A Failing Property

Tuesday 27th July 2021

I took Ickworth in the 1980s with Twirly Godfrey. We drove over from an Easter holiday flat (horror) at Southwold. You couldn’t get into the restaurant of that smart hotel there, even then. In the party were Twirly’s wife, Listy Prue and a redoubtable friend of her brother’s from Australia who had Twirly and Listy anchored for a while, with order in the home and a good mince loaf on the table. Listy had renounced vegetarianism because she heard on Woman’s Hour that the condition made you more likely to have girls. She thought that would be unfair on any boy babies she might fail to have. She had three girls anyway and no boys.

It must have been Easter Day or Monday when we went to Ickworth. It was swarming with visitors. In a yew walk I proclaimed loudly, ‘If I were Mrs Thatcher, I wouldn’t sit up half the night for people like this.’ The house I thought enchanting inside, full of the most lovely things, not grand, good English plain, the very best. One sensed someone of utmost taste behind it – an Earl of Bristol, I suppose, one of whom built the house in the late 18th century.

In 2018, I re-visited with the Gay Mother and had to make do with the kitchens. The main house wasn’t open, although it said it was in the book. It was a gloomy autumn day. The place didn’t seem as I remembered. The main rotunda appeared huge and louring, as well as dilapidated and a nasty cement finish. But I thought maybe if it weren’t all shut up it would be different.

At least this time, on the way back from Norfolk, we could get into the house. The hall was gloomy like a Roman church. There was something odd happening in the three arches that are intended to give a grand vista through to the further atrium where there is a monumental Laocoön-type sculpture, in fact The Fury of Athamas, by Flaxman, an obscure father who killed his son. The National Trust had placed scaffolding ‘installations’ so blocking the view. We were being subjected to an ‘expression’ of the house in restoration. All we could see where a few relics elaborately displayed, the staircase and two rooms, the rest was closed. A volunteer said that many of her colleagues had not returned to work after the unmentionable. Royston said, ‘This is the property where they tried to make the volunteers wear rainbow lanyards.’ We were darkly suspicious.

I don’t know what happened to my memory. The house is not at all a quiet plain sort of place full of elegant, restrained lovely things,  but architectural, full-on Roman, grand and massive. From what we learned of the family, they were beastly, especially the ‘Earl-Bishop’, who never bothered with the Bishop bit but just raked it in from the Bishopric, which was of Derry.

Royston pronounced it a failing property. Appalling costs of up-keep. Not enough visitors. He was exasperated also by the endless emphasis on the ‘Earl-Bishop’.  ‘They mean a Bishop who was also an Earl. There’s no such thing as an “Earl-Bishop”,’ he raged.

We wandered in the grounds. Soon everybody else had gone home. Really the place is a tomb. There was nothing we could do for it.

Ickworth - Tomb-like

Ickworth – Tomb-like

The Fury of Athamas by Flaxman. Very Worrying

The Fury of Athamas by Flaxman. Very Worrying: Here is He is, Killing his Son. Ideal as Your Centrepiece in the Main Hall of the Home 

The Only Room at Ickworth we Could See. Pillars in the Drawing Room says it All

The Only Room at Ickworth we Could See. Pillars in the Drawing Room says it All

Ickworth - Just one Room Open.

Ickworth – Just one Room Open.



Posted Tuesday, July 27, 2021 under Adrian Edge day by day.

Leave a Reply