After our trip to Woolsthorpe Hall me and my friends spent the rest of the afternoon at Belton Hall. I have been meaning to visit Belton for a while, as they have just been through a National Trust project that we at Hardwick are just beginning and I wanted to see what I thought of their new ‘free flow’ visit.
As I have mentioned in the past I am a big fan of free flow, though I know not everyone agrees with me. At Belton not only do they give you a floor plan (!!!) but they also have a selection of leaflets for visitors to pick up, each pertaining to a different interest. I LOVED this idea, especially the leaflet aimed at children, which was blank so they could fill in their own objects of interest.
When we got into the house we were told a Below Stairs tour was about to depart, and as this was the only way to see Below Stairs we said yes and joined the tour group. In hindsight I wish we had asked for more information before saying yes as it was a very looooong tour.
The tour lasted an hour, which I feel is much to long for a tour just taking you around part of a house. The Below Stairs was an odd area. I could see why it couldn’t be opened free-flow, you would need double the number of volunteers as the area was huge. It had been modernised and obviously been a working space in recent years. Dotted around was some information about Belton’s servants. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos, but there wasn’t actually that much to see, until we got to the room with the silver, which was original to the house but has been sold off and was back on loan.
By the end of the tour I was getting quite fed up and really eager to get on with the visit to the rest of the house. We did see some interesting things but I would have at least cut the tours in half and focused on the rooms that looked more original (and more interesting). I’m not sure if it was just our tour guide but we spent quite a lot of the tour listening to them talking about things that weren’t even in the same room as us, which I found rather frustrating.
When we did eventually get into the house proper, it was well worth the wait. I particularly liked the library, there were so many books! Huge book shelves like Belton’s just look effortlessly stunning. In the Dining Room the table was laid showing off some of the families silver collection and at the back there is a large wine cooler that one of the family was supposedly baptised in. It is definitely large enough to bath a baby in so imagine the parties you could have with that much wine!
The Red Drawing Room is beautiful, I love rooms where the walls are totally co-ordinated with the furniture, and the pattern and colour of the fabric was lovely. The fabric was in really good condition too.
Belton also has an amazing wooden floor in the Tyrconnel Room, and an eyemat of it on the visitor route to protect it. Unfortunately the guidebook doesn’t give a tour of the house so I can’t find much information about items in the house. I did find out that it was a Withdrawing Room and later became a State Bedroom. For some reason they also had a lovely curly wig for people to try on, so of course Dave modeled it for us, fancy!
The Staircase Hall is very grand, and half way up the staircase is a beautiful portrait of Lady Adelaide Chetwynd-Talbot, Countess Brownlow. She is the daughter of the 18th Earl of Shrewsbury, a little connection to Hardwick there. It is a lovely painting, the dress looks so life-like. Lady Adelaide has a very strange expression and it makes me wish I knew what she was thinking.
I did not know Belton had such a fab collection of beds! We would see one amazing bed in one room and then in the next room there would be another. I love luxurious, grand looking beds so this was such a treat! The first beautiful bed we saw was in the Blue Bedroom, downstairs. It reminds me of the La Pierre canopy hanging in the Long Gallery at Hardwick.
In the same suite was an amazing Lapis Lazuli cabinet in a fantastic shade of blue. It’s a really unusual piece made in Italy in the late 17th Century. The stand is a separate piece but complements it nicely. I wonder what they used to keep in this cabinet, I would be tempted to fill it with crafting bits!
The Queen’s Bedroom had a particularly finely embroidered bed spread, with swirly leafy patterns embroidered in gold thread. It was named after Queen Adelaide’s visit in 1841. She was married to King William IV and the bed had a coronet on top of the bed canopy in her honour.
There were several other beautiful beds and pieces of furniture that we saw as we explored the rest of the first floor.
And in a little cupboard off the stairs I found some things which are very familiar to me, and maybe more befitting my status than these grand beds. They had the Housekeeper’s cupboard open and inside it was a little wooden trug, like the one I use at work!
I was a little disappointed with the guide-book, as it focuses on the history of the family and has no tour of the house. There is a section on highlighted objects but it does not actually give much information about most collection, which is a shame as that is what really interested me during my visit to Belton. Luckily we have the National Trust Picture Library and the Collections website, which you can go to for more information about most properties collections.
I think I might go back on a quite day, just so I can spend some more time gawping at their gorgeous beds. Sometimes I really have to resist the urge to say to the rooms guides; ‘I work for the Trust, can I just nip over the rope and have a closer look at that embroidery?’ but I know that is very naughty. It’s true what they say about power going to people’s heads!