Hello again. As I was getting towards the end of writing my last post I realised how long it had turned out so I decided to try and avoid boring anyone too much I would split it into two parts. So here is the second part of my thoughts on my recent trip to Dunham Massey. Really long post are just what happens I guess when you have so much to say about something!
The last part of the tour downstairs was the ‘Operating Theater’ at the bottom of the main stairs. It was a really interesting scene, where surgical suits that seemed to be filled with talking ghosts stood, and oral histories played. The ‘ghosts’ told us about an operation that had taken place in the very spot, and featured a recording from Lady Jane Grey herself. This element had been done in such an interesting way, I found it fascinating! There was just enough to keep your attention, without too much to make it what could have been a really gruesome element (which I was very pleased about as I have been known to faint at the sight of blood!).
Unfortunately for me as soon as I got upstairs the absorbing atmosphere from the ground floor was lost. The two rooms had very little to indicate whether we were still supposed to be in WWI. The background noises ceased and it all suddenly felt very flat. I had hoped to see more vignettes upstairs as well but we didn’t see any more of these. Once we got into the Gallery I felt the atmosphere return a bit more but only briefly, and there our visit to the hospital was over and we moved into an exhibition of the collection for the rest of the visit. Because I had been expecting more of the safe to continue upstairs I was a bit confused, which seems unfair considering how well the ground floor had been done!
The exhibition that followed on after the hospital story had ended was very interesting. It was called ‘Treasures from the Collection’ and had been though up to appease any visitors who had come the Dunham to see a stately home and all it’s fine furnishings. Admittedly I didn’t get this until it was explained to be, but the information and items on display were really interesting and beautiful.
The library was beautiful. Libraries full of old books really are some of the most amazing locations and the one at Dunham has shelves that tower above your head filled with hundreds of matching leather-bound books. Dunham also has a huge kitchen complex which was full of shiny copper, I do love seeing rows of gleaming copper!
Over all I had a really nice day at Dunham, the downstairs rooms had been really well interpreted and it made for a very absorbing visit. It was just a same that the upstairs rooms did not have the same depth which sort of spoiled the visit, unfortunately. I am hopefully going back to Dunham again soon, and am looking forward to it, I will make sure to spend some more time in the downstairs rooms fully exploring them, especially as I already know what is upstairs.
I would recommend anyone with an interest in WWI history to visit Sanctuary as it has been really well done, but I would also tell people in advance about the difference in the atmospheres between the floors. I think I rushed my first visit as I was too curious to see what else there was to see, so I will take my time and absorb it all if I go again, and try to follow the individual stories throughout the tour more closely.
It will be interesting to see what the property choose to do after Sanctuary is over. It has been billed as lasting for two years and I’m not sure if a property can just go back after something so completely different, but also, what can you do as a follow up act. Properties rarely have several stories as powerful as this, or the timing on a national scale that brings the story into a much bigger picture, let alone the time and money to do this every two years. Part of me wonders if this was too much work for only two years, so maybe they will extend Sanctuary until the end of the centenary. I would be thinking about it but I suppose it depends if their visitor numbers trail off next season after all their press coverage has died down.
Talking to the team behind the project made me confident that if Hardwick had the same funding we could do something just as trans-formative and powerful. The thing the manager at Dunham said was that he felt he had the right team and the right timing to undertake such an extreme project. I feel like we have such a good team at Hardwick now that we could achieve anything we set our minds too given the right resources! Although with all the projects we’ve got in the pipeline maybe not for a good few years!