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Visit to Harewood House
Heritage Group

16th July 2008

On a bright, sunny morning our coach of 31 with a good complement of merry widows set off for Harewood House beyond the Pennine barrier in Yorkshire. After a welcome break at the Hartshead services we arrived at our destination in time for lunch and the members of the party went their different  ways to discover the delights of the House and gardens.

The House, built by Edwin Lascelles, Earl of Harewood and completed in 1771 to the design of John Carr, a local Yorkshire architect, with interiors by Robert Adam, furnishings by Thomas Chippendale and the  parkland laid out by Capability Brown, welcomed us with open arms.

Over the years the Lascelles family had acquired artefacts from China and India through their investments in the East India Company.  The current exhibition of Chinese art from 18th century to the present day  includes 20 rolls of Chinese wallpaper which had been lost for at least 150 years when discovered in a workshop in 1988. Following restoration  it was re-hung in the East bedroom.

Throughout the life of the House changes have taken place, rooms have been used for various purposes as fashions changed but long term conservation projects have restored many to their original condition. In particular the State bedroom with the spectacular State bed has been restored
to its former glory with the help of  £200,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  It has only been slept in twice, once by Emperor Nicholas of Russia.

Below stairs, areas of interest include the old kitchen with an unusual high vaulted ceiling and the servants hall.  The kitchen, modernised in the 1840s is full of highly polished copper utensils (whose job is that?) and a large black range. The Servants Hall now contains many artifacts that were used both in the House and outside on the estate, some of which are awaiting identification.  Record books from the past are on show including a Day Book that shows the day-to-day working of the House.  There is also the record of expenditure of the entire furnishings of the House by Thomas Chippendale, open at the expenditure on the State Bedroom which included £2.00 for down pillows.  A video showing how one of the marquetry restoration techniques are carried out can be viewed.

The terrace in front of the House overlooks the parterre garden and the long border.  This border extends beyond either end of the house and is full of interest with a magnificent deep red clematis at its centre flanked by roses, sweet peas, dahlias and anything else you can imagine.  The parterre is of box hedges in-filled with bedding geraniums and blue salvias which are continuously weeded by volunteers. The view from the terrace encompasses the lake beyond and I was fortunate to see a red kite circling over the fields.  The presence of these birds is due to a programme of introduction into Yorkshire by the RSPB and the estate.

The bird garden contains over 100 different species from all over the world and an active conservation programme is underway in conjunction with various national and international organisations.  It was of particular interest to see the crested crane and blue starling last seen in East Africa.

Unfortunately the coach left with much left to see and another visit is certainly warranted.

Chris Gibson

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