Cannon Hall; Barnsley Borough’s jewel

August 20, 2009

Sitting in the farm café in August 2009 eating lunch, totally surrounded by so many family groups and on a wonderful sunny day, we wondered why we had never before been to Cannon Hall.

Cannon Hall is a fine stone-built country house, built for the Spencer family in the eighteenth century. The family had made its money from iron, and as the family grew (some generations had fifteen children so more bedrooms were urgently needed) they extended the house.

York Architect John Carr had made interior alterations. He installed the pillars and the cornice and decorative scheme in the entrance hall. He decorated the dining room and the other south front rooms, now used to display furniture and paintings. His elegantly proportioned rooms with their fine decorative detail well set off the collection put together by Barnsley Council after they purchased the empty house from the last remaining lady of the family. War deaths and death duties had taken their toll and changes had to follow.

Latterly the family name had been Spencer-Stanhope and that name should ring bells for followers of the Pre-Raphaelite Circle. Roddam Spencer-Stanhope’s painting of the Ladies at the Well, very recently purchased, now adorns the library wall. It is incongruous, but strangely not out of place amongst Hepplewhite mahogany furniture.

The secretary had organised a guided tour for Forest of Galtres Society members, and Shaun, our guide, gave us very full value. We heard about the Spencer family who built and enlarged the house, and whose connection with the house has lasted for several centuries. We looked around and marvelled at the paintings and furniture, the Moorcroft pottery, and the enthusiasm of the curatorial staff carried us happily along. Upstairs there is a military gallery and an infantry museum commemorating a local regiment. Cannon Hall clearly gathers local people around it in very large numbers, but it was not crowded and we had time to savour it fully under Shaun’s guidance.

The gallery with its paintings from the National Loan Collection has some super loan pieces for the summer exhibition, well worth a special visit. Most provincial museums would be delighted to have such a collection, and this collection is entirely newly gathered since the house was purchased. Quite an achievement!

After lunch we walked in the extensive grounds, and visited the garden centre – every wish is catered for. We saw the house’s walled kitchen garden with its numerous pear and apple trees well laden with ripening fruit grown espalier-fashion, on the garden’s brick walls. Only children may eat the fruit. An unusual exhortation, but so many children were enjoying their day out in the warm sunshine, that was of no consequence. Cannon Hall is a place we ought to visit again.

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