‘Gloomy’ stairwell lights up historic find

Sir James and Lady Graham outside Norton Conyers. (S)

Sir James and Lady Graham outside Norton Conyers. (S)

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An intriguing new detail in the complex history of Norton Conyers manor house has emerged during restoration work.

The house at Norton Conyers, just outside Ripon, is closed to the public this year for a programme of repairs and redecoration.

new plasterwork

new plasterwork

And is during this work joiners have stumbled on a record their predecessors left 220 years previously.

Back in 1791 a half landing belonging to the house’s main staircase was blocked off by its then owner, Sir Bellingham Graham, the sixth Baronet of Norton Conyers.

The present Baronet, Sir James Graham said it seemed a strange thing to do.

“Why Sir Bellingham Graham, the sixth Baronet of Norton Conyers decided to block this half landing in 1791 we do not know.

The two signatures found in the plaster - Henry Smith and John Walker, dated 1791.

The two signatures found in the plaster - Henry Smith and John Walker, dated 1791.

“It made the ground floor passage that runs along one side of the main staircase much darker, although it is possible that it was done for reasons of safety.

Present day joiners Ian McParland and Mathew Richardson from Skipton based Ideson joiners discovered a “very personal record” of the builders who did the original conversion while working at the house all those years ago.

The two workmen found the names of two workers, Henry Smith and John Walker inscribed on the wall they had just installed, along with the date when the work was finished, September 3 1791.

Their signitures had been hidden from view as the job was completed.

“The more discoveries we make here the more complicated and difficult it becomes to interpret and explain them,” said Sir James.

“If only we could speak to Henry Smith and John Walker.”

There is ongoing work by academics to investigate and explain the developments in the history of the house, which dates back to medieval times.

It has later additions put on in the Stuart and Georgian eras.

The main staircase is a particular mystery because several details, including the shape of its balustrades, vary.

That raises the possibility it was originally from a different house before being transferred to its current location.

During its history the house had been host to Charles 1 in 1633, James II and his wife in 1679, and Charlotte Brontë in 1839.