Sleepover at Thorington Hall

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stay in a historic gem? Well now you can. Set within a landscape timelessly evoked in John Constable’s paintings, Thorington Hall in Suffolk is not only full of charm and history – it’s the newest and largest holiday cottage to be tastefully restored and opened by the National Trust, sleeping up to 18 people (with 3 additional people in the former gate lodge)!

Thorington Hall - Exterior - 2This vast 17th century farmhouse dates back to the 1500s in parts. With a staggered roofline, ornate chimneys and walls painted in a striking colour, this timber-framed building will certainly leave a lasting impression on anyone who stays in it.

Inside, it’s full of character. The large, bright rooms are informally furnished and conceal modern facilities, yet retain the grandeur of powerful landowners who once farmed almost 1,400 acres surrounding the Hall. You can see how their changing tastes, fashions and functional use have helped to shape the house you see today.

The tall chimney for example was a sign to visitors and passers-by that this was a wealthy home. The west staircase is highly decorated and incorporates carved hearts, Tudor roses, tulips and diamonds. In fact, the high level of detail extends right up to the attic, which tells us that the attic rooms were just as important as those on the lower floors. We think that these rooms were not store rooms but a place from which to admire the garden and landscape with guests.

Thorington Hall - East Staircase - 1

Choose which staircase you’d prefer to use (there’s more than one), if you’ve got children in your party they’ll most likely want first refusal over the attic bedrooms and we’ve commissioned a large oak banqueting table and benches for the ground floor dining room, which means dining will be an experience in itself.

Thorington Hall - Dining Room - 1

You’ll find original features on display throughout the house, from the beautiful wood carvings on the staircase, remains of old graffiti on window panes and illustrated delft tiles, there’s even signs of witchcraft!

So what are the mysterious marks that link the house to witchcraft and who put them there? Photographs taken before the restoration in 1937 show a series of dark symbols most likely burnt into the attic ceiling. The newel post facing the window on the west staircase also has three linked circles carved into it. These together with a sixteenth century shoe concealed behind the plaster in the dining room, are all signs of someone trying to protect the inhabitants of the house and prevent evil spirits from entering the property. But don’t let that worry you!

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We know little of those who lived in the house before the late 1600s, when it became the home of a gentleman called Thomas May. The date and circumstances in which Thomas May acquired the house are currently being investigated, but the earliest reference to the May family living in the parish of Stoke-by-Nayland is 1607. When Thomas died in 1645, the house passed through two more generations of his family; before changing hands, size and shape several more times before it was donated to the National Trust.

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 Photographs for this blog post are all thanks to Mike Henton

In recent years, repairs were needed and the building has undergone a complete renovation, with new plumbing, heating, bathrooms and an upgraded kitchen – all of which haven’t compromised the character of this magnificent building. So your stay will certainly be a comfortable and authentic one. And outside, the private grounds reveal a rambling garden, wild in parts, with a small apple orchard, stables and a former grass tennis court, currently being brought back into use.

So, if you’re looking for a striking house with masses of space, inside and out, for large family holidays or relaxed get-togethers with friends then this is truly it. 


Recreating life ‘below stairs’ at Anglesey Abbey

Can you remember the 1960s – beehive hairdos, bikinis and mini-skirts, flairs and winkle-picker shoes? The Beatles were in the charts and the England football team ruled the world! This weekend a major new visitor experience opens at Anglesey Abbey, recreating life ‘below stairs’ that will transport visitors back to this very era.

986%2F219%2FHouse_Butlers+Pantry.%28c%29KDunlap_thumb_460x0%2C0 (1)Photo credit: K Dunlap

Gareth Sandham, House and Collections Manager at Anglesey Abbey, fills us in…

Every year thousands of visitors enjoy the beautiful house and elegant contents once owned by Huttleston Broughton, the 1st Lord Fairhaven. Now visitors will be able to wander around the domestic areas of the house to experience the hard work that went on behind the scenes to maintain this Lord’s luxurious, regimented lifestyle.

