Wicken Fen’s appeal – building a bridge for nature

This week Wicken Fen launched an appeal to raise £148,000 to build a bridge for nature. The bridge will link areas of the reserve, allowing the herds of Konik ponies and Highland cattle to range over a wider area, creating new habitats for our precious wildlife.

Wicken-Autumn-30 (1)Photo credit: Justin Minns

Howard Cooper from the Wicken Fen team talked to us about the appeal, why it’s important and what it will mean for the future…

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is one of Europe’s most important wetlands, supporting some of Britain’s most declining species.

With your support this appeal will enable us to develop 300 hectares (741 acres) of land into a fenland, which is as rich in wildlife as the ancient part of Wicken Fen. Currently the two areas are separated by a road that the grazing animals can’t cross. We’re literally trying to bridge the gap.

tPhoto credit: Justin Minns

Here at Wicken Fen, Konik ponies and Highland cattle are helping us to manage the landscape naturally and create new habitats for wildlife. The bridge would mean that our ponies and cattle will be able to roam freely over the wider nature reserve.

This means that the seeds carried on the animals’ fur and in their faeces reach the newly accessible fenland, encouraging plants and habitats to flourish. So, they’ll naturally cultivate the grasslands, reed beds and swamplands, enriching biodiversity.

Did you know that over 2,600 viable seeds belonging to 18 plant families were germinated from horse dung samples collected once a month, for a calendar year on Wicken Fen!

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Photo credit: Paul Constable

Grazing animals are essential to influence the developing vegetation in this fen landscape.Through their feeding and foraging behaviour, they create different amounts of grazing pressure on different places and on different plants across the restoration land.

Some trees and shrubs may grow, but the grazers keep the landscape open and help the wetland and grassland plants to become established.

The cattle and ponies are the preferred species as, in combination, they offer us the diverse grazing characteristics we are looking for.

The hardiness of the Konik Ponies and Highland Cattle means they are more than capable of withstanding the rigours of a life on the fen throughout the year. These breeds also have temperaments well suited to the presence of people, although they can happily live with minimal human intervention.

The lack of human intrusion in their lives encourages members of the herds to determine where they go, what they do, who they want to be with and what they eat. This has given us the makings of as natural a herd of large grazers as it is possible to get in lowland Britain.


Photo credit: Justin Minns

In addition to grazing, these large animals create other habitats such as well trodden paths through areas of long grass, dusty hollows where they roll, water-filled hoof prints and piles of dung. The animals act as catalysts to introducing new types of flora and fauna to the fen.

The new habitats created by these grazing animals will go onto encourage some of Britain’s most rapidly declining species to flourish, from bitterns to hen harriers and skylarks and water voles to fen violets.

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Photo credit: Paul Constable

Will you help us improve this nature reserve to protect the rare and endangered wildlife that depend on it? Find out how you can donate to the Wicken Fen appeal and support our work to build a bridge for nature.

Did ewe know it was lambing time at Wimpole?

The sight of newly born and frolicking lambs has to be one of the most quintessential images of springtime. For most farmers, the arrival of lambing time each spring means long hours of work ensuring their new flock is safely delivered and special care lavished on the expectant ewes.Wimpole-9

Photo courtesy of Justin Minns

For the National Trust’s Richard Morris, Farm Manager at Wimpole Home Farm, lambing means balancing the practical work with ensuring visitors are also able to see the youngsters up close. He fills us in…

Lambing is a busy time for any farmer, but doing that alongside managing thousands of visitors can be quite a challenge, but extremely rewarding.

Wimpole Home Farm, part of the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, is home to seven different rare breeds of sheep. With around 300 ewes pregnant, we’d expect to see around 600 lambs. We would expect to see just one or two lambs born to each ewe. Some breeds of sheep can have up to three lambs each, but that’s the difference between those that are chosen by commercial farms and the rare breeds we have here.

