When we say ‘old’ at Thrumpton, it could be anything from 1560 – that’s when the first manor-house was built here – up to Victorian times, when the Hall got its own brewery, a private lake and a massive wine-cellar running under the whole length of the Rose Garden’s stone terrace.
The Old Kitchen is a fascinating mixture of both periods. There’s an enormous fireplace with a spit above it, missing only the long chains from which a haunch of beef was once slowly turned before a roaring fire. (One of my dreams is to get that working again, giving a whole new twist to barbeque events at the Hall.)
Above the kitchen’s centre, a gigantic belvedere tower rises up to the height of a five-storey building. Once a show-off feature of the 17th century Hall, designed to be seen by visitors as they drove over the hill in their carriages, the great belvedere (meaning, beautiful viewpoint) was moved from one end of the house (above the great carved staircase) down to this other end of the Hall by John Emerton. John was the Victorian owner who did the most to make the Hall what it is today. He was a very ingenious man. What John realised was that the Belvedere would create fantastic ventilation for a busy team of cooks, scullery maids, footmen and a butler who would work out of the kitchen. When cooks are working in this kitchen today for an event – and sometimes they’re really working up a steam – all the heat rises into the Belvedere, keeping things nice and cool below.
The Old Kitchen is full of fascinating features. Above it, leading to what was once the household laundry (now a beautiful ensuite bedroom), is a book-lined wooden gallery, from which you can watch all the cooking going on below, a bit like being in a restaurant. On one wall is a tablet paying tribute to a cook called Mrs Madison who worked here, making meals for the Byron family, all the way through World War II. In another corner, there’s something I’ve never seen anywhere else: the wooden yoke that a Thrumpton milkmaid would have used to carry pails across the fields from the Home Farm (opposite the church) to the Dairy where my own mother used to churn butter when she was first living here during the 1950s. I’ve tried the yoke on my shoulders and it’s astonishingly comfortable. It also gives you an odd sense of confidence, perhaps because the broad wooden frame broadens your shoulders. Historically, milkmaids were always very bold and sure of themselves. Maybe, here’s the answer!
Written by Miranda Seymour