APPARENTLY THE PRINCE OF WALES visits Newby Hall in Yorkshire once a year to view its garden beds—such is its reputation as a garden of significance and agreeable design.
With each house we view on my research tour, I discover something different and each house has its strengths, that is clear. Newby is made all the more special by its garden as well as its approach. It has the best garden I’ve seen so far and the longest meandering drive, with fat sheep grazing in bright green paddocks of fresh pasture. It’s all open parkland on approach and my mind races. It’s the perfect setting for film. Most recently, some interior shots for the series Victoria were filmed here as a substitute for interior at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
Not withstanding, Newby is also a magnificent house, still very much loved and lived in by the Compton (pronounced ‘Cumpton’) family. The owners’ names of this genteel country estate, have often changed—more often than not as a result of daughters inheriting and their subsequent marriages. The house has therefore transferred most notably from Weddell to Robinson, to Vyner and finally to Compton. Thomas Philip Weddell Robinson also inherited his uncle’s title, Lord Grantham and Earl de Grey, before passing to the Vyner name when his daughter inherited and married. Was Lord Grantham’s name possible fodder for the much loved character from Downton Abbey?
Present incumbent, owner Richard Compton, describes in the Newby guide, that the task left to his parents in 1960 was ‘daunting…the house needed total restoration and redecoration and everything was in the wrong place.’
In order to live with an acceptable degree of privacy, the family moved to the north wing of the house and retained the north garden, while the rest of the house and garden was opened to the public. Again it appears that the success of these great houses being opened, depends on a sound business plan and design. Newby has been planned with precision, yet has an organic, sympathetic feel, as though all its attractions are meant to be and do not jar. This is not an easy thing to achieve.
Over my time here, it seems blind Freddie could deduce that the Scottish neo-classical architect, interior and furniture Robert Adams, was the man to employ to build a grand house of any note. As the foremost architect of his time, he employed only the best alongside him. Joseph Rose completed all the exquisite plasterwork—and for those of you who might be wondering—yes—that is where the term ‘ceiling rose’ is derived. There is also the most astounding collection of authentic Chippendale furniture in the house. Almost at every turn. Almost too difficult to absorb.
I am extremely limited as to what I can include here in my blog with regard to interior photos – as Newby is a private home, photographs are not allowed. So I will limit the interior descriptions and attempt to take some pictures from the guide (see above) to at least illustrate in a small way the beauty of some of the rooms. Four rooms in particular stand out for me: the sunshine yellow dining room designed in the Regency style designed by Lord Grantham in 1807, after he commandeered the original dining room as a drawing room and library; the circular room, painted the most dedicated Duck-egg blue-green with stunning decorative grotesque painted designs on the walls; the Tapestry Room, and its set of Gobelin tapestries. Only one of six sets made for English patrons, they are now, according to the Newby guide, ‘the only set remaining in its entirety in the setting for which it was made.’ And finally, The Library, (the original Dining Room).This was in fact my favourite room, which led onto the Statue Gallery, with an array of Classical works restored by Richard Compton’s wife, Lucinda, whose training as an art conservator has been invaluable for the Newby collection.
The garden, as I mentioned earlier is a masterclass in planning, execution and aesthetics. It covers a whopping 25 acres, and has been described as ‘bordering on the sublime’. Its present design has been perfected over the last 50 years by Richard Compton’s grandfather and father, before Richard and his wife Lucinda, have only simplifed some of its plantings for ease of maintenance.
We begin on the south front terrace and admire David William Ellis’ beautiful bronze, Wood Nymph. Sophie and I promptly fight over, who it is modelled on: her or me! Jokes aside, the statue gracing the lily pond is a glorious introduction to the rest of the garden.
We float, between gravel and grass paths and settle on two little garden houses that have been decorated with the most exquisite shell mosaics by Linda Fenwick. Dear friend Sophie is an extremely good photographer, and we settle on taking a few photographs here, as the light is wonderful and the shells the perfect backdrop for a photographic portrait or two.
The romance of these great English houses has me almost trance-like: Castle Howard and all its grandeur, and now the intimacy of this elegant estate.
Where am I now? Channel 636 according to Sophie, who’s discovered my lifelong habit of ‘switching off’. Just ask my mother—or my children—who all say they can be speaking to me but find it difficult to ‘tune in’ to wherever my brain has darted to.
’Hello? Hello?’ Sophie waves a hand in front of my face. ‘Mrs Hope!’
‘I’m listening!’ I protest.
’No, you’re not!’
I am sort of. So yes, where am I? In my writer’s head, of course.
…We are in an open Bugatti, racing towards the house, wind flying through our hair, silk scarves flying like wind socks from our necks. It’s the 1920s I think. Upon arrival there’s music spilling onto the terrace, cigarettes in long holders and champagne spilling onto the flagstones. Peels of laughter in the air. Dancing. A handsome man in the corner resplendent in white tie. A woman in a flowing chiffon dress. Dress is the palest blue. She has milky skin, a pearl choker around her neck. Their eyes meet…
The beginning of a new book…?