Burghley House

7 MAY 2019

On our way up to Newark for an antiques fair we stopped off at Burghley House, somewhere I hadn’t been before. Nestling up against the gorgeous honey coloured town of Stamford, the estate has been handed down the generations for over 450 years starting with the first Lord Burghley (William Cecil) who was Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. Today the house is administered by the Burghley House Preservation Trust.

We were lucky to visit on a quiet day and after a delicious light lunch in the Orangery overlooking the rose garden we spent an hour walking round the Sculpture Gardens then enjoying the shrieks and laughter of a visiting school party in the Garden of Surprises before joining two American ladies on a guided tour of the house.

Although I didn’t find Burghley’s exterior as beautiful  as some other major houses this was more than made up for inside where we were treated to a feast of art, porcelain, tapestry and carving. Paul Chettle, our guide kept the thread of the family story running through the rooms and was more than able to answer all the questions put to him.

We started in the cavern-like kitchens and then moved up a floor to the chapel where it was distressing to hear that the altarpiece was paid for and taken under cover of darkness from an Italian church, depriving the local worshippers of perhaps their only glimpse of beauty. In the 21st Century these magnificent houses do trigger a conflict of emotions but Burghley and others that are now open to the public mean that we can all appreciate their private collections alongside learning about the life of their staff.

Paul told us about the gentlemen’s drinking club – the Order of Little Bedlam which had several eminent members including Verrio who painted the incredible Heaven Room and Hell Staircase but the mural I liked best was in the Bow Room which was painted by Louis Laguerre in 1697 and depicts the life of Anthony and Cleopatra. The modern lighting showed off the murals brilliantly.

The bedrooms were beautifully filled with tapestries, paintings and wonderful marquetry and pietra dura furniture but my eyes were taken upwards to the 17th Century plaster ceilings which I found incredibly beautiful. How wonderful for the young Princess Victoria to lie in the makeshift bed in the Brown Drawing Room gazing up at the ceiling and dreaming of a day when she would be Queen.

Having been on a mosaic workshop recently with Emma Leith in Box it was sobering to see some of the 9th Earl’s Italian micro mosaics hanging in the Blue Silk Dressing Room – I think I will need to book a few more workshops!

At the end of the tour we ‘met’ the 6th Marquess, in the Olympic Corridor and found ourselves outside once again in the Chestnut Courtyard where there was time for a browse in Burghley’s shop. Retail of any kind is always interesting when you are in the business and this shop was probably the best attached to an historic building that I have seen. Thoughtfully displayed, carefully chosen merchandise without the slide to tat that is often not avoided.

Our time had run out and it had started to rain so there was no walk around the ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland. Perhaps we’ll go back for the Film Festival which is coming up in July.

Do go if you can!


(Pictures burghley.co.uk and tmlighting.com)

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