The first time I tried to take my kids to Preston Manor after school, my nine year old daughter threw a complete tizzy and totally refused to go, even though she’s never been there before. Tired and hungry, she said it sounded boring.
This week, I was armed with snacks and the promise of ice cream afterwards as naked bribery.
I was determined to take the kids along for my first proper tour to Preston Manor for a personal reason. When they were babies and woke up at silly o’clock times like 5am, I sometimes had to escape from the house and hopefully calm a crying baby. I’d go to the walled garden in Preston Manor which became a beautiful, calm and peaceful haven for me.
I didn’t attempt to take them to the house then as I thought they were too young but at 9 and 11, I thought it was time. My son, like many local schoolchildren, has visited with his school and he was pretty keen to come along.
Cliché or not, when you walk through the front door of Preston Manor, it’s like stepping back in time. A wave of differentness hits you which is hard to define. It could be the smell or the light or the quietness. I’m not entirely sure. There are few no-go areas and you’re free to wander. It is as if you’ve walked into someone’s house, which of course, it was once.
I’m not going to give you the historical perspective. Just what it’s like to take children along. While it is a museum, there is enough to capture the imagination of children, if you let them just soak up the atmosphere.
They can race around filling in the Preston Manor House Detective Trail with a clipboard and pen. That helped my children get into the swing of it. There is a lovely short film, introducing the Stanford family who used to own the house.
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There are also lots of rooms, with secret treasures such as funny old baths, some amazing Chinese porcelain, chamber-pots and old-fashioned mangles. The pictures of Pickles and the other dogs was also a vote winner.
The temptation to mention Downton Abbey is almost too much to resist, with the obvious upstairs/downstairs lives depicted in the house. It is, of course, much smaller than the fictitious TV home but the huge difference between the lives of the gentry and their staff is brought to life with a great impact by looking at the sumptuous luxury of the rich compared to the sparse austerity enjoyed by their servants.
My children were genuinely interested looking around the servants’ quarters in the basement and the attic, discovering why the butlers ironed the newspaper each morning and trying to work out which unusual contraption was an ice cream maker.
The collection of the Chinese Buddhist lions in the dining room also grabbed their imagination as they tried to work out which were male and which were female.
Museums can be a tough choice for parents. We know their educational value is important but children don’t always tend to agree. The concept that a museum is boring is hard to shake but it’s a myth these days as they are so much more interesting than they used to be.
It helped that my children are studying the First World War this term and the house is a great example of how the house would have looked in the period before and just after the First World War, which gave it some context.
I’m not suggesting Preston Manor was as exciting as a trip to the pier or the cinema for children. But we spent a fascinating hour or so, looking around and my daughter admitted it certainly wasn’t boring. And I can honestly say, it’s much more interesting as a parent than standing on the sidelines as your kids put your hard-earned cash into the amusement machines or on over-priced popcorn. It is a beautiful place to be and to enjoy.
The ice cream devoured in the walled garden, while looking at the glorious flowers and pets’ cemetery finished off a grand visit for all.
Caroline Sutton, Blogger in Residence