Nostell Priory, not far from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, is a magnificent 18th century mansion built adjacent to the site of an Augustinian priory. Architect James Paine worked at Nostell for around 30 years, before Robert Adam was called in to add new wings and other works. Adam also designed one of the most luscious of lodges to be found on a country estate.
The new house was commissioned by Sir Rowland Winn, 4th bart. (1706-1765), whose family had owned Nostell since the middle of the 17th century. The original design was by gentleman-architect Col. James Mosyer, but it was modified by James Paine who went on to work at Nostell for 30 years. In the same period the grounds were landscaped with lakes and plantations. Sir Rowland was succeeded in 1765 by his son, also Rowland (1739-1785) and it was he, the fifth baronet, who invited Robert Adam to Nostell. Adam remodelled the stables, created stunning interiors, began ambitious (but ultimately largely unrealised) additions to the house, and designed new lodges.
In the 18th century the terms obelisk and pyramid could be synonymous, so whilst we today would think this structure pyramidal, it was known as the Obelisk Lodge. Adam drew up plans for the ‘Gateway for the Park’ in 1776 and work began immediately. The original drawings show that a pair of sphinx were to terminate the flanking walls, but if they are ever installed they are now lost without trace (see link below). The drive straddled by the lodge brought traffic from the important Pontefract to York road, and it must have been a great thrill for visitors to pass through this monumental lodge in their carriages, before sweeping down over the end of the lake and then climbing again for the mansion to burst into view.
There was accommodation for the gate-keeper and his family in the space above the arch and in the two small rooms flanking the pyramid. With the arrival of the railway in the 19th century, the Obelisk Lodge was used less and a gate-keeper was no longer needed, although a colliery labourer, a stonemason’s labourer and gamekeepers (the lodge was well-placed to spot poachers entering the park) are recorded in residence over the century. The lodge was by now known locally as the Needle’s Eye (or Needle Eye), perhaps because of its similarity to the arch-pierced pyramid at Wentworth Woodhouse, about 15 miles away. It continued as a family home until the 1950s, but once empty began to decline.
By 1977, when surveyed for the National Monuments Record, it was dilapidated and the tip was crumbling. A decade later the lodge featured in the exhibition (and accompanying catalogue) Georgian Arcadia: Architecture for the Park and Garden, which was held to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Georgian Group. The ‘dramatic Piranesian conception’ was described as neglected and vandalised, and so it remained until the beginning of the 21st century.
In 2002 it was announced that £4.2 million pounds of Heritage Lottery Funding would allow the acquisition of this previously private part of the estate, as well as meeting the costs of a major programme of renovation and restoration at Nostell that included the Grade II* listed Obelisk Lodge. The singular lodge, which had become pointless in more ways than one, is now once again a magnificent parkland feature.
Nostell Priory was given to the National Trust in lieu of tax in 1953 https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nostell
For Adam’s drawing in the collection of the Sir John Soane Museum see http://collections.soane.org/THES92166
All modern photo’s were taken on rather lovely day in November 2020, when local restrictions allowed, and the National Trust team were doing an excellent job of managing safe access to the park.
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