It takes a village

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Wonderful Wightwick

Recently me and mum visited Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton. Wightwick (pronounced Whittick) is so beautiful, I was stopped in my tracks, and that was just the exterior of the building! A mixture of black and white walls with red tiles, colourful windows and beautiful carved detail around every corner. Every where you looked there was something else to notice, some other decorated element adding to the stunning vision of the building.

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Luckily for me the inside more than lives up to the bar set by the amazing exterior. Wightwick boasts two amazing collections that set the tone of the house; Pre-Raphaelite paintings and William Morris, well, everything.

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The tour of the interior starts in the Drawing Room, which felt very cosy. In fact most of the house felt very homely. The Drawing Room boasts a lovely plaster ceiling and there is a nice window seat area where you can sit. Seats for the public to use are denoted by having cat cushions on them, as the owners used to allows the cats to sit on all the furniture, more even than the guests were allowed to. I think the cat cushions are a really nice idea.

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In the Entrance Hall there are a series of gorgeous stained glass windows, showing the seasons as women. There is also a very sweet little nook around the fire place that looks so inviting. The perfect place to snuggle up and read a book.

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In the Upper Hall there are some very interesting objects, including a copy of Emperor Napoleon’s death mask which once belonged to Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Further along the hall is a small painting that belongs to a very large scandal. The painting shows Effie Ruskin and was painted by John Millais, another member of the Brotherhood.

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At the time of the painting Effie was married to John Ruskin who was a strong supporter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Millais and Effie fell in love and Effie went through a very public split which left the couple shunned from high society. The story of the Brotherhood is a very interesting one, one I admit I only know from the BBC drama Desperate Romantics a few years ago (worth a watch if you have not seen it, and not just because Aidan Turner plays Rossetti!).

The final thing in the Upper Hall that excited me probably doesn’t mean a huge amount to anyone not familiar with the National Trust collection database. I finally found the painting that has been sitting on the home page for years. It’s a lovely painting of a lady called Jane Hughes tending to her flowers. Now when I log on to CMS I shall be able to picture it hanging instead of wondering where it might live.

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The Morning Room had some very unusual cupboards in, that had once been Flemish Window Shutters, then later installed in the Library at Wightwick and finally moved into the Morning Room.

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The Great Parlour really lives up to its name, a room built to wow and as a space to entertain. There is William Morris furniture and wallpaper, beautiful Medieval inspired stained glass windows and a collection of ceramic tiles displayed around the room. The frieze that runs around the top of the Parlour is a forest scene which animals hiding among the trees. Is is said the frieze was inspired by the one here at Hardwick Hall.

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I could really picture life in the Great Parlour, not only is there another lovely fireplace but a little fire pit too, for portable fire needs. Another essential is the mobile book case. I can imagine relaxing on the William Morris settee, fire keeping me toasty, books on standby. Although there is a good chance I would get distracted by all the pretty things in the room around me.

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Through the Parlour is the Billiard Room, with another cost fire place, snuggly window seats and a William Morris sofa showcasing a selection of Morris print pillows.

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In the Gentlemen’s Cloakroom and the corridor outside were a fascinating selection of hats and accessories used by the family during their history, including elements of genuine uniform from the World Wars. All of these different ensembles were displayed hung around the room and it made for a fantastic visual insight to the houses history and the families service.

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Also in the Gentlemen’s Cloakroom was this rather unusual stool, decorated like a cobra. It is quite odd, and doesn’t look like the most comfortable thing in the world but I like it because it is so different.

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Upstairs in the Honeysuckle Room I found a William Morris print I really like, called ‘Honeysuckle’. The bedrooms on the top floor are all visitor’s bedroom as the family rooms are still used by the family and therefore not open to the public.

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In the Indian Bird Room there hang some lovely hand embroidered curtains. The design ‘Mary Isobel’ was sold as a kit by Morris & Co and is named after the woman who originally stitched the pattern Mary Isobel Barr Smith who lived in Australia. What a lovely legacy to leave to the world!

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The Acanthus Room boasts a fine bed, and I love how this room and the Indian Bird Room, that are back to back, fit with one another. The wall between the two rooms is not straight and the creates a recess for both beds, one either side of the wall. A very clever use of space to make the rooms even cosier.

