The love story behind an eighteenth century sculpture

We’ve been chatting to Wimpole’s House and Collections Manager, Iain Stewart, about the Edward and Eleanor plaster relief that has returned to Wimpole and the fascinating story behind John Deare, the man who sculpted it…

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With around 18,000 objects in our care at Wimpole, it’s fair to say that my favourite things change from time to time.

Every now and again, a visitor or one of our research volunteers brings to light a new piece of information that helps draw my interest to something different in the collection.

Sometimes, it simply depends on my mood, at other times it changes with the movement of light through the house. The way different objects become highlighted by the colours washing in through the windows from the parkland, or through John Soane’s incredible lanterns can vary throughout the year. It’s this wonderful variety that makes it possible to visit Wimpole time and again, knowing you’ll always discover something new.

The object I’m most fascinated by at the moment is known as ‘Edward and Eleanor’, a plaster relief modelled by a sculptor named John Deare. I particularly like this piece for the following reasons.

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Firstly, I think Deare has a great story. He enrolled at the Royal Academy School, which went onto give him a pension for a three year stay in Rome, on the condition he sent back a work to the Academy’s annual exhibition. For his exhibition piece he modelled in plaster ‘The Judgement of Jupiter’ with over 20 figures. Emulating history painting of the time, it was the largest 18th-century relief by a British artist. In fact the Academy argued with him over its size (they thought it too big) and it was not sent to London.

Edward and Eleanor was his next relief and it turned out to be Deare’s first and only Royal Academy exhibition. It was commissioned by Henry Blundell and shown in 1788. This relief depicts the legend of Queen Eleanor of Castile, risking her life to suck the poison from a wound her husband, King Edward I, sustained during the crusades. The subject matter and elements of the composition may have been suggested by Angelica Kauffman’s painting of the same subject, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776, during Deare’s time as a student.

After Deare exhibited his plaster piece, Sir Andrew Corbet commissioned a marble version for Adderley Hall, in Shropshire. We can’t be absolutely sure, but we think there’s a very good chance that our plaster might have been taken from a mould of this marble version.

Deare was said to be a hard worker, often working late into the night and rarely sleeping before 3am. To improve the accuracy of his figures, he studied anatomy, attended dissections and examined life casts at the Royal Academy.

Finally there are a number of stories surrounding his death. Some say he died of a broken heart after falling in love with the wife of a commander of French troops, which got him thrown into prison. The story I most like to imagine to be true was recorded by J T Smith, who said Deare had slept on a block of marble in the hope that he would find inspiration for his next work, but unfortunately only managed to catch a chill, which killed him in just a few days!

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I also really like the story behind the subject Deare chose for this work. As was common practice in the middle ages, Edward and Eleanor had an arranged marriage. However, unlike most, theirs seems to have been a happy marriage. Most accounts show that Edward and Eleanor were devoted to each other, stating that Edward I had no known mistresses, unlike many medieval kings, and was one of the few not to have known to have had children outside of wedlock. In fact, their household records imply a comfortable, even humorous relationship.

Eleanor and the children often travelled with Edward, even on crusades. Apparently an assassination attempt was made on his life, in June 1272. He was wounded in the arm by a dagger that was thought to be poisoned. Like all good stories, this one was later embellished, claiming Eleanor sucked poison from the wound, thereby saving Edward’s life. It is this bedside scene that is portrayed in Deare’s work.

And finally, the relief has had such a long association with Wimpole. It was bought and installed here, removed, lost, and eventually returned.

This repatriation of lost objects is a major part of my work as House & Collections Manager, working with the support of my Curator, Wendy Monkhouse. Once we’d got the plaster back, we knew it was in such a poor condition that it couldn’t be displayed. So, we made the decision to send the work to Cliveden Conservation, a specialist company that repaired and conserved the piece for us.

It’s been away from the Hall for three years, so it was such a pleasure to see it return this year. We have hung it in John Soane’s staircase, using a type of bracket we researched with the help of the Soane Museum. The colour that washes down through the staircase from the skylight, shows up beautifully the remarkable work not just of Deare, but also of Cliveden in their painstaking conservation treatment.

