Now let’s see. Did we go to Burton Constable or Constable Burton the other day?
Oh, do keep up. Burton Constable is a stately home in Yorkshire, whereas Constable Burton is … a stately home in Yorkshire. And they have nothing whatever to do with one another.
Let’s start again. Constable Burton Hall is a fine country house not far from us in North Yorkshire. It’s not open to the public, though its wonderful gardens are.
Burton Constable Hall is a fine country house hidden away not far from the city of Hull in East Yorkshire. This is a town whose dismal reputation may be salvaged next year when it becomes the UK City of Culture.
‘From Hull Hell and Halifax may the good Lord deliver us’. In mediaeval times, this was the Yorkshire thieves’ litany. Nobody wanted hell; nor Halifax with its unique gibbet, a savage early guillotine; nor Hull, with its notorious gaol. People unfairly use the prayer to this day, even if they don’t expect to suffer or die there, though neither city deserves it. We’re bound to make a trip or two to Hull next year, so I’ll tell you all about it, then.
Meanwhile. Burton Constable. It has a long and complicated history dating far further back than the Elizabethan exterior which you first see suggests. The oldest part of the house dates back to the 12th century, when a pele tower was built to protect the inhabitants of the village of Constable Burton during the lawless reign of King Stephen. Remodelled in Elizabethan times, it had several further makeovers, and its interior has a lovely 16th and 17th century Long Gallery – for strolling through. Then in the 18th century the interior was largely brought up to date with the latest designs and plasterwork from the likes of top-flight names such as Robert Adam and Giuseppe Cortese. Capability Brown – who else? – landscaped the grounds.
It’s fallen on hard times though. Imagine the expense of keeping such a property in good order. The whole estate and grounds are now managed by a charitable trust while the family lives in an apartment in one of the wings. Repairs and restoration are slow and on-going.
I’ll just give you a taste of some of the charms of the place:
A Cabinet of Curiosities, with imperfectly stuffed creatures such armadillos; scientific instruments; fossils and other curios.
A 19th century Chinese room, inspired by the Brighton Pavilion. Here be dragons.
The Long Gallery with its specially designed bookcases.
And oddly, in the Great Barn, the skeleton of a whale washed up in nearby Holderness, which inspired Herman Melville to write ‘Moby Dick’.
With a succession of fine rooms – from the Blue Drawing Room to the Gold bedroom, and tantalising glimpses of life below stairs, this is a place to spend the entire day. The staff love an interested visitor, and repay your interest with history and gossip from the glory-days of the house.
We’ll be back in the summer, to join one of the tours to explore the hidden secrets of this place.