Last weekend we helped celebrate the 30th birthday of collectible toy brand Sylvanian Families, who first began life in Japan in 1985 before coming to the UK market in 1987. Teaming up with Sylvanian Families was, for me, a dream come true!
It all started last summer… no wait, let’s go right back to the beginning. It all started at least 20 years ago, probably closer to 30 but I forget when, on a family visit to Thorpe Park. Being lucky enough to have grown up next to Chessington World of Adventures, I was quite used to visiting theme parks, but Thorpe Park was always a special treat, being the one that wasn’t just around the corner from my house! On one particular visit I remember a vast Sylvanian Families display village that was set up there – it captivated me for hours. I only ever had one Sylvanian family in my childhood, the Panda family, who I still have today. Fast forward a good fifteen or twenty years to an impulse purchase of a Sylvanian juice bar, which, combined with a somewhat disposal income and a big flat, led to a very large collection forming in a very short space of time!
Ok, so that’s the background, now what happened last summer? As I hope you know, we’re raising money at Hatchlands to build a tree house in the woods. We’re really excited about this project as we think it will be a great new addition to what we already have on offer here. You can read all about the tree house, and how to donate to the project, here – or simply visit www.justgiving.com/hatchlands to donate now. One evening I noticed that Sylvanian Families were tweeting about their tree house. (A very fine toy which was not yet part of my collection – but is now thanks to the Sylvanian Families products now stocked in our own shop!) Never one to miss an opportunity to talk about our tree house, I replied to them talking about ours – hoping for a retweet at the most, which might then lead to a few extra donations from the many fans who follow Sylvanian Families on Twitter. The response surprised me – a direct message offering us five Sylvanian tree houses to give away on social media.
We happily accepted and ran the competition last summer, while in the background we began chatting with Epoch Making Toys, the company behind Sylvanian Families, about how we might be able to build on a partnership and hopefully do something exciting together. After many e-mails, phone calls and meetings, it all began to take shape. We were all convinced that the two brands fit well together. Sylvanian Families are built on the three grounding principles of family, love and nature, and the team are very keen to help get children connected with nature – something that is very close to our own hearts, both in the National Trust as a whole, and Hatchlands Park specifically.
Earlier this year, in May, we launched the UK’s first Sylvanian Families Nature Trail, here in the woods at Hatchlands. Budding nature lovers and Sylvanian fans big and small can solve clues from Freya Chocolate Rabbit and Ralph Walnut Squirrel and answer questions, while hopefully learning something about the wildlife that surrounds them. Also on the trail are larger than life wooden sculptures of three Sylvanian characters, Freya, Ralph and Abigail Bramble the hedgehog, all made by local chainsaw artist Steve Francis, who was also responsible for the carvings in our natural adventure area, Wizard Wix’s Willow Warren. We launched the nature trail with a photoshoot featuring Ralph and Freya, which was great fun in itself, and quite surreal! The trail is open all year round and we hope it will entertain people for a good few years!
Then last weekend was the big one, the 30th Birthday summer picnic! People of all ages, from those who grew up with the toy in the late 80s, to today’s generation of young fans came to enjoy the event despite the rain. Some guests flew in from as far afield as Australia and Hong Kong. Sylvanian mascot characters entertained visitors, alongside displays of some of the most iconic vintage products from the 1980s, party games, and a giant Sylvanian Families birthday cake. The weather was a shame, but we had a great time, and hopefully so did everybody that came along!
If you’d ever asked me whether I thought I’d be helping to organise a birthday party for tiny hedgehogs, rabbits and squirrels in the grounds of a National Trust property, I’d probably have laughed at you – but there we are! Thank you to everybody who helped make all this possible! (With thanks to Katie Lamb for the images from the birthday picnic.)
If you’ve visited us at Hatchlands, there’s a good chance you would have stuck your head into our old stable in the courtyard. In its heyday the courtyard would have been a bustling hub of activity with servants running back and forth between the kitchen, the horses, the coach houses, the engine room and the coal hole. The old stable is our last little bit of that “working” area that has not really moved into the modern world!
This winter we’ve been trying to spruce up the stable and make it a bit more of a feature of the courtyard, and that’s where you might be able to help us! In one corner of the stable is a curious little cubby hole, once used for storing hay. It lost its sliding door many moons ago, and has just remained a curious hole with no purpose.
We’re now trying to give it a purpose. Our hope is that that this curious little cubby hole will become a snug little nook for some of our smaller visitors to hide away in and relax for a few minutes in our cosy little quiet corner. Lit from above and lined with cushions, it is just missing that extra little something… and that’s where you come in!
See that empty panel at the back? We don’t like empty panels. We’d like to fill it with a beautiful scene. Maybe a view of tranquil parkland? A window into Fairy-land? A glimpse into the past? We’re open to suggestions. If you have an idea that you think you could pull off, get in touch with us. (E-mail email@example.com) All we need at this stage is to hear your concept. The Hatchlands team will then pick the idea we like best and take it from there!
Please note, we wouldn’t be able to pay you for this, it would hopefully just be a fun project for you to sink your teeth into. We could pay reasonable expenses within an agreed limit.
If you’re up for the challenge, or know somebody who might be, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and do spread the word!
Happy New Year, readers! I’m hoping that January is not too late for you to tolerate one last little bit of Christmas. It was only just over a month ago, after all. We had a great Christmas here at Hatchlands and I hope you all did too. One Sunday in mid-December we had great fun, with a visit from Miller’s Ark Animals and a certain jolly fellow dressed in red, so here are a few pictures for you to enjoy, courtesy of our wonderful volunteer photographer, James Duffy.
