Temple Newsam – Encyclopedic Treasure House of National Importance

The original courtyard house was opened up into the present U-shape in 1622 when a wealthy local financier, Sir Arthur Ingram, acquired the estate. It now overlooks a Capability Brown designed landscape.

Hailed as the Hampton Court of the North, Temple Newsam is an oddity within the landscape of historic house museums. Usually, the thought of a council owned historic house conjures up an image of a rather institutionalised approach to an unloved local building taken on simply because it came with a very useful park to serve the community. This is not the case at Temple Newsam, which is a building of some architectural significance, set within a landscape curated by the aptly name Capability Brown, filled with a trove of treasures of national importance. The combination of these factors should make this house one known nationally as a destination on a par with most of the 10 great Treasure Houses that are far more successful in their marketing campaigns, perhaps Temple Newsam should join this august club as its only council owned house.

As the name suggests there is a connection with the Templar Knights who established a Preceptory on the estate in the 12th century. After the Templars were suppressed the estate was granted to the Darcy family, with the first parts of the current house being erected around 1500. In 1537 the house reverted to the Crown after its owner Lord Thomas Darcy was executed. When Henry VIII granted the house to his niece Mary, Countess of Lennox. It is her son who would be the most famous name associated with the house, Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots and father of James I/VI who was born here in 1545. Although traces of this period linger, most of what one sees now dates to Jacobean and later remodeling of the house. Its current external appearance is due in large part to a remodeling after it was acquired by Sir Artur Ingram in 1622, ownership would remain in the family for the next 300 years.

The Oak Staircase, designed by C.E.  Kempe in 1894

It truly is surprising to see the contrast between its fantastic collections and research, and a number of visitors inside the house. Visiting on a sunny Saturday, with the added crowd magnet of a (rather noisy) music festival of some sort in the grounds one might expect the kind of numbers one sees at other big houses, but there appeared only to be a handful of visitors as we were exploring the rooms, with entrance fees far below the average for properties of similar size and importance.

The former Jacobean Long Gallery was converted in a glorious Georgian Picture Gallery between 1738-45 to designs by Daniel Garrett.

Important remodeling of the interiors took place in various stages, but of particular note are the improvements carried out for Henry Ingram, 7th Viscount Irwin, in the mid 18th century. This saw the conversion of the original Jacobean Long Gallery into a spectacular picture gallery with the gilt picture frames brilliantly contrasting with the vibrant green flock wallpaper. The room has a set of unusual richly carved Rococo furnishings by James Pascall, the exuberant Girandoles and Torchères with hunting themes are especially striking. These items had to be re-acquired after the sale of a significant part of the contents in 1922.

The Georgian Library by Daniel Garret was completed in 1743, the organ is a remnant from its conversion to a Chapel in 1877.

One end of the Picture Gallery leads into an elegantly conceived library with fine stucco work. It was converted into a chapel by  G.F. Bodley in 1877 with an altogether more sombre mood. This scheme lasted in part till it was converted back into a library in 1974, with the exception of the organ which is now a reminder of the alternate use of this room. Of the 19th century Chapel, most items survive in the collection, if ever a future curator would like to undo the 1974 reconstruction, though I doubt it would be an improvement.

The beautifully crisp stucco work was executed by Thomas Perritt.

The Queen Anne State Bed was originally commissioned by John, 1st Earl Poulett for Hinton House, it was restored in 2011.

An impressive state bed, presumed to have been designed by Thomas Roberts around 1711 for Hinton House is an eye catcher in a lusciously red apartment. When the bed was acquired in 1981 it had already passed through many different hands, and it was fully restored to its baroque splendour in 2011.

Named after Lord Darnley, Temple Newsam’s most famous character, the Darnley Room was created long after his assassination in 1567.

Many houses in England claim a connection with the unlucky Mary Queen of Scots, but few with her husband. Lord Darnley was born at Temple Newsam, and as is common in such cases a room is named after him to capitalise on this connection. The room in question, however, is located in a part of the building that was only constructed a good 50 years after his assassination in 1567.  The decoration of the room might look appropriately vintage but it was largely created in the 19th century, and early engravings and postcards show varying furniture arrangements in this room. The pretense isn’t held up today, rather the room is presented as an interesting example of antiquarian tastes of the period.

The 18th Century Gothic Room has a reproduction of a very unusual Rococo Gothic “Stucco” wallpaper.

The house is amongst the best nationally when it comes to the amount of in depth research it has received. The excellence of its long standing curatorial tradition is commendable, and thankfully it continues to this day. One area of expertise within the house is Wallpaper, with many great examples of original and reconstructed wallpaper on view throughout the house. This has been the subject of ongoing research which will receive a much-anticipated publication at the end of this year.

