Thursday, March 31, 2016

Downton Abbey of the North


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Gawthorpe Hall is an Elizabethan gem and the ‘Downton Abbey of the North’.
The original house was built for the Shuttleworth family between 1600 and 1605 on the banks of the river Calder near Burnley in Lancastershire. It was redesigned in the 1850’s by Sir Charles Barry architect of the Houses of Parliament and the “real’ Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle.
The Grade I listed Hall not only has a connection with Charlotte Brontë but houses the North West’s largest collection of portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery as well as The Gawthorpe Textiles, the most important collection outside London amassed by the Honourable Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth (1886 – 1967).
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Gawthorpe Hall was given to the National Trust in the 1970s and became a college for teaching textile techniques for several years before it was opened as an historic house.
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The Hall was closed during 2015 for essential conservation but is reopening this Spring – a must visit for so many different reasons but especially for Rachel’s textile collection.
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The Hon. Rachel was highly skilled in the art of embroidery and lacemaking, and shared her immense knowledge with others through examples collected in her lifetime.
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The vast collection includes many examples of her own work.
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Begun in 1905, work on this bedspread and its accompanying accessories took Rachel thirteen years. She completed the project with a palm-tree flourish on Armistice day 1918.
We will be looking at Rachel’s life and work in detail in a future post.
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The collection today is one of the most interesting specialist textile collections in the UK and is known to textile specialists worldwide.
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The 30,000+ artefacts range from the highly functional to the finest decorative or ceremonial pieces.
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Spanning five centuries, covering a broad range of techniques and originating from across the globe, this collection speaks as much about cultural, social and personal histories as it does about textile craft.
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For those who cannot visit  part of the collection can be viewed  ONLINE
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Gawthorpe Hall is the final stop on ‘The Brontë Way’,
Lady Janet Kay-Shuttleworth was an acquaintance of Charlotte Brontë who visited Gawthorpe Hall on several occasions. She also stayed with the Kay-Shuttleworths at The Briery, their summer home in Windermere, where she met Mrs Gaskell who became her great friend and wrote the first biography of Charlotte after her death. During Charlotte’s second visit to Gawthorpe in January 1855 it is said that she insisted walking out in the grounds and caught a chill from which she never managed to recover, she died two months later on 31st March.
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The Drawing Room at Gawthorpe Hall. Charlotte Brontë later recalled sitting on the green sofa (just visible in this picture) and enjoying conversation by the fireside. .
A letter written on March 19th 1850 by Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey about her visit to Gawthorpe Hall.
‘Dear Ellen,—I have got home again, and now that the visit is over, I am, as usual, glad I have been; not that I could have endured to prolong it: a few days at once, in an utterly strange place, amongst utterly strange faces, is quite enough for me.
‘When the train stopped at Burnley, I found Sir James waiting for me. A drive of about three miles brought us to the gates of Gawthorpe, and after passing up a somewhat desolate avenue, there towered the hall—grey, antique, castellated, and stately—before me. It is 250 years old, and, within as without, is a model of old English architecture. The arms and the strange crest of the Shuttleworths are carved on the oak pannelling of each room. They are not a parvenue family, but date from the days of Richard III. This part of Lancashire seems rather remarkable for its houses of ancient race. The Townleys, who live near, go back to the Conquest.
‘The people, however, were of still more interest to me than the house. Lady Shuttleworth is a little woman, thirty-two years old, with a pretty, smooth, lively face. Of pretension to aristocratic airs she may be entirely acquitted; of frankness, good-humour, and activity she has enough; truth obliges me to add, that, as it seems to me, grace, dignity, fine feeling were not in the inventory of her qualities. These last are precisely what her husband possesses. In manner he can be gracious and dignified; his tastes and feelings are capable of elevation; frank he is not, but, on the contrary, politic; he calls himself a man of the world and knows the world’s ways; courtly and affable in some points of view, he is strict and rigorous in others. In him high mental cultivation is combined with an extended range of observation, and thoroughly practical views and habits. His nerves are naturally acutely sensitive, and the present very critical state of his health has exaggerated sensitiveness into irritability. His wife is of a temperament precisely suited to nurse him and wait on him; if her sensations were more delicate and acute she would not do half so well. They get on perfectly together. The children—there are four of them—are all fine children in their way.
They have a young German lady as governess—a quiet, well-instructed, interesting girl, whom I took to at once, and, in my heart, liked better than anything else in the house. She also instinctively took to me. She is very well treated for a governess, but wore the usual pale, despondent look of her class. She told me she was home-sick, and she looked so.
‘I have received the parcel containing the cushion and all the etcetera, for which I thank you very much. I suppose I must begin with the group of flowers; I don’t know how I shall manage it, but I shall try. I have a good number of letters to answer—from Mr. Smith, from Mr. Williams, from Thornton Hunt, Lætitia Wheelwright, Harriet Dyson—and so I must bid you good-bye for the present.
Write to me soon. The brief absence from home, though in some respects trying and painful in itself, has, I think, given me a little better tone of spirit. All through this month of February I have had a crushing time of it. I could not escape from or rise above certain most mournful recollections—the last few days, the sufferings, the remembered words, most sorrowful to me, of those who, Faith assures me, are now happy. At evening and bed-time such thoughts would haunt me, bringing a weary heartache. Good-bye, dear Nell.—Yours faithfully, ‘C. B.’

Photographs of items from the collection are copyright of the Rachel Kay-Suttleworth Collection at Gawthorpe Hall.
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