Last week we visited Harewood House, just outside of Leeds. As a lover of history, my ideal weekend is spending time visiting a stately home and, in the past, we have bought annual membership for a particular house or for English Heritage. Stately homes offer so much nowadays with a range of activities as well as special days, festivals and conventions. Over the Christmas period, we saw a wonderful television show on the BBC with Mary Berry visiting Harewood. I was struck by the impressive preparations being made to celebrate Christmas. So last weekend we made the forty-minute trip to see Harewood for ourselves.
Harewood is steeped in history. It was originally built in the Eighteenth Century for a very wealthy plantation owner Edwin Lascelles, the first Baron Harewood. As money was no object in its building, the landscape was designed by Capability Brown. The house has an impressive collection of art treasures including family portraits by Joshua Reynolds, John Hoppner and Sir Thomas Lawrence, as well as a collection of Modern art.
In 1922 the sixth Earl married the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary; Princess Mary, who eventually became the Princess Royal, preceding our current Princess Royal: Princess Anne. They moved to Harewood in 1929.
Harewood has proved to be a very popular location and stately home. The painter Turner visited and painted the landscape. Elton John has performed in the grounds and recently the ITV television series Victoria was filmed there.
When we arrived at Harewood, we were struck by how much there was to do. This is a place where you need to spend several days to appreciate everything it has to offer. The House is incredibly impressive and when we went, there was a special exhibition on, which took as its inspiration, the dreams of Princess Mary’s two young sons at Christmas time. The exhibition had been designed by the set designer Simon Costin and it was magnificent, with a giant wicker Pan and elements of classical stories and childhood wonder at the festive period.
The most impressive room that we visited was The Gallery. The room is an incredible size being 76 feet by 24 feet and an incredible 21 feet high. We were told by the knowledgeable guides to make sure that we looked at the ceilings. In doing so, I was reminded of the Sistine chapel in Rome. The ceilings depict the exploits of Greek Gods and Goddesses and are unique in their intricacy. The room also features many furniture designs of Thomas Chippendale – the younger – as well as a wealth of Renaissance art work. It is one of the most imposing rooms in a stately home that I have ever seen.
There is so much to see in the house. Harewood is staffed by many volunteers who clearly love the house and their enthusiasm for the place is infectious. There were many interactive exhibits such as trying on of period costumes and laminated copies of Twentieth Century magazines to flick through. You could easily spend all day there.
I am partially disabled, and I was struck by how helpful and kind all the staff were in ensuring that I was able to move around the grounds without any inconvenience. There is a shuttle bus that runs services between the Main House and the Grounds and other attractions to help those of us unable to walk any long distance. Throughout our time we were treated as though we were the only visitors to Harewood. Even the shuttle bus driver was kind and accommodating and told us what to see. It is rare to meet such genuine hospitality where nothing is too much trouble.
The grounds have a farm where you can feed the animals as well as a walled garden, a Himalayan garden and a bird garden. We loved seeing the penguins and Harewood offers you the chance to help feeding them. There are several shops in the grounds and they sell a wide range of beautiful gifts including scarves, teas, biscuits and most importantly Harewood Gin. Throughout the year there are many activities and events such as music concerts, art exhibitions and a food and drink festival. The price for a year’s membership is exceptional value for money. We also enjoyed a very decadent afternoon tea in the Billiard Room. It was the perfect way to end our visit.
“Make sure you come and visit us in every season.” The shuttle bus driver advised,” Then you can truly appreciate how spectacular a place this is.”
Harewood reopens on March 23rd and when that date arrives, you can guess who will be first in the queue at the entrance gate!