A History of Gilling Castle
Gilling was originally the home of the Etton family, who appeared there at the end of the 12th century. It was Thomas de Etton who built, in the second half of the the 14th century, the fortified manor house, a large tower almost square, whose basement still forms the core of the present building. In 1349 - the year of the Black Death - his father had settled the manor of Gilling on his wife's family, the Fairfaxes, in the event of the failure of the Ettons. Thus, Thomas Fairfax was able to claim the property in 1489, and it was his great grandson, Sir William Fairfax, who succeeded in 1571, and undertook the rebuilding of the old 14th century house. Building on top of the medieval walls and leaving the ground floor intact he rebuilt the first and second floors, adding at the back (east) a staircase turret and a bay window. We owe to him the Great Chamber, which was completed in 1585.
At the beginning of the 18th century the owner, now Viscount Fairfax of Emley, remodelled much of the interior of the house and added the wings enclosing the front (west) court. Though this work has often been attributed to Vanbrugh it was more probably by James Gibbs, the architect of St. Martins in the Fields and of the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford.
On the death of Mrs Barnes (Lavinia Fairfax) in 1885, this branch of the family became extinct and the castle, after passing through several hands, was bought by Ampleforth Abbey in 1929. The vendor, however, retained the panelling and glass of the Great Chamber and sold it separately. It was recovered for Gilling, with the help of the Pilgrim Trust and many friends and subscribers, and restored to its old home in 1952.
The Great Chamber was the principal room of the house as rebuilt by Sir William Fairfax, who held Gilling from 1571 to 1597. It survived the 18t-century rebuilding almost unaltered and is a remarkable example of the richness and elaboration of a late Elizabethan interior. Sir William was keenly interested in heraldry and he used it to decorate the newly-built room. The glass has the signature of the artist and the date, 1585, which suggests that the room and its decorations were completed that year.
The room is wainscoted in English oak divided in height into three large panels in the four corners. The lozenges are filled with interlacing geometrical patterns in ebony and holly. Each one is different and there are nearly a hundred round the room. Each triangular panel is inlaid with a flower. The chimneypiece has the Fairfax achievement (quarterly of six, Fairfax, Malbis, Etton, Carthorpe, Ergham and Folyfayt) in the centre panel. Above are the arms of Queen Elizabeth I. The breast above the fireplace has four coats - of Sir William's four sisters and their husbands (Bellasis, Curwen, Vavasour, and Roos, each impaling Fairfax).
Above the wainscoting is a frieze, painted on boards, displaying the arms of the gentlemen of Yorkshire. They are arranged in twenty-one Wapentakes. To each Wapentake is given a tree and the coats of all gentlemen then living in that district are hung on its branches.
The Painted Glass
Sir William carried on his heraldic decoration in the painted glass, which is its finest part. The south window which alone survives almost intact, is devoted to the heraldry and genealogy of his second wife's family, the Stapletons. The bay window has suffered, and the first row of lights was reglazed with clear glass, probably in the 18th century. This window shows the story of the Fairfax family. These two windows are the work of Bernard Dininckoff, who has left his signature, with the date 1585 and a tiny portrait of himself, in the bottom right-hand light of the south window. The third (east) window has also lost its lower lights and is by a different artist, slightly later in date. It shows the story of the Constable family. For Sir William's only son, Thomas (afterwards the first Viscount Fairfax), married Catharine Constable of Burton Constable.
The ribbed plaster ceiling with its fans and pendants completed the room. Once again Sir William's enthusiasm for heraldry finds its place. For the grounds of the panels formed by the ribs are decorated with lions (Fairfax coat), and goats and talbots (the Fairfax and Stapleton supporters).
Tours of The Castle
Guided tours of the Castle are sometimes available through the Lettings Department at Ampleforth College. Details of current tours are available at www.visitors.ampleforth.org.uk