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The hall at Nunnington

The Oak Bedroom at Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire
The Oak Bedroom at Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire | © National Trust Images/John Millar

A dwelling is recorded at Nunnington from 1249, but the existing house has grown out of a Tudor Hall. Over the past 450 years the house and estate have been altered to suit a succession of owners and tenants. The house you see today is a fascinating combination of renovation and re-purpose, creating an atmospheric and comfortable home.


Renewal is the process of making something new from the old and is the theme throughout the house this year.

To renew is to begin again, to revitalise, and to make afresh what already existed. In its 500 years of history, Nunnington Hall has formed the backdrop for many social, industrial and political changes. Delve into specific rooms to explore how Nunnington Hall has been renewed with each new development, and how its residents have found their own forms of renewal within its walls.

Margaret's 'big house'

In 1920 Nunnington Hall, in a poor state and uninhabited for a number of years, was inherited by Margaret Fife from her uncle, Henry. Margaret had always adored Nunnington and as a girl used to stay in a farmhouse in the village and became very attached to the dilapidated house, ‘the big house’.

She soon made the decision to sell her main property, Newby Wiske Hall, in order to fund the renovations for Nunnington.

Margaret was a strong, principled character, amusing with an infectious laugh. She met Ronald Fife at a country house shooting party in Cheshire in 1912, during which he proposed. Ronald was a man of action, a professional soldier, serving in colonies overseas including South Africa and India. When not away for duty he was still a keen sportsman and big-game hunter. By 1917 the couple had adopted two young girls, Susan and Rosalind.

The Stone Hall

At the heart of the house, the Stone Hall was a Great Hall in the 16th century, a kitchen in the 17th century and by 1921 an Entrance Hall in which parties were held and table tennis was played. Walter Brierley, the architect engaged by the Fife's to renovate the hall, reinstated the Tudor origins and the walls were adorned with Colonel Fife's game trophies.

The Smoking Room

In the 17th century this room was Lord Preston’s bedchamber, with adjacent closet. In imitation of the Court of Versailles he would receive visitors, take meals and sleep here. By the 20th century the space was used by Colonel Fife as his Smoking Room and was painted a ‘Georgian Green’ colour with mezzotints adorning the walls.

The Oak Hall

During Lord Preston’s remodelling, in the late 17th century, this room became an entrance hall. It was fitted out accordingly with impressive door-cases with open topped pediments, a screen of three arches and a stone floor laid in a sophisticated pattern of squares and hexagons.

The Oak Hall at Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire
The Oak Hall at Nunnington Hall | © National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The Drawing Room

Lord Preston’s great chamber became the Fife’s Drawing Room, where the French windows open to a balcony overlooking the garden. Mrs Fife and her daughters spent their evenings in the Drawing Room, playing and listening to music. While Nunnington Hall’s 17th century Verdure tapestries are away for conservation work, The Essex House Tapestries: the life of Julie Cope by Grayson Perry will hang in their place until December 2021.

Carlisle Collection of miniature rooms

Housed at Nunnington since 1981, the Carlisle Collection is now an intrinsic part of the house and collection. Gifted to the National Trust in 1970 and is regarded by many as one of the finest collections of miniatures. The collection is noted for the high-quality craftsmanship and attention to detail, as well as its unusual scale.

The collection was the creation of Mrs Carlisle, fondly known as Kitty, began as a few pieces of miniature Indian silver displayed in an alcove of her London home. She began collecting antique miniatures in 1921 and over the next 40 years, the collection grew to form a magnificent collection of period rooms.

A view of the Carlisle Collection at Nunnington Hall, where several intricate and detailed miniature rooms are displayed in glass cases.
The Carlisle Collection of miniature rooms at Nunnington Hall | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

As well as miniature pieces of silver, glass, china, pictures and treen (turned wood), Kitty also collected furniture makers’ scale samples. She commissioned a number of highly skilled craftsmen to construct rooms and provide further furniture and fittings. The same attention to detail was applied to every item such as entire works of Shakespeare in miniature print, instruments in the music room that could be played and artwork on the walls of the picture gallery were made by framing decorative needle wrappers.

It was Mrs Carlisle’s wish for the collection to be cared for by the National Trust, and to bring as much joy to others as it did to her. The collection is permanently on display at Nunnington Hall on the second floor.

A man and a woman exploring the Panelled Bedroom at Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire

Nunnington Hall's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Nunnington Hall on the National Trust Collections website.

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