Treasure Houses of England: Harewood

Note: Cheryl is writing a series on the ten Treasure Houses of England, which have been selected for their grandeur, architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance. See the website at http://treasurehouses.co.uk/

© Cheryl Bolen

The history of Harewood goes back to ancient times, and structures date from the 12th (Harwood Castle) and 14th centuries (Gawthorpe Hall). Remnants of the castle remain on the estate, and excavation work is now being done on Gawthorpe Hall which was demolished in the 1770s when construction on Harewood House was completed.

Harewood House

In 1739 the Harewood and Gawthorpe estates were purchased by Henry Lascelles, who had made a large fortune in the West Indies sugar trade. Following his death in1753, his son Edwin took possession of Harewood. Construction on Harewood House began 1759 by a who’s who of 18th century builders and designers: builder John Carr, interior designer and architect Robert Adam, landscape architect Capability Brown, and furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. Edwin Lascelles supervised the construction himself. The house became habitable in 1771 although work continued throughout the 1770s.

When Edwin Lascelles died in 1795, the estate went to his cousin who was made Earl of Harewood, and the house has remained in the family ever since. In 1843 the third Earl employed Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament. Barry was asked to heighten the wings of the house, to alter the front and rear facades, and to create a new formal garden on the south side of the building. He also remodeled a number of rooms. Since then, the basic structure of the house has remained intact.

The 6th Earl was married to Princess Mary, Princess Royal, daughter of George V and the aunt of Queen Elizabeth. Princess Mary lived at Harewood for 35 years and died there in 1965.

Princess Mary

Today the house is still the family seat of the Lascelles family. David Lascelles is the 8th Earl. The house and grounds have been transferred into a trust ownership structure under the management of the Harewood House Trust. Harewood House is listed as one of the 10 Treasure Houses of England.

HOUSE

Built by John Carr of York, furnished by master furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, with interiors by the celebrated Robert Adam, in the setting of one of Capability Brown’s finest landscape, it is not surprising that Harewood House is one of the 10 great Treasure Houses of England.

The exterior of the house is a product of Carr and Barry, with the latter having the final say. The house consists of a central block with adjoining wings which are connected to the main house with one-story links. The front entrance is dominated by a pediment and six Corinthian columns. The south front features Italianate terraces designed by Barry.

The interior of the house is pure Robert Adam: soaring, beautifully painted ceilings; elaborate plasterwork; ornate fireplaces; and striking mixed color schemes. Although he had to work with fixed room sizes, Harewood House is considered one of Adam’s greatest accomplishments. Chippendale also had a great influence on the design of the house which still contains an impressive collection of his furniture. In fact, Harewood House was the largest commission of Chippendale’s career (10 years and £10,000).

Harewood’s state bed, by Chippendale

Of special interest is the state bed in the state bedroom. A popular fashion of the 18th century was to have a state bedroom suite reserved for visiting royalty or heads of state. In the 19th century Barry did away with the state suite and converted the bedroom into a sitting room (later used by Princess Mary as her sitting room). After Barry’s alteration, Chippendale’s state bed was put in storage for 150 years! In 1999 £200,000 was finally raised to restore the bed and the state bedroom, which is now a highlight of the tour.

Although all the state rooms are impressive, especially noteworthy is the gallery which includes paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Giovanni Bellini and El Greco as well as family portraits by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney, Hoppner and Lawrence. Another interesting feature is that Harewood House has three libraries (the main library, the old library, and the Spanish library) with more than 11,000 books. Also of special interest is the china room which contains an important collection of Sèvres porcelain bought in the early 19th century and a 1779 Bleu de Roi tea service that belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette.

GROUNDS

The grounds are a joint product of Brown’s “natural” setting and Barry’s formal garden. The most obvious manifestation of Brown’s “natural” design is the man-made lake which can be viewed from Barry’s terraces. Barry’s most spectacular contribution to the grounds are the intricate geometric flowerbeds that run the entire width of the south front.

There is a tea-room with seating on Barry’s terrace that overlooks the formal garden and Brown’s landscape.--Cheryl Bolen’s newest release is Miss Hastings’ Excellent London Adventure.

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