The U3A and the Tweeddale Society joined forces for their annual summer outing this year. A coach was hired and members of the two groups set off on a not very bright morning for Hopetoun House, near Queensferry on the south side of the Firth of Forth. The long drive in gave us a chance to admire from a distance this beautiful house with its colonades to each side and a wing facing one the same on the other side.
The coach dropped us at the front of the house, at the bottom of the steps to the front door, where we were greeted by one of our guides for the tour of the house. The house belongs to the Hope family, the Duke and Duchess, and their children, who live in one half of the building, while the other half is open to the public.
The front of the house is quite impressive, but the original facade was even more so, I thought, when I saw a drawing. Apparently after the original house was completed, it was decided the front should be changed to the style we see today. Most of us headed first to the tearoom before we started our guided tour. This is situated in the right hand wing which were once the stables. Beautiful stables, eh? Behind these stables were other buildings where there would be tack rooms and coach house etc. I’m not sure if we were allowed through to see those, through the large fancy doorway in the middle of the yellow wall!
This was the first room, with its ornate painted plasterwork ceiling, and dark paintings on the walls; the ornate mantelpiece, and tables and chairs with delicate legs and claw feet. We entered through the door just off the left of the photo, and walked straight through the room in front of the high windows, but it occurred to me later that there was another door in each of the rooms, which I suppose was only used by the servants as they went round the house doing their respective chores. There is probably a warren of passages connecting these doors on the other side of the walls. I loved the painting of the old woman by Rembrandt. She reminded me of Claire Rainer, agony aunt and author.
Coming back to the entrance hall we could see the beautiful wooden spiral staircase and beyond, the garden room., which was too dark to photograph, but that led us to the Red Drawing Room with its large bench-like sofas along the walls; even more ornate fireplace and mantelshelf; even more dark paintings and portraits. Again, another door in the corner.
The sofas, very well worn, made me think about the number of bums (bottoms) that have sat on them to reduce them to this state. This was the “withdrawing” room next to the dining room. I could imagine the ladies in their long wide dresses, withdrawing from the dining room between courses, to rest their backsides on these sofas, while the men meandered around the room chatting or doing business. However I feel sure that the seats wouldn’t have been seen in this state! All the furniture in the house is original. Nothing has been bought in, so maybe these seats were removed to another room, when they started to appear worn, and used by the family till they just had to be recovered. Speculation!
This is the dining room – not too large a room so I suspect there must have been a larger dining room in the other half of the house that we couldn’t see. Dukes would surely entertain on a larger scale. Maybe this was the family dining room, or was used for more intimate dining. There’s a portrait on the far away wall of Jane, a former countess of Hopetoun. I took a closer look at her and was fascinated by the amount of lace she was wearing. In her day lace would be very expensive, and was entirely handmade. I think it is amazing to see how artists painted lace!
More doors! We had just come in the one that guests and family would have used. The open door at the far end of the room led through to a small servants’ ante room – a servery - where dishes would be stored and meals served from the kitchen downstairs. The two doors on the far wall were probably on to the servants’ passageway. I’d love to see that, if my suppositions are correct.
The servery had bells on the high wall. I wouldn’t have expected to find them here, but in the kitchen areas. I mean, who would ring from The Clock Room, or the Young Ladies Maids Room while the dining room was in use? Very odd!
A doorway from the servery took us back to the stair case, and the so beautifully painted panels separated from each other by exquisite carvings. Halfway up the stairs is a painted panel below a gallery. It’s a trompe l’oeuil! When you get closer it looks like it is a beautifully carved cupboard, the doors slightly open and some of the contents on view, but in reality it is all painted! There’s also something in the cupboard that ought not to be!
It’s a mouse!
The carved flowers, fruit and grain are wonderful. See the peapod? That was apparently a sign that the wood carver was satisfied that his employer would think he had done a good job and would pay him well.
At the top of the stair is a small landing, leading to the bedroom corridors, and above the stair is a painted cupola. Apparently at some time the painting had been painted over and was all white, and it was only when a leak in the skylight had to be repaired fairly recently that it was found. Work began to take off the white paint and restore the cupola to its former glory! It’s pretty stunning!
I think I’ve written enough about Hopeton for now. I’ll show and tell some more next time. How about that? Talk again soon.