AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF ROUNDHAY PARK
Thomas Nicholson required a country house that was not ruinously expensive to build and maintain, yet mirrored the taste of the county elite. The Mansion, in the latest Greek Revival style, was the perfect accommodation for a successful businessman. Occupying an elevated position near the centre of the estate, with superb views over the park, it epitomized good taste of the period and provided an elegant focal point to the estate.
Visitors gained access to the house by passing through the gates at the two entrance lodges adjoining the Leeds and Wetherby Road, before travelling for three quarters of a mile along the carriage drive, with 'a scene of unusual beauty' on each side.57
This classical building, built in ashlar on two storeys with seven bays and an impressive Ionic portico, is almost certainly the work of Thomas Taylor, one of the first professional architects to live in Leeds. Thomas Nicholson's desire to move north is reflected in the fact that on 1st March 1813, in partnership with his half brother Stephen, William Williams Brown and Timothy Rhodes, he opened the Union Bank in Commercial Street, Leeds.58 The partners were delighted that the new building had been completed in such a rapid time and were clearly impressed by the efficient way Thomas Taylor had undertaken his commission.59 He was later responsible for St. John's Church, Roundhay, another Nicholson building.
Quite when Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth, moved into the Mansion is unclear. It seems likely that he used his small house at Chapel Allerton as the base from which he supervised the building work. It must have been an enormous relief to finally take possession of such a magnificent house. Quaker records show that he and his wife moved to Roundhay in 1819.60 His new home had numerous stylish rooms and the 1871 sale details give some feel for their size and number:
It contains on the ground floor a handsome vestibule 22' 2" by 11' 10", a central hall 27' by 25', from the middle of which rises a broad double flight of stairs, lighted from the roof; a library 27' 6" by 19' 9"; a dining room 27' 6" by 18' 9", a drawing room 33' by 22' 10", a study 16' square and a morning room 22'6" by 16' 6". The principal rooms on the ground floor are 13' high and fitted with handsome Marble Mantel-pieces and mahogany framed plate glass windows.61
On the first floor were seventeen bedrooms with two up-to-date water closets. Downstairs there was a kitchen, scullery, three larders, storerooms and butler's pantry; while in the basement a laundry and extensive wine cellars.
Thomas died on 14th January 1821, having spent over fifteen years landscaping the grounds and building the Mansion - a home he lived in for less than two years! Two months later Thomas Hampshire, from a valuation company based on Trinity Lane, Leeds, arrived to make a full inventory of the contents of his house. The fifty nine page booklet lists and values virtually every item and provides a wonderful insight into the sumptuous fixtures and fittings to be found in each room of the Mansion.
He began in the Dining Room:
|Fender and Fix Irons||3||-||-|
|Turkey Floor Carpet||24||-||-|
|6 Chimney Ornaments||1||-||-|
|2 Bell Pulls||1||-||-|
|Sliding Fire Screen||3||-||-|
|Mahogany Side Board||20||-||-|
|2 Bronze Pedestals with Patent Lamps.||10||-||-|
|2 Knife Cases||5||5||-|
|15 Mahogany Chairs||45||-||-|
|3 Window Curtains
3 Venetian Blinds, Cornice
|2 Dining Tables||20||-||-|
The total value of items in that room alone came to £170 10s - enough to build two workers' cottages! Room after room was crammed with valuable furniture, ornaments, carpets and paintings. His silverware was valued at £226 4s 6d, while the contents of his substantial library came to £228 13 s 0d. The total value of the house contents was £2251 - a fortune!62
In addition there was an elegant stable block at a discreet distance from the house, with a nearby cluster of modern housing for his estate workers. The site for this complex of buildings had been made available by the demolition of a former barn, farm and several houses.
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57. WYAS DB/M523 Plan 1871
58. Leeds Intelligencer, 23 and 30 Nov. 1812.
59. Frank Beckwith, Thomas Taylor: Regency Architect, Leeds, Thoresby Society Monograph 1. (Leeds, 1949) pp.30-1.
60. W.C.E.Hartley, Banking in Yorkshire (1975) and R.V.Taylor, Biographia Leodiensis (Leeds, 1865) p.461.
61. WYAS DB/M523 Plan1871.
62. WYAS DB/39/18.