Historic Houses Yorkshire: Harewood House

Harewood House, situated halfway between Leeds and Harrogate, was built in the 1760s by Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood, to the design of John Carr and Robert Adam and with landscaping by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Harewood House
Harewood House view over the Terrace

I had often driven past the entrance to the Harewood House estate when I was in the Leeds area, but never stopped to visit. However my appetite was whetted by watching the ITV series ‘Victoria’, where Harewood House substituted for both Buckingham and Kensington Palaces. It also featured in the Downton Abbey film.

Hence once Harewood House reopened after the COVID-19 lockdown, I booked an afternoon visit for myself and my wife. Possibly in retrospect we should have opted to arrive earlier, as we found much to see and do in the house and gardens.

As with many stately homes in England, Caribbean plantations and the slave trade financed the building and furnishing of the house. This is acknowledged on entry to the house with an information board stating: ‘This abhorrent trade was pervasive throughout British society at the time’.

Harewood House is still the family seat of the Lascelle family, David Lascelles being the 8th Baron Harewood, but  the ownership of the house and grounds has been transferred to a charity, the Harewood House Trust.

Harewood House

Harewood: Cinnamon Drawing Room
Cinnamon Drawing Room

Social distancing considerations meant that only part of the usual tour of the house was open, however this did include the rooms on the main floor and the below stairs area.

A ‘Digital House Guide’ downloadable on smart phones provided information about each room, backed up by information from the many volunteers along the tour route.

The main floor tour followed from the Hall into the Music Room, State Dining Room, The Gallery, Cinnamon Drawing Room, Yellow Dining Room, Main Library and finally the Spanish Library.

We were particularly impressed with the many fine paintings, including those in the Gallery by El Greco, Bellini and Titian.

Below Stairs
Below Stairs

When entering a new room we found it was a good idea to look up to see the ceilings, many by Robert Adam, and to look carefully at the fireplaces and furniture, much by Chippendale.

A volunteer pointed out that the pelmet and flowing curtains in the Gallery were actually made of pine wood, and that many of the wooden doors in the house had intricate carved designs matching the decor around that room’s windows.

The spacious below stairs rooms included a large Kitchen, with many highly polished copper pans, a Pastry Room and a Still Room where bottled fruit and jams were produced. The servants dining room was surprisingly opulent.

Terrace and West Garden

Harewood: Archery Border
Archery Border

We exited the house on to the beautiful south-facing Italianate Terrace built in the 1840s and giving great views over the grounds down to the lake.

There was a brisk trade in afternoon teas on the balcony overlooking the terrace. We will allow more time on our next visit to sample this delight.

The Archery Border below the terrace was a mass of colour with a wide range of plants in full bloom. This led on to the West Garden with its display of acers and the Courtyard with a café and toilets.

The Grab and Go stall was perfect for some quick refreshment before continuing our exploration of the grounds. The nearby Adventure Playground was in full swing.

Bird Garden & Farm Experience

Harewood: East Africa Crowned Crane
East Africa Crowned Crane

Entrance to the Bird Garden is through a door at the back of the Courtyard where suddenly you are faced with Humboldt penguins waddling around in their enclosure beside a pool.

There are many other bird enclosures as you follow the path down to the lake with guinea fowl free to openly wander around.

In total there are about 40 bird species, including some endangered ones which Harewood is helping to conserve.

We found the East African crowned crane and the greater and lesser rheas to be most eye-catching, as also was a small group of pink Chilean flamingos strutting around the lake shore.

The Farm Experience area included pot bellied pigs, alpacas and pygmy goats.

Himalayan Garden and Walled Garden

Ferry Terminal
Ferry Terminal

From the Bird Garden the lakeside path passes the ferry terminal (which provides a short cut to the south side of the lake when operating) and then leads on to the entrance to the Himalayan Garden.

Here a series of pathways along the side of a gorge and across a beck takes you past a wide range of Himalayan plants, including blue poppies, orchids and fifty kinds of rhododendrons, although not much was in flower when we visited in August.

Near the exit a Buddhist Stupa, built in 2004 by monks from Bhutan, adds to the atmosphere.

Buddhist Stupa
Buddhist Stupa

A short walk from the Himalayan Garden along the south side of the lake leads to the Walled Garden, one of the largest we have seen.

However much of the area was underdeveloped and the greenhouses were derelict. We found the most attractive feature was the wild flower meadow in the centre of the garden.

We would have liked to continue and walk right around the lake, however a high fence and locked gate prevented this.

Overall Impressions

We were very much looking forward to visiting to Harewood House and certainly there was much to admire within the house and much of interest in the gardens. However we came away feeling rather disappointed.

Harewood: The Italianate Terrace
The Italianate Terrace

Compared with our recent visits to other Historic Houses, the house interior was not as impressive as Belvoir Castle and the gardens not as spectacular as Burton Agnes Hall. Also walks around the parkland were very limited.

But this is judging the visit as seniors with no children in tow on this occasion. For families with young children, the Adventure Playground and the Bird Garden & Farm Experience would be great attractions, and the relatively compact nature of the site could be considered a plus.

Entry to Harewood House is £15.50 for adults (no senior discounts) and £8.50 for children. The charges are less if booked online, but more if you wish to include gift aid.

If you take up annual membership with Historic Houses, you will get free entry to Harewood House (once a year only), plus 300 other heritage sites. Enter our unique code STEW05 at ‘Add discount code’ and you will receive a £5 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.

We have reviewed several other properties under Historic Houses and see also: Historic Houses versus National Trust – Which to join?

Additional Photographs

Music Room
Music Room
State Dining Room
State Dining Room
The Gallery
The Gallery
Robert Adam ceiling in the Gallery
Robert Adam ceiling in the Gallery
Harewood: Pine wood curtains in the Gallery
Pine wood curtains in the Gallery
Harewood: Pathway through the Himalayan Garden
Pathway through the Himalayan Garden

POSTED 24th AUGUST 2020 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.