The Domestic Wing has been restored back to the 1960s when it was last used as a private home. Rooms which have been restored include the Butler’s Pantry, Kitchen, Scullery, Brushing Room and Servant’s Hall, where staff used to relax when off-duty.

When Lord Fairhaven left Anglesey Abbey to the National Trust in the 1960s he said he wanted us to preserve it as it was, so people could see what his life was like. This restoration of the Domestic Wing will help us to show the other side of the coin and reveal the hard work that went on behind the scenes.

The 1960s is an interesting time period and this will be quite unlike many of the other ‘below stairs’ recreations seen elsewhere, which focus on the Victorian or pre-war periods. For many visitors it will be a trip down memory lane as they will recognise kitchen utensils and equipment that their parents or grandparents once owned.

The restoration has been part funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £82,400. Designed to be a truly interactive experience with visitors encouraged to handle artefacts – specially trained Encounters Volunteers will demonstrate butlering skills, how to prepare afternoon tea fit for a Lord, and how to hand churn Lord Fairhaven’s favourite ice creams.

SatelliteTo ensure authenticity, we have worked closely with the local community to capture the memories of former staff or their relatives, many of whom lived in nearby villages. We’re delighted to say that artifacts to dress the rooms were also donated following local appeals.

The 1ST Lord Fairhaven was a quiet, generous and wealthy bachelor. Much of his wealth came from his American grandfather who was one of the founders of Standard Oil. Lord Fairhaven purchased Anglesey Abbey in 1926, and soon set about remodelling and extending the house to provide a home for his superb and varied collections of works of art. Over the next four decades he transformed the estate into one of the great 20th century gardens.

On Saturday 28 June, we will be celebrating the opening of the Domestic Wing with a traditional 1960s village fete – complete with traditional stalls and games from yesteryear including tombola’s, guess the weight of the cake, egg & spoon races, coconut shy and space hoppers. There will be vintage vehicles and music from the 60s to get you in the swing of things. 60s dress is optional!




Gardening on a grand scale!

Whether it’s keeping the lawn trim, the window-box watered or the weeds at bay, those with green fingers often enjoy pottering in the garden. But when you’ve got 10 miles of box hedging to cut, 20,000 plants to plant and acres of lawn to mow – then gardening takes on a whole new challenge!

The Parterre seen in July at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire.

Photo credit: National Trust Images / Andrew Butler

We asked some of our head gardeners to down tools for a few minutes to shed some light on what they get up to in June…

At Ickworth and Wimpole, the teams start the huge task of cutting their box hedges, which when combined together, stretch for miles.

“We start this task when the risk of frost has gone, so that we don’t risk scorching the tender new growths. We also avoid cutting during very hot and sunny weather too, due to plants being susceptible to sun scorch. When doing this at home you can avoid this by spraying the foliage with water before cutting, but being aware that this should not be done when using electric hedge cutters due to the risk of electrocution!” Sean Reid, Ickworth

Gardener clipping the topiary at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire

Photo credit: National Trust Images / Arnhel de Serra

Then there are the formal parterres at Blickling, Wimpole and Oxburgh, which all need to be planted up if they’re going to delight visitors during the summer months.

At Oxburgh, 6,500 plants will be going in, including Heliotrope, Tegetes, and ‘Paul Crampel’ Geraniums. A further 10,000 bedding plants have been added at Wimpole, including pelargonium and salvia farinasea. Then at Blickling where the parterre was planned, set out and planted by Norah Lindsey in the 1930s the planting scheme has remained the same ever since, full of hardy perennials and grasses such as Echinops and Achillea. However, the top terrace is planted with almost 1,000 penstemons in June, the colours mimicking the soft hues of the blue beds on the lower parterre.

As well as the formal parterres, the gardeners at Anglesey Abbey will be planting amongst other things, around 2,000 Dahlias in the main garden and the Nursery Garden, ready for their Dahlia festival in September. This will include the special Anglesey Abbey bedding Dahlias, Madamme Stappers (Red) and Ella Britton (Yellow).

