The House and the Gardens
The History of Howick Hall
The history of Howick Hall starts in 1782, designed and built by the Newcastle architect, William Newton. The entrance was originally on the south side. Charles 2nd Earl Grey employed George Wyatt in 1809 to enlarge it by moving the entrance to the north side, filling out the front hall and the two quadrants linking the house to its wings, and building the first terrace on the south side, presumably all to accommodate his ever increasing family.
A big fire destroyed the whole of the interior of the main house in 1926, with all the contents of the top two floors; it was rebuilt in 1928 to quite different designs by Sir Herbert Baker, who altered the north façade by introducing a portico above the front hall in order to make the house smaller with an open well in the middle, with a rotunda linking the front and back on the ground floor. Disciples of Georgian architecture are not amused.
The family moved out shortly after the death of 5th Earl Grey, and in 1973 the present Lord Howick converted the West Wing into the family home, where they now live.
The ground floor of Howick Hall is open to the public, the Visitor Centre features an exhibition on the family, the Great Reform Bill of 1832, the garden and arboretum, and local natural history. Passing through the rotunda you will find the Chinese Room and Old Dining Room, both have been restored giving visitors an area to rest either before or after a tour. The Chinese Room used to be the Breakfast Room before the War and became the Dining Room after 1945. Originally painted pale yellow; we have now reproduced the hand painted Chinese wallpaper from the landing of the 1st floor of the Hall. The Old Dining Room is the only room restored by Sir Herbert Baker to exactly what it was before the 1926 fire and is therefore the only internal link to the 1776 building. Its use changed from the main living room in 1925 to the Dining Room until 1945. Various family portraits hang in this room, a guide to which can be found within.
The History of the Church
The church is a pleasant early Victorian building situated inside the grounds to the south-east of the house. Howick is an old parish with its first recorded priest in 1158 who was called Asket, but the original Normal church predated him. It was replaced by a curious Ionic temple in the mid 18th Century after a fire, and this in turn, after another fire, was converted into the present building in 1849.
The church and its graveyard contain a number of memorials to members of the Grey family, of which the most important is the tomb of the Prime Minister, 2nd Earl Grey, which is inside on the south wall opposite the pulpit. This used to have a Gothic marble canopy added later in the 19th Century, which Charles, 5th Earl Grey, disliked so much that he personally took a hammer and chisel to it and destroyed it.
In 1913 a French trawler The Tadorne shipwrecked on the coast near Howick. Five French sailors died and they are buried in the church graveyard, and the story was documented in a Channel 4 program Britain at Low Tide. The program is available on the Channel 4 catchup service available here.
The small stone gargoyles on the exterior of the north wall were all carved by Maria, 3rd Countess Grey, who was a good amateur artist, but sadly she never got round to doing the south side. The paintings behind the font and the altar were commissioned by Mabel, 5th Countess Grey, in the 1950’s, and are not regarded as a success.
Howick Parish was united with Longhoughton and Boulmer in 1928, and in 1998 they were merged with Alnmouth and Lesbury. We celebrate a parish communion every 2nd and 4th Sunday in the month at 11.15am to which all visitors are most welcome.
The History of Howick Halls Gardens
The gardens at Howick are primarily the work of Charles, 5th Earl Grey, his wife Mabel, and their daughter Lady Mary Howick between 1920 and 2001. They established and maintained an informal and natural style of gardening first advocated by William Robinson in the late 19th Century, which completely replaced the more formal Victorian planting of their ancestors. All that is left of the old garden are some of the mature trees; all else was swept away. Our basic policy now is to maintain that informal, natural style.
The gardens are best known for their spring bulbs and the woodland garden; there are also summer borders, a rockery specialising in summer plants,and new woodland walks through the arboretum. A wild bog garden around a pond is at its peak in high summer; composed of plants grown from wild seed collecting expeditions (see Arboretum), it is proving very popular and attracts many favorable comments.