by two companies who had intended to make commercial gain from the land. Christopher Terry had fallen in love with the dilapidated Hall during the 1960’s and after hearing of plans to build on the land, he acquired Brougham in 1985. The Brougham Hall Charitable Trust was founded in 1986 and for one peppercorn, Christopher Terry transferred the Hall to the Trust on 8th October of the same year. Committed to conservation, Christopher has intended to restore Brougham as it was externally and having been rescued from dereliction, restoration work also commenced in 1986. Now home to an array of arts and crafts workshops and businesses, the Hall has a restored Tudor Block, Brewery and Stable Block. Priority is given to the parts of the building that are in most urgent need of attention and original building materials are being re-used wherever possible. Brougham Hall has its own skilled craftsmen and thankfully, there are sufficient drawings, photographs and paintings to be certain of the external appearance of the building.

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While the tracery of the ornate windows looks delicate, it actually weighs well over a ton. One of the windows in the Lord Chancellor’s Den was repaired by master craftsmen in May 2005 and it took three men to lift the larger pieces of stone. The sculpture of Christ (below) is the work of Josefina de Vasconcellos who continued to visit Brougham long after her 100th birthday. Helen Beatrix Potter was also a frequent visitor to Brougham Hall as her brother in law, the Reverend Arthur John Heelis, was the Rector of Brougham from 1900-1922. The Rev Heelis had a Phoenix three-wheeled car, which is still in existence and this was the sixth car to be registered in Westmorland. Beatrix Potter complained often about having to push this car to a start every time she came to Brougham! On one of her visits, she gave a copy of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ to Eileen Brougham for her birthday and signed the flyleaf: “to Princess Eileen, on Peace Day, Brougham, August 23rd 1919”. Peace Day was chosen to celebrate the official end of the War. Beatrix Potter’s husband, William Heelis, was a solicitor and he chaired a Coroner’s inquest after James Maughan from Byker in Northumberland was killed by falling masonry in the Lord Chancellor’s Den. Maughan was 22 years old and his demise was pronounced “accidental death” in the days before Health & Safety. The co founder of the National Trust Canon Rawnsley was also a frequent visitor to Brougham Hall.

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In November 2010, Brougham obtained full planning consent and listed building consent to proceed with one of the very few specially built political archive centres in the country. This consent was expanded in October 2013 to include the greater part of the remainder of the Hall. Of British Library calibre, the best of Brougham’s papers, of which many are hand illuminated on vellum, are to be mounted in a rotating exhibition in the Lord Chancellor’s actual office at Brougham. The display will be on two levels – a public exhibition and a separate static one for students of Politics and Economics and scholars. One of the buildings in the courtyard is devoted to the preservation of parts of the history and heritage of Brougham Hall and the encouragement of vernacular skills. NADFAS are currently engaged on a three year programme to clean and restore a 1675 Flemish Oak screen which once adorned the Brougham Armour Hall until the sale of the 1930’s. It was then removed to a church in Ayrshire, the roof of which collapsed onto the screen causing considerable damage which is now being rectified. Other projects involve workshops and the restoration of a Brougham Carriage, made in Paris in 1894, the restoration of two mid 18th century sphinx and the restoration of a stained glass window for the Lord Chancellor’s Den.

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From 1837 Brougham Hall has had a fascinating and varied vehicular history. Designed by the first Lord Brougham, the Brougham Carriage was the veritable Volkswagen of horse drawn vehicles. In 1837 Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, Whig Politician, and Lord Chancellor to William IV, perceived a need which would make his mark on the carriage world forever. With coachmen and grooms waiting into the small hours for debates to finish in the Palace of Westminster, his usual form of transport was cumbersome and labour intensive. Brougham thought there was a need for “a refined and glorified street cab that would make a convenient carriage for a gentleman, and especially for a man of such independence of ideas as one who carried his own carpet bag on occasions when time was important and his own servants otherwise employed!” (Furnival, 1999). This carriage was the first to have elliptical springs and his revolutionary design included the necessity of being light and compact and needing only one horse and coachman. Lord Brougham’s coach builders, Messrs Sharp and Bland of South Audley Street, advised him that his designs would never find popular appeal. To their eternal discredit, they completely failed to recognise the potential of Lord Brougham’s design. Lord Brougham duly took his design round the corner to the Mount Street premises of a neighbouring firm, Robinson and Cook (later to become Cook and Holdway of Halkin Place, London), and on 15th May 1838 the first Brougham Carriage rolled off the production line. Thousands of this carriage were eventually produced in factories all around the world. The original 1838 Brougham Carriage, which was used by Lord Brougham, Gladstone and Disraeli, was restored in 1977 by the company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Markers to commemorate HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. It was exhibited that year at Ascot and the Guildhall and then presented to the Science Museum in South Kensington.

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1838 Brougham Carriage (Ragley Hall Collection)

 In 1995 the fourth Lord Brougham purchased two eight litre Bentleys, of which only 100 of these vehicles were ever made, and both cars are still in existence. Wolfie Benarto, the Chairman and owner of Bentley Motors, was a regular visitor to house parties at Brougham Hall. In 1931 Rolls Royce bought Bentley Motors and on 16th May 2004, Brougham Hall played host to the Rolls Royce & Bentley Enthusiasts Club who were celebrating the centenary of Mr Royce meeting Mr Rolls. Cumbria Classic Cars makes an annual visit to Brougham Hall with numerous other arts festivals and events held throughout the year.