Gardener mowing grass at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire

Photo credit: National Trust Images / Arnhel de Serra

And for another top tip…

“Plant your Dahlia plants in the garden in a plastic pot no less than 3 inches below soil level, they will be as good as if they were out of the pot, but the big benefit is that when it is time to lift Dahlias for storage in the autumn, you will have a pot full of tuber that is then very easy to store. Keep the tuber in the pot which should be turned on its side, kept frost free and then re-potted or planted the following year, it will be the best tuber ever!” Richard Todd, Head Gardener, Anglesey Abbey.

And that doesn’t even take into account the acres of lawn that needs cutting! For more tips and advice of what to do in your garden this June, why not see what else our gardeners had to say?

New plant centre for Ickworth

The new plant centre at Ickworth in Suffolk is now open – complete with its own mini stumpery!

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The scaffolding and portable toilets have gone, the plants are in and what a transformation… It’s hard to miss the new plant centre and toilet block in the main car park at Ickworth and it’s already proving a hit with our visitors (or should we say relief!)

You’ll find beautiful plants that will brighten up any garden, as well as garden gifts for those green fingered gardeners in your life.

The building itself has been clad in cedar so that it will fade into the background with time. Highly insulated, with an air source heat pump (a first for the National Trust in the East), low-flush toilets, waterless urinals, plus LED lighting – the building has been carefully thought through with the environment in mind.

1392069_747261488628594_4468608075210289985_nAnd as for the landscaping in and around the new plant centre, Ickworth’s very own stumpery has been the inspiration.The Ickworth stumpery dates back to the formation of the Italianate garden by the Hervey family in the 19th century and even contains some large stones from the giants’ causeway.  The Victorian’s loved their stumperies – made up of tree stumps, often arranged upside down so that the root structure can be seen. Over the last two years the gardeners at Ickworth have expanded the stumpery so that it now covers the full length of the garden. Now there’s a mini version for visitors to enjoy too.

And what’s great, every penny you spend in the plant centre will help keep Ickworth’s gardens looking beautiful for everyone to enjoy. So do call in next time you’re visiting. 


Tidal surge, six months on – did the seals know it was coming?

On the evening of December 5, the coastline around our region was battered in what transpired to be a tidal surge as big as the 1953 event. Dramatic scenes faced people the next morning, revealing just how high the water had come. Six months on, we can now reflect on how things are progressing on the North Norfolk Coast. And does new data reveal that the seal colony knew the surge was coming?


Photo credit: Geoff Peabody

Victoria Egan, Countryside Manager for the Norfolk Coast  fills us in…  

In this region, the North Norfolk Coast was one of the areas badly hit. High tides associated with low pressure and prevailing winds stripped away sand dunes, flooded buildings, roads and car parks, dumping debris on the once pristine landscape, severely affecting the fragile habitats of wildlife.

Amongst the damage and heartache for many, came a good news story, after an agonising wait for the ranger team, the seals on Blakeney National Nature Reserve had fared better than feared. However, it wasn’t until recently that analysis of data normally used to monitor visitor footfall on the reserve, revealed just how remarkable their survival was. Sensors on the ground recorded a surge of activity in the hours leading up to the storm hitting, which can only be attributed to the seals moving to higher ground. Remarkable when you think about it.

Whilst vital work continues to study the impacts on wildlife sites and many habitats will take years to recover, nature once again has proved how resilient and strong it is, and has quietly got on with the business of repairing stretches of coastline itself.