With a gestation period of 152 days, my team are able to accurately predict when the first lambs will start to arrive too. Animals generally stick to their due dates better than humans do, so they are pretty predictable. We actually start planning for the lambing season a year in advance, so when it gets to that point we are ready.

I may be an old-hand at lambing, but even I admit those first spring arrivals are always special.

Mark, our stockman and the rest of his team of staff and volunteers have been busy preparing the farm for the new arrivals. We’ve set up a number of lambing pens – these are small pens that mother and lamb will be moved into shortly after the lamb is born, where they can be monitored and be given any extra attention they might need.

Ewes lie down to give birth, standing up almost immediately in order to turn around and get to their newly-born lamb. After the birth, lambs and their mothers are left for a time to form a close bond. Once this has taken place, the ewe and lambs are moved into individual pens for 24 hours to ensure they settle in together.

Visitors will be able to meet mums and lambs of all shapes and sizes from our Norfolk Horn, Hebridean, Whitefaced Woodland, Portland, Manx Loaghtan, and Oxford Down flocks. Stockman Mark and all the staff will be on hand to talk everyone through the process, and answer any questions.

In the days that follow and before the lambs are moved from this pen, they’re given individual ear tags, enabling us to record which ewe they belong to and if they’re male or female.

From the individual pens, ewes and lambs are put into group pens – providing the lambs are strong enough. After a few days here, they can then go out into paddocks, providing the weather is suitable. The lambs will drink anything between half and 1.5 litres of milk a day for the first couple of weeks, then from around three weeks they will start eating grass. As the lambs grow up we start to introduce them to little pellets of food, which they eat more of as the mother’s milk decreases.

We feel its really important that people know where their food comes from and that’s why we open our doors to the public during this time of year.

This approach continues the long tradition of ‘demonstration’ farming at Wimpole. It was built in 1792 by one of the country’s leading architects and was meant to show off the wealth, status and thoughtfulness of the 3rd Earl of Hardwicke, the owner of Wimpole Estate at the time. He wanted the farm to represent the best in current practice and, in part, to be an experimental unit. This legacy continues today and Wimpole’s lambing season is a great way to encourage interest in animal welfare, food provenance and rare breeds. Its also a great day out for the whole family!

We cannot promise that all visitors will see a ewe giving birth, but for those that do, they will remember that lamb’s first moments and their efforts to wobble onto their feet. Look out for other new arrivals at Home Farm whilst you’re there, like this White Park calf, another of our rare breeds that is doing well.


Photo courtesy of Justin Minns

Lambing time at Wimpole Home Farm will run from now until 26 April 2015. We hope to see you there and look out for Richard and Mark, they’re never far away.

Coastlines – The Story of Our Shore

We are a nation in love with our coastline. It provides us with the backdrop to generations of family memories, it gives us a connection to our island heritage and it is home to a rich array of marine and coastal wildlife. Author Patrick Barkham spent over a year away from his Norfolk home exploring this coast, meeting its people and delving into its natural and human histories to produce Coastlines – The Story of Our Shore, which is published this month.


Orford Ness (Photo credit Justin Minns)

The coastline of the East of England holds a special place in Patrick’s heart. Like many people his earliest memories are of holidays by the sea. His memory of expeditions, discovery and freedom remain intact, and thanks to the National Trust’s Neptune Campaign, which was launched in 1965 with a remit to buy and care for special coastal places, today’s families can experience the same.

Coastlines jacketTold through a series of walks beside the sea, this is a story of over 740 beautiful miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: their rocks, plants and animals, their views, walks and history, and the people who have made their lives within sight of the waves. As he travels along coastal paths, visits beaches and explores coves, Patrick has reflected on the long campaign to protect our shoreline from tidal erosion and human damage and weaves together fascinating tales about every aspect of the coast – from ancient conquests and smuggler’s routes, to exotic migratory birds and bucket-and-spade holidays – to tell a more profound story about our island nation and the way we are shaped by our shores.

