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Harley Foundation, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Destination Experience - Harley Foundation, Welbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire By Marysia Zipser & Janine Moore

Photo: Unseen Treasures with Hannah Alice Marples

Photos by Marysia Zipser & Janine Moore. Please click to enlarge.

(Marysia) Growing up in Nottinghamshire with English and Polish parents, I was taken on Sunday family trips to all parts of the county, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire to explore and learn about English (and European) history, architecture, art and the natural environment. So The Dukeries - Wikipedia in north Nottinghamshire became a favourite area to visit and walk along the public footpaths in the surrounding woods, fields, parks and Sherwood Forest. My father had a second garage business at Larch Farm, Ravenshead so he knew the driving routes well.

The Dukeries long held a fascination with my mother and she instilled in me her love of castles and historic houses and the people who lived and worked in them. In Poland, we would explore mediaeval castles, museums, forests, lakes and mountains.

Which brings me to why I love returning to the Welbeck Estate adjacent to Clumber Park.

This time I brought with me Janine Moore, writer, photographer and walker, and my son, Marcus Gilmore, printmaker, designer/illustrator, workshop leader and re-enactment enthusiast. Marcus had visited twice before with me and it was Janine’s first time.

So visiting the Harley Foundation site The Harley Gallery with its gallery, museum, food shop, restaurant and Notcutts Garden Centre becomes a destination experience, especially when one travels an hour to reach it and return. And it is only a twenty minute walk from there to the archeological park Creswell Crags. Something that Janine was very interested in.

The reason I selected this particular Friday was that, being on their newsletter mailing list, I was invited a month before to their free museum talk (bookable) - Spangles, Slashing & Splendour - being led by costume textiles aficionado and gallery coordinator Hannah Alice Marples. We all were enthralled by what Hannah showed and explained to us featuring three particular women portraits in the gallery. Hannah graduated from the University of Huddersfield in 2018 in Costume with Textiles, specialising in embroidery. Since then, she has worked for re-enactors, museums, film and TV, including starring in BBC4’s six episodes of A Stitch in Time.

Left to right: Rachel Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton (1603-1640), Cornelius Johnson

Bess of Hardwick (1527-1608), In the style of Rowland Lockey, around 1587

Said to be Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford (1581-1627), Painted by John de Critz and his studio

Left to right:

William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire (1552-1626), John de Critz and his studio, around 1605

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), Maybe by John de Critz, after 1600

May be Charles Prince of Wales, Artist unknown, around 1620

Left to right:

Unknown woman, painted around 1580

Unknown woman, previously said to be Frances Howard, Countess of Essex and of Somerset, Early 1620s, George Geldorp Lady Margaret Stuart (c.1591–1639), Countess of Nottingham, Paulus van Somer I (1576–1621) c.1620

(Janine) On visiting the Harley Gallery for the first time, I found the portraits and tapestry of great interest. William Cavendish, the grandson of Bess of Hardwick, wrote a comprehensive manual on horsemanship introducing more humane methods to train horses using persuasion instead of force and cruelty; he was known to treat horses more like children, the manual is on display in a protective casing at the gallery, including related paintings and tapestry. The book was paid for by two of the duke’s friends, costing

the equivalent of £190,000 today. The combination of the artwork and tapestries was intended to promote a sense of power and prestige, this helped William’s reputation in Europe’s aristocratic circles and gave him certain prosperity. I found Cavendish’s influence on horsemanship very interesting and the craftsmanship of the tapestries astounding.

The visit to the Harley Gallery was heightened by the wonderful talk, Spangles, Slashing and Splendour by the very lovely and talented Hannah, who taught me so much about the amazing world of fashion and couture in history, through methods such as slashing, pulling materials through the slashing to produce another individual look or adding real gold and silver spangles to their clothing designs and the most beautiful personalised embroidery. A wonderful insightful experience which I highly recommend for any age.

(Marcus) The initial tour organised led by Hannah at the Harley Foundation, Welbeck proved to be an insightful lesson in the creative use of embroidery from past designers. Master embroiderers, textile apprentices, and designers all worked within a workshop being heavily involved in the production of exquisite garments, waist coats and regalia for royalty and upper echelons of society. Utilising gold, silver and precious material in the construction of the embroidered garments on display at Welbeck are a clear display of power, wealth and social prestige of the elite ruling classes. The fashion tastes since then have all changed now, with contemporary fashion looking towards the past for inspiration for the fashion of tomorrow. The first portrait, highlighted by Hannah, of Rachel Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton (1603-1640) certainly ‘popped’ out at me giving a 3D effect. Would recommend visiting the Harley for those interested in history & heritage.

