Ownership of this Yorkshire manor can be traced all the way back to the Domesday Book in 1086, which recorded it as being held by Robert de Brus. The first house on the site dated from the 14th century, although no trace of that remains.
The Carlton Towers we see today has a stately Victorian appearance. But peel back the layers of history and you find a much older house.
The three-storey block to the left is the original Jacobean Carlton Hall of 1614 which was completely rebuilt then by Elizabeth, the energetic widow of Brian Stapleton. It may even retain some of the masonry of the medieval house of the Stapleton family who had inherited the estate in 1301. The Stapletons became heirs to the barony of Beaumont by marriage in about 1476, yet the barony was not re-claimed for over 300 years.
The long wing on the right was added circa 1777, which is the date recorded on the clock, by Thomas Stapleton probably to the design of Thomas Atkinson of York.
In 1842 Miles Thomas Stapleton was allowed the claim to the barony of Beaumont and, to celebrate his ennoblement as 8th Lord Beaumont, he incorporated the long wing into the house, converting the chapel into a suite of state rooms with new rooms behind. We have his son Henry, 9th Lord Beaumont, to thank for the impressive Victorian façade.
It was the 9th Lord Beaumont’s dream to create the greatest of all Victorian country houses; this he achieved with his two architects: Edward Welby Pugin, whose father, Augustus Pugin, designed the interior of the Houses of Parliament, and Sir John Francis Bentley who designed Westminster Cathedral. Pugin re-faced the house in grand style, adding the turrets, gargoyles, battlements and coat of arms – and so Carlton Hall was reborn as Carlton Towers. Bentley brought a scholarly design and master craftsmanship to his work of remodeling the interior of the house. Today, Carlton Towers is an example of one of the best preserved of Gothic Revival interiors.
Two Beaumont talbot hounds with banners painted with the Stapleton lion and the ‘lion de Brienne’ of the Beaumont Arms guard the sweeping stone staircase which leads to Carlton Towers’ front door, while the prominent Clock Tower features a balustrade with the family motto ‘Meulx Serra’, OId French for ‘It will be better’.
It is this unique combination of the imposing exterior and exquisite interior that makes Carlton Towers at once a spectacular and intimate venue.
Nothing prepares you better for the grandeur of Calton Towers’ historic interior than the elegantly designed entrance Halls.
It was Edward Welby Pugin that designed the layout of the Outer Hall, but the decoration, including the stencilled ceiling, the tiled floor and the stained glass were all designed by John Francis Bentley. Bentley was one of the leading church architects of the late 19th century best known for his design of the Westminster Cathedral. The east window features panels of St. George, St. Louis and St. John the Baptist. The ecclesiastical character of the room is not accidental, the Hall was first fitted up as a temporary chapel when Cardinal Manning visited Carlton in 1876 and celebrated mass here. The bust is of Miles, Thomas Stapleton, 8th Lord Beaumont by sculptor Patrick MacDowell.
Marble steps lead via grand archways to the Inner Hall, the first of the sequences of state apartments stretching to the east for nearly 200 feet. Bentley expended great care on the detailing of these rooms, designing much of the furniture and the chandeliers to match the architecture in his effort to achieve a unified effect. J. Erskine Knox was responsible for the carved woodwork, including the Minstrels’ Gallery, the ceiling, the panelling and doors. The stained glass windows were built by the London glass company Lavers & Barraud. They include portraits of Henry, 9th Lord Beaumont as a peer, and his brother Miles (later 10th Lord Beaumont) dressed as a medieval knight.
Huge oak doors invite you into the finest rooms of the house to experience some of the most complete Victorian interiors in existence.
One of the finest rooms in the house with all the original colours and textiles preserved, the Venetian room owes its name to the fact that Bentley discovered some old Venetian glasses stored in a cupboard and designed the room with cabinets in the dado to display them. The Venetian theme is continued in the dado panels painted by N.H.J. Westlake with figures from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The artist referred to them irreverently as ‘Shylock, Boldlock and Padlock’.
The upper parts of the walls are covered in moulded plaster with a pattern of pomegranates gilded to look like stamped leather. The cornice is decorated with alternating Bs, the white rose of York, the Stapleton lion and the Errington shell.
The most prominent feature of the room is the chimneypiece decorated with heraldry and panels of Flora and the Four Seasons by Westlake. The heraldry was worked on by General de Havilland, York Herald of Arms. He was not an English General, but an American, born in Boston, who achieved his military rank in Spain fighting for the Carlist pretender to the Spanish throne. Lord Beaumont fought in the same war and met de Havilland there. It was probably through him that Lord Beaumont was introduced to Bentley. The large shield supported by Beaumont talbots and surmounted by the Saracen’s head crest, carries 36 armorial quarterings, with the top four on the left hand side being the Beaumont Coat of Arms. The Saracen’s head crest was awarded to Sir Brian Stapleton for killing an infidel at a tournament in the presence of the Kings of Scotland, England and France (Stapleton was the original family name before they acquired the barony of Beaumont).
