What’s the first thing that you did when you became the owner of your home?
Sir Charles Trevelyan, his wife, Lady Mary (known as Molly), and their six children aged between 8 and 22 gathered in the central hall of their 43-room ancestral home and shouted, “Wake up, Wallington!”
A re-enactment of this stirring command took place when this anxious vacationer finally pulled into the car park of Wallington Hall for a much-anticipated return visit. It also occurs every afternoon at 3:00, as part of the National Trust’s seasonal interpretation of this magnificent 17th-century Northumberland estate.
“Moving In: Lady Molly Turns a House Into A Home” envisions how the Trevelyans transformed Wallington from a run-down, silent summer place into an inviting, year-round home with all the latest improvements after 61-year-old Sir Charles inherited the estate from his 90-year-old father, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, in 1928. The new owners were the biggest and youngest family to occupy Wallington for years.
“I always had a feeling that the old house was awaiting a time of reawakening after many years of somnolence,” Lady Mary wrote in her diary. “It was a great delight to us both to feel the life coming back to the old house with the ring of children’s voices, and the scamper of feet down the long passages.”
From her desk in the parlor, Lady Molly managed the house and its needed renovations. She learned to make scale drawings that would allow her to collaborate in an informed manner with the architects, builders and engineers who executed her plans. These included rebuilding the whole structure; installing electric lighting in both the house and the whole estate; planning for a pumping station and an engine in case of fire; and putting in bathrooms.
Lady Molly also installed a new Aga cooking range in the kitchen for Mary Smith, the cook from the Trevelyans’ home in nearby Cambo, to use. Today, interpreters rely on the working vintage Aga to explain what went on in the kitchen, to cook a few recipes, and to describe the history of the world’s first heat-storage cooker, invented in 1922 by a Swedish physicist who was confined to his home after being blinded in an experiment. The shiny cast-iron range with a boiling plate, a roasting oven and a simmering oven that emanates consistent heat continues to be made by hand today in Shropshire.
Each of the Trevelyan children also had their pick of 13 bedrooms — and could name the one they chose.
To recreate how it might have felt to be at Wallington in 1929, November Club, a Northumberland performing arts company that makes site-specific historical productions, created fantastic installations and soundscapes in the form of trunks interests. Open the lid of the trunk, see objects that display something about each child’s personality, and hear recorded music and spoken words from family papers.
In Wallington’s magnificent walled garden, Lady Molly also designed the “Mary Pool,” which feeds a stream that trickles down through the garden. When her husband decided to turn the property over to the National Trust in the 1930s, her parting gifts were in the form of curving stairs sweeping down either side of the pool, as well as a terrace at the west end of the garden.
Thought to be the work of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the four-acre, L-shaped walled garden was created in 1760 to provide a place for fruit and vegetables to grow, sheltered from climate extremes. Enter the garden through the Neptune Gate and find a raised brick terrace, built around 1766.
Lady Molly’s father-in-law, Sir George Otto, created the walled garden’s Edwardian conservatory in 1908. Originally intended to be a winter garden, it includes a fuchsia planted in the same year, lemon verbena that was established before that, and a heliotrope dating from 1940. Amid wall-trained geraniums, bougainvillea and plumbago, you can buy seeds of plants from the Wallington gardens, such as Campanula latifolia “Brantwood,” a brilliant deep purple bellflower.
Sir George Otto designed the garden’s walks, borders, terraces and lawns, all still arranged in that form today. On the top terrace, he also placed 18th-century lead figures in the form of Medusa, Perseus and Scaramouche, all from the family home in Newcastle. The terrace by the conservatory also features the Owl House, a potting shed-turned-gazebo topped with a stone owl, the Trevelyan family emblem.
From the top terrace, the garden cascades down into the valley through the Plum Bower, with its clematis-covered brick wall. A small nuttery filled with spring bulbs is enclosed by yew hedges. Ornamental trees are planted to resemble an orchard. There are even small vegetable plots. At one time, greenhouses were filled with rare plant specimens collected by Sir Walter Trevelyan.