My visit to Harlaxton Manor, in facts and photos!

August 7, 2011

As previously advised, I spent a couple of hours this afternoon visiting Harlaxton Manor, a very interesting building nearby, that also has some history to it. It is normally not possible to visit the building as it is owned by an American University (University of Evansville, Indiana) and it is used as its campus, hence only students and authorized personnel are allowed in normally, but they do hold a couple of public events every so often.

So this is what it looks like, on the outside, overlooking the main entrance. It was built in 1837 and combines Elizabethan and Jacobethan elements with symetrical Baroque massing. The Baroque influence can also be felt on the interior decorations, with all the decadent golden details and putti all around.

The building has been used on several films : The Ruling ClassThe Last Days of PattonThe Lady and the HighwaymanThe Haunting, and The Young Visiters.

Onwards to the inside:
As it can be seen on the images, the ceilings are quite ornamented, very Baroque. 
As with all the buildings of this sort, it has a lot of history and had many occupants. It was abandoned around 1935 and then bought by a self made business woman, Violet Van der Elst, who was born poor to a coal porter and a washerwoman and went on to become a millionaire selling cosmetics, making her fortune after inventing shaving foam that required no brush, that became very popular during the First World War.
Violet was an eccentric lady, having lost her husband, she held seances in the house, in an attempt to contact him in the afterlife. I didn’t take any photo of the said room where the seances are deemed to have occurred as it was too dark for my poor little camera. But one can be found here. I have to say that even before reading about the seances, I did find the atmosphere kind of creepy. 
According to what I read on some panels at the Manor, Violet wasn’t quite popular with the local aristocracy, as she forbid the Belvoir Hunt from going through her lands and turned her property into a bird and animal sanctuary, not even mice were killed in the house. She wasn’t a fan of outdoor sports either.

She was also a campaigner against death penalty and that’s how she lost all her money, on several law suits, trying to reverse it. Also stood three times, unsuccessfully, to become a Labour Party MP. She died penniless and forgotten in 1966. Quite a tragic story.
In the film Pierrepoint – The Last Hangman, she is played by Ann Bell. I haven’t seen the film but I am now curious.
There was plenty of trompe l’oeil in a few of the rooms.
View of part of the gardens from one of the windows.
Detail on one of the wooden window shutters (lillies? I’m terrible with flower names!)
Some bust in the conservatory. I have no idea if it’s supposed to be anyone in particular, but it sure is creepy.
Conservatories seem to be my favourite spot in all the old houses I’ve visited so far. My dream house would definitely have a small conservatory in the back, filled with nice luscious plants, (that someone would have to tend for me, as I tend to kill plants that fall into my hands, bless them) where one can sit and absorb the sunshine.
Some lady was playing the grand piano, including the tune to ‘the Godfather’, which was somewhat amusing. Not such a good photo, however the stained glass window is beautiful.
Same subject, different composition. I think I like the second one best.
View of the side of the Manor, with the conservatory. According to some eavesdropping, the conservatory wasn’t on the original plans, having been added a posteriori.
The gardens weren’t spectacular, I must say, but it did have some nice rose bushes. I particularly enjoyed the pastel colour on the ones like the above. 
The view from the little hill. On a clear day you’d be able to see Belvoir Castle more to the left. It seems that there was some kind of rivalry between the owners of both estates, both trying to exceed each other in sumptuousness. I immediately imagined them both looking out their respective windows and shaking their fists in anger haha.
And if it didn’t start raining a little bit it wouldn’t have been a typical English day, so as soon as we started feeling little drops on our faces we went inside to the refectory for a cuppa and a jam and cream scone.
And that’s how I ended my visit. Not bad, not bad at all.

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