The Vatican Museums were packed. I shuffled along through the Gallery of Maps, squeezed inside the Room of the Segnatura, and there it was, just like I had seen in Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. I was standing before The School of Athens, Raphael’s famous painting of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid and other ancient philosophers that I had learned about in Sweet Briar’s Survey of Art History course.
During my travels, I often find myself face to face with a masterpiece like that, one I pored over during the seven art history courses I took. While traipsing around Wallington Hall in Northumberland last month, I spotted Iron and Coal: The Industry of the Tyne, a painting by William Bell Scott that I had memorized when I learned about the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.
In 1853, Sir Walter Trevelyan and his wife, Pauline, Lady Trevelyan, decided to create a large sitting room in the center of their home where they could have afternoon tea while their grandchildren played. John Ruskin was an influential friend of Lady Pauline’s, and an illustration of Murano Cathedral in his Stones of Venice inspired the balustrade around the hall’s upper gallery. It’s also said that he introduced her to the Pre-Raphaelites and their serious, detailed, symbolic and colorful paintings.
Lady Pauline approached Scott, the head of the School of Design in nearby Newcastle and a Pre-Raphaelite proponent, to create eight scenes in Wallington’s Central Hall that would illustrate events in Northumbrian history, such as the Vikings’ landing near Tynemouth; the building of Hadrian’s Wall; the Spur in the Dish, a Northumbrian custom in which the lady of the house asked her husband to forage for food that would fill their empty larder; and Iron and Coal, a tribute to two important industries in the valley of the River Tyne: the iron foundries that developed for shipbuilding, and glassmaking, which depended on the region’s coal mines. From 1856 until 1860, Scott toiled away on the paintings, borrowing props, studying local architecture and persuading Trevelyans to pose for him. Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, the heir to Wallington at that time, wields the sledgehammer in Iron and Coal.
Lady Pauline and her friends painted flowers and plants on the hall’s piers. Ruskin started to work on the two panels on the southwest corner in 1861, but he was not able to finish it.
The Central Hall may be the most famous room at Wallington, but I found many other wonderful things in the home.
Wallington’s 13,000-acre estate was the home of the Fenwicks, the Blacketts and the Trevelyans. The house was built around 1688, and altered around 1738. The Trevelyans, the last family to live in the home, inherited Wallington in 1777 and donated it to the National Trust in the 20th century.
Decorated in a style recalling a fine piece of Wedgwood Jasperware, the dining room recently took on the hue of the 1929 General Election campaign in which Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan defended his Newcastle Central Labour Parliamentary seat. He also was a Socialist who had a hammer and sickle painted on Wallington’s entrance gate.
A spectacular piece of needlework hangs in the drawing room. Embroidered by Mary, Lady Trevelyan, Sir Charles’s wife, it illustrates the legend of the first Trevelyan who is said to have swum with his horse from St. Michael’s Mount to the mainland of Cornwall on a bet. Also incorporated into the design are the four shields of the Fenwicks, the Blacketts, the Trevelyans and the Bells — Lady Mary’s family — and “Tyme Tryeth Troth,” the Trevelyan motto. Here, you can also see the results of a nifty innovation called an Eyemat. The original floorcovering was photographed with a high-spec scanner to capture its exact details. Digital printing matched the color and the look of the original, creating a floorcovering that looks just like the original, but is much more durable to withstand visitors’ feet. It is then placed on top of the existing floor to protect the original.
The original “Granville” William Morris wallpaper has hung in the parlor since it was installed for Caroline, Lady Trevelyan in 1897. The room is adorned with framed paintings by great artists J.M.W. Turner and Edward Burne-Jones. A William Morris carpet and table lamps were added about 1940. Talk about an inspiring environment in which to work, as these Wallington staff members were doing when I looked around the room.
Another room displays several period dollhouses, as well as 3,000 lead soldiers that were made in Germany in the 1880s. The Trevelyan boys set them out on the floor, following actual battle plans from the Marlborough and Napoleonic wars.
Upstairs, you’ll find a Cabinet of Curiosities, a room filled with a fantastic collection of everything from fossils and porcupine fish to narwhal tusks and kangaroo paws. One bedroom contains a Georgian exercise contraption called a “chamber horse” that Thomas Sheraton included in The Cabinet Maker’s Drawing Book.
