Thursday, 18 April 2013

Wimpole Hall and the new face of the National Trust

I was recently fortunate enough to be able, as part of a trip to London for work, to call off at Wimpole Hall near Cambridge for the first time.  Wimpole Hall is a large National Trust property with quite a few strings to its bow - large house, formal gardens, large parks with a dramatic folly, and a working farm.  Sadly, time constraints meant that I could only see the hall and have a quick browse around the little array of shops in the stable yard.  Needless to say, I fully intend to return at some point and have a more leisurely look around.

One thing that immediately struck me about the Hall was it that it seems to reflect the face of a new, more progressive National Trust.  The ability to take photographs inside, the way that the interpretation was managed, features such as floor cushions so you could lie down to look at ceilings and being able to see conservators in action all added to the feeling of a modern heritage attraction, not a mothballed 'Stately Home'.  Allied to this, and perhaps most important of all, was the fact that the staff genuinely seemed to love the place.  When walking into a room, it felt as if the room stewards were wanting to chat about their own personal interests, rather than launching into a set spiel that you were going to receive in full whether you wanted it or not.

Construction on the house began in 1640, but the most obvious influence on it today is that of Elsie Bambridge, the daughter of Rudyard Kipling.  She and her husband bought the house in 1938, and much of the furniture and decoration is hers.  It is this sense of personality and homeliness that gives the hall its character, and it makes it more charming than many other much grander, but colder, houses in the country.

In 2010, the hall's library sadly suffered a leak and around 400 books were water damaged.  These are now undergoing a very public conservation programme, and visitors can see the conservators 'in action'.

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