Seaton Delaval Hall is a Grade I listed country house in Northumberland, England. It is near the coast just north of Newcastle upon Tyne. Located between Seaton Sluice and Seaton Delaval, it was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh in 1718 for Admiral George Delaval; it is now owned by the National Trust.
Seaton Delaval Hall was recently closed to visitors on account of building work. It re-opened on Saturday 16 February 2019, from Thursdays to Sundays only. Since completion of the house in 1728, it has had an unfortunate history. Neither architect nor patron lived to see its completion; it then passed through a succession of heirs, being lived in only intermittently. Most damagingly of all, in 1822 the central block was gutted by fire, and has remained an empty shell ever since. The 18th-century gardens of the hall are Grade II* listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
The Delaval family had owned the estate since the time of the Norman conquest. Admiral George Delaval purchased the estate from an impoverished kinsman, Sir John Delaval in 1717. George Delaval had made his fortune from capturing prize ships while in the Navy, and had also served as a British envoy during the reign of Queen Anne. In 1718, he called on architect Sir John Vanbrugh to advise him on how to modernise and enhance the existing mansion. Upon viewing the site, Vanbrugh felt he could do nothing, and advised complete demolition of all except the ancient chapel near to the mansion, which is now the parish church of Our Lady.
His advice was taken and the construction work was completed in 1728, two years after the death of the Admiral. The resulting new mansion was the last country house Vanbrugh designed, and it is regarded as his finest work. On completion, the Admiral's nephew Francis Blake Delaval (the elder) inherited the property, and moved in immediately.
In 1775, the Newcastle portrait artist William Bell made two paintings of the Hall, depicting the north and south fronts. Bell also painted portraits of many of the residents of the house at the time, earning him the patronage of Lord Delaval, a younger son of the above-mentioned Francis Blake Delaval. These paintings can still be seen in the Hall today.
Captain Francis Blake Delaval, Admiral George's nephew, inherited Seaton Delaval Hall. It was his family that formed the reputation of the 'Gay Delavals' mainly because of their large parties. They were renowned for their practical jokes, gambling and scandalous behaviour. The Delavals were also industrious and exploited the estate's natural resources. They were involved in salt production, coal mining and glass production. In 1764, brothers John and Thomas Hussey Delaval made improvements to the local harbour and created a sluice (the area is now called Seaton Sluice) to form a dock where ships could be loaded.
In 1822, the central block was gutted by a fire said to have been caused by jackdaws nesting in the chimneys of the section of the south-east wing closest to the main house. This wing was subsequently demolished, and various openings can still be seen, now glazed, showing where it joined the central block.
The house was partially restored by the architect John Dobson in 1862–63, when the central block was re-roofed, although it remained a shell internally. The effects of the fire remain clearly visible in the great hall, originally 30 feet (9.1 m) high but now open to the roof, with blackened walls and muse statues. During the Second World War the Hall was used to house German prisoners-of-war, who worked as labourers on neighbouring farms.
Further restoration was completed in 1959 and the early 1960s, including replacement of windows in the central block, restoration of the upstairs gallery in the main hall, and paving of the floors on the piano nobile. However, the house was to remain unoccupied until the 1980s when, after a period of 160 years, Edward Delaval Henry Astley, 22nd Baron Hastings moved into the west wing. It became his permanent home until his death in 2007.
Subsequently the new 23rd Baron Hastings, Delaval Astley, wishing to preserve the future of the Hall and encourage greater public access, began discussions with the National Trust. On 1 September 2008 the National Trust launched an appeal for £6.3m to bring the hall, with its gardens and grounds, into the Trust's custody. In December 2009, the Trust announced that its appeal had been successful, and the purchase having gone through, the Hall opened to visitors again on 1 May 2010.
** – Architecture – **
The style of architecture is known as English Baroque, based on the Palladian style introduced into the UK by Inigo Jones. Vanbrugh developed the style from the more decorated and architecturally lighter continental baroque popular in Europe. The design is of a centre block portico, or corps de logis, containing the state and principal rooms, between two flanking wings. The wings have a centre projection of three bays, crowned by a pediment, either side of which are 7 bays of sash windows above a ground floor arcade.
The west wing originally housed secondary and service accommodation. Damaged in an earlier fire but restored to the original plan, it is distinguished by a great colonnade and boasted a lofty vaulted kitchen, now a salon. The east wing contains the stables, a sixty-foot chamber of palatial design, with stalls and mangers of stone fit. They were reportedly inspired by the stables at Hopetoun House, designed by Robert Adam. In 1768 Sir Francis Blake Delaval wrote thus to his brother: "I am putting up the grand stable on a plan we saw at Lord Hoptoun's when we were in Scotland, with stone divisions of the stalls." So pleased was he with the results that Sir Francis held a dinner party in the new stables.
Between the two wings is a cour d'honneur, a great open courtyard 180 feet (55 m) long and 152.5 feet (46.5 m) broad. While the exterior is still a perfect example of English baroque at its finest, the interiors of the state rooms remain unrestored from the fire.
Also in the 400 acres (160 ha) estate park is a stone mausoleum, about half a mile east of the hall, which once had a majestic dome, now gone, but which retains a portico resting on huge monolithic columns. The mausoleum is surrounded by a circular ha-ha, a stone-faced ditch. It was erected by Lord Delaval to his only son, John, who died in 1775 aged 19, "as a result of having been kicked in a vital organ by a laundry maid to whom he was paying his addresses". No-one was ever buried in the mausoleum, which was never consecrated, and the unfortunate John Delaval was buried in St Peter's Doddington, Lincolnshire.
