Saturday 29 June 2019

Gunby Hall and Gardens

I don't want to be disrespectful to the Massingberd family who built Gunby Hall and got up to all sorts of escapades in their colourful history, but to be brutally honest I set off today looking forward to two things:
  • The Gunby celebrity cats
  • Skegness
But Gunby Hall turned out to be a lovely surprise. It's a bit like Trerice in Cornwall, in that there's a massive resort just down the road (Newquay, in Trerice's case) but the property is peaceful beyond all reasonable expectations - quiet, serene, and tranquil, as though dodgems and doughnuts are a thousand miles away, not ten. 

Gunby Hall

Here's a bit of history:
  • Gunby Hall was built by Sir William Massingberd, the second baronet - his father had been baronetted (not a word) by Oliver Cromwell
  • The pond is apparently haunted by the ghost of a servant that tried to elope with Sir William's daughter - Sir William shot him and dumped his body in there
  • The family trend for female succession started right away - Sir William's daughter Elizabeth inherited after her brother died
  • When Elizabeth's grandson died, HIS daughter Elizabeth also succeeded with her husband, Peregrine. They hated each other - when he tried to make garden improvements she would dig them up again.
  • Their grandson, Algernon, was known as 'Naughty Algernon' as a child and he did his best to live up to the name in adulthood - he got into massive debt and went missing in Peru
  • His uncle Charles managed to claim his right to inherit, paid off Naughty's debts, and passed the property to his daughter, Emily
  • Emily was a teetotal political activist who dressed like a man and played the violin
  • Her son Stephen died childless so his sister, Diana, inherited. She and her husband, Field Marshal Sir Archibald, had to fight to stop Gunby from being demolished in 1943 by the Air Ministry who wanted to land bombers at a nearby airfield
  • Gunby Hall was saved and Diana and Sir Archie gave the place to the National Trust in thanks
  • It was tenanted until 2010 when the NT decided to open it completely
Gunby Garden

If you want to know what it's like to inherit a property that has been given to the National Trust, you can read Daydream Believer by Hugh Massingberd. He was obituaries editor at the Daily Telegraph and Diana was his great-aunt.

The book offers some very funny anecdotes about Hugh's use of Gunby as a weekend place to impress his friends in the early 1960s. The caretaker, Rogers, had once been a warden at Crumlin Prison: "He longed to parade about the premises with an Alsatian on a leash. Visitors on open days were liable to be referred to as 'Cons' and frequently upbraided for shifty behaviour. 'I've got my eye on you, feller-me-lad,' I once heard him admonish a blameless National Trust punter who was making a close study of the Stuart miniatures in the music room." 

The Gunby cats
But sorry as I am to say this, Massingberds, there's no escaping it: the main attraction at Gunby these days are two social media star cats who appear regularly on Gunby's Instagram feed and also feature in the official Cats of the National Trust book

There's Committee, whose full name seems to be 'Committee, So-called Because She Looks Like She Was Designed By One', the explanation presumably having to be included on every tweet and Instagram post to preempt the inevitable question. And then there's black and white Craig, who is 15 and diabetic.

Photos taken from Gunby's Facebook page. Hopefully they won't get on to their lawyers.
And hopefully the people at Gunby won't mind either.
You'll notice that these photos are too good to have been taken by me. And the reason for that is simple: I forgot to look for the cats. Yes, you read that right. I spent a whole week reading up on them and looking forward to spotting them and then I got there and got distracted. It's not *all* my fault: Craig and Committee SCBSLLSWDBO could have done the decent thing and made a voluntary appearance to spare me weeks (probably years) of regret. But no. They stayed away.

I did have more luck with Skegness. There is a solid connection between Gunby and Skeggy: to pay off Naughty Algernon's debts, a load of Gunby land was sold off to the Earl of Scarborough. He used it to turn the fishing village of Skegness into a holiday resort, taking advantage of the railway as a means of people accessing a seaside break.

But for me, and anyone hailing from my Northamptonshire home town, Skeggy remains an almost mythical place - in childhood it meant a day at the seaside and the chance to put 2ps into slot machines. In your teenage years/20s, it was cheaper than Torremolinos.

The reason for factoring Skeggy in to my Gunby outing was this: I had persuaded a young scone apprentice to accompany me on my trip. Her mum is one of my oldest friends - the fact that she was following the National Trust Scone Blog before she knew I was the one writing it confirms my decision to befriend her at primary school was correct.

Anyway - we had agreed to complete a scone mission together and I was looking around for somewhere to go when I realised Gunby was near the coast. And so the proposal was put to 10-year old Lara; come for a scone and we'll throw in a trip to the beach and an overnight stay in a resort that has a swimming pool in case it's tipping it down. She accepted the proposal. So there you have it, folks: to those of you who struggle to get your nearest and dearest to accompany you to the National Trust - Gunby offers a lot of extras.

The Gunby scone
The Scone Apprentice admitted that she had a date with a tray of doughnuts on the beach later and was saving herself for that, but she tried the Gunby scone and gave it her approval. I, on the other hand, was worried; it looked small and not home-made. 

Gunby Hall scone

But while the kitchen at Gunby is tiny, the courtyard was a perfect place to sit in the sun drinking tea and eating scones and discussing the Fleetwood Mac-esque dramas of Lara's band, Fire Cucumbers (merchandise available). And the scone was very enjoyable indeed.

Gunby courtyard
The guitar-playin', rabbit-ownin', doughnut-lovin' Scone Apprentice and her mother.
After Gunby we carried on to Skeg and a great time was had by all. A lovely weekend trip that offers a bit of everything and is highly recommended.

I'll end with this - my favourite Insta picture of Committee SCBSLLSWDBO. Maybe she was too busy doing watercolours to come out and grant us an audience today.

Gunby Hall: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Sightings of ghost servants or social media star cats: 0 out of 5

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