Pre-Raphaelites, Dragons and a Cabinet of Curiosity: A Visit to Wallington

Wallington is a beautiful William and Mary period country house in the Northumberland countryside – the house as seen today, including the beautiful big clock tower you walk underneath as you enter the grounds, was largely remodelled by Sir Walter Calverley Blackett, who had inherited the house from his party-loving and debt-ridden uncle, Sir William Blackett, in 1728. I had a wonderful visit here with a lovely friend a few weekends ago and wanted to share some of the interesting details from the house and grounds (the gardens and parkland is absolutely beautiful) in my post today!

PAINTED HALL

So this is an absolute show stopper of a central courtyard in the house. It was originally open until the 1850s, but then William Bell Scott, who was a Pre-Raphaelite artist, was commissioned to paint eight wall paintings here. Scott filled them with two millennia’s worth of the history of Northumberland. My absolute favourites were the paintings of Bede finishing his works at Jarrow and then King Egfrid and Bishop Trumwine persuade Cuthbert to be Bishop. Particularly the second one, as the colours were so bold and bright and the landscape so beautiful in the background.

If you like Pre-Raphaelites, you won’t be disappointed when you wander further through the house: you’ll find an Edward Burne Jones painting (set against a background of William Morris wallpaper) entitled Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness. It shows a scene from Chaucer’s story the Romaunt of the Rose and was acquired by Charles Philips Trevelyan in 1904 as a birthday present for the woman who would become his wife, Molly. I’d definitely love something like this for my birthday! (A girl can dream!)

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A CHANGING PORTRAIT

Another one for art lovers in the Dining Room: this painting of Susanna Trevelyan (niece of Sir Walter Calverley Blackett) is absolutely beautiful. However, it did not always look like this. Susanna was originally painted in 1761 by none other than Sir Thomas Gainsborough, who had her in a – quite frankly – frothy dress and hat, clutching a dog.

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It was not received particularly well by the writer Arthur Young, who visited Wallington whilst researching for his book about touring the north of England. When he published his book in 1767, he had written the painting off as being just of a hat and ruffles. So who did Sir Walter supposedly call in to make the portrait better? None other than Sir Joshua Reynolds, of course. Why have just one of the great portraitists of the eighteenth century when you can have both?

A PASSION FOR PAINTING: THE LADY BEHIND THE BRUSH EXHIBITION

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One more if you like paintings, and in particular, watercolours: there is a beautiful exhibition on at the moment at Wallington of the work of Caroline, Lady Trevelyan (1849-1928). Caroline recorded many stunning views of the parkland throughout her years of painting, which are on show here, with more around the house. What I really liked here was that the exhibition can extend out into the park if you so wish: you can take prints of the paintings with you around the parkland to match up her work with what you can see in front of you! I always love it when country houses have exhibitions on about interesting women.

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES

I had a field day with this. As somebody who researches women who collected in the eighteenth century, this was a wonderful surprise to stumble across. Welcome to Lady Wilson’s Cabinet of Curiosities – I might do a little post about Cabinets of Curiosity another time – a collection of interesting items that would have helped Lady Jane Wilson understand and categorise the world around her in the manner of the Enlightenment. This collection began at Charlton Park in Greenwich, and was then inherited by Lady Jane’s daughter Maria, Lady Trevelyan, who had it installed at Wallington. It was significantly added to by Lady Jane’s grandson with geological items.

How amazing is this collection and its set up? I spent ages pottering around in it and looking at all the items on display. Wallington is full of hidden treasures, and the ones I’ve mentioned here are only a few!

AND THE GROUNDS…

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Well, look at these dragon head statues! I absolutely loved them – and can you believe they were once on top of Bishopsgate in London? The gate was only built in the 1730s before it was deemed too small for the traffic entering the City of London only three decades later and pulled down. Sir Walter Calverley Blackett bought the dragons and had them shipped up north on a coal barge.

Have a look at these and then wander through the beautiful pleasure grounds, which have links to Capability Brown. My love of the dragon statues was eclipsed when we arrived at…

THE SECRET GARDEN

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Just to finish… The Secret Garden is one of my favourite books and films, and the walled garden at Wallington reminded me of it so much that I felt like Mary Lennox whilst wandering through. How beautiful is it? If you do get to visit Wallington and the weather is beautiful, make sure you leave time to have a look at all the grounds!

Also…

Is it really a visit to a National Trust property if you don’t sample the tea room? I can definitely recommend the carrot cake!

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