RAYNHAM HALL April 2021

At Raynham, as at many other houses open to visitors, we are all wondering when we will be able to put on events within the building but all we can do is prepare and wait. To that end, we have been busy in the house mending and restoring as time and money has allowed. Re-upholstering some shabby chairs which were sagging in the seat department has been most therapeutic and certainly contributed to our comfort and that of our future guests. Large carpets have been moved cleaned and switched round to improve the look of a couple of rooms. And where does that pile of dust underneath come from even though they are hoovered twice a week?

There has been plenty of snoozing in the sun too.

Charles is busy treating the leather of the books in the library which have been crying out for TLC for around 200 years. That will keep him busy for years and will probably have to go on hold when the tyranny (addiction?) of mowing takes over. He has done the first mow and roll, the small tractor towing the roller getting stuck in one of the many bogs created by the rising water table. The farm came to the rescue this morning with an enormous tractor which teased out the roller and mini-tractor as if pulling a small mouse by the tail. The small pond near the lodges end of the drive off the A1065 threatened to spread across the drive about a month ago. There is a small water filled pingo nearby and the two had linked up to create a rather attractive lake, with waves lapping onto the drive in the wind. And we are on top of a hill…. but perhaps more accurately described as a rise.

We’ve noticed the number of hilltop ponds and bogs whilst driving to collect necessities during lockdown and hope that all of you have escaped serious water problems in your houses. We had an unexpected and chilly leak after blown snow massed up in a gully outside what used to be the Gallery at the very top of the house where one could view the stag hunt and the riders coursing after their quarry. Charles was woken up in bed with icy cold water dripping from the ceiling onto his head. And, next door in the Belisarius Room more melted snow water was dripping down the wall from the cornice narrowly missing an ornate William Kent frame holding the painting of Horatio Townshend’s mother in law, Lady Ashe. By the way, I can personally recommend Mary Anne Garry’s new book about Horatio (”Forward in the World”) which is an easy read and reveals what an extraordinarily good man he was, brought up in early C17th in the shadow of his elder brother Sir Roger and never expecting to inherit. Mary Anne has not only brought him to life but also the affairs and destiny of Norfolk folk at that time. We now know that the vast oaks which straddle the drive near the Hall were part of a plantation deliberately designed to produce wood  for future repairs of the house. A plot of land was set aside and planted and regularly weeded and tended for a future in which Horatio could have no role bearing in mind the time it takes an oak to grow. And perhaps this winter’s rising water table has illustrated why Raynham was built on top of a hill and why it was safe to plant so many trees on a site which is normally rather dry. This year we have seen that there are springs all around on our hilltop and many are on the oak plantation site. The trees are now thinned by age and probably also by the late C18th landscaping of the new drive which comes in from the pair of lodges on the main road.

Mrs Muntjac who lives in a jungle of fallen trees and rogue undergrowth at the side of the drive has produced another adorable baby (well I think it is, many will disagree) and Mr Muntjac who hangs around providing sustenance (bulbs hanging out of his mouth when spotted) is getting restless and will shortly depart. We have had a resurgence in the population of Egyptian Geese with the normal hierarchies strictly observed: Ptolemy and Cleopatra only occupying territory near the Hall defined by the ha-ha and the front railings, the rest are nameless and spread around the park entertaining us with their honking and taunting fly pasts over each other’s ‘lands’. We keep a watch on the relevant holes in ancient tree-trunks where they have their nests, worrying when one perfect cavity appears not to be favoured. Does that mean that tree is endangered, can they feel it? The swans are still on the lake but too many flocks of geese (not our prized Egyptians who don’t do flocks – here anyway) have chased away the entertaining quacks of the mallards.

The estate has been renovating a small property near the lake on a corner of the old Raynham manor courtyard which will be a lovely quiet place to rent for staycations this year. It is lovely to see that neglected corner being cleaned up because the little row of ancient cottages with their stepped gables are about the only remnant of the enclosed court of the manor in which some of the workmen lived whilst Raynham Hall was being built in the 1620’s.

Back to the Belisarius Room. There was a rapid gathering of the home team to safeguard the portraits with ladders and breath-holding feats of balance in order to remove the paintings before they were damaged in any way. When the last enormous portrait – of Lady Vere, mother of Sir Roger Townshend’s wife Mary – was removed by a team of professionals, we had a chance to examine her necklace which has always intrigued. A wonderful collection of old-cut diamonds and pearls dating from the late C16th and probably acquired in the Low Countries when she accompanied her husband on his military campaigns. So, predating the 1620 start to the Hall.

Having now dried this huge and lovely room with de-humidifiers for weeks and weeks, we are preparing to reupholster with damask to be ordered from Suffolk. First we have to tackle the lead adjustments which need to be made to prevent future problems. It all takes ages. We hope that in 2022 we will have a refurbished Belisarius Room to show you all, and that it will have the same gentle feel but without ripped wallpaper sagging from the walls!

And now to music, we hope very much that we can put on the recital planned for October 2nd. At this point I can’t see why not! Please book safe in the knowledge that we will refund you in full should things go awry.

Lastly, I don’t want to bother you with emails and updates if you’d rather not have them so please let us know by phone or by email and we will remove you from our mailing list. We are now using MailChimp to keep all our contacts updated and it is important that we know you are happy to receive these emails. So, to avoid being bored to death with rambling prose, feel free to hit delete. No offence taken.

The very best of wishes from us all at Raynham

Alison