Monday, 3 August 2015

The Drooling Class




It's taken me the best part of forty years to get in here. Staring from afar and the occasional trespass until yesterday I saw marked in my diary 'Harlaxton Manor Open'. For one day only, which I think they do once a year. This is one of my top ten of English houses, a giant confection (a 'cream cake with icing' a friend said) sitting against a Lincolnshire hillside not far from Grantham off the Melton road. There are many 'perhaps', 'probablys' and 'maybes' in finding out who did what, but essentially this is the vision of landowner Gregory Gregory brought to trumpeting life in Ancaster stone by Anthony Salvin, commissioned in 1831, followed by William Burn in 1838. It can best be described as Jacobethan Baroque I suppose, and every over-blown adjective applied to it is true, 'sensational' being the most apt.

My top picture would have been impossible to photograph yesterday due to parked cars on the lawn, so this is from a transparency of June 2000. Apart from my first sight of this fanfare of an elevation, my interest was further aroused when in 1965 a friend of my uncle moved the Jesuit priests ensconced here to a new home down south, a removal feat that had to be completed in-between the morning and evening prayers of a single day. And then Harlaxton Manor was used by Peter Medak for his equally sensational film The Ruling Class (1972) with Peter O'Toole, mainly for exteriors.The Jesuits leased it to Stanford University of California, it subsequently being sold to the current owners the University of Evansville, Indiana, as their English campus.



So we all stood in and around this truly magnificent pile, trying our best not to drool over the heavenly ceiling of The Gold Room, guarded by countless putti, the greenly hothouse atmosphere of the conservatory or the Cedar staircase with its apparently stone-like roped tassels moving at a delicate finger touch. And then, round the back away from the drooling crowds I discovered what I most wanted to see. A covered-in brick viaduct where once a little train was filled with coal that was delivered into the house, bringing fuel to gravity-fed scuttles in the principle rooms.If this wasn't enough, one of my boys tapped The Ruling Class into his phone to discover that this very day was Peter O'Toole's birthday.

9 comments:

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, one of the best. That Cedar Stair is a winner, and to stand between the mirrors in the Gold Rommel is almost to induce an out of body experience. When I got in many years ago the conservatory was still unrestored. It must be wondrous now. And as for the railway...only in Unmitigated England are there gravity-fed scuttles.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Rommel?! Gold Room, that should've been. Auto correct. Its part in my downfall..

Peter Ashley said...

Funny your auto correct gave you Rommel. Part of the joy of the day was that they were showing extracts from films that had used Harlaxton. Apart from the obvious and an edition of Treasure Hunt with Anneka Rice, they showed a sequence from what I think was Patton, the George C.Scott war film. Tanks and God knows what rolled down the driveway to a Harlaxton with a glass shot behind it of snow-capped mountains.

Stephen Barker said...

I have been 2 or 3 times in the past, I have to confess it is not my favourite house although I will admit it is well sited against the hillside. I was particularly taken with the remains of the walled garden on the left hand side of the drive. Like the house they were conceived on a large scale and must have been truely impressive in their heyday.

Peter am I right in thinking that the house lacked electricity and proper water and sanitation services that in WWII the British Army thought it was to basic even for them.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: That would be the sequel to the original Patton film, the one set at the end of his life, in which he has flashbacks to his earlier life. George C Scott plays the general in both movies.

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Peter Ashley said...

Thank you Philip. I knew you'd know your Pattons.

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