About Beningbrough Hall

Beningbrough Hall © Horst Kolo

Beningbrough Hall brings a dash of Italy to the gentle Yorkshire meadows of the River Ouse. In the early 1700s John Bourchier returned to his native county from a Grand Tour of Europe full of ideas for a fashionable new house. The imposing red-brick mansion he had erected by 1716 has many of the features of a Baroque Roman palace, such as the curious 'ears' to the stone window surround over the entrance door, and the paired brackets supporting the eaves. The designer is thought to have been the York carpenter-architect William Thornton, who appears to have been responsible for the superb wood carvings that are one of the chief glories of the interior. Flanked by two delightful pavilions topped with little cupolas, Beningbrough Hall has survived remarkably unaltered and still dominates the surrounding landscape.

The Bourchiers had first come to Beningbrough in the mid-sixteenth century. Sir Ralph Bourchier built himself an Elizabethan house (now gone) beside the Ouse, which was the family home for the next 150 years. In 1649 his grandson, the fiery Puritan Sir John Bourchier, signed the death warrant of Charles I, and died an unrepentant regicide in 1660. By judicious trimming, Sir John's son, Barrington, rescued the family property from the threat of confiscation by Charles II.

The last of the Bourchiers, Margaret, married Giles Earle and died in 1827, when the house passed to the Rev. William Dawnay, later 6th Viscount Downe. Little changed at Beningbrough until 1890, when Lewis Dawnay inherited. He transformed the house, adding electricity and other modern conveniences for his young family, who were once to be heard tobogganing down the Grand Staircase.

In 1916 his son sold the house, and the following year the Earl and Countess of Chesterfield moved in. They redecorated Beningbrough in lavish style, filling the old rooms with early eighteenth-century furniture, including two spectacular state beds from their family home, Holme Lacy, in Herefordshire.

During the Second World War Beningbrough was used to house airmen from the bomber squadrons at nearby Linton-on-Ouse. Lady Chesterfield returned in 1947 and lived on alone in the house until her death in 1957. Beningbrough came to the National Trust the following year, but, without most of its contents, it was for many years a cheerless place. In the late 1970s the Trust undertook a major restoration programme to breathe new life into the Baroque interiors. To deal with the lack of contents, The National Trust went into partnership with the National Portrait Gallery who provide most of the portraits in the historic rooms as well as Making Faces - Eighteenth Century Style , a set of interactive galleries on the first and top floors. With nearly 130 portraits, the National Portrait Gallery's eighteenth-century collection brings a national narrative to this regional location.