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Courtyard Door Knocker Brougham Hall

There are only four known examples of the 12th century design of the door knocker (above) in existence – two are in Durham and two from Brougham. Both of the Durham rings were bronze and the sanctuary ring on the north door of Durham Cathedral (below) is considered to be “one of the most striking achievements of Romanesque bronze casting” (Archaeologia, Vol 107 1982). During the medieval period, Durham Cathedral offered St Cuthbert’s protection to fugitives who had committed a great offence. Those claiming sanctuary held onto the ring of the Sanctuary Knocker, which dates to 1172, until a monk admitted them into the Cathedral. Sanctuary seekers were given a black robe to wear and offered 37 days of sanctuary in the Cathedral, after which they either chose to stand trial or were taken to the coast and sent into exile. The right of sanctuary was abolished in 1623. Concern was expressed for the safety of the Sanctuary Knocker at Durham Cathedral in 1977 and eventually the decision was taken to remove it and replace it with a copy. There was no evidence to suggest that the ring had been removed previously and for the first time, it was possible to thoroughly examine the ring in laboratory conditions. The Victoria and Albert Museum carried out metallurgical tests and the British Museum made a cast (Archaeologia, Vol 107 1982). The original Sanctuary Knocker is displayed in the Durham Cathedral Treasury with the copy now hanging on the north door. The Brougham ring was made of iron and similar to the one at Durham Cathedral, it faced due north, on the courtyard gate. The Brougham ring was stolen and in an attempt to replace it, the Brougham Hall Charitable Trust asked the Bishop of Durham for consent to use the mould cast by the British Museum. Although the Bishop was amenable, the Dean and Chapter were not so the long task of drawing another from the monster’s head began. Carved in wood, a sand mould, in seven pieces, was taken from the wooden head and finally cast in bronze by Collier’s Foundry in Sussex in 1993. This copy now graces the courtyard door at Brougham Hall.

Brougham Hall is Grade II* Listed.

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Sanctuary Knocker Durham Cathedral

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Corbridge: Aydon Castle

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Amid the scars of ancient roads and fortifications, the slopes of hills in Northumberland conceal the austere and strong architecture of the “land of great castles” (Allsopp & Clark, 1969). The steep gradient to the Cor Burn forms a defence on three sides of Aydon Castle and its bailey with strong walls and gateway protecting the north side of the house. A wonderful survival from the Middle Ages, Aydon Castle is often recorded as Aydon Hall. Although planned as a manor house, its proximity to the England-Scotland border meant that it had to have some of the attributes of a fortress. Prehistoric and Roman remains have been discovered near Aydon yet there is no certain evidence that the site of the castle was occupied before the 13th century. First recorded in 1225, the village formed part of the barony of Bolam and combining two Old English words, meaning ‘hay pasture’, Aydon was acquired shortly after 1290 by a Suffolk landowner – Robert de Raymes. Most of what survives at Aydon was built between 1295 and 1315 and it is an exceptionally well preserved fortified manor. As one of the first areas to be raided from Scotland, Edward I granted a royal licence to crenellate in 1305. Most of the buildings were already completed by this time with a licence to crenellate more often granted when works were finished. Licences were very rarely refused as those who wanted the status of a castellated house were charged a fee by the king who could also control the spread of castles within his realm. Exercising control over the building of non-royal castles, 12th century government officials introduced the legal obligation to obtain a licence before a residence could be fortified (Friar, 2003). The earliest stone buildings at Aydon are the hall, chamber block and the garderobe/latrine wing (Summerson, 2004). The battlemented walls were built to the north between 1300 and 1305 enclosing the buildings within an inner courtyard.

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Inner courtyard stairs to the hall

Before entering Aydon Castle it is evident that it was a fortified manor house and not a fortress. There was never a gatehouse or any other form of defensive outworks and the small ditch that extended in front of the north wall would not have kept any serious attacker at bay for long. The smaller outer courtyard was characteristic of medieval architecture – providing some defence and by creating a series of entrances, it was also intended to impress. A further stage to pass before entering the castle buildings is through the inner courtyard (above). Replacing an earlier one, the present stairway dates from the 16th century and originally there was a porch at the top. The porch was later replaced by a lean-to that covered the whole length of the stair of which the roof outline is still visible on the wall. Although staircases were usual and probably of wood construction, the ladder and trapdoor were frequently used in the early part of the medieval period and most external staircases of the 13th century have since been replaced (Wood, 1994).

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Fine stone vault of the stores

The ground floor of an early medieval house was often vaulted in stone which raised the living rooms to the first floor level and thus became more defensible. The vaulted ground floor became extremely popular during the first half of the 13th century and the stores underneath the second kitchen at Aydon are particularly fine (above). Providing fireproof storage accommodation, there are three interconnected rooms that were built to hold the stores for the kitchens immediately above. The doorway into the stores has a shouldered lintel, also known as Caernarvon arch, which became common from the latter part of the 13th century onwards and there are many good examples throughout Aydon. This block was converted to stables in 1657 by William Collinson who briefly owned the estate from 1654 until his son, Henry Collinson, sold up in 1702.

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Downstairs solar

In the early Middle Ages the solar was a private bed-sittingroom of the owner and his family. With servants sleeping in the hall or in work rooms between the storage, individual bedrooms were rare. The downstairs solar at Aydon has three doorways in the west wall of the room, one of which opens onto the inner courtyard. The room was originally only accessible from above which suggests that it was a retreat for the lord’s family, likely during the winter months. The only two 13th century windows that survive are small lancets with others thought to be have been installed during the 16th century when the room was converted into a kitchen. The room features an original 13th century fireplace in the east wall which is beautifully decorated with a row of carved stone bosses (below). Aydon Castle contains several excellent and unusual examples of elaborate 13th century fireplaces.

