Guilty confession time. Until last weekend I had never (knowingly) been to a National Trust property. I know, shock horror – someone confiscate my joules wellies and mum coat stat. It’s just not something working class families like us did growing up and whilst we keep meaning to go as parents ourselves, we’ve just never gotten round to it. We are pretty #blessed in the North East with the amount of National Trust properties on our doorstep so the fact that I’ve not visited one before is even more criminal! I know, call myself a family blogger, pfttt.
Cue Seaton Delaval Hall getting in touch and asking me to help them let people know what is going on over there at the moment as they undergo a £7.8m conservation project. I thought, finally I will put this National Trust shame to rest!
About Seaton Delaval Hall
Seaton Delaval Hall is a Grade I listed country house in Northumberland, England. Located between Seaton Sluice and Seaton Delaval, it was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh in 1718 for Admiral George Delaval; it is now owned by the National Trust. It was a privilege to be asked to go along and have a behind the scenes tour of the incredible reconstruction project they have going on there at the moment.
As a history graduate, let me tell you, I was geeking out! According to the National Trust Website, ‘The house and surrounding landscape were in keeping with the style expected in Georgian society, yet behind the formality lies a story of theatrical mischief.’
‘Known as the ‘Gay Delavals’ due to their high spirited and flamboyant lifestyle, an invitation to one of their parties was the hottest ticket in town. In an age notorious for extremes of behaviour, they stood apart as the most notorious of all Georgian partygoers and pranksters. Imagine awaking in the house to find your room “turned upside down” with furniture fixed to the ceiling.’
‘The Delavals loved a performance, staging events from rope dancers and sack races outdoors to masquerade balls and even their own theatrical productions, which earned rave reviews at the time.’
‘Seaton Delaval Hall has moved from fortune to misfortune many times through the centuries and the story of its survival is as dramatic as any performance that could be staged. It still bears the scars of the fierce fires which almost condemned it to ruin two hundred years ago, but even today plays a major part in the history of the North East.’
A brief history of the hall…
- 1095: The ‘De la Vals’ are given land by William the Conqueror in the old kingdom of Northumbria.
- 1717: Admiral George Delaval buys the Seaton Delaval Hall estate from his bankrupt cousin.
- 1718: The Admiral commisions architect and playwright Sir John Vanbrugh to design a new house.
- 1750s – 1760s: The ‘gay Delavals’ become notorious for staging theatrical shows, parties, illusions and practical jokes.
- 1764: Brothers John and Thomas Hussey Delaval improve the local harbour and create a sluice to form a dock where ships can be loaded. They make their fortune in salt and glass production and coal mining.
- 1822: Fire ravages the central block. The South East wing is ruined and the Central Hall partially destroyed.
- First World War: Troops are billeted on the estate in the hare park.
- Second World War: Italian and German prisoners of war live in the East Wing.
- 1950s: After 100 years of family absence the 22nd Lord and Lady Hastings begin restoring the hall, making it their permanent home in 1990 until their deaths in 2007.
- 2009: After 14 months of fundraising including substantial support from the local community, the National Trust acquires Seaton Delaval Hall.
- 2011-2015: Restoration work includes re-wiring and re-roofing the East Wing, relaying the black and white floor and stabilising the muses statues in the Central Hall and connecting the property to mains sewerage and drainage.
- 2018: National Lottery funding is secured and the ‘Curtain Rises’ project begins…
Getting to Seaton Delaval Hall via public transport:
Sometimes people are put off National Trust properties because they think they are only accessible by car. However, Seaton Delaval Hall is well served by public transport.
Both the 58 bus service from East Cramlington to East Hartford and the X7 between Newcastle Haymarket and Blyth Bus Station stop right outside the gates of the hall. The 308 Newcastle Haymarket to Blyth bus and the 309 Newcastle Haymarket to Blyth bus also both stop approximately half a mile away down the hill in Seaton Sluice.
Raising the curtain on Seaton Delaval
Over the next two years Seaton Delaval Hall is implementing the ambitious £7.8m Curtain Rises Project, with significant investment from the National Lottery Heritage Fund grant (£3.7m). I got to see first hand the painstaking conservation work that is going on there at the moment, which includes:
- Conserving the spiral staircases in the Central Hall and laying new flooring in the basement and introducing a more sympathetic lighting scheme.
- Installing a conservation-grade heating system and new paint scheme and re-roofing the West Wing.
- Conserving the stall dividers and re-laying the collapsed flooring in the stables.
- Restoring the gardens, opening up historic views and introducing new planting schemes inspired by the 1781 estate plan.
- Conserving the collapsed sections of ‘ha-ha’ walls and the walled garden walls and re-pointing the bastions (the circular ends of the walls).
What you will see over the next two years…
- A brand new café.
