Mrs Hudson is amazed

Shouldn’t every child have a chance to get lost in a maze?  Not totally lost, of course, mazes provide just enough confusion for a thrill but you do always get out in the end (well, except in Harry Potter).  And they have a long history, starting out as Elizabethan labyrinths, just a twisting spiral one way path contained in hedges, and developing into puzzle mazes with lots of dead ends in the late 17th century. Walpole the dog doesn’t really get it and always tries to cut through the hedges at the bottom but that spoils the fun!

So where to find a maze to play in this summer?

Hampton Court Maze

Hampton Court, London

Hampton Court Maze is perhaps the daddy of them all, commissioned by William III in 1700.  It used to be one of a pair, made of hornbeam but was replaced with yew, providing a thick impenetrable series of sinuous hedges over a third of an acre.  If you keep walking with hedge on your right you will make it to the middle, but a couple of confusing corners have been added recently and a rather charming soundscape to tempt you further in. The maze had a lucky escape from Capability Brown’s itch to clear and landscape everything when he was Royal Gardener here in the 1770s.


Hever Castle Water Maze, Kent

Hever Castle has no less than three different types of maze:  a thoroughly traditional Edwardian yew hedge maze; a wooden tower maze for kids in the playground; and, my favourite, a splashy water maze on Sixteen Acre island.  The water maze is really fun, with unexpected water jets and stones that tip you into the pool if you don’t pay attention. Take a towel and take on the challenge to reach the stone grotto in the centre.

Traquaire maze

Traquair House

The largest hedge maze in Scotland is at Traquair House in the Borders. Planted in 1981, it echoes a formal parterre garden which was once behind the house. This cypress and beech maze is particularly complex, but you can direct your children from the terrace which overlooks it.

scone palace maze

Scone Palace

The star shaped maze at Scone Palace in Perthshire also has a high vantage point from a bridge built into the design but you have to find the steps to the bridge first.  The shape comes from the Earl of Mansfield’s family emblem and the colours of the 2000 copper and green beeches from the family tartan.  In the centre, if you can find it, is a statue of the water nymph Arethusa by David Williams-Ellis.


somerleyton_mazeVictorians loved a puzzle and you can find another fine yew maze at Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk.  The curved edges are marked out by topiary sentinels in contrasting golden Irish yew.  In the centre is a little pagoda on a knoll allowing you to look back on the path you have followed.  The maze was designed in 1846 by the great 19th century garden designer W A Nesfield for Lord Somerleyton.

leeds castle maze

Leeds Castle, Kent

The maze at Leeds Castle has a real surprise in the centre.  Enter through the square hedge walls and hey presto, the paths are circular and draw you in towards a curving stone wall at the centre.  Wend your way up the slope of the central tower and down into a magical shell grotto that traces the tales of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  And so through the lighted passages of the grotto back to the perimeter.

Blenheim Palace the Marlborough Maze.jpg

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

The Marlborough Maze at Blenheim Palace has a 25th birthday this year.  This is the second largest hedge maze in the world – you have to go to Hawaii to find a rival.  It takes 6 gardeners a whole week to trim the 3 kilometres of yew hedges.  The design incorporates cannons, banners, flags and trumpets in celebration of the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s military victories plus a V sign as a nod to Blenheim’s other hero, Sir Winston Churchill.

Arley Hall and Gardens in Cheshire planted a hornbeam maze in the Arboretum in 2009 and it is looking grand.  You can catch the views over the tops of the hedges to the countryside beyond and admire the pattern from the wooden fort at the centre.

Arley Gardens Maze

Arley Hall & Gardens, Cheshire

Look out for modern mazes which are great fun for children. The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland, abounds with mazes, The Bamboo Labyrinth encloses you totally in quiet rustling that cuts you off from the outside world while the Serpent Garden uses a hedge maze to guide you through a sparkling series of water sculptures.  Ragley Hall, Warwickshire,  has a 3-D playground maze with wooden walkways, bridges and blocks of passages and the ambitious maze at Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, Kent, based on the patterns found in Tibetan wood carvings has a few years to go to reach full height but lines of post and rails make running through it lots of fun – and you just might spot the famous yeti that lurks here! Newest of all is the maze at Sudeley Castle, built in partnership with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.  The willow boughs hiding willow sculpted characters from the Wind in the Willows.

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens - maze

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens


Mrs Hudson visits the Fens

Walpole and I

Walpole and I

These are the most beautiful days, chilly sunshine, frosty grass, blue skies, and gorgeous sunsets. Walpole and I have been visiting some friends in the Fens, now there’s the place to experience the most stunning sunsets. It is said you can still see the sun after it has gone down in this part of the country, it being so far below sea level and so incredibly flat. Wicken Fen is one of my favourite parts of the East of England; inhabited by Konik ponies and roe deer, it is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve and home to more than 8,500 species of wildlife.

