It’s the first decade of a new century. King Edward VII has suceeded his mother Queen Victoria on the throne, and the country is basking in a ‘golden age’.
This was ‘the best of times’ for the great country houses and estates of Britain, as the upper classes continued to enjoy a glittering social calender of events, set against the ‘upstairs/downstairs’ life of wealthy families and their servants.
The dark shadow of World War 1 had not yet appeared, and life was good.
Lyme Park was no exception, and this season sees the start of an extraordinary project: ‘Lyme: The End of a Golden Era’ which tells the stories of Lyme in its heyday – that ‘golden era’ of the first decade of the 20th century.
Amy Carney, Lyme’s House & Collections Manager, said: “Lyme Park has an incredibly long and rich history with many stories to tell. However, we wanted to focus on a particular time in the property’s history that people were really interested in.
Consultation with visitors showed that it was Lyme’s Edwardian story that they wanted to know about. Luckily we have a wonderful archive of material we can use for research – and which will help us reveal and present the many different and fascinating ‘layers’ of Edwardian life at Lyme in an authentic and realistic way.
Key to life at that time was the upstairs/downstairs relationship between the Legh family of Lyme and their servants” continues Amy.
“We know the latter were treated as very much part of the family. Head of life below stairs and ‘bridge’ between family and servants, was Mr Walter Truelove, the Butler.
"Apprenticed as footman, he became, according to the Legh family, ‘the perfect butler’. He was a faithful servant, working for two generations of the family (both the 1st and 2nd Lord Newtons), and living in a cottage within the stable block.
"For the very first time we are opening the suite of rooms known as the ‘Butler’s Rooms’, which were Mr Truelove’s domain, and over the next few months, we’ll be gradually restoring them to their original appearance in view of visitors – so it’s a great opportunity for people to see detailed conservation work taking place as it happens, as well as discovering more about this key part of the house”.
Meanwhile, much of life ‘upstairs’ focussed around the social calendar: from dances and dinner parties to pheasant shoots and picnics – there was always something happening at Lyme.
“One of the more popular activities enjoyed by the Legh family were family ‘theatricals’ which took place on a stage in the Long Gallery” says Amy.
“Unfortunately, the original stage has been lost, but we have re-created it ready for productions of ‘Creatures of Impulse’ – a musical fairytale in one act by W S Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame).
"Visitors can join in by taking walk on parts or sit and watch what’s going on”.
Later in the season, new threads of Lyme’s fascinating Edwardian story will continue:
• in the State Bedroom, visitors can watch ciné films from the Legh family archive showing the childhood of Major the Hon. Sir Francis Legh – the last child to be born at Lyme, who went on to become Private Secretary to Princess Margaret; and creator of the best clock collection in the care of the National Trust (on display at Lyme).
• The films also feature Alfred (Freddie) Shaughnessy, cousin of Sir Francis – and screen writer of the long running television series, Upstairs/Downstairs’.
• the touching love story of Sir Francis’s parents, Richard, 3rd Lord Newton and Helen-Meysey Thompson is told in the in the Oak and Acorn Rooms. Richard and Helen met at Lyme in 1913, and a love letter from him to her will be on display. The couple married the following year and their children were the last to be born at Lyme Park. It was 3rd Lord Newton who gave Lyme Park to the National Trust in 1946.
• The Edwardian schoolroom will open and families will be able to play traditional games in the beautiful Drawing Room
• Visitors can take afternoon tea outside on the lawn at Lyme, just as the Legh family would have done.
• Lyme’s Dining Room will be re-displayed to how it would have looked set for an Edwardian dinner.
• This will coincide with the opening of 18 new community allotments at Lyme, one of which will be used to provide vegetables for Lyme’s restaurant – which would have been common practice in Edwardian times.
• A fabulous Edwardian menu will also be created to complement the story.
Keep up to date this season with ‘Lyme: The End of a Golden Era’, by following them on Twitter @NTLymePark.
Lyme Park opens for the new season on Saturday, February 25 from 11am. The house, restaurant and shop are open Friday to Tuesday, whilst the garden, estate, Timber Yard Coffee Shop and Crow Wood Playscape are all open daily.
For details go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lymepark or call 01663 762023.