Belsay Hall, Northumberland
Belsay Hall in Northumberland is one of the earliest and most remarkable Greek Revival buildings in the country. The rainwater drainage system was more suited to the Mediterranean than the North of England and the Historic Houses Foundation will help English Heritage, who maintain this extraordinary house, to fund the repair of the roof.
Grand Tour and Grand Ambitions
By the Regency, European travel was established as an essential part of any young gentleman’s education. When the young Charles Monck married his cousin, Louisa Cook in 1804, they left for a honeymoon in Greece. Already keen classical scholar, the impact of the buildings of classical Greece had a profound impact upon Charles. On his return, he determined to build a new house based on strictly classical principles. His inheritance included two estates, Belsay in Northumberland from his father, Sir William Middleton, and Caenby in Lincolnshire from his maternal grandfather, Sir Lawrence Monck. Having changed his name to Monck in line with his grandfather’s will, Charles opted, with typical contrariness, to build a new house in a new site alongside the Elizabethan house at Belsay.
The house Charles designed, with help from the architect John Dobson, was precisely 100-foot square raised, like a Greek temple, on a base, incorporating two steps, which in turn supports a pair of columns flanking the entrance which rise to the full height of the building. The effect is severe but undeniably harmonious. Inside the strictures of the classical orders continue to be applied, particularly to the full height central hall based on the atrium of a Graeco-Roman house. Doric and Ionic columns, Greek key pattern and palmettes are repeated in plasterwork and mantelpieces throughout the house. Determined to maintain the authenticity of his design, Charles hid the servants’ quarters on the top storey by turning them inwards so that the windows did. not interfere with his façade. He avoided the need for downpipes by devising a drainage system from the central roof to internal drainpipes on each corner of the hall. The genius of his design was undone by the British weather and water ingress has been a problem at Belsay almost since the house was completed in 1817.
As part of English Heritage’s ambitious scheme to revitalise the entire site at Belsay Hall, including the ruins of a medieval pele tower, the Elizabethan house and gardens, the roof will be releaded, insulated and damaged slates replaced. Modern modifications will upgrade the drainage capabilities of the roof while remaining true to Charles Monck’s original concept. The contribution of the Historic Houses Foundation to this important restoration project will cover a small part of the cost allowing the renewal of crucial leadwork and rainwater goods.
The unique site at Belsay eloquently tells the story of architectural change in Britain but also reflects one man’s obsession with perfection in the creation of his family home. Its renewal will provide an exciting visitor experience for an increasingly wide range of local, national and international visitors.