Patrick’s book offers a new perspective on our coast line, he hopes that by enjoying all the coast has to offer, more people will feel inspired to join us in helping to care for it.

One of the places to feature in Patrick’s new book is Orford Ness, one of Europe’s  most fragile nature reserves, which was acquired by the Trust in 1993. He was given special permission to spend two nights alone in an abandoned military store soaking up the site’s history. The nights proved inspiration for Patrick as he explores the ancient and modern, from ancient tales of the Orford manfish to 20th century stories of lethal experiments and fake invasions.


Orford Ness (Photo credit Justin Minns)

As Patrick explains…

In the twelfth century, a bald-headed, long-bearded thing, ‘a Fish having the shape of a man in all poyntes’, according to John Stow’s Chronicles of England (1580), was caught by local fishermen, who took it to the castle. The Wild Man of Orford was fond of fish and swimming and not fond of church (taken there, he ‘shewed no tokens of adoration’). He could not be persuaded to speak, even by torture. When he was permitted a swim in the sea, he tore through a barrier of three nets to escape but, oddly, returned to captivity. Eventually he escaped again and never came back.

Unlike other mer people, the Orford manfish had no tail and accomplished no magic; this, according to Sophia Kingshill and Jennifer Westwood in The Fabled Coast, makes him one of the most credible aquatic wild men of legend. Perhaps he really lived, untouched by civilisation, on the marshes of the Ness. In later folk tellings, the manfish evolved into a more conventional merman who avenged its imprisonment by blocking off Orford’s harbour with the shingle spit of the Ness.

Orford-44For eighty years of the last century, the general public was not permitted onto this inaccessible, low-lying peninsula. Notices along the riverbank read: ‘WARNING: This is a prohibited place within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act. Unauthorised persons entering this area may be arrested and prosecuted.’ Orford Ness was home to the some of the most secretive, audacious and potentially destructive experiments in the deadliest century of all. This coast was the front line of the Cold War.

The military left in 1985 and ‘the Island’ was acquired by the National Trust on 1 April 1993. The Ness is now the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe, containing an estimated 15 per cent of the world’s reserve of coastal vegetated shingle, a fragile, arid ecosystem of pebble-loving, salt-tolerant plants. It is one of the most precious nature reserves in the country and it is scarred by ruined buildings, unexploded bombs and rumours of death rays, lethal experiments and faked invasions.


Orford Ness (Photo credit Justin Minns)

Patrick’s journey around the East of England also takes him to Northey Island in Essex, Blakeney Point and Scolt Head Island in Norfolk and Dunwich Heath in Suffolk. Readers inspired to follow his trail will find full details of the places with directions, OS map references and suggested further reading at the end of each section.

“The East of England coast holds childhood memories, influences some of our greatest artists, has a kind of romance through the spinster ornithologist Emma Turner, and captures the war-time terror of secret military operations. Thanks to Neptune these special places are able to survive, and thrive. We can enjoy histories and wildlife that intrigue and thrill us, and through the experience we become a part of it. Long may that continue, for the next 50 years of Neptune and beyond, in a land that really is more edge than middle.” Patrick Barkham

Patrick’s book is now on sale at National Trust shops and all good bookshops. You can hear more from Patrick too, in a series of presentations and talks that are taking place around the region.

Gothic Tower gets a face-lift

Have you been following the story of the Gothic Folly at Wimpole and its conservation? Last year we announced that work had begun and as we now enter the final stages of the project, we thought we’d catch up with Paul Coleman, who is overseeing the work…


When Sanderson Miller designed the Folly (1749-51) and when it was built in 1772, the intention was for it to have a romantic, castle-like appearance with mock fortifications; places from which to view the approaching enemy and defend your property.

Crenels, crenulations, merlons, machicolations, battlements, embrasures, coping and cap stones are all part of what made the ruin at Wimpole such a striking feature in the landscape giving it that sham castle appearance.

