Harlaxton Manor

Recently, I got the opportunity to visit Harlaxton College for the first time (formerly Harlaxton Manor). Today, Harlaxton College is a higher education institution: the British campus of the University of Evansville as well as a venue for many events, conferences and study groups. I was attending a conference that I will discuss in a separate blog entry: Masculinities in the British Landscape co-organised by the awesome Kate Weikert and the equally awesome Edward Bujak. This archaeodeath blog doesn’t really deserve Harlaxton, there were no graves and only one memorial – commemorating the presence of the Parachute Regiment during the Second World War in the appropriately named Pegasus Courtyard. Sadly, I even forgot to photograph it (justifying another visit methinks). Here I want to briefly review my impressions as a first visitor rather than the conference itself. Still, I want to highlight the fact that, as keynote speaker at the conference, I am very grateful for the opportunity to both participate in the conference and experience Harlaxton.

View over the Italian colonnade to the house

I get to go to academic conferences in many different venues. Recently, I have been to three other conferences in very different settings. I have been from the splendid Riverside Innovation Centre of the University of Chester (as discussed here), down by the River Dee in the heart of the city of Chester for the Contest and Collaboration conference organised by Sara Elin Roberts and Rachel Swallow. I then jumped north of the border to the pub- and curry-ridden University of Glasgow for the Runes Network organised by Anouk Busset and Elizabeth Walker (discussed here and here and here). Straight after, I went down to explore bits of Dartmoor (see here, here and here) and to Buckfast Abbey for the Past in its Place conference beside a real-live monastery (discussed here). Given this variety of venues, Harlaxton in all its splendour was actually not the shock to the system it could have been. Obviously, it was pleasant and fun being at such a ridiculously audacious architectural monstrosity set within extensive grounds, but it didn’t wow me as that unexpected. Perhaps I am jaded and indifferent to conference venues if even Harlaxton does not surprise me! Perhaps I am covering up for the fact that I always feel a bit of a fish out of water in these environments…

The back of the house and the conservatory

What is Harlaxton like? Grand? Certainly. Hideous? Quite possibly. Merging Baroque, Jacobean and Gothic styles and constructed 1832-37, Harlaxton Manor was designed for the local squire Gregory Gregory by architecture Anthony Salvin. The house is amazing from a distance, terrifying in their proportions close up. The taxi driver from Grantham railway station told me that approaching American students always say long and awe-inspired ‘wow’s when they see Harlaxton for the first time. I am sorry to say that, while I obliged the taxi-driver out of politeness, with all the passion and enthusiasm of Louis Theroux, my internal response was more of a ‘urgh’ followed by a shudder. I have to confess that country houses are not my personal thing. Having said that, it was distinctive, memorable and the staff were friendly. The atmosphere was perfect, and I got the bestest room in the place to stay in, which I am sure I have Edward and Kate to thank for. There was also an amazing pre-wine reception in the conservatory, wine reception in the hall and post-wine reception in the staff common room. I cannot complain and I won’t.

One of the Harlaxton lions
The conservatory

While much of my trip was spent in one of the rooms listening to conference paper (or else eating and drinking), I got to see some of the surroundings which for me make up for the architecture. We walked the mile-long drive to gorge on the first evening at the local pub. We also had time to walk about the grounds a bit (but I need to go back and see more!). The house is surrounded by a range of formal gardens intended to serve as a walk around Europe, with French-style terraces, Italian Colonnade, Dutch Ornamental Canal and English landscape walks. There is also an enclosing woodland, a walled garden and gatehouse half way along the one mile drive. I liked the lions best in terms of surviving sculpture. There are also crazy geese…

In summary, a unique venue, splendid surroundings and a fabulous stay. I must get back to Harlaxton at some point and improve my appreciation of 19th-century elite architecture. If I do, I will insist (or beg) to get the same room with its view down the 1-mile drive and the fabulous desk in the window.

My luxury desk at luxurious Harlaxton
My room with a view over the Lincolnshire countryside