The Works Outing

Sledmere House (Wikimedia Commons)
Sledmere House (Wikimedia Commons)

It was our Works Outing, our Grand Day Out, our Jolly.  It was a day we volunteers at the National Trust’s Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal had been waiting for: our reward (though not entirely free) for good behaviour over the past few months.  A coach would collect us and deliver us to spend time at two destinations well worth visiting over in East Yorkshire: Sledmere, and Burton Agnes.

Both places belong to – no, not a rival organisation: everyone concerned’s aim is to preserve and enhance our heritage for us, and for future generations – but a different one, the Historic Houses Association.  Both places are visited as much for their gardens as the houses themselves.

Well, just look at this.  This is the view from the coach window.

A very British view.
A very British view.

So much for the gardens then.  A real shame.  Sledmere‘s grounds are extensive, and offer cunningly tweaked panoramas of the surrounding countryside.  They were developed in the late 18th century by Capability Brown, then at the height of his popularity. Apparently unending vistas of manicured countryside, easy on the eye, were what was required.   The local village got in the way of the view?  Easy.  Move it and re-build it.  The villagers will get used to it.

A quick glance at the grounds from the library.
A quick glance at the grounds from the library.

We were able to admire the grounds from the protection of the house, but not so the planted areas, in particular the walled gardens. We favoured a nice cup of coffee and a home-made cake in the cafe instead. We’ll want to go back when the sun is shining.

Sir Christopher busied himself in having his house as well as his garden improved.  The plaster work designed by the celebrated Joseph Rose is said to be the finest in England.

Plasterwork ceiling.
Plasterwork ceiling.

As is the Long Library, extending the length of the building, a long, light-filled and elegant space.

The library.
The library.

There are curiosities too, such as the Turkish room designed for Sir Mark, 6th Baronet in 1913.  Every surface here is covered in specially designed Armenian tiles.

The Turkish room.
The Turkish room.

The house might have disappeared from view in 1911 though.  A catastrophic fire broke out while the 5th Baronet, Sir Tatton Sykes, was dining. He insisted on staying to finish his pudding. But estate workers, farm hands, villagers, children from the local school, anyone and everyone else turned to and dragged out furnishings, pictures, statues, china, carpets, even doors and banisters.  As muscular estate workers struggled out with the monstrously heavy copy of the Belvedere Apollo, the ceiling fell.  And since then, thanks to the detailed plan which survived, the whole thing has been meticulously restored.  You can read all about it here.

Off to Burton Agnes then.  This Tudor Renaissance hall was built between 1590 and 1610, and has remained within the same family for more than 400 years: the original Manor house was built as long ago as 1173.

Burton Agnes (Wikimedia Commons)
Burton Agnes (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a family home, albeit a privileged one.  It’s a home which has been filled with everything from magnificent Jacobean carvings, Impressionist paintings, and more recent artworks.   This is a home that is lived in and loved.  Here’s a quick glimpse of what the visitor can see.  As to the award-winning walled garden, the woodland gardens … well, we didn’t visit those on this particularly soggy day.  We might be British, but we’re not that daft.  The house offered sufficient enjoyment, and the gardens will be there another day.

18 thoughts on “The Works Outing”

  1. The plasterwork is both beautiful and mind-blowing, I am always fascinated at how they decorated ceilings so intricately back in the day… Thank you for sharing your day out ☺️

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  2. Fabulous plasterwork ceiling so elegant and the beautiful Turkish room reminds me of Leighton House in London. Also it’s great to see these stately homes run as businesses employing plenty of local people and diversifying into film locations and weddings too. Not sure I understand the role of the Historic Houses Association unless it’s so the houses have charitable status or am I missing something? The topiary looks magnificent. Shame about the weather, expect you’ve forgotten what the sun looks like – I have. 😕

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    1. HHA is a lobbying, marketing and advisory body for those who have charge of historic properties. It also enables punters who are members to access a range of properties, though it’s not meant to mean that regular visitors to a property don’t pay their way! I’m not really a topiary fan, but I did quite like these examples. Yes – good local opportunities. Good stuff.

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  3. What a shame about the weather! We in the East have had a bit of a raw deal lately I think. The plasterwork looks wonderful – so delicate and intricate. The Jacobean carving is beautiful too. A visit to Yorkshire is well overdue.

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  4. Look at those wise virgins, spinning and doing laundry–I can totally relate!
    😉 I’m reading a book right now that is set in 17th century England so seeing these great houses gives me some ideas about the settings. It’s hard for an average American to imagine living in a place like these!

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    1. Of course you were one of the wise virgins! If I only knew what you look like I could have picked you out! You don’t have to be American by the way to have difficulty imagining yourself living in such a place.

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      1. Wise and virginal of course. But you have failed me. ‘Kerry’, by definition, has to have long fair hair and long unending legs. You look instead just like the sort of person I should like to have as a friend and neighbour.

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  5. These are fascinating glimpses into a different type of privilege. Amazing ornate ceilings, intricately carved details- love the story of the Lord of the manor continuing his dinner while his home burned and the ‘plebs’ did the saving – doesn’t that say it all!

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