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Harewood’s Sustainability Story: The Biomass Project

Biomass is fuel that is developed from organic materials, a renewable and sustainable source of energy. Harewood House and the Courtyard are heated by a biomass boiler.

We have over 800 acres of woodland on the Harewood Estate. Many areas are Ancient Scheduled Woodland Sites and some sit within our Registered Park and & Gardens. Nearly all areas are viewable from public rights of way and we have a wealth of wildlife that make our forests their home. So our woodland operations need to work sensitively within these constraints and are now geared towards protecting and enhancing the landscape for amenity and biodiversity value.

We conduct necessary thinning of our woodlands on a regular basis to help improve the timber stocks and the values we are trying to protect. Historically we have sent felled timber off to merchants round the country, but we now use it on site within our biomass plants to provide renewable heat for Harewood House and the Courtyard, as well as the Estate’s commercial office spaces, 10 holiday cottages and 15 residential properties. It’s a model of what a renewable energy district heating system of the future might look like.

Once the trees are felled the timber is taken back to the Walled Garden, stacked and left to dry to reduce the moisture content to make it suitable for burning within the biomass plant. Around 8 months later (depending on the weather!) the timber is dry enough to chip and we hire in a Diomante chipper, an amazing piece of kit which picks whole tree stems on the one side, feeds it through a chipper and produces the chip out the other side which is loaded directly into a wagon. The chipper can process up to 50 tonnes per hour!


With the chip created, we take it back to our chip store, where it is unloaded and spread out to aid further drying. We try to keep at least 6 months of chip in stock. Once it’s down to the correct moisture content (30-35%) it can be used in the boilers. We fill up each boilers chip store once a week and it then feeds into the boilers automatically. The feed store has a slowly vibrating floor that moves the chip from front to back to ensure a steady supply of chip to the boiler.


The main boiler at the time of installation was one of the largest in Yorkshire. It burns the chip at temperatures of up to 900°c which then heats the water. It’s incredibly efficient, with hardly any waste material produced, usually just a couple of ash buckets per week. From the storage tanks, which hold around a 24-hour supply, the hot water then goes into the district piping network and out to all the properties that are connected in.

As well as being a reason to reinvigorate our woodland operations, the biomass plants are a great source of renewable energy and have helped us reduce our carbon footprint as well as those of our tenants by association. Compared to an oil system we are saving over 440 tonnes of CO2 each year – if you also factor in the savings by processing the timber on site rather than transporting them to merchants elsewhere the total reaches almost 650 tonnes of CO2 saved each year. That’s roughly equivalent to 1,000 people taking return flights from London to New York or what 25 families would average during a whole year.

We’ve been working with the Leeds Climate Commission, Circular Yorkshire and Sustainable Arts in Leeds to share our story so others can build from our success.

VE Day – A Double Celebration for Harewood

Harewood_House_VE_day75 years ago today, the Allied Nations celebrated Victory in Europe Day, signaling the end of the Second World War.

For the village of Harewood, VE day was a double celebration, as it celebrated the return of George Viscount Lascelles, future 7th Earl of Harewood, arriving home following his imprisonment as a Prisoner of War. The village welcomed him back to Harewood with flags and ‘welcome home’ bunting. A newspaper reported the scene:

“The sun came out for his homecoming. The chestnuts were in flower. Every cottage window had it’s Union Jack; small ones fluttered from crannies in the stone walls. Children, some carrying prayer books as well as flags, began to hop about outside the gates almost an hour before Lord Lascelles and the Princess Royal were due…Eight year old Susanna FitzRoy (Queen Mary’s god-daughter) sat her pony like a little queen and threw her velvet red riding cap in the air when the car passed…. Estate workers and tenantry, many of whom had known [George] since he was a child and whom shared his parents’ anxiety, were delighted to hear him repeat that he felt very well…. It was a fitting climax to Harewood’s VE day”

George joined the Grenadier Guards in 1942 at the age of 19. On the battlefields of Italy he was shot and wounded on 18th June 1944 and captured by the Nazis. He was imprisoned in Oflag IV-C, better known as Colditz Castle, alongside other “Prominentes” or ‘celebrities’ as Hitler tagged them – all prisoners with illustrious Allied connections, that were earmarked as powerful bargaining chips.

