The team at Sulgrave Manor has big plans ahead of the 2019 visitor season, made all the more possible thanks to a £73,000 grant.
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s support will allow the creation of a dedicated exhibit for George Washington, whose ancestors lived at the manor.
Sulgrave Manor Trust chief executive Alison Ray hopes the distinction between the first US president and the wealth of Tudor history on offer will mean a better experience for visitors.
“The project title for HLF was Sharing Sulgrave Stories so it’s about making it clearer and more entertaining for our visitors by splitting those stories out,” she said.
“As sometimes it can be a little bit complicated when you’re talking about Tudor life and you’ve got a portrait of George Washington looking over you.”
The US Founding Father’s collection will be in the courtyard building so the house will be focused on the Washingtons of the 16th century.
Lawrence Washington, a rich wool merchant, bought the manor from the Crown in 1539.
Ahead of the trust’s centenary, the team wants to try out different ideas and expand on parts of the house’s history that are not as well known, especially its connections to the local area.
Alison said: “2019 and 2020 are our big build-ups so we’re testing ideas and implementing new displays ready for our centenary in 2021.
“The house was first opened as a museum by the trust in 1921 so we feel that we need to be celebrating that and the fact that we’re still here 100 years later despite our financial challenges.”
The opening 98 years ago was seen as a symbol of friendship between the UK and US which the trust endeavours to continue. Not just the ‘special relationship’ but also how individuals act towards each other.
“I think that’s very important, more than ever, now that we’re encouraging understanding between nations, it’s very relevant today in a way they didn’t foresee in 1921. Not just America just generally, people understanding differences and not being scared of them and celebrating the things that we share,” Alison said.
The run-up to the new season has seen a lot of external restoration work to the manor to make sure it is ready for the thousands of visitors from schools and abroad set to come from April 11.
New additions include smells and sounds to the exhibition as well as activities in the house and a refresh for the displays.
The team hopes the changes and renovations will encourage more locals to visit as they believe they have so much to tell people.
Alison said: “We have people getting married here who came when they were five and actually there’s quite a lot more to Sulgrave than a school visit and a wedding venue.
“So we’re hoping to inspire people to come back for a visit with their family and see some of those stories and learn a bit more.”