However, these features at the top of the building were constructed in a stone called clunch, a very soft chalk limestone, which in external locations does not weather that well and can suffer from rapid deterioration. By the early 1900s some of the stones were in such a state with stonework failing and falling that they were eventually removed, and replaced with a brick substitute. So began the demise of the romantic appearance.

Since its completion and later conversion to the game keeper’s cottage in 1805, it was in use as a place to live up until the late 1920s. This kept the building alive and in some ways in good order. However, the following decades have seen a rapid deterioration, especially in the 1970s when the roof collapsed, causing water to allow the rot and decay to take hold. Added to this over 15 years of pigeons using the inside as a pigeon roost!

img_2113So, with the help of Cliveden Conservation and funding from DEFRAs Higher Level Scheme (HLS) managed by Natural England, work began to bring this building back to life.

We began with archaeological investigations to understand the full history of the folly and removed vegetation from the towers and ruined wall tops, which can only be described as weeding on a grand scale! We then cleaned stone surfaces and carried out pointing and mortar repairs to make the folly’s stone and brickwork stable.

The project has seen brickwork at the top of the building removed and replaced with new stonework to replicate the historic design. We’ve used old photographs and Sanderson Miller’s original pen and ink sketches to recreate the scale, design and appearance.

We’ve chosen to use Chilmark stone for those bits at the very top which will be prone to weather damage and which will take the full brunt of the rain. Chilmark is very similar to clunch in appearance but is more durable and harder, so the top will last many years into the future.


The conservators have been busy using their artistic skills too, to colour these areas to match the surrounding weathered and aged stone. Not only will it help the new stone blend with the surrounding stones but more importantly the coloured lime wash (shelter coat) holds the fragile surface in place and allows it to breath.

We’ve also been busy reinstating historic elements, such as brick steps and the wooden staircase at the base of the tower, doors, windows, and crenellations at the top of the tower. And now that the scaffolding is down, from every approach the Folly is looking magnificent with its new crown and features, as it rises above the park.

But the project isn’t over yet! The Forestry team have arrived on site and are working with chainsaws to get on top of the years of scrub, which has surrounded the walls and has choked the ornate moat. Over the next few months you will gradually see the ground being tended to, brambles removed, barbed wire taken down.


The rear staircase is being crafted, the support walls outside for the balcony are being rebuilt, doors still need to be repaired and historic locks and door hinges will be made to replicate ones from old photos. By July, we hope you’ll enjoy a walk from the house and come and marvel at this Gothic Tower’s beauty in the landscape once more.

Timely return of clock to Anglesey Abbey

Following extensive repairs, ground breaking conservation and an amazing discovery, one of the most spectacular clocks in the National Trust’s collection is returning to Anglesey Abbey after an absence of almost 3 years.  

by Bovell, Henry

National Trust conservator, Chris Calnan, has been looking forward to its return for some time…

The clock in question was made in London by James Cox in the early 1790s. He was one of the foremost clock makers of his time, making very elaborate automata clocks, many of which were exported to China.

Shaped like a Chinese pagoda, the Pagoda Clock is unusual in that when it strikes 12 and 3 o’clock a wonderful musical and visual display occurs. It’s quite the sight, there are musical chimes sounding and jewelled flowers on the different tiers of the pagoda that spin and open up.

The clock was originally sent away to West Dean College in Sussex to be cleaned, but a detailed inspection revealed that it was in a perilous state. Previous poor restoration work by clocksmiths meant that the clock was damaging its gears every time it ran and the main spring for the musical chimes was at a point where it could have snapped at any moment, which could have caused irreparable damage.


Photo: West Dean student, Brittany Cox, working on the clock.

Faced with the prospect of a major programme of replacement work and intervention, we took the bold decision that it would be better for the long term conservation of the clock to remove and retire the movement and replace it with an electronic drive, which would be fully reversible.

