IT’S THE first decade of a new century. King Edward VII has succeeded his mother Queen Victoria on the throne, and the country is basking in a ‘golden age’.
This was ‘the best of times’ for Britain’s country houses and estates, including Lyme Park in Disley, as the upper classes continued to enjoy a glittering social calendar of events, set against the ‘upstairs/downstairs’ life of wealthy families and their servants.
And to coincide with the launch of a new season at Lyme, this weekend sees the beginning of an extraordinary new 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, House & Collections Manager, explained: “Lyme Park has an incredibly long and rich history with many stories to tell. Consultation with visitors showed that it was Lyme’s Edwardian story that they wanted to know about.
“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. For the first time, a suite of rooms known as the ‘Butler’s Rooms’ are to be opened. These rooms were the domain of Walter Truelove, the Legh family’s faithful and respected butler.
Amy said: “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.”
Much of life ‘upstairs’ focused around the social calendar, and one of the more popular activities enjoyed by the Legh family were family theatricals in the Long Gallery.
“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,” Amy added.
Later in the season, new threads of Lyme’s fascinating Edwardian story will continue. Visitors will be able to watch ciné films from the Legh family archive in the State Bedroom, or discover the touching love story of Richard, the third Lord Newton, and Helen-Meysey Thompson in the Oak and Acorn Rooms. It was 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 drawing room, or take afternoon tea outside on the lawn. 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, one of which will be used to provide vegetables for Lyme’s restaurant – common practice in Edwardian times. A fabulous Edwardian menu will also be created to compliment the story.
l Lyme Park opens for the new season on Saturday from 11am. The house, restaurant and shop are open Friday-Tuesday, while the garden, estate, Timber Yard Coffee Shop and Crow Wood Playscape are all open daily. For details, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lymepark or call 01663 762023.