If you haven’t seen it yet then don’t just take my word for it, I thoroughly recommend a trip to Wimpole to take a look for yourself. If you see me in the house, then please do come and say hello and find out if I’ve moved on to a new favourite object yet!

Come bye and discover life as a shepherd at the National Trust

Did you know the National Trust has its own shepherd, who looks after a flock of 100 sheep on the Suffolk coast? But life is anything but quiet for Andrew Capell and his sheepdog Kite.

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Andrew Capell has worked with sheep for more than 30 years and has been tending the National Trust flock at Orford Ness, Dunwich Heath and Sutton Hoo since 2010. He has a mixed group under his care, made up of White Faced Woodlands, Norfolk Horns, Portlands, Hebrideans and Manx sheep.

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As well as Wendy Woodland, Andrew has names for many of the others with strong personalities. Like Mike, the Manx who – from some considerable distance – can smell a pocket of treats hidden in Andrew’s pocket and won’t stop until he’s got the first mouthful all to himself. Or like Dopey and the boys, a gang full of mischief always trying to climb over fences or sneak out the gate. Trouble comes when they want to return to the flock and can’t work out how to get back into the field!

“Most people think sheep are docile, but far from it. There are some really strong characters in my flock. When you get to know them you realise they each have their own characteristics and each one is very different from the others.

“They can recognise about 50 human faces and it takes time for them to bond with you. They remember things and if they have had a bad experience they will avoid the place where it happened. Some of them don’t like having their injections and will try anything to escape getting them!”

There is a strong hierarchy, with three sheep dominating the community – Wendy, Mike and Nobby the Norfolk Horn.

“I trust them and they trust me. If I want to move a small group into another field I always put one of those three in, because they will lead the gang and the others will be happy to follow,” said Andrew, who is always accompanied by his trusted companion, sheepdog Kite.

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The sheep are used for grazing on the National Trust’s nature reserve at Orford Ness in order to provide the variation in grass height that wading birds need to nest.

The flock lives on Orford Ness during the warmer weather, usually from May to October, before moving off to Dunwich Heath and Sutton Hoo for the winter. This is because the marshy land at Orford Ness swells with water during the colder months and it is too wet for the sheep to feed.

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(All images courtesy of East Anglian Daily Times)

Andrew often shears the sheep where visitors wait for the ferry home from the Ness, helping them to learn about his work. The wool is then made into yarn and sold at Café Kint in Lavenham and at the National Trust shops at Dunwich and Sutton Hoo.

Why not watch this short film, which shows you a day in the life of Andrew’s trusty sidekick, Kite?

So, look out for Andrew and Kite on your next visit to the Suffolk Coast. 

 

Could Beatrix Potter or John Constable be the new face of the £20 note?

The Bank of England has announced the list of people nominated to appear on a new £20 bank note after a two month public consultation. The consultation asked for nominations of people who had influenced, been innovative or helped shape the visual arts in Britain, and a number of names with connections to National Trust places in the East could now potentially be found on the shortlist.

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We take a closer look…

Bank notes. A key part of our everyday lives and a tool that we take for granted. But who decides which face will join that of the Queen on each of those notes? It’s a big decision and the image of the chosen person will be seen by thousands every day.

Former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill is set to grace fivers in England and Wales from 2016, whilst author Jane Austen will appear on £10 notes from 2017. So who will replace the economist Adam Smith on the £20 note?

As part of the launch of a new series of bank notes, the public have been asked to make nominations from within the field of visual arts – and what an illustrious set of names are now on the longlist! After more than 29,000 votes, the Bank of England must now narrow down 592 eligible nominees to a shortlist of just three to five, with the final name to be selected by the Bank of England Governor.

Amongst the names on the current longlist are some with connections to National Trust places here in the East of England – whether one of them is eventually chosen we will have to wait and see!

Beatrix Potter
One of the nominees is the author Beatrix Potter, who wrote such famous stories as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. Beatrix Potter was the cousin of Ethel, Lady Hyde Parker, grandmother of Sir Richard Hyde Parker, the present Baronet who still resides at Melford Hall. Beatrix came to love Melford through her many visits. Today, Melford is home to some of Beatrix Potter’s original watercolour artworks and even the original Jemima Puddleduck toy – gifted by the author herself.