The history of the Fens is fascinating, and still so very tangible. One passes roads and tracks called First Cut or Second Drove, all names hailing back to the draining of the land in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries. Before they were drained the Fens were fields of dark water, with habitable islands poking out of the murky mist. Inhabited by water-people; eel catchers, husbandmen, duck shooters, who travelled in punts and used

St John's Church in Peterborough

St John’s Church in Peterborough

phenomenally large punt guns to fell their prey. A quiet people, they kept themselves to themselves, adding a layer of mystery to the area. Fen people adapted their style of life easily to the marshland upon which they lived. Fen Tigers used stilts to propel themselves across the boggy ground, leading to tales of tall terrifying monsters inhabiting the murky fields. Mists rose regularly as on moorland, losing your way was easily done. One 18th Century Captain of the Peterborough Volunteer Corps, Matthew Wyldbore, told the story of how he lost his bearings in the marshlands, and was only able to retrace his steps home by following the sound of the bells of St John’s Church in the town’s marketplace.

Another famous Fen figure is St Guthlac of Croyland. Guthlac chose to live the life of a hermit at the age of 26 after fighting in the army of Æthelred of Mercia and subsequently becoming a monk. He lived in a barrow on the island of Croyland and suffered, quite horribly from ague and marsh fever. Famous for his holy and pious life he became a source of spiritual guidance to many. He gave sanctuary to a fleeing  Æthelbald, future king of Mercia, and Guthlac predicted his rise to the throne. Æthelbald promised to build him an abbey if his prophecy came true, and upon his ascension Æthelbald commissioned the construction of Crowland Abbey in memoriam to Guthlac, who had died two years previously. Crowland Abbey is well worth a visit; although some of the original nave has been destroyed a large part of the original structure remains and is a breathtaking sight.


Elton Hall near Oundle

The towns of the Fens have some wonderful offerings. The fen bordering town of Oundle boasts three treasures nearby; Elton Hall is a grand building with an eclectic mix of styles ranging from the 15th Century tower and chapel on the South Front to the Victorian revival of a mid-18th Century style Marble Hall and main staircase, designed by Henry Ashton. Southwick Hall comprising architecture from the 14th, 16th, 18th and 19th centuries boasts a crypt and a gothic room and a courtyard dominated by a circular turret which dates from part of the medieval house built about 1300. Finally the Church of St Mary and All Saints in Fotheringhay is an awe inspiring addition to the landscape, the distinctive tower dominates the skyline and can be seen from afar, towering majestically over the village and river. Godmanchester is home to the mid 18th Century mansion Island Hall, another treasure in the crown of the flatlands, featuring formal gardens and an ornamental island. Further towards the Wash and the mouth of the River Nene, Wisbech is home to both the childhood home of Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust and also the grand Peckover House, a beautiful Georgian merchant’s townhouse. Peckover House which stands proudly on the bank of the river Nene, was lived in by the Quaker Peckover family for over 150 years and is open over three floors, also boasting two acres of outstanding gardens.

Castle Rising Castle

Castle Rising Castle

Eastwards again the Fens stretch beautifully into Norfolk bringing us to Oxburgh Hall in Kings Lynn, a moated manor house built in the 15th Century and proudly displaying needlework by Mary Queen of Scots. Houghton Hall, one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in England, was built by Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and offers something for all the family from a model soldier museum, to a contemporary sculpture park and five acre garden. Castle Rising Castle is one of the finest and best preserved mid-12th Century Keeps in England, surrounded by an incredible 20 acres of earthworks, this was a favourite with Walpole! Rising is a castle of national importance with a fascinating history; it has been a hunting lodge, royal residence and even once housed a mental patient. This fabulous history is clear to see as soon as you enter the keep. The final stop on our journey is Holkham Hall, a wonderful Palladian House on the North Norfolk coast. The hall commands incredible views and boasts ownership of possibly the best beach in the country. The state rooms at Holkham are some my favourite, the house is lived in by the Coke family and retains a lovely family feel despite the gorgeous grandeur. A real must-see!

Holkham beach and nature reserve

Holkham beach and nature reserve

I love the East of England, and I do hope you will too!

Don’t forget to tweet me your pictures @HudsonsHeritage

World War One Centenary

HHHANDG_1This year marks the First World War Centenary. For so many of us the atrocities of World War One seem distant and unreal, but a great deal of the UK’s country houses have very personal and historically important connections with wartime. The famous quote from the Ode of Remembrance, ‘We will remember them’, has never been more prolific or important than it is today, 100 years after the beginning of the Great War. Many of the stately homes and country houses affected by war are remembering the events of 1914-1918 with special exhibitions, trails and events this year.

