The National Trust has unveiled The Children’s Country House at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, a first-of-a-kind experience where children are invited to embrace their curiosity by interacting with the home’s collections and exploring its hidden history.
‘If you go to normal museums there’s lots of signs saying ‘don’t touch, stay away, it could break’. Whereas with this, most of the things you can interact with and you don’t have to worry about if you’re going to drop something or knock into something,’ said 11-year-old Mahnoor, one of 100 young ‘Ambassadors’ who worked with National Trust staff in devising and testing the unique experience.
Grade-I listed Sudbury Hall was built around 1660 by George Vernon. It boasts Jacobean interiors, and is considered one of the country’s finest examples of a Restoration manor.
As the Trust’s Museum of Childhood is housed in its servant’s wing, Sudbury Hall was seen as the perfect choice for the project.
Starting in the ‘Hall of Wonder’, visitors can climb the Great Staircase, using a convex mirror to admire the paintings and carvings of fruits, flowers, and palm branches decorating the ceiling.
Once at the top, children can play games in the Queen’s bedroom, before planning adventures and voyages in the Talbot Room, where model ships can be moved around on a specially-commissioned carpeted map.
Children are then invited to pose for their own portrait in the Long Gallery, where ceiling plasterwork depicting animals such as grasshoppers, unicorns, boars, and dragons can be admired.
‘In workshops with poet and playwright Toby Campion, the Ambassadors imagined what the house’s portraits might be saying to each other,’ said General Manager Jodie Lees. ‘The result is that through a series of speech bubbles, the portraits appear to be having a conversation as you walk along the Long Gallery.’
Once in the candelit Saloon, children have the chance to dress up, and sing, dance, or clap along to music.
After curling up with a book in the Library, visitors can head to the ‘Pantry of Destruction’, housed in the Kitchens, to learn more about what it takes to conserve a house like Sudbury Hall, with the opportunity to make air-dry clay models inspired by the plasterwork, and read about how fire, flood, light, and pests can threaten historic homes and their collections.
Visitors can then don their detective hats and have a go at cracking clues and unravelling riddles in three ‘Mystery Rooms’. The first mystery is inspired by evacuees transported to the Derbyshire countryside during the Blitz.
There are also outdoor activities to enjoy, such as taking part in horticultural tasks in the gardens.
Creating The Children’s Country House has required years of planning and work to ensure the safeguarding of each room, along with the completion of a £70,000 project to restore the Great Staircase.
John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Curation and Experience, said: ‘I hope that The Children’s Country House will spark a lifelong love of heritage in the children who step through its doors, and that it will continue to delight all who visit with its creativity, magnificent beauty, and for the window it gives us into the day-to-day lives of the people who lived, worked and played in its rooms.’
The Children’s Country House has been supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
To find out more, or to pre-book your tickets, visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-childrens-country-house-at-sudbury
Opening times: 7 May – 31 December (Sat & Sun), 10am-5pm. Open daily during school holidays.