The barrel pins that produced the musical chimes were also in a very poor condition, so a similar conservation approach was taken with them. We had the musical chimes digitally recorded with state of the art recording equipment to enable us to play the chimes without causing further wear to the clock. The most time consuming task, was then to devise an electric mechanism that would synchronise the striking of the clock with the playing of the musical chimes and the motion of the moving parts.

This is ground-breaking conservation, as this is the first clock in the country to have its mechanical components driving time, as wells as chimes and movement replaced with an electronic drive and digital recording.


Photo: The Pagoda Clock at West Dean College being recorded by John Leonard to digitally replace the mechanical chimes. 

The story doesn’t end there, whilst working on the clock, an exciting discovery was made.

The jewelled panels around the base of the clock were found to have small strips of paper wedged on their insides to prevent movement. On opening up the paper wedges we discovered that they were strips torn from Chinese newsprint from the latter half of the 19th century. We’re hoping to carry out further research on the newsprint fragments to try to discover their date, but it suggests that the clock may have once had an illustrious past.

The tantalising evidence of the Chinese newsprint found inside, may suggest that it once belonged to the Emperor of China. The Emperor amassed a vast collection of these highly prized clocks, which were gifts from European countries intent on opening up trade with China. The Chinese referred to these clocks as ziming zhong, meaning ‘sing songs’.

It’s thought that the collection amassed by the Quing dynasty Emperors by the early 19th century amounted to over 4,500 clocks, of which 1,500 remain in the collection inside the Forbidden City. Quite how this clock came to the West would be a great story to uncover.

See the Pagoda Clock for yourself, as it goes back on display at Anglesey Abbey this week, just in time for when the clocks change!

The ghost ship of Sutton Hoo

Deep within the soil, deep within a burial mound, she lay hidden until the summer of 1939… This March a new exhibition has opened, which reveals the story of the ghost ship of Sutton Hoo and our Festival of Craftsmanship will celebrate the legacy of the Anglo-Saxon craeftiga – or craftsman who made it and the treasure found within.

Sutton Hoo 2

Under a stunning Suffolk skyline and overlooking the tranquil Deben estuary, Sutton Hoo’s majestic Anglo-Saxon burial mounds are some of the most important and special archaeological monuments in the country. Ruaidhri O’Mahony, from Sutton Hoo explains…

Beneath today’s lasting monuments lay the graves of Anglo-Saxon nobles. There are around 18 burial mounds within the royal cemetery here, most of these have been robbed at some point through history, but luckily for the nation two were ‘missed’ by the tomb raiders.

Mound one, the king’s mound, guarded a 90ft ship within which a great chamber was filled with spears, shields, helmet, sword, feasting items and exquisite jewellery of gold and garnet made of the highest quality.

King Raedwald

The Anglo-Saxon ship no longer exists. It was made of oak and after 1400 years in the soil, it rotted away leaving only its ‘ghost’ imprinted in the sand. It’s only through the discovery of iron rivets that suggest a boat was ever buried there. It’s this ship, one of only three Anglo-Saxon burial ships so far discovered in the UK, that’s to form the centre piece of our new exhibition in the treasury.

When the Anglo-Saxons arrived they brought with them a new culture, which included burial with grave goods such as weapons and jewellery. They built villages, some of which may have become our familiar villages and towns. East Anglia’s rivers became trade routes and ships must have passed Sutton Hoo on their way up the River Deben to the royal settlement at Rendlesham.

Sutton Hoo-4

The summer of 1938 saw the first in a long series of excavations to be undertaken at Sutton Hoo. Basil Brown, an amateur archaeologist initially excavated Mounds two, three and four but was greeted only with dismay, the mounds had been robbed in antiquity. Excavations resumed the next summer, when Basil was determined to unlock the mysteries of Mound one, the largest mound. It was beneath this mound that the richest surviving Anglo-Saxon burial site was discovered.

In what Basil described as ‘the find of a lifetime’, to this day it is the largest Saxon ship to have been discovered in the UK and would have had room for 40 oarsmen. The noble cemeteries in central Sweden, for example Vendel and Valsgӓrde, also reflect ship burial customs and contain helmets and shields very like those from the Sutton Hoo ship.

