Farnley Hall above Otley, on the hillside overlooking the Chevin, is still in the private ownership of the Fawkes family. It was the good fortune of about forty members of Headingley Rotary Club, partners and friends to be welcomed on a warm May afternoon by Guy Horton-Fawkes, the present owner, descendant of the brother of Guy Fawkes and part-time teacher of Drama in a Bradford primary school.
After the tour he manned the tea urn and served delicious cakes in the Aga-warmed kitchen. The family has occupied the Hall for hundreds of years and it is perhaps best known for its wonderful collection of paintings by J M W Turner who was a close friend of Walter Ramsden Hawksworth Fawkes who inherited the hall in 1792; Turner also taught art to the children.
We were also fortunate that our tour guides were Angela Mason and Val Butcher. Both are expert in the hall’s history and the detail of the paintings and are personal friends of several members of the Club. They were magnificent.
The house remains much as Turner painted it. The Georgian wing designed by John Carr of York now houses the lounge, library, dining room and art collection. It is built onto the seventeenth century older hall.
I was struck by the flattering artifice with which Turner elongated the size of the lounge, painting ladies seated at the far end as if they were in the far distance; the dado at the level of their heads is in fact just above the seat of the sofa. He liked this subject which shows to advantage his nautical painting above the fireplace. His reputation varied during his career and was very much dependent on patrons like Lascelles and Fawkes.
The pictures at Farnley are gentle and domestic and we were standing in the rooms which he painted, still substantially as he saw them. The dramatic statements in innovative impressionistic colours were yet to come.
And all around us of the views from the hall itself. Outside the lounge stands an enormous weeping beach tree. And beyond, the hill and fields of the Farnley land, once one of the ten largest estates in the country and surely still one of the most beautiful.
Our thanks to our hard-working and genial host, Guy Horton-Fawkes, to our guides, Val Butcher and Angela Mason and to President Nick Pinches who has organised this year a most stimulating and enjoyable social programme.