I am indebted to Emile de Bruijn of the fabulous Treasure Hunt blog for highlighting this feature last week. The National Trust have developed a Virtual Tour of Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, which can now be accessed by anyone unable to visit it in person.

Wimpole Hall, the Entrance Front

Wimpole Hall, the Entrance Front ©Austenonly

Wimpole Hall is a great place to visit for those of us interested in the 18th century. Not only is it a splendid building, it also has an early 19th century model farm, an 18th century ruined castle folly, and the grounds were designed by Bridgeman, Brown and Repton. It was the largest private house in Cambridgeshire, and it was also the home of Phillip Yorke, first Earl of Hardwicke, shown below in his Lord  Chancellor’s robes.

Phillip Yorke, First Earl Hardwicke in his robes as Lord Chancellor, on display at Wimpole Hall

Phillip Yorke, First Earl Hardwicke in his robes as Lord Chancellor, on display at Wimpole Hall ©Austenonly

He is of interest to  because he was responsible for introducing into Parliament and the laws of England the famous Marriage Act of 1753 (otherwise known as An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage). This was an important statute because it  reorganised, tightened and strengthened the laws relating to marriage, and passed responsibility for the administration of the laws relating to marriage from the Church to the State. After the Act had been introduced for a marriage to be valid it had to be performed in a church and after the publication of banns or the obtaining of a licence. Those under the age of 21 had to have prior parental consent if they married by licence. Their  marriages by banns were valid as long as the parent of the minor did not actually forbid the banns.  Of course the Act did not apply in Scotland, hence the growth in elopements to Gretna Green ….tell that to Mr Wickham :)

The Hall also boasts some wonderful Regency interiors, including the Yellow Drawing Room, an almost shape-shifting space, with its clever use of perspective and mirrors, designed by Sir John Soane.

The Yellow Drawing Room ,Wimpole Hall

The Yellow Drawing Room ,Wimpole Hall ©Austenonly

This room is made extra special by its majestic gasolier which can be lowered into the throng waiting below, or can be retracted back up to its cupola. Amazing.

The Gasolier in the Yellow Drawing Room, Wimpole Hall

The Gasolier in the Yellow Drawing Room, Wimpole Hall ©Austenonly

The Hall also has the intriguing  Regency Shower and Plunge Bath, and there are many wonderful rooms for you to explore  in the two floors of  the Virtual Tour.

But what I find most interesting about the Hall was that its last owner was Elsie Bembridge. She was the daughter of Rudyard Kipling, an avowed admirer of Jane Austen, and author of the famous  Janeites poem ( though he didn’t coin the term: that honour goes to the literary critic,George Saintsbury, who knew Kipling and, apparently, it was after a conversation with Saintsbury, and a visit to Bath that Kipling was inspired to write his now famous poem.) Mrs Bembridge restored the Hall, presumably using the money left to her by her father,  and eventually passed  the custodianship of the Hall to  the National Trust. So, bear do that in mind when making your virtual visit  :)

Do note that not everything in the house is include on the Tour:  the Chapel is not shown for example, but what is there is fascinating and this is an initiative I applaud, and while I appreciate it must no doubt be a costly process, it would be lovely to see it adopted by other houses in the Trust’s collection.