Waterton’s Workshop

The Organ Gallery, looking towards the Water Gate (on which Waterton set up the crucifix).
The Organ Gallery, looking towards the Water Gate (on which Waterton set up the crucifix).
Walton Hall on its island in the lake, from the south south -west.
Walton Hall on its island in the lake, from the south south -west.

Today I’m doing a little research for a set design for my Waterton comic. John Whitaker, a curator at Wakefield Museum (and the author of the comic) has referred me to a description of Waterton’s work-room, written by Norman Moore in his introduction to Waterton’s Natural History Essays (p. 127);

On the top floor of the house, in the opposite direction to the organ gallery [part of Waterton’s museum], was the chapel, and a small room which was at once Waterton’s study, bird-stuffing workshop and bed-room, if bed-room it could be called when there was not any bed. The Wanderer always slept on the boards, wrapped up in a blanket. His pillow was a block of oak, which had been originally rough, and in course of years had become almost polished by use. The entire room revealed at a glance the simple tastes of its occupant. Some prints and pictures, which in his eyes had a meaning superior to art, hung on the walls, some shelves contained his favourite books, his jug and basin stood on a chair, and he had a little round looking-glass and a table. Over the mantel-piece was an old map of Guiana, a record to him of living scenes and loving memories. For mere ornament’s sake, there was nothing. To the sleeping eye all rooms are equally blank, and when Waterton was awake in his work-room he was mostly intent upon inward thoughts or outward occupations.

The Organ Gallery

The Organ Gallery, 1977. Apologies for the exposure on this Kodachrome slide.
The Organ Gallery, 1977. Apologies for the exposure on this Kodachrome slide.

I remember the ‘Organ Gallery’ with its oak panelling which I assumed was salvaged from the Tudor/medieval Walton Hall when the present hall was built in the eighteenth century. There were chests, with initials and carved dates from the 1600s built into the window bays. Unfortunately all the panelling was removed when the hall was converted for use as a country club and hotel in the late 1970s. This corner room became part of the manager’s flat and a kitchen was installed. This might be the only existing photograph of the Organ Gallery, which in Waterton’s day housed an extension of the museum, which was displayed almost entirely on the staircase.

First thoughts on a room plan.
First thoughts on a room plan.

If Waterton’s room was ‘in the opposite direction’ that might mean the south-east corner, with the best view of the lake. If it was on this corner it would have light throughout the day, which Waterton would need for his meticulous work, so that’s what I’ll go with.

In older photographs, the sash windows of the Hall were divided into six lights, top and bottom, so they looked more Georgian than in my photographs.

This first floor room was, according to my mum when we visited in 1977, the room in which I was born.
This first floor room was, according to my mum when we visited in 1977, the room in which I was born. When the hall was converted into a hotel and sports club, the hospital partition walls were removed and this became part of a spacious function room where Barbara and I had our wedding reception in September 1983.

When I was born in Walton Hall, then a maternity hospital, there were tales amongst the midwives that at a particular hour of the night/very early morning, there would be the sound of movement upstairs which they put down to the spirit of Charles Waterton, a devout Catholic, rising early to say his morning prayers in the upstairs chapel.

My mum, who had arrived at the hall after dark, remembered the following day seeing a flock of birds fly past the window. The nurses told her these were Canada geese flying up from the lake which surrounds the house like an overgrown moat.

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