The house was built in 1685 by Sir John Brownlowe and his wife Alice and was the family home of the Brownlowes for 300 years. The present Duke has rooms in the house although he lives in Jersey.
Described as the “perfect English country house”, Belton was designed to impress. It is an attractive building with symmetrical frontage with steps up to the main doorway with wings on either side. It is topped by a small cupola. To the side is a courtyard with stable and domestic buildings. Those who remember the iconic BBC production of Pride and Prejudice in 1996 will recognise Belton as Rosings Park.
There is a free flow system operating through the house with plenty of room stewards to answer questions. Pick up a plan of the house to make sure you don’t miss any of the rooms. There is no set route through the house. There is also a series of “themed leaflets” highlighting seven different things to look out for. These include paintings, sculpture’, must see’ objects, rooms. They also offer a free guided tour of the underground servants quarters.
Numbers are limited so it is sensible to book a place on this on arrival. Photograph (no flash) is allowed in the house but not on the underground tour.
There are small chairs scattered round the house with red and white gingham covers which are for visitors use. Other chairs have two teasel heads carefully arranged on them.
The family would have used the small door in the west wing. The main entrance would have been used for special occasions or by important guests. Visitors now rank as “important guest’ and enter up the main stairs into the MARBLE HALL, with its panelled walls, plaster ceiling and carvings over the fireplace by Gringling Gibbons. Others seen around the house are in the style of Gringling Gibbons but have been carved by by Edmund Carpenter. The Marble Hall takes its name from the black and white marbled floor tiles, although most of them are covered with a carpet. They can be seen through the door on the right with the grand wooden staircase.
Behind the Marble Hall is the SALOON, the grand reception room with views across the gardens. Again this is panelled with plaster ceiling but is now simply furnished. All the furniture belongs to the house. Much of it was sold off before the Trust acquired the property resulting in some rooms looking sparsely furnished. This is particularly true of the TYRCONNEL ROOM to the right, with red patterned wall hangings and fire screen. There is a crest painted on the floor with two hounds set in circles beside it.
This leads through into the CHAPEL DRAWING ROOM with tapestries on the walls, 18thC long case clock and a beautiful cabinet inlaid with red tortoiseshell. The CHAPEL GALLERY off was used by the family attending services. They sat in comfort in easy chairs looking down on the servants attending CHAPEL and the altar which a huge 17thC reredos above it. The centre piece is red fabric and very fragile, so light is kept very dim.
Return through the Chapel DrawingRoom and past the staircase with beige walls picked out in gold and splendid plaster ceiling with gold decoration into the BLUE DRESSING ROOM. This contains a most unusual deep blue lapis luzuli cabinet on gilt legs. Beyond is the BLUE BEDROOM which is a very elegant room with a huge half tester bed with pale blue drapes to match the wall coverings. There is a huge desk with door above opening to reveal lots of small drawers.
There is now a choice of heading up the stairs to the first floor or returning to the saloon to visit the rooms in the opposite room. Next to the Saloon is the RED DRAWING ROOM a sumptuous room with red walls and furnishings and gilt furniture. There are examples of black Sèvres porcelain with a gold and platinum chinoise decoration which glow in the artificial light.
This leads into the BREAKFAST ROOM, simply furnished with a small table and marble topped servery with a glass fronted display cabinet below. On the top is the post box used by the family.
Beyond is the Dining Room, marked on the map as the HONDECOETER ROOM after the 16thC Dutch artist who painted the three large painting on display here. Other pictures have scenes of dead game birds. The walls are a stylish green picked out in gold and the carvings of dead game birds are also gilded. The large table is set for dinner with silver plated crockery. On a side table is a magnificent silver wine cistern.
Returning through the Breakfast room and past the stairs down to the side exit, is the ANTE-ROOM With some lovely old carved wood chests. There are easy chairs for visitors to use. Beyond is the STUDY., a cosy room lined with green painted book cases. Apparently the books are dummy. This was a room to relax in with easy chairs in front of the fireplace. In a corner is an ‘exercise’ chair with detachable back and sprung body. You sat on it and bounced up and down as if riding a horse…
The final room on the ground floor is the TAPESTRY ROOM. This has a splendid plaster ceiling and big 17thC tapestries on the walls. There is a grand piano as well as easy chairs.