Brancaster Beach has turned into a wonderful example of how the natural world can re-balance itself. Immediately after the December tidal surge, the local community helped to clear the debris that was left in the storms wake – but it was clear that the beach’s beautiful sand dunes had been stripped away, with tonnes of sand being swept into the sea. Yet, just three months on and much of the dunes had been replaced by the same waters that had destroyed them, with sand gradually rebuilding week by week.

branc6months (1)After the storm…                           Three months on…               Six months on…

Some things have needed a little more human intervention…

With the help of the Environment Agency and local landowners, we’ve managed to reduce the salinity levels in the freshwater marshes at Blakeney, which were inundated with seawater. Salt is bad for freshwater fish and other animals living on the marshes, so by flushing salt levels in the ditches and pools on the fields with freshwater, means that we can help freshwater wildlife recover. This in turn has an impact on the birds and other wildlife which feed on them.

Due to high tides and winds we have had more salt water coming onto the site since the initial surge, so the freshwater flushing is ongoing and really important, especially as so many waders are now nesting on the site. We’ve been undertaking weekly salinity checks to understand how the site is responding. Most of the site is now freshwater, though some salt levels are still higher than we would like in some of the extremities of the ditch networks and closest to where the existing breaches remain.

We’re pleased to say that within a short space of time we witnessed a kingfisher feeding on the Freshes, and little egret and water rail were caught on the webcam – all a great sign of the resilience of nature. We can now also graze cattle on the site once more, as the salt levels decline. This is important, as the cattle help to keep the conditions on the marshes suitable for breeding waders.

But there is still a lot we don’t know – what impact has the salt had to the soil wildlife, such as earthworms on which the birds feed? How quickly will they move back to the site once conditions are suitable? This is the type of information that we need to know going forwards so that the mosaic of grass, reeds and pools can support a healthy thriving diversity of wildlife once more.

As well as the wildlife, we’ve reunited boats with owners, the ranger team have moved back into the Lifeboat House on Blakeney Point, we’ve helped other organisations repair the popular Norfolk Coast path and the 20-metre long bridge at Morston Quay, which was swept away, is in the process of being replaced. And the work isn’t over yet.

The storm on that December night in 2013 showed how coastal change can be pretty dramatic. Our coastline has been changing for millions of years and generation after generation has had to cope and live with this change. The coasts that we love are the way they are because of constant change – erosion and renewal gives the seaside a vibrancy that draws millions of us every year. With more extreme weather in the decades ahead and sea levels predicted to rise by up to 86 cm in the 21st century, planning for the huge changes ahead is vital.

The National Trust’s ‘Shifting Shores’ approach describes our approach to long-term planning, working with nature and not against it, working with coastal communities to explore ways to adapt to change and even creating new coastal habitats. We need to be able to work with that change and plan for the longer term.

On location with BBC Springwatch at Dunwich Heath

Now in its tenth series, BBC Springwatch is back on our screens and we’re delighted to see it coming live from its new home on the Suffolk coast. With the cameras rolling once again, nature’s soap opera has been unfolding in front of our very eyes and tonight we witnessed some fascinating footage coming live from Dunwich Heath.


Sand martins nesting in the cliffs at Dunwich Heath – Photo credit Dougy Blanks

Visitor Experience Manager, Alison Joseph fills us in on what’s been going on behind the scenes…

This year Springwatch, quite literally moved in next door! Broadcast live from our neighbours at RSPB Minsmere, regular viewers to the BBC Two show will know that Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games have all been getting rather excited by the wildlife in this part of the UK.

Tucked away on the Suffolk coast, Dunwich Heath, like Minsmere is teeming with wildlife and home to species such as the Dartford warbler, nightjar, cuckoo, sand martins, ant-lions, solitary bees and more. So, it won’t come as a surprise to hear then, that the BBC has also been busy filming here. And to help the Springwatch crew, our rangers have been working in shifts from dawn to dusk in recent weeks, to monitor the wildlife and map out what species are where on the reserve.

Did you see the ant-lions in the micro studio?

Ant lion larvae 215dpi Richard GilbertAnt Lion Richard Gilbert

Ant lion pits Richard GilbertAnt-lions are a rare insect that up until the 1900s was thought to be extinct in Britain. It requires a very precise type of habitat to thrive, and is generally confined to areas in the Suffolk Sandlings such as Dunwich Heath; with its warm sandy banks, overhanging vegetation and mature pine trees nearby.

