Driving through the main gates at one of England’s pre-eminent stately homes with nobody else in sight is a surreal, conflicting experience.
On the one hand, Haddon Hall cries out for people. Its elegance, history, imposing nature, and sheer presence deserves the hum of expectant crowds – in a normal year more than 80,000 people per year would pass through the doors, eager to explore it's every nook and cranny.
On the other, you can’t help but feel a sense of privilege, as if you have 900 years of history all to yourself; like being at a live music concert where everybody suddenly disappears into the ether and you’re left with just yourself and the musician.
The current climate dictates this was the unique atmosphere that met me when I arrived at Haddon on an autumnal, cold, and windy morning. Led through the centuries-old wooden door which leads to the unmistakable Haddon courtyard I am met by Lady Edward herself who, along with husband Lord Edward Manners, is the current incumbent of an institution that has truly stood the test of time.
Make no mistake, whatever I was feeling as I stood observing this people-free powerhouse of English stately grandeur paled into insignificance compared to what she must have felt on her first encounter here, as she explained as we sat down over a cup of tea.
‘I arrived on a winter night and hadn’t previously Googled Haddon, so didn’t fully know what to expect,’ says Lady Edward.
‘We walked around the back of the House and through the wild deer park. I was taken aback by the beauty of seeing Haddon for the first time from that side. Haddon is very much male/ female. It looks so incredibly grand and impressive coming up the drive – it’s big and fortified – but the side we entered from on that December night is Elizabethan, it’s gracious; it’s very feminine.
‘I was struck by its romantic beauty. Haddon was a very different place at the time, it was essentially asleep. I walked through the Long Gallery that night and it was like entering a scene out of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – as if I had entered an enchanted castle that had been sleeping; it had an incredibly quiet atmosphere.’
Much has changed since her initiation into Haddon's life that night in the depths of winter. Her husband, Lord Edward Manners, herself and their two children have since moved into Haddon permanently, the first family to do so since the days of Queen Anne more than 200 years ago.
And there are parallels now to how she felt at that time. For while Lady and Lord Manners would like nothing more than to welcome the public back once again, it has nevertheless offered a time for reflection.
‘What’s been interesting is a return to that stillness that’s manifested itself through Covid and having to close the house,’ she explains.
‘The aromas have returned and the Hall has gone back to its dormant state. In some ways, Haddon likes being left alone and it’s like it has been left to sleep once more; it’s got that musty, ancient smell to it again.’
Covid aside, Haddon Hall is thriving. Restored to its past glory – it once stood desolate from the early 1600s all the way up to 1920 when the 9th Duke of Rutland, Lord Manners’ grandfather, meticulously restored it – it is now not only a beautiful place of huge local and national historical significance, it is also a vibrant community hub.
Such evolutions don’t happen overnight and Lady Edward has channeled all her entrepreneurial spirit – she graduated in Law before going on to lead a successful London-based lingerie company amongst other ventures – to ensure Haddon Hall isn’t just fully embracing its rich heritage but is very much looking to the future.
‘A very good friend once said to me that if you don’t conquer every room at Haddon, Haddon will conquer you,’ she jokes.
‘If you go back through time, even back to the Vernons, the men would traditionally go off to fight crusades and the women were left here alone to run it.
‘That’s different now, I am very much in partnership with my husband and he’s the ‘gatekeeper’, but that sense of responsibility on my part feels the same. In our case, it was particularly poignant because it had endured such a significant period of quiet. The lovely thing about that is that it has been left untouched, you almost have a blank canvas to work from.
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