The front of the Hall really isn't easy to photograph due to the parked cars and trees, but the back is more impressive anyway:
I had plenty of time to explore the gardens before my tour was due to begin, although not enough to find everything that might have been of interest. The Watership Down rabbits and Gothic Aviary were hard to miss, however:
The gardens are full of statues, which aren't normally my thing, but they were so well spaced out and often unexpected in their locations that it was a joy to encounter each and wonder what it might represent and why it was placed where it was:
I found out who this chap was, though; he's a memorial to the Police Officers who died in the Kings Cross Fire of 1987:
Exploring the Bluebell Woods led to many more finds, including a view of an old gate house and a sweet little temple:
Elsewhere, I found this statue, who gives a real impression of movement and effort:
And these sheep lying down in the middle of a maze:
Close to the sheep is the Yucca House, with some hardy specimens lurking outside too:
The nearby wood had a series of literary silhouettes lurking close to the path, as well as some more unusual sculptures (which I obviously found charming):
Finally, we come to the non-literary highlights of the hall tour itself, for which I have no pictures. Entering the Hall we were greeted by a pair of 17th Century Venetian Warriors, one of whom had acquired a rather ugly pair of glasses, left behind by a visitor in the 1960s (and if they ever come back to claim their lost property, the family will know exactly where to look for it!). His companion, not to be outdone was accessorised by a jewelled Victorian handbag, and a large feather. The Sitwells aren't at all precious about the works of art in their collection, which is greatly refreshing.
Also in the entrance hall is an elaborately carved chimney piece re-imagined as the back of a settle. Originally, the fancy parts were on the seat side, but Evelyn Waugh reputedly swapped it round during a houseparty, causing some displeasure to Sir George Sitwell on his return. But he left it like that anyway.
In the Smoke Room we encountered 'the real Robin Hood's bow' which has a letter of authenticity and was written about in a pamphlet by Sir Reresby (copies sometimes become available in the giftshop, so I'll keep an eye out for one) along with examples of Osbert Sitwell's writing from WWI onwards (charliecochrane might be interested to note that a 1914 letter home closed with the greeting Happy Xmas!").
Moving back into the Sitting Hall, we saw paintings by John Piper, some 17th Century furniture that escaped being sold in the 1840s, and diaries dating from the 17th to the 19th Centuries. I also noted the painting of Edith Sitwell by Stella Brown, in which she wore her trademark silver nail varnish.
In the Library (which started off as the Great Parlour) we learned much about Edith which I reproduced in my Women and Words post, and admired all the splendid old books and First Editions. In there I discovered a 1970s copy of Burke's Peerage, which looked even bigger than the 1966 Debrett I once had to lug home from an Oxfam shop.
The Great Drawing Room, designed by Joseph Badger, has some splendid Flemish Tapestries as well as a stencilled floor which is a copy of one in St Petersburg. In there we learned more about Edith, which I again wrote up for Women and Words.
In the Billiard Room we learned about Sir George Sitwell, who greatly enjoyed inviting experts to visit and discuss topics with him. Lutyens was one such, although he did little actual design work in the rest of the house. Sir George inherited his title at the age of two, and the estate was managed by his mother until he was old enough to take it over. He wrote many notes and books, including On the Making of Gardens in 1909 (another title I need to look out for), which was the only of his works to be published commercially. I also liked the case of songbird taxidermy in that room, though I'm not sure I'd have room for one quite that size in my own house.
Moving into the Ballroom, which was completed in 1808, we learned more about Sacheverell Sitwell, who was 10 years younger than Edith and had a much happier childhood. He was successful at Eton (during which time he had his first poem published), and joined the Grenadier Guards, but never saw active service. As well as writing over 130 books, Sacheverell was very interested in modern art.
We next moved into the stone passage, dating from 1625, which originally housed the stairs until Sir George had them moved. The house had no electricity until the 1950s, which probably made writing in winter a bit trickier than in needed to be.
Passing through the Hall where the staircase now resides and where Edith posed for Cecil Beaton on the black and white tiles, we entered the Little Parlour (also 17th Century), also known as the Antedining Room and looked at pieces related to authors and artists mentored by the Sitwells, including Dylan Thomas, Wilfred Owen and Rex Whistler.
Finally, in the Dining Room we looked at displays relating to fellow writers, both friends (Siegfried Sassoon, Sir John Gielgud, HE Bates, Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, etc.) and enemies (DH Lawrence, Noel Coward, etc.).
Lots to investigate further, and I definitely need to go back to explore both house and gardens more thoroughly.