There comes a time when you consider that perhaps you should ‘give something back.’ No, I’m not coughing to having been a serial thief over the years with a penchant for stuffing boxes of Shredded Wheat under my sweater in Tesco (which would make me a cereal thief – with a very baggy jumper), I’m referring to doing something for nothing for once. So far, I’ve spent 6 years at university learning the basics of my trade then the following 14 actually doing it. For money. Wouldn’t it be nice I thought, to undertake some form of voluntary activity to benefit the wider community?
Since January 2011, I’ve tried various different activities, some with more success than others. It’s true that being a boxing coach at our local gym’ didn’t quite work out as I thought it might, teaching contemporary dance in the adult education centre in town wasn’t much better, and though I felt that organising the fashion show for our local sixth form A’-level textile and design group was somewhat more successful I’m informed that tweed might not be a la mode this year (or indeed this century) after all. How was I to know?
Last year my sister-in-law invited us to accompany the family to Kiplin Hall, near Richmond to see the Victorian Christmas decorations. We accepted and set off expecting little more than a relatively pleasant day out viewing a few sprigs of holly and a tired old tree with perhaps a cup of tea and a scone to liven up an otherwise adequate afternoon out. We were wrong.
If you haven’t been to Kiplin, you should. Built as a hunting lodge in the 1620s by Sir George Calvert (later first Baron Baltimore and founder of Maryland) the hall passed through purchase and inheritance over the centuries to the custody of The Kiplin Hall Trust on its final owner’s death in 1971. There you go: four hundred years of history in a sentence. I could go on, in fact I usually do but I’m thinking if you’ve made it this far then I’m not going to push my luck.
Today Kiplin is presented as it might have looked in Victorian times. It is light and cosy, warm because of its conservation-grade central heating system and filled with homely furniture and paintings, all of which comes together to make the visitor feel as if the family are just waiting to welcome you in the next room (and if you believe the ghost stories surrounding the place, they very well might be).
I’ve been to other grand houses to view their Christmas decorations and been disappointed if I’m honest, but we enjoyed Kiplin’s so much we returned the following week with the other side of the family. On this occasion, the Warden (Elaine’s) mother (a sprightly octogenarian called Pauline with a razor-sharp sense of humour and the upper-body strength of a professional wrestler) threatened me with physical violence if I didn’t request a volunteer application form before leaving the building. In my weakened state (having been released from the head-lock) I acquiesced and after managing to find referees who knew nothing of my time ‘inside’ as an international country house art thief, started work on 1st April as a room steward in the library.
I admit to having found the whole experience of volunteering testing at times. We’ve pestered Dawn (the Curator) for information on each room prior to our attendance (in order to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing that it was Bartolommeo Nazzari who painted the Venetian courtesans in the library – could you even imagine the shame?), learnt the secrets of Mary’s award-winning tearoom and I’ve wrestled with the intricacies of the till (an antique model collected in Livorno by Christopher Crowe and dating from 1734).
If like me, you could cheerfully live in a stately home, immersing yourself in four hundred years of history and would enjoy the pleasure of meeting others of a similar persuasion then you could do a lot worse than volunteering in your local historic house. I’ve loved every minute of it despite all the revision at home over the past few weeks learning my Crowes from my Carpenters and my de Morgans from my Willements and in truth, I can’t wait to get back there on Wednesday for another fix. If you’re in the area, do drop in and say hello – though I will sell you a guidebook and a piece of date flapjack because at Kiplin, Mary really does make exceedingly good cakes.
Kiplin Hall, near Scorton, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL10 6AT. Telephone 01748 818178, e-mail: email@example.com. Open: Sunday to Wednesday 2 – 5 pm until 31st October, 2012 (tearoom from 10 am for lunches and light refreshments).
Images of hall and library © Kiplin Hall.