ONE OF Northumberland’s finest stately homes is to open its doors to the public for the first time this month.
Bywell Hall, near Stocksfield on the banks of the Tyne, the home of the Beaumont family for over two centuries, will allow limited public visits from March 28.
Rarely-seen treasures, including portraits, Chinese porcelain and Venetian enamelware, will be seen on the ground floor of the hall.
Most of the ground floor, including the grand state dining and drawing rooms and library, will be on the itinerary for groups of a maximum 15 on 28 selected dates in the year.
A team of volunteers has been trained to host visitors and a website is being created to handle tour bookings.
Wentworth “Wenty” Beaumont, son of the present 4th Viscount Allendale, will himself conduct a number of the £6 tours, while expert guides will also be employed.
The 33-year-old art dealer said: “I and my wife wrote the tour and it will cover most of the ground floor including the hall, staircase, oval hall and state rooms. It is something we have had in planning for a long time and we believe that people should be able to come in and see the hall.
“My overriding belief is that if you are lucky enough to have interesting things, one should share them.
“We think the interest will be very strong and we want to make it a very welcoming thing - it is us inviting people into our home, and we want the people to feel welcome in our home at the centre of a working estate. It has got to feel lived-in and welcoming.
“We will test the water to see how it goes and if we find we are inundated, we will look at extending the opening.”
The three-storey Grade II-listed hall, built in 1766, contains over 60 paintings by prominent artists, including an 1859 portrait of Lady Margaret Beaumont by Victorian painter George Frederick Watts which has been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Family portraits on view include the most recent, by family friend Hugo Wilson, of Lord Allendale, completed only five years ago. Other family portraits by the Hungarian artist Philip de Laszlo date back to the early 20th Century.
There are also four sizeable tapestries depicting the Palace of Versailles in the hallway and Oval Hall. Rare furniture includes a Serpentine Bombe Commode by the English cabinetmaker and upholsterer John Cobb.
The manor of Bywell and Bywell Castle, where Lord Allendale lives, were first owned by the Neville family in the 14th Century. But following the removal of the hereditary title of Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland, for his part in the 1569 revolt of the northern Earls, the estates were forfeited.
In 1571 the Crown sold the estate to the Fenwick family, and William Fenwick, son of John, High Sheriff of Northumberland, had the new house built to neo-Palladian design by the architect James Paine.
In the early 1800s the estate was sold to Thomas Beaumont for the then enormous sum of £145,000. The house was improved under the expert guidance of famous Tyneside architect John Dobson, and further altered late in the 19th Century.
Today, the 20,000-acre estate is operated commercially by Allendale Estates and English Heritage has worked alongside the family to bring the public-opening plan to fruition.