Or, the art of British country house interiors

April 17, 2013

Newby Hall

Although the estate dates back to the 13th century, Newby Hall in North Yorkshire was built in the late 17th century partially based on designs by the architect Sir Christopher Wren [1]. While Newby Hall is noted for its excellent collection of tapestries, classical sculpture, and furniture, there are also some very impressive portraits visible in the house.  This country house represented the titular residence in the filming of 2007's Mansfield Park.

Jane Austen's descriptions of the houses at the center of many of her novels are sparse; on the interiors we are told even less [2]. This then leaves much room for creative interpretation on the part of film makers. In Mansfield Park, we are able to see portraits in the entrance hall, sitting room, and, most importantly, the dining room. These paintings create a visual legacy for the Bertram family and exhibit a stark contrast with young Fanny Price, their niece, who comes from a much poorer family.

Mansfield Park- entrance hall

Mansfield Park- sitting room

In the 18th century, the Lord Granthams resided in Newby Hall. The 3rd Lord Grantham had the old dining room converted into a library and a new dining room constructed in the 1790s; this was called the Regency Dining Room [1]. The renovation is indicative of the move during Regency times from very formal, stifled rooms to more comfortable, accessible spaces. Although this shift is more easily noticeable in rooms dedicated to public entertaining, such as saloons, it is still tangible in the more private realm of the dining room.

Mansfield Park- dining room

Mansfield Park- dining room, closer view

The 2nd Lord Grantham's portrait now hangs in this dining room [3]. It is unclear which portrait is his, but we can imagine that any of these very stately works might represent him. I find it interesting that the alcoves on either side of the room are asymmetrical: on one side (above) one portrait is flanked by two mirrors, while the other side (below) has three portraits in a row. I wonder if any changes were made to the interior decoration for the filming of the movie, of if this asymmetry is the usual arrangement of the room. The dining room was redone in 1980, but the color for the walls was modeled after an original drawing by the 3rd Lord Grantham [4].

The outstanding Neoclassical interiors of Newby Hall provide a more than suitable backdrop for Mansfield Park, indicative of taste and class and fitting of a baronet. The rooms appear slightly forbidding in a fancy sort of way, but tempered by moments of sincerity; the portraits on the walls help to soften the interiors and personalize the space. In this way, both Mansfield Park and Newby Hall become country houses steeped in tradition but still open and welcoming to guests. 


[1] Nooks, Towers and Turrets. “Mansfield Park Film Location: Newby Hall.” Accessed April 17, 2013.   
[2] Pevsner, Nikolaus. “The Architectural Setting of Jane Austen’s Novels.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld 
              Institutes 31 (1968): 407.
[3] The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses. “Newby Hall.” Accessed April 17, 2013. 
[4] Newby Hall & Gardens. “The Dining Room.” Accessed April 17, 2013. www.newbyhallandgardens.com/site/?

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