Thursday, 30 October 2014


The Old Hall 1803
His Lordship and I are always in a tizzy at this time of year.
The ancestors look down on us disapprovingly.

"Bacon is my name and, by God's wounds, I want my bacon!" 
But the kitchen is cold and dark ...

and the fire has gone out.

The carcasses in the game larder are much too whiffy, way beyond even their sell by date - apart from the wild boar who is staring us out,

daring us to make the first move.

The barrels appear to have run dry and worst of all...
Her Majesty has asked us to return the swan! You can imagine how relieved we were today when the butler brought in this beautiful new publication.

All our requirements will be met, I need worry no longer!
Of course, I am day-dreaming of a fantasy life - not the one I lead. I can't help wondering what we did to deserve the finely printed catalogue which dropped through the letterbox of Nilly Towers recently. Its stiff powder blue fabric cover is embossed with delicate snowflake designs in gold and it even has it's own black satin page marker. Could it have been our summer visit to a posh gift fair at a local country house (complimentary tickets, of course!), or my extravagant subscription to the even posher World of Interiors magazine, that prompted this high-end northern supermarket to believe that we reside in a brass castle (that's Yorkshire for nouveau riche)? Ah well, back to reality...
The family portraits, medieval kitchens etc. pictured in this post are at Gainsborough Old Hall, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, which we visited yesterday. 
The hall, built in the late 15th century, tells us a vivid history of domestic life in a large noble household in the late Middle Ages. Sadly, life in the streets of the present-day town is an unsettling reminder of the state of some parts of our nation now.


Sunday, 19 October 2014


Belsay Hall in Northumberland at this time of year - soft autumnal colours in the gardens contrasting with, yet subtly echoing, the hall's faded interiors. The hall is Greek Revival in design and, from the outside, is so clean-cut and solid it could have been plonked into the landscape yesterday, or at least in the 1920s. 

Belsay Hall

Designed by the owner of the nearby and much more romantic Belsay Castle, Sir Charles Monck (formerly Middleton), in the first quarter of the 19th century, it is a perfectly square, austere and coolly classical box-like building. The guide book tells us;
" Much as his neighbours might admire Sir Charles's strength of character in the design and building of the hall and Lady Monck's forbearance in living there, Belsay was never likely to attract many imitators. It is the special quality of Belsay that everything - plan elevations, detailing, proportion - is subjected to a ruthless rationality such as architects can rarely impose on their clients but which the gentleman-architect could impose on his long-suffering family."

I wonder if Lady Monck would have preferred to live among the antique charms of the medieval Castle, circa 1370, now a picturesque ruin?

 Belsay Castle.
Sir Charles's determination to keep the external appearance of his new building starkly pure led to its downfall. He created an internal drainage system to ensure that no gutters or piping would detract from the grandeur of his building's exterior. In time this caused a problem with damp which, in part, led to the end of its use as a family home. Now, thanks to English Heritage's care, we can enjoy the architectural detail and worn surfaces of it's interiors which are echoed, in Autumn, in the exotic quarry gardens outside.
Belsay Hall boasts a ten second echo in it's claustrophobic cellars - our efforts were not convincing.
On entering the quarry garden, formality disappears. Sir Charles intended this part of his design to be wild, even sublime, and was said to have been inspired by the quarries at Siracusa in Sicily, pictured below in this watercolour by Edward Lear.
There is a legend lurking in the lush shrubbery - The Wildman of Belsay was adopted by the family before the Quarry Garden, his perfect habitat, existed. He is to be found as part of the Middleton family's coat of arms. Here on the castle...
...and here on a stained glass window by Henry Gyles of York dating from 1699.
Someone seems to feel quite at home here!
If you would like to explore Northumberland and it's many wonders why not contact Julie at The Cloth Shed blog and enquire about The Bastle, her superb, newly renovated self-catering property. It's as historic and exciting as any E.H. or N.T. property! 

Friday, 10 October 2014


We were up before the lark on most mornings over the past week, whizzing up and down the A1, Yorkshire to Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire to Lincolnshire, Yorkshire to Nottinghamshire - non-stop antiquing, joints a-creaking and ageing by the mile.
The weather wasn't always on our side...

...and we'd forgotten our torches - but sometimes the moon lit our way.

Once the sky lightened the hunt began in earnest, the only problem being...

...could we find some old-fashioned antiques in this brave new world?
If they could do it so could we!
It's a great way to make a living...
...though a little exhausting!