By Christmas 2015, Hatchlands will have undergone a bit of a change. From Sunday 15 February (just a couple of weeks away!) the parkland, shop and cafe will then be open every day of the year, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This is a really exciting shift for us and we can’t wait to have visitors here all year round. It does of course mean that next Christmas we have the opportunity to do something a little more than we’ve done previously. If you have any suggestions of what you’d like to see, we’d love to hear them! Until, keep the Christmas spirit going, and we’ll see you in a couple of weeks!
In October, things always get a little quiet here at Hatchlands. The house closes for the season at the end of the month, and with the miserable weather outside it never seems to be a great time for people to visit, so we do see our afternoons getting a bit quieter than usual. This year we decided to do something a little different and experiment during that quiet time, testing out a few things that we could do in future, while giving our visitors who come at the end of the season the chance to see some thing a they might not have done otherwise.
On Thursday afternoons throughout October, we’ve been experimenting with lighting our main showrooms by candlelight. The first week we lit the house entirely by candlelight, and although it looked stunning, it was too dark. So this week we went for an “evening light” vibe. Shutters and curtains were still closed, but electric lamps were on, augmented by the candlelight. I’m pleased to say I think this worked really well, invoking a wonderful atmosphere (the open fires in two of our cosy rooms helped improve matters as well, on a wet, cold Autumn day) and we had some very positive feedback. Here is just one comment I’d like to share with you:
“The candlelight has really enhanced the atmopshere of the house. I have noticed paintings and chandeliers that have passed me by before, but now they glisten.”
These photos were taken by our excellent volunteer photographer, James Duffy, but don’t miss the chance to come and see the rooms for yourself. You’ve got two more weeks to see the house like this, on Thursdays 16th and 23rd October. Do let us know what you think, and whether you’d like us to try again next year…
This autumn we’re carrying out some repairs and redecorations to our house. If you visit us in September and early October you’ll see scaffolding along the west front of the house. You’ll also see some scaffolding in the courtyard where we’re carrying out essential repairs to the chimneys right at the top of the house.
This is all part of a rolling programme of repairs to make sure that we keep the house looking beautiful. This type of programme ensures that any repairs to the fabric of the building will be picked up before they become a problem. We are committed to preserving this historic building as well as the collections inside it. You’ll probably see this sort of thing happening a lot in National Trust places up and down the country. We’ll do this front of the house this year, then over the next few years we work our way round the different faces, have a few years off then start all over again! This is the first time the west front has been done while I’ve been here (it had just been done the year before I started, I believe) so I’m looking forward to the most striking part of the house all looking shiny and new again. We’ve also flagged up a few problems which will have to be planned in for the future. Did you know that the six windows facing you down the right hand side of the house (if you’re looking towards it) are all fake? There’s a reason behind that which I’ll save for another day, but they’re not visible from the inside of the house at all – which makes repairs to them a little bit tricky, so lucky that they’ve been identified as a problem now, ready to sort them out over the next few years.
When you head around the back of the house, you’ll see more scaffolding in the courtyard. This time we’re fixing a chimney. Earlier in the year it became apparent there was a problem with it, so scaffolding was put up in the courtyard to catch any small bricks that might fall (but we’re pleased to say it hasn’t!) and we sent up a drone to do a survey of all the chimneys and rooftops. I have to say that was great fun watching that fly around, and the pictures we’ve got from it are quite something!
You might think it’s odd that we don’t wait until the property has closed at the end of October. Unfortunately this type of work always needs to take place in the warmer September weather. It’s important that the paint and the mortar has a chance to dry and we can be certain that all jobs are completed before autumn frosts begin. If you’re visiting us this time of year, hopefully it won’t detract from your visit. We’ve got lots going on inside the house to make up for it, like our musical tours and candlelight opening. Check our website for details, and come back again when we’re all finished to see for yourself the results for yourself!
If you’ve visited Hatchlands, you’ll probably know that we have lots of paintings in the house. In fact if you’ve been in the house at all, you couldn’t fail to notice! One painting, which is in the first room you visit, is particularly striking, and people often ask about her. This is Catherine Cobbe, an ancestor of our tenants, daughter of Thomas and Lady Betty Cobbe. Catherine Cobbe made her society debut at Dublin Castle in 1777, where she was described by Lady Louisa Conolly as ‘not so beautiful as, but vastly in the style of’ Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Curiously, to achieve her stunning figure, the young Miss Cobbe used to hang herself from an iron staple fixed to a the ceiling, so that her maid could lace her bodice as tightly as possible!
Catherine was appointed one of the Bedchamber women to Princess Caroline following her marriage to the Prince of Wales, later George IV. She was dismissed from this position however, as the Princess feared Catherine was much too friendly with one of the Prince’s former mistresses. Also in the Drawing Room are portraits of George IV, and his mother Queen Charlotte, which brings me nicely on to where I went last weekend!
About five years ago I attended a National Trust conference, where one of the speakers was a representative from Historic Royal Palaces, telling us all about the refurbishment project that had taken place at Kew Palace (among many other exciting topics!) It has been on my list of places to visit ever since, and I finally made it last weekend.
Kew Palace is situated within Kew Gardens. Entry is free to the Palace, the royal kitchens, and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, but you do have to pay the entry fee to get into Kew Gardens before you can get to any of these places. I think my favourite of the three was Queen Charlotte’s cottage, where she would sit and have picnics, overlooking the wild kangaroos hopping about outside, isn’t that just brilliant? Visiting Kew Palace then tries to put you almost inside the head of Queen Charlotte, as she tells you about all her (many) children, and you wander around the bedrooms overhearing snippets of conversations between the royal family. It is nicely done – simple but effective. I could tell you lots more about it, but I don’t want to stray too far from Hatchlands!
In short, a visit to Kew Palace lets you find out a bit more about the people behind some of those paintings hanging on our walls. I will try and find other places to visit that might do the same…