What first comes to mind when we think of North Yorkshire are rolling green dales and bare windswept moors, not stately homes. But North Yorkshire’s stately homes make for a fascinating tour with something for everyone.
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Castle Howard needs no introduction to viewers of the TV series, Brideshead Revisited. Perhaps one of the best known stately homes in England, this 18th century house is as stunning in its meticulously planned grounds as the house itself is lavish.
Built by the third earl of Carlisle, Castle Howard replaced Henderskelfe castle, destroyed by fire in 1693. The 18th century house was built in the grand manner. Of special note is the great hall, 52 feet square with columns supporting a 70-foot high dome. It and a wing of the house were destroyed by fire in 1940; the dome was later rebuilt. Famous paintings by Gainsborough, Holbein, and Van Dyck decorate the castle’s walls while Chippendale and Hepplewhite furniture fill the rooms. Castle Howard’s thousand acres of grounds are of special interest. Avenues, fountains, parterres, a bridge, the Temple of the Four Winds, and a mausoleum contribute to their outstanding reputation.
Burton Agnes Hall, with its impressive gatehouse built as ornamentation, still flaunts its Great Hall with Elizabethan carving, plasterwork and panelling. The haunting of the house makes for an interesting tale. Notable guests have included Celia Fiennes in the 17th century and Charlotte Bronte.
The house has been in the same family since being built in 1173 by Roger de Stuteville. Of the original manor the lower chamber with its piers and stone-vaulted ceiling have survived. The Tudor house built later is rose-pink and white. A gatehouse served for ornamentation as an entryway. The great hall contains Elizabethan carving, plasterwork, and panelling. In the drawing room is a carved panel showing the dance of death. Other rooms are a Chinese room, garden gallery, dining room with Chippendale chairs, and a long gallery running the length of the house. Its barrel vaulted ceiling is decorated with plasterwork flowers and tendrils. Ponds, fountains, a walled garden, and woodland walks are outside attractions.
Bolton Castle was built by Sir Richard Scroopes, several of whose descendants held important posts in government but ended up beheaded. The 9th Baron brought Mary, Queen of Scots, to the castle, and the rooms where she was held prisoner, along with the ruined parts of the castle, are open to view.
The Scroope family story goes back as far as king Edward the Confessor, and their Yorkshire connections date from 1149. Bolton was begun in 1379 and took 20 years to finish. Unique at the time were “ensuite” garderobes for each apartment. The hearth in the hall was connected to tunnels that conveyed the smoke out of the castle. The castle was slighted in the civil war by Cromwell’s forces with most of the east wing and the great kitchen destroyed. The grounds include a rose garden, bowling green, a maze, a wildflower meadow, an herb garden, and a vineyard.
Duncombe Park, known for having the tallest trees in Yorkshire, sits on a windswept ridge above the Rye valley. Its future as a stately home was in doubt when it became a girls’ school, then army headquarters in World War II. Now beautifully restored by Lord and Lady Feversham, it has once again taken its place among the stately homes of North Yorkshire.
The estate and house have had a number of owners over the years. Originally a ruinous castle on the grounds was used for habitation, but in 1713 Sir John Vanbrugh was commissioned to help advise on the house built to William Wakefield’s original plans. The Duncombe family became society leaders during the following century. In 1879 the house was gutted by fire but was restored in 1895. The entrance hall has a 40-foot high ceiling with Corinthian pilasters and baroque decoration. Since the girls’ school moved out in 1985 the house and décor have undergone detailed restoration.
Newby Hall and Gardens contains superb examples of Robert Adam’s craftsmanship in its tapestry room (with its Gobelin tapestries) and gallery, which contain sculptures brought back from the Grand Tour. The gardens are a triumph with rare plants, fountains, water and rose gardens, and walks of spectacular beauty.
The house was completed in 1695, and the gardens and house were both redone in the 1760s. In the late 1700s a dining room was added to the north-west corner. A Victorian wing and a billiards room followed. There are 25 acres of gardens with fountains, water gardens, rock and rose gardens, a National Collection of dogwoods, walkways, and more.
Ripley Castle was home to the Ingilby family for 650 years. It all started when a wild boar almost killed King Edward III and Thomas Ingilby saved him. He was rewarded with a knighthood, a market charter, and the right to hunt Knaresborough forest. The family thereafter seemed to always back the losing side in any dispute. Cromwell was held at gunpoint for an entire night by Jane Ingilby in the library.
A castle was built in 1450 (only the gatehouse survives) and was supplanted by a Tudor castle built in 1555 and Georgian remodeling. The castle’s old tower has wood-panelled walls and huge fireplaces, a priest’s hole in the knight’s chamber, and a collection of armor. In 1815 William Ingilby razed the castle village and rebuilt it with stone houses.
Sion Hill was built in 1913 with whiskey money after the Stancliffe family pulled down the original building on the site due to its state of disrepair. It is considered architect Walter Brierley’s finest building. The rooms have not been changed since the building, only the décor. An antique collector added many pieces of Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian furniture, paintings, clocks, and more. The hall now functions as a museum with many unique pieces on display. In the grounds are an antique shop, a “wheeled exhibit”, and a birds of prey centre.
Photos by Barbara Ballard