Amazing Grace

Grace Walpole wants to share the romantic Mannington Hall, near Aylsham, with us all in 2023. Sarah Hardy finds out more…

Mannington Hall must be one of Norfolk’s most stunning stately homes – all battlements, moat, rose gardens, lake, woodland and more.

It is the ancestral home of the Walpole family, with Lady Walpole, Laurel, continuing to live there after the death of her husband Robert, ‘Robin’, the 10th Lord Walpole, in 2021. 

Lord Walpole, explains Grace, his youngest daughter, was passionate about the environment, conservation and heritage and was a leading figure both locally and nationally for many years, always advocating a caring and considerate guardianship of both Mannington Hall and Wolterton Hall which were, until 2016, both owned by the family.

Now, as all those with terrific country estates will know, they require a considerable amount of upkeep, usually with a hefty price tag attached. And getting the balance between opening your family home to the public to amass funds to safeguard the future, and maintaining your privacy and the inherent charm of the place, is a tricky path to negotiate.

Grace, now aged 36, returned to Mannington earlier this year. ‘I had been in Kent for about the last 10 years, working as a chef in different restaurants and pubs, and private dining operations,’ she says.

She came back to help run the estate, in particular taking over the hall’s very popular tearoom, and helping to plan appropriate events and activities for the public to enjoy.

‘It is very much our family home and you’ll see mum in the ticket office, selling the tickets and answering the phone, and my brother washing up in the tea room. There isn’t a mass of staff – no butlers, chauffeurs or anything,’ Grace laughs, dispelling any thoughts of a Downton Abbey existence.

The hall, built in the mid 15th century, already takes part in An Invitation to View, run by the Historic Houses organisation, which offers an exclusive look around the hall, to unseen places, and with a dedicated guide, usually Lady Walpole herself. It is also a popular wedding venue, with up to 100 guests catered for on Saturdays.

New plans include a series of ‘taster’ sessions in the spring, with themes including food, wellbeing and gardening, and Grace providing refreshments.

Grace also says she would like to see more one-off events such as an art evening as her mother is very knowledgeable about the hall’s extensive art collection. ‘She has lived at the hall for more than 40 years and knows so much – and people love to hear her talk as she is so passionate.’

Other possibilities include a poetry evening, a music evening, possibly starting up community runs, offering it as a film location, and more, with Grace explaining: ‘Dad loved to share Mannington; he loved a house full of people, he was always telling us to bring our friends home, and he loved showing people around the house – just as my mum does, too. So we are really just continuing that.’

She adds: ‘We have run garden tours, especially in the rose garden, which are popular, and held art exhibitions in some of our garden buildings. It is a case of working out what we can manage and what might be popular. I’d also like to hold some cookery demonstrations in the tea room, using estate produce, and maybe look to create, say, our own gin, with roses from the garden, and maybe a jam and something like cider vinegar as we have so many apples in the autumn!’

Grace, who went to school in Canterbury, and studied marketing and PR at Leeds university, has always been interested in food, saying; ‘It was very much our family’s thing. We all sat down for dinner together and dad was very much of the conviction that we should all eat the same things. It  was always seasonal and always local – Cromer crab comes to mind and lots of things from the garden. And I remember it was Weetabix, or bread if we didn’t like it!’

She enrolled in a cookery course at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London and this kick-started her culinary career. ‘I’d worked in various restaurants, waitressing and in the kitchen in London, and really enjoyed it so it seemed like the next step. And from there, I worked at a Jamie Oliver restaurant in Covent Garden which had 500 covers so it was really busy, then I worked in a seafood restaurant in Edinburgh, and spent three months travelling in India which was amazing – I learnt so much.’

At Mannington, she has reinvigorated the tearoom, which opens when the gardens do – Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, from May until the end of September. ‘The gardens open from 11am to 5pm, and we open the tearoom from 11am to 4pm,’ she says.

Cakes are always a popular option, with Grace offering homemade soups, quiches, sandwiches and a very tasty Ploughman’s, all featuring local produce. 

She also runs her own catering company called Walpole’s Kitchen, offering private dining options, especially for dinner parties, and is enjoying developing links with local producers and suppliers.

Spring events at Mannington:

Fitness Day, 

January 14 – 10am – 3pm

Gardening Day, 

February 11 – 10am -3pm

Wildlife Day, 

March 23 – 10am – 3pm

Easter Foodie Day, 

April 1 – 10am – 3pm

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