And it’s the grave goods that tell us about the man in the ship, which many believe to be the final resting place of one of the 7th Kings of the East Angles – King Raedwald. From metalwork to weaving, boat building to woodcrafts; the objects uncovered don’t just denote a great military leader, they showcase the finest Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship.


Photos courtesy of the National Trust, Justin Minns & British Museum

So, why not make your own pilgrimage to the royal cemetery following in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors? Find out more about the ghost ship that was unearthed on the eve of the Second World War and join us for our exciting new Festival of Craftsmanship on 21 – 22 March 2015.

Spring cleaning tips from the experts

Many of us have struggled through a tough spring clean and know just how much hard work is involved. But can you imagine cleaning a country mansion, the likes of which National Trust teams tackle each and every year?

Blickling (credit) Kenny Gray (8)

Never mind the sheer size of the places involved and the number of rooms, there are delicate and historically important objects everywhere – from carpets, tapestries and ceramics to marble busts, carved wooden staircases and sparkling chandeliers. Just think of the number of chimneys that require sweeping and we have just one or two windows to clean!

Many of the jobs we carry out at our places are the same as those you do at home, just on a larger scale! So we’ve asked those ‘in the know’ at the National Trust to put their thinking caps on and bring you a list of their top tips to get your home looking spick and span this spring.

This is what our house teams came up with…

Start at the top
Begin with your lighting and work down, this will stop dust falling on recently cleaned items. If you’re lucky enough to own chandeliers then these will need to be dry cleaned every two years with a soft brush, then wet cleaned on the third. For those with more conventional lighting, gently vacuum your lampshades and don’t forget to dust those light bulbs!

Feed the floors
Polishing floors is important because it feeds moisture back into the wood. It’s best to apply a solid coloured wax by hand to create an even finish, then buff off. It takes a team of four staff and volunteers about seven hours to apply the wax and buff it off for each of our floors at Oxburgh Hall.

Put down that polish
Don’t be tempted to add too much polish. Polishing too often can lead to furniture becoming dull in appearance. Instead dust every day with a lint free duster, this will wake up the polish already on the surface and overtime will create a lovely mellow shine.

Don’t forget the books
Just like all furniture your books get dusty too, use a soft brush to clean along the top first, then go over the front and back covers. At Blickling there are over 12,000 books in our library and it takes a whole team of volunteers four years to work their way through the whole collection!

Stop the clocks
If you ever need to move a clock during your spring clean, stop the pendulum first. Always wear soft gloves when handling metal ware and clean using a soft brush. On re-starting the clock hands should always be moved forward, never backwards. Did you know that clocks like to be wound at the same time every week?

Expensive isn’t always better
Don’t be fooled by a large price tag, natural cleaning products such as vinegar are great for removing odours and washing greasy areas. While a drop of washing up liquid in a bowl of warm water will do wonders for your windows! Did you know at Oxburgh Hall the windows are cleaned from a boat on the moat?

Blickling (credit) Kenny Gray (4)

Photos courtesy of Kenny Gray

Look out for our house teams in action, as they go about their cleaning. Stop for a minuteand imagine all the hours of intricate cleaning that goes into keeping these places clean and dust-free – it should make your own spring clean feel like a doddle! And if you’re interested, why not enjoy one of the many opportunities to see the cleaning in action? As this spring we’ll be doing lots more of it in front of visitors.

Composers work, brought to life

Thomas Tudway lived and worked at Wimpole from 1714 until his death in 1726, it was here that he was composer in residence for Lord Edward Harley. However, his work has not been heard in its original setting since, until now that is…

Wimpole Eboracum Baroque

In a new recording project within the chapel at Wimpole, period music specialists Eboracum Baroque have preserved Tudway’s music for posterity.