This completes the rooms on the ground floor. Go through the door (notice the elegant brass door handles and plates into the Marble Hall and then up the grand staircase to the first floor.
Turn left for the YELLOW BEDROOM with cream plaster walls with a carved frieze around the top. There is a splendid four poster bed with deep cream drapes and washstand in a corner. A long corridor leads past a bathroom and unfurnished small rooms to the CRETONNE BEDROOM over the chapel. This has yellow and beige stripped wallpaper and the only contents are a large cream wardrobe with mirrors and pictures on the walls.
Next is the CHINESE BEDROOM with hand painted Chinese wallpaper. The half tester bed has a Chinese silk cover and there are painted and inlaid Chinese cupboards and chests. There is a large glass fire screen.
This leads into the QUEEN’S BEDROOM (the Best Chamber) which was redecorated for a visit by Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV in 1841. This is a luxurious room with cream panelled walls picked out in gold. Furnishings and drapes on the half tester bed are red and white stripes. There is amarble topped washstand as well as easy chairs and tables.
Beyond is the ANTE-LIBRARY with pillars painted to resemble marble and display cases with china on the walls. An archway leads into the LIBRARY above the Marble Hall. This is lined with books and has several large desks as well as a reading chair.
The BOUDOIR is beyond. This is a very elegant room with pale green wallpaper set in deeper sage green panels with white plaster decorations. The plaster ceiling is stunning with a design in very pale beige, sage green and white. Chairs and tables have gilded legs and their is an Aubusson carpet on the floor.
A door leads into the WINDSOR BATHROOM with blue walls and cupboards. There is an ivory dressing set on a table by the window and the towel rail has brass fish holding a glass rod. The bathroom scales come from Harrods.
The WINDSOR BEDROOM is painted in pale duck egg blue with yellow upholstered easy chair and half tester bed. Furniture is dark mahogany.
Some of the rooms are splendid but overall we were a bit disappointed by the house as many rooms, especially on the ground floor were basically furnished. The best rooms are upstairs.
The House is surrounded by formal gardens with grass and carefully trimmed yew trees. There is an attractive garden with fountain and orangery at the far end (closed when we visited) with the Church beyond. Allow plenty of time to explore these.
The formal gardens are surrounded by parkland with mature specimen trees. Don’t miss Mirror Lake and the larger pond with the restored boathouse.
The Stables Restaurant and shop are in the courtyard. The second hand bookshop was closed when we visited. For the children there is a Ride and Play Cafe in the courtyard as well as a maze and adventure playground. It is quite easy to spend a whole day here.
There is disabled parking by the Visitor Centre and Ticket Office a short distance beyond the house. Mobility Scooters and wheelchairs can be picked up here. It is advisable to book in advance. A greyhound buggy provides an on request shuttle service between the Visitor Centre, house and stableyard. Just ask a member of staff.
There are 15 stairs up to the main entrance but a stair climber is available at the side entrance. This cannot be booked in advance. As only one wheelchair is allowed in the house at any time, there could be a wait for this. There is disabled access to the ground floor, but not first floor. There is however a DVD which visitors can watch instead.
There are stairs on the basement tour.
There are steps down to the formal gardens, but the parkland is accessible by wheelchair or mobility scooter. The visitor centre has a map of the grounds showing good paths. They were keen to point out that the courtyard is cobbled making for an uncomfortable ride.
There are disabled toilets in the stable courtyard and on the approach to the house.
Assistance dogs are welcome throughout the property. They provide an audio tour of the property and have short guides in braille of large print.
Entry to the property is £12.60 unless you are a member of the National Trust. There is no reduction for disabled visitors which seems a bit tough especially as they are unable to access the first floor, which we felt was the best bit of the house. Several of the ground floor rooms are basically furnished.
Allow yourselves plenty of time to enjoy the grounds and visit the church as well as the house. The Basement tour is excellent and worth doing. We were disappointed by the Restaurant which at 4.30 had a very restricted range of cakes and we felt was expensive.