Raby Castle

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There is a splendid view of the castle from the A688. We drove up to the entrance kiosk with a feeling of excitement and anticipation. Visits are by guided tour except in July and August when they are by free flow. I collected a timed ticket for the next tour. Tours take 75 minutes so Michael decided to miss out on the tour but instead walk round the outside of the castle and gardens taking pictures. Unfortunately (but understandably, photography is not allowed in the castle.)

A few minutes before the tour began, I went through the grand gateway into the inner courtyard and joined the rest of the group waiting. There were nineteen of us and any larger number would have made it difficult in many rooms to see what was being pointed out. The guide was informative and entertaining, covering a mix of family history as well as room contents. There wasn’t too much concentration on the family portraits which can so often happen on guided tours.

The main doors opened and we were allowed into the grand ENTRANCE HALL with a fire burning in the massive fireplace. This was originally the main living area of the medieval castle and the lord’s table was on a raised dais at one end. It is an impressive space with octagonal pillars supporting a vaulted ceiling. Antlers, armour and pistols are displayed on the walls. The Brown Bess muskets were used by the Durham Light Militia during the Napoleonic Wars. Steps at either end lead to the rest of the castle, with the grand staircase on the left leading to the Baron’s Hall above.

This was altered in the C19th when the architect John Carr was asked to construct a carriage way through the hall as it was becoming increasingly difficult for carriages and horses to reach the east front. One of the carriages is now displayed here.

A porter had to be on duty during the night and the porter’s chair is on display. It had a canopy to stop draughts and a drawer underneath for hot embers from the fire.

The tour begins up the stone STAIRCASE on the right and along a corridor with walls covered with Victorian anaglypta paper. There is old oak furniture and paintings of the Raby hounds. Display cabinets include a ship made by Napoleonic Prisoners of War based here who made items like this to sell.

More stairs lead up to the front of the castle and the SMALL DRAWING ROOM with its marble fireplace and easy chairs and occasional tables. There is a large Queen Anne bookcase and the chandelier is made by Matthew Boulton who is better known for making industrial machinery.

The C18th LIBRARY is an attractive room with panelled walls picked out with gilt. It doesn’t have many bookcases but there are two fireplaces with easy chairs round them and Japanese or chinese fire screens. There are big blue and white china pagodas and a marble table with massive legs in the shape of golden eagles.

Through is the ANTE LIBRARY still with its original wall paper, marble fireplace and tortoiseshell and ebony cabinet and lots of Dutch paintings on the walls. These were catalogued for the family by David Tenniers, a Flemish artist, who did this by making a series of paintings to show all the different pictures. One of his paintings now hangs in this room.

On the floor in front of the fire is the skin of Sally, the favourite dog of the Duchess of Cleveland. When Sally died, she was made into a ‘lap rug’ which the Duchess used to take with her when out in her carriage and cuddle. The rug is now over 170 years old and beginning to look a little thread bare.

The next room visited is the magnificent OCTAGON DRAWING ROOM which was added to the castle in the 1840s. It was built to impress and it certainly does that with gold silk wall hangings and red and gold upholstery and curtains. The green malachite table tops act as a contrast to the rest of the room. The elaborate plaster ceiling has the initials and coat of arms of Henry, Duke of Cleveland. The room must have shimmered in the light of the chandelier.

The room underwent a massive restoration program at the end of the C20th when all the fabric damaged by sunlight was replaced by a firm in Suffolk still using C19th hand looms. Only the pelmets are the original material.

The DINING ROOM has red walls and plaster ceiling. The table extends to fill the room and is laid with a dinner service which had belonged to Queen Victoria and was given to Raby by Edward VII. Sideboards had small warmers to keep food warm and the marble topped buffet was used for cold food.

A staircase leads up to the Victorian servants’ quarters and the HOUSEKEEPER’S BEDROOM with small fireplace with brass bed, wardrobe, wash stand and china wash set, hip bath and a small working table. The chamber pot is under the bed and there is a stone hot water bottle.

More stairs lead up to the BLUE BEDROOM which was added as a guest bedroom in the C18th by John Carr. The four poster bed was the marriage bed of the Duke of Cleveland and has red and gold drapes like the curtains. The name blue comes from the blue and beige patterned wall paper. The ceiling has a pretty blue, white and pink frieze round it. The room is furnished with elaborate white and gold furniture. The cupboard by the bed is a commode and there is a hip bath with screen and towel rail. In front of the fire is a clear glass fire screen. The fire could still be seen but the heat no longer burnt the face.

The tour continues to the BARON’S HALL above the Entrance Hall. This is another impressive room with a massive wooden ceiling resting on stone corbels. The bosses would originally have bee the Neville coat of arms but are now the Tudor rose. Walls are deep pink and lined with bookcases and family portraits. At one end is a grand piano and the room is still used for recitals.

The plain white china vulture, eagle, cockerel, turkey and pelican were made by Meissen. Only five of each were made and the moulds were then broken. They are left undecorated as they cracked if refired.

At the far end is the grand wooden staircase leading up from the main entrance hall with a griffin and antelope holding the Cleveland coat of arms.

A plain stone staircase leads down to the CHAPEL, part of the 1300s castle which is still used by the family for baptisms and weddings. This has painted walls and ceiling which are copies of the original decoration. The C19th pews have carved poppyheads. The stained glass east window commemorates the marriage of the present Lord Barnard to the daughter of the Marquis of Exeter

The tour ends down more stairs in the servant’s quarter and the KITCHEN which was still in use until 1954. This originally had an open fireplace in the centre of the room and the cupola to extract the smoke is still there. Carcasses could be hung up from the beams across the ceiling and the smoke partially preserved the meat.

The three large fireplaces were added later. One contains a large Victorian range with fan turned spit and side ovens. In another is a range put in during the Second World War when officers were billeted here. The third fireplace has been turned into a sink which could be filled with water which could be heated by a fire below and provided hot water. There was a separate cooker for fish and a bread oven in a corner. The walls are lined with shelves with copper cooking utensils – kettles, saucepans, jelly moulds… Many are marked DC, the Duke of Cleveland’s initials.

Off the kitchen are service rooms used for preparing food and washing up.

Down a long corridor is the SERVANTS DINING ROOM. This was originally the guard room of teh medieval castle and has a stone flag floor and vaulted stone ceiling. It felt a cold and damp room and a fire was always kept burning here. Down the centre is a long table with benches on either side. The butler and housekeeper sat at either end in chairs. Bread and food could be passed up and down the table on small wheeled trolleys. In front of the fire would be warming cupboard keeping food hot for servant’s unable to eat at the set meal times.

This was a good tour and well worth doing. It lasted 75 minutes and we were standing all the time apart from in the chapel. In July and August, there are room stewards in the different rooms and information sheets.

As this review is rather long, I have split it into three parts.

PART 1 covers some of the history of the castle.

PART 2 covers disabled access.

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