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Carved bosses above the fireplace (downstairs solar)

The polite version of latrine, a garderobe or privie, was used in the privy sense from the 14th century. The privy chambers (camerae privatae) were attached to other rooms and were usually situated at the end of a passage. Privies were always provided with a small window or some form of ventilation – shafts could be ventilated or ventilators in the roof also occur. Unless a corbel was provided, as at Aydon, the window sill would serve as a place on which to put a light. Adjoining the upstairs solar, the location and amenities of the latrine tower at Aydon (below) suggest that this was the lord’s bedchamber. The room is lit on three sides by windows and was effectively a medieval en suite. The latrine itself is a double-decker and the small cupboard cut into the wall at the far end has the chute next to it. The shaft is concealed in the buttress at the south east corner of the room and although the latrine is directly above one on the ground floor, the upper one is set further back to prevent accidents. Later refurbishments of this chamber resulted in the addition of a fireplace and in the 1920’s, the chamber became a bathroom. By this time the latrine had been superseded by an earth closet in the kitchen garden.

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The latrine tower

The chief room in a medieval house was the hall. With a central hearth, the medieval hall developed from a barn like structure of prehistoric and Saxon times and during the earlier Middle Ages, the room could be raised to the first floor. Raised on a stone basement these first floor halls were more defensible and were in use from the late 11th century onwards. The first floor hall is found common in both town and manor houses and the high table, where the owner and his family would dine, was at the upper end of the room. The private quarters, or solar, was often at the end of the hall and eventually a separate room developed. Divided off with curtains initially, a wooden partition would be used and by the 12th century, there might be a more permanent division built in stone. Retaining the outer staircase, the hall at Aydon has no sign of a wall fireplace suggesting that it was heated from the one in the room below or from a fire in the centre of the room either in a brazier or on a stone hearth.

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East end of the hall

The social centre of the whole complex, the hall was where the lord appeared in public especially when entertaining guests. The open roof at Aydon gives space for smoke to rise and escape through a louvre at the top. The roof is not original but was replaced with one very much like it during the 16th or 17th century when repairs were made to the hall. The walls, which would have been plastered and decorated with paintings or wall hangings, would have needed constant cleaning due to the effects of smoke. There was originally a gallery at the west end of the room where musicians would play and from which a steward or servant could observe the meal. The hall was the communal living room and was also the main living and sleeping space for all but the lord’s immediate family. The room was screened off at one end from the kitchen and other service areas and the stone screen (below) was inserted during the 16th century. The wall of the hall is narrowed at the west end to give access to the doorway suggesting that the chamber block was built before the stone hall and possibly, it may have been built up against an original hall with thinner wooden walls.

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The 16th century stone screen in the hall

During the 16th century the eighth Robert de Raymes consolidated his estates and gave Aydon to Sir Reynold Carnaby in exchange for lands at Hawkwell. In the process of building up a substantial estate at Hexham, Sir Reynold placed Aydon in the hands of his brother Cuthbert. The Carnaby family made significant changes to the estate especially to the kitchen and to the roofs. Dendrochronology indicates that the timber in the roofs of the latrine block and the west wing kitchen date to the 1540’s. Following the civil wars of the 1640’s, Ralph Carnaby was heavily penalised by parliament for supporting Charles I and as a result, Aydon Castle was sold in 1654 with an estate of 300 acres of arable land to William Collinson of Tynemouth and together with his son Henry, they farmed their estate until 1702.

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Around 1830 Sir Edward Blackett, the sixth baronet, put the castle into a complete state of repair as it had long been ‘neglected and ruinous’ (Summerson, 2004). The land was once again used as a working farm and the interior was altered to provide the necessary accommodation. Members of the local Rowell family came into occupation and they stayed at Aydon for just over a century. A schoolroom was installed on the first floor of the old latrine block and as there was no electricity until 1950, oil lamps and candles were used to provide lighting. Aydon was completely self-sufficient and the Rowell family appear to have lived well. In a county guide published in 1889, the writer William Tomlinson described Aydon as “a better class farm house, though still retaining many of its ancient features.” As farming became less profitable in the early 20th century and with the roofs needing constant attention, Sir Charles Blackett, the ninth baronet, placed the castle in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works in 1966. A thorough restoration got underway which included the removal of practically all the 19th century fittings (Summerson, 2004). Surviving little changed from its original state, Aydon Castle is an outstanding example of a 13th century manor house.

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“The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions.” G.M. Trevelyan: Autobiography of an Historian (1949).

Aydon Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Stokesay Castle: Gatehouse

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At the time of the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086, Stokesay formed part of a prosperous estate called Stoches. An Anglo-Saxon word which suggests the presence of a cattle farm, Stoches was held by the Lacy family who became lords of Weobley and Ludlow. The first recorded tenants appear to have built a small keep with an adjacent hall (Jenkins, 2003). Dendrochronological evidence shows that building at Stokesay did not begin until after 1285 when the local wool merchant, Laurence of Ludlow, owned the rights of the manor – purchased some four year earlier. Laurence erected the impressive manor house with crenellated tower and built walls round an inner bailey. His family occupied Stokesay until 1598.

