People of Beningbrough Hall

Black and white image of race horse with stable boy holding it and a man and woman

Throughout the centuries, various people have played roles in Beningbrough's story, from owners and employees to builders and craftsmen. Some have had a life-long role, while others have played just a walk-on part, which has still been significant. Here are some of the people of Beningbrough from the story so far.

Ralph Bourchier 1531 - 1598

The Bourchier family ownership of Beningbrough lasted for well over 200 years and it began with Ralph Bourchier. Ralph was the grandson of John Bourchier, one of the Knights who attended Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Ralph inherited the estate from an uncle in 1556. He later moved to Beningbrough and built an Elizabethan Hall on the land. He was High Sheriff in Yorkshire in 1580, knighted in 1584 and an MP for the county in 1589.

John Bourchier 1684 - 1736

John Bourchier inherited the Beningbrough Estate in 1700 at the age of just 16. Several years later on return from a Grand Tour of Europe, where he spent two years in Italy absorbing the Italianate baroque architectural style, John built the current Beningbrough Hall. It was most likely his marriage to wealthy heiress Mary Bellwood which provided funds for him to do so. The Hall was completed in 1716. John was High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1720.

William Thornton 1670 - 1721

The main cantilevered staircase in Beningbrough appears to hang in mid air as if by magic. The secret to the trick lies in the ingenious architectural craftsmanship of William Thornton. Thornton was Beningbrough's chief craftsman, responsible for fine wooden carving in the Hall. He was also the supervising architect. Thornton worked on several other grand Yorkshire houses, including Castle Howard and Wentworth Hall.

Margaret Earle née Bourchier 1740 - 1827

Margaret, the last of the Bourchier line, owned Beningbrough for over 65 years. She married Giles Earle in 1761, and eight years later they pulled down the Beningbrough shutters to go exploring France and Italy. Much to the amusement of others, Margaret acquired a French accent while away. She is commemorated by a Stained Glass window in the church at Newton-on-Ouse.

William Henry Dawnay 1772 - 1846

In 1827, having lost her two sons in the Napoleonic Wars, Margaret Earle left Beningbrough to Rev. William Henry Dawnay. William was a distant relative by marriage and had been a close friend of her elder son at Eton. He was 55 when he inherited Beningbrough and later went to live there with his wife Lydia, making many interior changes. The Dawnays were an old Yorkshire family, with a strong tradition of service in Parliament, the Church and the Army.
Unknown visitors to Beningbrough in the early 1900s
Young child on pony outside Beningbrough hall
Unknown visitors to Beningbrough in the early 1900s

Guy Dawnay 1878 - 1916

Major-General Guy Payan Dawnay inherited Beningbrough in 1910 at the age of 32. He had fought in the Boer War, where he was a brilliant intelligence officer and strategist, but upon his inheritance he left the Army to take up a career in merchant banking. Guy was a Liberal with a commitment to the 'public services' and a businessman professing no feeling for money for its own sake. In 1916 he sold Beningbrough to pay off the duty on his father's estate, and to live nearer London where he worked.

The Duke of Cambridge 1850 - 1904

Prince George, Duke of Cambridge only had a walk-on role in Beningbrough's story, but is still remembered today because of the impressive tree he planted to the rear of the house. The then Duke was the 79-year old grandson of George III and visited Beningbrough in 1898. The tree he planted is in an odd position in the middle of the path, and the story goes that the Duke was suffering from hay fever so did not wish to walk on the grass. It is now the fourth largest English variegated oak in the country.

Lady Chesterfield 1878 - 1957

Lord and Lady Chesterfield purchased Beningbrough for just £15,000 in 1916. The couple furnished Beningbrough lavishly with pieces from their former residence, Holme Lacy, and completely redecorated. Lord Chesterfield died in 1933 but Lady Chesterfield remained at Beningbrough until her death in 1957. She was a force to be reckoned with, especially where the young airmen billeted at Beningbrough during the war were concerned. Her main interest was in horses and she set up a stud farm at in the 1920s.The most distinguished foal was Sun Castle who won the St Leger in 1941.

The National Trust 1958 - present

Beningbrough came to The National Trust in June 1958, after the death of Lady Chesterfield. Early days were difficult as there was very little in the way of contents and no endowment to cover running costs. In 1976 however, the Trust began a major project to restore and redecorate the hall, re-creating the spirit of the house and emphasising the fine architectural qualities. Work on the garden and derelict outbuildings, such as the Victorian Laundry was also undertaken and in 1979, Beningbrough was reopened to the public.
Step into the Saloon Galleries for the latest exhibition
Two women looking at art hanging on a wall
Step into the Saloon Galleries for the latest exhibition


The National Portrait Gallery 1979 - 2019

In 1979 after Beningbrough had been in the ownership of the National Trust for some time, a special partnership was formed with the National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery arranged to lend Beningbrough 120 important 18th-century paintings which greatly enhanced the Hall as a visitor attraction, especially since much of the furniture had been sold after Lady Chesterfield's death in 1957. In more recent years, the partnership helped to breathe new life into Beningbrough as a gallery for significant works of art in a changing annual display in the Visiting Portraits Gallery. Although pieces from the National Portrait Gallery will undoubtedly feature in Beningbrough's changing exhibitions in the future; the long term loans have returned to London. This will enable a different focus on the stories in the hall and pieces from other artists to visit Beningbrough and for the National collection to reach other parts of the country. 

What will be the next chapter?

To continue the reinvention for visitors today, the hall will also see some changes, marking the start of a brand new chapter in Beningbrough's history. Along with long term designs for the garden by RHS Gold winning designer Andy Sturgeon, visiting exhibitions from national partners and internationally renown artist were hosted in the Saloon Galleries over the last year or so.