Built in the Italianate style of the 1860s by the fabulously wealthy Charles Thellusson, Brodsworth Hall was occupied by the Thellusson family for over 120 years. The 'grand rooms' on the ground floor recall the house's Victorian heyday, while the family's sporting interests are reflected in paintings of their yachts and race-horses, and trophies like the Doncaster Cup won by 'Rataplan' in 1855. This famous horse's mummified hooves are also on display in the Billiard Room, itself perfectly preserved as an 1860s 'gentlemen's retreat'.
But elsewhere in the house, Brodsworth's gentle decline during the 20th century, a fate shared by so many other English mansions, is much more apparent. The last resident, the indomitable Sylvia Grant-Dalton, fought a losing battle against subsidence and leaking roofs for 56 years. Following her death in 1988, English Heritage made the bold decision to conserve the interiors 'as found', rather than replacing or restoring them.
Thus the house appears as she used it, making do and mending as funds and resident servants dwindled. The Library's original wallpaper and carpets are faded, and Charles Thellusson's woodworking room is crowded with delightful clutter, including a baby's Second World War 'cradle gas mask' and a recently identified 'passenger pigeon', a rare stuffed specimen of an American bird hunted to extinction by 1914.
Some bedrooms, like the principal guest room with its magnificent 'boat-bed', fell out of use, along with the spartan rooms of the redundant servants' wing. Others were partially modernised, displaying 1960s- 70s objects which will be startlingly familiar to many visitors.
Downstairs, the cavernous Victorian kitchen with its stupendous cooking range was deserted for a much smaller and cosier 'Aga kitchen' and scullery. These remain as they were at the end of Brodsworth's active life, with their Tupperware, Formica and Fanny Craddock cookbooks: beside the Aga rests the once-grand but battered and mended armchair of the house's last cook-housekeeper, Emily Chester.
For garden lovers
By contrast with the house, the extensive gardens have been wonderfully restored to their original splendour as 'a collection of grand gardens in miniature'. Work continues to reveal new features, along with vistas last enjoyed before the First World War: the original focus of the formal garden, the restored 'Dolphin Fountain', now flows again.
The Victorian Alpine rock garden, a recent introduction, reflects the Thellussons' love of travel. The flower garden displays a fine selection of period bedding plants, while romantic views from the restored summerhouse take in both the formal gardens and the pleasure grounds; statues, the fern dell grotto, planted with unusual specimens; and the beautiful wild rose dell, currently bidding for national collection status.