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North West Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire

Gawthorpe Hall is an Elizabethan country house on the banks of the River Calder.

The present house dates from 1600 and was built for the Reverend Lawrence Shuttleworth whose family had settled at in the area at the end of the C14th. The supervisor of works and master mason was Anthony Whithead, but the design has been attributed to Robert Smythson, who was responsible for Hardwick Hall as well as many other Elizabethan houses. It took five years to complete and Lawrence may never have lived in the Hall. 

It is an attractive three storey square stone built from local stone with mullioned windows and a central tower.


Lawrence never married and on his death in 1608, the hall passed to his nephew, Colonel Richard Shuttleworth. He married a rich heiress and Richard was very much a patron of the arts and companies of players regularly performed at the Hall.

Richard was High Sheriff of Lancashire twice and, at the outbreak of the English Civil War, was appointed Colonel of the Parliamentary forces in north-east Lancashire. He defeated the Royalist forces at the Battle of Whalley in 1643, which resulted in the royalist collapse in Lancashire.

After his death in 1669, he left his estate to his grandson who had been brought up at Forcett in Yorkshire and continued to live at Forcett. The house was rented out to the Nowell family, local minor gentry.

In 1816, Robert Shuttleworth, a lawyer, moved back into the house and began making some alterations. He died within two years, leaving the property to his infant daughter Janet. She was brought up in the south of England and only returned to Gawthorpe on her marriage to the Victorian educationalist ,Dr James Philips Kay, in 1842. James added the Shuttleworth name to his own..

Rewarded with a baronetcy in 1849, Sir James employed Sir Charles Barry to restore and improve the house in a sympathetic Elizabethan style. He heightened the tower, added openwork parapets and a balustrade around the outside. A formal Elizabethan garden was laid out at the back of the house. The front porch was extended to created a new entrance hall. Much of the interior timber needed replacing and some of the plaster ceilings. He worked with Augustus Pugin and interior designer, J G Crace, replacing wallpaper, carpets, fabrics and furniture.



After the death of James, the Hall passed to his son, Sir Ughtred, who lived in it with his wife Blanche and their large family. Both his sons were killed in the first World War and his grandsons in the Second World War. The title passed to a cousin who lived in the house until 1953, before leaving it in the care of his aunt, Rachel Kay Shuttleworth. She was an embroideress as well as teacher and collector of embroidery She envisaged using the house and her collection as the basis of a ‘craft House’ teaching textile skills.

Rachel died in 1967 and in 1970 the then Lord Shuttleworth gifted the house to the National Trust, with a 99 year lease to Lancashire County Council for 'public opening and educational use'. A requirement was the first floor rooms be maintained as a museum displaying the textile collection of Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth.


Her extensive collection of embroidery, lace and costume were to form the basis of a ‘craft house’ for the study of textile crafts. The collection now has over 30,000 items from across the world. It is displayed in the bedrooms and dressing rooms along the length of the first floor (beneath the Long Gallery). In 2024 the area was being refurbished with only a small room with a work desk on display.

The exterior is impressive and hardly changed since the hall was built. The principal rooms have been restored to their Victorian appearance by the National Trust . Much of the furniture is the original which has been returned on loan by the family. The collection of C17th portraits is on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

The Hall is set in over 40 acres of formal gardens and woodland.


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Gawthorpe Hall cont - Ground floor rooms

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The ENTRANCE Hall is pure Barry with its tiled floor, wood panelling and plaster ceiling. It would have served as an anteroom where guests could congregate before dinner. It is now the ticket office and small shop. The carved panel on the wall features the arms of Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth.


At the other end is a stone fireplace with a decorative tiled surround


A door leads into the DINING ROOM. This was originally the Great Hall and would have had the high table at one end with minstrel’s gallery at the other, above door. It was used for entertaining visitors and eating. During the day it could also be used for collecting rent from tenant farmers.


The lavishly carved entrance screen and minstrels gallery was completed in 1605 and has the initials of initials Hugh Shuttleworth and his three sons. By 1850, the gallery had become unsafe and had to be shored up by pillars on either side. These were fitted with shelves and mirrors to display china.


The room became the family dining room in 1816 when Robert Shuttleworth moved back into the house. He installed the beautiful bronze and ormolu oil lamp. This used colza oil that was thick and viscous. It was gravity fed from a reservoir above the gas lights which is partially hidden by the bronze eagle above.

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Barry installed the stone fireplace in 1850 and the overmantel has the arms of Sir James -Shuttleworth surrounded by coats of arms of other ancestors. The tiles date from 1880s and may have replaced earlier tiles with less robust glazing and easily damaged by heat.


By 1852, it was discovered the original plasterwork ceiling was deteriorating badly, was likely to collapse and needed replacing. Barry reproduced the original design adding the family initials KS.

