I mentioned on a Living Arrows post a couple of weeks ago that we spent one day of our Norfolk holiday visiting National Trust property, Blickling Hall. I didn’t include it in my Norfolk round up post as I had far too much to say about it!
Blickling Hall is a 16th century mansion, on the Blickling Estate near Aylsham in north Norfolk. A previous house on the site was lived in by the Boleyn family and Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn was born there. The last owner of the house was politician Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian, who at the time of his death in 1940 was the British Ambassador to the US. He left Blickling Hall to the National Trust, the first house of this stature to pass into their ownership, and a key step in making the National Trust what it is today.
We chose to visit Blickling as we had heard that the bluebells were looking lovely and the weather forecast wasn’t great so we knew we could shelter in the house. I must have looked slightly nervous as we got the tickets, to include the house visit, as the woman behind the counter launched into an enthusiastic spiel about how child-friendly the house was and not to be worried about taking them in. It’s the first National Trust house we’ve visited with them and I admit to being put off in the past as I assumed they (well, Seren) would a) try to run underneath the security ropes and jump on beds and b) get bored. Also, a lot of properties (understandably) don’t permit prams or buggies in to the house though do lend slings. We could take the buggy into Blickling Hall which was another plus point for us.
Anyway, I’m jumping ahead! After, we had got our tickets and entry stickers we walked across the estate to find the bluebells before it rained. We got distracted along the way when Seren spotted a croquet game, which she recognised from Alice in Wonderland and insisted we play. Followed by Connect 4 and a brief spot of sheltering from the rain in a little summer house.
Then we walked to the wooded area to find the bluebells and look for fairies, all taking on a character from Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom at Seren’s insistence.
After quite a while of wandering, finding bluebells but being thwarted by fairies, we decided it was time for lunch. We walked back towards the house to eat in the cafe – kids’ picnic boxes for the little ones, sausage rolls, quiche or jacket potatoes for the grown-ups and cake for afters. The rain had started again when we had finished so we dashed across the courtyard to the house. We were greeted at the entrance by two characters in period costume, every Wednesday a group of volunteers dress up as staff, residents and visitors of Blickling Hall from the past (1937 on our visit). We met more characters once through the door and also picked up a treasure hunt for Seren to do, which involved finding different instruments to clean the artifacts in the house (there is also a treasure hunt covering the gardens).
She quite liked looking at the paintings too, on spotting a Holbein portrait of Henry VIII in the hallway, she said “that is from a long, long time ago”. As we walked in to the next room, I pointed out a painting of a little girl to her and a volunteer came over and whispered, “it’s a boy, it’s Charles II”. Apparently, little boys wore dresses until they were potty trained. I’m sure I did know that at some point. This volunteer was acting as Philip Kerr himself. He was accompanied by a lady acting as Philip’s friend Nancy Astor MP and they both chatted with us about their Liberal politics and Christian Science faith. Nancy told Seren that she had been elected on a promise to fatten up the children of Plymouth (a stand against child poverty in the town for represented in Parliament).
In this room, we found our first clue, the photos above show Seren with one of the clues from upstairs, a hogshair brush! We found more “treasure” in most rooms along our journey and the trail certainly helped keep Seren’s interest up. We were helped into a lift to go upstairs (which sort of means you don’t follow the traditional path around the house). In the Long Hall we found a couple of maids who loved chatting to Seren and curtseying to her, they told her to try to find a maid called Lily as she was great fun and a bit mischievous. At this point, Seren & I had to divert back outside to the toilet, the staff were helpful in showing us the quickest way and Seren was thrilled to use the grand staircase instead of the lift when we came back in. In the next room we found Lily who was lighting fires (well, pretending to) and let Seren help her. Seren said later that this was her favourite thing from the whole day!
In one of the bedrooms we found 1930s celebrity gardener, Norah Lindsay, who told us about the history of the gardens and gave Seren a garden colouring in sheet so she could help her with the designs. She didn’t have a good word to say about Lady Astor! After finding more clues for our treasure hunt, it was time to go back downstairs to the basement as we realised we had missed out the kitchen and the last clue could be found in the butler’s silver cabinet. This was down a flight of steps so just Seren, grandad and I went down. As well as chatting to the butler we found Percy the gardener who was hilarious, moaning about how he always had to keep Lily out of trouble and about Norah Lindsay and Lady Astor’s quarrels. Seren was fascinated by all the role-playing (I guess she thought it was real!) and the grown-ups found it amusing and it definitely added to our enjoyment of the day.
The it was time to hand in all our clues and collect our certificates to say we had qualified as Conservation Assistants and make our way back to our cars.
2015 marks the 75th anniversary of Philip Kerr’s death and to mark this, an exciting new visitor experience is opening at the hall on 6th June 2015.