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The stately Homes of England,
How beautiful they stand,
Amidst their tall ancestral trees,
O’er all the pleasant land!
When Felicia Hemans wrote her famous poem The Stately Homes of England in 1827, she didn’t just give Noel Coward something interesting to parody a hundred years later. She also coined a phrase and launched an idea that has been with us ever since. We English like our stately homes – approximately 12 million of us visit them every year – and Lincolnshire has its fair share. Normanby Hall is a prime example.
Normanby Hall, an elegant house situated 4 miles North of Scunthorpe, was built by Sir Robert Sheffield between 1825 and 1830, and replaced an earlier mansion that had been home to Sir Robert’s forebear, John Sheffield.
It’s worth noting in passing that John Sheffield was a pretty colourful character, perhaps best-known for rewriting Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and marrying an illegitimate daughter of James II. Her portrait is on display in the current hall, which was designed by Sir Robert Smirke, and later extended by the Yorkshire architect, Walter Brierley.
When you visit Normanby Hall you’ll be welcomed by members of staff wearing Victorian servants’ costumes, a nice touch which helps generate an appropriate atmosphere of times gone by. Once inside you can explore the drawing rooms, dining room and library, all of which contain fine furniture and paintings. After touring these ground floor treats, an impressive imperial staircase takes you to the first floor. Here you’ll find the nursery, bedroom and an Edwardian bathroom – and also the costume galleries where some of the 5,000 pieces in the North Lincolnshire Museums Service Collection are displayed.
The Country Park
Imposing though it is, the house isn’t the only attraction at Normanby Hall. Visitors also have 300 acres of parkland to explore, in which they’ll discover a Victorian Walled Garden, a Farming Museum, and a Deer Park stocked with herds of red and fallow deer.
The nature trails that wind through the grounds make it easy to enjoy the park, and if you have young children with you there are ducks and peacocks for them to see, plus an adventure playground where they can expend a little of their energy. On most Sundays from 1 April until 30 September, they can take a trip on the miniature railway, or perhaps become involved in the Farming Museum’s Crafty Kids workshop.
The Farming Museum
On display in the Farming Museum you’ll find a collection of large exhibits like agricultural binders and reapers mixed in with smaller reminders of a bygone era such as fiddle drills and carding machines. More unusual items include man-traps, laying-out boards for the dead – and a genuine example of a needle in a haystack!
A re-creation of a typical farm-worker's kitchen gives an insight into what life was like back then, as do the wheelwright’s and coffin maker's workshops, the smithy and the saddlers
Victorian Walled Garden
The Victorian Walled Garden at Normanby Hall covers an area of approximately an acre. Everything growing in it dates from 1901 or earlier, and as far as possible the present-day gardeners, who are responsible for the garden’s development and maintenance, still use Victorian techniques.
There are four large plots here devoted to the cultivation of Victorian varieties of vegetables, and large glasshouses along the South-facing wall. A mixture of roses, clematis and honeysuckle spans the pathway, and in summer the garden provides pleasures for the nose as well as the eyes.
In the garden’s Peach Case you’ll find fan-trained peaches and nectarines, and a collection of scented leaf pelargoniums. There’s also a Vinery, in which Victorian varieties of grapes are grown on a single rod system.
The Fern House contains various tender ferns and orchids, and if you visit the Display House you’ll see examples of exotic ornamentals from all over the world, some of them particularly rare.
The Deer Park
Peer through the lime hedge at the rear of Normanby Hall and the chances are you’ll glimpse some of the inhabitants of the extensive deer park. If you’d like a closer look, you’re welcome to walk through the park and try a bit of deer-spotting. It’s easy to identify the red deer – they’re the large beasts with reddish-brown coats. Fallow deer are smaller, more timid, and have pale coats, spotted with white.
If you visit in summer you’ll catch the new-born deer – they arrive in June and July – leaping about beside their parents.
Normanby is well worth a visit.
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