Nunnington Hall is a country house situated in the English county of North Yorkshire. The river Rye, which gives its name to the local area, Ryedale, runs past the house, flowing away from the village of Nunnington. A stone bridge over the river separates the grounds of the house from the village. Above, a ridge known as Caulkley's Bank lies between Nunnington and the Vale of York to the south. The Vale of Pickering and the North York Moors lie to the north and east. Nunnington Hall is owned, conserved and managed as a visitor attraction by the National Trust.
*** – History – ***
In the medieval period, the land belonged to the wealthy St Mary's Abbey in York. Nunnington takes its name from a nunnery, likely in the present location of Nunnington Hall, which existed prior to the Norman conquest before being dissolved around 1200. According to the Domesday Book, the manor of Nunnigtune in the 11th century included Stonegrave, Ness, Holme and Wykeham.
William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton, lord of the manor of Nunnington and brother of queen consort Catherine Parr, built the oldest parts of the surviving house of Nunnington, which now form part of the west front. Following the forfeiture of the estate in 1553 (for his part in setting Lady Jane Grey on the throne), Nunnington was again subject to let. One of the tenants was Dr Robert Huicke (also spelt Huick, Hicke, and Hicks), who was physician to both Catherine Parr and Elizabeth I. Dr Huicke was to be the one to tell the Queen that she would never have children. Huicke never lived at Nunnington however and the estate was managed by stewards. The sub-lease was granted to Thomas Norcliffe in 1583 and the family made many alterations over the next 60 years.
In 1603, George Watkins and others were granted a lease of the manor for 31 years. After 25 years, however, it was granted to Edward Ditchfield and others of the City of London, who sold it the same year for £3,687 to John Holloway who held the manor in 1630. By 1655 the manor had been sold for £9,500 by Humphrey Thayer to Ranald Graham, a merchant of Lewisham.
Ranald was succeeded by his nephew Sir Richard Graham of Netherby, who was created Viscount Preston in 1681. He was attainted in 1689 for attempting to join James II in France and his lands and property were confiscated, but later returned after he was pardoned. He was succeeded by his son and heir Edward, the 2nd Viscount and he in turn by his son Charles, 3rd and last Viscount Preston.
Charles' heirs on his death in 1739 were his aunts, Mary Graham and Catherine, Lady Widdrington, who were granted joint possession of the manor of Nunnington in 1748. Mary died unmarried and Lady Widdrington left her estates to Sir Bellingham Graham, Bt., of Norton Conyers. The property then descended in the Norton Conyers Graham family until 1839, when it was sold to William Rutson of Newby Wiske, the son of a Liverpool merchant.
The hall was inherited in 1920 by Rutson's great-niece Margaret Rutson, who had married Ronald D'Arcy Fife. They undertook a major renovation of the property in the 1920s using the architect Walter Brierley. Margaret bequeathed Nunnington Hall, much of its contents, and its gardens to the National Trust upon her death in 1952, along with £25,000 for the upkeep of the property.
The Hall stands within 8 acres (32,000 m2) of organically managed grounds, with the main walled garden lying to the south of the building. The Walled Garden includes lawns, orchards, formal rose beds, mixed borders, a Tea Garden, and an Iris Garden. The orchards are managed as wildflower meadows containing flowers such as cowslip, primrose, snake's head fritillary, buttercup and camassia all growing below the fruit trees of which most are traditional Ryedale varieties. Another feature of the gardens are the resident peacocks. On 10 June 2007 Bluey, head of the peacock family, died under suspicious circumstances.
*** – Interior – ***
Also on the west wall is a modern, (1920s) fireplace, in the style of the sixteenth century. The steps heading to the Dining Room in the south and the archway to a corridor in the east are of the same hand. While this may have been the site of an earlier Great Hall, Lord Preston may have converted the Stone Hall to become a kitchen, alongside his own bedchamber, now dressed as a dining room.
The hunting trophies consist not only of animal hides and heads, elephant, rhinoceros, lion, tiger and antelope among them, but also of the souvenirs from World War II. Of the antelope specimen, which themselves cover one wall, both the giant eland and the tiny dik-dik are included. These all belonged to Colonel Fife. As well as a German tank crewman's helmet with its blast visor, Colonel Fife owned a Prussian Officer's helmet, flintlock pistols and a bayonet, all of these are on display together in the Stone Hall.
As you walk around the room clockwise from the entrance, you see a centre table with carving and inlay which might be from the 1630s in Germany and behind it an English press of oak. Against the south wall is a long and tall settle made of panels recycled from the seventeenth century.
There is a fine picture attributed to Charles D'Agar (1669–1723) of Edward, 2nd Viscount Preston (c. 1679/81-1710) and his son Charles, 3rd Viscount Preston (1706–1739). Both of these sitters were heirs to Nunnington Hall, and both died in early life. The title Viscount Preston was lost on the death of Charles Graham in 1739. He left Nunnington Hall to his aunts Catharine, Lady Widdrington and Mary. The fine rococo frame has bounded this portrait for more than a century, but may have been designed for a mirror.
