Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Such Colourful Lives within Its Walls

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Such Colourful Lives within Its Walls

Article excerpt

Byline: By Tony Henderson

Environment Editor Tony Henderson visits a hall where truth could be stranger than fiction.

When the architect Sir John Vanbrugh arrived on the Northumbrian coast to survey the site of what was to be hailed as his masterpiece, he already had two grand projects to his credit.

He had completed the magnificent Castle Howard stately home in Yorkshire and had also designed Blenheim Palace.

Now he was to take up the commission to create Seaton Delaval Hall for Admiral George Delaval between what is now Whitley Bay and Blyth.

He produced a central block, flanked by arcaded wings, which would take 10 years to build from 1718 on the site of the Delavals' Tudor and Jacobean home and be considered one of the great feats of 18th Century architecture.

As he walked around the site Vanbrugh had behind him a life as a soldier, dramatist and adventurer which could have come from the pages of a novel. But he was no less colourful than the Delavals themselves.

Take Sir Francis Delaval. Three times an MP, he organised entertainment on a grand scale at Seaton Delaval and in London in the mid-18th Century. He produced Shakespeare's Othello and staged it at Drury Lane Theatre with himself in the title role and family members in the cast. The House of Commons adjourned early so MPs could attend. An original invitation to the performance is on show to Seaton Delaval Hall visitors.

Sir Francis's lifestyle meant he ran up considerable debts and in 1758 he enlisted as a volunteer in the army at a time of conflict with France. In an assault on the St Malo area, he leapt from a boat and swam half a mile to shore so that he would be the first to reach French soil.

Today, Seaton Delaval Hall is the home of Lord and Lady Hastings and has a history as dramatic as that of its owners. It suffered two serious fires, in 1752 and 1822, which left the place roofless for 40 years.

Partly restored in 1862-63, it was requisitioned in the First World War, was damaged by troops and taken over again by the military in the next war. Lord Hastings began restoration in 1950 and speaks of seeing the home of the Delavals "arise again almost like the phoenix from the ashes". …

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