*longish post alert, cup of tea time!*
The Potted History Bit
Seaton Delaval has not got the happiest of histories. The estate had belonged to the Delaval family since the Norman conquest in the 11th century. By 1717 the mansion was owned by Sir John Delaval who was in severe financial difficulties, so he sold it to his rather rich kinsman, Admiral George Delaval. George was from a minor branch of the Delaval family, from Northumberland, and his father had left him a legacy of £100 when he died, (about £11,000 in todays money) which he went on to convert into a large fortune from his naval career by capturing a fair few prize ships.
Having reached the position of Captain, he was given command of HMS Tilbury in the vanguard at the Battle of Malaga in the Spanish succession war of 1704, and rose through the ranks to being a Rear Admiral, then Vice Admiral by 1722.
Side by side with his nautical doings he had a full on diplomatic career as a member of the Whig party. That party no longer exists today, they were a liberal lot and in opposition to the Tories, (never a bad thing). He was envoy to both Lisbon and Morrocco, returning to become the MP for West Looe in Cornwall in 1715, then was made Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland the year after.
When he bought Seaton Delaval Hall he wanted to restore it so he employed the talents of Sir John Vanbrugh, a notable playwrite and architect. Men were so interesting back in those days, and Sir John is worth a little digression here. Known as a radical he was part of the scheme to overthrow James II, put William III on the throne and protect English parliamentary democracy, and he was imprisoned by the French as a political prisoner. In his career as a playwright, he offended many sections of Restoration and 18th century society, not only by the sexual explicitness of his plays, but also by their messages in defence of women’s rights in marriage. Go Sir John!
His architecture was bold and daring and he created what became known as English Baroque, designing Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill, and Castle Howard, home to the influential Howard family for 300 years. If you ever saw Brideshead Revisited, the series and the movie, it was used for them.
Back to Seaton Delaval, and Sir John informed Admiral George, that there was nothing to do but demolish it and start again. So that happened, though they left alone the ancient chapel near to the mansion, which is now the parish church of Our Lady. Although the building was completed in 1728 poor old George never saw it. In 1723, at the age of 55, he died as a result of falling off his horse near to the building works. The hall is considered Sir Johns finest architectural masterpiece; however he too expired before it was finished, when asthma got the better of him in 1726.
On completion of the hall, Captain Francis Blake Delaval, also of the Royal Navy, moved in immediately, but in 1752, Captain Delaval fell down the steps of the South Portico of Seaton Delaval Hall, and died of his injuries. Clumsy lot the Delavals. He was married to the heiress Rhoda Apreece, and they had 11 kids, all Barons and Earls and Sir This and Sir That. One of their daughters, another Rhoda, became Lady Astley when she married into that family, and through her, Seaton Delaval passed to the Astley family through her son Jacob.
In 1822 there was a big fire that gutted the central block, and was, apparently caused by Jackdaws nesting in the chimney of the section of the south-east wing closest to the main house. The wing had to be demolished, and although the house was partially restored by architect John Dobson and the central block re-roofed, the insides remained a shell. It was also used as a German Prisoner of war camp during WW2.
The Hall remained uninhabited, until along came Edward Astley Delaval Hastings, 22nd Baron Hastings, and 12th Baronet Astley. He spent 51 years doing further restorations, repairing and refurbishing the central block and west wing, and having a parterre laid out. The house opened to the public and it became his permanent home in 1990, until his death in 2007. His son, Delaval Astley the 23rd Baron, and 13th Baronet, 8th of his name, breaker of chains, regent of the realm, Mother of… oops, sorry (you can see where George R R Martin gets his inspiration from!) wanted to preserve the place and give the public more access, (also probably couldn’t afford the heating bills – his job was playing Cameron Fraser in the long-running British radio drama The Archers) so he had a chat with the National Trust who raised the dosh – £6.3 million needed to bring the hall and gardens under its care. The hall opened to the public again on 1st May 2010.
Sophie and I visited this place back in 2012 BW (before wordpress) and returned this year as it had been shut down for more building works, so we went back to review it. The first time around was on a blue sky day in May when the gardens were magnificent, however this time it was a grey day, no flowers and grey skies. Still, it didn’t rain. I’m using pictures from both outings.
Some features in the lobby
The main hall upper levels have six 7 foot tall muse statues, which have been painstakingly refurbished and made stable, but will never be as they once were.
There doesn’t seem to be any references to how they used to look, which is a shame, as they are now I can’t help but think of The Walking Dead!
The decorative plinths at the back of the hall are of some Roman guys
and some Greek guys
The fireplace survived, just about
but they look sad… no jokes about them looking ‘armless’ please!
Stay tooned for next time and more from Seaton Delaval Hall.