Capheaton Hall, one of Northumberland's finest properties, has been given a new lease of life

PUBLISHED: 20:42 31 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:48 20 February 2013

Capheaton Hall, one of Northumberland's finest properties, has been given a new lease of life

Capheaton Hall, one of Northumberland's finest properties, has been given a new lease of life

Capheaton Hall, one of Northumberland's finest properties, has been given a new lease of life

The stories Will Browne-Swinburne tells about his childhood sound like something from a classic of childrens literature. It was a time filled with adventures in the grounds surrounding the hall where he grew up and explorations of long-forgotten rooms where he would find pieces of silver, swords and poisoned arrows.

The wealth of treasures packed into the derelict rooms at Northumberlands Capheaton Hall are testament to the halls role in the regions history.

It has been the main seat of the Swinburne Family since the 13th century, although the Grade One listed house which stands at the heart of Capheaton village today replaced a castle in 1668.

The building is impressive, with high pilasters, elaborate carvings and intricate detailing, and Will, who took over the hall in 2008, said: As a celebration of the restoration it is second to none. I sometimes stand and look at it wondering what folk must have thought when it was built. Today it is revered as a wonderful tribute to an era when Charles II restored the monarchy after a civil war and a puritan republic.

The house, about 35 miles north west of Newcastle, was the childhood home of the poet Algernon Swinburne and is thought to be where Lord Derwentwater stayed with his cousins before the Jacobite Rebellion after which he was executed.

Henry Swinburne was an 18th century author popular for his travel guides to Italy and his nephew John Edward, the sixth baronet was a founder of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society and patron of the arts, who was also an MP and High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1799. The seventh and eight baronets were also High Sheriff but the Swinburne Baronetcy became extinct on the death of the tenth baronet in the last 1960s.

Will said: John Edward was a Whig and supporter of his famous friend Lord Grey, who even moved the family to Anglicanism so he could pull more political weight and become an MP.

Given that the Swinburnes were forever Catholic and much of the hard times they endured were in the name of that faith he must have been a thoroughly ambitious man to make that change.

But the fruits of his labours are all very much apparent at Capheaton including the wings on the house added in 1790 and the wonderful Kitchen Garden which, although cut down in size is still a fully working vegetable garden with hot houses and beautifully trained peaches, figs and nectarines. We have a watercolour painted in 1836 which shows a pineapple weighing 11lbs that was grown here.

When the Second World War came my grandparents moved out and the house was requisitioned. It sat for most of the war, as an ammo dump, full to the ceilings with TNT. When we were children the house had been derelict for 20 years and the rooms in the centre were a paradise for my sister and me. We rifled through cupboards and trunks to find swords, poisoned arrows, cocked hats, Buckskin breeches, old jars of pickled peaches and even bits of silver lying in fallen heaps of plaster.

Through the generations, changes great and small have been made. Land bought and sold, wings added, lakes built, landscapes altered. It should continue although in this age of bat surveys and listing a big design statement is probably not an option. The changes that have been made in recent years have, on the whole, been practical rather than aesthetic.

The latest change to be made was the creation of self-catering accommodation in the West Wing to accompany the bed and breakfast facilities that were introduced a couple of years ago.

Our work on the West Wing, a lovely four bedroom house, needed to be done, Will added. My wife, Eliza, has done a superb job turning it into a weekly holiday let, sourcing antique furniture from local auction houses and antique shops to ensure that it is in keeping with the rest of the house. This and our small B&B business have given us an interesting new angle to how we run the place. The garden gets appreciated and our excess vegetables get eaten.

The strange thing about being the current kid on this family block is how quickly one starts to see that the dividend paid for devoting your life to this place are not financial. Instead the return comes in the form of little pleasures every day. The dabchicks squabbling and teal whistling on the lake; a perfect spring cabbage from the garden are good examples.

For information on prices and availability in the West Wing call 01830 530159 or log on to

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