“I’m most excited about a family or an individual coming to Haddon on a beautiful day, seeing the garden, maybe going to the Long Gallery and listening to a wonderful music recital, having a cup of tea down by the river or reading a newspaper in the garden,” said Lady Edward Manners.
“We don’t have a timeline here – you’re not pushed through the house, you can wander at your leisure.
“We want to make Haddon a place that’s beautiful in every capacity. It’s about creating beautiful experiences for the community around us which will create enjoyment and pleasure for them.”
Lady Edward was sharing the vision which her husband and she have for Haddon as the hall prepares to greet its first visitors of 2016 over Easter.
She said: “What we’re trying to do is make it a place where people can do something unusual.”
New for this year will be an archery academy in the chapel fields in May. During the hall’s heyday it was law that every able man over 24 years should be able to shoot a target at 220 yards.
Lady Edward said: “We’re a bird sanctuary and have some amazing birds like quail. We’re putting on Dawn Chorus walks across the private part of the estates and wild flower tours in some of the old water meadows. “It’s about trying to make a family-orientated welcoming place that people are going to love.”
The big attractions at Haddon this year will include the unveiling of works of art which haven’t been seen for nearly 100 years.
A fire at the hall in the 1920s destroyed hundreds of priceless tapestries, leaving about 40 fragments which the 9th Duke restored by putting them on to canvas backing. Lady Edward said: “The tragedy of the burn on them is quite romantic – they are survivors. I thought we should show them in the new rooms that we’re going to open up which will be the original archive room and the buttery.”
Flowers are a feature of Haddon, not only the seasonal blooms in the gardens but also the carvings in the plaster on the walls. A flower show in June will interpret the symbolism of the decorations. Lady Edward said: “It’s a way of making people experience the hall on another level; a lot of our visitors are gardeners.
“Seasonally, the gardens and the flowers are spectacular. October is about fires and warmth. Haddon comes alive when all the fires are roaring – it’s magical and the lights are golden.”
Lady Edward’s first sighting of Haddon was in winter about six years ago. She said: “It was snowy, empty and very quiet – the windows were twinkling, it was very beautiful.”
Back then she was Gabrielle Ross, founder of the lingerie company Beau Bra. The business acumen which she gained from heading a multinational operation has stood her in good stead to help run the Haddon estate. She said: “I’m amazed how transferable business skills are.”
Lady Edward believes that her job is no different from ladies of the manor through the centuries. She said: “All of us are hard-working, very busy and a bit stressed. Oddly, life doesn’t change that much. We’re trying to keep it running, keep food on the table, make sure everyone’s happy.”