Down into the depths…
Over the last few years, as you may have gathered, the National Trust has been trying to open up new spaces, letting people ‘behind the ropes’ and into areas that have never been seen before. At Hatchlands we decided to take that challenge, and experiment with taking people down into the cellars beneath the house.
Initially, we weren’t sure it was going to work. Architecturally, the cellars are interesting, but there were many issues. Did we really have enough to tell people? What about the damp? The overhead pipes? The uneven floors? The answer was fairly simple – it all adds to the experience. Yes, we could show you a nicely painted, well-lit cellar, but isn’t it more fun to go down in our hard hats with lanterns and poke about, dodging cobwebs where you can, and watching your footing now and then? So that’s what we decided to do.
As far as I know, the cellar has never been open to visitors before. Over the years several generations of Hatchlands staff had taken advantage of this fact and dumped all sorts of junk down there… most of it not particularly interesting or worth keeping. We had the fairly unpleasant job of clearing out the largest sections of the cellars and fixing a few broken windows ready to make them suitable to look around. We left some of the junk, and actually added a little bit more, creatively, to set the scene. But we still need a bit more of a story…
Well it just so happens that during the war, Hatchlands was home to a convent school who were evacuated from Croydon. They slept in the servants quarters, had lessons in the main rooms, and – lucky for us – they sheltered in the cellar during air raids. That gave us our angle, and we set about creating our mini air-raid shelter in one corner of the cellar. It’s not a faithful historic recreation, but with some bits and bobs from ebay and a healthy dose of creativity, lit by flickering candle light rather than our harsh fluorescent bulbs, we hope it creates the atmospheric setting we’re aiming for.
So, when you can you see the cellars, I hear you cry? Well we’ve done a couple of trial runs, and now we’re ready to take you down into the murky depths. We’re starting off this coming Tuesday, 11th September, at 12pm. Click here for further details. If this week is a success, we’ll keep going!
Due to the nature of the space, if you come on one of our tours you will be asked to wear a hard hat and carry a battery powered lantern, and there are a few health and safety issues to keep in mind, so we’ll only take you down in small groups. If you want to come along, either give me a ring on 01483 226163 or just reserve your spot on the day when you come along.
I’m looking forward to seeing you!