Wednesday, 1 February 2017

February at Norton Conyers. "We are guardians of the past to benefit the future"*

Norton Conyers house, near Ripon, N. Yorks 
© Norton Conyers

Friday 1st February 1946:

"Left Womersley for Ripon. … At 2.30 reached Norton Conyers, a sunny, pleasant house facing due south across a wide expanse of open park towards Ripon and framed in a broad background of expanding trees.  The south front has several curved Jacobean gables and is roughcast, which gives it a somewhat naked appearance.  The last Graham baronet stripped off the roughcast to reveal red brick, but soon replaced it when he experienced the damp.  Lady Graham, mother of the present baronet, received me.  A capable, outspoken and blunt woman, which whom before I left I made friends, but to start with was hostile.  She manages the property of some 18,000 acres for her son….
Charlotte Bronte stayed here [1839] and made it the scene of Rochester's house in Jane Eyre.  A lunatic Lady Graham was once incarcerated in an attic room I was shown.  

The staircase to the attics, blocked up in the 1880s*
© The Telegraph newspaper

"The entrance hall is filled with portraits of Grahams.  There is a large Ferneley of a meet of the Quorn outside Quenby.  The portraits include a Zoffany group, a Battoni, a Hudson, a Romney. There is a wide Jacobean oak staircase.  On one tread near the top a large knot of wood is shown.  It resembles a horse's hoof, reputedly of the horse which planted it here before collapsing, having borne its master twenty miles home badly [mortally] wounded after the Battle of Marston Moor."

The Jacobean staircase and portraits.
© Norton Conyers

"On the stairs a small Zoffany of the housekeeper who was to murder one of the Grahams.  Upstairs an oak panelled room with double four-poster bed in which Charles I slept.  Lady Graham told me that both Charles I and James stayed in this room.  In the garden are some lead figures and urns of the eighteenth century.  Lady Graham had a long talk with me afterwards and said she wanted to endow the house with some private money of her own, but I was not to tell her son this."

Caves of Ice  James Lees-Milne, 1946

*Sir James Graham's words.  The blocked staircase to the attic room was uncovered in 2004, during the 30 hands-on years Sir James and Lady Graham spent restoring Norton Conyers.  Lady Graham said then that:
 "the house has a very strong presence.  It reveals it secrets grudgingly, so we have to work hard".  

Nearly 70 years after Lees-Milne's visit, the story of Norton Conyers' secrets was told by Stuart Penney in The Telegraph, May 2005. 


  1. Hello there - I just discovered your blog a few days ago and I love the idea of using it as a commonplace book for all these lovely bits of literary and history. Great title too!

    1. Many thanks - always pleased to hear from readers - although I know I only rarely have time to reply to the blogs I enjoy regularly. My next blog will be for Pisces - unless I have any brainwaves before then. Best wishes,
      E. Berris