Melford Hall will be celebrating the author’s connections with a Beatrix Potter Day on July 29, or why not pop along for some outdoor theatre with The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny on August 15?

John Constable
No call for people influential in the world of visual arts would be complete without mention of John Constable, who is also on the longlist. The East Anglian scenery that inspired Constable can still be discovered and explored at Flatford and a visit to the beautiful Dedham Vale can often feel like walking through one of his paintings – perhaps you’ll be inspired to pick up a brush yourself?

By including ordinary people going about their lives as part of the natural world, John Constable changed landscape painting forever. At first, his work was rejected by the art establishment and even The Haywain remained unsold when it was first exhibited in 1821.Willy Lott's House at Flatford and the River Stour, Suffolk.

Capability Brown
Next year will see gardens and parks around the country celebrating 300 years since the birth of landscape designer Capability Brown, who is also on the list. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown designed over 170 parks during his illustrious career and made a less formal, more romantic approach to landscaping fiercely fashionable among the country’s landed gentry. Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire is home to one such landscape and will be leading the way with our contributions to the celebrations next year.

Brown’s style derived from the two practical principles of comfort and elegance. On the one hand there was a determination that everything should work, and that a landscape should provide for every need of the great house. On the other, his landscapes had to look elegant.WimpoleFolly-24

Humphry Repton
Another landscape designer on the list is Humphry Repton, the designer behind Sheringham Park in Norfolk, which is thought to be the best preserved example of his work. Humphry Repton knew Sheringham well, having lived in the village of Sustead 3 miles away for 12 years. He had previously lobbied the government to purchase the Estate for Horatio Nelson’s family, before being commissioned by Abbot Upcher in 1812 to prepare a design for Sheringham Park.

His influence can still be seen today, during a walk through this coastal landscape, with clever details helping to bring the beautiful Norfolk coastline into view. Visitors to the Park can also find an exhibition detailing Repton and his work there.Why not find out more about the search for a new face to appear on the £20 note?

Brancaster Activity Centre re-opens 18 months on from tidal surge

Many of you will remember us writing about the tidal surge in December 2013 and the devastating flood damage that forced us to close Brancaster Activity Centre. After 18 months of planning, repair and refurbishment, we’re delighted to reveal that the Activity Centre is all set for its official re-opening. 

Brancaster Activity Centre

Katherine Tofield is the Centre Manager at Brancaster Activity Centre…

The Acitvity Centre is on the Norfolk coast and it’s from here we run residential programmes for school children, attracting groups from all over England. They have the opportunity to enjoy raft building, kayaking, orienteering, cycling, ‘coastal safari’ activities, and much more. For some, it’s their first visit to the coast.

We re-opened our doors to schools and groups in June, but this Saturday 18 July will be the official opening, when visitors can take a look around at the new facilities and we can thank all those that have supported us to get back up and running.

Once the Centre had dried out, we took this opportunity to refurbish and refit the Centre, enabling us to provide even better facilities for visitors. With the help of National Trust staff, partners and volunteers, the Centre has been redesigned with new fixtures, appliances and furnishings. Another priority was installing suitable flood mitigation measures to minimise damage from possible future flooding.

Flood Level

Due to the Centre’s location, flooding always remains a small risk, so many flood mitigation measures have been installed, including flood gates and sacrificial wall coverings. This means it won’t take us as long to get the Centre operational again, following any future floods.

The project has been largely funded by the National Trust’s Coastline Campaign, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, having been set up in 1965 with the aim of saving our nation’s coastline from unsympathetic development and to protect it for future generations enjoyment.

We’re also extremely grateful to our corporate partner, Panasonic UK, who have kindly donated state of the art energy efficient audio visual equipment, to aid the visiting school’s learning. Families and other groups are now also able to book the nine en-suite rooms and enjoy the well-equipped, self-catering kitchen complete with energy-saving devices. This includes high-capacity washing machines, an energy-efficient dishwasher, and heat pump tumble dryers that use up to 40% less energy than some conventional units. Panasonic’s induction hobs and combination ovens also save energy, time and money.

