Dragons woven into plasterwork, stags straddling candle stands and lions roaring across heraldry - fantastical beasts lurk on every corner at Temple Newsam.

Intricately carved in wood or stone, painstakingly painted or expertly crafted into fine furnishings or household objects, these creatures bring interest and intrigue to the rooms and corridors of this vast stately home on the outskirts of Leeds.

An array of animals and birds, most with a story behind their presence, have long fascinated visitors to the Tudor/Jacobean dwelling, which is often referred to as the Hampton Court of the North. And now these depictions of real and imagined creatures are under the spotlight in an exciting exhibition.

Fantastical Beasts at Temple Newsam invites visitors to follow a trail through the house and delve into its eclectic collection of ceramics, furniture and art wherein the beasts lie.

“It reminds me of Beauty and the Beast, where beasts have been transformed into household objects,” says exhibition curator Leila Prescott,

The beasts’ lairs include the dining room, where an 18th century silver wine cooler features two mournful-looking, shaggy-maned lions peering over the edge. These are the handles to the huge vessel, which was originally bought by a private buyer at auction in July 2010.

Plans to export the 70kg antique - commissioned by Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby and later Earl of Strafford, when he became the ambassador to Berlin in 1706 -were stopped because it was considered of national significance. Museums across Britain were given seven months to match the auction price, and Temple Newsam was successful.

“These wonderfully sad, silver lions have such memorable faces,” says Leila.

In the Picture Gallery, two elaborately carved candle stands depict a story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, in of which Actaeon is punished for seeing the goddess Diana naked by being turned into a stag and killed by his own hounds. The dogs bare their teeth as they savage the defenceless stag.

“Other candlestands show marvellous eagles,” says Leila. “It used to be quite common to use eagles in light sources around the house - candle stands, torches and sconces. The eagle is symbolic in its association with John the Evangelist who brings the light of the word of God to the world.”

She adds: “There is also a huge eagle on top of a chair that belonged to the Master of the Guild, who would normally have been the most important person in the room.”

One of Leila’s personal favourite items on the trail sits in Temple Newsam’s lofty Great Hall. A mid-18th century table bears a Hercules mask alongside four beautifully-carved, long-fingered lion’s paws. In ancient mythology, the first of Hercules’ 12 labours, set by his cousin King Eurystheus (his cousin), was to slay the Nemean lion.

“There are lions on the fire irons in the Great Hall too,” adds Leila.

Standing proudly on a hill top, Temple Newsam is famous as the birthplace of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots.

There has been a large house on or near the site for almost 1,000 years. In the Middle Ages it was the property of the Knights Templar - hence the name Temple; Newsam derives from a local settlement, but it was Thomas Lord Darcy who built a four-sided house in the 16th century.

After Darcy’s execution for treason the house was given by Henry Vlll to Lord and Lady Lennox whose son Lord Darnley was born there. It fell into disrepair until it was brought by the financier Sir Arthur Ingram in 1622 and largely rebuilt as the present, three-sided dwelling. His descendants lived there for the next 300 years.

The house is famed for its wallpapers, the most talked-about being the splendid, colourful display of birds which adorn the walls of the exquisite Chinese Drawing Room. Dubbed ‘the world’s most expensive wallpaper’, it made international news a couple of years ago for the amusing story behind it: the room was decorated in the 1820s by Lady Isabella Hertford, the mistress of King George IV when he was Prince of Wales. She decided to jazz up the Chinese-inspired wallpaper - a gift from the prince - in the drawing room by cutting out birds from her copy of John James Audubon’s famous book Birds of America and pasting them onto it.

Today, first edition copies of the book have been known to sell for more than £7 million. “Although they are not ‘beasts’, for the sake of this exhibition, birds have been included,” says Leila.

“The fashion for Chinoiserie - the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic traditions, especially in the decorative arts - meant that dragons and exotic birds emerged on items like mirrors or vases.”

She adds: “There is a wonderful candlestand in the Gothick room depicting Chinese fish or dolphin, which look like a dragon, and in the Blue Striped Dressing Room dragons sit above the mirror.

“One of my favourite items is a late 17th century Thomas Toft slipware plate showing Adam and Eve beside the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, with a snake and dragon.” Ornate carvings are ten-a-penny in the stately home, from lions to griffins and wolves. Aged paneling reveals 16th and early 17th century carvings of dragons and animals.

A pair of characterful bears or leopards holding bunches of grapes grace an 18th century over-mantle acquired from nearby Methley Hall in 1957.

To accompany the exhibition, a 12-page booklet has been produced for visitors. It includes clues for adults and children to search and find some of the beasts.

Artefacts housed in a special Fantastical Beasts exhibition room have been sourced from Leeds City Museum and the University of Leeds. These include facsimilies of Medieval bestiary books. “They contain animals that really exist such as dogs, rabbits and beavers, alongside mythological beast such as unicorns, griffins and dragons. The books were produced during a period when everything was a Christian allegory -they gave people a way of talking about their faith.”

Also on display is an ichthyosaurus fossil, part of a dodo’s skeleton and an ammonite from Whitby. “In the late 18th century people used to put eyes on ammonites and turn them into snakes,” says Leila.

“We have a really strong affinity with animals,” says Leila, “It has been great to have this opportunity to draw in objects from art, sculpture and natural history.”

*Temple Newsam, Leeds LS15 OAE W: leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/visit/temple-newsam-house T: 0113 336 7460. Fantastical Beasts runs from March 30 to November 3.