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Making Miniature Gardens


Don’t have a garden? You can make your own miniature garden at home.

Princess Mary was a keen gardener and enjoyed maintaining and developing her own areas of the gardens at Harewood, in particularly the Himalayan Garden and her beloved rockery.

Her love for gardens was such that she built up a small collection of miniature flower ornaments. Some of these are made by Beatrice Hindley, a miniaturist in the 1920s who was commissioned to make all the plants for Queen Mary’s Dolls House at Windsor Castle. It is quite likely that some of Princess Mary’s models were originally made for this purpose.


Hindley’s models are remarkably lifelike and delicate, having spent time experimenting with different metal alloys and surface paints, as well as studying real plant specimens at Kew. There is a small display in Princess Mary’s Garden Room Below Stairs at Harewood.

To bring National Gardening Week to life, Technician Roger Stark created a version of a bowl garden (top) and an activity with his daughter.

Watch this short ‘How to’ video.

Menagerie: An experience, by Kate MccGwire

Kate_MccGwire_Harewood_HouseJust over four weeks ago, my team and I were walking out of Harewood House, having just finished installing my latest exhibition, Menagerie. We knew then that the exhibition was unlikely to open as planned, but we had no idea quite what we’d be walking into.

We’d spent the last five days in an 18th century architectural bubble, the ideal place to unintentionally self-isolate. The house was shut to the public and operating a skeleton staff – as is usual for the early months of the year – so we were arguably in the safest place in Yorkshire. The install experience was unique and surreal, not just because of the stunning location, but because COVID-19 was unfolding outside the grounds and across the world as we worked.

We tuned into BBC News and listened to the updates echo around the vast rooms, wondering what would be on the other side when we finished. It felt like the beginning of a film: the air was ominous and full of tension, but the plot was yet to unfold. Day by day things seemed to escalate; we spoke to loved ones on the phone and tried to stock our cupboards remotely, but the gravitas of the situation and our surroundings made it seem dreamlike.

Harewood_House_Kate_MccGwireThe exhibition had been years in the making; there was months of planning, of collecting materials and fabrication – all supported by a team of Harewood House volunteers who had meticulously prepared thousands of feathers. I’d borrowed works from collectors, experimented with new techniques and created new work in the studio. It was a great communal effort, and then…

On 17th March we finished placing my new installation, Cavort, it’s a vast sitespecific pheasant feather piece that now lays dormant in the Yellow Drawing Room. I walked around the empty house, passing Anima and Stifle in the Dining Room, Viscera, Turmoil and Quandary in the Gallery and my earlier installation, Discharge, specially adapted for the Main Library. Behind me, security guards closed the shutters, switched on alarms and prepared for a full lockdown.

I was left wondering if it had actually happened, or if the whole thing was an illusion. My work, so often described as uncanny, was the most normal part of this experience. For me, it was the familiar that was made strange.

Menagerie can be visited at Harewood once the House reopens to the public. For more information on the exhibition, read more here and visit Kate MccGwire’s website, www.katemccgwire.com


Reviving the Art of Letter Writing

Harewood_House_PrincessMary_LettersHow to keep in touch when you can’t physically see each other? In this world of hyperconnectivity, are people picking up their pens again and writing letters?

Rebecca Burton, curator and archivist, looks at a more romantic method of communication: handwritten letters.

Preparing for the new exhibition in the House, Becoming the Yorkshire Princess, I have been incredibly fortunate to work with a series of heartwarming letters written by HRH Princess Mary and some of her closest family members.

Princess Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary of York (1897-1965) was the only daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George V and Queen Mary. During Mary’s childhood, her parents were often away from home touring what was then the British Empire, in their roles as the Prince and Princess of Wales. They wrote frequently to one another, often enclosing personal mementos with their letters, such as photographs, pressed flowers and postcards (which Mary collected and compiled in large albums, encouraged by her father).

“Many thanks for your dear letter and the nice piece of white heather which I shall keep…..I hope you have put all the postcards I sent you in your book, I thought they were very pretty.”
Prince of Wales (later King George V) to Princess Mary, 1903

Mary’s childhood letters – written in both English and French, give us a window into the daily routine of a royal child (which included lessons, riding and plenty of outdoor activities) and illustrate a rich picture of family life at Sandringham. Whilst Queen Mary’s distinctive joined-up handwriting can at times be hard to decipher, her letters to her daughter offer a personal, vivid and often amusing account of her and her husband’s travels abroad.

“Here we are in Cairo which is a most interesting place with many different things to see….Today we saw the Colossus of Ramesses II, a huge statue which unluckily has been broken and now lies on its back – we also saw some wonderful tombs. Only think, I actually rode a camel and rather liked it.”
Letter from the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) to Princess Mary, 1906

Mary’s father’s notes tend to respond more directly to Mary’s own correspondence, reflecting on her hobbies as well as encouraging academic progress. His writing is often succinct but his language personable and cheerful in tone, inscribed in a script that is more cautious and much less conspicuous than his wife’s.

“I was delighted to get your letter this morning…Your French is beautiful and your writing much improved. I am also pleased to hear that Mademoiselle is quite satisfied with you and that you are getting on well with your lessons…I am sure you could easily beat me at golf now as you have been playing so much lately.”
Letter from the Prince of Wales (later King George V) to Princess Mary, 1905

Throughout all the correspondance, there is a real sense of warmth and affection on both sides and we get access to emotion that is rarely observed in Royal sources (or any other kind of object for that matter).