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We’re incredibly proud of what we have achieved with our new refurbished Activity Centre. We’ve already had fantastic feedback from visitors that have stayed at the Centre since June and we’re really excited to be able to celebrate and share our new Centre with the local community and guests on Saturday.

The Centre is being officially opened by Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust and David Bond, the star and mastermind behind the film Project Wild Thing. David will be joining us to talk about the importance of getting children outdoors and closer to nature. The ceremony will be a celebration for the team and the National Trust but is also an opportunity to give thanks to the many people and organisations that have supported us on our journey since that December evening back in 2013.

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Photo credit: Ian Ward

If you would like to look around the Centre, come along and join us on Saturday 18 July between 9.30am and noon. There will also be activities available, giving a flavour of what the Centre has to offer – including crabbing and bug hunting. 

Excavating Oxburgh’s brick kilns

Oxburgh Hall is a castle of bricks; thousands of them went into making its walls, towers and stairs. This week, as part of the Festival of Archaeology, we’ll be excavating one of Oxburgh’s medieval brick kilns.

Angus Wainwright is the National Trust’s archaeologist who is heading up the dig, here’s what he had to say…

Today, a brick is perhaps not something that might cause excitement and interest, but when Oxburgh Hall was built, brick was a new wonder material. Brick makers were deemed wonder workers who could turn soft clay into a rock-hard building block of the perfect size that it would fit into the hand of the builder.

To achieve this wondrous transformation required many years of experience, controlling the medieval elements of earth, fire, water and air. The brick makers worked their magic in a specially built kiln where wood was burnt in a carefully controlled air flow, which drove the water out of the clay and converted it from a crumbly earth to a hard block.

Oxburgh’s spectacular Gatehouse is an example of a tour de force of late medieval brickwork. Skilfully carved bricks form elaborate decoration, including the quatrefoil windows in the two projecting turrets. Even the vaulted ceiling retains areas of original painted decoration imitating a brick.

Oxburgh is best described as a fortified manor house, not a fortress. The moat, imposing gatehouse, heavy gates, battlements and gun ports would certainly have deterred a group of assailants, but Oxburgh’s ability to withstand a sustained and heavy bombardment would have been minimal. Brick is a relatively weak building material, and there are vulnerable points in the house’s construction, not least the enormous central gatehouse windows.

With brick playing such an important part of Oxburgh’s make-up, it was with delight that back in 2013, archaeological investigations in the woodland at Oxburgh led to the discovery of a 19th century brick kiln and the shallow pits where the clay was quarried. The kiln did not supply the bricks for the construction of the hall, but perhaps produced bricks for work around the estate in the early 19th century.

Photo credits: Robert Morris, Andreas von Einsiedale, Chris Lacey

This week on Wednesday 15 and Friday 17 July, a team of volunteer archaeologists will be uncovering one of Oxburgh’s medieval brick kilns, which has been hidden under a pine plantation for the last few hundred years.

Why not come and see how we get on, at our live dig, what will we uncover?

Ickworth leading the way to a sustainable future

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP will officially switch on a brand new biomass boiler at Ickworth Estate in Suffolk today. YNiJuQJkdmH0q8_H7MXJ1oqV6LMDn4XFwzHrW8tV0hE The arrival of the biomass boiler at Ickworth comes as the National Trust announces its biggest ever investment, of £30 million, in renewable energy to heat and power more of its historic places.

The Ickworth biomass boiler is one of five major renewable energy projects at National Trust properties, part of a £3.5 million pilot launched in 2013. The Ickworth biomass boiler replaces an oil boiler fed by a 5,000 litre oil tank, providing heating to the West Wing and iconic Rotunda at this key visitor attraction in the region.

The biomass boiler will be fuelled by wood chip sustainably harvested from the Estate’s woodlands and is housed in an existing 1960s’ building which has been regenerated; helping it blend in with the other historic buildings on the estate. The new system will reduce property carbon emissions by over 100 tonnes and 38,202 litres of oil per year. dense woodland at Ickworth     CIV-jP0WEAAx8oJ (2)     AoXJ1Cpbo6JpLAXAHINipTgaNLbtnImiUDs3BafKDj4,jHEfFoFv7lZbG78ciGDyANscgV1Cl7KcBOGBfX4yln0

The £30 million national investment marks a milestone in the Trust’s target to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, cut energy usage by 20% and produce 50% of its energy from renewable sources on its land by 2020.

