“Sheep and chandeliers” is the title the National Trust of England, Wales & Northern Ireland has given to its brochure for Wimpole Hall and Wimpole Farm, where we joined a group of participants in the 16th International Conference of National Trusts for a day of in-depth discussions and tours on Tuesday.
Over the course of the day, we gathered in small groups throughout the estate with National Trust staff and volunteers to discuss topics such as the spirit of place, ways to use the past to engage with contemporary issues, and cultural identities in a homogenizing world. All were fascinating, made even more so by the extraordinary setting of this estate and working farm.
We learned of the site’s role in World War II, where it hosted American and British bombers on the large expanse of lawn in the front of Wimpole Hall, as well as some of the challenges of interpretation for a site with layered histories and traditional expectations of how an estate would be presented to the public.
The discussion sessions were mixed with tours of the house and farm, and it was especially interesting to hear about the organic farming work – and challenges – of the National Trust. Mark – the head stock farmer at Wimpole – was especially eloquent and entertaining, beginning with his description of how the construction of the Great Barn worked so well for the Trust’s current farming efforts.
But Mark’s presentation really hit its stride as he spoke of how the National Trust maintains rare breeds and works to improve the quality of food for the British population. We began in the cattle yard, where he explained how the meat from these breeds is especially tasty, with “fat to help add to the taste, which I personally test to ensure quality control” all said while patting his mid-section.
We next moved into the piggery, where one sow had just delivered a litter of nine piglets.
That was nice to see, but the real treat was right at 2 p.m. – one of the feeding times for the pigs – when they made such a ruckus with their squeals calling for their food that you could barely hear your conversations. As Mark’s assistant farmer Kate noted, they don’t need an alarm clock at Wimpole. The pigs will let you know when it is time for their feeding…365 days a year.
An all-round fascinating day seeing the conservation, interpretation, and the spirit of Wimpole in action.
More to come…
Image: The centerpiece of the Yellow Drawing Room in Wimpole Hall