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A visit to Burghley House, Stamford


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England’s Greatest Tudor House...

I visited Burghley House in September 2019. I've written it up as a Trip Report rather than a resource as there are so many pictures! It makes an excellent day out.

Some background

William Cecil, Lord Burghley was the Principal Secretary and Lord Treasurer for Queen Elizabeth I and one of the most important men in her kingdom. He built Burghley House on the edge of Stamford as a suitably impressive family seat and a statement of his power and prestige. His portrait still hangs in the Pagoda Room. (Thanks to Joe for touching up the photo for me to reduce the glare on the face. He's done a much better job than I did!)

The house still belongs to his descendants although it is now part of a Charitable Trust and the present Marquis lives in the United States.

Building began in 1555 and took over thirty years to build. It is one of the most impressive C16th buildings to survive in England. Although the exterior retains its Elizabethan appearance, most of the interiors are the result of remodelling by later Lord Burghleys.

The house is built of local Kingscliffe limestone and is a square built round a central courtyard. There are tall Tudor chimney pots as well as ogee cupolas. The front entrance overlooks a central forecourt. Around it are the estate buildings, including the stable block and brewhouse. It is surrounded by walled parkland.

The house has 35 major rooms on the ground and first floor, along with 80 lesser rooms including servants quarters. The major rooms are arranged as interconnecting rooms with a service corridor running round the inner court giving separate access to the rooms. The only views of the inner courtyard are from the windows of the antechapel.

The Old Tudor Kitchen and Great Hall on the ground floor have hardly been altered since the house was built.

John, the 5th Earl, married a daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, who was a considerable heiress. He made several trips to Europe collecting tapestries, statuary and paintings for the house. He also employed Louis Laguerre and Antonio Verrio to paint the ceilings and walls os the state rooms. He also began to landscape the grounds with formal gardens, pond and terrace. He died leaving over £8000 in unsettled debts and many unfinished rooms. The 6th Earl spent most of his life worrying about them.

It wasn’t until his great grandson, the 8th Earl, married another heiress that the debts could be cleared and work could be finished in the first floor state rooms.

The 9th Earl commissioned Lancelot Brown to landscape the estate with parkland with avenues of trees, and a lake.

He was also responsible for building the orangery (now the restaurant ) and a stable block connected to the main house by the servants wing along with some of the plaster ceilings in the state rooms.

The house is still surrounded by Lancelot Brown’s parkland. The formal rose garden next to the orangery is only open for special events. To the east of the house is a sculpture garden and a Water Garden of Surprises.
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Inside Burghley House

Burghley House is, rightly so, one of the great Treasure Houses of Britain. Starting in the old kitchen, it just gets better and better with plaster and painted ceilings, tapestries, renowned collection of paintings and furniture. This is a place to take slowly and stop and look, and especially not forgetting to look up! Check out this website for 360˚ videos of the different rooms.

The tour of the house begins in the OLD KITCHEN with its high vaulted ceiling and lantern light which would have helped extract smoke and fumes from the open fires.

There is a large cast iron range in one of the old fireplaces complete with turnspit for roasting meat in front of an open fire.

Another fireplace has a bread oven

There is a long hotplate with lots of copper saucepans and frying pans.

The copper cooking utensils date from the C18th and early C19th.

The small skulls displayed on the wall are from turtles used to make turtle soup which would have been served in the impressive turtle tureen on the table below them.

Leaving the Old Kitchen, the tour passes through a lobby with a collection of leather fire buckets and a porters chair, complete with a high back and hood designed to keep out draughts.

The ROMAN STAIRS with their elaborate plaster ceiling lead up to the first floor. It is the only remaining Tudor staircase and originally led up to the roof, an area used for recreation and private conversation.

To the left is the ANTE CHAPEL and CHAPEL. The ante chapel was where the servants assembled for worship.

The family and important guests worshipped in the chapel with its fireplace and elaborate plaster ceiling. The ten bronzed figures depict the Wise Virgins. The wood carving of fruit and flowers was probably the work of two of Gringling Gibbon’s followers. The altar piece is a C16th painting of Zebedee’s wife petitioning our Lord.



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To the right are the state rooms. along the north wing.

The first room is the BILLIARD ROOM dominated by a massive billiard table and red plush seats along the walls. The billiard table is mid C19th and was made from wood from the wreck of the battleship Royal George which sank at Spithead in 1782. The walls are covered with wood panelling with family portraits and it has a lovely plaster ceiling, designed by Lancelot Brown.

This leads into the BOW ROOM with a big bay window with views across the park. All available walls and ceiling are painted and even doors are painted to hide them. The paintings show classical scenes and are the work of Louis Laguerre for the 5th Earl, who used the room as a grand dining room. It was later used as a music room by the 9th Earl

Beyond the Bow Room is the BROWN DRAWING ROOM with its plaster ceiling, chandelier and more portraits and paintings. The small day bed was used by Princess Victoria when she visited Burghley with her mother. Off is a small closet.