The Trust’s renewable energy programme could also help save up to £4 million on its energy costs each year. Electricity generated from some of the projects will be sold to the grid providing the charity with a source of income. This income, coupled with the savings made, will allow more money to be spent on vital conservation work.

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust said:

“Ickworth is a great example of where we are taking action to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce our carbon emissions.

In setting out our 10 year plan we recognised we will have to play our part in helping to mitigate climate change. A key part of that is to reduce our reliance on oil and look for greener energy solutions. We have a responsibility to look after the special places in our care, requiring us to make long-term decisions that will protect them for future generations.

Many of the properties in our care are energy intensive and in remote areas without access to mains gas. Installing renewable technology in these places is a huge challenge. The success we have seen in decommissioning oil tanks, lowering our energy costs and reducing carbon emissions has shown us that renewables play a vital part in us reaching our 2020 energy targets and in delivering more for our core conservation mission.”

3D0fLO6aT7MDpSaQieS_Gj_ojauICAYVnYt7HVLvRHw The five pilot projects included:

  • Plas Newydd 300kW marine source heat pump, providing 100% of property’s heat requirements
  • Croft Castle – 199kW biomass boiler, supplying 74% of property’s heating needs
  • Ickworth – 199kW biomass boiler, the estate can produce fuel for the biomass installation which in turn will supply heat to the West Wing and Rotunda
  • Hafod y Porth –100kW hydro-generation, which will be sold back to the grid
  • Stickle Ghyll – 100kW hydro-electric project providing 30% of property’s energy needs.

National Trust’s coastline campaign celebrates 50 years

We go to the coast to play, to relax and to connect with the natural world and the elements. Trips to the seaside are deeply engrained in our collective memory and we need to cherish them. Thanks to your support, the National Trust now cares for 117 miles of coastline in the East of England and this year we hope you’ll join us as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our coastline campaign.

Sheringham-31 (1)Sheringham Park, Norfolk (photo credit Justin Minns)

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard and given so generously. We hope you agree, that it’s important that Britain’s shores stay as beautiful as they were when we were children – for today’s children and generations to come.

Watch the short film below to see just what makes the coast in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex so special and why your help is so important…

As we look ahead to the next 50 years and beyond, the questions we’re addressing have changed, from ‘What piece of coastline needs saving?’ to ‘How can we manage our coastline with foresight and sensitivity?’ And, ‘How can we help people enjoy it more?’

We want there to be enough space for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy all that the coast has to offer, and we’ll be working with partners, tenant farmers, neighbours and local communities to make this happen.

It takes an intimate knowledge of the features and conditions of each stretch of coastline. But ultimately, our vision in the years ahead is to work with natural processes as they continuously shape our coastline, conserve our coastal and marine wildlife, and where possible we’d like nothing to get in the way of an amazing view. We’ll help more people enjoy access to the seaside, celebrate the history that has shaped our coastline and explore ways to continue to raise funds for its care.

Living on an island with a proud maritime history, we all have a deep emotional attachment to the coast and the sea. If you’d like to donate and help the National Trust to continue to look after the coastline in the East, please text NTCOAST to 70060 to give £3.

*This is a charity donation service. You will be charged £3, plus one message at your standard network rate. The National Trust will receive 100% of your donation.

Unique mapping project to capture the sounds of our shores

From the crashing of waves to the sound of children’s laughter floating on the air. The shrill of a victorious arcade machine to the wall of noise from a seabird colony; these are the sounds of our shores.

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As the National Trust celebrates the 50th year of its Neptune Coastline Campaign and the 775 miles of coastline it looks after, we’ve joined forces with the British Library and the National Trust for Scotland to celebrate every inch of the coastline by creating the UK’s first ever coastal soundmap.

This week, Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator, at the British Library reveals more about the project…

Over the next three months, the project is encouraging everyone to grab their smartphones or digital recorders and head out to capture sounds from along our much-loved coastline; from the bustling beaches of Cornwall to the remote cliffs of the Scottish islands, or the urban humdrum of the Thames Estuary.

