“JUST another five minutes…”

We had arrived at Lotherton Hall in the village of Aberford east of Leeds, for an afternoon out, but we weren’t getting to see much.

Within minutes of arriving we met Les, the hall’s resident cat, who jumped onto my knee and immediately settled down. As I explained to my husband, there was absolutely no way I was getting up. Eventually, another visitor appeared and we managed to gently persuade the friendly feline to swap knees.

Les is just one of the many joys of a visit to this stately home and estate, the former residence of the Gascoigne family.

Given by the family to the City of Leeds, Lotherton Hall opened in 1969, one of eight museums and art galleries maintained by Leeds City Council for the benefit of local residents and visitors.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary the hall is hosting three exhibitions representing the past, present and future of the hall. Each showcases the variety of its collections alongside exciting new talent.

Curated by Lotherton volunteers, End of an Era looks at the last members of the Gascoigne family who gave Lotherton to the city of Leeds.

A selection of fascinating letters written by Lotherton’s last private owner Sir Alvary Gascoigne during his diplomatic career are on display. They include a letter describing a private meeting Sir Alvary had with Winston Churchill in 1943.

Another, written in 1924 in Peking, comments: ‘The interior of the Emperor’s apartments are more tawdry and dowdy than I can well describe. Like all young Chinese, he has tried to furnish them in modern foreign style, and has collected enough “junk” to fill a third-class London boarding house.’

The letters are displayed in one of the many rooms of this grand house, each as captivating as the last. We strolled through, marvelling at the opulence, including two magnificent grand pianos in the drawing room.

My husband loved the butler’s safe, a built-in strong room where the family silver was kept. Unfortunately, it became tarnished by smoke from the boiler in the room below.

I was surprised to come across a Titus Salt bedroom suite commissioned in 1865 by the wool baron’s youngest son Titus Salt Junior, for his home Milner Field in the Aire Valley, long ago demolished.

There is much to commemorate Douglas Wilder Gascoigne, Sir Alvary’s son and heir, who died fighting in Normandy in 1944. The history of his career and the eyewitness account of his death are told through films and oral history, together with a display of personal family objects.

Fifty Years in the Making looks at how the hall has developed into the museum it is today, focusing upon special displays of decorative arts and archive material.

There are ceramics from near and far, including Leeds Pottery and Chinese ceramics from the collection of Huddersfield-born diplomate Frank Savery.

I liked the ‘spitting pot’, made locally and decorated by Dutch painters. Modern ceramics by artists including Martin Smith and Elizabeth Fritsch are also on display.

Art lovers will appreciate the fine paintings. The Gascoignes clearly loved their dogs, who are present in many photographs.

We ate lunch in the spacious Stables Café, choosing from a varied menu of freshly-made light lunches. The home-baked cakes were to die for. An outside courtyard has plenty of tables too, for warmer weather. My only criticism was the amount of discarded food and rubbish under almost every table. An occasional sweep would make a big difference.

The Fashion Galleries opened in 1970, just over a year after the hall opened as a museum. It was initially made up of two rooms converted from old guest bedrooms. A further two were added in 1977.

Today’s exhibition, Fashion Forward, is a celebration of Yorkshire’s most exciting contemporary talent with the designers - who are making names on the international fashion scene - having either come from, studied or are still working in the area.

The innovative designs of Cunnington & Sanderson, Faye Hindle Studio, Sadie Clayton, Jenny Llewellyn, Bo Carter, Charlotte Heley, Olivia Prickett and Victoria Derby, are beautifully displayed and attracting interest and discussion.

A group of primary school children, visiting at the same time, amused us with their comments on some of the more off-the-wall fashions.

The house caters well for youngsters, with a cabinet in every room containing information aimed at them. In the dining room, for example, youngsters are shown how to lay the table and taught about Edwardian food. A dressing up room given them chance to wear the clothing of the period.

Lotherton is well-known for its mini-zoo. Wildlife World draws on the travels of the Gascoignes and offers information on the animals and birds and any conservation work.

There’s an imaginatively-designed penguin pool, with little Humboldt penguins diving around, as well as a muddy enclosure housing the critically-endangered Visayan warty pig - it was wonderful watching them digging up roots with their long snouts - and a pen containing one of my favourite creatures, the world’s largest rodent the capybara.

I was less keen on the birds, some of which seemed cooped up in small aviaries. A great grey owl - the largest in the world by length - looked utterly miserable in his cramped confinement.

Woodland walks, a sun-trap walled garden, historic stables and a deer park add to the experience at Lotherton. And we couldn’t leave without visiting the ancient Lotherton Chapel, beside the house. Saved from dereliction in the early 20th century by Colonel FRTT Gascoigne, it is a little gem.

*Lotherton Hall, off Collier Lane, Aberford, Leeds LS25 3EB.

The exhibitions run until October 20. Admission is included with entry to the hall.