In March 1945, Hitler signed George’s death warrant and SS commander Gottlob Berger was ordered to execute the Prominente. But realising the war was lost, Berger failed to carry out the sentence and released his prisoners to the Swiss.

In his memoirs, The Tongs and the Bones (1981), George writes about his experiences as a Prisoner of War, which involved a thwarted escape attempt, and describes the moment he was told of his release:

“General Berger told us that he thought the war was within a day or two of coming to its end; he disbelieved in keeping prisoners pointlessly, although it was his duty to tell us that he had received orders to shoot us. He was going to disobey those orders because he thought them futile and indeed criminal, and had made arrangements to hand us over to the Swiss, who were coming immediately to take us through the German lines and deliver us into Allied hands…Leaving in the mid-afternoon of the 4 May with a feeling of total exhilaration – like a child going to its first party – we somehow assumed we should go fast and be in Allied hands in a couple of hours. But it was not like that…. We motored on through the night until at first light the German troops by the side of the road told him they thought there were no more Germans in front. We put a Swiss flag on the front of the car and drove very slowly into no-man’s land…For perhaps a few miles we saw absolutely nothing. We were going very slowly and eventually we arrived at the American front line, with no fuss, and that was that.”

Watch this short conversation with Assistant Curator, Rebecca Burton, to see a different side to Harewood during wartime.

Why craft matters now more than ever by Hugo Macdonald

Why Craft Matters, Harewood House

WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN by Anthony Burrill, Picture Credit – Charlotte Graham

“As we’ve dropped our public lives we’ve picked up tools in private and started baking, gardening, drawing, sewing, knitting, fixing and decorating in earnest”

Anyone who visited Harewood last year during the first Harewood Biennial couldn’t fail to have noticed graphic artist Anthony Burrill’s striking commission standing proud outside the entrance façade to the house. It became a poster for the biennial itself, travelling far and wide across the web and world. It divided opinion and provoked much discussion. This was a conscious act on our part, because it announced on its four sides four truths about the vital relationship between people and craft: we are who make; we are what we make; we are how we make; we are when we make.

I have frequently returned to these statements over the year since we opened the biennial, and more keenly over the last two months. Our first biennial introduced questions around craft: principally why it matters to people, today. You barely need scratch the surface of social media at the moment to see that it clearly does matter. Up and down the country and around the world, as we’ve dropped our public lives we’ve picked up tools in private and started baking, gardening, drawing, sewing, knitting, fixing and decorating in earnest. It is wonderful to see, and communities have emerged overnight, joined (albeit digitally for the time being) by a common desire to make.

Harewood might currently be closed, but we are busy planning our second biennial, which will open in March 2021. It coincides with the 250th anniversary of Harewood – a fitting coincidence and celebration of survival, not just after this difficult year, but over decades and centuries, too. 250 years is quarter of a millennium – isn’t it astonishing that the house has been kept alive and in pristine condition for such a period of history? It is people that have kept Harewood thriving; people using craft knowledge and skills to clean and polish, mend and repair. There is great pleasure to be found in these simple, timeless acts as we are all rediscovering in our own homes. Cleaning books are selling in their millions.

Useful Beautiful

If Chairs Could Talk by Yinka Ilori

I’m pretty sure the surge in craft that we are witnessing is not just about distraction, or filling time, or even learning new hobbies just to feel we are achieving. As Anthony’s piece declaimed in four succinct statements: making makes us feel alive. Faced with our current crisis, life-affirming skills and activities are fundamentally reassuring. I think the baking and planting, the cleaning, the quilting and mending are more than fads or lifestyle choices. They are primal responses, too. They say to me quite clearly that in an era when so much of our lives are governed by intangible technology and software, and particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty, we are capable still. We have basic skills for survival in our minds and hands and it feels good to practice them.

