There are some places that just feel special – that beguile and surprise in equal measure. Melford Hall is one of them.
Melford Hall is a beautiful red-brick manor house in Suffolk that overlooks a pretty village green. We arrived – four slightly car-weary travellers – and were transported into a different world.
And that’s exactly what you want from a National Trust property, isn’t it? To be somewhere new – or old. A gentler, prettier, enchanting place. That’s what keeps me interested in properties like this, year after year. I’m an incurable romantic.
A friendly home, not a hushed museum
Much of what you see at Melford Hall today dates from the Tudor period, and the architecture is a wonderful combination of tastes and styles. Its chequered history has left its mark too – most notably the damage inflicted by a devastating fire in 1942.
What was particularly special is that this history never made it feel in any way stuffy, or museum-like. The Hyde-Parker family still live here – and you could tell. It felt like being invited into a friendly home, not a hushed museum. Children were particularly welcome.
You may have noticed many National Trust properties becoming more relaxed these days. There are deckchairs, croquet sets and other traditional games. Melford Hall is a fine example of this more informal approach.
Inside, the children discovered a nursery full of toys. No roped off areas here – they were encouraged to step into the room, to touch and play with the toys. Centre stage was a beautiful rocking horse – a replica of a treasured family heirloom. My horse-obsessed youngest son was thrilled to be allowed to ride on it – which he did, for quite a long time. My eldest, meanwhile, found a comfortable corner to sit and read a Beatrix Potter book.
Ah yes, Beatrix Potter. There’s a family connection. She stayed at Melford Hall several times – and in the nursery, safely behind glass, there’s the original Jemima Puddleduck toy. It’s all just as appealing to modern children as it ever was. My two were well and truly smitten.
Gilded four-poster beds and fine paintings are fascinating in their way, but what really draws me in is seeing something I can make a tangible connection with – something with echoes of our modern lives.
I often find this in the less formal areas of a house, such as the kitchen or the servants’ quarters. But here, it was right in the middle of the grand house: a rather unassuming bathroom.
It was very much like the bathroom (now long gone) that we inherited when we moved into our current house – if perhaps on a rather larger scale. The resemblance was uncanny – the sink was almost identical and the old lino floor had the same slightly fusty smell I remember so well!
Back outside – and another lovely idea: you can help yourself to a Beatrix Potter-inspired play sack, complete with picnic blanket. Jeremy Fisher and Peter Rabbit joined us for lunch.
After exploring the secret corners of the gardens, we rounded the afternoon off with tea and cake on the lawn by the house – another delightfully informal touch. The boys lolled in deckchairs, and we tested the croquet set. National Trust cake rarely disappoints, and this was no exception!
So there you have it: the anatomy of a perfect National Trust property. Friendliness, imagination and just the right level of familiarity – served with the all-important tea and cake.
My other National Trust family favourites are Oxburgh Hall and Kedleston Hall. Which are yours?