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.

EltonHall

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

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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 hudsonsheritage.com

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 hudsonsheritage.com

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 hudsonsheritage.com

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 hudsonsheritage.com

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 hudsonsheritage.com

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 hudsonsheritage.com

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 hudsonsheritage.com)
Beningbrough Hall
Newby Hall
(Go to Newby Hall on hudsonsheritage.com)
Fairfax House
(Go to Fairfax House on hudsonsheritage.com)
Lotherton Hall
(Go to Lotherton Hall on hudsonsheritage.com)
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