The adult ant-lion looks superficially like a dragonfly, but as they are mainly nocturnal you are unlikely to see them. However, the conical pits that are constructed under sandy banks by the larvae are quite noticeable as they are often in large groups of several hundred or more. The larvae bury themselves next to these pits and wait patiently for unwary insects to fall in (primarily ants). Should an insect attempt to climb out, the larvae, using its head, will flick grains of sand at it. The larvae grab their prey with their powerful jaws and then suck them dry, gruesome!


The pits vary in size reflecting their different ages as the larvae take at least two years to reach adulthood. In late summer, usually around dusk when the adults are ready to emerge, they climb out of the pit, grabbing on overhanging vegetation to assist them. Once emerged, like dragonflies they must wait till their wings harden. Then the males and females congregate under mature pines, where males compete with each other to attract females. The mated females then search for suitable nesting areas to lay their eggs. Unfortunately when attempting to lay eggs in the sandy banks, they often fall victim to their own larvae!

Why not visit Dunwich Heath and chat to the ranger team about what to look out for and where’s best to spot it on your next visit?

Great spring for rare and endangered species at Dunstable Downs

A tiny and very rare wild flower called Field Fleawort has been re-discovered on Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire, after an absence of more than 40 years. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it, this plant is so rare, that it’s listed as one of Britain’s endangered species.

National Trust Wildlife and Countryside Advisor, Stuart Warrington picks up the story…

Field-Fleawort-by-SWField Fleawort is only found on the dry thin soils of chalk downland, with a handful of sites in the Chilterns, South Downs and Salisbury Plain. What makes this plant so hard to spot is its tiny leaves, and the fact that only a few of them will produce their yellow flowers each spring. Dunstable Downs was one of the first places in Britain where this rare plant was found, with records dating back to 1892, but over the years very few people seem to have been able to find it.

This time, we have local expert botanist, Graham Bellamy, to thank for the discovery. It’s great news that this special little plant is still here and in good numbers too, in three locations. We’re also delighted that Graham has also found a colony of another of our rare downland plants, the Greater Pignut.

The long and generally warm spring of 2014 has also been a good one for the special butterflies of the Downs. Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s butterfly expert spotted 48 Duke of Burgundy butterflies whilst visiting the site on the 19 May, along with dozens of Green Hairstreak, Grizzled Skippers and Dingy Skippers, all species that are rarely seen away from the chalk grassland.


“Dukes are one of the most threatened butterflies in Britain, as well as one of my favourites, so a count of 48 Dukes in a morning clearly makes the site of national significance for this lovely species,” said Matthew.

The caterpillars of the Duke of Burgundy feed on the leaves of cowslips, but not any cowslip will do. The butterfly is very choosy about where it will lay its eggs, and the cowslips that grow close to the sunken trackways across Whipsnade and Dunstable Downs seem to be their favourites.

So all in all, it’s been a great spring for rare and endangered species at Dunstable Downs. 

Rare fen violet rediscovered at Wicken Fen

The rare fen violet (Viola persicifolia) has been re-discovered at Wicken Fen following an absence of more than a decade.

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Photo credit: Carol Laidlaw

The fen violet is probably the most elusive of our native violet species – a tiny plant growing to a maximum of 25-30mm. It has bluish-white flowers with a mother-of-pearl sheen. The endangered species is on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and is known to exist in the wild at only 3 sites in the country (one of which, includes Wicken Fen).

The plant likes a wetland habitat with alkaline water. Seeds can lie dormant in the ground for many years and will only begin to grow when the ground has been disturbed and the weather conditions are right. Previously the violet was re-discovered at Wicken in the 1980s following an absence of 30 years, only to disappear again at the turn of the century.

Habitat loss along with the effects of drainage, ploughing, and lack of management on many of its former sites have all had a major part in the dramatic decline of the species.

