Nostell Priory

Posted on March 19, 2011 by


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National Trust bumph trumpets that access to its properties is Free (sic) to Members. Free, my foot. No such thing as a free lunch. It costs and arm and a leg to join. However, once you have, it’s a really nice feeling ignoring the extortionate entrance fees. Last visit was to Nostell Priory near Wakefield in Yorkshire. Well worth the trek. Nothing left of the priory of course. I suppose the owner kept the name assuming it to be prestigious. As we know Henry VIII swelled his coffers by deciding his country was now Protestant which gave him carte blanche to grab all property belonging to the Pope. One bloke who ended up with Nostell was made a baron by Charles II for his loyalty to his poor old dad who had his head chopped off. Mind you, the Winn family had connections with royalty long before that. It made lace for Her Madge Elizabeth I. We see from all those portraits she wore a lot of it. People make the pilgrimage to Nostell for many reasons. Some come to see one of the finest libraries owned by the Trust. Its magnificent bookcases and ceilings are by the famous Robert Adam. Its furniture, by a local lad, designed by the equally famous Thomas Chippendale, includes a very grand desk indeed. Some come to see the huge dolls house made in 1730 for the then owner’s wife. It may even have been designed by Chippendale. One theory is that it was used to train new servants in the ways of grand houses. The furniture, decorations, china, glass and textiles are accurate scaled-down versions of the real thing (silverware is hallmarked). Fans of John Harrison come to see his 1717 long case clock which is wound every Wednesday afternoon. Another of Wakefield’s famous locals (his dad was a Nostell estate carpenter) Harrison achieved world fame for his marine chronometer – try to see the TV series Longitude. Da Vinci Code conspiracy theorists make the pilgrimage to inspect the painting of Thomas More and his family. In the 1990s the suggestion was put forward the artist put clues in his picture that the Princes in the Tower were not murdered but were adopted by More. There is, and always will be, an abiding fascination with the Princes. I am not immune. I wrote about them at some length in Royal Hertfordshire: Murders and Misdemeanours. Nostell has two distinct styles of interior decoration. The first, all swirls and curlicues and rococo, is by another talented local chap, James Paine who was –astonishingly – only 19 when he was commissioned. Thirty years later the new owner wasn’t a fan of swirls so asked the famous Robert Adam to re-design the rooms. Adam didn’t like swirls either so framed Paine’s frescoes inside fashionable squares. It must be said that Nostell volunteers are to be commended. They are friendly, unstuffy, approachable and very knowledgeable. All are passionate about the place. One told me a terrible tale of a night in 1980 when a fire destroyed one room in its entirety along with original paintings worth millions. Another told me about the soon to be restored Grade 1 Listed Riding School in the wonderful stables designed by Adam and said the famous Doncaster Races first took place at Nostell. The Trust could not survive without its Volunteers. It is to be hoped that they are suitably rewarded.

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Photography copyright Mark Playle

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