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Sion Hill Hall, Thirsk

Sion Hill Hall
Visiting the gardens
Lunch after the visit
Waiting for the coach

..…A most interesting and beautiful manor house. A.F.
…..A marvellous visit…...what a treasure trove! Such beautiful china, paintings and exquisite furniture described in detail with a touch of humour by our charming host. A.S.
.….Wonderful inlaid furniture and the Japanese bedroom was exquisite….Anon
…..I loved the Dutch corner cabinets….and our guide had such an amazing memory, he knew all the details of his collection. Anon
…..Both house & gardens have been renovated and restored marvellously. L.D.
This was our much-anticipated Covid-delayed visit from 2020, on a rather overcast day at the start of the predicted July heat-wave but very much enjoyed none-the-less. Sion Hill Hall is one of the last Edwardian stately homes built in Yorkshire before the Great War. It is a Grade II* Arts and Craft inspired country house with outstanding neo-Georgian detail and was designed and built in 1913 by the renowned local architect Walter Brierley of York – known as the ‘Lutyens of the North’. It stands on the original site of the 13th century manor of Kirby Wiske, near Thirsk. The original house changed ownership many times over 600 years, ending up with the Lascelles family of Harewood, who in 1911 sold what was then a decaying Georgian mansion to Percy Staincliffe, who commissioned the present house from Brierley.
In 1962, Sion Hill Hall was bought by a Yorkshire businessman, Herbert William Mawer, an enthusiastic collector of antiques and he filled the house with fine art, French furniture and porcelain. To ensure the collection remained together as a lasting memorial to his life’s work, Mawer put it into a Charitable Trust, which then passed to the current incumbent, Michael Mallaby – an equally passionate collector of antiques. After being greeted on arrival with tea/coffee and biscuits in the Edwardian kitchen of the Hall, we were warmly welcomed by Michael Mallaby himself. who gave us a fascinating tour of the ground floor reception rooms. As Simon Jenkins has said of the interior of Sion Hill – ‘The style is rich and crowded, sometimes Curzon Street Baroque, sometimes antique dealer’s Louis XVI . . .Yet no inch is without thought or interest’ (England’s Thousand Best Houses, p.901).
We were then left to explore the upstairs bedrooms at our leisure, with informative guides to hand, before being directed to the carefully landscaped gardens. After many years of neglect, these too have been lovingly restored by Michael Mallaby and provide a perfect setting for this unique antique collector’s dream of a country house.
Keith Bottomley

Posted by Malcolm Lawrenson

Grimsthorpe Castle, Near Bourne

Grimsthorpe Castle
Grimsthorpe Castle State Drawing Room

‘Grim by name but not by nature’ (according to Simon Jenkins), Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire is one of the great houses of England. It is a marriage of architectural styles, with the quirkiness of its Tudor façade contrasting with the Baroque splendour of its north front, and is Sir John Vanbrugh’s last masterpiece -  a ‘true northern Blenheim’.

In 1516, Grimsthorpe and its lands were presented by Henry VIII as a wedding present to William, 11thLord Willoughby de Eresby, and his Spanish bride, Maria de Salinas, lady-in-waiting of Queen Katharine of Aragon. For the next 500 years it remained in the same family, united under the ancient title of ‘Barony of Willoughby de Eresby’. Now owned by a Charitable Trust, it is occupied by the 27thBaroness Willoughby, and because the family held the hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain to the monarch, Grimsthorpe houses one of the largest collections of royal thrones and furnishings outside the Royal Palaces.

The Great Hall interior is to Pevsner ‘unquestionably Vanbrugh’s finest room’, having the scale of a Tudor great hall but the perspective of a Roman palace, with its walls of two storeys of arcades, a chimneypiece by Hawksmoor,  and a double flight of stairs rising to a landing, beneath which is Vanbrugh’s Piranesian undercroft. Upstairs, in the state dining room is the Coronation Throne used by George IV, and the King James Room has fluted gilt pilasters and a full-length portrait of King James I. At the end of the upper corridor is the chapel gallery, which houses an almost hidden treasure, Zurbaran’s portrait Benjamin, that has been separated from the rest of the set now at Bishop Auckland Castle, which we may coincidentally see on our visit there in September this year.

 After lunch, we will be invited back to Grimsthorpe to enjoy the Gardens that have been there since the early 1500s, evolving over the years due to Grimsthorpe’s long history of gardening, with intricate parterres with box hedges close to the House, and a dramatic herbaceous border framing views across the lake. Finally, the Georgian Coach House has been converted into a licensed tearoom, serving afternoon tea and home-made cakes, for anyone wishing to indulge, before we rejoin the coach for our homeward journey.

Posted by vivalogue