Wallington is one of Northumberland’s great country houses.
It’s so close to where I live that I thought I knew everything there is to know about this splendid house and its beautiful English gardens.
But a recent trip convinced me I was wrong.
I’d known about Wallington’s links with the British arts and crafts movement but it was news to me that the Trevelyan family who lived in the house were early conservationists.
They were also flag-bearers for the youth hostelling movement.
Nature was in their blood. They were passionate about the countryside and outdoor living long before it was fashionable to be ‘green’ or ‘hug a tree’.
Perhaps that’s why the house and gardens combine to form a perfect marriage with nature and the countryside.
History and horticulture
The history of Wallington is inextricably linked with horticulture and nature.
Set in over 800 acres of parkland this great estate was once located on an important drovers’ route.
Drovers were responsible for the long distance driving of animals to market, accompanying their livestock either on foot or on horseback, travelling vast distances right across Britain.
In the 1700s a new Palladian-style hall was built for Sir Walter Blackett on the site of an earlier house and pele tower.
The formality of Sir Walter Blackett’s 18th Century landscaped gardens were heavily influenced by ‘Capability’ Brown with woodlands, lakes, garden ponds and sweeping vistas across the countryside.
The Trevelyan family who acquirred the house in 1777 were keen to develop Wallington’s gardens and its horticulture.
They created a beautiful walled garden with collections of plants and, over the centuries, a well-stocked conservatory.
Sir Walter Calverley Trevelyan filled the greenhouses at Wallington full of rare plant specimens from all corners of the globe during the 1800s.
He was enthusiastic about wild plants such as sorrel, nettles and edible fungi which he ate for breakfast during the autumn.
I’m convinved that Sir Walter was a forerunner of the foraging cuisine made popular today by top chef Rene Redzepi at Noma in Denmark!
His ancestor Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan, who lived at Wallington between 1928-1958, was a left-wing Labour MP who also shared a passion for the great outdoors.
In the 1940s Charles shocked his peers by announcing that he would bequeath Wallington to the National Trust, thereby disinheriting his family. In a famous speech he declared in socialist rhetoric that:
“I do not believe in private ownership of land and that I do not think it right for individuals to enjoy the wealth, and exercise the power over the lives of others which they obtain by land ownership…. I believe that all of you would wish Wallington and its treasures to be preserved here intact…”
A passion for conservation
Sir Charles’ brother, George Macaulay Trevelyan, was another prototype conservationist who wanted to protect the countryside from excessive development.
To this end he bought five farms to preserve important countryside areas including Housesteads Farm on Hadrian’s Wall.
He was also a powerful countryside lobbyist and many believe his ideas led to the formation of national parks.
George was also keen on getting ordinary working people involved in the countryside.
He was the first president of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) whose mission was to improve access to the countryside for town people.
A true pioneer he believed that youth hostels should be located 15 miles apart in rural areas.
Also a keen walker, George’s idea of a bracing daily stroll was a 25 miles walk!
Art and crafts
The Trevelyan family had another passion at Wallington – the arts and crafts movement.
The house has strong associations with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Critic and artist John Ruskin stayed at the hall and other famous guests included artist John Millais and the poet Algernon Swinburne.
Wandering around its corridors I could imagine Swinburne proclaiming a poem to Proserpina or Ruskin railing about the state of ‘modern art’.
Wallington’s central hall is decorated with impressive murals depicting scenes from Northumbrian history, many illustrated by the artist William Bell Scott.
His Iron and Coal stands out as the most powerful of these works, reflecting the toil and noise of the Industrial Revolution – a far cry from Wallington’s peaceful country setting.
Its subject matter is in complete contrast to the rest of the murals which focus on historical figures including Bede, Grace Darling and the Emperor Hadrian’s Roman Imperial Army.
The Trevelyan family were enthusiastic patrons of the arts especially Pauline, Lady Trevelyan, a keen amateur painter, who held court with the artistic elite of the day.
Her circle also included Pre-Raphaelite artist Thomas Woolner who crafted many of the sculptures in the main entrance hall.
It must have been one of the most vibrant cultural centres of its time in the English countryside.
Take the garden tour
Here’s Tammy’s photo gallery so why not take the grand tour of the house and gardens at Wallington.
In the spirit of the Trevelyan pioneers I hope it provides you with inspiration to either get arty or take a walk on the wild side!
Tammy’s top tips
Wallington is run by the National Trust. The house is open between mid-March to early November whilst the gardens are open year round.
The hall is located in Northumberland approx 18 miles north west of Newcastle upon Tyne. From Newcastle take the A696, airport/Ponteland road, and turn off on the B6342 to Cambo.
Start with a tour of the house before heading out for a walk around the walled garden and formal gardnes. For active visitors take the River Walk if you want to get a better view of the countryside around the house.
Longer estate walks take in wooded valleys and high moorland areas including land around the folly at Rothley Castle.
Nature lovers are in for a treat. Wallington boasts four of Britain’s most popular native species – Red Squirrels, Otters, Water Voles and the White Crayfish.
Don’t miss the new wildlife hide near Middle Pond where bird watchers can look for woodland birds such as tits, Nuthatch and Woodpeckers.