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While Stokesay is a castle in name only, when the antiquary John Leyland passed through Shropshire in 1543 he described it as “buildid like a castel.” The title of Stokesay Castle only became common during the 16th and 17th centuries which no doubt reflected the social pretensions of its owners and as Alec Clifton-Taylor (1986) notes, “a castle was a good address.” Although a stone curtain wall was built to enclose Stokesay, the present gatehouse was not built until 1640. Nothing remains of the original gatehouse which was likely to have been of stone construction (Summerson, 2009). Unique to the Middle Ages, castles, or feudal residences, were more often than not lived in than fought over. Simple gate towers were in use throughout the medieval period, usually as secondary gates, and the ostentatious embellishment of gatehouses had their part to play from the 14th century onwards (Friar, 2003).

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The widow of a former Lord Mayor of London, Dame Elizabeth Craven, purchased Stokesay in 1620. Her son William was a soldier who spent much of his time abroad and he made permanent alterations to the appearance of Stokesay between 1640 and 1641. The gatehouse timbers are dated between 1639-1641 – when William was busy with building work. Given the ornately decorated character, the gatehouse was not concerned with defensibility. The two storey gatehouse is half-timbered and features a central passageway with a studded door. The ground level walls are close studded with the first floor jettied out above. Carved along the lintel above the entrance is the biblical story of the fall of man with the trees of life and the knowledge of good and evil at each end. Adam and Eve appear on the ornately carved brackets flanking the entrance with others exquisitely depicting angels, acanthus leaves and dragons. “A real touch of the Renaissance – what fun those craftsmen had!” (Clifton-Taylor, 1986)

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At some point the gatehouse became a refuge for a coiner and by 1877 there was a caretaker living in the building. When the architectural historian Thomas Hudson Turner visited Stokesay in 1845, he described it as “one of the most perfect and interesting buildings which we possess.” Following the death of Jewell Allcroft in 1992, Stokesay was placed in the guardianship of English Heritage and a four year campaign of restoration got underway.

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Referred to as domus defensabiles in the Domesday Book, fortified homesteads were both a residence and a personal stronghold. The inherent desire to provide a facade with a “satisfying architectural climax” (Friar, 2003) is more than evident at Stokesay. What survives at Stokesay Castle is a remarkable example of a fortified manor house and the “breezy Jacobean gatehouse is a gem” (Jenkins, 2003).

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“I do love these ancient ruins: We never tread upon them, but we set our foot upon some reverend history.” John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi (1612)

The gatehouse is Grade I Listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

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Beningbrough Hall

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Beningbrough was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Benniburg and was owned by a man named Asford. Much of the land passed to the Hospital of St Leonard, a religious foundation run by monks, during the 12th and 13th centuries. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, St Leonard’s Hospital and its land were surrendered to King Henry VIII. In 1544 the land was sold to John Banester and in 1556, his nephew Ralph Bourchier inherited the estate. Ralph began building a house on a site approximately 300 metres south-east of the present hall and recent surveys suggest that it had a timber frame with fine panelled interiors – some of which were reused in the present hall (Alton, 2011). The building passed down a line of Bourchiers and was eventually inherited by John Bourchier in 1700, aged just 16. The present hall was completed in 1716 and rises out of the flood plain of the River Ouse.

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In 1704 John Bourchier embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe and spending almost two years in Italy, he absorbed the Italianate Baroque architectural style into his plans for a new house at Beningbrough. The command of the classical Renaissance vocabulary that Bourchier admired in Europe played a major role in the planning of the hall and although the building is constructed in the English tradition of brick, much of the exterior detailing is derived from Roman sources. Like Bourchier, many gentlemen scholars undertook Grand Tours as part of the 17th century tradition of the virtuoso. Referred to by Francis Bacon in 1605 as those who “entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation”, these men did not receive any formal training in building design. The highly acclaimed English Baroque architect Sir Christopher Wren taught himself “when he turned to architecture” (Downes, 1971). The grammar of the Renaissance was initially learned from the treatises of Alberti and Vitruvius and the illustrated books of Serlio, Palladio, Vignola and Scamozzi with practical experience gained under a great master. Following his grand tour in 1754 and his study of the Baths of Diocletian and Caracalla, the architect Robert Adam declared in his Ruins of Spalatro that “with sword in hand… and reflections on the subject I must own they contributed very much to the improvement of my taste and enlarged my notions of architecture” (Adam, 1757). Essentially public architecture, the baroque country house was almost always built for the gentry or aristocracy. With eternal ideas deriving from antiquity and the desire to emulate their elegance and purity of a better age (Tinniswood, 1991), the 18th century classicists agreed that the buildings of the ancients should “serve as models which we should imitate, and as standards by which we ought to judge” (Adam, 1774).

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The top of a pilaster (Great Hall)

Little is known about the building history of Beningbrough but it is believed that William Thornton, a “joyner and architect” (Tinniswood, 1991) supervised the construction of the hall. Thornton is described as Bourchier’s architect in a list of Yorkshire houses contained in a copy of The Builder’s Dictionary of 1734. Thornton worked at Bramham Park, Wentworth Castle and under Nicholas Hawksmoor at Castle Howard and on the restoration of Beverley Minster. Working to the designs of Bourchier, Beningbrough is a two storey building of double-pile plan and constructed of red brick in Flemish bond with ashlar dressings and cumberland slate roof. The symmetrical facade features a central entrance bay with Doric pilasters supporting an entablature with cornice.

