After lunch at the George in Wath, we made our way a few hundred yards down the road to Norton Conyers and spent an hour or so taking in the tranquil atmosphere of its glorious walled garden.
Sir James, the 11th baronet, and Lady Graham were waiting in the hall shown above and gave us a very comprehensive account of the repair and restoration programme begun in 2005, even handing round examples of their large collection of death watch beetles. Despite their own hard work and very ‘hands on’ approach, they freely admitted that none of this would have been possible without generous grants. In 2014, Norton Conyers won the Historic Houses Association/Sotheby’s Restoration Award.
This ‘gentleman’s manor-house’, owned by the Graham family for almost four hundred years, is thought to have inspired much of Charlotte Brontë’s description of Thornfield Hall. What is certain is that she visited it before she wrote Jane Eyre and must have heard the 18th century legend of a mad woman confined in one of its attics. Some time later, the staircase was blocked off and only rediscovered in 2004. The floor up there being too fragile for visitors, we had to content ourselves with a glimpse up the stairs from the door on the landing. There was, however, a photograph on display of a sparsely furnished and cheerless garret.
Fortunately, there was plenty more to see, including fine furniture, pictures, porcelain, 16th century painted boards and even a sample of mid 18th century wallpaper, now copied and commercially available as ‘Norton Conyers Diamonds’. Some rooms are light and airy but others, including the landing, decidedly gloomy. One of these is the dark panelled bedroom in which the future James II and his wife Mary of Modena may have slept during their visit to Norton Conyers in November 1679.
Each generation of the Graham family has made changes at Norton Conyers and the current owners are no exception to this. Their website is http://www.nortonconyers.org.uk/