Video: Happy birthday Beningbrough! Secret life of 300-year-old country house revealed

Inside the giant birthday card at Beningbrough Hall. Photographs: YorkMix
5 Apr 2016 @ 1.16 pm
| Entertainment

Today Beningbrough Hall is a favourite place to visit, combining history, art, lovely gardens – and a nifty café to boot.

Happy birthday Beningbrough!

Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens, Beningbrough, York YO30 1DD

Tues-Sun until October 30, 2016

Admission: adult £10.80, child £5.40, family £27, National Trust members free

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But this is only the latest incarnation of York’s country house.

This year Beningbrough turns 300. And to celebrate there are a host of exhibitions telling some of the fascinating stories from the last three centuries.

Images from the hall’s long past are being projected onto its walls from a giant birthday card – and many are on show for the first time.

Clare Alton-Fletcher, exhibition manager for the National Trust in York, took us on a video tour of the new displays.

Three things to see

Grey lady

Prime Minister and teabag namesake Earl Grey
Prime Minister and teabag namesake Earl Grey

One of the first things you come to is a cascade of teacups. That’s because one of the previous residents of the hall was Lady Victoria Dawnay.

She lived here in the late 19th century and her grandad was Prime Minister Charles Grey – aka the 2nd Early Grey, who gave his name to the tea.

You can learn more about Lady V, her grandad the PM and that famous tea. And if you fancy counting the cups, there should be 300 altogether…

Tray tobogganing

Geronimo!
Geronimo!

Perhaps the most eye-catching installation is a set of tea-trays tumbling down the cantilevered staircase at the hall.

“One of the families who lived here, their children used to sledge down the stairs on tea trays, a bit like toboggans,” said Clare.

“So even if it wasn’t snowing outside they still had their indoor fun, which is a nice memory.”

The children weren’t the only ones to take an unusual route down the stairs. During the Second World War some airmen from RAF Linton-on-Ouse were billeted at Beningbrough.

Clare explained:

The RAF boys had a bit of a bet about how quickly they could get round the house.

And if they got round the whole house in under a minute – the time it took to pour a pint at the bar at the other end – they got the pint for free.

So one of their inventive things was to use bikes to ride down the stairs as quickly as they could – which must have been quite dangerous and something to behold!

Writers and Olympians

The painting of Alan Bennett by Tom Wood, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery
The painting of Alan Bennett by Tom Wood, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery

Beningbrough has long been a partner of the National Portrait Gallery, bringing exhibitions of royal paintings and more to York.

So to celebrate the 300th birthday, Dr Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, has chosen four portraits of people who have shaped British history and culture.

The images have been chosen to represent each of the centuries of the hall, past, present and future.

They feature playwright Alan Bennett, painted by another Yorkshireman Tom Wood, and Leeds-based Olympians Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.

Has Alan Bennett ever visited Beningbrough? “I’m not sure,” said Clare.

“If he’d like to come this year, we’d welcome him, that’s for sure!”