How a family helped rescue Melford Hall
PUBLISHED: 12:15 15 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:32 20 February 2013
The history and architecture of our country houses are part of our heritage. This year marks 50 years of a partnership between the National Trust and the Hyde Parker family, which has seen Melford Hall in Long Melford saved for future generations.
As a nation we love them, millions of us visit them. The history and architecture of our country houses are part of our heritage. This year marks 50 years of a partnership between the National Trust and the Hyde Parker family, which has seen Melford Hall in Long Melford saved for future generations. National Trust property manager Luke Potter tells the story.
For almost five centuries, the picturesque turrets of Melford Hall have dominated Long Melfords village green. The tranquillity of its setting however hides a turbulent story that has seen the home ransacked during the Civil War in 1642 and one wing completely gutted by fire in 1942.
Contrary to advice to pull down the devastated north wing, William Hyde Parker and his Danish wife, Ulla, were determined to rebuild Melford Hall from the ashes. The architect Albert Richardson was taken on by the family and he devised a method of building an internal frame within the burnt out red brick shell to take the weight of the new floors and roof.
A new layout was planned for the wing, and Lady Ullas Scandinavian tastes heavily influenced the dcor. The former dark interior and heavy oak furnishings were replaced with bright white walls and floors creating the lovely atmosphere that is still found in this wing.
Sadly William did not live long to see the restored wing as he died in 1951. The family were confronted with a huge payment in inheritance tax and as a result the hall, some of its principle contents, and 130 acres of the park was transferred to the Treasury to settle this payment. In turn it was then offered to the National Trust, but was initially turned down as it was deemed un-economical.
Lady Ullas determination to save the hall once again came to the forefront and she arranged for the hall to open to the public. Various rooms were set up as show rooms, floors were scrubbed down, a guidebook was written and the familys nanny sat by the front door to collect the admission fees from the visitors. She was kept busy.
Lady Ulla proved that it was economically viable to open to the public, and the National Trust agreed to take Melford Hall into its care in 1960. Moreover, due to the experience the family had gained of opening the hall, the National Trust arranged for Lady Ulla to remain as their administrator and resident as a tenant in the North Wing.
In the 1970s, Lady Ullas son, Sir Richard Hyde Parker, came back to Melford Hall. Along with his wife Jeanie, he threw himself into the management of the hall attending to the many issues that needed his attention and time. With the growing numbers of visitors wanting to see more of the hall, they restored the South Wing, which had been virtually untouched since end of the Second World War. This enabled the bedrooms they had been using in the West Wing to open to the public and the creation of a museum room explaining the connection of Beatrix Potter to Melford Hall. Sir Richard also discovered an early 17th century map of the estate, and the long lost oak avenues were replanted to recreate the 17th century landscape. In 2006, the North Wing was also opened for the first time providing visitors with new toilets and a tea room.
Meanwhile, in amongst all of these projects and the many visitors coming through the doors, Melford Hall remained a home for Sir Richard and Lady Jeanie and their young family.
For a long time family lunches were still held in the show dining room, although it was sometimes a rush to clear everything away before opening time. Laughter and games continued to fill the hall and grounds, and Christmas was celebrated around a huge tree in the Great Hall. The children would even occasionally sneak out tea trays and slide all the way down the grand staircase.
With the devastating fire in 1942, and the struggles of the 1950s, it is remarkable that Melford Hall has survived as a building. Over 40 country houses were lost in Suffolk during the 20th century. These included Acton House, Rushbrooke, Assington Hall and Liston Hall. Some owners simply didnt care about their preservation, with houses becoming surplus to requirements if more than one estate was owned. There were those who gambled their money away and sold their houses off bit by bit for scrap. Then there were the ones that were demolished by fire or became irreversibly damaged during the war, either through enemy action or the result of being requisitioned.
Through the dedication shown over the last 50 years by the Hyde Parkers and the National Trust, Melford Hall has survived where many others have been lost. Just as important though, is the fact that Melford has not just become another stuffed country house.
With the continued passion and involvement of the Hyde Parkers, Melfords spirit as a much loved family home continues to this day and fills it with its own distinctive atmosphere. As Lady Ulla once said, a place like Melford Hall is far more than just bricks and mortar.
n To mark 50 years of the National Trust working with the Hyde Parker family to open Melfords doors, on Saturday, June 26, youll get the chance to visit for just 10p, which is around what it would have cost to visit in 1960 2s/6d (half a crown).
There are also two special evening concerts taking place. On Sunday, June 20, the Concord Womens Chorus from Massachusetts, USA, will be performing at Melford as part of their own 50 years anniversary. Then, on Saturday, September 25, there will be a special 50th anniversary concert marking 50 years of National Trust involvement at Melford Hall. Join the Kirbye Voices for an evening of wonderful choral music charting all the ages of the Hall, from its beginnings as a monastic estate to the present day.