The Hall was built in the 1690’s by Sir Edward Blackett and is located not far from Ripon. The Weddell family bought it in 1748 and William Weddell commissioned Robert Adam to decorate the house. In 1792 Weddell’s cousin, Lord Grantham (later Earl de Grey) inherited the property. On Grantham’s death, inheritance passed to his daughter Mary, married to Henry Vyner of Gautby. After several generations, the Vyners married into the Compton family and Newby is still owned by them. The ancestors, Lords, Earls, Marquesses, Members of Parliament, Bankers to royalty were well connected with many European royalty and aristocracy. The Hall has been in the same family since 1748. The North-wing of the house is still occupied by the Comptons. The rest of the house is open to small groups of the public. No photographs could be taken and a guide directed us through the many facets of the house, regaling us with the many trials and tribulations of the family and house features we encountered.
The neo-classical design of Robert Adam is evident throughout, together with the stuccoist Joseph Rose’s plasterwork. The Comptons have restored the house but retained the friendly welcoming atmosphere of a lived-in family home. There was marble and mahogany, as well as Axminster carpets throughout. Chippendale furniture, Japanese lacquered cabinets, Wedgewood and Minton china complemented the rooms where many portraits of their ancestors hung, painted by prominent painters of the day. The rooms were all beautifully decorated and overflowed with “souvenirs” from their Grand Tours of the 18th and 19th centuries. These items would not fit in my luggage. Sculptures and paintings were imported at great expense. The Statue Gallery houses the finest collection of Roman statuary in Britain. The Tapestry room had a magnificent golden aspect where, as its name suggests, the Gobelin Tapestries from Louis XIV France were displayed. They were absolutely massive, covering the walls from corner to corner. Amazing! Another room, The Chamber Pot Room, well what do you think was in this one? Correct. Chamber pot collector Robert de Grey Vyner brought them back from Europe and the Far east. There were beautifully decorated eastern 18/19 century china ware and very amusing captioned pots. One read “hand it over to me my dear for a kiss I’ll hand you this” a grinning face was on the bottom. One pot had an eye in the bottom. In one bedroom the walls, ceiling and furniture were inscribed with mottos, probably aids to teaching Lady Mary’s children in 1857.
On a lighter note, several films were recorded at Newby Hall. Notably: the ABC murders, The Little Stranger, Mansfield Park, Victoria, Death comes to Pemberley and Peaky Blinders.
Enough enthusing about the Hall: it’s time to discover the gardens. But first to slake our thirst and silence the rumbling in our stomachs in the Garden Restaurant. The White Garden near the restaurant was closed because a sculpture exhibition was being set up. However, there were other exhibitions in this area, such as The Dolls’ Houses of Newby Hall; there were over 70 houses of all ages from Queen Anne and Georgian town houses to modern bachelor pads.
Also, Giles Brandreth’s Teddy Bear collection was also located nearby. The teddy bears were arranged in tableaux, for example, a church wedding and the Royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
We walked across a bridge fording a canal, where weeping willows silently caressed the water beneath and other trees threw their reflections upon the algae edged channel.
We passed the adventure garden with its novel paddling pool and fountains towards the miniature railway station. At the paddling pool children were thoroughly enjoying themselves by running and jumping between the waterspouts. Oh! to be young again. I would love to be joining them; it would cool me down in this warm weather.
At the train station we caught the train for a tour around part of the Gardens. My husband found it difficult to sit on the carriages and had a whole two-seater to himself. Several of our group caught the train, laughing and giggling all the way around.
Others in the group took a tour on the river and waved to us as we passed in our stately carriages.
After alighting the train, we walked along the River Walk East, meandering around the estate and taking pleasure in the Gardens which were arranged into small compartments differing in planting and interest. The gardens hold the National Collection of Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus species) which were planted throughout the estate.
The Tropical Garden
A tiled walkway, lined with flowering cherry trees (Prunus “Amanogawa”), ran through the area. It was planted with exotic looking plants: Yuccas, Phormiums, Kniphofias, Rodgersias, some Magnolias, the golden grass (Hakonechloa), purple Heucheras and the Monkey plant. It was a cool quiet place dripping with atmosphere.
The Orchard Garden
A garden of fruit trees within three brick walls with lawns allowed to set seed. The grasses whispered in the wind behind a hedge of Mock Orange blossom, making the fourth wall to the “room”. There was very little colour here at present except a few Hardy pink Geraniums around an urn at the centre, Roses such as Rosa “Mermaid”, which had yet to produce many flowers, and a Rosa banksia “Lutea” which should brighten the area with double yellow flowers soon. Much of the planting was a variation on green hues and looked to be geared up for a profusion of colour later in the year.