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Solid York stone pilasters (Great Hall)

The Great Hall is a fantastic display of splendour with imposing fluted composite pilasters gracing the double height room that soar to the groined vaults above balconied openings. Resembling the classical grandeur of Baroque palaces in Italy, the Great Hall connects a lot of the ground floor rooms and not only designed to impress, it was used to serve as a busy circulating space. The room is lavishly adorned with monumental portraits of 18th century British monarchs which come from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. The National Trust acquired Beningbrough in 1958 and when conservators stripped back paint on the plinths supporting the pilasters, they discovered that they were made from solid York stone. The creamy white colour of the stone is what the pilasters have been redecorated with and at the same time, the floor was re-laid with smooth flagstones, as it had originally been (Alton,2011). Often decorating the entrance halls of Roman villas, sculpted portraits also feature at Beningbrough. The impressive bust of Pope Clement XIV (below) is above the fireplace in the Great Hall and was carved in Rome in 1771 by the Irish sculptor Christopher Hewetson. When Mrs Earle, owner of Beningbrough during the 18th century, became pregnant, Pope Clement gave her special permission to stay in a convent during her time in Rome in 1770-1771.

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Bust of Pope Clement XIV above the fireplace in the Great Hall

Providing a link between the Great Hall and the original state apartment (now the Drawing Room) on the ground floor and the Saloon on the first floor, the Great Staircase Hall (below) displays particularly fine craftsmanship. Reserved exclusively for the owners and their guests, the cantilevered wooden staircase would have been climbed in formal procession on special occasions. To the left of the Great Staircase is a small door which opens onto another tiny set of stairs which run alongside their much grander counterpart and were used by the servants. The intricate fretwork of the banister appears to be elaborate wrought-iron work but the spindles are in fact carved in wood – likely to have been crafted by William Thornton, the chief craftsman and master woodworker.

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The Great Staircase Hall

The last in the Bourchier line to hold Beningbrough was Margaret Bourchier. Margaret married Giles Earle in 1761 and they had two sons. Following the death of both sons fighting in the war against Napoleon, when Margaret Earle passed away in 1827 Beningbrough passed to reverend William Henry Dawnay, a close friend of one of her sons. The estate was owned by the Dawnay family between 1827 and 1916 (Alton, 2011).

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Ground floor corridor

The State Apartment and State Dressing Room (below) are on the ground floor adjoining the Dining Room. The original form of the state apartment was lost with the creation of the current Drawing Room so the National Trust has re-created the State Apartment in the south-east part of this floor. The intimate Dressing Room and Closet would have been reserved for use by the occupant of the State Bedchamber with only close friends permitted to enter. These smaller rooms would have provided a cosy retreat to escape the biting cold of the larger rooms during the winter. Kings would have met with their key ministers and advisors in their own closets, also known as cabinet rooms, and is where the origin of the political word cabinet stems. The stepped chimneypiece was specifically designed to display ceramics. Oriental porcelain was the fashion from the late 17th century and the room displays some fine pieces of Delftware on loan from the Ashmolean and Victoria and Albert museums.

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Chimneypiece State Dressing Room

The fabulous Dining Room (below) was originally referred to as the Great Parlour during the mid 18th century and was the main dining room by the 19th century. Rather than hung with fabric, the walls are of panelled wood and although they are painted a pale green colour, the original decor would have been a stony white colour. Inspired by the colours found at Boughton in Northamptonshire, the National Trust chose the current scheme as an ideal colour to complement the gold framed portraits. The walls are ornately covered with portraits of members of the Kit Cat Club. Sharing a commitment to uphold the “Glorious Revolution” (Alton, 2011), Whig politicians founded the most distinguished and influential club of its day – the Kit Cat Club. Meeting regularly in a London tavern, the club took its name from the mutton pies that were served up by the owner of the tavern, Christopher Cat. The custom of presenting a portrait to the club’s secretary, the publisher Jacob Tonson, was introduced by the Duke of Somerset. Sir Godfrey Kneller was an artist and member of the Kit Cat Club and during the first two decades of the 18th century, he painted nearly 40 club portraits. Almost half of Kneller’s Kit Cat portraits are on display at Beningbrough with the remainder at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

‘Hence did th’Assembly’s Title first arise, And Kit Cat Wits sprung from Kit-Cats Pyes’ (The Kit-Cats, A Poem, anon 1708).

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The Dining Room

The Drawing Room (below) is next to the Dining Room and was originally two separate spaces – a bedroom and a withdrawing room that formed part of a state apartment. The dividing wall was likely to have been removed during the 1830’s when the fashion for ground floor bedrooms was superseded by a greater need for large reception rooms. The room features an exquisitely carved wooden frieze depicting shells, vases and palm fronds that is intricately detailed with the initials JMB which stand for John and Mary Bourchier, who the house was originally built for. The magnificent woodcarvings and panelling were moved around during 19th century alterations and again after 1917 when Lady Chesterfield had the woodwork stripped of paint to reveal the pine beneath. Thought to be original features and depicting members of the Bourchier family, some of the portraits in this room were actually bought by the Dawnays in the 1890’s (Alton, 2011).

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The Drawing Room

Originally referred to as the Great Dining Room, the Saloon (below) would have been used for large parties, county balls, family celebrations and banquets. This grand room features gilded pilasters, decorative dentils and a coffered ceiling. Allowing space for celebrations, the Saloon was kept uncluttered with chairs pushed to the edges of the room. There are two 18th century mirrors in this room that come from Holme Lacy. To prevent deterioration, the mirrors were carefully cleaned and treated in 2009 as part of the ongoing conservation work by the National Trust. The elaborate Italianate decoration in the room is another example of William Thornton’s skilful wood craftsmanship and not, as it appears, moulded in plaster.