Next is the BLACK AND YELLOW BEDROOM with its splendid black and yellow hangings and an C18th state bed which has been used by royalty when they have stayed at Burghley. Again the room has a plaster ceiling. Walls are panelled with paintings, with a tapestry on the long wall facing the inner courtyard.

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This leads into the rooms along the west wing. This was originally the long gallery of the Tudor house but was turned into a series of interconnecting rooms to house the paintings collected by the 5th Earl.

The MARQUETRY ROOM gets its name from the marquetry furniture on display. It has a corner fireplace specially designed to display Chinese or Japanese porcelain which was very much in favour at the time. The false marble decoration is a recreation of the original decoration.

The lovely collection of majolica plates down the side of the window were brought from Italy by the 9th Earl.

The delicate wood carving of a dead bird is late C18th French.

The next room is described as QUEEN ELIZABETH’S BEDROOM although she never actually slept in this and the room wasn’t finished until after her death. The splendid state bed is C17th and the tester and headboard are the originals. The curtains, bedspreaD and bed skirt were replaced to the original design in the 1980s. The false marble decoration is a recreation of the original decoration. Gobelin tapestries hang from the walls.

The lovely stumpwork mirror has portraits of William of Orange and Queen Mary.


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The PAGODA ROOM takes its name from the two small C18th mother of pearl pagodas displayed in it.

This is a very homely room with panelled walls, plaster ceiling and is now used as a study with a central desk. On the walls are family portraits including that of William Cecil.

There are also many royal portraits including a copy of Van Dyck’s Charles II as a boy with his brothers. On either side are portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria.

There is even a portrait of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England.

Off the Pagoda Room are two small closets. One contains an early C20th bathroom and the other is a dressing room.

Beyond the Pagoda Room is the BLUE SILK BEDROOM dominated by a wonderful C18th state bed made for the 9th Earl.

Walls are covered with tapestries and the lovely marquetry furniture decorated with flowers is French. The story is that this was intended for Louis XIV, the Sun King, but he rejected it and it was bought by the 5th Earl.

Next to it is the BLUE SILK DRESSING ROOM with its marble painted panels below blue silk wall coverings hung with gilt framed pictures. In the centre of the room is an C18th Chinese export lacquer table which can be used to play blackgammon, chess or cards. The flaps can be folded over to allow it to be used as a tea table. The blue and white porcelain arranged above the fireplace is mainly C17th Chinese.

This is the last of the rooms with a decorative plaster ceiling, beyond they all have painted ceilings.


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The remainder of the State Rooms along the south side of the house are completely different with their painted walls and ceilings. They are the work of the 5th Earl who employed Antonio Verrio, a renowned artist who enjoyed the patronage of the Stuart monarchs for over 30 years. These rooms are stunning with their silver decoration around the fireplaces and were intended for use by royalty and other important guests. The 5th Earl ran out of money and it was another 100 years before the rooms were finally completed by the 9th Earl

The FIRST GEORGE ROOM was the only room to have been completed by the time the 5th Earl died, although they were refurbished for a visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1844. This room has the first of the painted ceilings by Verrio with Day chasing Night . Walls are panelled with a carved and gilded frieze round the top.

The white marble fireplace has silver decoration.

There are some fine examples of Boulle furniture with intricate brass fretwork and tortoiseshell.

Off is a small room described as the JEWEL ROOM with another painted ceiling and is set up as a small offertory with a painting of Our Lord blessing the bread and wine by the C17th Italian painted Carlo Dolci.

The SECOND GEORGE ROOM with its views over the private formal gardens, is a sumptuous state bedroom with a small closet off. It was used by Queen Victoria and much of the furniture was bought specially for her visit. The centre piece is the state bed with its scarlet hangings. It was so high it needed a set of steps (supplied with a hidden chamber pot) to climb in.

Panelled walls are covered with paintings or tapestries, which have views of Burghley House in the borders.

Again there is another splendid painted ceiling and fireplace,

There are lavish carved panels down the side of the doors.


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The THIRD GEORGE ROOM was the state sitting room and features many important paintings bought by the 5th Earl which are displayed on the red silk hung walls. It is comfortably furnished with early C18th French style tapestry chairs and settees

The marquetry chests with gilded corners are actually commodes.

The FOURTH GEORGE ROOM was used by Queen Victoria as a withdrawing room and is furnished with more French style chairs and occasional tables, including a beautiful Marquetry table in the centre with a tortoiseshell, ivory and silver casket. Records show that the rich dark colour of the oak panelling was achieved by staining with ‘strong dark ale’

Against the back wall is an ebony marquetry cabinet set with pietra dura panels with fruit and flowers.

