By Carole Green
In the 1760s Shandy Hall, in the village of Coxwold, was the home of Laurence Sterne. He wrote Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey while he lived there and had an enviable reputation as a writer and preacher.
Shandy Hall is a rather grand title for the unassuming house that takes its name from the book by Laurence Sterne, and although he only lived there for eight years, the house is now synonymous with Sterne and Tristram Shandy.
However, the house had a rich history long before Sterne took up residence. It was simply known as ‘The Parsonage’ in 1760 and has continued to enjoy a chequered existence since Sterne’s death.
One of the medieval wall paintings
The house began life as a medieval long hall and there is smoke damage in the roof which suggests a central hearth in the centre of the hall. There is evidence the house was there by the mid 1400s because some spectacular wall paintings were uncovered during a 20th century restoration. This places the house around the same time as the main part of the nearby church, establishing its long ecclesiastical association.
An archaeological dig in 2006 confirmed that Coxwold was a centre for pottery making and that Shandy Hall formed part of a whole system of medieval buildings, which ran along that side of the village.
The fireplace in its new position
Over the years the house was adapted, extended and changed. In the 17th century a ceiling was put in, the fireplace was moved to an outside wall and the house seen today began to emerge.
Sterne did plenty of alterations himself. It’s thought he added an extension overlooking the garden and changed the layout of the house.
After Sterne’s death, the house became a place of ‘pilgrimage’ just as Shakespeare's, Wordsworth's and Beatrix Potter's former homes have. In the 1880s a plaque was placed above the door, pronouncing to the world that Laurence Sterne lived there and it was where he wrote his most famous works.
During the 1920s and 1930s the owners of the house served teas in the garden and for 6d you could have tea and a look round the house. It later became a farmhouse and was split into two homes until the 1960s when it was bought from the Newburgh Priory estate by the newly formed Laurence Sterne Trust.
The plaque over the door at Shandy Hall
The house is surrounded by two acres of gardens, half of which is walled and gently formal in an 18th century way. The other half is set in a disused stone quarry. Left to develop naturally, it has the atmosphere of a secret garden, small and wild, where rooks nest in the sycamores and ancient trees hold court.
The Hall isn't a conventional museum, it’s also home to curator Patrick Wildgust and he works hard to make sure the house is open to visitors, artists and Sterne devotees alike. He plans exhibitions, educational visits and events both in the house and gardens, to raise awareness of the hall and Sterne’s work and life, as well as raise much needed funds.
Patrick Wildgust, curator of Shandy Hall
The house is full of Sterne memorabilia as Tristram Shandy has always been illustrated and over the last three centuries has inspired artists to recreate scenes from the book. There are paintings, engravings, pottery and much more, all evoking the hilarity of Sterne’s work.
Despite extensive restoration, more money is urgently needed for fundamental repairs. The roof of the Grade l listed building is a bit leaky and as is the case with any house of this age, there’s always something that needs doing to the fabric of the building.
Shandy Hall is an oasis of calm and tranquility midst the hustle and bustle of the modern world and is certainly worth a visit.
last updated: 13/03/2009 at 12:21
House open: 1 May - 30 September Wednesdays
Garden open: 1 May - 30 September, every day except Saturday,
Admission: House & Garden Adults £4.50 Children £2.25. Garden - £2.50
Telephone: 01347 868465