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Surprise Party at Linconlshire's Burghley House

Written by Rob Davis on 27th July 2010

2010 represents a ‘season of surprises’ for those on the Elizabethan Burghley House estate in Stamford. For the property’s custodian, Miranda Rock, husband Orlando and the couple’s four children, it’s also three years exactly since their arrival at the property... so this month, we discover what life on the estate is like, and find out about 2010’s programme of family events...

Both Miranda Rock, custodian of Burghley House, and I distinctly remember our last meeting. It was the very same week that the family moved into their new home following the retirement of Lady Victoria and Simon Leatham in 2007.

It was somewhat chaotic, with boxes waiting to be unpacked, and yet, amid the chaos of moving, Miranda herself was still relaxed and really friendly.

Three years on, family life in Burghley House’s south wing is certainly more organised and there are fewer boxes, but it’s just as busy and Miranda herself is still as lovely as she this month extends her welcome to visitors to the Burghley estate throughout the summer.

With four children aged between 18 months and 10 years of age, Miranda and Orlando have created a season of events designed to appeal to families and enable residents of South Lincolnshire in particular to enjoy Burghley’s 13,000 acres and 5,000 acres of parkland.

“Lots has happened in three years, but it has been a smooth transition.” says Miranda. “2010 is the year of the family at Burghley House. We’re launching a children’s version of our new audio tour in May, which lets families enjoy the house at their own pace without being tied to a timetable of tours.”

Also this season is a superb concert from ABBA?tribute act Björn Again on Saturday June 12th. The event takes place in the parkland surrounding the property, with families invited to bring a picnic and enjoy the supergroup’s best loved hits... it’s expected that over 10,000 music lovers will visit to enjoy the fun!

Miranda and family have also created a fortnight of events for families during early August.  Having opened the South Gardens for the first time in April for visitors to enjoy a riot of colour from the gardens’ bulbs, August will see the estate’s Festival of Surprises event. This will feature workshops and activities in the Garden of Surprises, with jugglers, face-painters and story telling sessions.

“As a mum I recognise how important it is to keep children entertained during the holidays and to spend time as a family. That’s why we’ve created the Festival, and why we’ve made each of the activities free with normal admission charges.”

Children will be able to practise circus skills, make Tudor jewellery and make wire animal sculptures as well as enjoying nature walks, treasure hunts and a barbecue in the sculpture garden.

Undoubtedly though, Burghley’s most important event is the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, one of the top Rolex Grand Slam equine events alongside Kentucky and Badminton. During this event, Miranda takes on the role of President of the events committee, alongside Chairman Malcolm Wallace and Director Elizabeth Inman.

“This is the 49th event, and we hope will see the return of William Fox Pitt and Oliver Townend, last years winner.” says Miranda. “The whole estate is so exciting during the event, and we’re delighted that the event brings £20m to the local economy of the East Midlands from the 150,000 visitors it attracts. The Trials supports over 400 jobs in the region along with 1000 volunteers who ensure the smooth running of the event.”

The population of Stamford is certainly proud of the property, and many local families purchase a season ticket to enjoy the estate all year, from special events to a Sunday afternoon picnic in the grounds.

Maintaining the property and its grounds is certainly a large task, though. The estate employs ten members of staff full time in its forestry and gardening team, eight in the estate office, and has 90 members of staff in total when the estate is open to the public.

Also based on the estate are Anthony Beech, furniture conservator, Mike Cowell, picture restorer, Sheila Landi, a textile conservator, and silversmith Barry Witmond. Together with Miranda, who has an MA in Arts Policy and Management, the team is dedicated to maintaining the spectacular property, originally built in the 1550s for William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s Lord High Treasurer.

Miranda oversees the estate by way of weekly meetings with the management team, including House Manager Philip Gompertz and Estate Director David Pennell.

Working extremely long hours, managing maintaining and preserving the Elizabethan estate is somewhat of a vocation for Miranda and family.

But continuing the work of her mother and grandfather who were themselves very progressive is very much a labour of love. “It’s a very intensive job and a responsibility, but also a terrific pleasure.” says Miranda. “A lot has happened in the past three years, and we really hope that the changes we’ve made and the work that the whole teams puts into the estate will ensure the house and gardens can be enjoyed by many for years to come!”

Image: Burghley House's Miranda Rock.

Join Miranda and family for the 2010 Burghley House season...

Throughout the season you can enjoy the Capability Brown landscaped Courtyards, Gardens of Surprise, created by Lady Victoria Leatham in 2006, and the spectacular state rooms.

These include a cavernous Old Kitchen with Tudor interior and fan-vaulted roof, Blue Silk state bedroom, George Rooms with Italian influence, last occupied by Queen Victoria in 1844, and the Heaven Room. Antonio Verrio’s masterpiece, features Hell - Verrio’s last commission a gaping mouth into Hades or Hell over the property’s lofty staircase.

Also during the season are the following special events;

Saturday 31st July - Sun 15th Aug

Festival of Surprises: Children's Workshops

A two week celebration of fun in the gardens with children's activities and workshops everyday.

Admission with a House and Gardens or Gardens only ticket. Free admission for season card holders.

Thurs 2nd - Sun 5th Sept

Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials

The premier equestrian social event of the year takes place from 2nd-5th September 2009.

Dressage will take place on Thursday and Friday with Cross Country on Saturday and Show Jumping on Sunday. Set against the magnificent backdrop of Burghley House, the park will host some of the greatest international riders in a thrilling four star three day event.

For more information on the above see or call 01780 752451.