The admiral’s regard for his country home

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The Collingwood Society held its summer picnic in the grounds of Collingwood House earlier this year.

The parish priest, Fr Peter Stott, kindly gave us a conducted tour of the house, assisted by some of the parishioners.

Pevsner describes Collingwood House as “quite a large late Georgian brick house of seven bays”.

It retains the qualities of a gentleman’s residence. Many original features survive, or ones that are consistent, including ceilings, windows, staircase, doors, doorcases and fireplace surrounds.

The main staircase nicely defines its social standing, and that of its owner.

Lord Collingwood came from “an old but impoverished Northumberland family” (ODNB.) He was ennobled in 1805 as Baron Collingwood of Hethpoole and Caldburne, two estates in the College Valley that his wife inherited.

Before this, however, he was just a gentleman, a man of good family and education, but moderate fortune.

If he had been richer, the staircase might have been larger and more imposing. Instead, it winds modestly round three sides of the central hall, only a little grander than your staircase or mine.

The dining room is beautifully proportioned and comfortably accommodates a table for eight. You could easily imagine it featuring in a Jane Austen novel.

We were also shown into the cellar. A lot of the old houses in Morpeth have their cellars sealed up, but this one is still in use, albeit only to house the boiler.

It still has its brick-built alcoves. There are six large ones, presumably for barrels of beer or wine, and six smaller, perhaps for bottle racks. Present-day thirst is satisfied with a small wine rack in the dining room.

In Collingwood’s time, the house included the Church Hall, making it almost twice the size, with room for a night nursery (bedroom) and a day nursery or schoolroom for his two little girls.

The back of the house shows clearly its 18th century origin. You can see an elegant landing window with a semi-circular top and several others with six-pane sashes.

At the right-hand end is the outline of the cottage that used to butt up to the house.

On December 20, 1805, from his flagship HMS Queen, off Cartagena, he wrote to Lady Collingwood: “I am afraid the fees for this patent (i.e. his title of nobility) will be large, and pinch me, but never mind; let others solicit pensions. I am an Englishman, and will never ask for money as a favour.

“How do my darlings go on? Oh! how I shall rejoice, when I come home, to find them as much improved in knowledge as I have advanced them in station in the world; but take care they do not give themselves foolish airs....

“I am out of all patience with Bounce. The consequential airs he gives himself since he became a Right honourable dog are insufferable. He considers it beneath his dignity to play with commoners’ dogs, and truly thinks that he does them grace when he condescends to lift up his leg against them.

“This, I think, is carrying the insolence of rank to extreme; but he is a dog that does it.”

Six months later, from HMS Ocean, he wrote: “This day, my love, is the anniversary of our marriage, and I wish you many happy returns of it. If ever we have peace I hope to spend my latter days among my family.

“Should we decide to change the place of our dwelling our route would of course be to the southward of Morpeth; but then I would be for ever regretting those beautiful views which are nowhere to be exceeded.

“The fact is, whenever I think how I am to be happy again my thoughts carry me back to Morpeth, where, out of the fuss and parade of the world, surrounded by those I loved most dearly, and who loved me, I enjoyed as much happiness as my nature is capable of.

“I wish I were with you that we might have a good laugh. God bless me! I have scarcely laughed these three years.

“Tell me, how do the trees that I planted thrive? Is there shade under the three oaks for a comfortable summer seat? Do the poplars grow at the walk and does the wall of the terrace stand firm?

"My bankers tell me that all my money in their hands is exhausted by fees on the peerage, and that I am in their debt, which is a new epoch in my life, for it is the first time I was ever in debt since I was a Midshipman.”

The estate of Chirton, near North Shields, was left to him by his cousin, and Lady Collingwood liked it better than Morpeth.

In February 1807, he wrote to Mrs Moutray, an old friend from the West Indies: “I suppose, if ever I come on shore, I must live at Chirton. It is only half in the country, and my house at Morpeth and the country about were so much to my taste, that I shall leave them with regret.”

As it turned out, he never had to. He died on March 7, 1810, aboard his flagship, the Ville de Paris, the day after he set out for home from Port Mahon in Minorca.

My thanks once again to Fr Peter for permission to take and publish photographs of Collingwood House, and of the paintings preserved there.