In 1974 Miss Kathleen Cooper-Abbs gave an extensive and fine collection of mezzotints to the National Trust, spme of which are displayed in the Dining Room at Nunnington Hall. These are prints of the eighteenth century after Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792).
The fireplace, mantel and dining table are set with a part of a dinner service from the eighteenth century. This Imari service from China carries the coat of arms of the Pitt family. Rococo candlesticks by J.Cafe in 1756, knives, also of the mid-eighteenth century and with pistol grips and a 1794 cake basket sit amongst the dinner service. Finally, two glass and plate silver claret jugs complete the display.
A Meissen set, with six flower decoration coffee cups and saucers, covers the side table. A coffee pot alongside is dated 1765, and was made by Priest of London. There is also a creamer of 1803 presented alongside. A sideboard in the Sheraton style dates from the late eighteenth century. One side drawer front opens to reveal a wine keeping box lined with lead, and the other contains press-drawers for linen. On the sideboard two 1888 sauceboats reflect the late nineteenth-century taste for a revival of Georgian styles. There are also two knife boxes with cutlery of a mixture of dates, from around 1750 to the early nineteenth century. A pair of scissor-shaped candle snuffers of silver bears a crest of the Rutson family which owned Nunnington Hall.
A card table of around 1750 and made from mahogany stands between the south facing windows in this room, and a pier glass of the late eighteenth century with a giltwood frame hangs above it.
A potiche jar of the Kangxi era sits on the overmantel and was made in the early eighteenth century. A mid-Georgian pedestal desk is against the north wall. This desk is made from mahogany and has fluted and canted corners. In front of the desk is an armchair which is a few years older. Its seat cover may be a few years older still. The frame is partly made from padoukwood and is curved in the back and the seat rail.
The pediments above the doorcases are split, and very finely carved, along with the three arches on the north side of the room. Another split, triangle pediment surmounts the large cartouche bearing the Viscount Preston family coat of arms above the fireplace, and this high quality carving has been attributed to John Etty, the master carpenter from York (c. 1634–1708), a comparison drawn with his work at Sprotborough Hall in Doncaster. Sprotborough was demolished in 1926.
The fireplace itself is carved from Hildenby stone, with its own split triangle pediment below the cartouche. Within this latter device, the Preston coat of arms rests above a supporting group of eagles, foliage and scrolls, terminating at either side with cherub's heads in profile. A likely inspiration for this design is the Livre d'Architecture by French architect Jean Barbet. Robert Pricke used Barbet's pattern in his 1674 work The Architect's Store-House.
In his Book of Sundry Draughts (1615), Walter Gedde included a pattern repeated on the floor of this room in stone flags, the squares and hexagons intersecting. An earlier source for this pattern came from Sebastiano Serlio's Il Quattro Libri Dell'Architettura, which came to England in 1611, a cornerstone of the late English Renaissance.
The Oak Hall contains an oak table, ten feet long, made during the sixteenth century. Mrs Fife, one of the owners of Nunnington in the twentieth century, installed the table in this room having found it in the kitchens. Today the table bears two large bowls of Celadon ware, from around the seventeenth century. On the south wall is a north-European cabinet of the late seventeenth century, with a display of mid-nineteenth-century Chamberlain's Worcester tea and coffee cups, along with other, eighteenth century ceramics. A longcase clock of around 1760 belonged first to William Rutson's grandfather, (also William), for whom it was made by a clockmaker from Kendal, William Wilson. The elder William Rutson had been Kendal's mayor in 1761, and the clock bears his initials as a monogram, on its dial.
Near the stairs are a large cupboard made from pieces of recycled seventeenth-century panelling and an Italian chest of walnut. In the stairwell the Soho tapestry of around 1700 survives a sample of the work of John Vanderbank, in excellent condition, with a design of oriental allegories fashionable at a time of high import of oriental ceramics. In front of the fireplace a Bidjar rug of a final design is dated around 1900.
Research and investigation identified J Harding as James Duffield Harding, (1797–1863), eminent watercolorist and draughtsman, and friend of Turner's. Comparing the handwriting on the inscription with Harding's manuscripts at the Royal Watercolour Society proved a match. The title is in a different hand and a different medium, which fits the idea that Turner made the gift to Harding in 1832, and that the title was added later, by another. Further evidence was found in the similarity between this picture and Turner's watercolour of 1811, held in Glasgow's art gallery – Lyme Regis, Dosetshire: A Squall, [sic].
The piano was recently restored by the local York firm of Banks. The longcase clock in the corner was sold c. 1720 by William Troutbeck of Leeds. For wine lovers and children the painting Grape Harvest in the South of France attributed to Hendrick van Ballen the Younger (1623–61) provides a glimpse of rural social history.
