Visitors to Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire will soon be able to experience life ‘below stairs’ in a country house thanks to a £1.2m lottery grant to restore and re-develop its basement areas.
The award from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the largest ever received by Kelmarsh Hall, will help to create an interactive educational experience. Underground areas formerly used by those who worked in the hall will be preserved and re-developed, including a butler’s pantry, bake house and footman’s room in the basement of the main house and a wash room and ironing rooms in a separate laundry block.
Currently, visitors who are given guided tours of the Grade I listed Hall learn about its residents throughout history but the new project will mean that for the first time, visitors will be able to use tablet devices to hear the voices of those who worked at Kelmarsh Hall and remained hidden.
The project, entitled Tunnelling Through the Past, will offer visitors a full sensory experience through modern technology as the lives of those who worked ‘below stairs’ are brought to life, from the evocative smells of the wash room to the sound of servants’ chatter and footsteps as they deliver the laundry.
The use of tablet devices will help visitors to interpret the rooms in detail with virtual reality period characters appearing to tell their story.
It is the biggest ever restoration project undertaken at Kelmarsh Hall and part of the programme involves the repair and conversion of an old carriage store into a dedicated learning area, enabling the Kelmarsh Trust to provide more educational opportunities.
Chairman of the Trustees, Peter Scott, said: “The board of Trustees are delighted and enormously proud of our team in securing a successful grant award from the Heritage Lottery Fund. As a long established charitable trust, the Kelmarsh Trust is here to protect and conserve the built and natural environment and welcome visitors for enjoyment and education.
“This grant will allow us to conserve and repair an area of the building that has remained unseen for over a century so that it can be experienced and enjoyed by many people for years to come.”
General Manager Lesley Denton added: “We want to become one of the few historic houses in the county to offer a real family experience. This project, with its augmented reality and peppers ghost technology, has proved a hit with the young people we have consulted with as part of the development phase of the project. We want to become ‘the place’ for families to come on a Sunday to enjoy a day out with lots of hands-on activities.”
The two-year project will see the restoration of each room’s original features where they exist or the creation of replicas. Staff are keen to involve the local community and interested parties throughout the build phase and once work is complete.
While work is going on, it is intended that volunteers will be given the opportunity to undertake lime washing, joinery and pointing, while visitors will be able to view the restoration work via observation points and site tours.
Construction students from Moulton College in Northampton will be offered ‘hard hat’ sessions and local people or those who worked at Kelmarsh Hall will be invited to ‘memory’ and oral history days at Kelmarsh so stories, objects, photographs and oral histories can be collected.
Once the work is complete, Kelmarsh Hall intends to offer historic lectures, outreach and community talks; traditional upholstery courses and traditional craft workshops eg soap/candle making; historical tours and after-dark tours; family activity days such as storytelling, twilight stories, history detectives; and new school group sessions including object loan boxes and outreach to schools.
The total cost of the project is just over £1.5m so fund-raising will continue - anyone who is interested in supporting the project or would like more details can call fundraiser Carla Cooper on 01604 686543 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.