Beningbrough at War

Men in uniform and an historic house – what could be a more perfect way to spend a Tuesday?! With that very thought in mind I visited Beningbrough at War, an exhibition that sits within the Yorkshire Country House Partnership (YCHP) HLF funded project ‘Duty Calls: The Country House in Time of War’ (what a mouthful). This summer exhibitions exploring the impact of war on country houses are springing up at nine sites across Yorkshire. Running until 3rd November, the programme at Beningbrough spans the hall and gardens, telling the story of the men and women of the RAF and Royal Canadian Air Force who were billeted at the house during the Second World War.

Beningbrough at War Contributors Features Reviews Travel Travel Near Wartime A grand house, men in uniform – what better way is there to spend a Tuesday?

Their poignant and often funny tales are told through interpretation stands in the garden (my favourite was the ‘Eros with pants’ panel) and listening points, exhibitions and dressed rooms within the Baroque hall. One such room tells the story of ‘warm beer, cigarettes and darts’, highlighting how the men of the forces entertained themselves between operations.

Every section of the site is peppered with discreet mentions of how this house fits into our collective history, reminding visitors that it was everyday people like ourselves who made such a difference between 1939-45. Whilst Brideshead Revisited and Downton Abbey may have sparked our interest in country houses at war, it is Beningbrough Hall that tells the real story of how historic houses moved from aristocratic playgrounds to military hubs.

Family Friendly

Whilst exploring the Beningbrough at War route, I was struck by just how family friendly this National Trust property is. Over the last ten years there has been a clear shift in how museums, galleries and heritage sites view and welcome families and this is now doubt partly due to the influential Kids in Museums Manifesto. As a mum-to-be it was a relief to see parents and babies enjoying the gardens and house, and to find out that the site offers infant carriers, brilliant changing facilities and regular art workshops. Even more exciting was the huge amount of family interactives – I’d never seen an historic house with quite so many resources for children! I lost at least twenty minutes in the Making Faces exhibition  using an interactive to make my own portrait in an 18th century style (I have to say I look rather good in silk!), and then there was the Pre-School Portrait Room with its huge selection of fun resources for under 5s. No wonder they were finalists for the 2010 Guardian Family Friendly Museum of the Year Award.

Beningbrough at War Contributors Features Reviews Travel Travel Near Wartime Days spent cycling around the estate at Beningbrough during WWII (Source: National Trust Archives) 

Sue Jordan, Learning Officer at Beningbrough Hall has her own take on why our well-loved country houses are becoming more family friendly;

we are attempting to move away from the ‘traditional’ old fashioned museum ‘do not touch’ way of engaging, to a more hands on enjoyable interaction and experience. History can be fun, hands on and informative – all at the same time! As a heritage organisation, our special places are not just here for us, they are here for anyone and everyone to enjoy, from little people exploring the world, to those with a specialist interest.’

It was everyday people like ourselves who made such a difference between 1939-45. Whilst Brideshead Revisited and Downton Abbey may have sparked our interest in country houses at war, it is Beningbrough Hall that tells the real story of how historic houses moved from aristocratic playgrounds to military hubs.

Whilst exploring the Beningbrough at War route, I was struck by just how family friendly this National Trust property is. Over the last ten years there has been a clear shift in how museums, galleries and heritage sites view and welcome families and this is now doubt partly due to the influential Kids in Museums Manifesto. As a mum-to-be it was a relief to see parents and babies enjoying the gardens and house, and to find out that the site offers infant carriers, brilliant changing facilities and regular art workshops. Even more exciting was the huge amount of family interactives – I’d never seen an historic house with quite so many resources for children! I lost at least twenty minutes in the Making Faces exhibition  using an interactive to make my own portrait in an 18th century style (I have to say I look rather good in silk!), and then there was the Pre-School Portrait Room with its huge selection of fun resources for under 5s. No wonder they were finalists for the 2010 Guardian Family Friendly Museum of the Year Award.

Well, as a person with a specialist interest, with a little person on the way, I can’t wait to take our latest addition to some of my favourite historic properties. Not only will we receive a warm welcome, but we’ll both be stimulated by our visit which will no doubt be a welcome relief as a new mum!

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