Explore life below stairs with Ickworth Lives

Ickworth Lives is a project that restored our historic basement back to the condition it was in 1910, when Lady Theodora Hervey used her inheritance to improve the conditions for her family's servants.

Our renovation story starts in 2008 when we were fortunate to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Wolfson Foundation, Biffa Award, Suffolk County Council Corporate Regeneration Fund, The Worshipful Company of Grocers, The Scarfe Foundation and many other generous donors from all walks of life which enabled us to open this space for you to visit.

Following hundreds of hours of interviews from the servants who lived and worked at Ickworth in the early 1900s our basement took shape. We opened in March 2012 and the basement now helps us to tell the complete story of how the servants and the resident Hervey family lived during their time here. Today as you step back in time below stairs you can experience the basement as it would have been in the mid 1930s bringing to life the stories of the servants of that time.

    Explore our basement secrets

    Senior servants

    Enjoy a fascinating insight into our Rotunda basement, used mainly when the Hervey family held grand entertainments and shooting parties. The family as a routine actually lived in the East wing; the basement rooms and kitchens in the Rotunda were only used when the family was entertaining, so you can imagine the gossip when their guests' servants were visiting.

    In our basement enjoy a real hands on experience. You can open the drawers and have a rummage, pick up the china and even sit back and relax with a 1930's newspaper or magazine. You can tap out a letter on an original 1930's typewriter - best question we've had is 'where's the screen'; you can bash out a tune on the piano or while away your time playing a few games. And throughout the year we bring the basement to life on special Living History days.


    Visit on Living History days

    On Living History days our volunteer interpreters bring the basement to life by re-enacting a day in the life of the servants who lived and worked in the basement in the 1930s. They won't talk to you but you can follow their ghostly footsteps whilst eavesdropping on all the gossip and goings on for the day. Will the Hall Boy manage to steal some of the cooks' cakes, or perhaps he'll get caught writing a secret love note?

    Throughout the year there's 20 Living History days where they'll re-enact different occasions such as 'Empire day', 'summer picnics' and 'start of the shoot'. These are great days to immerse yourselves in a life past.

    Cooking up a treat in the kitchen

    Ivan Day trains student cooks at Ickworth, Suffolk

    Slightly different to our Living History days, we've a number of days when our cooks will be cooking up a treat in the kitchen in full costume. However you'll be able to chat with them about their work, their training with food historian Ivan Day, and discover the secrets and stories of the basement kitchen in the 1930s. They’ll also be showing off a whole range of baking skills throughout the year, themed by the traditional kitchen offerings in a house such as this. A mouthwatering day to visit.

    Listen to the memories

    Lily Thrower, an Ickworth servant in the 1930s, returns to Ickworth when the basement launched in 2012

    To bring the basement's stories to life, we recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with surviving servants, family members and friends who used to live and work here during the 1900s. As you wander the basement you'll hear clips and extracts of their experiences. Here's a few clips from servants Ida Ramsey and Margaret Doyle and Hervey family member Lady Mary MacRae.

    Authentic costumes

    The sewing circle is a dedicated team of volunteers who handcrafted all of the costumes used on our Living History days, helping us to bring the basement to life - and to keep the volunteers warm in authentic style in the depths of winter.

    They continue to make costumes for our team as we gradually extend our Living History to the outdoor gardeners and foresters.

    Along with the 1930s costumes our talented sewers have made a number of Georgian and Edwardian costumes and continue to be involved with new projects for the house, along with making the odd curtain or two. We'll have a couple of open days in 2014 where you can see their work.

    Join in

    Would you love to join in and become a part of our team?

    You could become a Living History re-enactor, buggy driver, room guide, tour guide, gardener, conservator or administrator and this is just a few of the ways in which you could join our fantastic volunteers who have been helping at Ickworth since 1956.

    Today we've almost 400 volunteers from all sorts of backgrounds helping us look after this amazing place. We'd love to hear from you if you like to join us.