Inside the exotic Chinese Drawing Room at Temple Newsam, Leeds's Tudor-Jacobean country mansion

| 29 January 2016

Adorned in handpainted wallpaper, the Chinese Drawing Room at the Tudor Jacobean mansion of Temple Newsam is one of Leeds’s most lavishly decorated rooms. As curators prepare to re-open it, James Lomax, of Leeds Art Fund, admires the surroundings

A photo of the ornate interior of a Jacobean mansion
© Courtesy LCC
“This is our most exotic room at Temple Newsam, sometimes called the Blue Drawing Room. It’s almost entirely the creation of Isabella, Lady Hertford, who was the eldest daughter of the last Viscountess Irvine.

Its great feature is the wonderful Chinese wallpaper. The story is that it was the gift of the Prince of Wales, the future Prince Regent and George IV, who came to have lunch at Temple Newsam with Lady Hertford in 1807.

A photo of the ornate interior of a Jacobean mansion
© Courtesy LCC
As a gift he left her this wonderful paper. Lady Hertford didn’t put this up until she came to live at Newsam much later, when she was an old lady in the 1820s.

Clearly, having put it up in the room, she perhaps was a bit dissatisfied that there weren’t enough birds in it. So she decided to cut out, from some of the most fabulous books that had ever been produced – Audubon’s Birds of America – these wonderful American birds, to paste them onto her Chinese paper.

A photo of the ornate interior of a Jacobean mansion
© Courtesy LCC
We have some splendid examples above the door: wonderful Colombia jays, and over the joins, too, there’s a belted kingfisher, and several Baltimore orioles around the room.

To continue the oriental theme Lady Hertford commissioned some really spectacular furniture using, above all, black, Chinese or Japanese laquer. Perhaps the most splendid example was the secretaire. It's actually a wonderful marriage between two much earlier pieces of furniture which have been put together to create one modern piece for her.

A photo of the ornate interior of a Jacobean mansion
© Courtesy LCC
The lower part was a cabinet. The doors open to reveal some wonderful drawers with really beautiful, shiny lacquer showing birds and landscapes.

In the top part, the centre part falls down to create a surface for writing. If you see the sides, there are some splendid columns which are most exquisitely decorated with scenes taken from a Japanese novel.

A photo of the ornate interior of a Jacobean mansion
© Courtesy LCC
On the other side of the room there’s a piano which was made, essentially, to match the secretaire. We have something else from Lady Hertford’s period here, too: a wonderful octagonal workbox which we acquired quite recently and was made for her niece, Catherine Frances Monkester, from the nearby Byram Park.

It was made in 1828, the same year that Lady Hertford put up her Chinese wallpaper. Inside, the tray contains everything that a lady might need for her needlework.

A photo of the ornate interior of a Jacobean mansion
© Courtesy LCC
There are some splendid Mother of Pearl spools for the silk threads and even a wonderful octagonal propelling pencil for marking out your candles. And perhaps the prettiest things are these very beautiful little pin boxes – one in the form of a book, the pages open up and you can put your pins inside it. There’s another one on the other side in the form of a mother of pearl cushion for more pins.

This is just one of many things which have come back to Temple Newsam in recent years. In 1922 the house was sold to Leeds City Council, but as an empty shell.

All its original contents were sold or retained by the family and it’s really been our job, in the last few years, to try to find these things and, one way or another, to bring them back. And the remarkable thing is that we’ve been really quite successful.”

  • Temple Newsam reopens on February 12 2016. Open 10.30am-5pm (closed Monday).

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More from Culture24's Curators' Choices

Jane Sellars on Sonia Lawson's Paintings, Passions and Alarms at the Mercer Art Gallery

Dr Matt Thompson on Landscape with Machines at Britain's Original Industrial Powerhouse in Shropshire

The camera which is "95%" certain to have been part of the Great Escape
Latest comment: >Make a comment
Not one comment!! You miserable toads. This is a magnificent room and beautifully restored, congratulations on its restoration and reopening.
>See all comments
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.