The History of Shandy Hall

Shandy Hall was probably built around 1430 as a medieval long hall by George Dayville in what was then called Cuckwold. The hall is sited on high ground at the west end of the village and was originally a timber-framed house of two parts, a hall and a solar. Many of the original features exist, including wall-paintings in the ground floor parlour and in the first floor solar, which add to the architectural and historical significance of the Grade 1 listed building.

By 1760, when Laurence Sterne came to live in Coxwold, the house had changed considerably. Further alterations were made by Sterne including the building of a coach house, a cellar and a box-like two-storey brick extension. Sterne had already published the first two volumes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman when he came to Coxwold and his friends celebrated his success as a writer by christening his new home ‘Shandy Hall’, the word Shandy being a dialect word for ‘crack-brained’ or ‘odd’. He lived in the house until his death in 1768 and he wrote the subsequent seven volumes of Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy in a room which contains the principal element of the museum’s collection.

The living of Coxwold had been presented to Sterne by Lord Fauconberg of Newburgh Priory, and remained in the Bellasye (later Wombwell) family until 1968 when ownership was transferred to the Laurence Sterne Trust. Herbert Read was the first chairman and Kenneth Monkman the first honorary curator. The Monkman family lived in the house until Kenneth’s death in 1999 when the curatorship was transferred to his widow. Patrick Wildgust was appointed resident curator on Julia Monkman’s retirement in 2004.

Laurence Sterne was born in Clonmel, Ireland in 1713. His father was an army ensign and his first ten years were marked by removal from barracks to barracks. At the age of ten, Laurence went to school in Halifax and subsequently attended Jesus College, Cambridge where he studied the classics and divinity. He graduated in 1737 and was ordained into the Church of England as a deacon in the same year. With the help of his uncle, Dr. Jaques Sterne (Precentor of York), he began to make a moderately successful ecclesiastical career and was ordained priest in 1738 and granted the living of Sutton-on-the-Forest, to which he added six years later the living of Stillington. He married in 1741 and had a daughter, Lydia – the only one of his children to survive infancy.

Two of his sermons were published in 1747 and 1750, but it wasn’t until the publication of a pamphlet in 1759 that his talents as a writer were displayed.

The pamphlet, A Political Romance, was supressed; but it gave Sterne the inspiration for a more ambitious work and he contacted the London bookseller, Robert Dodsley with the draft of one volume of a work entitled Tristram Shandy. Unable to secure a guarantee of publication, Sterne revised the work and in 1759 printed and published the first two volumes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by paying for it himself and sending it to London.

The book was an immediate success. Sterne became famous overnight and, with his portrait painted by Joshua Reynolds within the first few months of his book’s release, a celebrity.

Adaptations of Tristram Shandy had been thought to be impossible owing to the book’s refusal to adhere to a linear narrative. Growing awareness of post-modern approaches in literature and the arts in general have resulted in more adventurous thinking and a significant new film version of Sterne’s novel entitled A Cock and Bull Story was released to critical acclaim in 2006. The film is directed by Michael Winterbottom, stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and was nominated for a BAFTA.

Associated Links

Re-enactment Interviews
Articles on The University of York Website

Tristram Shandy Trailer
Video on YouTube

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