The Pine Garden and Adjacent Water Garden
Here the lofty pines swayed in the wind high above our heads. They seemed to be continuingly talking to one another. An azure-blue sky peeped through the canopy while fluffy white clouds scudded across it. A mixture of pines was underplanted with Potentellas, Magnolias, Rhododendrons and Alchemilla mollis. The Water Garden with its Pond and meandering stream was surrounded by water-loving plants: Gunnera and Rheum. Colourful Primulas, Irises and Water lilies break-up the quiet greenery and when the sun shone through the trees, they exude an ethereal glow.
Now we are talking plants. Wow! What an array of gorgeous flowers either side of a wide perfectly manicured lawn. The borders had low ground hugging plants at the front, pincushions of plants in the middle, sculptural plants at intervals throughout and taller plants against the beautifully clipped Yew hedges that contain this exquisite spectacle. Here I can only name some of them. Front of house are: Hardy Geraniums, Cat Mint, Scabious and Persicaria polymorpha. In the middle section were: Salvias (Meadow and Lilac), Irises, Long leaved Whorlflowers, yellow Achillea “Gold Plate”, pink Coronaria, Spurges and Peonies. Large clumps of Goat’s Beard and isolated Sea Hollies provide height and pizzazz.
We walked a smooth path through a mix of colourful plants with stately Conifers swaying overhead. There were obviously Rhododendrons here, some in flower, but also several shrubs and ferns. The shrubs displayed a profusion of colour: yellow, purple, green with variegated white or yellow leaves.
The Beacon Garden
The central feature in this garden, of course being the Beacon: a sturdy Pole to hold the latticed fire bucket surrounded by a serpentine swag. The Magnolias, which surrounded the garden, were not in flower but there were some pink Peonies, Foxgloves and a Variegated Flowering Cornus. Again, towering conifers provided a backdrop with purple Smoke trees and Silver Willows dotted around the Beacon.
The Lily pond
From the elegant façade of the Queen Anne house run steps down to the Lily Pond with its centrepiece “Wood Nymph” . The house was reflected between the Lilies in the water. The Lilies of pink and white and their large dinner plate leaves hid the flashes of gold, silver, orange and yellow of the Koi Carp in the pond: an irresistible lure for my husband, who stood watching them for some time. As we left the Lily Pond, we spied our esteemed leader and party tripping the light fantastic down the path through the herbaceous borders.
The Wars of the Roses
This path of flag stones with borders on either side was entered through a gap in the Yew hedging. White standard Roses represented the House of York while red standards symbolised the House of Lancaster, and a versicolour rose “Rosa mundi” was planted to separate them. These stood between mass plantings of Achillea, Johnson’s Blue and Rosanne Geraniums and Blue and Yellow Flag Irises. This was quite a tranquil walk which led to Sylvia’s Garden.
We entered through a gate which was flanked by cascading Cotoneaster. This is a memorial garden and visitors were asked to respect this. The “Sylvia in question is Robert Compton’s mother (1899 – 1950).
Seats were provided for you to rest and contemplate in the peaceful surroundings of the soft and subtle shades of the planting. At the centre was a Byzantine corn grinder surrounded by four beds at the quarters. Borders then ran along the outside and were enclosed by the Yew Hedges. The paths between the beds were of red brick. We needed to watch our steps as the bricks were uneven in places. It just meant we took longer in admiring the design and planting. Pink standard roses were centred in each quarter with Artemisia “Ladbrook Silver”, “Silver Queen”, Alliums, Scabious and Hardy Geraniums around them. In the borders were Peonies of varying colours, but one “Bowl of Beauty” really caught my eye; I was determined to purchase a plant before I left. Entwined around the Peonies were Osteospermums, more hardy Geraniums and Baby’s Breath.
We entered the garden between two Grecian Urns. The whole garden was surrounded by a Copper Beech hedge, which set off the pastel coloured planting beautifully. In a rose garden you would expect roses, and here they were aplenty. Old-Fashioned roses predominated; gallicas, damasks, bourbons, centifolias and noisettes. Our eyes and ears were drawn to the centre of the garden where an urn fountain gently splashed into a circular pool. The musical tinkling of the water infused the atmosphere and gave the garden an ethereal quality.
At the end of the Rose Garden was a pergola, a metal hooped structure suspended from stone pillars. A paved path lead us under the hoops which were festooned with Victorian climbing roses. We were enclosed in the heady scent of them, which made us feel like we were floating on air. Other roses were planted along the path, together with Hostas and Liriopes.
Unfortunately, too soon, we had to return to our coach in the carpark. There was so much more to see, but our time here had run out. No time for the plant sale centre, so I had to postpone my purchase of the Peony “Bowl of Beauty”.
However, my hubby made time to have his photograph taken with “The Yorkshire Man on a Bench”. He sat next to him and smiled enigmatically. The bronze resin and teak sculpture was made by Jill Atley and cost £11,600. Out of our budget!
So, it was back on the road to visit more wonderful stately homes and gardens in North Yorkshire.