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The Saloon

Enid Edith Wilson was a wealthy shipping heiress and became Lady Chesterfield following her marriage to Edwyn Francis Scudamore-Stanhope, 10th Earl of Chesterfield, in 1900. The Chesterfield’s furnished Beningbrough with lavish furniture and pictures from Holme Lacy, in Herefordshire, where they lived until 1909. They finally came to Beningbrough in 1917 and completely redecorated the house. Lord Chesterfield died in 1933 and making way for servicemen from nearby RAF Linton On Ouse, Lady Chesterfield temporarily moved to Home Farm in 1941. She returned after the war in 1947 and remained at Beningbrough until her death in 1957 aged 79. As there were not enough assets to cover the death duties, Beningbrough was offered to the Treasury and in June 1958, it was acquired by the National Trust. Lady Chesterfield transformed her closet into a luxurious modern bathroom (below) in the 1920’s. A very extravagant touch are the taps above the bath which can be shut away in their own cupboards to create a more finished look to the room.

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Lady Chesterfield’s Bathroom

On the top floor of the building are galleries (below) that combine the National Portrait Gallery’s 18th century collections with interactive technology. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the galleries are the result of collaboration between the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery who have been in partnership at Beningbrough Hall since 1979. Hosting a vibrant programme of touring exhibitions and long term loans, this Baroque mansion is an appropriate historical setting to display the fine 18th century portraits. Launching a new initiative in 2006, the Gallery and the Trust refurbished and restored the rooms on this floor and opened the galleries to the public for the first time. Bringing the 18th century portraits and sculptures to life, the interactive galleries are home to Making Faces – 18th Century Style, Visiting Portraits, Portrait Explorer, Family Matters, Portraits Tell Stories, Getting the Picture and Turning Heads exhibitions. The touch-screen computers in the IT study room on this floor enable visitors to search the entire National Portrait Gallery Collection. The ‘Virtual Portrait’ computer in the Getting the Picture room lets you commission your own 18th century style portrait which can even be emailed home. The new very definitely meets the old on this floor!

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Top floor galleries

Most of the trees in the parkland at Beningbrough were planted between 1830 and 1870. The Head Gardener at this time was Thomas Foster and he was responsible for over 300 acres of parkland as well as the gardens. The various owners at Beningbrough have all left their traces on the landscape surrounding the house. Lewis Payn Dawnay, who inherited Beningbrough in 1891, planted 11,000 trees, extended the lawn to the south and replanted the north avenue with broadleaved lime trees. The accomplished artist and watercolourist William Sawrey Gilpin was hired by the Dawnay family to advise on the landscaping of the parkland. His influence on many areas of the parkland was extensive and thankfully, his sketches and notes have survived at Beningbrough. Restoration of Beningbrough began in 1977 and the National Trust redesigned the two small formal gardens, the Walled Garden and continued to develop a range of new planting schemes. The gardens are overlooked by the Victorian Conservatory (below) and feature an Italian Border which was recently replanted to reflect John Bourchier’s Italian interests. The South Lawn was inspired by a sketch dating to 1720 by the 18th century printmaker and engraver Samuel Buck which shows how the gardens might have looked at the time.

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The Stable Block (below) is now home to offices and a display area. Built in the 18th century for the Bourchier’s, and with 19th century additional wings built for the Dawnay’s, the stables are constructed of brick with stone dressing. The Stable Block main range features a central pediment with a sundial adorning the tympanum and a cast-iron mind vane above. The central three bays project forward and feature a round arched arcade with three windows above. The Latin inscription over the sundial had faded when the National Trust acquired Beningbrough and was only discovered in an old photograph. Having been repainted it reads TEMPUS EDAX which means time is voracious. The Stable Block is Grade II Listed.

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The Stable Block

The Walled Garden was restored by the National Trust in 1995 and included the recreation of the original paths and the planting of over 120 fruit trees. Among the varieties planted were those known to have grown in the York area during the early 19th century. One of the most famous varieties is the Ribston Pippin which was a Victorian favourite and first grown at Ribston Hall near Knaresborough. The beautiful parkland surrounding Beningbrough is a wonderful landscape and well worth exploring.

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The primary status of architecture over the other fine arts is evident when 18th century Britain is compared to 16th century Italy. Seen as the consequence of a widespread improvement in taste and the awakening of a ‘national genius’, the progress in Britain was considered the result of “the study of what is elegant and beautiful, sensibility, discernment, and a correctness of eye… The genius of native artists has been called forth into new and laudible exertions” (Bryant, 1992).

Taken from Tract I by Christopher Wren:

“There are natural Causes of Beauty. Beauty is harmony of Objects, begetting Pleasure by the Eye. Natural beauty is from geometry, and geometrical figures are universally agreed ‘as to a Law of Nature’ to be the most beautiful.”

Beningbrough Hall is Grade I Listed.

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Stokesay Castle: The Great Hall

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South wall

Early medieval houses tended to have halls of aisled construction but gradually the obstructive posts were omitted resulting in a magnificent building type. The 13th century carpenters were experimenting in methods which would obviate the need for aisle posts and the cruck form of roof construction, which transferred the weight of the roof to the walls, eventually made them unnecessary. There is no evidence that the hall at Stokesay ever had aisles but there was likely to have been a screen across it. Reducing the size of the hall when it was used for its principle function, a wooden screen would have provided shelter from the draughts from the screens passage which led to the service rooms – the buttery, pantry and kitchen (Friar, 2003). The hall in a medieval castle or manor house, such as Stokesay, was the nucleus of an estate and considered the most important room in a dwelling. The walls of the hall would have been plastered and whitened and some of the original plasterwork can be seen on the north and south walls at Stokesay (see above). The hall at Stokesay stands on the western side of the courtyard and was built in the early 1290’s.