Hugo Macdonald, May 2020

Botanical Sketches Inspire Contemporary Products

Harewood_House_isabella _crathorneHow sketches of botanical plants by Isabella Crathorne have inspired an entire range called the Bloom Collection in the Harewood Shop.

A range of skincare products designed by Yorkshire-based maker Nathalie Bond is packaged in a gift box decorated with botanical sketches by Isabella Crathorne in 1787.

These delicate and detailed sketches come from a bound album of her work entitled Specimens of Botanical Plants held in Harewood’s libraries, containing 160 hand painted flower drawings. Complete with a full index, each entry is classified according to plant taxonomy and includes additional information, such as the location of the specimen and date of the find. Isabella did most of her collecting in North Yorkshire and occasionally Northumberland.

Botany emerged as a fashionable past-time in 18th century England, and was a science that women, in particular, had relatively easy access to: it was possible to collect plants, name them, draw and study them, all from the comfort of your own garden. Many women cultivated in-home herbariums and others, like Isabella, emerged as accomplished botanical illustrators.

Very little is known about Isabella, but her artistic skill was recognised in a portrait of her and her husband, Thomas Crathorne of Crathorne Hall in North Yorkshire, where she is depicted holding a pencil alongside an open sketchbook.

But how did Isabella’s album get to Harewood? Unfortunately the story here is not precise, however it is likely that there were familial links between Isabella and the Lascelles family. Isabella’s brothers, Henry and Edward Swinburne, as well as her nephew, Sir John Swinburne, were artists and patrons of contemporary art, commissioning individuals such as JMW Turner, Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman to paint their ancestral home. This is in much the same tradition as Edward ‘Beau’ Lascelles and the 1st Earl at Harewood, and as such the two families were moving in the same artistic circles. It is almost certain that they would have known each other and it is quite possible Isabella’s album came into the collection through their shared love of art, as well as botany.

Visit the Harewood Shop to see the collection. 

There are many fascinating gardener pictures to celebrate National Gardening Week on the  Harewood servants database

My Life in Books: Curator and critic Hugo Macdonald

Hugo Macdonald, curator of Harewood’s inaugural Craft Biennial, Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, pulls together his Top 10 Reads and shares why they have influenced and inspired him.

1. A coffee table read you return to again and again
A Frame for Life by Ilse Crawford. A former boss, an ongoing mentor and an endless source of inspiration.

2. A book that has inspired you
Wilding by Isabella Tree. The story of how Knepp Farm in Sussex was given back to nature is gripping, powerful and uplifting.

3. A book you enjoy/have enjoyed reading to children
Anything by Roald Dahl. The humour and imagination is timeless.

4. A book that has related to your career or life path
Ways of Seeing by John Berger. This opened my eyes and my mind simultaneously.

5. A book you would take to a desert island
The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew Crawford. A handy guide to mastering your own mind. It might be helpful.

6. A book you didn’t think you would like, but it surprised you
Just Kids by Patti Smith. Every bit as good as everybody says it is (unlike Normal People).

7. A very English book / favourite book by an English author
The Death of Grass by John Christopher. A typically polite and terrifying post-war English dystopia about what happens when grass crops fail.

8. Favourite Shakespeare play
A Midsummer Night’s Dream or King Lear. I’m a sucker for magic and horror.

9. A book that in your opinion everyone should read
Modern Nature by Derek Jarman. A poetic masterpiece about the struggle of man and nature, life and death.

10. A book someone passed to you and you passed on.
Fewer Better Things by Glen Adamson. The perfect handbook for our times of underwhelming overconsumption.

Read more about the Harewood Biennial. Planning for next year’s Biennial is well under way, with more details to be released towards the end of the year.