Haddon Hall was due to open it’s doors on Thursday 28th March. The weekend before, the snow came, and kept coming. The Monday before we were due to open, there was a good 8 or 9 inches of fresh snow laying all around the house. Definitely picturesque but really not what we wanted to see. Meetings were hastily arranged, and an awful lot of head shaking was done. With no thaw in sight, and constant freezing temperatures, this snow was going nowhere. If we were to stand any chance of opening for Easter, we would need to make arrangements…Fast!
Our main problem was the Car Park; how to get it cleared, and what to do with all the snow we had cleared. It’s too big a job for a man and a snow shovel! Several phone calls later, we had local farmer, Dakin, and his JCB and Wayne, our Woodsman with his snow plough tractor attachment. As Wayne shovelled tonnes of snow into heaps, Dakin expertly scooped it up and deposited it into the field behind. A couple of hours later, the car park was clear, and we could begin to think about the next task.
The driveway would need to be cleared, as would the steps up to the main entrance. Once in the Courtyard, we cleared a path up the steps, along to the chapel and up into the main house. The rest of the Courtyard was roped off for visitor safety. Sadly, we took the decision that the Gardens would remain closed, until we were happy that the paths were clear enough to walk on.
All was well. We could get visitors into the Hall. But the temperature once they were in there was bitter (hostile, was the word our Hall Manager used to describe it!). How could we encourage them to spend to time in the house? And so the next plan was hatched – Let’s serve complimentary drinks down in the old Kitchens! We’d also light as many fires as possible.
When we open at Christmas, it’s cold too. But at least there’s the candles and trees and other festivities to give the house a warm glow. What could we do to inject a little bit of the so sadly lacking Springtime into the Hall?
Head Warden, Jo Walker, to the rescue, with the help of Robert Young, Matlock Florist extrordinaire, she appeared laden with bunches of daffodils, all still very tightly in bud. The Estate Office then became filled with buckets of warm water into which the daffodils were plunged. Jo, with arms akimbo and a solid nod of the head announced “They’ll be out in time for opening!” And indeed they were.
And so Thursday morning arrived. We’d managed it. We were ready to open to visitors, but would anyone want to come out in the cold weather, with a hint of snow still in the air? Well they did. Admittedly, we had a rather select gathering on Thursday, but at least we had some. The rest of the Easter opening saw plenty of visitors, and by Saturday, the snow had melted sufficiently to allow us to open up the gardens.
It was a shaky start to the season, but there’s one thing for certain; it can only get better from here on in!