Today was a day of two halves. A house the first half and the garden the second. I have a plan. My plan is to go somewhere every week. My plan includes drawing a circle of about 50 miles from our home. 50 miles takes us about 35 minutes of travel. My plans include finding somewhere different to go to every week or so. So last week we went to Worksop to the lovely house of Mr Straw. Today the sun was beaming down, summer has arrived and I was in the books around the house trying to find something to see and something to do. Two choices came to mind - the first was to go to Abbeydale Hamlet in Sheffield. A bit of industrial history. The other choice Brodsworth Hall an English Heritage house of some granduer in Doncaster. A toss up and Brodsworth won.
Up the M1 we travelled. The traffic far better than it normally is. It seems to be flowing more freely since the upgrade to managed motorway status. The house was easy to find, well signed and rather empty. It is an English Heritage property which meant that we had free entry through our
CADW card. The reception staff were very friendly and smiled a lot as they issued us with the tickets, some literature which told us that the house was being renovated and many of the rooms on the ground floor were closed to the public. Brodsworth had been entertaining visitors for 20 years and over time the house had begun to deteriorate badly and was in urgent need of repair. The shutters to the windows were failing and the delicate contents of the house were in danger of being lost forever. The front doors had been closed and locked whilst the work was being carried out. Work that would take a year to complete. Luckily before English Heritage became a charity and government funded ceased they had received a pot of money to carry out vital repairs. An old and outdated heating system needed replacing and other vital work needed to be addressed. Hence the closure of a large portion of the house.
So first, the walk to the house . After parking we walked up the pretty driveway flanked by some pretty impressive trees and some seriously evocative statues . Hidden in nooks and crannies they set the scene
for the gardens behind the house. The grass was trimmed and manicured and not a flower was in sight. Our second stop the tea rooms. Clutching our 11 .00am guided tour tickets we entered the small but perfectly formed tearoom and its indoor and outdoor sitting areas. Others clutched their numbered entry tickets and we pondered over our hot cup of tea and hot sausage roll why we were bothering with a guided tour when we hate them so much. The main house did not open until 1 pm and we had two hours to use before we could see what was on offer. Not wanting to hang around in what was a hot blazing sunshine day we chose the quick and cheerful trip round a couple of rooms with Mark.
Mark arrived at 10.50. Our little group of 15 assembled. He collected our tickets and asked if anyone had been before. No-one had so it was all going to be new. He waited for two missing ticket holders who never turned up. Lost in the lovely gardens no doubt.
Inside we went and Mark apologised for the wooden boxing everywhere , for the items in storage, for
the noise but explained how important it was to assess the house and put right what was deteriorating before it became too late. We walked though the dull green and brown walled servants quarters to enter the main drawing room reserved for the ladies . The male drawing room and billiards room sadly were out of bounds. Mark began the story of the house and the story of this room.
The hall lies north west of Doncaster in coal mining country. He told us that it was the one of the most complete surviving examples of a Victorian country house in England. These houses became unfashionable after the war and were knocked down and the land sold off. It had not actually happened here at Brodsworth. The house is virtually unchanged since the 1860s. It was designed in the Italianate style by the London architect Philip Wilkinson a young man of 26 years. He was commissioned for the grand residence by Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson, who inherited the estate in 1859. The house has more than 30 rooms, ranging from grand reception rooms with original furnishings to the servants' quarters. Most of these rooms are closed but we
earmarked this house as one to come back to in a years time when the builders have moved out.
The house is surrounded by Victorian period gardens, which are used for special events throughout the summer. The room we stood in was rich in red damask. High Victorian in design it was full of furniture , plum red seats, tables and desks, a grand piano and huge windows that let in the light. The carpet cost a fortune when new and was rich plum red with pink flowers. Over the years it had faded and become threadbare. English Heritage had decided to leave well alone and just conserve. The original satin on the walls was still in places in situ but other bits had been replaced at the turn of the 20th century. The National Trust had been interested in acquiring the house and all its grounds but backed out due to not being allowed to have all of the land just a small portion. This is where English Heritage stepped in . They rescued the house, took control of some of the land and left the rest in the hands of the family.