The yellow embossed fireplace tiles are by William De Morgan. The brass firedogs, the three silver plated chandeliers, the chairs with green velvet upholstery and the curtains of a matching pattern in terracotta and green were all designed by Bentley. The two marquetry side-tables are mid- 18th century Dutch. The painting of an architectural scene over the chimneypiece was bought for this position in 1908 for £48. The china in the cabinets is mainly 19th century continental: Berlin, Ludwigsburg, Höchst, Sèvres, Vienna and Meissen.
A last detail to notice before leaving the room is the set of door handles incorporating a pattern of roses. They are a particularly good example of Bentley’s inimitable skill as a designer.
The Card Room, adjoining the Venetian Drawing Room, is much smaller but it is equally richly decorated. The Venetian Drawing Room occupies the site of the 18th century private chapel (which was closed down in about 1842) and the Card Room was made out of the priest’s lodgings. The oak linenfold panelling was carved by J. Erskine Knox. The painted decoration on the upper part of the walls in blue, white and gold incorporates a pattern of Bs (for the Beaumont name) and the white rose of York. The curtains were designed by Bentley to match. The silver-plated chandelier was also designed by Bentley and was made in Sheffield.
The fireplace features tiles by William De Morgan and the chimneypiece is of polished fossil limestone.
Leading on from the Card Room, the Picture Gallery features an oak ceiling and olive green walls restored to the original colour. The walls are hung to the ceiling with pictures mainly brought to Carlton by Ethel, wife of the 10th Lord Beaumont. They came from the collection of her father, Sir Charles Henry Tempest, Baronet of Broughton Hall, and were bought in from Paris and Rome in the early 19th century. The Tempest Collection included paintings from the collection of Cardinal Fesch, Napoleon’s uncle, and some from that of Prince Henry Benedict, Cardinal Duke of York and last of the Stuarts. Prince Henry Benedict’s Coat of Arms, if he would have been Henry IX of England, appear on the two banners painted to look like tapestry. Though none of the paintings are by well-known masters, they are of historical interest as a group.
The five horse pictures are of horses that Thomas Stapleton bred and raced in partnership with Sir Thomas Gascoigne, and together they won the first St. Leger with “Hollondaise” in 1778.
Once again, the chandeliers were designed by Bentley, this time in brass. The firedogs and the tiles in the fireplace are by William De Morgan.
The more intimate spaces of the Armoury and the Bow Drawing Room to the left of the Outer Hall reveal more of Carlton Towers’ rich history.
The Armoury fills the space between the old house and the 1777 wing. Bentley redecorated it in the same manner as the State Rooms with carved oak panelling by J. Erskine Knox and stencilled painting on the ceiling. The collection of armour, which hangs on the walls and gives this hall its name, was formed in the 1840s by the 8th Lord Beaumont and comprises mainly of 17th century breastplates and pole arms. The old oak furniture comprises a series of Lancashire chairs. The blue and white pottery in the cabinet and on the chimneypiece and chest was formed under Bentley’s guidance and includes Delft tobacco jars and Chinese ginger jars. The doorway on the right of the Armoury chimneypiece leads into the original Jacobean house.
The splendid staircase tower situated in the Armoury leads up to the Organ and Minstrels’ Gallery. It was added by Pugin, while the magnificent heraldic newels carved in oak were designed by Bentley and carved by J. Erskine Knox. Those flanking the lowest flight are the Beaumont lions. The windows are filled with splendid heraldic glass devised by de Havilland and made by Lavers & Barraud. A portrait of de Havilland, in the uniform of a Knight of Malta and painted in Rome by Guido Guidi, hangs at the bottom of the stairs on the left.
The cosy Bow Room features a neo-classical marble chimneypiece which may have been designed by Thomas Atkinson of York, known to have been responsible for alterations at Carlton in 1777. The room itself, however, was added on to the old house before 1765. Atkinson worked at a number of Yorkshire houses and designed the Bar Convent in York. The 18th century Dutch marquetry furniture, including two china cabinets and a bureau, was collected by Ethel, wife of the 10th Lord Beaumont. The cabinets contain china: a Worcester first period tea and coffee service, two early 19th century English services and some continental porcelain figure groups. The porphyry urns on the chimneypiece are French, so is the Louis XVI clock. Above them is a mid- 18th century rococo style mirror.
The family portraits are all recent: the 11th Lady Beaumont and the Hon. Ivy Stapleton (pastel) by Dick Reddie; Hon. Frances Howard (Mrs. Greaves) by WE. Miller; the 3rd Lord Howard of Glossop (the 17th Duke of Norfolk’s grandfather) by Simon Elwes; the 3rd Lord Howard of Glossop as a boy; the Hon. Muriel Howard; the Hon. Philip Howard (1899), all by WE. Miller; the 11th Lady Beaumont (the 17th Duke of Norfolk’s grandmother) (1935) by W.R. Aresly; the 17th Duke of Norfolk in the uniform of the Grenadier Guards (1951) by Trafford Klots.
There are also two characteristic Canaletto views of Venice brought home from the18th century Grand Tours, almost as the equivalent of post cards or colour slides.