The mausoleum is now ruinous and its lead roof has gone. Also to the east in the walled garden is a south-facing orangery, designed by the architect William Etty, who collaborated with Vanbrugh. It has five glazed arches separated by Doric demi-columns. The statue in the forecourt in front of the house is a lead figure of David, with empty sling, lightly poised above the crouching form of Goliath, who has his thumbs doubled inside his palms. This is an 18th-century copy, possibly by John Cheere, of a 16th-century Italian marble by either Baccio Bandinelli or a follower of Giambologna. The statue has been repositioned from one of the corner bastions of the garden.
A large obelisk commands the fields to the south of the hall; the stub of a second can be found on the north side of the road running past the hall, next to the turning for New Hartley. This second obelisk marked the site where Admiral George Delaval was killed in a fall from his horse in 1723, before his new hall had been completed. Only the pedestal of the obelisk survives, half-hidden by trees; it is uninscribed.
From the steps of the house on a clear day, The Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill can be clearly seen on the northern horizon, some forty miles away on the Scottish border. Also visible to the northwest are the Simonside Hills.
As with many big old houses, Seaton Delaval Hall is alleged to have a ghost. According to family biographer Francis Askham:
One of the biggest changing factors in the history of Seaton Delaval Hall was the disastrous fire of 1822, which resulted in great damage to the Hall and opened another chapter in the history of this special place. At dusk on 3 January 1822, sailors off the Whitley Bay coast noticed that the sunset seemed unusually brilliant. Seaton Delaval Hall was on fire.
Although Vanbrugh's central block was gutted, the local people who rushed to the scene managed to save the kitchen and stable wings, together with family portraits, furniture and archives. The centre remained a roofless ruin until about 1859-60 when the now very senior John Dobson was called upon by the 16th Lord Hastings to produce a comprehensive restoration scheme. Wall tops were rebuilt to support a new roof, and cast-iron columns were used to strengthen internal walls. But the scheme faltered, and the place was left an unheated and unfurnished shell.
However, even as a shell, you will see the interior of the Hall retains much of Vanbrugh's original design brilliance, including striking stonework, sculpture, fireplaces and spiral staircase.
The wider, sweeping Vanbrugh landscape, the structure of the parterre and rose gardens and the colourful herbaceous borders all make up the gardens at Seaton Delaval Hall.
Designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, the landscape provides the same sense of drama and theatre with which the Hall was created. It showed off the power, wealth and status of Admiral George Delaval and became a playground for the whole Delaval family. Sweeping views to the North take in the coast and the Cheviot Hills, while around the Hall classic Vanbrugh design features can be found, such as: ha-has with bastions, swathes of close cut lawns, woodlands cut through with pathways and architectural structures, such as the obelisk, that draw the eye out into the distant landscape. Much of the structure and the earthworks of this great Vanbrugh landscape remain, and the National Trust are working hard to restore the inner landscape.
The parterre, the first commission of designer James Russell, created between 1950 and 1953, Russell’s brief was to ‘Italianize’ the garden. The position to the side of the building was carefully chosen so that Lady Hastings could look down upon the garden from her bedroom window. The structure of the parterre is beautiful all year-round, with the formality of the hedges, the whitebeam ‘lollipop’ trees, standard roses, fountain and urns. At different times of year it bursts with colour from tulips, azaleas, lavender, agastashe, and fushias. Later in the year, the surrounding trees and hedges look spectacular in their autumn colours.
Weeping Ash. Referenced in the letters of Rhoda Delaval, they believe the Weeping Ash was planted around the time that the Hall was being built (1720s). One of the largest around, it is particularly unusual to see a weeping ash so far North. As it's so old, you're welcome to give a hug but please don't swing on it!
Rose Garden. Installed in the 1920s, and still with the original box hedging, the rose garden is full of colour and scent from mid-spring to late autumn. The ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ rose has a particularly beautiful scent and is a favourite amongst the gardeners!
Herbaceous Borders. From early spring the herbaceous borders start to come alive with the first signs of the new season. From the subtle yellows and pinks of spring flowers to the vivid explosion of summer colours, these borders are an ever-changing delight.
Privy Garden. Originally a private garden created for Lady Hastings, this sheltered and peaceful spot is enclosed by yew hedging and unusual Ghent Hybrid azaleas, and contains a small pond and summer house, which serves ice creams and light refreshments during the summer. Pull up a deckchair and simply relax!
Arboretum and Laburnum Arch. The Laburnum arch is comes alive May-time, with its masses of yellow hanging flowers. It leads through to the arboretum which is planted with various specimen trees and rhododendron bushes - one of their most popular picnic spots.
The Secret Garden. Next to the café courtyard, this small garden is ideal for any children to run around while you stop for refreshment. Relax with a coffee and let the kids run wild - just like the Delaval children would have done!
The Community Kitchen Gardens. Just off the main car park at Seaton Delaval Hall sits the Community Kitchen Gardens. Working with the local community, the Community Kitchen Gardens have 28 allotment plots for 16 different groups, as well as raised beds featuring some out-of-the-ordinary fruit and vegetable varieties.
There is a also the stunning Cutting Garden, which provides the flowers for the arrangements around the Hall, a Wildlife Area, a Herb Garden, and a sheltered and (sometimes!) sunny spot to sit in. Pop over and meet garden residents George, Georgina, Herbie and Hilda and chat to the volunteers to see what they're up to.
** – Facilities – **
There are bus services from Newcastle centre to Blyth every 30 minutes, stopping at Seaton Delaval Hall (connects with services to Whitley Bay and North Tyneside)
Location : Seaton Delaval Hall, The Avenue, Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, NE26 4QR
Transport: West Monkseaton (Metro) 3 miles OR Newcastle (National Rail) then Bus. Bus: 58 and X7 MAX (see above for details) stop in front.
Opening Times : Thursday through Sunday, 10:00 to 15:00
Tickets : Adults £7.20 Children £3.60
Tel: 01912 379100