Posted by: marymarthatours | October 18, 2011

The Carlisle Collection of Miniature Rooms at Nunnington Hall


Nunnington Hall           (photo by Jonathan Oldenbuck)

One of the places at the top of my list for a visit during our England in Miniature Tour in 2012 is Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire. The oldest parts of the house date from the 16th century although most of the present building was built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When the Fife family did extensive remodeling in 1920, they preserved much of the beautiful oak paneling that highlights several of the most significant rooms. Nunnington Hall and its gardens were given to the National Trust in 1952.

clip_image004Nunnington Hall is known for its collection of paintings and prints. In 1974 the National Trust acquired a series of fine 18th century mezzotints, some of which are displaying in the Dining Room. The portrait of Charles, 3rd Viscount Preston, was purchased in 1996 and now hangs in the Oak Hall. This and many other portraits of former Nunnington Hall residents now displayed at the Hall were purchased through gifts to the National Trust.

Oak Hall      (photo by Mark Anderson)

Our group will have an opportunity to tour the house and see its many beautiful rooms. But the main attraction for us will be the attic, which houses the Carlisle Collection of Miniature Rooms. Here we will see 18 rooms, representing time periods from the 1700’s to 1950, which contain an amazing collection of antique and recently crafted miniatures.

These rooms are the result of the dedication of one woman, Kitty Carlisle (no, not the American actress and TV personality), who started collecting miniatures as a child in the early 20th century. By the early 1930’s, her collection had grown very large, and she decided to create room settings in which to display the pieces. She may have been inspired by the workmanship seen in Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, but the rooms are more like those commissioned by Kitty’s American contemporary, Mrs. James Ward Thorne, now housed in the Chicago Institute of Art. In the case of the Carlisle rooms, the scale is not the standard 1/12th scale (1” = 12”), but it is 1/8th scale (1” = 8”), because many of the early pieces that Kitty collected were salesman samples of furniture built in that larger scale.

I wish I could show you some pictures of the rooms, but unfortunately the only pictures that I have seen (on-line as well as in the National Trust booklet, “The Carlisle Collection of Miniature Rooms”) are under copyright. Perhaps I can whet your appetite with a few descriptions:

  • The Queen Anne Drawing Room, 1933. The furniture in this room was Mrs. Carlisle’s first commission. She had seen work by F. J. Early at Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, and asked him to create a set of pieces to fit an early 1700’s setting. The pieces are made exactly as their full-size cousins would have been, with dovetailed or mortice and tenon joints, secret drawers, and working locks with keys. Accessories include Limoges porcelain and Bristol glass miniatures.
  • The Day and Night Nurseries, 1955 & 1961. These rooms include children’s cut-outs on the walls, books on the shelves, and an amazing ivory Noah’s ark with a long parade of ivory animals entering it.
  • The Palladian Hall, 1966. The last of the rooms to be commissioned by Mrs. Carlisle, the two-story hall is modeled on one at Hatch Court in Somerset. Today, the intricate balusters would be easily made with a laser cutter, but in 1966, the pattern was hand carved and then the 84 balusters were cast. Mrs. Carlisle, who had done the embroidery and needlepoint for most of the rooms, embroidered 88 inches of carpet for the stairs.

Nunnington Hall has something for everyone who visits — interesting architecture, beautiful paintings and furnishings, and a lovely walled garden.  But I’m especially looking forward to seeing that attic with its amazing collection of Kitty Carlisle’s miniature rooms.


Walled Garden      (photo by Andrew Whale)

(by Mary)

Photo credits:

Nunnington Hall: copyright Jonathan Oldenbuck and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alice License 3.0.

Oak Hall: copyright Mark Anderson and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 2.0.

Walled Garden: copyright Andrew Whale and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 2.0.



  1. What a pity no mention is made of my father ,Albert Reeves, who created the Paladian Hall for Mrs Carlisle. He also made several other pieces for the Music Room. Some years ago I furnished the NT with copies of drawings and notes he made but having said they would produce notes for the guide I heard nothing further.

    I hope you will find this information of interest.

    Gill Goldsmith (nee Reeves)

    • Thank you for bringing to my attention the work of your father in creating the Palladian Hall for Mrs. Carlisle in 1966. There is only one brief mention of him in the 1979 National Trust pamphlet on the “Carlisle Collection of Miniature Rooms”. According to the booklet, “Albert Reeves of Peckham Rye, who made the Hall and all its furniture, started with a cardboard prototype to the scale of half an inch to the foot to test the suitability of the layout, and to check the construction of the staircase and other architectural features”. When we visit Nunnington Hall this fall, I will certainly look for more information on his contributions.

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