- New permanent toilets.
- A new play area inspired by Baroque theatre.
- Playful interventions for all ages. They’ll conceal, reveal, distort and play tricks on you before you’ve even realised!
- To help tell the stories of the hall, the Delavals and the local area Seaton Delaval Hall will present their collections in new creative and exciting ways.
In addition to essential conservation work and improvements to visitor facilities, Seaton Delaval Hall is also working with the local community to tell the stories of the area and the hall. The Delaval Dialogues programme will introduce several new ways of working within the local community, following public consultation.
My favourite improvements
A lot of the improvements happening at Seaton Delaval Hall are quite technical and necessary conservation projects, that aren’t necessarily sexy or notable for the average lay person visiting. For example, work to the foundations, stripping back paint etc. But there are some big projects that will result in really exciting new changes once it’s all done.
One of the areas you are really going to see a change is the outdoor areas. Below you can see where they have been felling trees to open up the area (they’ve planted more than they’ve chopped down, don’t worry). You can also see how they are creating a new pathway through the site to the hall. It’s going to change the way the site flows and is used. It’s going to be great for families.
Personally, I think the most exciting prospect is the new Brew House which will be the new cafe space (and the brew means beers as well as coffee, I checked!). It’s going to have seating both in and outside and I can tell it’s going to be an amazing addition. That’s the kind of thing that will get me to a venue for sure.
There will be a commendable community programme as part of the Curtain Rises project, this will include:
- Creative Response: working with Seaton Sluice First School to help the set up and run a ‘nature rangers’ group. Seaton Delaval Hall has been working with these nature rangers to help them identify the ecology of their local area, including bat friendly trees, different species of trees and foods for the birds and wildlife locally.
- Invention: Collaborating with local schools to take part in a year long programme to ‘reinvent the normal’. Every pupil puts forward an idea with selected ideas prototyped and exhibition at Seaton Delaval Hall and in schools with events for teaching staff and pupil workshops.
- Outdoors: Working with local nurseries, childminders and family carers on an intergenerational ‘garden to grub’ project, involving garden planting plan, growing vegetables, developing and testing recipes with tasting events.
- Theatre: taking inspiration from the ‘gay Delavals’ who inhabited the hall and working with local amateur dramatics groups, new writing and productions will be created and performed within the grounds of Seaton Delaval Hall.
- Community Open House: Building on the success of the trial open house days in 2017 and 2018, Seaton Delaval Hall commits to having a free open day each year (in addition to Heritage Open Day in September when free admission is also available). Anyone can visit for free. For 2019 this date is Wednesday 14 August.
- Digital engagement: working with young people aged 13-18 and with local digital technology specialists to design and create digital responses to the stories of the hall.
If that is not enough, Seaton Delaval Hall will be working in partnership with staff and students from Northumbria University. Over the course of the next three years the Curtain Rises project will also:
- Introduce an oral histories project, collecting the stories of people within the local community.
- Develop a package of learning resources to support school and educational visits.
- Provide opportunities for work placements to enable students to gain practical experience in a range of disciplines.
- Develop an open access collections store to enable visitors to see conservation in action.
Over the next couple of years Seaton Delaval Hall is going to be keeping visitors informed about what’s happening with the Curtain Rises project and offering opportunities to get close to get involved. Seaton Delaval Hall really wants to manage your expectations: this is a long term project and the site is a work in progress so it doesn’t look how it has done previously. There is a real community among the staff and volunteers at Seaton Delaval Hall and they genuinely care about what they are doing there.
Seaton Delaval Hall will continue to have disruption over the course of the next couple of years: scaffolding will once again go up on parts of the building and access to some areas will be restricted at times. But at the other end of this phase of work you will see an improvement to the quality of your visits and some critical conservation work to preserve the hall for future generations will have taken place.
Seaton Delaval Hall wants you to get involved in the opportunities that there will be to engage with the work that’s happening there. It’s a really exciting moment in the hall’s history, a time that you can be a part of.
Fun ways to get involved in the project
As well as Seaton Delaval Hall’s usual seasonal events, you can take part in a ‘Hard Hat Tour’ with Seaton Delaval Hall’s lead contractors, Historic Property Restoration, for a look behind the scenes of the Curtain Rises project. They are also planning something called Construction Kids for the younger visitors that should be announced soon.
As much as some people might be put off visiting in the middle of construction work like this, the historian in me sees that as a reason TO visit. To have been there when these historic local changes were made, to take your kids to be a part of local history – so they can tell their kids and your grandkids that you saw them build the brew house or restore Seaton Delaval Hall to its glory. It’s too good of an opportunity to miss!
Disclaimer: Big thanks to Seaton Delaval Hall for inviting me down to tour the site. This is a sponsored advertorial post. For my full disclosure policy, please see my about page.