This leads into the wonderful HEAVEN ROOM which must rank as one of the most spectacular rooms in an already spectacular House. It is acclaimed as Verrio’s masterpiece and walls and ceiling are covered with scenes from ancient mythology complete with a rainbow. It actually feels as if the figures are stepping into the room.

Don’t miss the lovely self portrait of Verrio on the end wall at the base of the forge of the one eyed cyclops He has taken off his customary wig, no doubt reflecting the heat of the forge!

The massive solid silver wine cooler was made in 1710 and weighs over 230pounds and is reputedly the largest in existence.

The Heaven Room opens onto the appropriately named HELL STAIRCASE. This was the last painting Verrio did at Burghley and it depicts Hell as the enormous open mouth of a cat which is swallowing souls in torment.

There was no money to paint the walls and these were eventually finished over a century later.

The lovely cantilever double staircase leads back down to a lobby on the ground floor with paintings and statues.
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1000+ Posts
The final room visited is the Tudor GREAT HALL with its massive stone fireplace and hammer beam ceiling. Across one end is a minstrel’s gallery. This was the great banqueting hall and was used again during the visit of Queen Victoria. It is now used for social events and as a wedding venue.

The bookcases were added in the C19th and contain books from the library of the 5th Earl which was dismantled during alterations carried out by Lancelot Brown.

Below the minstrel’s gallery are large cabinets displaying C17th and C18th china.

Alcoves in the walls have decorative plaster ceilings and blue and white Japanese style tiles forming a panel below them.

The large windows contain pieces of medieval stained glass

The corridor leading from the Great Hall is referred to as the OLYMPIC CORRIDOR and celebrates the athletic career of the 6th Marquis including the Gold and Silver medals he won at the 1928 and 1932 Olympic Games.


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The Gardens at Burghley House

Burghley house is surrounded by a large estate landscaped by Lancelot (Capability) Brown in the C18th with parkland, avenues of trees and a lake. There is free entry to this daily from 8am - 6pm (or dusk if earlier).

More recent developments include a Sculpture Garden and the Garden of Surprises, both of which are included in the entry ticket and are open 11-5 from March - October. These are entered by a gate to teh east of the estate buildings.

The GARDEN OF SURPRISES is a wonderful modern water garden with water features, fountains and jets of water suddenly spraying the unwary from wooden archways. It is separated into different ‘rooms’ by neatly clipped hedges , which are best seen from the 'view point in a corner of the garden.

A door leads out from the far end of the Garden of Surprises. Next to it is the COTTAGE GARDEN which is described on the board beside it as a ‘project in progress.



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Beyond is the SCULPTURE GARDEN, which has been reclaimed from scrub woodland and turned into an attractive area of open woodland, grass, wild flower areas and the long serpentine lake.

The old ice house has been restored and is now part of the garden.

A map is available from the entrance giving the location of the different sculptures. There is something for everyone from abstract sculptures, metal rhino, World War Two fighter plane to a vessel from Star Wars...

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1000+ Posts
Visiting Burghley House

The parkland is open daily from 8am - 6pm (or dusk if earlier). There is no charge to enter and is popular with families and walkers. Check the website before visiting as areas can be closed for events like the Burghley Horse Trials or the Country Fair. The House, restaurant and shop are open mid March - beginning of November. There is a slight saving to buying tickets in advance from the website. Keep hold of your tickets as they are valid for a year from the date of purchase, giving free admission to the house and gardens.

The house is by a free flow self guided tour and visitors are given a mini guide with map and information about the different rooms. A guide book available from the shop is full of wonderful pictures although has little extra informatiuon about the rooms. There are knowledgeable room stewards to answer questions. There is also a daily guided tour at 3pm.

Disabled access

There is disabled parking close to the house and stamped entry. The Old Kitchens and the Great Hall are on the ground floor. The rest of the rooms and the orangery are on the first floor. These are accessible by two chair lifts, but you need to transfer from wheelchair to stair lift. Wheelchairs have to be carried up the stairs. Manual wheelchairs are not allowed in the house.

The Brewhouse visitor centre and shops are accessible. The parkland has tarmac paths and roads. The Garden of Surprises is completely accessible with good hard surface paths. The Sculpture garden has mown grass and bark chipping paths which can make pushing a wheelchair difficult especially if it has been wet.

Burghley House lies to the south east of Stamford and is clearly signposted. The post code is PE9 3JY

Ian Sutton

500+ Posts
Hi Eleanor
Good to see the sculptures in the grounds. We have local events that exhibit sculptures outside and I think it's a much nicer environment than being stuck inside.

They do also have a rather quirky event tied to the Horse trials, called 'The horseless Burghley'. I did it one year and it involves running around a shortened version of the cross-country course, navigating the same fences as the horses. It gave me increased respect for horse (and rider), starting at the first fence which had a 10 foot deep ditch in front and a shallower ditch on exit. Get that wrong and I suspect one or both would risk death. The last major obstacle was the 'Trout hatchery' a particularly rank/stagnant body of water.



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