Mark told us that
the house and estate was sold to Peter Thellusson a Hugenot who had settled in England. He became director of the bank of England and a tobacco and sugar importer. For a banker he seemed a real nice guy. . He wrote an unusual will whereby part of his fortune was given to his family but the rest the bulk of it was put into trust for years. It was to be untouched for three generations. His idea was to preserve his fortune , the funds would acrrue a large amount of compound interest which would ensure that the house and estate would remain viable. The family though challenged the will unsuccessfully. The case became known as the Thellusson Will case. Over the next few generations the house was passed from one relative to another . Most lived in the south of England and most walked in took a look at the house and did not like what they saw. It seems that if the family died out as many did then the money was to go to clear the national debt . A lesson perhaps that should be learned by modern bankers.
One of the two eventual beneficiaries
was his great-grandson Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson (the other was the 5th Lord Rendlesham), who inherited in 1859 half the bequest plus the Brodsworth estate with its Georgian house. This Thellusson seemed a good guy and actually liked the land, liked the area and moved his family in once he had demolished the house which was too large for him, his wife and his family. He commissioned the new house which is the present one and it was built between 1861 and 1863. This guy also commissioned the largest private British yacht ever built. Mark advised us that this record is still just about held. . He was appointed High Sheriff of Yorkshire and he and his wife Georgiana left four sons, all of whom died childless, and the house therefore passed to each son in turn. EAch disliked the house and most of the time only visited once a year for shooting parties.
After the First World War spiralling costs resulted in the owners' closing off parts of the house. On the death of the youngest son the house passed to his nephew Captain Grant-Dalton around 1930.He was High Sheriff for 1942. Underneath the chandeliers we told the
story that they were bought second hand. They were gas lit originally and were converted to electricity. The odd thing was the owner kept cleaning them and they got lower and lower each clean. He never realised he was unscrewing the lights and had he carried on they would have ended up in a million pieces on the floor. Think Del Boy and the chandeliers and you get the picture.
From this room we were taken to the small drawing room. A room which sadly had felt the ravages of time. A room used daily by the last lady of the house. The last resident of the house was Sylvia Grant-Dalton (wife of Captain Grant-Dalton), who fought a losing battle for 57 years against leaking roofs on the mansion and land subsidence from nearby coal mining. The carpets were faded and threadbare. Apparently when a hole appeared in the carpet a rug was thrown over. When the rug developed a hole another rug was thrown over the hole. When English Heritage acquire the house the carpets were thick with dirt, the dogs of the family had left little presents that turned up from time to time and the floor
creaked and squeaked underneath with the beetles and insects that had found a home there. It took 72 hours of deep freezing to kill the creatures. The walls were covered in delightful blue and pink hand painted paper which had been ravaged by insects who ate the paper. The books crawled with life and had to be deep frozen to kill them. The lady of the household had many servants before the first world war but by the time we had got to the middle of the 20th century servants were fewer and further between. One servant remained. A lady who had worked for the estate was the only servant left . She was one legged and was in her 80's.
Our last room was the kitchen with its huge skylights covered with blackout blinds installed during the requisition of the house during the second world war. The kitchen when installed was state of the arts with large black leaded cookers and hot plates ready to serve food to the nearby rooms.
The gardens were a delight. Quintessentially English. Large specimen trees, large lawns spreading as far as the eye could see . Croquet being played on the
lawns. Sweet smelling wallflowers in pale creams and yellows. Green dells with follies . Purple Alliums growing in the long borders. We wandered down tiny walkways covered in Ivy, under bridges . This was one delightful garden.
Swami Ramdas said that "A flower gives out its fragrance to whomsoever approaches it or uses it" . So true the wallflowers smelled divine. A lovely garden and a delightful house .
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