A very early example of a museum. Despite its apparent uniformity of style, Burton Constable has a long and complicated building history. The lower part of the north tower, built from limestone, is the oldest part of the house to survive and dates to the 12th century, when a medieval pele tower served to protect the village of Burton Constable in the reign of King Stephen. In the late 15th century a new brick manor house was built at Burton Constable, eventually replacing Halsham as the family's principal seat. In the 1560s Sir John Constable embarked on the building of the Elizabethan prodigy house that stands today. This incorporated remains of the earlier manor house along with the addition of the new range containing a Great Hall, which rose the full height of the building and was top-lit by a lantern, along with a Parlour, Chambers and South Wing. By the 18th century, the Great Hall must have seemed old fashioned, and a surviving design of c.1730 suggests that Cuthbert Constable intended to completely remodel the interior. However, it appears that remodelling was not undertaken until the 1760s when his son William Constable commissioned a number of architects for designs. These included John Carr, Timothy Lightoler. and Capability Brown.
Although it is known that a museum existed in 1774, its location remains a mystery. It was referred to as the "White room adjoining Gallery" in the inventory of 1791, when it housed a number of framed drawings. The present-day Museum Rooms were, according to a plan of 1775, two bedrooms separated by a dressing room. By the 1850s an elaborate theatre had been created in this area, with the outer room serving as an auditorium and the inner room as a stage and fly tower. The Museum Rooms in their present form date from the 1970s, when William Constable's assorted collections of scientific material were recovered from attics where they had been stored since the early 19th century. The museum now displays part of the most substantial Cabinet of Curiosities to be found in any English country house. In 2003, the Burton Constable Foundation purchased an 18th-century telescope which had, before its sale around 1960, been for some two centuries a well-known feature of the house. It was originally acquired by William Constable, who purchased it from the famous York clockmaker Henry Hindley in 1760 for the sum of 100 guineas (£105). It is thought to be the world's first equatorially-mounted telescope.
The Chinese Room was inspired by visits to Brighton Pavilion in the 1830s by Marianne, Lady Clifford-Constable and her sister Eliza. Thomas Brooks carved the gilded dragons. Marianne designed the dragon chair, which was carved in 1841 by Thomas Wilkinson Wallis while still serving his apprenticeship with Thomas Ward of Hull. The medieval open field system was used before the deer park was created in 1517. William Senior's 1621 survey indicates that the park was then made up of a series of enclosures with the main entrance to the house from the east, approached by a walk or avenue. The ancient moat stretched around two sides of the hall. Some way to the west, there were three long, narrow fish ponds. In 1715, considerable work was undertaken for William, 4th Viscount Dunbar in levelling land for new gardens. It seems likely that a lawn was created at this time on the west front, and to the north a grove containing a geometrical arrangement of paths. In 1757, William Constable consulted Thomas Knowlton, head gardener of the Londesborough Estate. Knowlton proposed a menagerie, at the north end of the lakes that and a stove garden set close to the house on the west front, which contained a greenhouse 203 feet (62 m) long. Lancelot 'Capability' Brownjoined the ponds to create the two lakes separated by a dam-cum-bridge, planting clumps of trees, installing sunk fences and the ha-ha. The Elizabethan stable block adjacent to the house was demolished to be replaced in 1768 by Lightoler's Palladian stables. Closer to the house, a new Orangery was completed in 1782 to the designs of Thomas Atkinson with artificial stone ornament supplied by Eleanor Coade.
An unusual feature in the park during the 19th century was the skeleton of an 18 m long Sperm Whale erected on ironwork. The bull whale had been stranded in 1825 on the shore at nearby Tunstall and was carefully dissected and studied by James Alderson, a celebrated Hull surgeon. The whale skeleton was brought to Burton Constable, since as Lord Paramount of the Seigniory of Holderness, Sir Clifford was entitled to anything of interest that washed up on the foreshore. This famous whale also came to the attention of Herman Melville, who published his masterpiece Moby-Dick in 1851: "at a place in Yorkshire, England, Burton Constable by name, a certain Sir Clifford Constable has in his possession the skeleton of a Sperm Whale ... Sir Clifford's whale has been articulated throughout; so that like a great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him, in all his long cavities—spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan—and swing all day upon his lower jaw. Locks are to be put upon some of his trap doors and shutters; and a footman will show round future visitors with a bunch of keys at his side. Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at the whispering gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo in the hollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled view from his forehead.". The whale skeleton can still be seen at Burton Constable Hall, in the Great Barn.
Accessible toilets and baby changing facilities are in the Stables Courtyard. They have designated parking for the disabled in the car park and also at the front of the house (not always available on event days). The Hall is disabled friendly with a stairlift to the first floor and wheelchair loan (maximum 2 people at any one time), surfaces both inside and outside may be uneven. Wheelchair loan is also available for the grounds, the paths/walkways are mainly gravel. Visitors own manual wheelchair can be used on the ground floor. Their admission policy admits one necessary companion, or carer, of a disabled visitor free of charge while the normal admission fee applies to the disabled visitor. Afternoon tea was created by the Duchess of Bedford in the late 18th century. She invited friends to join her for an afternoon meal of small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, sweets and, of course, tea. The practice was so popular that it was quickly adopted by other social hostesses. All dogs are welcome, they even have a dedicated ‘Doggy Dining Room’ where you can all enjoy some delicious homemade food in a warm and pleasant room.
Location : Burton Constable, Skirlaugh, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire HU11 4LN
Transport: Hull (National Rail) then bus + taxi. Bus Routes : no buses stop nearby.
Opening Times - Hall : Daily 12:00 to 17:00; Fridays closed except July and August.
Opening Times - Stables : Daily 11:00 to 17:00.
Tickets : Adults £10.90; Student/OAP £10.45; Children (5 - 16) £5.45.
Tel: 01964 562400