A collection of red japanned furniture contrasting with the reconstructed blue damascene effect wallpaper endows this room with an aura of oriental opulence.

Through its laudable acquisitions programme, Leeds City Council has managed to acquire several noteworthy pieces of furniture to display at Temple Newsam, even if there isn’t a direct link with the house or family. There are for example several items of Japanned furniture by Giles Grendey made in the 1730’s in London. These items form part of an important commission of close to 80 pieces from Grendey for Duke of Infantado’s castle at Lazcano in Spain. Apparently, this type of red japanning was particularly popular on the Spanish market at the time, but we can admire it here in Leeds.

The house has an encyclopedic range of rooms covering most styles and periods of interior history.

What is on display throughout the various rooms one can visit ranks amongst the better collections of decorative arts in the country, with especially impressive collections of furniture and wallpaper. It sits somewhere in the middle between a traditional Historic House Museum with its original contents opened up to the public, and a museum of decorative arts with period rooms and themed collections. Other grand houses might be better furnished when it comes to specific styles and periods, but here one finds most eras represented in one collection. This makes it far more informative for scholars and amateurs alike wishing to understand the development of interior design and furnishing over time.

Delighting in the details of the collections on display at Temple Newsam.

This Fabulous Writing Table by Thomas Chippendale was made for the Library at Harewood House in 1771.

The house is also one of the main sites where items from the Chippendale Society collection are on public view. Amongst the impressive pieces by this master is a writing table once at Harewood House with very ornate marquetry work and fine bronzes. This desk is on display in what is known as  Mr. Wood’s Library, this is a Neo Georgian Creation made necessary when the Palladian Library was converted to a Chapel.

The Chinese Drawing Room, a creation of 1828, is one of the absolute highlights of the house.

A bit of Brighton made its way north to Leeds through an unusual gift of the Prince Regent. In 1807 the future George IV took as his mistress Isabella Ingram-Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford. During the course of their relationship, which is said to have lasted till his attentions were drawn elsewhere in 1819, he visited her residences in London (Hertford House, now the Wallace Collection) and Ragley Hall, but also Temple Newsam which Isabella inherited in 1807. It is presumed that he presented her with the spectacular hand painted Chinese Wallpaper on one of these occasions, a form of decoration he was particularly fond of at his beloved Pavillion in Brighton. Isabella had the Chinese Drawing Room decorated in 1827-1828, and it originally had a draped ceiling giving it an exotic tent like appearance. Although the Chinese Wallpaper is richly populated with birds and all manner of flora, Isabella clearly saw fit to augment this scene further. Several birds from the much admired 1827 edition of “Birds of America” by John Audubon were cut out and pasted onto the oriental branches. Intact first editions of this book sell for several million, making this possibly one of the most expensive wallpapers around. Thankfully nowadays the volume has been fully digitised and high-resolution images can be freely downloaded if anyone feels inclined to partake in some ornithological cut and paste.

The room is further interesting as it contains several pieces of lacquer furniture commissioned by the Marchioness of Hertford for this room that have an unusual provenance. These pieces, including the secretaire pictured above, contain elements of Chinese and Japanese lacquer from various sources. Research by Anthony Wells-Cole, the former curator of the collection, has led to the acquisition of this secretaire in 2005, which originally was part of the collection. The columns on the corners of this piece were found to originally have been part of a famous commission for Amalia van Solms, wife of Stadtholder Prince Frederick Henry of Orange. Originally these columns, along with many more now dispersed or lost, formed a bed rail installed in her palace of Huis ten Bosch in 1647. This unusual commission of Japanese Lacquer of the highest quality forms one of the earliest examples of an oriental inspired interior in Europe. Call ahead to ensure that this room and the adjacent ones are open as they are sometimes off limits when weddings take place in the Great Hall.

Richard James Wyatt’s “Nymph Removing a Thorn from a Greyhound’s Foot” of 1848 contrasting with the ornate dark oak of the staircase.

With all the superlatives used in this post to describe the delights on display at Temple Newsam one might wonder why the house isn’t better known? It has all the requirements to compete with the grandest houses out there, and a collection that is far better researched than most houses, yet even minor National Trust properties might receive more visitors through the door. To some degree, the marketing and presentation might need some upscaling to bring it in line with the likes of a Chatsworth, but that doesn’t explain it all. Is this house waiting to be used as the set of a period drama in the style of Brideshead Revisited or Downton Abbey for it to become a must see destination? For now, I thoroughly enjoyed pacing its rooms and admiring the collections in peace, but I do wish this house a long and stable future in the face of the undoubtedly tough budget decisions the council is forced to consider time and again.

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The next post will be a first for this blog; a guest post. Dr. Phillippa Plock will review the Showstoppers Exhibition on view at Temple Newsam until October 15th 2017, a presentation of Antique and Contemporary silver centerpieces.