Monday, January 25, 2016

Geeking out with the National Trust at Blickling Hall

I watched a couple of seasons of the wildly popular Downton Abbey series mostly to watch Dame Maggie Smith chew up the scenery and because it served as a virtual tour of a real-life country house called Highclere Castle, home of the Herberts (earls Carnarvon). A floor plan was kept at hand to make it easier to figure out how the public rooms of this 17th-century building recreated in "Jacobethan" style during the first half of the 19th century by Sir Charles Barry worked.

Then I stopped watching (a) because I'm not especially interested in what happened to domestic architecture in the UK after the Regency (1811-1820) and (b) because the Downton writers started killing off favorite characters, other than Dame Maggie.

Geeking out over big old houses (and much smaller ones) has been a pastime not exactly since infancy, but close. No idea why. But I can spend hours poring over books, floorplans, drawings, photographs --- and now Web-based media --- figuring out how buildings work and admiring the art and craft involved their creation.

This is why I'm a big fan of Britain's National Trust (for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty), owner and custodian of hundreds of properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own National Trust. Neither of these should be confused with the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation, although motives and manners are similar. (Highclere, by the bye, is privately owned).

The National Trust has made me very happy in recent months by upgrading the Web sites --- previously fairly stodgy --- it maintains for individual properties, coming up with innovative ways to share them --- and photographing and placing online in a searchable database items from the collections of these properties.

The image at the top here was lifted from what is the best "virtual tour" of an historic property I've come across, featuring Blickling Hall, a magnificent Jacobean "stately home" in Norfolk. Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, left the Blickling Estate to the National Trust at his death during 1940 in Washington, D.C., while serving as British ambassador to the United States. Here's a link to the tour.

Here's another link, this one to the updated Blickling Estate Web Site.

And here's a final link, to the National Trust Collections Web site, where a "Blickling" search turned up 14,954 items. Caution --- the "Collections" site requires time to process requests.

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