Last week on a work trip I found myself early for an appointment in Adwick le Street, South Yorkshire, and observing lunchtime was nigh, in the happy position of spying one such serendipitous find: Brodsworth Hall - just three miles from my destination. I had a quick bit of snap (delicious leek tart and salad) in its tea rooms, then whizzed off round the house.
This is one of those properties which have not been refurbished and refurnished with items from elsewhere, but left largely as it was when its last owner, Sylvia Grant-Dalton, died there in 1988. In some ways it reminded me of Erddig, which I visited as a child, with its peeling wallpaper, and, in some areas like the kitchen, a charming unreconstructed mix of old and new. Brodsworth Hall, a grand Victorian family house, was built by Charles Thellusson, and the same family lived there for over 120 years. An earlier house, built in the 17th century, had been demolished and the site moved from beside the nearby church of St Michael and All Angels.
One of the guides told me that the Thellussons had come from French Huguenot ancestry, making their fortune in the 18th century originally, from banking, among other things, and sugar plantations in Montserrat. Might the Jamaican mahogany doors on the ground floor, recycled from the old house, have come from another plantation? I wonder how many great English country houses owe their grandeur to wealth partly gained from slave-owning?
It amuses me when people speak reverently of ‘old families’ (like for example the Brudenells, who are said to have been established as aristocrats before the Norman Conquest). Aren’t we all from old families, even if our ancestors haven’t lived in the same house for hundreds of years?
I didn’t have time to see the wonderful formal gardens at Brodsworth, but I was powerless to resist the room full of second-hand books for sale in aid of English Heritage’s work. I was delighted to find two good’uns:
Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays (particularly welcome as I was so disappointed with the National Theatre’s recent version of Everyman, re-modelled by Carol Ann Duffy, and am keen to read the original), and The Wreck of the Abergavenny - The Wordsworths and Catastrophe by my kinswoman Alethea Hayter*. Sadly I never had the pleasure of meeting her, though her brother Sir William Hayter was my godfather, so I’m very much looking forward to reading it.
Amazing what you can find when you’ve got your eyes open!
Obituary of Alethea Hayter
Click on Family photo under Childhood on this page - Alethea and William Hayter are 2nd and 3rd from the left in the back row