I’ve been trying to break away from just visiting National Trust, and English Heritage properties recently. Sure, it’s cost effective to visit such places when you’re a member, but I think you can become blinkered to the other incredible historic places out there, especially those that are privately owned.
The other day, I decided to make a list of all the historic sites around me, that I wanted to visit and hadn’t already. I came across Sledmere House and Gardens, and when I put it into Google maps I was shocked to find that it was only a twenty minute drive from my house. Obviously I had to pay it a visit.
Read on to find out more about this beautiful house and estate. We’ll be taking a brief look at the history of Sledmere, what there is to see and do, and why you might want to consider visiting this popular historic house in Yorkshire.
Where is Sledmere House and Gardens?
Sledmere house lies roughly half way between York and Bridlington, and is just 12 miles South East of Malton. The closest town to Sledmere is Driffield which is situated just 7 miles away. Sitting so close to the A166 (which runs from York to Bridlington), and the A64 which connects York and Scarborough), Sledmere is very easy to get to.
A brief history of Sledmere House
Sledmere, is a house that has very much evolved, with a succession of owners. Indeed, the house that stands today would be unrecognisable from the original house that dates back to 1751. It was Richard Sykes, son of wealthy Hull based merchant Mark Sykes, who laid the first brick and began constructing this wonderful house. Having inherited the estate from his father, Richard required a much grander property, one that was more fitting of his wealth and standing. Consequently, he knocked down the manor that had previously stood on the site, and embarked on a project which saw the construction of the grand Georgian house we see today.
Following Richard’s death in 1761, the house and estate made its way into the hands of his brother Mark, and later Mark’s son Christopher. It was under Christopher’s direction that Sledmere was further improved in the 1770’s, and the infamous ‘Capability Brown’ was employed to sculpt the wonderful landscape we see today. Then, in the 1880’s Sir Christopher made further alterations, adding two further wings and turning the whole house around so that it faced South. He is also attributed with encasing the property in the Nottinghamshire stone surround, which gives it its iconic look.
Tragically, in 1911 disaster struck, when a fire broke out at Sledmere and completely destroyed the interior of the house. This resulted in an extensive reconstruction, which was led by York based architect Walter Brierley. Brierley rebuilt Sledmere with entertainment and pleasure in mind, and the results are staggering. Sledmere’s interiors are quite exquisite.
Exploring the deer park and walled gardens
We arrived at Sledmere late morning, and after paying to get in, decided to explore the gardens first. This was largely due to the grounds opening at 10am, with the house opening slightly later at 11.30am. The deer park that surrounds the house is quite extensive and there is actually a path which goes all the way around it. We hadn’t really studied the map we were given on entry, so we weren’t aware of this. We did however venture slightly into the park and enjoyed the views over the fountain towards the side of the house.
We then headed over to the walled gardens which were just a short walk across the park. I hadn’t expected the gardens to be quite so colourful this late in September, however we were suitably shocked at the vibrant looking plants that lined the paths and lawns. The walled gardens appeared to be very well maintained, and it’s clear to see why the recently featured on BBC Gardeners World.
The walled gardens are larger than you think, with different areas giving variety. I thought the gardens looked wonderful, and had I not been chasing a 1 year old around, I would have spent a little more time relaxing and absorbing the peaceful atmosphere.
In addition to the walled gardens and deer park, there is also a formal parterre garden at the front of the house. The colours were just starting to fade when we visited in late September, but the garden still looked lovely none the less. We managed to get some nice photographs from here which was nice, as the back of the house was obstructed by caravans which were being photographed for some sort of magazine.
Following our visit to the gardens it was around 11.30am and I was desperate to get into the house.
The house is beautifully presented and restored
Whenever I visit historic sites, I always try my best to not research the place in advance. This way, the experience of exploring somewhere new seems fresh, and I can get a real sense of surprise not knowing what to expect.
Sledmere was no exception, and I genuinely didn’t know what to expect as we made our way in via the visitors entrance.
The first room you enter, is a modest sized entrance hall. Here, we were greeted by a very friendly member of staff, who enquired wether or not we had visited previously, before giving us a brief introduction to the house. As the house is still very much a ‘lived in’ house, we were advised that it was useful to purchase a guide book, as there weren’t too many plaques around to read. I was happy to do this as the guide book was only £2, and exceptional bargain in my eye!
The hallway gives you some idea of what to expect, and is beautifully furnished with muskets dating back to the Napolionic wars, French chandelliers, a life sized marble sculpture, and marble columns.
As lovely as the entrance Hall is, nothing can prepare you for what comes next. As I walked through into the staircase Hall, I literally let out a little gasp. This magnificent space runs almost the entire length of the house, and is really grand. Running off the end of the hall is the grand staircase, which features a beautiful statue of the Apollo Belvedere, and a huge skylight above fills this magnificent space with natural light.
From what I could tell, almost all of the ground floor was accessible, and the rooms that run off the hall are truly beautiful. I could have spent an age exploring them, but unfortunately I had an excitable 1 year old to restrain, and to prevent from touching everything!
The first room we entered was the Music Room. This occupies a large space, and features an incredible plaster decorated ceiling, and a large chandelier. The focal point however is the massive organ dating back to 1751.
We then made our way through to the Drawing Room. Like most of the other rooms in the house, the ceiling in the Drawing room is exquisitely detailed, however this differs from that of the Music Room, and is beautifully painted with light blue highlights, exquisite gold leaf detailing, and motifs depicting Greek religious rites. Beautifully painted portraits of family members hang from the walls.
