It was a marriage proposal 260 years in the making when romantic Jeff Rowland popped the question with a little help from a beautiful antique cabinet.
Jeff, 34, took his unsuspecting girlfriend Sarah Reynolds, 32, on a Valentine’s Day trip to historic Temple Newsam House last week to see the Tudor mansion’s stunning Channon cabinet.
Crafted from the finest mahogany in 1750, the cabinet hides a number of intricate secret drawers and compartments, originally designed to conceal aristocrats’ love notes and treasures.
During the tour, as Jeff and Sarah looked on, a member of the Temple Newsam team opened each drawer in succession, eventually revealing an engagement ring which had been safely hidden there earlier that day.
Jeff, a senior HR advisor, said: “Sarah has always been drawn to historic buildings, castles and homes and it went exactly according to plan.
“I’d not told Sarah where we were going, surprising her with a visit to Temple Newsam House on Valentine’s Day. All the staff were amazing and even introduced themselves to me as though we’d not met to finalise plans just a couple of hours earlier.
“The visitor assistant proceeded to remove each of the compartments from the cabinet, until one of the very last ones, which contained the engagement ring. She handed that to me and left us for a couple of minutes. I told Sarah why I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, got down on one knee and asked her if she would marry me. Thankfully, she said yes!”
Jeff had been planning the proposal since the end of last year after the couple, who live in Headingley, attended a chocolate-making workshop together at the 500-year-old house. He contacted the house, where the team suggested the secret cabinet idea and helped him plan the proposal.
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Jeff and Sarah moved to Leeds last year after being together for just six weeks so Sarah could study for a PHD in cultural studies at the University of Leeds.
Sarah said: “I shouldn’t have been surprised Jeff would organise something so thoughtful and unique, but I was amazed he had managed to create this whole surprise without me having a clue.
“Normally I’m the organiser, so I was very impressed and touched. We’d spoken about getting married previously, but I didn’t know that the engagement ring would be in a hidden compartment in a beautiful cabinet at Temple Newsam, that certainly doesn’t happen every day! When I spotted the ring, it hit me and I broke down into tears. It was very overwhelming and an incredibly creative and beautiful way to ask.”
Jeff and Sarah are now starting to plan their big day, but say Temple Newsam will always be a place filled with special memories.
Sarah said: “We will be telling this story for some time to come and we look forward to taking our parents to Temple Newsam when they come to visit.”
Jeff added: “We were so appreciative of the wonderful staff at Temple Newsam for helping us create such a special memory.
“We really loved Temple Newsam when we visited there before Christmas, so we love that it is now part of our story and will always be a special place for us.”
Described as one of the truly great masterpieces of English furniture, the Channon cabinet was made by noted craftsman John Channon, who was based on St Martin’s Lane in London. His work is known for its detailed designs and stunning brass inlay.
Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries, said:
“Temple Newsam House is a place filled with so many charming and romantic stories and it’s wonderful that thanks to Jeff, Sarah and the team at the house, we now have another to add to the list.
“On behalf of the council and the team at the house, I’d like to congratulate them both and wish them the best of luck for their wedding and for their future together.”