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From the Gallery visitors get another angle of the gorgeous Great Parlour and a better look at the frieze, which is certainly very reminiscent of Hardwick’s, except Wightwick’s has more kangaroos! There is a lovely settle on the Gallery overlooking the Parlour. Highly decorated with four oil paintings depicting the four seasons.

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The Oak Room was very pretty and I particularly like the bed, which folds itself away into a cupboard and even has a built in bedside table. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos in the Oak Room but I found the bed on the NT Collections webpage. I love how highly decorated the inside is, even though it was designed to be folded away.

The day nursery is a lovely space crammed full of fun looking toys. There are also modern toys out for visitors to play with. This really added to the relaxed and cheerful atmosphere of the room.

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The night nurseries however didn’t feel quite so cheerful to me. Maybe it’s just the overdone horror trope of children’s toys of a particular era being creepy but the room just didn’t make me feel anywhere near as comfortable as the rest of the house. Even the cute puppies on the walls and Snow White bedding couldn’t tempt me into spending a night in there.

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Back downstairs and we found another huge selling point of the house, a built in Turkish Bath! After seeing that me and mum decided we could very much live there, and when should we deliver our things? The Mander family certainly had good taste!

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All around the house are these little saying, painted on walls and fireplaces. What an interesting way to show guests your character and beliefs about the world, and to decorate spaces too.

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After my visit, while I was writing this blog post I read through the National Trust guidebook for the property, and there is one part that hints at a hidden part of Wightwick’s history I would have never guessed existed.

The Introduction to the Guidebook is written by Anthea Mander Lahr Coles, a member of the family to whom the house belonged. Her introduction talks of painful memories and a difficult family life, which present day Wightwick shows no sign of. It feels very strange to read Anthea’s introduction after imagining such a happy life in that beautiful home full of amazing things. Anthea talks of her pleasure in the fact that the house ‘is now the focus of affection and enjoyment’ and it just goes to show that no matter the treasures in a place, it’s not a guarantee for happiness. I am glad too that Wightwick is now a happy place that so many people can, and will, enjoy. It is such a beautiful place it deserves to be enjoyed and remembered fondly.

Cannon Hall’s got it all!

Cannon Hall is a lovely little farm near where I grew up that I have visited many, many times as a child. Me and my lovely little brother had a little ‘staycation’ at mum’s house recently and decided to revisit the farm on a day out, and there was much more to see than we remembered.

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As an added treat the house at Cannon Hall (which I didn’t know existed) had an exciting exhibition; the costumes of Downton Abbey!! Bless my little brother for indulging me 😀 He’s a very good egg.

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The house itself is largely empty today, leaving room for temporary exhibitions and the museum full of glass and pottery. The stately rooms provide a very fine backdrop for the Downton costumes.

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There was Sybil’s First World War nursing uniform and Mrs Patmore and Daisy’s kitchen-wear, which I took lots of photos of for our own Below Stairs project. Daisy’s apron had a pattern printed on the fabric which I had never noticed in the show.

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Lady Violet’s dress has the most amazing bead-work across the top. So much effort has gone into the detail of the costumes that you couldn’t notice unless you get close to them in real life, but it all adds to the fabulous glamour of the tv show.

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The Crawley ladies dresses were obviously amazing, although I was surprised by how tiny they were. No chance of me being able to squeeze into any of them! There were day dresses in the Drawing Room and the Dining Room was set out ready for a sumptuous looking dinner, completer with gorgeous evening-wear.

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Even Mrs Huges, the Housekeeper, has a lovely costume. I particularly like the accessory on her belt to keep her keys and scissors always handy. Pretty and practical.IMAG1789IMAG1792

Anna’s ‘posh’ maids outfit has some lovely lace on the apron and we even got to see Lord Grantham’s pajamas! If, by the way, for some strange reason you have never seen Downton Abbey I really recommend it, it is one of my favorite tv shows ever!

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On the day we decided to visit Cannon Hall was hosting a huge food fair! I love food so was very excited about this. We had a lovely lunch in the sunshine and a wander around looking at all the delicious things for sale before heading for the farm.

