We've all been dragged around some big posh house, in a big area of green, perhaps with deer in it. I say dragged, because well, even though you do often enjoy it, there can come a point where it's yet another big posh house while trying to entertain the kids/visiting family/fill a holiday. Lanhydrock In Bodmin manages to hit all the nails on the head though, and many similar sites could learn a lot from it.
Jacobean house, neglected, renovated, ruined by fire, rebuilt in more intimate Victorian manner. The family suffered terribly due to the First World War, with the loss of the charismatic male heir, and subsequent family issues. From there, the familiar tale of gradually being unable to support the house, and offering it to the National Trust. The NT received a house with extensive library, furnishings etc and personal effects. So far, so familiar. Where Lanhydrock differs though is in the house and fittings themselves, and how it is purposefully presented and interpreted.
There are about 50 rooms (including 'spaces' such as hallways) open to view, a staggering amount. These cover the usual, such as dining room and bedrooms, the majority of the kitchens and menial areas, and also a good chunk of the staff area in the attic. Again, doesn't sound unusual. However, the range of rooms on show and how items are used in them really give a feel for how this was a true family home. Lanhydrock doesn't feel like a show house, largely thanks to the smaller Victorian spaces created after the fire, such as the men's 'dens' of billiard room, estate office and smoking room all hiding together. The trophies from Eton rather than ancestral paintings on the walls are personal mementos, half finished cigars give the feeling that the chaps have just popped out, and golf clubs in the umbrella rack add a relaxed air. Of course they'd be stored there! Where else is so convenient? The servants quarters also give a feel for what it must have been like to work and live here, well proportioned rooms, but the mouse caught in a trap makes you consider the everyday reality of Victorian life...
Given the sheer amount of stuff, statues, framed pictures, china, artefacts, books, clothing.... there is surprisingly little by the way of red rope barriers or warning signs. When entering there is a table to explain that where you see that table cloth, you can touch what is on the table. Accompanying this is a sign about damage, showing wallpaper and cloth damaged by touch, and asking for respect. As you wander, there are some rooms roped off, where you peer through the door, but the majority are open to potter through (though bookshelves, and presumably other items, are discreetly wired/on sensors) and take in the atmosphere. Rather than Don't Do That, the emphasis is what you Can Do. Touch this, sit and rest here, lift this up, read the letters in this tin, try the typewriter. This freedom amongst the clutter makes you feel like a family guest, wandering while they get ready for an excursion or play. You experience the house instead of being a spectator in it.
The feeling of the family presence goes beyond the lack of obtrusive barriers and signs. Taking as the focus the generation who rebuilt Lanhydrock after the fire, Lord and Lady Robartes and their children, life sized replicas from photographs are placed in context. As children in the nursery, as adults in appropriate rooms. Rather than being disconcerting, the personal details which accompany these help you understand the family as humans, not "the rich people what owned this house, Essh, look at the curtains she chose..." When you come to read of the impact that the First World War had on the poetic, artistic Alexander, you actually get a rush of emotion.
The number of well appointed rooms and quantity of period and personal materials, couple well with interpretation that encourages exploration and familiarises you with how this home would have functioned and felt.
Rather than a "stuffy" stately home, there are fresh scones and gossipy letters on her ladyship's table, photographs of loved ones in the footman's room, and even a spider in the bath. The Long Gallery ceiling and collection of theological books may be hailed as the best of their kind, but the real accomplishment at Lanhydrock is how quickly two hours can vanish in engrossing delight. Get yourselves over there, and allow plenty of time to enjoy all the details.
Credit to the National Trust, for the photo of Tommy's cut out from their website.
Webcomic and occasional blog about the heritage sector.
Follow The Attendant:
All text and images are produced by and copyright of the artist, holder of the domain name of attendantsview.com