These sounds play a powerful part in shaping our memories of days spent on the coast. They have a wonderful way of connecting us to our favourite places. For some it might be the sound of the waves lapping along the shore on a favourite seaside stroll or the comfort of a whistling kettle from inside a beach hut, ready to warm you up after a valiant swim in the still biting sea.

Whatever it is, once you’ve found the sounds that perfectly capture your idea of the coast, you can upload them to the sound map via the audioBoom ‘sounds of our shores’ channel. Tag the location of the recording, add a picture and jot down a few words describing the sound and what it means to you. We’d love to hear your stories about favourite coastal sounds that remind you of your seaside experiences.

For those who would like some more guidance on sound recording, keep an eye on the Sounds of our Shores website. As well as being able to hear what other people have been recording, you can also check out a list of ‘top tips’ – including a new use for that odd sock you’re about to throw out!

The project will run until 21 September so there is plenty of time to upload your sounds.  We’ll be picking out our favourites throughout the project so make sure you share yours with us on social media using #shoresounds.

Runnymede, Magna Carta and the Anglesey Abbey connection

Magna Carta is perhaps the most famous example from history of a monarch conceding powers to his subjects. This June marks the 800th anniversary of this Great Charter of Liberties being sealed, on the meadows of Runnymede in Surrey.

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Ben Cowell is Regional Director of the National Trust in the East of England, and author of the new National Trust guidebook to Runnymede and the Magna Carta…

In 1215 England was in political turmoil. King John had become vastly unpopular, thanks to bitter disagreements with the church and a series of high taxes to fund ongoing war with France. An alliance of disgruntled barons and important members of the clergy had been mounting pressure on the king for years. At the start of 1215 the barons seized control of London – giving him no choice but to negotiate.

Events came to a head in June, when King John finally met with the barons to hear their demands. By 15 June he agreed to seal the proposed ‘Great Charter of Liberty’, enshrining their rights in law.

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The charter represented a colossal climb-down for the king, who not long afterwards reneged on the agreement and plunged the country into civil war. But the Magna Carta survived. After John’s death in October 1216 it was reissued in the name of his 9-year-old son and heir Henry III, in a smart piece of statecraft by William Marshal, the king’s regent. The move was enough to end the civil war and restore order.

Magna Carta went on to be reissued again several times by Henry III and his successors, each an attempt to unify the nation by reaffirming the limits of the king’s authority. Kings may have ruled by divine right, but Magna Carta demonstrated that they operated within some commonly agreed constraints.

Two clauses in particular remain of fundamental importance to us today – the freedom from arbitrary imprisonment, and the right to a fair trial. These clauses are now regarded as the basis of our modern system of law and governance, and are the reason why Magna Carta is still venerated, 800 years on. The barons and King John himself could never have imagined it, but their actions on that June day in 1215 changed the course of human history forever.

Magna Carta has not always been held in such esteem in the country of its origin. By Shakespeare’s time, the charter had almost been forgotten (the bard’s play about King John does not even mention it). Its significance grew in the era of the Civil War, at a time when the limits of monarchical authority were again under intense scrutiny.

But in many ways we owe it to our American cousins for keeping faith with the Charter of Liberties. Its clauses directly influenced the USA’s founding documents, and some US states still keep Magna Carta on their statute books today.

Runnymede is today managed by the National Trust, but it very nearly was lost to development. Its open, natural character was only saved by the generosity of the Broughton family, who also went on to bequeath Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge to the nation. This link explains why visitors to Anglesey Abbey are able to see numerous references to Magna Carta in the collections on display in the house.

Urban Broughton made his fortune in America and married the daughter of a wealthy American industrialist. The family’s fortune enabled them to acquire several properties in England. He and his wife offered to buy the meadows at Runnymede, in order to save them for the nation. Urban was nominated for a peerage, but died in January 1929 before he could assume the title.

Cara, his wife, became Lady Fairhaven, and his eldest son became the 1st Lord Fairhaven. Lady Fairhaven and her two sons purchased the meadows at Runnymede in December 1929 in Urban’s memory, and passed them to the National Trust for protection in perpetuity.