Photographs of Col Fife also demonstrate the substantial nature of the restoration work to Nunnington Hall. One of the small watercolour paintings on display is a "View of Philae" by Edward Lear better known for his owls and pussycats in seagreen boats. The bedspread was worked by Fanny Wrather, great grandmother of Mrs Fife.
The oak bed is an example of an old stretcher base being updated at intervals by the addition of later posts and canopy. The late seventeenth-century marquetry and turned side-table at the side of the bed opens out to reveal a tapestry. Over the door to the Bedroom Corridor is an early example of a "borrow" light window allowing natural light to reach the corridor which was probably formed as part of Lord Preston's alterations. The Bedroom Corridor leads to the Reading Room where visitors can stop for a rest. This room was used in later years as a dressing room for the next door room, the Panelled Bedroom.
The various samplers displayed on the walls are a testament to the skill and diligence of their young creators from a time when a neat hand with a needle and an "improving" text was a sign of a good upbringing. The bed in this room is an officer's travelling bed which can be dismantled for transportation in the baggage trains that have been an essential part of a campaigning army on the move throughout history.
** – Visiting the Gardens – **
Explore the Nunnington garden and enjoy flowering meadows, colourful peacocks and garden games. Nunnington Hall’s garden has been managed organically since 2002, with a historic iris garden, a cutting garden, orchard and spring flowering meadows. There’s something for everyone from garden games and natural play area, a dog friendly tea garden and seasonal flower boarders. Definitely more than first meets the eye.
Family fun in the garden. Get out and about this Summer with their family friendly games and activities. Try quoits and hopscotch on the Robinia lawn or drafts in the tea garden. Find their Lion’s Den play area hidden in the trees, balance and climb or maybe make something ‘yummy’ in the mud pie kitchen?
Get started with organic gardening. Since 2002 Nunnington has been managed fully with organic principles. You can see much of this work in practice as you explore the garden. This includes such things as a four bay composting system, wormery, fruit cages and organic vegetable patch. Most days you’ll be able to find a gardener around to have a chat with and ask any questions you may have.
Relax by the River Rye. Wander the seasonal boarders. Kick back in a deckchair on the lawn and experience the garden as it changes through the seasons. Hungry? - Our garden is perfect for picnics. Borrow a picnic blanket from reception or set up on a picnic table in a shady spot. Enjoy sandwiches, snacks and hot and cold drinks in the relaxed setting of the tea garden and when it’s time to put your feet up why not sit and watch the river from one of our steamer chairs? Each year Nunnington Hall hosts a new garden sculpture exhibition. Come along this summer to see David Cooke’s beautiful ceramic and bronze sculpture exhibition ‘Birds and Beasts’, inspired by animals, shapes and patterns of the natural world.
In the spring, the wildflower meadows surrounding the fruit orchards bloom with snake head fritillary, Camassia and daffodils. In summer, the croquet lawn is perfect for relaxing and picnicking, while the herbaceous borders are awash with colour. While in autumn, the orchards are bountiful with organic produce from the apple, pear and stone fruit trees, showcasing an array of local varieties such as the Yorkshire Beauty and Dog Snout.
The garden has been managed fully organically since 2002, reviving traditional horticultural methods as well as embracing modern techniques and technology. Organic gardening means that manufactured fertilisers and synthetic chemicals are not used. Rather than eliminating pests and diseases the gardening team aim to maintain a natural balance, only using biological and physical controls when necessary.
Each year they also pack sheep fleece around the base of the young fruit trees which acts as a fantastic organic mulch. Not only does it suppress the weed growth and help the soil to retain moisture, but slowly releases nutrients directly to the tree roots as the fleece decays. Not to mention the birds, mice and bumble-bees enjoy the opportunity of collecting luxurious bedding for their nests.
While the spring and summer flowering meadows are in bloom in the fruit orchard, each year they install local bee hives to help with natural pollination. Apart from doing an essential job, the bees produce a beautifully flavoured honey. Each year the flavour can vary due to the mixed variety of plants in bloom at one time.
They are gaining status as a leading organic garden. They are now delivering ‘Green Gardening Workshops’ for other National Trust staff and are often asked to contribute to media and national research regarding their chemical free practices. This includes their much talked about ‘four bay composting system’ which creates well-rotted fertiliser and soil conditioner out of a mix of garden and kitchen waste.
** – Facilities – **
Location : Nunnington Hall, Nunnington, near York, North Yorkshire, YO62 5UY
Transport: Malton (National Rail) then taxi 9 miles. Bus: No buses.
Opening Times: March through October, Daily 10:30 to 17:00; else see calendar.
Tickets: Adults £10.30. Children £5.50
Tel: 01439 748283