As the war progressed, Britain’s hospitals became overcrowded and unable to deal with the extreme volumes of severely wounded soldiers returning to Blighty from the front. More military hospitals and convalescence centres were desperately needed and many of the country’s stately homes opened their doors to the wounded heroes of the war. Country houses could offer plenty of interior and exterior space for convalescence and respite, and with the men away at war, often the ladies of the houses revelled in being able to play their part in the war effort by opening their homes to recovering soldiers.

The advent of conscription meant Britain’s aristocratic families waved their boys off to fight alongside every other family in the country. Societal position often meant men from the UK’s stately homes joined the army in higher ranking positions, but regardless of status many did not survive the war. Many of the exhibitions occurring this year examine the effects of war on soldiers, families, tenants and servants in the country houses and stately homes of the early 20th Century. Stories are told through letters, photographs, artefacts, memorabilia and personal belongings, although this is history it seems surprisingly more recent than we generally consider.

Dunham Massey Hall in Cheshire was one of those properties transformed into a military hospital, becoming a sanctuary from the trenches for almost 300 soldiers. This year Dunham Massey takes us back in time, transforming the hall and recreating Stamford Military Hospital. Visitors can discover what life was like in wartime, for patients and for the staff who lived and worked at Dunham. Go to Dunham Massey on

Belmont House have created an exhibition to show snippets of life at Belmont during the Great War. The exhibition contains artifacts which have been discovered in the House and information on family members and men of the Parish who were involved in World War One. Go to Belmont House on

Holkham Hall’s 2014 exhibtion tells a small part of the story of the impact of the Great War on the Coke family and Holkham Village. The Coke family was, as many others, very personally affected by the war and the story is told through personal letters, archives, books, photographs and atrefects in this touching exhibtion. On display in the courtyard is a two thirds scale profile of a Mark V tank and a replica 20 ft section of Somme battlefield trench. Go to Holkham Hall on

Duty Calls is a series of exhibitions and events in Yorkshire which explores the effect and impact of war on country houses and their communities. The linked exhibitons, trails and events, at 9 of Yorkshire’s country houses, share stories about the effect of war on the properties over the centuries. It examines these effects on a personal level, as well as exploring the social and economic consequences of wartime on the country house. Exhibitions feature paintings, photographs, arms and militia, as well as archival and oral histories.

Castle Howard’s Duty Calls exhibtion explores the stories of the castle in wartime. The experience of war at Castle Howard was shared with family members, staff and tenants. The Castle saw many apsects of war, taking in refugees and evacuees, coping with crashed aircraft and losing family members, staff and horses to the Front. Go to Castle Howard on

Many of the owners of Kiplin Hall, family members and local commuities have by touched or affected by war. The Duty Calls exhibiton at Kiplin recounts the effect of war on the Hall and community through a series of trails and events throughout 2014. Go to Kiplin Hall on

Nostell Priory’s exhibitions allows vistors to listen to the stories of the house’s war, brought to life by local actors. Nostell has made it their mission to discover the small stories of the Great War from landowner to labourer. Go to Nostell Priory on

There are 9 houses taking part in Duty Calls altogether, follow the links below for much more information.
Brodsworth Hall
(Go to Brodsworth Hall on
Beningbrough Hall
Newby Hall
(Go to Newby Hall on
Fairfax House
(Go to Fairfax House on
Lotherton Hall
(Go to Lotherton Hall on
Sewerby Hall

There are so many more exhibitions, trails and walks happening in country houses and stately homes around the country to commemorate the centenary. We would love to hear which ones you have visited, tweet us @HudsonsHeritage

Mrs Hudson Recommends………………………….our new historic wedding venues site!

Walpole and I

Walpole and I

Just a quick note from me today, the lovely team at the Hudson’s offices have launched our brand new historic wedding venues site The site, which can also be accessed via and our main heritage site contains a gorgeous selection of historic houses and country house hotels that host wedding ceremonies and receptions. If you’re looking for your dream stately home wedding venue, is the place to start. Pop online now and take a look, and let us know what you think on twitter @HudsonsHeritage and @Stately_Homes. Watch this space for WW1 centenary recommendations and Easter Openings!

Mrs Hudson’s Recommends . . . . Halloween & Guy Fawkes events

Walpole and I

Walpole and I

Thank goodness for all our autumn and winter festivals! I can go and join the ghosts jostling for space at an historic house nearby to celebrate Halloween one week and then swap my witch’s nose for woolly gloves and hat for the first really wintery evening of the year on Guy Fawkes Day the next. 

Here are some Halloween and Guy Fawkes events we can all enjoy (except my poor dog Walpole, of course, who will be cowering in the cupboard throughout; such a sensitive fellow). Don’t forget to dress up! 

Muncaster Castle
Is this the most haunted castle in Britain? Halloween week is a big deal here. I fancy the Spooky Owl Tours and the Cannon Firing, though I might need some extra sustenance to survive the Grim and Grisly Trials of Thomas O’Shea in the maze. All topped off, of course, with a firework spectacular on Friday 1st November.

