Nunnington Hall: A Quirky, Enchanting Manor House With 450 Years of History

by eHeritage Blogazine
December 9, 2021 | 7 min read

Nunnington Hall: A Quirky, Enchanting Manor House With 450 Years of History

Living in North Yorkshire is just great. From stunning countryside, to amazing theme parks, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding things to do. As a member of both English Heritage and the Nation Trust I am particularly spoilt for choice when it comes to getting my history fix. Yorkshire is riddled with incredible historic sites, many of which are literally on my doorstep.

One such place is National Trust property Nunnington Hall. Situated just 20 miles north of York and 10 miles North West of Malton, Nunnington Hall is my ‘local’ National Trust Property. I absolutely love it, and whilst not the largest National Trust property, Nunnington Hall has plenty of character and is totally charming.

As you might expect, I visit Nunnington Hall fairly regularly. On the last occasion in July ,I attended with my wife Luisa, and daughter Oaklie. After a very short drive we parked up in the ample car park and made our way to the small ticket booth. Here we showed our membership cards and after being told about the up and coming exhibitions, we made our way across the footbridge and towards the house.

One of the great things about Nunnington Hall is the wildlife. For starters there are a couple of incredible peacocks wandering the site. After crossing the footbridge you are sure to find one fo the peacocks strutting around doing its thing. On this occasion we were not disappointed to find one that was quite happy to pose for a few pictures!

You actually approach the house from the West, via a gravelled court yard, and immediately get a sense of the age of the place. Whilst the house has evolved quite a bit over the centuries, the western part of the house dates back to the sixteenth Century when It was owned by William Parr, brother of Henry VIII’s sixth queen Catherine. Whilst Parr is responsible for much of the original house, it was much expanded and redesigned by its Seventeenth Century owner Lord Preston, who is responsible for some of its most striking features.

Interestingly, both owners have something in common: They were deemed traitors of the state and both suffered tremendous downfalls. For Parr, he made the mistake of supporting a plan to put Lady Jane on the throne. Preston on the other hand was sent to the Tower of London for his loyalty to the exiled King James II.

You enter the house via a small porched entrance which takes you through to the original Elizabethan stone hall. There are usually preserved animal skins hanging from the walls, but on this occasion the walls were missing having had been sent off for refurbishment. War trophies however still adorn the walls, and a stunning fireplace designed in the Elizabethan style, takes centre stage against the Western Wall.

From the stone hall you will find a corridor which takes you to the East end of the building. Here you will find the lovely cafe/restaurant and outside seating areas. A small series of steps to the South of the hall take you through to Colonel Fife’s Edwardian smoking room. In the Seventeenth Century this room served as a bedchamber for Lord Preston. The room looks cosy and inviting painted in Georgian Green.

From the East side of the smoking room follows perhaps the most impressive part of the house. This stunning oak panelled hall was the creation of Lord Preston and served as a grand entrance hall into the house. This massive room features the original patterned stone floor, an elaborate fireplace and a stunning three sided oak and pine staircase, decorated with beautiful wall tapestries.

There is actually a piano in the well of the staircase which Oaklie loves. Guests are encouraged to play this and Oaklie always loves to have a go. This occasion was no different, as she bashed out her favourite tune. Unfortunately it isn’t one i know. She seemed happy enough though which is the main thing.

The first floor of the house is set out as it would have been by the previous owners, the Fife family. After stepping up the creaky staircase, what follows is a series of cosy oak panelled rooms, decorated with the families collection of tapestries, period furniture and porcelain. As usual I spent much of our visit chasing Oaklie through the wonky corridors. She likes running up to every person she sees to say ‘hello’, before running into the next room and finding someone else to greet. She probably thinks she’s the lady of the house!

The Attic floor contains the Carlisle collection of miniature rooms. There is also a fairly large shop, a reading room, an exhibition and a kids play room where we spend much of our time serving wooden food items through a shop hatch.

On this occasion the natural photography exhibition was being taken down and the ‘Bare Bones’ exhibition of animal skeletons was being set up. The Carlisle collection is an incredible collection of miniature rooms decorated in different period styles. These are quite exquisite and the attention to detail is exceptional.

From just beyond the Carlisle collection a rear staircase takes you down to the cafe at the East of the house. You can then get back to the West front of the house via the corridor which emerges back in the stone hall. Back outside you can walk round the house to the South front of the house and the walled garden.

This incredible double gabled South face of the house was added by Lord Preston as part of his reimagining of the house in the late Seventeenth Century. His unique design features two central doorways situated on top of each other, with a wrought-iron balcony on the upper door. This seldom seen design gives the house a truly distinctive look. We were agin pleased to be greeted by the resident peacock and after a few pictures made our way into the gardens.

The walled garden is the main reason I keep visiting Nunnington Hall. Its a great place for kids (and adults) to run around in and is littered with comfy deckchairs. You can even try your hand at croquet as you chill out and watch the day go by. On both sides of the walled garden are beautiful meadows and a fruit tree orchard. These gardens evolve with the seasons so it is worth visiting throughout the year.

From the croquet lawn you can walk towards the Southern perimeter of the estate via a lawned path lined by wild flowers. To one side it looks as though the National Trust are constructed a new play area for kids. I tried to find out what was happening but it seemed work had stopped for some unknown reason. From here you can get some excellent pictures of the house.

As you get to the perimeter wall you are greeted by a metal gate giving views out over the Yorkshire countryside. You can then turn right towards the West of the estate and pass through a short wildlife walk through the trees. You eventually emerge into a lovely little kitchen garden which takes you back down to the orchard and the croquet lawn.

The gardens are absolutely exquisite and dutifully attended to by staff and volunteers. There are little cleared paths through the meadows which allow you to get up close with the wildlife, and you can also get some pretty interesting photographs of the house from amongst the wild grasses and plants.

I don’t know what it is that keeps me coming back to Nunnington Hall. Obviously the proximity makes it very convenient, but I think it’s more than that. Nunnington Hall is one of the places you can just go to if you want a few hours to yourself. It’s such a tranquil little gem, nestled besides the river Rye in the heart of beautiful Ryedale. Sometimes I will just pick myself a comfy deckchair and absorb the atmosphere of the place. Exploring the gardens is always a pleasure, and watching the landscape evolve with the seasons makes every visit unique. The house itself is so quirky and unique, and exploring the hotchpoch of rooms is totally enchanting. My ‘local’ is one of my favourite places and I know i’ll be fascinated with the place for many years to come.

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I’m Mikey Holden. I have a real passion for historical places. I’ve always loved visiting colossal houses and castles, daydreaming about the schemes that have been thought up within their walls, keen to discover the stories waiting to be told. I am a heritage travel blogger with a simple mission: To discover, explore and photograph historical places in Yorkshire and beyond.

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