I have been living in England for over 6 years now, but haven’t really explored much of the country other than big cities. A bit foolish as the English countryside has so many glorious places to visit, from jaw-dropping national parks to grand historical homes. When hubby got invited to work on a number of sound installations at various National Trust properties (in the Netherlands: Monumentenzorg and Vereniging Natuurmonumenten) last year, it gave me the chance to have a look inside these amazing historical homes and I was definitely impressed. Not only because of their sheer size or curious architecture, but also because of their historical value – if you know me or follow me online you probably know I’m a sucker for history! So, as my ultimate summer tip I suggest you get out of the city for the day and visit one or more of these 5 spectacular properties, 4 of which are owned by the National Trust.
1. Little Moreton Hall – The wonky Tudor home
Step inside 450 years of family history and discover the origins of many everyday words we still use today!
You can see the curious Tudor-style home Little Moreton Hall with its wonky roofs and walls in the photo at the top of this post. The house is located in Cheshire about an hour’s drive from Manchester and at the edge of the stunning Peak District national park. It was originally built in the 1600s and had been in the Moreton family for many generations for over 450 years. There have been many additions over time, but it was in dire need of some TLC when it came into the possession of the National Trust in the 1930s.
The photo doesn’t really do this house any justice, but once you see it with your own eyes, you’ll see how the walls almost seem to be collapsing beneath the weight of the roof that was added later. The building’s foundation wasn’t really prepared to carry this heavy burden so it’s quite mind-blowing the structure managed to survive for hundreds of years!
While you are entirely free to explore the building and its surrounding gardens on your own, I recommend joining one of their free tours. There are so many interesting historical facts to learn here, such as the many phrases, concepts and everyday words that derived from the long dinner table, which was called a board at the time. For example: after dinner, they would turn around the table top and play games on it. This usage resulted into the well-known word we still use today, i.e. board games. Pretty cool, eh?
I don’t want to spoil too much here as I really think you should learn these interesting things for yourself in situ during a tour, but I want to share a little something about one of my favourite parts of the building, i.e. the Long Gallery at the top of the building. Since in the past it was fashionable to have pale skin – having a tan meant you were poor and had to work on the farmlands – the family had built an indoor 21m-long gallery where the children could play and the ladies could retreat to without having to go outside with the plebs.
2. Cliveden House – Secrets and affairs
Unveil hundreds of years of social intrigue and scandals at Cliveden House and get inside a recently rediscovered hidden underground sound chamber.
In 2016 hubby was invited to work on an installation in the then recently rediscovered and reopened underground chamber that was hidden underneath the elegant Jacobean estate and present-day luxury hotel that is Cliveden House. This domed chamber is believed to have functioned as a sound chamber and amplifier in the past. Orchestras would have played in here underground whilst the music was naturally led into the house when the owners would host parties.
This feature isn’t the only ‘secret’ element to this mansion. It’s actually been the scene for many great social scandals for centuries (and I’ve been told it still is). This would be the place where high-profile guests would bring their mistresses along or where affairs would start. The most famous one would be the Profumo affair that took place here in 1961 when Christine Keeler, a 19-year old mistress of a suspected Russian spy met John Profumo on the grounds. Profumo was an up-and-coming Conservative Secretary of State for War. Profumo and Keeler’s illicit affair following their chance meeting at Cliveden House, would later lead to his resignation and irrevocably damaged the Prime Minister’s reputation. (source)
3. Blickling Estate – Home to one of England’s best house libraries
Besides a beautiful estate with vast gardens, this property is a real paradise for book lovers!
Blickling Estate is located in Norfolk and has had some notable residents since it was first built in the 15th century. Its most famous resident was Anne Boleyn, Queen of England in the 16th century and second wife of Henry VIII, who is believed to be born here.
The estate holds some glorious spaces and vast woodlands and gardens, but my favourite part of the entire estate is the glorious library which holds over 12,000 volumes! The collection was assembled by Sir Richard Ellys in the early eighteenth century and brought to Blickling in the 1740s. If you love the look and smell of old books as much as I do then I must definitely recommend a visit to Blickling Hall.
4. Quarry Bank – Visit the heart of the Industrial Revolution
Located at just a 30-minutes’ drive south from Manchester you’ll find the mighty impressive grounds of Quarry Bank, one of the best preserved textile mills from the Industrial Revolution.
I visited Quarry Bank on a National Trust coach trip for art critics and curators departing from Manchester and had visited the Museum of Science and Industry in the city the day before. Not only did I fall in love with Manchester during that trip, but I also absolutely adored that museum. I think I learned in school some decades ago that Manchester had played a considerable role in the Industrial Revolution, but had clearly forgotten all about that until I visited the museum. Especially the cotton industry played a huge role in Manchester’s explosive growth, making it England’s third largest city at the time!
This little piece of background information explains why there’s such a huge estate with a magnificent mill in its middle so close to Manchester. Just like in the museum in Manchester, you can still see many industrial machines from the 18th and 19th centuries at the Quarry Bank Mill. The mill was founded in 1873 by entrepreneur Samuel Greg on the river Bollin. Its strong flow provided the power to run the machinery.
The grounds of Quarry Bank grew into a self-contained community when Greg developed the lands surrounding the mill into farm buildings to house the workers in the 1820s. I’ve been told that hundreds of people would be living on the grounds and after a while they even opened up a chapel and a school there.
Besides a wander through the building with its fascinating displays, you should also allow yourself time to explore the woods with its abundant flora and fauna.
5. Chatsworth House – Stately home with an 105-acre garden and working farmyard
Voted as one of the UK’s most beautiful country home several times, Chatsworth House is a great destination for families where kids can handle the farm animals or join in with one of the other daily activities.
Whilst writing this blog post about the National Trust properties I’ve visited over the last two years because hubby was working with them, I just remembered another one of his projects from 2012 already. He was asked by Déda to work on the ambitious project Elemental Force which combined massive projection mapping on the walls of Chatsworth House accompanied by an exciting soundtrack (by hubby of course) and spectacular pyrotechnics.
Chatsworth House is located in Derbyshire and has been in the Cavendish family since 1549 – so for 16 generations now already! I had the great pleasure to meet the current owners the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire who are very generous hosts indeed. The house has been recently restored and this year they’re celebrating the end of this massive undertaking which you can learn more about in their special exhibition.
The house is located on the River Derwent and is surrounded by hills and vast parklands with a forest in the background. Inside the house you can explore over 30 rooms and an art collection that covers 4,000 years of history starting from the ancient Egyptians. The collection also includes works by classic painters such as Rembrandt and contemporary artists such as Lucian Freud.
Have you ever been to one of these homes or another historical home in the English countryside? As always I’m open for suggestions so do share some tips with me in a comment below if you have some!