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The room contains much of the furniture acquired in the C19th. The rich red wallpaper is a reproduction using the original blocks.

The DRAWING ROOM in the opposite corner of the ground floor was used as a comfortable sitting room by the family and guests. It is least altered room with the original 1605 plaster ceiling and wood panelling inlaid with floral motifs . There is a wonderful carved frieze above the panelling with stems, foliage and figures, including mermaids.






The only structural alteration was the replacement of the stone arch of fireplace in the 1850s. The fire grate and andirons are thought to have been designed by Pugin.

Furniture is Victorian and the Venetian glass chandelier was bought by Lady Shuttleworth in the late C19th. The curtains were rewoven using a surviving fragment of the original curtains.

Gawthorpe Hall cont - The Stairs and First Floor

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The lovely wooden STAIRCASE climbs up round the walls of the central tower and was part of Robert Shuttleworth’s alterations. The ground floor is covered with Minton tiles. The two stone archways were added by Pugin.




At the top is a simple plaster ceiling with narrow decorative frieze around the top floor.


The wallpaper along the first floor corridor is the original, dating from 1909.


At the end of the first floor corridor is what is now described as the FAMILY ROOM with a couple of display cases. This was originally a bedroom and still has the original 1605 plaster ceiling.


Across the corridor is a room with a large bay window. This is the last of the series of rooms used for the Shuttleworth Textile Collection, and was Rachel Key-Shuttleworth’s bedroom. It still has the original plaster ceilings. In 2024 it had display panels about the Friends of Gawthorpe Hall.


At the opposite end of the corridor is the room Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth used as a boudoir. It now contains artefacts and personal belongings including a work desk.




Gawthorpe Hall cont - The Top Floor

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The OLD NURSERIES are on a corner of the top floor, in what is described as a temporary exhibition.There were originally three rooms, a night nursery, day nursery and a room for children’s nurse. They were used by the six children of Sir Ughtred and his wife Blanche. The decorative tiled fireplace was in the night nursery and had iron doors that could be closed to stop sparks escaping.

The three rooms were knocked into one in the 1960s and are now a large open space.

The LONG GALLERY stretches the length of the second floor along the south front of the house and has three large bay windows. It was designed for the family, and especially the ladies, to walk up and down in poor weather.




The plaster ceiling dates from 1603, the year of accession James VI of Scotland to the throne of England.


His Royal Arms and date are incorporated above the fireplace.The stone fire surround along with the fire grate, were replaced by Pugin in 1851. The tiles are late C19th.


The wall paper is a reproduction of the 1852 Pugin design of thistles and flowers on ginger and maroon flock with gold leaf.

Furniture is placed along edges of room as was fashionable in the C17th. Two large cabinets are ‘composite furniture’ being made up of different items turned into one piece.



The walls of the long gallery would originally have been hung with family portraits. Now the only family portrait is that of Robert Shuttleworth. The rest are of influential members from the late C17th on loan from the National Gallery.

At the far end of the corridor is the HUNTROYDE ROOM and DRESSING ROOM. This has always been the best bedroom and was named after the views of the neighbouring estate of Huntroyde. The lovely plaster ceiling and overmantle with the Shuttleworth coat of arms, both date from 1605 and are significantly more elaborate than in the other bedrooms. The green wallpaper is a replica of a block print of 1894.



In pride of place is a carved oak tester bed dated 1650. This is actually a skilful blend of different C17th parts with some Victorian additions. This usually has hangings and counterpane embroidered by Rachel Key-Shuttleworth, but in 2024, they had been removed as part of the refurbishment of the collection. The bed does look bare without its hangings and the bright red and white counterpane looks garish and out of place.



Next to it is a DRESSING ROOM, now set up as small bedroom.The oak bedstead dates from 1850 but is C17th in style. The quilt was made by the Friends of Gawthorpe during the covid lockdowns. The pictures on the walls are of members of the Nowell family who rented the hall from 1669 until 1816 when Robert Shuttleworth moved back in.



The room contains an Early C20th Davy Automatic Safety Fire Escape. The reel is thrown out of the window with the lifebelt placed around the body under the arms. It automatically lowers the occupant out of the window...



Many people visit Gawthorpe Hall for the Kay-Shuttleworth textile exhibition which was closed for refurbishment when I visited in Summer 2024. Even without the attraction of this, Gawthorpe Hall is well worth visiting as the rooms, particularly the drawing room, dining room and long gallery are stunning. It is also surrounded by extensive grounds which are worth exploring on a sunny day.

The Great Barn with the tea room has been closed since 2020. The roof is in need of attention and neither Lancashire County Council or the National Trust have to money to do this.


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