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Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire is a magnificent relict of a past age, owned and maintained by English Heritage. It is now half-ruined, having been abandoned by its owners in the early 18th century, and by the 19th it was in a ruinous state. This continued until 15 years ago when the gardens and some interiors were restored. It was used by Patricia Rozema in the 1999 film of Mansfield Park to represent the house owned by Sir Thomas Bertram that is so central to the book.

I ought to say, from the outset, that the 1999 version of Mansfield Park is not my favourite of any of the adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels.By a long way… It failed to hit its targets, and accordingly the film failed for me on so many levels. Fanny was depicted as a strange combination of the young Jane Austen and one of the Pankhursts, Sir Thomas was a depraved monster,Lady Bertram as a drug addict and  the slavery allusions were conveyed in a less than subtle manner….and, as ever, the multilayered meaning of the original novel was lost, and it all boiled down to a sort of strange love story.  For me the film never set alight  despite having  a rather stella cast.

And I never, ever imagined Mansfield itself as being ruined, as it was portrayed in the film. Nor being that old, for Mansfield is described as a

a spacious modern–built house,

in chapter 5 of the novel, by Mary Crawford, a woman who knew about these things. As you can clearly see from the plan below, Kirby would clearly not qualify on that score.

(Plan of Kirby Hall, ©English Heritage)

In fact the only thing that was correct about the choice of Kirby Hall as Mansfield was that it is to be found in Northamptonshire where  the novel was mainly set. But….as you can see, Kirby Hall is incomparably beautiful, and I thought you  might be interested to see it. Today  and in the next post I’ll deal with the interiors and finally I’ll write about the exteriors as used in the film.

First,  a little about the history of the Hall. It was rebuilt by Sir Humphrey  Stafford in 1570, but was completed by Sir Christopher Hatton, a favourite of Elizabeth I, in the hope she would visit so magnificent a mansion…sadly, she never came. For some years it was thought that the great Elizabethan architect, John Thorpe ( no, not that John Thorpe) was the architect of the Hall, due to an early plan of the house on which a John Thorpe has written

I layed  ye first stone AD 1570″

However, it has since been realised that John Thorpe was only then about 7 years old, and it was most probably his father,Thomas Thorpe a master mason who came from the nearby village of Kings Cliffe , who was most likely to be the man who oversaw the building of the mansion.  His son, John, most probably laid the foundation stone as  was a common practise during the Elizabethan era.

To the film….

The Great Hall was used as one of the main drawing rooms of the house.

Though we are not shown it, the east end of this room has a minstrels gallery, for the Great Hall was used as the main dining room for the grand Elizabethan household…

The ceiling is very beautiful…

And the door in the west wall leads to the Great Stair….

We first see The Great Stair when the young Fanny first arrives at Mansfield.

The Great Stair was meant to impress and leads upwards to the Grand State Rooms in the floors above

 

A feature of Kirby are the handrails of the staircases,which are carved from stone and set into the walls…

It is a rather wonderful space…bathed in the most beautiful light…

And the leaded lights throw interesting shadows onto the walls

And the very tactile handrails….In my next post I will describe the rooms used on the first floor. Do join me, even if this is not your favourite adaptation, as the rooms on the first floor are fascinating.

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