English estate and gardens capture grandeur of the early 18th century
The 1,800-acre Ickworth Estate, with its massive rotunda, evergreen fairy gardens and sprawling sheep pastures, is a favorite place to visit for many local families.
On my first trip there during February, I witnessed the secret world of the servants as they prepared the house for Lord and Lady Bristol. At first I found it odd to see a man in period dress running down the subterranean corridors of the estate with keys jingling from his belt — until I realized it was all part of a living-history show.
Exploring the servant’s quarters felt like stepping back in time. While interacting with historically correct props, I found a love letter hidden in a book, played piano in the servants’ hall and asked four older women making scones in the kitchen if I could help. They told me the floors might need sweeping.
Every room is perfectly preserved and decorated down to the notes left from the head housekeeper to staff.
The more I wandered around Ickworth House, the less it felt like a museum and the more it felt like the Hervey family had left moments before I arrived.
Frederick Augustus Hervey, fourth earl of Bristol, commissioned the Italianate palace in 1795 to house his priceless art collection amassed from more than 30 years of touring Europe.
The original designs by Italian architect Mario Asprucci the Younger were later adapted to the English climate by Francis Sandys.
The endeavor seemed doomed from the start as Napoleonic troops confiscated Lord Bristol’s collection in 1798 in Italy. Only the classical rotunda was finished by his death in 1803.
His son, Frederick William Hervey, the fifth earl who later became the first marquess, took over the building project and eventually moved in with his family in 1829. He scaled back the original designs, and the Ickworth House and gardens were completed in 1832.
Hervey generations carried on the passion for collecting art. Paintings by renowned artists Velazquez, Titian, Kauffman, Reynolds and Gainsborough hang throughout the house alongside portraits of the family. An entire room is dedicated to their collection of fine Georgian silver.
In 1956, the fourth marquess presented the estate to the British treasury in lieu of death duties, and the entire estate passed to the National Trust, a conservation organization in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which opened it to the public.
Ickworth House DIRECTIONS
The Rotunda, Horringer, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP29 5QE. From A14, take junction 42 toward Westley, on west side of A143. For all other routes, head toward Horringer. The main entrance to the Ickworth Estate is via Horringer Village on the A143; follow the brown signs.
The house is open daily except Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to noon and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors have free-flow access from noon to 4 p.m. and last entry is 3:15 p.m. The garden and parkland are open daily 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Special walks, exhibitions and living-history days are held periodically. During living-history days, actors in period costumes portray servants preparing the house for Lord and Lady Bristol. Dates are posted at nationaltrust.org.uk/ickworth.
Entry to the property costs 14 pounds ($17.86) for adults, 7 pounds for children and 35 pounds for a family. Entry to the parkland and gardens only is 7 pounds for adults, 3.50 pounds for children and 17.50 pounds for a family.
Ickworth House offers a host of meals, hotpots and treats from a seasonal menu at the West Wing cafe.