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The farm has changed quite a lot since my last visit. The biggest change, a very disappointing one for me, was that you can no longer let the animals eat from your open palm. I used to love feeding the animals so much and was looking forward to going back and doing this again. You can still buy bags of animals feed but you now have to pour the food down a metal chute into the animal’s pens. Damn health and safety spoiling our fun!

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The animals however are just as cute as they always have been. There were goats, sheep, chickens, pigs galore and even reindeer!

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The tiny piglets were adorable and there were even bunnies you could stroke! Cuteness overload!

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Can’t beat a day out that contains sunshine, pretty things, lovely dresses, history, adorable animals and good food! Brilliant.

Interesting, intriguing and inspirational Snowshill Manor.

After one of our re-enactment shows last month me and the mother decided to stay over an extra night and break up our journey back home with another National Trust property, as we love to do. I really wanted to visit Snowshill Manor and gardens, this was the property we had decided not to visit in favor of Dyrham to try to get on the roof so I was really pleased to go and see it now, and it was fab!

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The house is opened by timed tickets which is good in the narrow walkways. We did have to wait a little bit to peek into one of the rooms downstairs, but when we got upstairs it didn’t feel too crowded for the most part.

There has been something on the site of Snowshill Manor since at least 821 AD and the earliest parts of the current structure are medieval, it was even given to Catherine Parr by Henry VIII as part of her dowry. However when the building was purchased by Charles Wade in 1919 its new purpose was set; to house Charles’ treasures from around the globe.

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Charles Wade started collecting items that interested him when he was a child and after restoring the manor it provided a place for him to display and enjoy his collection. Each room has a general theme and they all have different names, many mythical creatures. Charles himself, and much later his wife Mary, lived in a small cottage just next to the main house, which is also full to the rafters of interesting objects.

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Charles Wade’s Bedroom

The house itself looks quite small from the side visitors enter, but going down into the gardens you can see that it spreads back quite a way. It is a maze of small rooms with so many things in every room! The motto that accompanies Charles Wade’s Coat of Arms is Nequid Pereat which translates as ‘Let nothing perish’ very fitting not only for Mr Wade but also for the National Trust as a whole.

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There were many, many curious objects throughout the house, but one of the first that caught my attention was this rather strange bust. Looking it up on the National Trust Collections website I have found out it is a 16th Century Spanish Reliquary. I don’t know what was displayed in the hole in his chest but the gristly part of me thinks it should have been a heart! (Unlikely but wouldn’t that have been a sight!)

IMAG1429I loved these little bone figures which were displayed either side of a doorway. They were carved out of bone from prisoner’s rations during the Napoleonic Wars, and a re so incredibly detailed for such small scale pieces.

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My favorite room is the Green Room full of Japanese Samurai armour. The armour has been set out to look as if they are soldiers camped out, ready for battle or adventure. Some sit around a camp fire while others stand, keeping guard. Most have masks but a few have wooden faces and you feel like at any moment one could turn its head towards you and bark at you for intruding into their camp.From National Trust Images

Add to that the low light levels and whistling wind sound effects this room is a very atmospheric one. I couldn’t get a very good picture of the room so the one above is from National Trust Images. Even though it was quite eerie I really liked that room.

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On the very top floor is a room called ‘A Hundred Wheels’ for very obvious reasons. The room is so full of bikes and trikes and carts and carriages they are hanging from the rafters! Some are real vehicles, some toys or models and other mini versions made for children.

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There are so many objects in this wonderful collection that even just flicking through the guidebook I have seen thing I didn’t spot on my visit. I will have to go back and spend a long time looking round. By the end of my visit however I was starting to get a bit of object fatigue!

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There was not a lot of interpretation in each room, which suited me fine. I like to just be in the rooms and only tend to want information about specific things. For such instances Showshill has very knowledgeable room guides and folders in the rooms with further information about the objects. I then go away and read the guide book, and look up anything I want to know more about online.

Here are a few pictures of some of the objects that did catch my eye during our visit. So many pretty and fascinating things!

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I have been inspired by the next picture, all these different keys were presented in a frame. I love old keys and have always kind of wanted to collect them but not for the to just sit around in a draw. So now I am going to gladly start collection them and do something similar for myself!