Lord Fairhaven by this time had also acquired Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge. For more than forty years he carried out extensive improvements to the property, and filled it with fine art. A special gallery was built simply to display Lord Fairhaven’s collection of views of Windsor Castle, which include one of nearby Runnymede. His library meanwhile holds a unique edition of Magna Carta, produced to mark its 600th anniversary in 1815 and printed using gold leaf.

As part of the 800th anniversary celebrations we’ve teamed up with the Houses of Parliament to ask the nation to take a moment to celebrate, debate and reflect on their liberties by hosting or joining in at a LiberTeas event on Sunday 14 June. LiberTeas events will be taking place at Anglesey Abbey, Shaw’s Corner and Peckover House.

New experience at Blickling, set to reveal story of Lord Lothian

You may never have heard of Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, but he’s vital to the story of the National Trust. Without him, it’s unlikely Blickling Estate would still be here for you to explore, along with the hundreds of other places you love.

The Parterre Garden at Blickling Estate, Norfolk.

2015 marks the 75th year since Philip’s untimely death and bequest of Blickling to the National Trust. From the 6 June, visitors will be able to immerse themselves in a new visitor experience that will reveal the world of this politician and diplomat, who entertained the powerful and famous on this Norfolk Estate.

Working alongside November Club, an award winning arts company known for their unique approach to storytelling, we’ll be inviting visitors to see parts of the house he used privately, as well as for entertaining; and photographs, sounds, objects (and even smells) will create a sense of what it would have been like to be a house guest in the period leading up to the Second World War.

In the most radical change to our visitor experience since the house opened in 1948, it will feel as if Lothian has just stepped out of his country house.

So who was this man and what’s his story? Jo Bosch from Blickling fills us in…

Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian inherited the Blickling Estate in 1930, having already embarked on a successful political career. He was a leading statesman between the two wars, forging a career as secretary to the Prime Minster, Lloyd George.

20131209-_R9A5217He was also a member of the so-called ‘Cliveden Set’ of the 1930s and used Blickling to entertain the country’s first lady MP Nancy Astor, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, comedienne Joyce Grenfell and more controversially, German Ambassador Joachim Von Ribbentrop.

During this time, he also carried out a number of alterations to the interior of the house and to the gardens, with horticultural advice from famous socialite and garden designer Norah Lindsay.

But matters on the home front also occupied his thoughts. In 1934 he addressed the National Trust’s annual meeting, warning of the perils confronting historic houses and strongly urging the formation of a Country Houses Scheme. He understood the importance that country estates would have in protecting open spaces for future generations, saying:

“I venture to think that the country houses of Britain with their gardens, their parks, their pictures, their furniture and their peculiar architectural charm, represent a treasure of quiet beauty…”

During a critical period in which he met twice with Adolf Hitler to try to negotiate peace in Europe, Lothian became instrumental in passing the National Trust Act  which enabled the first large-scale transfer of country houses to the National Trust in lieu of death duties.

Unable to avert war, he became Ambassador to the USA in 1939 and played a major role in encouraging the USA, then neutral, to supply Great Britain with weapons, warships and food to support the war effort, an act which arguably changed the course of the war. He persuaded a reluctant Churchill to write to President Roosevelt, arguing that Britain must put all its cards on the table to show that, if America didn’t help, the war would likely be lost.

Lord Lothian died in 1940 leaving Blickling’s house, most of its contents and 4500-acre estate to the National Trust in his Will, ‘subject to regular access to it by the public.’  He understood that the preservation of the fine Jacobean house and its historic garden and parkland depended upon the public visiting it regularly and holding it dear. As it happened, Blickling was one of the first houses to be approved for ownership by the National Trust under the Country Houses Scheme, an irony which wouldn’t have been lost on Lothian.

His bequest enabled the preservation of Blickling and paved the way for the subsequent acquisition by the National Trust of many of the houses that are visited and loved by National Trust members in this country and beyond. We hope you will come to admire Philip Kerr, Lord Lothian, as much as we do and to understand just how important he is to your life today.

You’ll find things looking a little different inside the Hall this year. We hope that it encourages debate and reflection, and helps you to answer the question “Why are you here?” Come and experience the story for yourself from 6 June and find out more about the man who gifted one of our great country houses to the nation.