(Marysia) After Hannah’s talk, we walked around the whole museum gallery studying the portraits (plus equine portraits and landscapes) and exquisite, ornate exhibits and furniture, understanding the wealth and power of each individual and family as to their costume and jewellery commissioned and worn. When you encounter portraits by Anthony Van Dyck and Peter Lely and miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver, you just have to take a closer detailed look. Everyone vied to have royal court patronage. Certainly ‘Bess of Hardwick’, Countess of Shrewsbury, had a huge influence at the time, who married four times, to ever more rich and powerful men. Her descendants of the sons she had with her second husband Sir William Cavendish, still live in present-day Welbeck and at nearby Chatsworth.

Left: Portrait of Prince of Wales (later King Charles II) by Anthony Van Dyke

I peered at King Charles I’s pearl earring on display. It was taken from the ear of the severed head of the King of England. Charles wore it on the scaffold on 30 January 1649. A pearl so rare in size and shape that it was worn as a single earring. Pearls were worn close to the face so their lustre enhanced the skin. They were also believed to have medicinal and protective properties.

On leaving the museum, we all walked to the restaurant, sat down outside and ordered lunch from a varied menu. Janine and I had the Welsh Rarebit, strong and tasty, while Marcus chose the soup and sandwich.

After appetites satisfied, we ambled across the courtyard to the gallery shop displaying beautiful contemporary craft, books and art supplies, and toured the exhibition area downstairs. Sculptural ceramics by Nicole Farhi had just been installed and those by Lucille Lewin were being opened officially the next day. I loved the clay and bronze heads by Nicole Farhi, taking closer looks to question or confirm who the pioneer Heads related to.

Nicole Farhi studied art and fashion in Paris before moving to London in the late 1960s and setting up the fashion brand French Connection and then the highly successful Nicole Farhi label. In the 1980s, alongside her day job as a designer, she started sculpting and in 2012 she retired as a designer to pursue sculpture full time. She says, “Over the years I have sculptured a multitude of portraits and I enjoy finding ways to reveal the sitter’s character and humanity through modelling in clay. For me, creating these works has been a wonderful time.

Lewin’s organic sculptural pieces explore the collision between nature and humanity and its potentially disastrous impact. The work in part has been made in response to her first visit to the historic Welbeck estate in 2022, and learning about The 5th Duke of Portland, his construction of complex underground rooms and tunnels and the Greendale Oak. The Greendale Oak serves as a metaphor for the dangers of AI, just because we can doesn't mean we should.

This exhibition is running until 24th September.

Next we took the lift to the first floor and explored the Tunnel Vision exhibition (continuing) about William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck 5th Duke of Portland. Now he was a person my mother knew about well, being an amateur historian, and she told me about him. And I’ve done my fair share of art and architectural history study at University of Nottingham during which time I was very keen to discover and explore these tunnels, his underground ballroom and state rooms. It was not to be then, so maybe on another arranged visit here in the future. One step at a time on one’s journey of discovery.

To quote the gallery’s flyer “The 5th Duke is famous for his reclusive nature and his extraordinary building works, including 2.75 miles of tunnels, a subterranean ballroom, one of the world’s largest riding schools and his own gas works.

Tunnel Vision reveals his life beyond the tunnels. Using original letters, photographs and memoirs it tells stories of kindness, lost love, amazing art collecting, architecture and engineering.”

An absolutely fascinating look into the character of the 5th Duke; we were all hooked and mesmerised by his reclusive brilliance and visionary experimental building projects. The riding school photographs are mind boggling.

(Aside) Maybe he was inspired by the 5th Duke of Devonshire whose ‘Great Stables’ at Buxton were designed and built by John Carr in 1779. The great dome was added in 1880 by Robert Rippon Duke, then the largest unsupported dome of its type in the world. I visited the Dome with Sir Richard FitzHerbert, of Tissington Hall, while it was being converted by heritage architects Purcells and contractors into the University of Derby’s Buxton campus of Contemporary Hospitality & Tourism reopening 2005. PS. I really need to visit Bolsover Castle (started by Sir Charles Cavendish) as I’ve always been interested in their interior Riding House, ‘dancing’ horse performances, and Cavalier reenactments.

