Saturday, 1 October 2016

Melford Hall

I absolutely love watching National Trust room guides interact with the British public. At one extreme you have the room guide that sits in a dark corner and doesn't say a word, and none of the visitors ask them anything, because we're British. Occasionally a German visitor will walk in and say "What is this?" and the room guide jumps a mile. 

At the other extreme is the room guide that talks without drawing a breath - I hasten to add that I now know EXACTLY why they do this: they have a mortal dread of the Expert Visitor. We've all seen them - the architectural expert or professional historian that knows more than the guide and spends the whole time tutting and saying "well, that's not EXACTLY right - the horse that threw him in 1532 was actually called Archibald, because his other horse, Geoffrey, was lame that day" until everybody just wants to shove Expert Visitor out of a top floor window.

But the best room guides are the ones that don't wait to be asked questions and don't fear the know-it-all visitor - they just go for it. And that's exactly what the room guides at Melford Hall did today. They were ALL brilliant - really enthusiastic and happy to show off the property. I wanted to take a quick picture of the library door and the guide walked the full length of the room to shut it for me, so it looked its best - I know this doesn't sound like much, but it really helps to make you feel welcome.

Melford

But let me tell you a bit about Melford Hall itself:

1. The Hyde Parkers still live there!
  • Melford Hall was bought by Sir Harry Parker in 1786 
  • His dad was a real character; as Vice Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, he resigned after the Battle of Dogger Bank in disgust at the terrible condition of the fleet's ships and officers
  • Unfortunately for him, he came out of retirement in 1782 and went to sea again with his grandson, but they both drowned in a storm off the Maldives
  • Sir Harry's second son, William, inherited Melford in 1812 - he designed the fantastic library with its hidden door: 
Melford library
The hidden door is very successful at its job -
it's the third panel from the left.
  • William was succeeded by his brother, Hyde, who also had an interesting naval career; during the bombardment of Copenhagen he gave the signal to withdraw, but his second in command - one Horatio Nelson - lifted his telescope to his blind eye and said "I really do not see the signal" and continued until the Danish surrendered. I doubt that Hyde was very pleased about this.
  • Sir Richard Hyde Parker still lives at Melford today, although the estate was given to the NT in 1960
2. Beatrix Potter was a regular visitor!
  • William Parker, the 10th baronet, was married to an Ethel Leech, the cousin of Beatrix Potter
  • Beatrix often stayed at Melford, reading her stories to the Hyde Parker children - they called her Cousin Beatie
  • She gave them the duck that had inspired Jemima Puddleduck, and it is still at Melford today! I commented on how new she looked and the guide said "well, she had to go to be restuffed last year". It's sad that in today's society even toy stars have to have 'work' done to stay young-looking. Or maybe she had a drug problem? Who knows with these celebrities.
Jemima Puddleduck: ask her to wrinkle her forehead. She can't.

3. The Cordells built the place!
  • Melford was originally a manor owned by the abbots of St Edmondsbury
  • The Dissolution of the Monasteries put paid to that and after 500 years of monastic rule, the estate was passed to the King 
  • He sold it to William Cordell, who had worked his way up and was eventually Speaker in Queen Mary's Parliament
  • William built the hall between 1554 and 1578, although he probably used bits of the original abbots' manor
  • Elizabeth I visited Melford Hall in 1578
4. The Savages inherited in 1602, then it went back to the Cordells!
  • Thomas Savage, great-nephew of Sir William Cordell, extended the house after he inherited 
  • Descendants of the Savages apparently include Princess Diana, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, Sarah Ferguson, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, the scientist Sir Francis Galton, Bertrand Russell, and Lord Lucan - you couldn't make it up
  • Elizabeth Savage had to mortgage Melford to a John Cordell - the Cordells were back at Melford again, becoming Firebraces before they left Melford for good
But let's move on to the all-important scone. I think I've been letting the Scone Sidekick watch too much reality TV; today when I asked him for his scone verdict he looked very serious but then said "the best scone I've had in a long time" in the same tone of voice I would expect him to use when sending somebody to the gallows. 

But he was right - it was a fantastic scone. Fresh as a daisy, superb texture, and great taste. Great job, Melford.


Melford Hall scone

I'll end with this, the winner of Creepiest Thing I Have Ever Seen at the NT. I'm still not sure exactly what it is or what it's for, but it was acquired by Sir Harry Parker's dad after he captured a Spanish galleon full of gold and porcelain in 1762. This was one of the things he was allowed to keep. I'd have been locking my bedroom door at night, personally.
As someone on Twitter said, you just totally know
that this thing gets down and runs around at night

Melford Hall: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Celebrity ducks: 5 out of 5

5 comments:

  1. Loved your blog about Melford
    I was the guide in the Library and am so pleased that you enjoyed visiting the Hall and the scones! We guides love Melford. Many thanks for the feedback, Jill

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  2. And thank you, Jill! You made our visit very insightful!

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  3. Melford Hall is very close to where I live and although we visited many years ago (and found it didn't have a tea room - just a counter serving tea in paper cups and packaged biscuits) we never returned, preferring Ickworth. I must revisit!

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  4. Definitely try and revisit, Celia - it's lovely!

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  5. Unexpectedly, I've found my experience of national trust properties has been revolutionised by having a baby. She loves people watching, so we've bought a passport and started using our memberships to take her to them as cheap days out and have got 26 stamps this year so far. It turns out strapping her on in a baby carrier so she can stare at everything is an instant ice breaker with room guides! No more British reticence to start a conversation, now I usually get a "aren't you gorgeous!" (To which my husband invariably replies "Thanks!") and we are off! I'm not sure they will be quite so keen on us when she's toddling, but yes - good tour guides do really make a visit.

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