Forty-eight members of the Society left for the visit to Belton House on 26 April. On arrival, we were impressed to see a "welcome" notice board with the Society's name on it at our setting down place. After a short break we assembled in the magnificent Marble Hall, the principal room of the south side of the house, where a member of staff gave us a brief history of the house and family. We were then free to took over the house and extensive parkland at our leisure.
Belton House has been the home of the Brownlow family for over 300 years. It was designed by the gentleman architect William Winde and built between 1685 and 1688 for "Young" Sir John Brownlow. Built on an H-plan it has a hipped roof with dormer windows and an elegant cupola. Between projecting wings a broad flight of steps leads up to the main doorway, above which is a pediment with the Brownlow coat of arms. About 1776 the architect James Wyatt altered the house and in 1811 his nephew Sir Jeffry Wyatville built the orangery.
The stunning interior contains exceptionally fine plasterwork and woodcarving (some attributed to Grinling Gibbons) and in every room there are important collections of paintings, furniture, rare porcelain and silverware. The layout of the rooms presents an easy progression throughout the house for the visitor. Each room has its own outstanding features. For example, the black and white squared marble floor gives its name to the Marble Hall. The Saloon, a formal reception room, contains a beautiful Aubusson carpet commissioned by the 1st Earl and the Tyrconnel Room has a painted floor incorporating the Brownlow greyhound crest and coat of arms.
The Chapel, Chapel Drawing Room and Chapel Gallery are next in the progression through the house. The Gallery follows an arrangement common from the end of the Middle Aoes, whereby the family "closet", perhaps the most private part of all the rooms in the house, opened on to the Chapel at first-floor level. Recent renovation indicates that the Chapel Drawing Room contains one of the few surviving 17th century interiors at Belton.
The Staircase Hall leading to the upper floor and placed off-centre is the only structural feature to break the overall symmetry of the house. It formed part of the ceremonial route for important visitors, linking the Marble Hall to the Great Dining Room (now the Library) on the floor above. On the upper floor the Yellow Bedroom has another of Wyatt's surviving interiors. The decoration of the Chinese Bedroom dates from about 1840, although the wallpaper is 18th century. The Queen's Bedroom takes its name from Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, for whose visit in 1841 it was redecorated.
The Windsor Bedroom is named in honour of Belton's association with the Duke of Windsor who was a close friend of the 6th Lord Brownlow. Lord Brownlow was appointed Lord-in-Waiting to the King when Edward succeeded to the throne. It was Lord Brownlow who escorted Wallis Simpson to Cannes during the Abdication Crisis. Whilst a cadet at nearby RAF Cranwell the present Prince of Wales was the most frequent visitor to use the room in recent times.
As with many country houses of the period Belton required an appropriately elaborate setting of gardens and parkland. "Young" Sir John Brownlow surrounded his new home with a highly formal scheme of parterres and walks, which now includes Italian and Dutch gardens and an Orangery. The l8th century sundial in the Italian Garden achieved fame as the "Moondial" in the BBC television series adapted from the children's book of the same title by Helen Cresswell. The hedge maze was dug up during the Second World War but is now being reconstructed according to drawings found in the library. There is also a lakeside walk and Swiss-style boathouse. Within easy walking distance of the house is the church of SS Peter and Paul, which contains a remarkable group of monuments to the Brownlow family.
All too soon it was time for us to board the coach for our return Journey after a very happy and interesting day. We must thank June Peck for her excellent organisation of this outing.