Volunteers on Tour : Samlesbury Hall
It was a highly entertaining day out for Elizabeth Gaskell’s House volunteers at Samlesbury Hall in Lancashire this week, where we were treated to a tour by Janey the witch.
Convincingly made up with acne and very bad teeth, Janey brilliantly conjured up life in the great hall in the 14th century – a big smokey central open fire, reeking tallow candles, equally reeking people, incontinent rats scurrying hither and thither, a mono diet of meat, and a nasty brutish and short life.
Our chair of trustees, Frank, as the only man in the party, was picked on by Janey and proved to be exceptionally accommodating and willing to be her fall guy – literally in the case of recreating the gruesome murder of a Catholic priest discovered in a priest’s room in the 1560s by Queen Elizabeth’s soldiers. He also demonstrated just how tiny and dangerous the priest’s hole concealed at the side of the fireplace in the entrance hall was – by not actually squeezing into it. Janey then had to enfold him in a bear hug to check if he would have been able to slip into the secret tunnel under the floorboards.
The Catholic Southworth family owned the hall for over 300 years but Samlesbury fell into disrepair after Edward Southworth sold the hall to Thomas Bradyll in 1677 and it was let to tenants. It changed hands several times over the next 200 years; at one point it was a pub called The Bradyll Arms. At another it was used as the Pestolozziori Institute – a school run along similar lines to Montessori schools. Prominent Blackburn industrialist Joseph Harrison bought it in 1862 and substantially renovated it but it was left empty from 1909 to 1924 when it was bought by a local building firm which intended to demolish it. That it was saved for future generations to enjoy was in part due to the work of Stanley Jeeves, 1908-1980, campaigner for CPRE, photographer and cameraman who went on numerous expeditions, including one in search of the yeti. A final surprise in this remarkable and fascinating hall was that Donald Campbell’s record-breaking speedboat, Bluebird K7, was built at Samlesbury.
As if that wasn’t enough, the hall and estate boasts a display of paintings by Sir Charles Holmes, 1868-1936, a golf driving range, a garden centre, a bee sanctuary, chickens, sheep, goats and pigs. Oh yes and a wafflery in case you’re still peckish. Free and open to all, it makes for a grand day out and a very different visitor experience.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House Volunteer