With a wealth of romantic and historic buildings in Yorkshire, Middlethorpe Hall which lays two miles from the walled city centre of York, certainly ranks amongst the finest.
In the ownership of the National Trust since 2008, the house looks just as it would have done when it was first built for its prosperous master cutler owner, Thomas Barlow. Add to that a perfect English garden, excellent restaurant and first class spa and it makes for one very special place.
History of Middlethorpe Hall
Middlethorpe Hall is a William and Mary style of house. The name reflects the period between 1689 to 1694 when William III and Mary II sat together on the throne. It is the only time in British History when both the King and Queen have ruled jointly.
In 1714 the first Hanovarian King George I took to the throne and satirical works were gaining popularity; perhaps the first time in history that the royal family could be playfully mocked in public without risk of retaliation. Lady Mary Montagu, an aristocrat and writer, was renting Middlethorpe Hall, splitting her time between the beautiful house in York and London, where she and her husband were popular figures at court.
Mary had a playful sense of humour and fully embraced the satirical trend, developing many of her own light-hearted musings. It was during a traumatic bout of smallpox that one of Mary’s writings which featured Caroline, the Princess of Wales, as the protagonist fell into scheming hands. The tongue-in-cheek satire was no doubt stripped, magnifying the unsubstantial connotations which lay beneath and circulated widely. By the time Mary recovered she found herself shunned from the privileged circles that she had previously moved in.
Two years later, Mary’s husband was appointed Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul, which provided a welcome chance for Mary to reinvent herself. She travelled with her husband and threw herself into the culture, befriending many Turks and learning to speak and write in their language. This was possibly the first observations by a Western woman of the Islamic Orient. In keeping with her tendency to break convention, Mary was enlightened about a custom of inoculating against smallpox during her time there. Her own brother had died from it and Mary’s beauty was tarnished during her bout, so she didn’t dare take any chances with her own children. She vaccinated her son and travelled back to Britain to promote the practice.
Perhaps her reputation had still not recovered as Mary battled fierce resistance. It was not until an epidemic struck England in 1721 that people began to take notice. Mary publicised her daughter’s vaccination and courageously persuaded her old friend Princess Caroline to forget their past and support her, testing it with prisoners and orphans, who all survived.
The practice that Mary championed in Britain would eventually lead to Edward Jenner's full inoculation that eliminated the scourge of smallpox across the world. Mary was publicly praised for introducing the practice here in 1754.
In 1980 Middlethorpe Hall was purchased by Historic House Hotel Ltd which began an extensive restoration that would return the house to its original 18th century grandeur. The result is a truly immersive experience where modern luxuries and sophisticated dining compliment the squeaky floorboards and 300 year old oak panelled features. It was quite fitting that in 2013 on the 300th anniversary of Lady Mary Montagu taking up residence, the house should display all the hallmarks that it would have done to warrant her typically aristocratic understated description of Middlethorpe as a “very pretty place."
Interesting facts about Middlethorpe Hall
1. Work at Middlethorpe began in 1699 when a self-made industrialist named Thomas Barlow bought the land in order to position himself as a country gentleman.
2. The house has a remarkable resemblance to Hampton Court Palace which had been extended around the same time by the famed architect Sir Christopher Wren at the request of King William III. It features the red limestone brick and forms the symmetrical horizontal silhouette that was typical during the reign of Queen Anne.
3. Such was the attention to detail during the restoration of the property, that you would not know the magnificent ballroom dating from c.1750, had been used as a nightclub in the 1970's!