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Built of sandstone rubble and retaining its extraordinary timber roof, the Great Hall at Stokesay is described as “one of the most evocative medieval halls” (Friar, 2003). Built to replace an earlier wooden hall, it comprises four bays with separate gables above each window and the doorway. The roof was originally supported by three pairs of crucks with each pair braced by two collar beams. Each cruck rested on a stone corbel above the hall floor but they were replaced by stone pilasters in the 19th century. The roof is a fantastic range of raised crucks, aisled end trusses and an unusual example of collar-purlins without crown posts (vertical king or crown posts provided extra stability). The fabulous cruck timbers cover the whole expanse of the hall and the three great wooden arches over the room are a rare survival for this period. Each supported by two horizontal collars, the topmost collars are supported below by pairs of struts. The arches are linked by purlins (the horizontal beams) which run along the side walls of the roof.

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It is unknown where Laurence of Ludlow obtained his timber however, following his death some years later, his eldest son William was recorded as buying 24 oaks from the royal woods at Bushmoor and Haycrust – five miles north of Stokesay. Under the supervision of the carpenter, trees were cut up where they fell and the same marks of arcs and circles are found in the north tower, hall and solar block. The timbers have been dated by dendrochronology to the late 1280’s and show that these buildings were erected at the same time and possibly overseen by the same carpenter. The two upper floors of the north tower are accessed from the hall via a wooden staircase (below). Similar to the roof, this staircase survives from the late 13th century and the same carpenter’s marks occur on both. Using high quality wood, the treads of the staircase are cut from whole tree trunks and the sturdy brackets supporting the landing also date to the 1290’s (Summerson, 2009).

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North wall with 13th century timber stair

Three large windows feature on the east and west walls and as was usual in the 13th century, only the upper parts of the windows were glazed. The lower levels were commonly open to the elements in fine weather and covered by wooden shutters in cold or rain. Shutters were almost invariably fitted to window openings with surfaces often painted with heraldic and other decoration. With glazing an expensive commodity, shutters were often braced like doors with pulleys and ropes used to close larger sets (Friar, 2003). The pointed trefoil head to the lights, which was much more common during the 13th century, feature at Stokesay and the hall windows have soffit cusps – more usual for the period are cusps built as part of the chamfer of the lights (Wood, 1994).

Enchanted by what he saw, the writer Henry James visited Stokesay in 1877 and remarked: “I have rarely had, for a couple of hours, the sensation of dropping back personally into the past so straight as while I lay on the grass beside the well in the little sunny court of this small castle and lazily appreciated the still definite details of medieval life.”

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North end with wooden window shutters

Bassenthwaite: Mirehouse

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Surrounded by the breath taking scenery of Skiddaw, Ullock Pike, Grisedale Pike and Lake Bassenthwaite, Mirehouse occupies a perfect spot on the outskirts of Keswick. Planted in 1786, great Scots pine – the only species of native forest conifer in Britain – line the walk towards the house. The long walk along the drive takes you past the Bee Garden and Poetry Walk with stunning views of Ullock Pike and Dodd Fell. Although records indicate that there was people living at Mirehouse during the 16th century, the present house was built in 1666 by the 8th Earl of Derby. The only time Mirehouse has been sold was with the sale by the Earl to his agent Roger Gregg in 1688. The Gregg family and the Story family owned the house until Thomas Story left it to John Spedding of Armathwaite Hall in 1802.

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With more emphasis on convenience than grandeur, the house has been enlarged over time. The wings were added in 1790 for Thomas Story and the rear extensions were constructed in 1830 by the London architect Joseph Cantwell for John Spedding. In 1832 the south side of the house was demolished and new higher rooms were built. Further rooms were added in 1851 and a servants’ wing and chapel were completed in the 1880’s. The cross on the south side of the house (below) marks where the half timbered chapel once stood. Riddled with dry rot, it was demolished in the 1960’s. The two storey late Georgian house features seven bays between two canted bay windows with a porch of four Tuscan columns (above) and the building has painted roughcast walls. The lawns were terraced in the 1850’s and the Victorian colonnade (below) is the most formal aspect of the garden. The colonnade houses a display of the winning poems in the annual Mirehouse Poetry competition.

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The interior of the house is essentially a tribute to the Spedding Brothers, James and Tom, and their friends among the Romantics of the early 19th century. Although in many ways Mirehouse is a typical English Manor House, its charm lies in the poetic inspiration of its literary connections and its landscape. The front rooms are of a “cultured gentleman” (Jenkins, 2003) and contained within which is a collection of letters and works of Francis Bacon. Many first editions of Bacon’s work are displayed as well as Spedding’s collection of Bacon’s papers. James and his brothers were educated at Bury St Edmunds and became friends with Edward Fitzgerald (who gained fame with his translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), Alfred Tennyson and Arthur Hallam. Following the death of Edward, younger brother of James, in 1832, Tennyson wrote a poem entitled ‘To JS’ – the first of his great elegies. The quiet composure of James is depicted in the opening lines of the tribute:

The wind, that beats the mountain, blows

More softly round the open wold,

And gently comes the world to those

That are cast in gentle mould.

James reviewed the 1842 Poems in the Edinburgh Review and being close friends with Tennyson, regularly discussed his draft poems. The numerous paintings, letters and drawings, as well as early photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, tell the story of the friendship between James and the Tennysons, Fitzgerald, Hallam, Thackeray and other literary figures.