The fen violet was re-discovered at Wicken Fen during a botanical survey undertaken on Monday 19 May and the team were delighted by the discovery…

“Its fantastic to see the fen violet again at Wicken Fen. It cements the important role Wicken Fen and the Wicken Fen Vision project has in international conservation, protecting and creating new habitats for endangered species,” explains Countryside Manager, Martin Lester.

Launched in 1999, the Wicken Fen Vision is a 100 project by the National Trust to create a 5,300 hectare nature reserve stretching from Wicken Fen to the outskirts of Cambridge.

Celebrating the Glorious Georges

Helping celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian succession, four items from Ickworth’s collection have gone off to London to be part of the Historic Royal Palaces Glorious Georges exhibition.

10153958_739822532705823_1829001531787491036_n (1)536644 John Lord Hervey secretly married Molly Lepel in 1720. Full of wit and ability, Hervey was considered the perfect match for such a beautiful star of the court. © NT / Sue James

The exhibition, which runs until 9 November 2014, celebrates the Hanoverian succession at three royal palaces – Hampton Court, Kensington Palace and Kew. Sue Borges, from Ickworth tells us more…

At Hampton Court, a special display will take place in the rooms the Georgian Court once occupied in the Baroque half of the palace. It will include a stunning redisplay of the Queen’s State and Private Apartments that will show what life was like for Georgian courtiers. We shall be loaning them two paintings from our collection by the artist John Fayram, including a portrait of Lord John Hervey, 2nd Baron of Ickworth and the painting of Molly Lepel, his wife.

And thanks to our volunteer research team, we now know a little more about Molly Lepel. Maid of Honour to Queen Caroline, Molly was renowned for her beauty, her elegant figure, her big grey ‘soft and sprightly’ eyes and her lustrous skin. Sprightly and fun-loving as well as being well educated and intelligent, Molly carefully disguised her learnedness at court. By looking at some of the original letters of Molly Lepel from a period between 1742 to 1768 – the team have found Molly was indeed well educated, as there are many references to books and pamphlets and numerous quotes in Latin, French and Italian. She comments frequently on political issues and on activities of the Royal Navy and events in France; ‘Of Sir Robert Walpole – history will, some hundred years hence show him as he was, not only one of the greatest, but the best minister that ever was in this country.’

She also talks of her time at Ickworth Lodge with much love, “I am luckily situated here in a little room where I enjoy it in its full meridian. It gilds and beautifies a scene that is as pleasing as lawns, trees, extent and diversity can make it. Nor is my sight the only sense that is gratified in this situation: a profusion of flowers and sweet shrubs perfume the air; and a variety of beautiful birds whilst they please my eye delight my ear.”

A photographic copy of Molly’s portrait will hang in the Silver Room at Ickworth until her return, kindly provided by the Royal Palaces.

Kensington Palace will also show off our portrait of Lord John by Jean-Baptiste van Loo and a Privy Purse which belonged to Lord John Hervey, who was Queen Caroline’s Vice-Lord Chamberlain and close friend.

An added bonus, our paintings are in safe hands – our former Conservation Assistant, Tatiana is now working at Hampton Court and is keeping an eye on them for us. We look forward to visiting the exhibition and learning more about the Georges I, II & III. All three paintings will be away for the season, so we hope you get the chance to see them from a different perspective too.

Roman emperors make triumphant return to Wimpole Hall after 60 year absence

They were the most powerful men of their day – some known for their strong leadership and military adventures, some for their cruelty and wild debauchery. Now, after an absence of more than sixty years, four 17th Century Italian busts of Roman emperors have returned to Wimpole Hall.

National Trust curator, Wendy Monkhouse, talked to us about the significance of their return…

Wimpole NT Caesars 2014 (20)

All photos: Catherine Hayburn

As of Saturday 10 May, visitors will be able to see the four magnificent Caesars back on display in Wimpole’s grand entrance hall. The spectacular marble busts will be on show in a room they last graced in the time of Elsie Bambridge, Wimpole’s last private owner, who sold them. The four returning busts will re-join a fifth bust of a young Marcus Aurelius already at Wimpole.

