Friday, 8 July 2016

blickling hall

I didn't have the space or the energy last night to say anything about Blickling Hall beyond name checking it.  It is a National Trust property, one of relatively few in East Anglia, which gave me the chance to get a little more value out of my membership.  I like belonging to The National Trust anyway, since despite the sometimes deadening or dumbing down custodianship of their properties they do at least keep the roof on them, and they manage great stretches of our coastline quite sympathetically.  I liked what I saw of Blickling Hall in my flying visit, and it was clever of the trip organisers to tag it on to the trip to the private garden.  Corpusty Mill might have been our main reason for going to Norfolk, but it had one loo between forty-nine people, not enough chairs for everybody to sit down at once, and we were not going to get any refreshments more substantial than a cup of coffee and a biscuit.  At Blickling we had loos galore, a cafe, and retail opportunities for those for whom a day out visiting gardens is not complete without buying a plant.

The house at Blickling is Jacobean, built on the site of and incorporating an earlier Tudor manor house, and refashioned within over the centuries, until stopping in time in 1940 when with the death of the eleventh marquess of Lothian it passed into the keeping of The National Trust.  Various archive voice recordings, newspapers of the day concerning the abdication crisis, and dinner party settings including the names of Lord and Lady Astor remind us that he was a member of the Cliveden set, though apart from that he sounded quite a decent man for the times.  The house was requisitioned for the army in the war, and when he found his housekeeper had put all the good furniture into store to preserve it he made her get it out again, saying the poor men had no furniture.

The exterior is handsome in a red brick, Jacobean kind of way, and the inside has panelling, some splendid plaster work ceilings, a couple of Gainsboroughs, and a really fine library.  The books were bequeathed to an earlier occupant of the house and were somebody's real library, not just bought in by the yard for their leather bindings to furnish a room.  The National Trust is archiving them, a process scheduled to take another twelve years, and the latest thinking on old books is that white cotton gloves cause more damage than they save, because they make the wearer clumsy and tiny snags in the cotton bind on the paper.  The approved method now is scrupulously clean bare hands. I don't subscribe to a Brexit style wholesale rejection of Experts, but that is the trouble with Expert advice.  White cottons gloves, low fat diets, babies sleeping on their fronts, they're all the approved method until suddenly they're wrong.

The garden we see today is but the latest in a series of gardens going back to Tudor times.  There was a Wilderness, until it was removed, and a mount which went the same way.  In the landscape era grass swept up to the front door.  The Victorians had an elaborate parterre, Norah Lindsay did away with the fiddly beds and made four big square ones.  A copy of her original planting plan is on display in the house.  There are venerable topiary yews, an orangery and a temple which I saw, a lake I didn't have time to walk around, and several other features I didn't manage to get to.  Two hours is not enough time to look at all of Blickling Hall, even though I forwent the opportunity for a National Trust tea and ate a soft roll I'd brought with me while walking around the flower beds. The planting is pretty good, but a bit all of one height for my taste.  Aesthetically I think I prefer Piet Oudold and Tom Stuart-Smith to Norah Lindsay.

There is a very large and well organised second hand bookshop, where I picked up clean copies of two books I didn't think I already had, a Margery Fish and a Gertrude Jekyll.  I was happy when I got home to see that I really didn't have them, and it wasn't just that I hadn't read them for a few years.  The National Trust has cunningly sited the coach pick-up and drop-off point next to the shop, bookshop and cafe, so that visitors making their way back to their coach with a few minutes to spare may use the time shopping rather than standing about in a distant car park.

I should like to go back to Blickling with the Systems Administrator and have enough time to look at all of the garden, and maybe even a cream tea.  It is not so very far from the north Norfolk railway, so you never know.

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