If you dream about living the privileged life of a Lord or Lady of the Manor, you won’t want to miss George Clarke’s National Trust Unlocked. This fascinating Channel 4 documentary series was filmed during the lockdown, when the National Trust, the well-loved British conservation charity, was forced to close its historic sites to the public.
The unprecedented – and, thankfully, temporary – closure left hundreds of country houses, carefully cultivated gardens, breathtaking beauty spots and other incredible places empty instead of echoing with thousands of visitors’ voices. Only a skeleton staff remained at each site to carry out essential work while the country waited for the lockdown to be lifted.
In each episode, the affable architect George Clarke explores a number of the National Trust’s glorious attractions, often joined by his inquisitive pet husky, Loki, and offers visitors-turned-viewers invaluable behind-the-scenes insights. As Clarke says in episode one, he discovers ‘a vast range of architectural treasures, revealing snippets of our country’s past’.
Magnificent Mansions and Gardens as You’ve Never Seen Them Before
All six episodes of George Clarke’s National Trust Unlocked are currently available on Channel 4’s website. Watching them is a unique treat – and rather like taking a private tour of some of the most stunning places in England, such as the following:
- Kingston Lacy, Dorset – this lavish mansion is famed for its 19th century Italianate architecture and frescoes. For many years, it was home to the Bankes, one of the region’s most powerful landowning families, and holds more than 15,000 antiquities and curios. George Clarke was thrilled when he was invited to survey the vast grounds from the mansion’s roof, an area that’s normally inaccessible to visitors.
- Hidcote Manor Gardens, The Cotswolds – Major Lawrence Johnston’s extraordinary vision for a mesmerising series of ‘outdoor rooms’, each with its own distinctive character and plants sourced from around the globe, is brought to life in this early 20th century sanctuary. Johnston spent more than 40 years perfecting it; highlights include The Pillar Garden (the yew trees resemble classical ruins) and The Bathing Pool Garden (where a raised water feature is adorned with an elegant statue).
- Baddesley Clinton Hall, Warwickshire – this fortified Tudor manor house even boasts its own moat! Twelve generations of the Ferrers family lived there, and ornate stained glass windows celebrate their lineage. One window seen in the programme features the Ferrers’ coat of arms and the inscription ‘Marmion E. Ferrers, Lord of Baddesley Clinton’. The 19th century nobleman was clearly proud of his status.
One of Devon’s Greatest Country Estates
Beautiful Devon, where the land parcels accompanying our Lord and Lady of the Manor titles are located, is home to some amazing National Trust sites. For example, we never fail to be impressed by the legendary author Agatha Christie’s picturesque holiday home, Greenway, and hotel magnate Rupert D’Oyly Carte’s Art Deco estate, Coleton Fishacre.
The fifth episode of George Clarke’s National Trust Unlocked features another Devon delight, Killerton House. The peach-coloured stately home was completed in 1779 for Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, formerly an MP for Devon, and epitomises Georgian grandeur. It’s the jewel in the crown of one of the South West’s most magnificent estates, surrounded by 6,400 acres of gardens, woodland and more.
Before being placed in the care of the National Trust in 1944, Killerton House was a go-to destination for sophisticated country house parties. With an inviting entrance hall, tastefully decorated rooms suitable for large numbers of guests, as well as a piano and chamber organ at their disposal, the Aclands could certainly entertain in style! As Sir Francis Dyke Acland (also a politician) remarked in 1923, ‘There’s no point in having a nice place like this unless we can get it full of people’!
Visitors Are Gradually Being Welcomed Back
During the lockdown, people were the missing ingredient in the National Trust’s recipe for success. Fans of British history and culture will be pleased to learn that some of the charity’s places of interest have now (at least partially) reopened. They include three of the wonderful properties we’ve discussed here: Greenway, Killerton and Kingston Lacy. Hooray!
Your Chance to Become a Lord or Lady of the Manor
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