“When God created the human race, he made men, women and Herveys” is an 18th century quote which might or might not have been uttered by Voltaire. Whether that’s true or not, the statement pretty much sums up centuries of Hervey family members who have, in turn, been eccentric, confident, brave and, according to Dr Johnson, rather good company: “If you will call a dog Hervey, I shall love him.” Certainly stories abound of their behaviour: one, the sixth marquess of Bristol, was jailed for his part in a jewel heist and another, the 4th, apparently tipped a tureen of hot spaghetti onto a procession in Rome because he couldn’t stand the noise of the bells.
It was this 4th Earl of Bristol, Frederick Hervey, who began building Ickworth House in 1795, following his eventful trip to Italy. He didn’t live to see his neo-classical design, with famous Rotunda, completed but his son continued the work and the building, which is now owned by the National Trust, stands proud and quite magnificent in its countryside setting just outside Bury St Edmunds.
While staying at the Ickworth Hotel, the East Wing of the house, entry to the main building was complimentary so we took the opportunity to have a look round. Paintings by Titian, Velázquez and Hogarth adorn the walls in the main rooms but my eye was drawn to a brightly coloured Venetian Murano glass chandelier in the bedroom.
|A visitor’s case packed for a Hervey house party perhaps?|
Once we’d had our fill of life ‘upstairs’ we visited the new ‘Life Below Stairs’ exhibit. In 1910 Lady Theodora Hervey used her railway inheritance to renovate the basement and kitchens with all the latest technology. The National Trust have converted the basement back to its post-1910 condition and have done it extremely well, deciding to place the action in the 1930s. I just loved the kitchen with recipe sheets you can pick up (for a small donation.) Everywhere there are written ‘instructions’: hand-written notes, for example, lists reminding the cook what she has to do that day.
Walking down the main corridor towards the garden, we read the information on the walls about other members of the Hervey dynasty. Often this kind of detail can be rather dull but, oh my, with this family in residence, what intriguing things we discovered, with the 3rd marquess’ sexual exploits raising a few eyebrows. Nuns! Really?
Best get some fresh air. There are woodland walks and an Italianate Garden in the grounds but my favourite of all was the stumpery. I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of the term and yet the Victorians were very fond of them and at Ickworth they probably have one the best examples in the UK, with Prince Charles’ Highgrove taking top spot. What is a stumpery? It’s a garden feature made from parts of dead trees, including the rooted trunk and pieces of bark. They are arranged artistically, with the uprooted trunks turned upside down to reveal the twisted shapes underneath. I couldn’t quite decide whether the whole garden looked a bit futuristic or was it an enchanted fairy glade.
Back inside, the rest of the main building houses a very reasonable and interesting gift shop with local handmade items sharing space with the usual fudge and tea-towels. The restaurant/cafe is definitely worth a visit: probably one of the best we’ve been in when visiting this sort of attraction. Waitress-service, not over pricey, very quick service and spotlessly clean. Oh and we also popped into the second-hand book shop where Rory picked up two books, one on Margaret Thatcher and one on Tony Blair to help with his Politics A level: now that was unexpected!
Ickworth: The Rotunda, Horringer, Bury St Edmunds.
Tel: 01284 735270