I was very pleased to see I was not alone in my admiration for Burton Agnes Hall: upon checking Simon Jenkins’ ‘England’s 1000 Best Houses‘, I smiled to see that Burton Agnes Hall is one of his 20 (only 20!) houses to which he awards 5 stars.
The only 5 star houses I haven’t visited are: Berkeley Castle (Glocs), Speke Hall (Lancs), Wilton House (Wilts – I tried to go & even made a special trip but the house was suddenly closed “for filming”) and Parham House (Sussex), having already been to Windsor Castle, Chatsworth House, Haddon Hall, Hardwick Hall, Kingston Lacy, Knole, Kensington Palace, Holkham Hall, Blenheim Palace, Broughton Castle, Brighton Pavilion, Castle Howard and Harewood House.
Even D said “this looks nice” when we stepped out of the car, making up for my pleading to go out old house hunting in the cold of November.
Look at the front door: don’t mind if I do come in.
If ever you want to avoid the National Trust “museum” effect and restore your faith in the value of visiting historic houses, you need to go somewhere like Burton Agnes. Indeed, this house is very much a living home: I took my picture of the dining room as the family were about to sit down to Sunday lunch (hence the black lab under the table, all Tottering By Gently) and later, while we were in the Great Hall (the best I’ve ever seen, with an amazing screen and chimneypiece), a small future heir ran from the dining room dressed in only his nappy, surrounding by siblings trying to sort him out but absent a single parent (the ensuing chaos was hilarious and D had to take over the situation).
There is a series of divine, pattinated rooms in this early 17th century skin (attributed to Robert Smythson, who designed the new house on the site of the earlier Norman building owned by Sir Henry Griffiths, whose descendants still own the house): knobbly staircase, Georgian parlour, Chinese Room, linenfold panelling (painted pink!) rescued from a nearby house and installed in a closet, divine and unique Jacobean honeysuckle ceiling in one of the bedrooms, and then another surprise in the recently-refurbished attic space (now a gallery following collapse and redesign, formerly a division of bedrooms). The modern collection of French impressionist paintings made me green with envy and is an excellent example of a family that has continued to collect rather than stopping somewhere around 1830.
The gardens won an Historic Houses Association ‘Garden of the Year’ award, and even in the cold of early winter it was easy to see that we need to return in mid-summer. Nevertheless, I still dragged D into the maze.
When visited: November 2013
House * out of 5: *****
Garden * out of 5: *** (though unfair to judge it: I need to go back in the summer)