Anne French from Wimpole fills us in…

So you might ask who was Thomas Tudway? Tudway was an English musician who became Professor of Music at Cambridge University in 1705. His first position there did not last long as he was accused of making disparaging remarks about the Queen, possibly due to him being overlooked for a position at Court. He was stripped of all his titles but then re-instated a year later.

He claimed that Charles II had promised him a musical position at the Royal Court, but his advances were in vain and he missed out on positions to other composers. As a composer himself, he was most noted for his compilation of collections of Anglican church music. And it was during his time at Wimpole that Tudway compiled 6 volumes of this type of music to preserve, for which he received 30 guineas per volume – quite the sum in those days!

View of the Chapel at Wimpole Hall towards the altar showing Thornhill's trompe l'oeil wall depicting gilded statues of the four doctors of the church.

In 1721 he composed  the Wimpole Te Deum for the consecration of the baroque chapel in the East Wing at Wimpole. And it’s this piece that will feature alongside a Birthday Ode that he wrote for Queen Anne in 1706, in a new recording project headed up by Eboracum Baroque.

Eboracum Baroque was formed in 2012 at the University of York and now features some of the best young singers and instrumentalists graduating from the top music institutions in the UK including the Royal College of Music, Trinity College of Music and the Universities of York and Cambridge.

Chris Parsons is the musical director of Eboracum Baroque:

“It’s very exciting to think that we will be performing music written for the very space in which we play it. Tudway was quite the composer, perhaps he might have gone onto secure a post at the royal court if he had been more tight-lipped about his views in life!”

For the first time in 300 years, there will now be an opportunity to hear the music that Tudway composed especially for Wimpole, in a special performance by Eboracum Baroque on Saturday 20 June. Tickets are now on sale for Music on a Midsummer’s Evening, which will also feature other music by Baroque masters such as Handel and Purcell.

New experience reveals 500 years of village life

Stories from across almost 500 years of Suffolk history form a major new exhibition opening this weekend at Lavenham Guildhall, that will be told through the eyes of those who were there. 

Lavenham Guildhall Panoramic (credit Lavenham Photographic)Photo courtesy of Lavenham Photographic

Real life characters are used to tell the story of Lavenham and its Guildhall from the boom of the medieval cloth trade through five centuries to the modern day. Originally built as a religious meeting place for wealthy Catholic merchants, the Guildhall has also been used as a prison, a workhouse, a pub, a chapel and a social club for US troops stationed nearby during the Second World War.

We asked Jane Gosling, Guildhall Manager and Anna Forrest, the National Trust Curator for the Guildhall who led the research, to fill us in…

Lavenham Guildhall is a very special building of national importance. The architecture alone is stunning and is often what brings people to visit us. But not many people realise the Guildhall has had such a wide variety of uses. It’s been amazing what stories we’ve been able to unearth around a host of fascinating people that really bring the inside of the building to life.

There are so many gripping tales to discover that really give you a sense of the changing fortunes of this unique village. More than anything, the stories we have discovered are really emotionally touching – you get a real sense of meeting these people who lived and worked here so many years ago and who walked through the same rooms we walk through today.

LavGuildhal17-01-15l-108 A visitor gets to see how it felt being put in the stocks

LavGuildhal17-01-15l-058 Widow Snell's 18th century workhouse  medicines

Among the real life stories featured in the exhibition is the tale of Ann Baker, who was imprisoned in the Guildhall when it was used as a prison in the 1780s. Aged just 8-years-old, Ann was whipped and kept locked inside with others who had fallen foul of the sometimes harsh laws of the time. She was later sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia, then a penal colony, for being ‘an incorrigible rogue’. She died at just 29.

Others stories include Widow Snell, who ran the 18th century workhouse and created a host of intriguing – and sometimes gruesome – looking medicinal recipes to help treat the ailments suffered by the residents. These included adding 20 live woodlice to cough mixture and crab’s eyes to a treatment for catarrh!

