Optipal House

Optipal House was built in 1827 by Gaston Alfred Wayfair, a rich profiteer of the Napoleonic Wars era. It is located near Whitby in Yorkshire, England, with fine views southeast toward the town and west to the Dales. Not strictly a 'castle' or even a manor house, the building is unique in an eccentric way. Its owner designed the structure himself, but otherwise spared no expense in quality of construction and furnishing. In his middle age, having retired at the age of 38, he devoted himself to esoteric studies of various kinds, including exotic horticulture, taxidermy, rock and seashell collecting, 'modern art' (as defined by early Victorians), and later in life necromancy. His son Norman, who inherited the house after his death in 1870, was an amateur of the Arts and converted the old Laboratory in the tower into a sculpting and painting studio. He had no reputation as an artist, and no commercial success, but he couldn't have cared less. The formal garden itself is worth a visit for its unusual layout and flora (he inherited his father's interest in horticulture), some rather strange 'temples' and the like, and the bizarre sculptures he placed in various locations. His descendants maintained the property as well as they could during the bad days of confiscatory taxes, and opened the Garden and parts of the house to the public in the 1960s. The family fell into hard times recently, mainly because of bad investments in dot.com technology, and has put the estate up for sale. Seth Pottlebury-Marshmount has been negotiating for the purchase of this fine building with an eye to restoring it to its state at the time of Norman Wayfair's heyday and opening it to the public.

Section of Tower

Views of the Building

Profile Views These are approximations of the true colors of the building. The base, interiors, and chimneys are built of granite. The pale pillars are Cotswold limestone. Most of the walls are constructed in a reddish-brown sandstone. Granite and sandstone were available locally, but the Cotswold stone had to be ordered specially. Roof tiles are of red clay especially made for this house by a pottery in Derbyshire. All the interior construction is basically supported by oak beams, with walnut floors and rosewood wall panelling where applicable.

Most striking is the front facade (view from the south), with six half-octagonal pillars and a paved entrance terrace. There is a prominent domed clock tower over the doorway and several balconies and terraces. The western view shows the central tower and the conservatory at their best. Two more half-octagonal buttresses balance this side; also note the square Cotswold stone turrets with pyrimidal tops of granite. The north and east sides are rather plain, as they house the domestic offices and secondary bedrooms. A postern door on the north side enters into the servery and kitchen area (under which are cellars). At the top of the eastern stair tower is a ringing chamber with four bells; this was inserted by one of the early owners but is rarely used now.

Floor Plans

Floor Plans It is best to describe the floors plans by moving clockwise from the vaulted entrance hall. First, there is the Anteroom, later converted into a saloon bar, followed by a back hallway with a staircase, the Smoking Room, a lavatory, and the two-storied Trophy Room (stuffed animals and suits of armor). Then the Dining Room, serving area with a back door to the kitchen gardens, Kitchen with a small courtyard containing a well, scullery, larder, pantry, and the Servants' Hall -- a hallway between the latter and the service area leads into stairways to the upper floors and the cellars. Finally, on the ground floor, are a card-playing room and a billiard or games room. At the end of the entrance hall is the main staircase and a door to the inner courtyard.

From the main staircase to the first floor one enters at the front of the building to a passage over the entrance hall, and entrances to the Art Gallery (paintings and statues), the Library, and a small parlor, behind which is the Music Room (piano, harpsichord, etc.). Then clockwise from the stair landing, the Ladies' Parlor, a lavatory, and the main Drawing Room with an entrance to the balcony on the second story of the Trophy Room. The north and northeast side of this floor contains the servants' quarters.

The south side of the house on the second floor has the master bedrooms for the lord and lady of the manor. On the east side is the children's wing, with a bedroom for the Nanny and a private terrace over the servants' quarters. The northwest part of the building contains the guest rooms. Between this and the Master Bedroom are two bathrooms, a private study, and the Muniment Room, which serves as an estate office.

The third floor (clockwise from northeast) has a garret for the use of the children, four small bedrooms and a bath along the east side -- probably originally for the older children --, the Sewing Room (game room, or whatever), and what is called the Hobby Room, which also served as a private schoolroom. North of this is the Book Room (mostly technical, the fine editions being stored in the Library), the back hallway (skylighted) with a linen closet, then the master's cognoscenti chambers, labelled Curios and Exhibits, and also a conservatory for hothouse plants and a terrace on which there are potted outdoor plants. There are two window balconies on the south side, as well as two small terraces, one of which lies above the main entrance.

Four terraces grace the fourth floor, optimistic on the builder's part considering the prevailing weather. Also the Bell Chamber, now basically a 'junk room'. On the south are a garret and a bedroom that is usually assigned to the caretaker of the building. Here, in the tower, is the original Studio/Lab where the first owners exercised their arcane studies and artistic endeavors.

Topping the building are two interesting structures. One is a private oratory or chapel with an anteroom and a domed sanctuary, which is elaborately tiled with some fine mosaic inserts. The other is the so-called Gazebo, which really serves no function except as a summer house or viewing platform. Above this is a lantern tower with a small railed platform surrounding it -- this is accessible only by a ladder from the Gazebo.

Part of the Grounds


The maze is absurdly simple, but the gargoyles within its aisles have been known to send younger children screaming. They are better off to go visit the duck pond. (Although they should not wander too far into the oak woods, which have been stocked with feral pigs.)

The manorial grounds are some 90 acres; only the eastern part is shown here (north is high moorland ground, south is a steep meadow, including a tennis court, leading down into the valley of the River Esk, and west is forested dale). To the east of the manor is the stable yard, with a barn, stable, carriage house, and a cottage for the grooms; a hundred yards along the road is a pub, The Optipal Arms, and a few houses, but hardly a village. North, under the slope of the fells, is the kitchen vegetable garden, horse paddock, and pond. A small tributary of the Esk, Bounderbrook, has been dammed to create the livestock pond and the garden lake. The formal garden is worth seeing -- it has been open to the public for several years. One must park one's car beside the garden wall along the narrow road. Nearest the house is the rose garden, a croquet lawn, the fountain (with some very strange 'reverse mermaids', women's bodies, fishes' heads), the lawn bowls court, and the closely cropped Great Lawn, which leads to a forest of holm oaks that contains some sylvan suprises in the form of scuplted satyrs and centaurs and a 'gingerbread house'. To the west of Boundbrook is the double-oval maze, plan shown below. Around the lake there are four buildings of note: a two-storied Gazebo set amidst pear and apple trees, a boathouse for a couple of small rowing boats, a little oratory, a Greek Temple containing statues of lewd classical gods, and the Rotunda, which serves as a bandshell.

The Maze

Enter: Clockwise, Straight, Counterclockwise, Clockwise, Counterclockwise
The Gazebo

Contains a fireplace and lavatory; the upper floor serves as a summer bedroom.
The Temple

(a) Priapus, (b) Pan, (c) Aphrodite, (d) Bacchus, (e) Silenus

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Copyright © Grobius Shortling 2004