Exbury Gardens
Put on your cloak or your steeple hat to join the Ghost Train for a Halloween ride and learn something about the darker history of our trees. What is the Chinese Coffin Tree, I wonder? Lots of Halloween food here too.

Alnwick Castle & The Alwick Garden
Or is this the most haunted castle in Britain? Alnwick Castle is always a great place for dressing up and Halloween doesn’t disappoint. This is where to learn to ride a broomstick (Harry Potter did), delve into the Dark Cellars or tackle the dragon. The Alnwick Garden is being taken over by ghosts and it’s a good week for the Poison Garden. Nothing too scary here (apart from the Cellars) so I might take some young nieces and nephews.

Blenheim Palace
The maze is the centre of Halloween fun at Blenheim. The Ghost and Goblin Halloween Hunt will start us off nicely before trying out some Halloween crafts. Spine chilling tours of the State Rooms might turn out some of the Palace’s creepier aspects too.

Hoghton Tower
Or is this the most haunted castle in Britain? Actually it claims to be the third most haunted so the two Ghostly Evenings there this Halloween sound promising. Some underground chills here too!

Chillingham Castle
But surely this is the most haunted castle in Britain? A fun filled evening is planned here with pumpkin carving, bouncy castles and ghost stories for children. But don’t forget Chillingham is famous for its serious Ghost Tours and overnight Vigils seeking the truth about some of the ghosts monitored by the Castle’s own Paranormal Team. The family crest is a bat after all, so the bat flags will be flying.

The clocks go back on 27 October so darker evenings should make Guy Fawkes Day all the brighter. I shall be shouting ooh and aah at one of these firework displays.

Beaulieu, Hampshire
Sat 26 Oct 3pm-9.30pm.

Leeds Castle, Kent
Sat 9 & Sun 10 Nov 2pm till late.

Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
Sat 3rd November 5.30pm till late.

Chatsworth, Derbyshire
Sat 2 & Sun 3 Nov 6.30pm-9pm.

Lydiard House, Wiltshire
Sat 2 Nov 5.30pm till late.

Sherborne Castle, Dorset
Sat 9 Nov 5pm till late.

Heritage News

Woven Wonders

One of the tapestries commissioned for Stirling Castle

One of the tapestries commissioned for Stirling Castle

The next stage in the recreation of the great Renaissance rooms at Stirling Castle will be achieved this year with the delivery of the next in the series of extraordinary tapestries copied from the originals in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The tapestries, which form a series called ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn’, were worked in the tapestries studios at West Dean in Sussex. They will add immeasurably to the lavish interiors of the castle which bring vividly to life the character of the rooms which Mary, Queen of Scots would have known as a small child. The tapestries would have been the major decorative feature of the rooms and highly prized both for their beauty and for the Christian allegory they told. Here the hunting party pursuing the unicorn echo the cruelty of the persecutors of Christ. Go to Stirling this summer and see how the vibrant colours of the tapestries recreate the atmosphere of these rooms in their heyday and how modern craftsmanship can help revive an ancient palace.

Yorkshire at War

Yorkshire at War - Beningbrough Hall

Yorkshire at War – Beningbrough Hall

Watch out for lots of exhibitions and events at properties in Yorkshire in the next two years. The Heritage Lottery Fund is backing a new approach to telling the stories of country houses at war, looking at the impact of World Wars I and II on 8 houses in the county including Castle Howard, Newby Hall and Kiplin Hall. Beningbrough Hall’s new exhibition in 2013 is inspired by graffiti. The members of one RAF crew, billeted in the house in the Second World War, carved their names in the woodwork, wanting to be remembered if they failed to return safely. This glimpse into the 18th century house’s more recent past has inspired fresh interpretation, activities, talks and events that help give the importance of this elegant house a new twist.

Houghton Hall and the Hermitage

Sir Robert Walpole

Sir Robert Walpole

The key art event in Britain this year will be at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole had one of the greatest art collections ever assembled in Europe. In 1779 most of the paintings were sold to Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.

The collection, which includes masterpieces by Van Dyck, Poussin, Rubens and Rembrandt, are today held at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg but for five months this year they will once more grace the walls of the great Palladian house, built by our first Prime Minister to house them.

Houghton Hall built by our first Prime Minister

Houghton Hall built by our first Prime Minister

The paintings will return to the State Rooms at Houghton, into the magnificent interiors designed by William Kent, along with original silver and furniture. The loan celebrates the 250th anniversary of Catherine the Great’s accession to the throne of Russia and a long history of Anglo-Russian cultural co-operation.

It is a unique opportunity to step directly back to a moment in history when Houghton was at its peak. Don’t miss it from May to September 2013.