“I hope you are quite well dear Mama, we shall be so pleased when you come home, we are going to hang our flags out of the house windows the day you come home. I send you and Papa a bear hug and a fat kiss.”
Princess Mary to the Duchess of York (later Queen Mary), 1901

Despite this family’s extraordinary position within society, it would be hard to tell that this correspondence was written by a princess and a future king and queen; their words such that could be written by any daughter, mother or father, and their themes universal.

“Thank you very much for the postcards you sent me. I have got a lot now…Georgie sends you and Papa a kiss, we are all quite well, with lots of love and kisses, from Mary.”
Princess Mary to the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary), 1906

What Mary’s letters offer also is a contrasting perspective to traditional historical narratives. Mary’s father in particular, who has often been described as a strict and undemonstrative parent, is shown in quite a different light.

Irrespective of their authors, handwritten letters are physical remnants of personal relationships and human connections. And as such they are undoubtedly some of the most rewarding historical material that I am lucky enough to work with. Despite the fact that Mary’s letters, both sent and received, were often unceremoniously and incongruously stashed away in old, used envelopes by their recipients, for me they are amongst some of Harewood’s most precious objects. I am reminded often, through a private joke or a doodle in the margin, of their intensely personal nature and the responsibility that comes with caring for and studying them.

Becoming the Yorkshire Princess a new exhibition about Princess Mary, will remain in the House this year and available to view as soon as Harewood is able to open. Read more about the exhibition here.  

A taste of the past – diving into Harewood’s Recipe Book

Simnel Cake and the Harewood Recipe Book
Rebecca Burton, Assistant Curator & Archivist

Over the years, Harewood has celebrated Easter much like we do today – by the making and eating of traditional food. Recently, we have been able to explore Harewood’s food history in more detail than ever before, through the discovery and donation of a Harewood recipe book – prior to which had been completely unknown to us.

The book was published in 1909, presumably by the Harewood parish council, with the hope of using the proceeds to raise funds for a new organ in the parish church. It was printed locally in Leeds and is made up of contributions from various individuals living in the area, from villagers and locals to Lascelles family members. It even includes ‘branded’ offerings – for example how to create Keen, Robinson & Co.’s barley water, a precursor to the famous soft drink produced by Robinsons today.

In terms of the recipes themselves, there’s a surprisingly varied assortment: soups, meat and fish dishes (as well specifically labelled vegetarian ones), savouries, puddings, sauces and sweets, cakes and pastries, jams, wines, ales, pickles, as well as ‘sick-room cookery’ and ‘household remedies and hints’. The book also contains some ‘joke’ entries too – such as recipes for a ‘scripture cake’ and ‘how to cook a husband’.

One of the recipes included in the book is for Simnel Cake – a light fruit cake with a marzipan-like topping. It is traditionally baked and eaten during the Easter period and decorated with 11 balls (or “eggs”), symbolising Jesus’ 12 disciples, minus Judas. Harewood’s recipe was provided by ‘O. Ranson’, most likely Olive Ranson, who served as a VAD nurse at Harewood during the First World War.

Her recipe is, by today’s standards, lacking in instruction – offering little more than a list of ingredients (all provided, of course, in imperial measurements). Whilst frustrating for the novice baker (like myself!), it is perhaps illustrative of the fact that the method for making traditional and basic cakes would already have been well understood and practiced within the community. The lack of oven temperature and cooking times is demonstrative of the fact that cooking equipment at the time did not come fitted with thermostats; instead, measuring baking times and temperatures would have been done by hand (literally – to feel the temperature of an oven), as well as by eye and instinct.

For those of you that might want to try Harewood’s historic Simnel Cake recipe, a transcription is provided below. For ease, I have adjusted the amount of ingredients to make one cake (as opposed to two, as suggested in the original recipe) and added metric conversions in brackets. I have also supplied a basic method for baking, though again, this was not part of the original recipe.

Harewood_House_Simnel Cake Recipe

Follow Harewood on social media @HarewoodHouse to have a slice of #HarewoodatHome this Lockdown.

Menagerie – new contemporary sculpture in the House

Harewood_House_Kate_MccGwireInstalled behind currently closed doors, waiting to be revealed in the beautiful 18th century rooms of Harewood House is a new exhibition by Kate MccGwire, an artist who makes sculptural works and installation from feathers.

Due to open on 21st March, we will now have to wait until later this year to present it.

As a country house with a 30 year history of working with great contemporary artists, Kate MccGwire is someone we had wanted to work with for a long time. 2020 offered the perfect opportunity as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Harewood’s Bird Garden and collection. It wasn’t an ornithological exhibition about the bird collection that we wanted. It was an exhibition that reflected something of the unique ‘otherness` of a bird and would cause our visitors to reflect, stop and wonder at the micro beauty of a…feather, that remarkable, protective, resilient but fragile material that forms the basis of all of MccGwire’s sculptures, transformed by her into extraordinary, sometimes, disturbing objects.

While the Harewood bird collection is set up to protect rare and exotic birds and endangered species, this artist turns the spotlight on the common bird questioning commonplace perceptions and prejudices. A pigeon may not be our favourite bird, even invoking disgust in some people, but MccGwire’s sculptures strips that away revealing their inherent beauty.

Kate_MccGwire_Harewood_HouseThe feathers here come not from rare or exotic species, but from pheasants, pigeons and magpies, harvested or donated by farmers, gamekeepers and pigeon fanciers. Transformed into works of art, their particular qualities are revealed and celebrated; iridescent colours and incredibly detailed markings – each one unique like a human thumb print, giving new insights on both the source material and the way the artist uses that to explore more abstract concepts.

Follow us on instagram and facebook to keep up to date with stories and the latest news relating to the closure. You can find out more about Menagerie