The exhibition, called Our Village Through Time, represents a complete overhaul of the internal exhibition spaces of the Guildhall. The £160,000 project has been funded in part by grants of £85,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £46,750 from Biffa Award and £9,000 from Suffolk County Council, plus several smaller grants.

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England

“It’s wonderful to see the transformation of this well-loved historic building, a key part of the Lavenham community.  The new exhibition provides fascinating glimpses of local life through the centuries and showcases one of the most important timber-framed buildings in the country.”

Gillian French, Biffa Award Programme Manager

“We are pleased to be able to support this project, which is an excellent example of how the Landfill Communities Fund can help protect culturally significant spaces for the benefit of the local community and visitors alike.”

It’s also thanks to a dedicated team of staff and volunteers at the National Trust, working closely with the local community that has enabled us to tell these stories. The final exhibition space even includes an area set aside for a changing community-led display.

Christine Evans, is a member of the local community involved in the project

“The community of Lavenham is incredibly fortunate to have within the heart of the village such an imposing building as The Guildhall. Alongside this there is of course the responsibility to ensure that the building is preserved and developed to enable others to enjoy and also learn from its history. This project brought together the local community and the National Trust with the aim of showing just how important the building has been, and still continues to be, to the village.

Lavenham Guildhall’s new exhibition, Our Village Through Time, will be open to visitors from Saturday 28 February, seven-days-a-week. We really hope everyone who chooses to visit has an enjoyable and enlightening time.

Blickling’s Walled Garden to be brought back to life

Of the 140 walled gardens looked after by the National Trust, 30 have been restored to their former glory, but many others still need saving! One of those is in Norfolk and we’re pleased to report that thanks to your support, work has now started on the regeneration of Blickling’s disused walled garden.


So we spoke to Mike Owers, who with the help of a team of volunteers, has taken up the challenge to transform 1.5 acres of Blickling’s unused walled garden into a fully-functioning, living and breathing kitchen garden once more. You could call it every gardener’s dream – the chance to recreate a long-lost, historic walled garden…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere has been a Walled Garden at Blickling since the early 1600s, but most of the detailed evidence we have relates to the 1700s onwards. In its heyday we know it would have covered approximately four acres.

Our plan is to return the walled garden to a working kitchen garden for the first time since the 1950s, supplying fruit and vegetables to the restaurant. We’re going to be basing the layout on a design similar to how the garden looked back then. But we’re not trying to bring back exactly what was here in the past. Rather we want to recapture the spirit of what was here, while still making use of modern techniques and plants.

We have a lot of history to draw on and it is important we are honest to that, but we must also produce a garden for now and not just look back to the past.

Aerial photo of 1948

Aerial photo of the Walled Garden taken in 1948

We’ll be using East Anglian varieties of fruit and vegetable, with those originating in Norfolk given preference where possible. We’re also researching historical documents to discover which of the heritage varieties that once grew at Blickling can be brought back.

It’s fascinating when you start digging into these documents. Take the mysterious Colonel Harbord’s Pippin for example, which is thought to be a very large cooking apple that is now thought to be a lost variety. According to legend, it can grow up to 11 inches round, we’re certainly willing to see if we can bring it back and check if that’s the case!

“Part of our desire as a conservation charity is of course to nurture the walled gardens in our care, but we also want to open up the secrets of growing fruit and veg to more people of more ages. Improving our gardens will allow us to reach out to more people and inspire the new generations of Percy Throwers and Monty Dons to get involved.” Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens at the National Trust

We’ve also started work to restore one of the glasshouses in the kitchen garden, with another planned later in the project. This is where we will propagate vegetable plants, but also cut flowers for the house and plants for the rest of the ornamental gardens at Blickling.

Late 19th century photo of glass housesGlasshouses in the late 19th century

So we have a lot of work to do over the next five years. The estate has already impressively secured some 70% of the required funding from the sale of books in their second-hand bookshop, leaving £90,000 to raise. So keep your eyes peeled on the hive of activity taking place at Blickling on your next visit.