Mythical statues are reunited at estate

English Heritage senior curator Kevin Booth at The Wild Man of Beslay exhibition at Belsay Hall.
English Heritage senior curator Kevin Booth at The Wild Man of Beslay exhibition at Belsay Hall.

AGE-OLD mythical statues that guarded a Northumberland estate for centuries have returned in a new installation.

The Wildman and Wildwoman of Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens were guardians of the Middleton family’s formal gardens at the estate, and the wildman – a cave dwelling beast or symbol of freedom and liberty – has been the family crest for more than 500 years.

The life-sized statues are between 300 and 400 years old and despite being headless, they are well preserved.

They will be displayed in a new interpretation in the Pillar Hall, along with an intact stained glass window by pre-eminent 17th Century glass painter Henry Gyles.

The window, which continues the wildman symbol, was added by John Middleton, the 4th Baronet of Belsay Hall, to celebrate his marriage. It is the only surviving piece of original framed work in the country by Gyles, who was born in York in 1640. It had been left forgotten in one of the first floor rooms for more than 20 years.

English Heritage Senior Curator Kevin Booth said: “We are really excited to bring all these significant elements of the Belsay family estate and its history together to go on display, restored and revived, for the general public for the first time.

“The statues are relatively new finds, it was only a few years ago that the shoulder of the wild woman was discovered in the gardens. Through extensive research we have pieced her and the history of the hall together to create what we consider to be a fascinating and engaging display for visitors.”

The mythical characters, which both have beards, are thought to embody the qualities of the Belsay estate, from the refined hall and castle to the wild Quarry Gardens, as well as the blend of the wild and nurtured Northumberland landscape.

The wildman featured in many stories in the medieval period, from romantic to religious, and by the 14th Century he was commonly seen as a symbol on shields and crests.

The installation will be at Belsay until November and a series of events and activities will run throughout the year to enhance the visitor experience.

Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens will open daily from Tuesday. Admission charges apply.