On Saturday, 9th July, 34 members and friends visited Blickling Estate, a National Trust (NT) property in Norfolk. The weather forecast promised white cloud until noon when light and occasional heavy rain was expected at Blickling until 2.00 pm.
In the event, drizzle accompanied us throughout our journey eastwards. We arrived at 10.40 am and were immediately impressed with the view, albeit through rain spattered coach windows, of a fine Jacobean mansion with a manicured lawn and shingle paths embraced by sculptured yew hedges in the foreground. NT staff met us at the drop-off point, gave a welcome talk, issued us with maps containing information about the estate and its history, and escorted us to ‘The Stables’ restaurant for pre-ordered refreshments. The house opens to visitors at noon and as it was not yet open and raining heavily, we took the opportunity to visit a textile exhibition in The Hobart Gallery and the RAF Oulton Museum. RAF Oulton was a bomber base created on the estate in 1939 and the house became an officers’ mess for the duration of the war. Some members indulged in retail therapy depleting the stock in the gift shop. At the appointed hour, we made a beeline for the house.
Blickling Estate boasts nine farms, over 120 cottages and houses, some 5000 acres of farmland, woodland, parkland, one of the finest gardens in Norfolk and a fine, Jacobean, mansion built on the site of King Harold’s manor house. Robert Lyminge, the architect of Hatfield House, is credited with the design of the current structure. The estate has been the property of many families, including the Boleyns, Hobarts and Lothians, and been developed over time.
The Long Gallery with its impressive ceiling and massive wooden bookcases and the State Rooms bedecked with tapestries, paintings of the previous owners and fine furniture are splendid. In a letter to Roosevelt, Churchill referred to Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian as ‘our Greatest Ambassador’. During his time as Ambassador to the USA (1939-40), Lord Lothian played a major role in encouraging the USA to supply Great Britain with weapons, ships and food to support our war effort. Lord Lothian’s other legacy was 2-fold: he was instrumental in drafting the National Trust Act in parliament in 1937 which enabled the first large scale transfer of country houses to the National Trust in lieu of death duties and, in 1940, he generously bequeathed Blickling Estate to the NT.
Befittingly, in 2015 the NT, to celebrate its 75th birthday, transformed a rather tired suite of function and store rooms which used to form the private living quarters for Lord Lothian and his sisters. This, and nuances throughout the house, gave testimony to Lord Lothian’s legacy. In one room where he worked, we were able to read correspondence between Philip and Nancy Astor, which to say the least, was illuminating.
From 2.00 pm, we were greeted by warm sunny weather which persisted throughout the rest of the day. At leisure we could meander through the beautiful parterre garden, visit the plant centre and marvel at the walled garden. This year was the first in a five-year project to restore the walled garden to a working kitchen for the first time since 1950 and supply the produce to the cafes. What the volunteers have done is truly amazing.
Shortly before 5.00 pm, we assembled at the end of the main drive for a photo shot before boarding our very comfortable coach for our return to Melton. We had a very enjoyable outing, which the weather did not spoil and arrived back home on schedule at 7.30 pm. Everyone thanked Peter Raikes for all his hard work and for once again ensuring we all had a great day out – thank you Peter.