So, on Saturday I ventured out of the house for something other than work (I know!) and had a truly fabulous day out with my brilliant daughter, Jemma, at a local stately home.
Burton Agnes Hall is an Elizabethan manor, not too far from Bridlington, and it’s truly beautiful. Unbelievably, I’d never been before, although of course, I knew about it. We’ve driven through the village of Burton Agnes loads of times, and you can’t fail to spot the brown tourist signs, or the glimpse of the imposing house on the hill as you follow the winding road, past the lovely village duck pond.
Jemma had arranged the trip as a treat. She drove me there, she paid the entrance fee, and she even paid for us a meal in the cafe. She’s a star! I knew there was a reason I had her. 🙂
She’d been before on a couple of occasions, but it was new to me, as I said earlier. I was expecting something lovely, as I’ve looked the place up plenty of times on the internet. Frankly, though, no image on the computer can do the place justice. It really is gorgeous.
We parked up and spent five minutes debating whether or not I’d need my coat. It was quite sunny, but it had been cloudy and drizzly earlier on, and I’m nothing if not cautious. Eventually, I decided against it, and we headed down the path, past the sweet little church, and into the courtyard, where plants for sale were on display, and which was enclosed by shops, and a cafe.
We paid admission in the shop, then headed out towards the Norman Manor House. This was the original hall, and was actually built in the twelfth century. It was a bit church-like, and we realised we were whispering as we walked round, which made us giggle. There was a tiny twisting staircase in the corner, and Jemma persuaded (bullied!) me into climbing it. We found ourselves in a large room which, apparently, used to be the main room where the family slept and ate together. There used to be a doorway leading out, but that’s blocked up now. Presumably the room we’d entered was a sort of cellar.
Heading back to the lower level, with my daughter mocking my terror as I edged my way down the steps, we left the building and stepped out into the sunshine. It was time to enter the main hall.
The thing that struck me about Burton Agnes Hall was its informality. We were immediately greeted by a very friendly lady who told us cheerfully that we could sit on any furniture that wasn’t roped off and take as many photographs as we liked. I was quite astonished by that. I’ve been to stately homes before, where photos were not allowed and there was definitely no touching. I also liked the fact that there were family photographs dotted around in various rooms, which made it clear that this was still a family home.
In actual fact, about half of the Hall is still private and blocked off from the public, but it’s been very cleverly arranged, so that the rooms you can go in flow on directly, and you don’t see any signs or warnings to keep out, apart from on the second floor landing, where the stairs are roped off to the third floor. Other than that, you don’t realise, as you go round, that you’re not seeing the whole house.
There are some stunning rooms. The Red Drawing Room, The White Drawing Room, and the Great Hall are amazing. Proper grand stately home rooms, if you know what I mean. There is a fantastic fireplace in the Great Hall. It really catches the eye and you can only marvel at the workmanship.
The King’s State Bedroom is slightly creepy. It seems to have got its name because of the rumour that James I slept there on the way to his coronation, although this is pretty doubtful, since the Hall wasn’t finished until after the coronation happened! Jemma and I both agreed that we wouldn’t much fancy sleeping in it, in the days before electricity. It has dark, wooden panelling on every wall, and with only candles to light your way, it must have been a bit scary sleeping in there. The bed was surprisingly small. We were thinking about how we always say people were shorter back then, but in the history books, kings are always portrayed as being tall. We wondered if the king slept with his feet dangling over the edge of the bed, or if he slept propped up on loads of pillows. Then we thought, didn’t they used to wear heels? So by the time they’d taken off the heels, then taken off their wigs, they were probably only five foot and a peanut.
The Queen’s State Bedroom was much more pleasing, and seemed, surprisingly, larger. She also had a little room attached to her bedroom. Either things have changed drastically over the last few centuries, or the queen had better sleeping quarters than the king. Quite right, too. I’m not sure why it’s called The Queen’s Bedroom. There appeared to be no legend about a visit to the room by a queen, although it’s possible I missed that. It is, however, supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a lady who died there in 1620. Yikes! I didn’t feel a presence there, thankfully. I actually rather liked the room, and it had an amazing Jacobean ceiling.
My favourite rooms were the Reading Room, the Library and the Dining Room. These seemed to be lighter, more airy, and a bit more modern in feel. They were quite relaxing, and I could imagine them being proper family rooms. In the Long Gallery there was a tapestry, which was a depiction of the garden, with an image of the hall in the top left corner. We only glanced at it, until a lady who was browsing nearby urged us to take a close look. When we did, we couldn’t believe the detail. It was incredible. Tiny, tiny little stitches, so neatly done, and so clever. You could easily make out the different flowers. I noticed the little white roses and was quite astounded how the effect had been achieved. That’s some talent.
All the way up the stairs and round the house, I’d been conscious of the creaking floorboards. I kept muttering to Jemma that, after all these centuries, if I was the one who proved too much for them, and the floor collapsed under my weight, I’d die of embarrassment. As we left the house, we noticed the creaking hadn’t stopped. It was my shoes! I was mortified, but Jemma found that very funny, obviously. They hadn’t creaked before we went in. I reckon they were joining in as a mark of respect to the house.
We headed to the cafe, as Jemma was on the point of collapse, and had delicious paninis, cups of Yorkshire tea, and a glass of raspberry lemonade, before following the path back out to the church. Apparently, Charlotte Bronte visited Burton Agnes, and, given her connections to the clergy, it’s believed she visited that actual church. I would love to think I’d walked in Charlotte Bronte’s footsteps! The church grounds are quite dark as you walk through an archway of trees, and on either side you can see ancient gravestones. We both jumped as we heard cannon fire. Now, I will grant you that I do have an overactive imagination, but even Jemma said that it sounded like cannon fire. There was some shouting going on from somewhere. For one brief moment, I allowed myself to dream that we were stepping through a time portal, and were going to hurtle back two hundred years or so. Maybe I would meet my own Jamie Fraser? Sadly, I was brought back to earth when we noticed the very contemporary cables fastened to the side of the church, and then Jemma pointed out that the noise was probably some sporting event. So, no Outlander type timeslip event for me, then. Boo.
We visited the walled garden, where we posed for photographs and couldn’t stop laughing. It was a bit embarrassing when a couple of other visitors suddenly appeared beside us. They must have heard everything we’d said. We braved the maze. I told Jemma not to go in there. Hadn’t she seen Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? But she insisted, so in we went, without so much as a reel of cotton, a trail of breadcrumbs, or even a compass to keep us safe. Luckily, it was very straightforward, and we came out the other side pretty sharpish. Having dodged a few bumble bees, we decided to have a wander over to the east lawn’s ponds. This meant walking on the grass. I spent the whole time whispering, “Are you sure we’re allowed to walk on the grass?” and Jemma spent the whole time hissing back, “Yes!” I kept looking round nervously, expecting an angry bellow of, “Get orf my land, plebs!” but thankfully, all was calm. We had a look at the fish and the ducks, then flopped onto a bench where we discussed life, the universe and everything for ten minutes. Then, having solved all of the mysteries of the world, we had a walk through the woodland, then headed back to the car.
It was a truly fantastic day. I’d gone there to do research for Kearton Bay Book Three, which will be called Once Upon a Long Ago. It features Will and Lexi, and their lives at Kearton Hall, so I wanted to immerse myself in the atmosphere of a stately home. Burton Agnes Hall really did the job. I came home fired up with enthusiasm, and ready to commence writing. We’re going back to the Hall later in the year, and we definitely want to see it all decorated for Christmas. I can’t wait. Thank you, Jemma. xx
Have a great week xx