Saturday, March 30, 2013

Harlaxton Manor

Following out two nights at Cliveden, we traveled by bus to Harlaxton Manor near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Built by Gregory Gregory between 1835 and 1855, it was a catalyst for a renaissance of Elizabethan architecture. Gregory was a bit of an eccentric and building the manor was his life’s passion. Nowhere near as rich as one would expect looking at the manor, Gregory spent most of his yearly income building and decorating the manor. The manor stayed in the Gregory family until 1935 when it was abandoned. During that entire period, the manor was never occupied by a family. Abandoned in 1935, the manor deteriorated and was nearly demolished. 

Walking up the main drive
The entrance gate looking over the grounds
The entrance gate

Fortunately, Violet Van der Elst saw an advertisement in The Times and Country Life looking for someone to save this “labor of an age in piled stones.” Violet made her money selling beauty preparations and the first brushless shaving cream, Shavex, which she manufactured in her own kitchen. She spent over £250,000 restoring and redecorating the manor. A modern thinker, she stopped all field sports and hunting on the grounds to create a “sanctuary for the birds and wild creatures.” She was so opposed to capital punishment that she would not even allow mice to be killed in the house. Frequently arrested for protesting capital punishment, her money and activities were significant in the fight to put the practice to an end, something she lived to see.

The courtyard and circular driveway

In 1948, having dissipated her fortune, she sold the manor to the Society of Jesus who used it as a seminary until 1966 when they leased it to Stanford. 1966 was also the year that Van der Elst died penniless in a Kentish nursing home. Stanford in Britain stayed four years. We were fortunate to be in the group that ended the stay at Harlaxton and began the time at Cliveden. The University of Evansville (Indiana) took over the building and grounds in 1971 and spent the money Stanford was unwilling to spend updating and renovating the huge building.

The Conservatory at the back
Overlooking the grounds

Some of our group, remembering the drafty rooms and poor heating, chose to stay at the Angel and Royal Hotel in Grantham. They made a mistake as the renovations resulted in a place we hardly recognized. The only constant was the food served in the same old dining room that easily reminded us of our meals years ago. The exception was the excellent banquet in the state dining room our last night
Our arrival was much more pleasant than that cold and rainy night in December of 1969. The afternoon sun illuminated the manor for us shortly after we passed Grantham. Embarrassingly, we had to be told by our old professors that we were looking at Harlaxton. Our bus was too big to use the grand entrance. The main road is one straight mile with the manor elevated and behind a stunning entrance gate. 
No swimming in this pond
More of the grounds
 We grabbed our bags and entered through a side door, so missed the grand entrance and much of the beauty. One unchanged item is the elevator. It is still a cage with two doors, both of which must be fully closed or the call button does not work. It only took one open door and the walk up three levels for all of us to remember that small, but essential detail. After settling into our rooms, we were given a tour. Unlike at Cliveden, the renovations changed things enough that we were not always in agreement what had been where. I never did figure out where six of us had shared one sleeping room or where the bath and shower room we shared was located. Our room for the night was on the top floor which had been off-limits to all but the professors and their families during our stay. 
Renovations continue on the fountain

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