I was transfixed by two rooms furnished with needlepoint stitched by Julia Blackett, Lady Calverley, the oldest daughter of Wallington’s builder and the mother-in-law of Sir George Trevelyan, whose son inherited Wallington in 1777. In one room called the “Pigeon Hole,” I admired a six-leaf screen worked in petit point in 1727; the designs were taken from engravings from the 1663 edition of Virgil’s Georgics and from the Eclogues.
The walls of the other room are lined with 10 needlepoint panels of linen canvas, on which Lady Julia stitched designs influenced by Oriental textiles with wools and silks. She created the panels for the drawing room at Esholt Hall, the Calverley home, during a three-year period in the 1710s, and they were brought to Wallington when Esholt was sold in 1755. Six chairs with matching needlepoint cushions sit before the panels. Lady Julia’s portrait hangs over the room’s chimneypiece. Here’s a detail of one of the panels.
During World War II, Wallington was home to a number of children who had been evacuated from Newcastle. When parents came to visit them, Lady Mary Trevelyan served them tea for twopence a cup. Recalling her ingenuity, a room in the home was furnished in the style of the era, with wartime music playing and newspapers to read, and tea was served there during the most recent summer season.
Four stone dragons’ heads are an eye-catching feature of Wallington’s grounds. They were purchased in 1760 in London, where they once had adorned the Bishopsgate entrance to the City of London, and were brought to Northumberland on a coal ship via Newcastle. They stood at Rothley Castle, about four miles from Wallington, until they were placed on Wallington’s east lawn in 1928.
Wallington’s grounds also feature a hidden walled garden, built in 1760 to grow fruit and vegetables, but now designed with colorful themed borders, shrubs and plants. A small nuttery is filled with spring bulbs, ornamental trees and small vegetable plots. An Edwardian conservatory, a serpentine path around a pond and a small lake covered in waterlilies are other garden highlights.
Wallington boasts a connection to Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the famous English landscape gardener whose famous nickname derives for his talent for recognizing and capitalizing on a landscape’s natural “capabilities.” He is best known for his gently curving serpentine paths; plantings of circular clumps of trees surrounding parks; the gentle contouring of smooth, sweeping lawns that meet the water; and sunken ditches that separated livestock from the grounds without interrupting the view — better known as ha-ha’s because people were so surprised to find them during their walks.
Brown was born in 1716 in Kirkharle, just steps away from Wallington. His family name is said to have originated from the fact that people who lived in this area wore clothes made from wool that was naturally brown like the peat-stained countryside, which made good protective camouflage to hide from the Border Reivers.
As a boy, Brown walked through the Wallington estate on his way to and from school in nearby Cambo. In 1732, he became a gardener at Kirkharle Hall and helped to improve the estate by planting thousands of trees. He moved on in 1740. Around 1980, an unsigned, undated landscape plan for a curving lake, a park, and a semicircular entrance drive at Kirkharle was discovered, and it is thought to have been Brown’s work.
In 1765, Brown is said to have designed Wallington’s Rothley Lake as a fishing lake that would be part of a pleasure ground, with a Gothic-style grotto and teahouse, but they were not built. He also may have been responsible for some alterations to a wooded area near a garden pond and for naturalizing the landscape closer to the house, planting clumps of trees and rounding the boundaries of the woods, both telltale symbols of his style.
For more on Wallington and the Trevelyans, read Wallington, Northumberland, by Sheila Pettit, John Cornforth and Gervase Jackson-Stops; A Very British Family: The Trevelyans and Their World, by Laura Trevelyan; A Pre-Raphaelite Circle, by Raleigh Trevelyan; and Lady Trevelyan and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, by John Batchelor. George Macaulay Trevelyan was an historian known for narratives like The History of England, British History in the Nineteenth Century and Must England’s Beauty Perish?
To learn more about Capability Brown, see A World of Gardens, by John Dixon Hunt; Capability Brown and Humphry Repton, by Edward Hyams; Capability Brown: The Story of a Master Gardener, by Thomas Hinde; Capability Brown and the Eighteenth-Century English Landscape, by Roger Turner; The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot “Capability” Brown, 1716-1783, by Jane Brown; Capability Brown and the Northern Landscape, a catalogue of an exhibition in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1983, the bicentenary of Brown’s death; Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, by Laura Mayer; and the just-published Capability Brown & Belvoir: Discovering a Lost Landscape, by Emma Duchess of Rutland, with Jane Pruden.