A very stately home
Harewood is one of the finest country houses in Britain, with its elegant architecture and fabulous antiques. And, as Craig Roberts discovers, it is also a family home.
Harewood House in Yorkshire, is one of the most distinguished great country houses of the eighteenth century. It is a member of the Treasure Houses of England, one of only ten in the country, highlighting the foremost stately homes, a title it shares with its Yorkshire neighbour, Castle Howard. The house is Grade I listed and is home to George Lancelles, the 7th Earl of Harewood, cousin to the Queen, his mother being Mary, Princess Royal, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. The Lancelles are mentioned in the Domesday Book, having travelled with William the Conqueror and settled in Yorkshire in 1315.
The site at Harewood, was once occupied by a castle, abandoned in the mid seventeenth century, although the twin towers can still be seen, as well as the old mansion Gawthorpe Hall. The house itself was built in 1759 for the Lancelles family, who bought the estate after making their fortune in the West Indies profiting from Customs concessions, as well as dealings with sugar plantations and like many stately homes was built to reflect their esteemed wealth and new social and political standing. The first Earl, Edwin Lancelles employed the services of esteemed architect John Carr whose plans were based on the then fashionable Palladian design. The Earl showed his plans to Robert Adam, an up and coming Scottish architect at the time and he added semi-circular back courts to Carr’s plans. However, Carr rejected one of these and the Victorian occupiers demolished the other. The interior however, shows off lots of Adam’s work.
Inside, the house is lavishly decorated and features one of the finest collections of Chippendale furniture in the world. Thomas Chippendale was a local, from nearby Otley, although by the time he was commissioned to furnish the house, he had set up in London.
The monumental statue of Adam by Jacob Epstein dominates the entrance hall and remarkably was rescued from Blackpool Pleasure Beach where it was on display in a peep show. History suggests that this room was used for more than just a thoroughfare, but also as an extra sitting room and now features eight Chippendale hall chairs. This leads into the Old Library, one of three in the house, again furnished with Chippendale chairs. The China Room was also used as a library and after passing through the East Bedroom you emerge into the Watercolour Room. There are several paintings of national importance adorning the walls, including early works of Turner and the stunning Arch of Titus, by Thomas Hartley. It is an ever-changing room for exhibits, important to the current Earl who believes very strongly that “houses should change and reflect the lives and tastes of people who live in them”.
The State Bedroom features Chippendale's spectacular bed which was dismantled and stored in the stable block where it slumbered, half-forgotten, until rediscovered during the 1970's. In 1999 the Heritage Lottery Fund provided 70% of the £200,000 cost of restoration. Expert advisers, mattress makers, silk weavers, seamstresses and craftsmen from all over the country worked on this splendid project and today this beautiful piece of English furniture regarded as the finest documented State Bed for its time, can be seen in all its former glory. This room also contains the Earl’s favourite piece of furniture, the Minerva Commode, which he describes as “The most elaborate and beautiful piece made by Chippendale.”
The next room is the Spanish Library, so named after its covering of 17th Century Spanish leather on the walls. The library was originally a reception room, but redesigned by Sir Barry to carry the overflow of books from the Old Library.
The next two rooms have had several name changes over the centuries with their differing colours of décor. The Yellow Drawing Room was once green and the Cinnamon Room has had various guises, first white, then green and now the present cinnamon to compliment the current family portraits it displays.
The Gallery is most impressive, at over 76 feet long but was not finished until a year after the original occupants moved in. This room includes the Harewood's famous collection of Chinese Porcelain.
After the Dining Room, which has completely changed from Adam’s original idea, you reach the Music Room, which in contrast has changed the least from Adam's concept of well over 200 years ago. Musical imagery is present throughout this room. In the Zucchi painting The Ruins of Dalmatia, to the right of the fireplace there is even a band performing at the top of the stairs.
With Adam’s design and Chippendale providing the furniture, a natural choice for the design of the gardens was ‘Capability’ Brown. A Grand Terrace was later added by Sir Charles Barry, he of Houses of Parliament fame, during the 19th Century as well as many other changes to the house, including the addition of a third floor and removal of the classical portico on the south side.
It was not until 1929 that the sixth Earl and HRH Princess Mary again remodelled the house. Sir Herbert Baker, who had worked alongside Edwin Lutyens on the New Delhi project in India, was asked to design the alterations and improvements. During the First and Second World Wars, the house served as a convalescent hospital and has been taking visitors since the early 19th Century.
Following the precedent set by Princess Mary and the Sixth Earl, there is a continuing programme of restoration work in the house. The rediscovery of the original Chippendale mirrors prompted the restoration of the State Rooms between 1987 and 1991, as space was needed to display them.
Harewood is now one of Yorkshire’s leading tourist attractions and as well as the State Rooms, visitors can also take a tour of the servant’s quarters in the Below Stairs tour, which explores the lives and stories of those who contributed to the daily running of this large country house.
The grounds are wide open with a lake at the south end and feature a wonderful bird garden with penguins, emus, flamingos and many endangered species that are part of a successful captive breeding programme. There’s also a rock garden with its own waterfall amid the rhododendrons, which are in fine display in April.
The present Earl has a history in music and formed Opera Magazine and also worked closely with the English National Opera together with great conductors and operatic performers and it therefore seems fitting that the house holds many music concerts in its calendar, as well as many other events throughout the year.
An Education Centre was added in 1972 by the 7th Earl, believing the need to involve young people in the conservation of country houses and as well as its own church the Estate is famously home to the set of the TV series, Emmerdale, which means that the not so regal Dingles, rub shoulders with the Harewood's!
The Harewood House Trust was instituted in 1986 an independent charitable educational trust set up to maintain and develop Harewood, its collections and grounds, for the public benefit and its success was marked by the achievement of museum status in 1994. Despite the changes the house remains the Earls home. “To me, Harewood means everything to do with the word ‘home,’ both on a small and big scale,” and this is evident to the visitor, making it one of the most inviting stately homes to visit.
All images and text copyright © Craig Roberts 2008