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The Secrets of Beaumanor

I was so pleased when the Bishop Beveridge trips itinerary for this year included one to Beaumanor Hall at Woodhouse. I remember, as a child, that Beaumanor meant mystery. I had a number of school friends who had parents that worked there when all they could tell you was that their fathers worked at Beaumanor but could not say exactly what they did. Since then, there has been more openness about what happened at Beaumanor especially during the Second World War. I was looking forward to actually seeing where the action took place and the work that continued there until the local education authority took ownership of it in 1970.

Twenty odd members of the Bishop Beveridge Club were welcomed by guides who apologised for the disruption caused by the building work being carried out in the main entrance. We were divided into two more manageable groups and went separate ways to begin our journey of discovery.

The tour is split into the inside “stuff” and the outside “stuff”. The first thing that you cannot fail to notice on entering the hall is the magnificent staircase; think, “Gone With the Wind” with an amazing stained glass window back-drop on the first landing. The window itself is not a particularly great artwork but is a fascinating piece of history depicting all the coats-of-arms of the extended families of the Herricks, the last private owners of the hall.

The “inside” tour includes a visit to the labyrinthine cellars where you get a feeling of what life “below-stairs” must have been like. Work would have been extremely tough especially when you were expected to prepare and serve fabulous feasts with such primitive equipment.

After the cellars, we were shown the Victorian school room. Some of us recalled using similar cast iron framed desks in our own school days, a good fifty years after Victoria’s reign! It also evoked memories of messy inkwells with “dip-in” pens that caused huge black blots on your writing paper. However, the Victorian schoolchildren did not have such luxury; they had to manage with a slate and a piece of chalk.

The finale of the inside exploration involved climbing the back stairs, up to the attics which originally provided sleeping-quarters for the servants. Latterly they were used as fairly basic “live-in” accommodation, for those who wanted it, who worked at the listening station, post war, at the rate of 2/6d per week; 12 and a half pence nowadays.

The outside tour consisted of the buildings around the estate that were erected for use by military personnel when Beaumanor was used by the War Office as a “Y” - a listening station. There’s one hut that is still set up with the equipment that would have been used to listen to coded messages from the Germans during WW2. These messages would then have been despatched to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park where they would have been decoded with the help of what we now know as the “Enigma” machine.

The visit, including a break for refreshments, takes approximately two and a half hours, although with all of our reminiscences, we took three. I haven’t included everything that can be seen; you need to book your own trip to make your discovery of Beaumanor’s secrets because there are many more!

Ginnie Willcocks