Travel Diaries: Northampton Tour – Unwrapping layers of history at Kirby Hall

Kirby Hall is a mirage. Outwardly, it looks like smoke should be swirling up from the vast ornate chimney pots. The inside is hollowed out. Time has mercilessly swept through and taken the walls, paintings, furniture and the inhabitants, leaving just a whisper of its former glory.

Do not despair. It is this time capsuled shell that makes it such a joy to visit. Especially if, like us, you arrive at 3.45pm in the off-season on a weekday and find yourselves the only people there. The absence of crowds, pushchairs and picnics really did feel as if we could have been stepping into another century.

This was once a long gallery, filled with artwork and promenading Elizabethans. I imagine the space bathed in light, and how the long shadows would have altered the dynamics of the rooms throughout the day. The fireplaces can still be seen in the mossy walls; the furnaces that fed those great chimneys.

Here and there, the rafters remain … not so different to the roof of our own, modern home. The peeling layers reveal every generation’s personal stamp of ownership, every design decision and repair. Plaster over older lime preservatives, which in turn cover up wooden beams and pale stonework.

The still-intact state rooms give glimpses of the “cutwork” garden, whilst allowing a close up view of the fine windows and curved architecture. Surely guests would have once been encouraged to stand here, at the perfect vantage point. It has the same beguiling effect on our children, who are all asking if we can go down to see the maze-like pathways.

We all smile at the politeness of this old warning to would-be defacers. An “earnest request” on behalf of the owner that visitors do not write their names on the wall.

We make our way outside. The illusion of completeness is back. The gardens have been tended with such care.

We turn a corner and explore the kitchens … and my children can never resist exploring an open doorway to some unknown place.

We find a little underground cellar-like space, which has a chill feel to it. The boys enjoy leaping back and forth through the crumbled wall.

My daughter is out of her carrier now and gently ambling after peacocks about the grounds who keep easily out of her reach.

It turns out the gravel is incredibly tricky to navigate if your feet are very tiny. It takes her four minutes (she was insistent that she would do it on her own) to reach the grass you can see on the left hand side.

The boys find a gentle slope to run down. Many, many races take place between our five children, including our daughter who only makes it half way up the little hill before they all are all running back down again. She realises she is now in front and holds her arms up in the air, calling out “I win!”

It is closing time now and we are ready to go. My daughter wrinkles her face when I tell her we only have five minutes and that is a lot of gravel.

This may take some time πŸ™‚

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19 Comments Add yours

  1. What a wondrous place to let one’s imagination run wild! It’s sad and exciting at the same time. “I win”–what a great turn-around for her. πŸ™‚


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! She never lets her tiny size stop her from joining in whatever is going on. She’s at that age where they try and climb hills as if they are walking forwards – it takes a while to get the hang of walking on an incline πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. beth says:

    what an amazing place, great post –


  3. Oooooh, such an atmospheric place. Almost better than one stuffed with treasures.


  4. Jo says:

    Fabulous pics. Sometimes I love these places better than the fully furnished ones. Your imagination can fill in the gaps. As an aside, I went straight to google to learn some more.


  5. Ellen Hawley says:

    I love your daughter’s idea of winning a race.

    I published the first of two posts on topics your older boys are interested in, although on re-reading I may have had entirely too much fun with the confusions involved. I hope it’s useful in spite of that.


  6. Beautifully written and photographed. A great joke from your littlest one. My kind of time to make a visit.


  7. shazza says:

    Even though it’s an empty shell , it looks as though you can really imagine all the history that went on there. Looks a magical place. X


  8. Thank you for another virtual delightful tour! I cannot wait to visit the UK someday! The kids are adorable!


  9. Son of a biscuit, what a place! Descriptive words fail me, and that doesn’t happen very often. And that is one darling little girl.


  10. I love reading your posts. You paint such a beautiful picture. I love visiting places off season mid week. If there are any other families there they are usually other homeschoolers who are happy to play.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much x I love seeing other homeschoolers when we are out, they are always really friendly, kindred spirits πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Having grown up in Northamptonshire, I’m unsure why I’ve never visited this place! Definitely somewhere I plan to visit next time Iβ€˜m home. Thank you for sharing. πŸ˜€βœ¨

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello πŸ™‚ I think it is a bit under advertised – we only found it because it’s nice and easy to reach on the Leics border. Even on a bank holiday Monday the other year it was practically empty. Whereas Kenilworth Castle (same distance for us) is always busy.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. What a wonderful place, and yes one can only imagine the grandeur of such a place in it hayday with all the decorated wall hangings and tapestries along with fine art..
    Beautifully kept gardens.. and loved your narration throughout Mrs TP…

    Have a beautiful week πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Sue … the gardens were impeccable … the gravel was all raked so neatly I did wonder if we were meant to walk on it – and was super relived when a member of staff walked by, proving it was okay. I think it’s just a very under visited place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think I have ever seen such a neatly raked gravel path… Reminded me of the Japanese gardens and raked sand.. .. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes … goodness I hope they have a machine to do it or it would take days. I *love* Japanese gardens x


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