The Delaval family were wealthy aristocrats with a country estate in the glorious county of Northumberland, England. Delaval Hall is one of the newest editions to the English National Trust’s portfolio and is the ancestral home of this truly eccentric English family. Originally built in 1728 as an undeniably impressive retirement home for Admiral Delaval, it is packed with family treasures, which tell an incredible tale of a family of adventurers, entrepreneurs, politicians and party animals.
The story of the Hall
Delaval Hall is set in beautiful English landscaped grounds looking out over fields to the stunning North East coastline. It was almost sold off to property developers, after both Lord and Lady Hastings (direct descendants of the Delavals on the female side) died in the same year in 2007. The local community rose to its defence and started a fund raising effort to save the hall. This led to it finally being taken over by the National Trust in 2009 and the task of restoring its unique 18th century features began. Entry to the Hall and grounds costs between 3 - 7 GBP (~4.30 - 10.10 USD), check the national Trust website for details.
Local volunteers help out with enthusiasm and lots of information. You really have to ask them things to get the most out of your visit. I took a particular shine to John Seymour 83, a local historian and village resident. John was stationed in the mahogany room, which was one of the few that actually survived the great fire of 1822. He was looking after lots of old documents from the hey days of the Hall. He proudly displayed a special key which was made featuring a silhouette of the grand house itself, awarded to those who had helped to raise funds to save it from oblivion.
The architect of Delaval Hall was the celebrated John Vanbrugh who also designed Castle Howard. Vanbrugh advised complete demolition of all except the ancient chapel near to the mansion and a total rebuild was underway. The construction work was completed in 1728, two years after the death of the Admiral. The resulting new mansion was the last country house Vanbrugh designed, and it is regarded as his finest work. On completion, the Admiral’s nephew Francis Blake Delaval (the elder) inherited the property, and moved in immediately.
More Delaval Hall fascinating facts
During its lifetime, Delaval Hall wasn’t lived in a great deal as in 1822, the central block was gutted by a fire said to have been caused by jackdaws nesting in the chimneys of the section of the south-east wing. According to one of the guides, Delaval had sent word that he was coming home and to put all the fires on to warm up the hall (no central heating in those days) and in the servants enthusiasm, it all went horribly wrong and they heated the hall up just a bit too much.
The effects of the fire remain clearly visible in the great hall, but despite having no roof for over 140 years the place is still standing, although the 10 foot tall muse statues are displaying understandable signs of wear and tear.
We visited last year on the day of the Men’s Wimbledon final and the sun was shining on a perfect English summer day. During the summer, there were refreshments available in the summer house with Pimms and lemonade and strawberries and cream on offer for the final Wimbledon weekend. The delightful walled garden fringed with fine hedges was decked with bunting. Visitors sat on the grass or on National Trust Deck chairs next to the lily pond. The match was playing on the radio and we heard the thwack of the ball as Djokovic served his way to victory.
The rooms of the West Wing are packed with an eclectic mix of objects with things from centuries ago alongside all sorts of artefacts from more modern times, as it remained a family home until relatively recently. I loved the beautiful detailed tapestries on the chairs lining the gallery telling the tale of a Delaval off to war, and the commanding portraits of other family members all of whom have an interesting story of their own to tell.
Many fascinating documents are on display but do keep a lookout for the old menus.The Delavals loved to entertain and frequently had huge dinner parties where the finest food and drink was offered and there was often other entertainment such as plays and music recitals. The menus feature weird and wonderful dishes like ‘Invisible greens,’ 'Mock Turtle soup,’ 'Soles and Eels,’ 'Leg o’ nothing (boiled),'Sham Hippopotamus,’ ’ 'Pat my gun Piggy Wiggy’ and my favourite - 'Shake ass and go imaginary stew!’ What was in that remains a mystery. There are also records of orders for huge amounts alcohol. 65 bottles of port wine were ordered for one picnic alone. The beer order alone was enough for 1,160 pints a day! The Delavals certainly knew how to party, and it seems a good time was had by all!
The estate was owned by the Delavals since the time of the Norman conquest.Admiral George Delaval bought it with the fortune he made from capturing prize ships while in the Navy. He also served as a hostage negotiator when effected the release of 200 hostages from Barbary pirates on the South Coast of England! At least half a day is recommended for a visit but you could stay much longer in the grounds if the weather is fine.
Visit the Hall
Sir Francis Delaval was one of the hall’s most colourful inhabitants. He liked wine, women, song and theatre. He shot coins out of a cannon to buy votes for himself as an MP and he took a bet that he couldn’t build a castle in day (which he actually did, and its remains can still be seen in the grounds. He wasn’t the most sensible custodian of the hall, but probably the most entertaining.
If you are visiting Northumberland, England’s most undiscovered County, then Seaton Delaval Hall is a perfectly charming place to visit. Only 10 miles from Newcastle upon Tyne and five miles from the main A1 motorway, it has beautiful grounds and gardens and offers a fascinating taste of English history.
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