The first two busts, those of Caracalla and a ‘Philosopher’ emperor, have been accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and permanently allocated to the National Trust through the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme, which is managed by the Arts Council. A generous grant from the Art Fund has enabled the National Trust to part fund the purchase of the second two marble busts of Trajan and another, as yet unidentified emperor.

Wimpole NT Caesars 2014 (16)

It is wonderful to repatriate the four 17th century Italian marble busts of Caesars to Wimpole, where they will be reunited with that of Marcus Aurelius. Their redisplay in the Entrance Hall will transform its character, and help visitors to enjoy some of Wimpole’s original 18th century grandeur and glamour. We can trace the provenance of the busts with Wimpole’s collection to at least the 1770s but they may have been among the great collector Edward Harley’s possessions, who loved Roman coins and antiquities as well as enlarging his famous library.

Stone conservators Cliveden Conservation have been preparing the busts for display, the busts will be placed in their final position, secured to elaborate carved wooden plinths dating from about 1860. The plinths were custom made by the Cambridge firm of masons and joiners, Rattee and Kett. They have been used to display other items in the collection, but will now be returned to their original purpose.

Wimpole NT Caesars 2014 (7)

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England said:

“The Arts Council is thrilled that the AIL scheme has helped to return two of the 17th century Italian busts to their former home at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. It is fitting that they have been returned to the same place where they stood together so many years ago, and are now available for the general public to see. This is the third time that an offer in lieu has been allocated to Wimpole Hall, and the Arts Council is proud that the scheme continues to benefit cultural institutions such as the National Trust, and more importantly, the visiting public.”

In 1983-84 an ivory bust of Lords Somers by David Le Marchand was accepted and in 2002-03 a pair of George I walnut and seaweed-marquetry side chairs was also allocated.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund said:

“These important busts were once an integral part of the decorative scheme at Wimpole Hall, and we are so pleased to be supporting their return.  The public will gain real insight to the importance of the classical past for Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the quality of the busts makes them highly desirable acquisitions in their own right.”

Marble busts of Roman emperors were popular with the owners of wealthy, grand houses because of their powerful evocation of classical history. No doubt they also found great intrigue in the characters whose personalities lived on within the stone.

The emperor Trajan (ruled 98 – 117 AD) is considered one of Rome’s ‘good’ emperors, credited with expanding the Roman Empire to its widest reach and leaving Hadrian as his heir. It was the start of Rome’s golden age, which lasted until the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD.

Marcus Aurelius (ruled 161 – 180 AD) is best known for his philosophical work Meditations, in which he largely addresses himself on how to live life as a good man. The influence of the scholarly years of his youth can be seen in the book, which was written when he was much older, as he was when famously portrayed by Richard Harris in the film Gladiator. The bust at Wimpole shows him as a young scholar.

While certainly not the worst emperor to grace history, Caracalla (ruled 211 – 217 AD) is mostly remembered for his cruelty and violence. His bust was very popular in eighteenth century England, perhaps because he came to power while in York and perhaps because the carving captured so well the nature of a brooding, angry countenance. Given the nickname Caracalla after the type of hooded cloak he wore, he is perhaps best known for the bitter murder of his younger brother Geta, who was co-emperor with him at the start of his reign, and wiping out all trace of his sibling’s memory from statues and monuments. It was not Caracalla’s first attempt at murder, having tried and failed to see off his father Septimius Severus towards the end of his reign. Caracalla came to an unfortunate end, possibly the most humiliating of any emperor – killed by his own imperial bodyguard, run through with a sword from behind while squatting at the side of the road, relieving his upset tummy.

The identity of the remaining two busts is still unclear, with different identities having been ascribed to them over the centuries, and this is the subject of ongoing research by the National Trust. Do look out for them on your next visit.