The property was owned by the Gargrave family after being purchased in 1567 by Sir Thomas Gargrave, Speaker of the House of Commons from James Blount, 6th Baron Mountjoy, for £3,560.
The estate was purchased in 1654 by the London alderman, Sir Rowland Winn, after the owner was declared bankrupt in 1650. Construction of the present house started in 1733, and the furniture, furnishings and decorations made for the house remain in situ. The Winns were textile merchants in London, George Wynne of Gwydir was appointed Draper to Elizabeth I, his grandson, Sir George Winn was created 1st Baronet of Nostell in 1660 and the family subsequently owed its wealth to the coal under the estate, and later from leasing land in Lincolnshire for mining iron ore during the Industrial Revolution.
The house was built by James Paine for Sir Rowland Winn 4th Bart on the site of a 12th-century priory dedicated to Saint Oswald. Robert Adam was commissioned to design additional wings, only one of which was completed, and complete the state rooms. Adam added a double staircase to the front of the house, and designed buildings on the estate, including the stable block.
Nostell Priory is home to a large collection of Chippendale furniture, all made for the house. Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley in 1718 and had workshops in St Martins Lane, London. The Nostell Priory art collection includes The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, William Hogarth’s Scene from Shakespeare’s The Tempest – the first depiction in a painting of any scene from Shakespeare’s plays – and a self-portrait by Angelica Kauffmann, as well as Rowland Lockey’s copy of the painting by Hans Holbein (c1527 but now lost) of Sir Thomas More and his family; this copy was commissioned in 1592 by the More family and came to Nostell in the 18th century, and is said to be the most faithful to the destroyed original.
A long case clock, with an almost completely wooden internal mechanism, made by John Harrison in 1717, is housed in the billiard room. Harrison, whose father Henry is thought to have been an estate carpenter, was born within half a mile of the estate. He was referred to as John “Longitude” Harrison, after devoting his life to solving the problem of finding longitude at sea by creating an accurate marine timekeeper. Known as H4, this chronometer can be seen at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London. In May 2007, a set of Gillows furniture returned to the house after refurbishment. These pieces now furnish the tapestry room, as do a pair of large Venetian vases, made of wood inlaid with ivory and semi-precious stones.
The Adam stable block has undergone major renovation and is now open as a visitor centre for house and parkland. In June 2009 a suite of bedrooms on the second floor was handed to the National Trust. These bedrooms used by the Winns, had never been on public view before. They contain the original contents, including a regency four poster bed and suite of Victorian bedroom furniture. Another room open to visitors is the butler’s pantry, with a display of Winn family silver, in the adjacent strong room cabinets.
Nostell Priory occupies 121 hectares (300 acres) of parkland. Within the grounds and gardens are lakeside walks and a collection of rhododendrons and azaleas. The main facade of the house faces east towards a grass vista. Leading to the lake on the west side of the house is the west lawn. The parkland has lakeside and woodland walks, views of the druid’s bridge and walks to the restored Obelisk Lodge through wildflower meadows. The park was purchased from Lord St Oswald by the National Trust with funding from the Heritage Lottery fund. This grant enabled the trust to acquire pictures, books, and furniture from the family.
The priory was a 12th-century Augustinian foundation, dedicated to St Oswald, supported initially by Robert de Lacy of Pontefract, and Thurstan of York. By about 1114, Aldulf, confessor to Henry I of England, was prior of a group of regular canons at Nostell. As part of the dissolution of the monasteries, the priory was closed in 1540. After the dissolution the lands of the priory came into the possession of Sir Thomas Gargrave, a High Sheriff of Yorkshire, Speaker of the House of Commons and president of the Council of the North.
Following our morning and lunch at Nostell Priory, we travelled the short distance to the National Coal Mining Museum where we spent about one and a half hours underground with an ex-miner. Here we were taken through some 2 hundred years of coal mining from the times of child labour and deadly disasters to the 1980’s just before the mine closed. For safety reasons, photography was not allowed underground, hence the lack of pictures here.