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I love the idea of collecting items that interest you from all your travels, the mundane and the far flung. Wouldn’t it be fab to have your own collection like this to display your passion, and your life’s story! What a legacy to leave behind, although I think mine would definitely involve a bit more glitter! On the side of the little cottage where Charles actually lived there is a lovely little clock mechanism where every time it strikes St George here strikes the bell. I don’t now if he still work but I think it’s a really cute feature.

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I hope I’ll get a chance to go back, maybe next time I’m in the area, and spend even longer looking around. I also need to visit Berrington Hall as well, as they now have Charles Wade’s collection of textiles and costume! I think they’re only on display occasionally so that may even have to be a special trip! Snowshill is a must visit for anyone with an interest in amazing objects and fascinating collections, and as of September they are open seven days a week. ‘Yay’ for visitors but send a prayer to their conservation team, dusting all that with no closed days! Oh, and the restaurant does a lush crumble and custard!

Newton’s genuine gravity tree

The other week I had a lovely day out with my friends Kerry and Dave and as we like to do, we decided to visit some National Trust properties!

To start our day we went to Woolsthorpe Manor. If you don’t recognise the name you will know what it is famous for. Woolsthorpe Manor is the home to a very important tree, the one that dropped an apple on Isaac Newton’s head and changed history!

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Now my friend Dave, lovely as he is, is a bit of a skeptic and on the drive there he was questioning the validity of this famous tree. I assured him that if the Trust said it was THE tree, then it will of course be THE tree. As soon as we got into the visitor reception we overheard the person in front of us in the que asking the very same question.

The tree is indeed the same tree (told you so!). It was partially destroyed but the roots remained and the tree grew up again, so that is why it’s not as tall as I imagined, but still the genuine article.

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The house its self is fairly small, by Trust house standards (huge compared to my Wendy House!) so it was a bit of a squeeze getting into the smaller rooms. It seems to be a very popular destination! It is a lovely house, very simple in contrast to the very complex thinking that went on there. Newton was born and grew up here, returning from Cambridge in 1665 when the plague hit.

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His return to his childhood home marked the start of his ‘Annus Mirabilis’ or year of miracles. Newton spent his time away from Cambridge working with incredibly complicated maths, light, prisms and rainbows as well as thinking about gravity and its effect on apples. Watching the introductory video made me remember playing with prisms in science class, and learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion. It was very cool to be in the space where these discoveries had actually been made.

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The kitchen had a really nice feel to it, with plenty of food to give the place meaning and life. There is even a furry little visitor hiding in the corner.

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My favorite room however was Newton’s bedroom, known as ‘The Hall Chamber’. It was full of interesting artifacts of his work, where he spent time deep in thought. A simple room where some of the most advanced thinking of the time was happening.

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There is a smaller room in the bedroom, sectioned off by a later resident. Here you can see a wooden shutter with hole in it. It is clearly a new shutter, Newton’s original probably having been removed by someone thinking ‘Why on earth is there a hole in this shutter!?’ but it is nice the Trust have added this touch back in.

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In Newton’s bedroom there is also his death mask hanging over the fireplace. It was quite strange to stand in his room and look at a true likeness of his face, unlike portraits which can be quite variable in their realism. To the left of the fireplace is Newton’s book press, used to keep valuable books safe.

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When his step-father died, in 1653, he left Newton 300 books, which is a large number today and was a huge and valuable inheritance at the time. Maybe his stepfather has already seen eleven year old Newton’s genius and wanted to foster his intelligence.

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One of the other upstairs rooms has been filled with activities and information boards aimed at children. Unfortunately interpretation like this has a nasty habit of ageing quite badly. The games were focused around all the different challenges Newton faced in his life, and it was interesting to realise that the Civil War happened during Newton’s life, although it appears to have affected him little. Despite my reservations about the interpretation panels the children seemed to be enjoying the games, and we had a sneaky little go to!

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The children’s eye spy trail around the house was to spot these lovely little wooden mice, and they were also for sale in the shop (nice work NT business gurus). After making friends with an adorable real life little mouse outside I had to buy one, a really cute souvenir from a delightful day out!

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Re-Visiting Dunham Massey

A little while ago, when we were at our most northern Re-enactment event, me, mum and Kerry decided to pop over to Dunham Massey. I had already been but mum and Kerry wanted to visit while it was still displayed as Stamford Military Hospital.