The Music Room at Sledmere House
Another of my favourite ground floor rooms, was the Dining room. I found this to be really impressive with its grand chandelier, Chinese inspired Chippendale chairs, and its deep patterned plaster ceiling. Apparently, other than the dining table, all the furnishings date back to the period of George III.
Other rooms situated on the ground floor include the Horse Room, Boudoir, Library and Turkish Room. The Turkish room is really interesting and is based on one of the Sultan’s apartments in the Yeni Mosque in Istanbul. This is very different to the other rooms in the house and it quite exquisite.
The decorative plasterwork actually continues throughout the house, and was restored from the original moulds following the fire of 1911. This plasterwork contained within the ceilings and walls is absolutely beautiful, and gives the house a very opulent feel.
Upstairs then, came my second shock of the day. After making our way up the beautiful staircase we emerged on the first floor landing, and made our way through to the Library. This is not just your average library however, this is a library of epic proportions. This was my second ‘wow’ moment of the day.
This massive space serves as both a library, and a Gallery. It’s absolutely magnificent. The plaster and paint work contained within the ceiling is absolutely exquisite, and ancient looking books line the walls. At the centre of the gallery sits a lovely folio desk, which is complimented by Chippendale chairs, and some fine wooden steps which sit against a book case. According to the guide book, it is not entirely known how this space was originally used, it could however had been the main living room of the house.
I could see myself spending a lot of time within this grand space. I was absolutely fascinated by the splendidly restored ceiling, and could spend an age gazing up at it.
After leaving the gallery we explored the rest of the upstairs rooms. The first one we came to was the Chinese Room, the focal point here being the rare Chinese Style Chippendale bed. We then continued our self guided tour through the Orange Room, Coral Bedroom and finally the Red Bedroom. All of these rooms feature imposing four poster beds and are beautifully decorated as you might expect.
The house is absolutely magnificent, and left me wanted more. I was surprised at how much of it was open to the public, and it was very clear that Sledmere is absolutely loved by its owners and staff. The house is beautifully maintained and presented, and one of the finest house interiors I have had the pleasure of exploring.
Feeling in awe of the superb interiors, we were all pretty hungry and decided to try out the food facilities.
Eating at Sledmere House and Gardens
There are a couple of places to eat at Sledmere House. You basically have a choice of the main cafe, or there is a pie/deli counter within the entrance shop. From here you can either take food away with you, or eat it outside in the front courtyard.
We went into the cafe first, and there was a bit of a queue. Consequently, We were unable to find a main menu, and all we could see was a specials board on the wall. Unbeknown to us, the menus were actually on the service counter but we hadn’t been able to see them because of the crowd. As we hadn’t realised there was an extensive menu, we decided to go back to the shop and purchase some pastries.
The deli counter within the entrance hall/shop contained quite a good selection of gourmet pies, sausage rolls and quiches. The choice was excellent and we purchased an array of items to feed the four of us. Actually, these were really well priced and we managed to feed all of us for around £10. You can’t eat food purchased from the shop inside the cafe, or the outside seating area, so we found a picnic table in the front courtyard and ate there in the sun. The lady in the shop was happy for us to bring a high chair through and I though this was very accommodating.
After lunch we fancied a coffee, so I headed back into the cafe with my mum. It was then that we saw there was an extensive selection of food, we just hadn’t been able to see the menus earlier. It would have been nice if there had been a menu on the wall, or at least some easy way to get a menu, other than having to queue to get to the serving counter. Anyway, we ordered two lattes and a tea, which cost around £11. I have to be honest I found this a bit expensive, and when I glanced over the menu I found the food to be a bit on the pricey side too.
There are plenty of outdoor activities
After lunch, I was keen to let my daughter run around a bit, so we headed over to the the Sledmere Farm Park and adventure playground.
The Farm Park consists of the old stable block and an outside farm which plays home to a collection pigs, horses, donkeys, rabbits and chickens. My daughter was more interested in a green play area shaped like a tractor with a slide coming out of the back. She played on this for ages and I had to convince her that there was much more to come before i could pry here away.
The farm is by no means massive, but it is good fun for kids and there is plenty to see. I think its also very nice that something like this is included in the entrance fee, and it makes Sledmere a bit different to other country estates.
We didn’t spend much time in the stable block, however the entire ground floor is open to visitors, and you can learn all about this important part of Sledmere’s history.
Just through from from the farm, is the kids adventure playground. Many places have such play parks nowadays, but Sledmere’s was well above average. Its a good size, and contains practically everything you could possibly want, including a zip line! There is also a lot of variety for different age groups, and my daughter who is not quite two, found loads of things to play with. She is quite partial to swings, and in that respect Sledmere did not disappoint.
I think by this point we were all feeling a bit tired, and we decided to call it a day. We had another walk through the farm before using the facilities, and making our way back to the car.
Well worth a visit
If you’re wanting to explore the house, the gardens, and the play park, then entry costs £12.50 for adults, and £5.50 for children over 5 (under 5’s are free). Entry to the grounds only, costs £9.50 and £5.00 respectfully. In my opinion its definitely worth paying the little bit extra to explore the beautiful house.
Sledmere House and Gardens is an excellent day out, and absolutely perfect for families. I think the entry fee is really reasonable, especially when you consider you could easily spend the entire day exploring the site. I found the staff to be some of the friendliest I have ever encountered at such a place, and they all seemed so passionate and enthusiastic about the house.
Other than thinking the cafe was a bit over priced, it is very east to recommend Sledmere House. If you’re a history buff with an interest in historic houses, or a family looking for a great day out in Yorkshire, Sledmere has something for everyone and we will certainly be visiting again.