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The library contains letters and manuscripts relating the story of Thomas Carlyle and some of his struggles with some of his works. Thomas was a close friend of James and a regular visitor to Mirehouse. Describing his friend as “Dear hospitable Spedding”, Thomas called on James on his way to his Scottish home at Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire. While working on his Frederick the Great in 1851, Thomas remarked “I am deep in extremely dull German books about the history of Frederick.” Following the publishing of Volume One in 1857, Thomas wrote “If I live to get out of this Prussian Scrape (by far the worst I ever got into) it is among my dreams to come to Mirehouse.” Taken from The Literary Associations of the English Lakes: “There are those who would fain have that library filled again with the voices of old time. Tennysons’s deep-chested tones, FitzGerald’s laugh, Monckton-Milne’s wit, Carlyle’s strong Northern brogue, James Spedding’s dignified speech, and Tom Spedding’s humour.” Mirehouse is set in a wonderfully inspiring spot in Cumbria and exploring the stunning landscape surrounding the house, you truly get a sense of the poetic voices of the past. Canon Rawnsley had a favourite time to visit Mirehouse:

“Mirehouse in April is at its best. The great grove of Scots fir seems bluer in head and ruddier in stem against the evening light… Lambs cry from the home meadow, and the ravens, as they sail over to Skiddaw Forest, almost have a kind of geniality in their voice… The long lighted evenings with their saffron glory over Wythop prolong the spring-like day, and keep the thrushes singing until star-time.”

Mirehouse is Grade II* Listed.

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Alston Railway Station

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Britain retains a fascinating collection of small railway stations despite the steady stream of station closures over the years. Station building stretched over a 150 year period with the vast majority constructed during the 19th century. The result of numerous independent companies, these stations reflect the introduction of new building materials, remarkable changes in architectural fashions and the taste of the architects employed. Experimental and simple, the first country station buildings were small and with a need for resident station staff, a station house became a common feature. The earliest stations were not provided with platforms but were added later and the number of tracks through the station dictated the number of platform faces required (Binney & Pearce, 1979). While the most flamboyant architecture was the reserve of major town stations, a number of small stations are of the cottage orne style. Owing to their aesthetic qualities, sound structure and usefulness as houses, many of the fine Tudor station buildings have survived. Definite styles of architecture were favoured by each rail company and the great variety of buildings in a region is the result of numerous small companies building short lines in the early days of the railway.

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Immediately striking is the relationship of stations to their communities. Appearing to be in the middle of no-where, rural stations such as Alston served sizeable towns and catchment areas. The first part of the Haltwhistle to Shafthill line, later known as Coanwood, was opened in 1851. The southern section of 9 miles from Alston to Lambley Colliery was brought into use on 5th January 1852 for goods and mineral traffic. The whole branch was opened to all traffic on 17th November 1852 following the completion of the Lambley viaduct. The initial service consisted of two trains per day in each direction and by the turn of the 20th century, four trains per day were leaving Alston. Following the amalgamation of the four largest railway companies – Great Western Railway, London and North Eastern Railway, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and the Southern Railway – British Railways (British Rail) was formed in 1948. British Railways inherited the Alston branch line, along which the South Tynedale Railway now runs, yet made little difference to rural branch lines other than the liveries of locomotives and rolling stock. Following the introduction of a diesel worked passenger timetable in November 1959, the last scheduled steam hauled passenger train pulled into Alston station (carrying ‘Royal Train’ headlights) on the evening of Saturday 27th September 1959 (South Tynedale Railway).

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The station master’s house (above) was built in 1852 and is believed to be the design of architect Benjamin Green who also designed a series of stations between Newcastle and Berwick. The Newcastle and Berwick Railway built a splendid collection of Tudor stations which are all stone built with tall chimneys and ball finials on their gables. The station and station master’s house are constructed of coursed squared rubble with string course and Welsh slate roofs. Built in a Tudor style, the symmetrical two storey building features gabled ends, corniced stone chimneys and mullioned windows. The use of the Tudor style was an important link between stations and domestic house building. The picturesque landscapes captured in the writings of the theorists of the 19th century was echoed in the choice of Tudor, or simplified Italianate, styled stations designed as elements in a landscape.

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The South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society was formed on 3rd April 1973 following formal consent to the closure of the Alston branch in January of the same year. Although the intention was to purchase the line intact from British Rail, the last standard gauge train ran on 1st May 1976 and by September, the track had been lifted between Haltwhistle and Lambley. At the AGM in July 1977, the decision was taken to build a narrow gauge line and both Cumbria and Northumberland County Council were given first option to purchase the trackbed. Agreements were reached to enable the construction of a two foot gauge line northwards from Alston and Cumbria Council completed the purchase of all the British Railways land within the county in February 1979. Following a grant from the English Tourist Board in October 1980, for the cost of the first section of the line, the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society was able to start laying permanent tracks.

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Trackwork in the station area was completed in 1981 and following further track laying, the new railway’s initial destination of Gilderdale was completed. Cumbria County Council redeveloped the Alston site by converting the engine shed area into a car park and the goods yard was converted for industrial purposes. Passenger services once again started from Alston on 30th July 1983. The station is now used as a tourist information centre and the trains from Alston are hauled by Phoenix, a 4 wheeled Hibberd 40hp diesel locomotive. The line was extended in 1986 to Gilderdale Halt and a further section to Kirkhaugh Halt opened in 1999 (South Tynedale Railway).

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There are further plans from the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society to continue extending the line from Alston, the highest narrow gauge railway in England. On the opposite side of the station is the Hub Museum. Housed in the former railway goods shed, the museum contains a number of local transport and household exhibits together with historic photographs and memorabilia.

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The station master’s house is Grade II Listed.

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