Dunham Massey – Part Two

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!).

The operating theater at the bottom of the stairs

The operating theater at the bottom of the stairs

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 gallery upstairs

The Gallery upstairs

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 Treasures Exhibition

The Treasures Exhibition

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!

In the Kitchens

In the Kitchens

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.

The Library

The Library

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.

More interpretation in the Bagdad Ward

More interpretation in the Bagdad Ward

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!

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Dunham Massey is Stamford Military Hospital

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit Dunham Massey with a National Trust group. Dunham has done something pretty amazing and transformed what was a very standard Trust Stately Home into the military Hospital it actually was during the First World War. I had read quite a bit about ‘Sanctuary’ as the theme is called so when my line manager asked if I wanted to go and see it I jumped at the chance!

Dunham Massey

Dunham Massey

The best bit about going to see it with work (other than getting to go on a jolly and it being called ‘work’) was that after we had been round the house we had the opportunity to talk to the team behind sanctuary. It was really inspiring to see what could be done with a good idea, a fascinating story, and a lot of money!

The new Visitor Reception Building

The new Visitor Reception Building

During the First World War Dunham Massey, like many stately homes, was turned into a military hospital to help ease the burden that the War had placed on the under-prepared British health care system. At the beginning of the war Britain had only 7000 hospital bed, by the end there were 364000 thanks to Dunham Massey and other places like it.

From 1917, when it opened as a hospital, Dunham Massey was known as Stamford Military Hospital. The hospital was established and run by The Countess of Stamford, Penelope Grey. The ground floor became the hospital but the upper floors remained the family home, where all the furniture that had been in the rooms below rooms was also stored for the duration of the war.

The Bagdad Ward

The Bagdad Ward

The Countess took a personal interest in all the soldiers under her roof, and her daughter Lady Jane Grey became a VAD Nurse working at the hospital, and bringing great comfort to the wounded soldiers. Penelope’s son, Roger Grey, the 10th Earl of Stamford, was based in London for most of the war and used his position to help get supplies the hospital needed.

The interpretation of Dunham’s amazing story has been really well done, with the ‘Bagdad Ward’ in the Saloon being the highlight of the tour in my opinion. The room has been recreated according to contemporary photographs of the hospital. There are snippets of information all over the room, so many that you have to really explore the space to find it all.

Some of the hidden interpretation

Some of the hidden interpretation

The Visitor Reception Building had several panels of information about Dunham’s role in the First World War, and background information about the major changes that the national hospital system underwent during the War. There was also an introductory exhibition in one of the first rooms of the house, giving basic information about life in the Trenches and some of the injuries and illnesses that could send fighting men ‘back to Blighty’.

The introductory information

The introductory information

We were the first people in that day (eager beavers us Trust lot) so we have a chance to be in the room before the actors came in. There are sound effects of breathing, whistling, ringing phones and even music in the downstairs rooms which help create the atmosphere of the place. Being in that space was really absorbing. When the actors came in the room at first I wasn’t sure what to do. We had already been warned that they would not interact with us (thank goodness, audience participation terrifies me!) and I wanted to read all the information, which meant venturing near one of the actors who was lying in a bed.

The actor portraying Lady Jane Grey

The actor portraying Lady Jane Grey

However once I got past the slight awkwardness and just carried on looking it was fine, and then the actors started one of their vignettes. There are several different scripts and I have heard really good things about them. The two I saw were very good, you had to have a bit of background knowledge to fully understand the meaning of the conversation the two soldiers were having. If you did have this knowledge it was very though provoking.

Actors doing a scene

Actors doing a scene

However after hearing so many good things about how powerful and moving the acting was I came out of the property a little disappointed, knowing that there were elements I had not seen. We even went in the first couple of rooms again at the end of the day to try to catch some more acting, but again did not see the really emotive scenes we had heard about. I guess this is where ‘managing expectations’ really becomes important. I was a little bitter that Sanctuary was getting so much press but have now decided maybe it’s not a bad thing Hardwick it not in the public focus in such a big way. It is a lot to live up to, especially when the icing on the cake is something like Sanctuary’s acting, where it is very time dependent on the experience you will get.

This has turned into a really long post so I will leave it there for now and talk more about my visit to Dunham in the next post. Thanks for reading!