The Cavendish-Portland dukes certainly had the vision and got on with the jobs instructing the finest architects and structural engineers of the Victorian age employing thousands of men.

Finally, we stepped out onto the courtyard and into the Food shop. Welbeck freshly baked bread I’ve tasted at many Beeston and Nottinghamshire restaurants.

(Janine) The Welbeck food shop is a wonderful place to purchase a whole variety of high quality produce from the Welbeck estate and other locally sourced goods. Cheeses, meats, pies, cakes, vegetables, fruit, eggs and much more. I bought a large ciabatta loaf baked at Welbeck to be eaten later at home with the family and it was delicious. Marcus bought two mini pork pies to be eaten later at home and he said they were delicious too.

Once I’d discovered the proximity of the Welbeck estate to Creswell Crags, I decided to combine my next visit to the gallery and courtyard with another lunch at the restaurant, which I really recommend by the way, the food is delicious and the people are really friendly and helpful. After lunch it will be fun to take a walk to Creswell Crags, and on returning, wander around the garden centre to buy a treat for my dog, Bandit.

I may write about my follow up trip on the website where I am a guest writer.

Lisa Gee, Director of The Harley Foundation, says: “We work to create spaces where the imagination can flourish, and it’s wonderful to be able to take this vision out of the gallery and into the local countryside with the Art Trail to Creswell Crags. Bring the kids to run off some energy, or take a contemplative stroll while you view the sculptures.”

It was time to have final happy smile photos sitting outside the entrance and a peep at the garden centre, then into the car for the drive back to Beeston, Nottinghamshire.

In all, we spent three and a half enjoyable hours there. We certainly immersed ourselves in the arts and welcoming hospitality. World class art from the 1600s to the present day. There are occasional guided tours during the year to see the Welbeck Abbey State Rooms and more of the Portland collection in their historic setting. For this, advanced booking is essential. And the Harley Foundation offers free children’s activities to keep the whole family entertained.

Open six days a week (closed Mondays).

Free entry, free parking.

For a full programme, please check their website The Harley Gallery or call them: 01909 501700.

Please feel free to share this article via the icons below and write any comments underneath. Thank you.

Marysia Zipser

Founder, writer, consultant, ACT Ambassador

Janine Moore

Writer, photographer

Marcus Gilmore

Printmaker, designer, illustrator Marcus Gilmore Marcusgilmoreart - Etsy

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Aug 19, 2023

From Nigel Gibson, Eastwood, Notts., via LinkedIn

We went for lunch in the Cafe on Sunday for my brother-in-law's birthday ! Cafe is always great but it does get very busy but worth the wait though! I love the Harley Foundation collection, to have Dutch masters and Royal artefacts on our doorstep is just brilliant. I think my favourite is the Royal Yacht model. The detail on it is just amazing, but every item in the collection is just so special and has such incredible provenance and important historical pedigree!


Aug 19, 2023

From Barjis Chohan, London, via LinkedIn

Loved reading the article! Thank you for sharing Marysia.


Aug 19, 2023

From Liezel Magill, Nottingham, via LinkedIn

A great article!!


Aug 19, 2023

From Gary Smurden-White, Nottingham, via email:

Verna and I love the place - they are especially helpful in the craft shop when it comes to doing a deal on the high end jewellery and pottery!


Aug 10, 2023

thank you very much Marysia for this interesting presentation by the Harley Foundation and the presentation by Hannah Alice Marples, historic Costumer and Museum Coordinator. I'm sorry I wasn't there with you, because I would have liked to have been there too, and to have listened to the soundly detailed portraits. Best regards from Ravenna

Aug 12, 2023
Replying to

Dear Patrizia Poggi in Ravenna, lovely to hear from you. Thank you so much for your comments about the Harley Foundation and what Hannah Alice Marples said about the costumes worn by the women in the portraits. I know you would have enjoyed it all too. So when you are able to visit Nottinghamshire, I will take you there, I promise. All warmest wishes, from Marysia in Beeston-Nottingham.

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