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If you have been following my blog for a little while you will know what I thought of my last visit. If you haven’t then here are the links to the two post about it:

Post One & Post Two.

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I had a lot of opinions about the visit, as is deserving of such a huge and ambitious project. I had heard a lot of great things about the WWI theme and unfortunately was a little disappointed in my visit. I didn’t feel I saw the best that was on offer, missing the very emotional vignettes performed by the actors, and finding the exhibition petered out part way round the house. It was a very good example of how important managing expectations can be, give something a lot to live up to and it will be hard pushed to achieve.

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However the Stamford Military Hospital theme is now in its second year, tweaks have been made, I knew what to expect and I really enjoyed my visit second time around.

The main change I though was a great improvement was the way they now end the WWI theme. Before it was confusing where the WWI story ended and the ‘Treasures’ exhibition began.

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The beautiful bed is in a room just off the Gallery, which starts the treasures exhibition, however there is still on room left talking about what happened to the patients and staff of the hospital. This is still the case, but now the live of the people on your entry ticket are concluded in the Gallery, giving it a more final feel.

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At the end of the gallery there are stack of crates, bags and photo frames. Here you are told what happened to all the people on your entry ticket, and it is a really nicely displayed pieces of interpretation. I likes this touch a lot, it was in-keeping with the theme and provided enough information that you felt satisfied.

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They have also removed the nods to the war from the bedrooms further along the visitor route. It’s only a small thing but helps visitors know where they are, and I like things neat and tidy so having a more definitive end appeals to me.

I understood the stories a lot more second time around. I tend to visit a property, then read the guide-book at home (usually as I’m writing the blog post). This means I often understand the property more after I have left than while I am there. Writing the first posts about Dunham meant I got more of a feel for the people talked about in the property, so I had more of a vested interest going around the second time.

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Phase two of the project also included new scenes that the actors would be acting out during the second year. We caught two scenes downstairs, in the ward and the Great Hall. They were quite entertaining but sad at the same time, featuring a well-to-do visitor who lacked understanding about the harsh realities of the war, as so many not directly involved would have done.

Just as we were about to leave the Great Gallery, upstairs, a soldier walked past us, drawing me back in. I got to see a scene between nurse Lady Jane Grey and her brother Rodger, the soldier. It made more sense to me than it would have done, had I not know the history and situations of the two people, but it still drew everyone in. It was a lovely scene and I was really pleased to have seen something a bit more emotive and personal.

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I was also aware of what to expect, so not disappointed when we left WWI and entered the ‘Treasures’ exhibition. This exhibition was set up to appease visitors who might be put out that a lot of the collection has been moved to re-instate the hospital, and I think it’s a wonderful idea.

There are some very lovely pieces on display in this exhibition, and even thought these rooms don’t feel like you’re in a Trust property, they are really interesting.

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The one thing I really did not like however was the new sculpture in the garden, commissioned to remember the patients treated at Stamford Military Hospital. They have chosen to do this with . . . concrete cubes. Visible from the Great Gallery the blocks all have numbers on, representing each of the nearly 300 men treated here. I’m not a huge fan of modern art and while I think it is lovely they have created a permanent memorial couldn’t they have chosen something a bit prettier? Or even just more in keeping with the surroundings?

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Another new feature are more characters, but ones that visitors can interact with. The actors portraying actual people in the house move like ghosts, only talking to one another. However in the kitchens we met two maids, knitting for the war effort, who were quite happy to talk to us, in character. The more characters in a property the better in my opinion.

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Dunham have decided to stick to their original plan and only keep the ‘Sanctuary’ WWI theme for two years, meaning you only have until November this year to see it. Personally I think this is madness, they have successfully enhanced the theme for its second year and I feel they are missing an opportunity by not building on it further, especially as it took so much time and money to achieve. Stamford Military Hospital wasn’t actually established until 1917 and it seems crazy not to have the theme still running for its own centenary, but I suppose there must be reasons for it and those decisions are way above my pay grade.

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I recommend anyone with an interest in Military History or the First World War to make a real effort to see Stamford Military Hospital before it disappears. It is a fascinating, in-depth and unique look into the past, not to be missed.