1944 - 2019: 75 year anniversary with the National Trust

Newspaper article from the Daily Telegraph in 1944 about Gunby being saved

This year we celebrate that 75 years ago, in 1944, Gunby Hall was gifted to the National Trust. Explore the fascinating story of how Gunby was nearly lost, but eventually saved for the nation.

1942 A battle with the Air Ministry

Diana Montgomery-Massingberd inherits the Gunby Estate from her mother Emily in 1925. In 1936, when her husband, Field Marshal Archibald (Archie) Montgomery-Massingberd retires, they move into Gunby Hall.

The many trees surrounding Gunby in 1942
Aerial photo of Gunby Hall in 1942
The many trees surrounding Gunby in 1942

But in 1942 they're forced to embark upon a battle with the Air Ministry: the Spilsby airfield will soon start using heavy bombers, which means it requires more space from private properties in the area, including nearby Gunby Hall.

Lots of trees need to be cut down and there are rumours that the house needs to be demolished too.

" Many rather alarming rumours however reached me, and Lady Massingberd and I became extremely alarmed regarding not only about the trees but about the house itself"
- Field Marshal Montgomery-Massingberd

Archie writes to anyone who he thinks may be able to help, including King George VI's secretary and the National Trust.

Cover of the original document that Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd wrote about nearly losing Gunby
Cover of the original document that Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd wrote about nearly losing Gunby
Cover of the original document that Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd wrote about nearly losing Gunby

1943 Invitation for James Lees-Milne

In March 1943 Archie invites the Country House Secretary of the National Trust, James Lees-Milne to see if he can help save Gunby and give advice.

" They are such dear people…I would walk to the ends of the earth to help them.."
- James Lees-Milne, Diary entry for Thursday 25 March 1943

But in the meantime in April 1943 the Air Ministry changes their mind about the location of the airfield's extension and Gunby is saved!

Portrait of James Lees-Milne, Country House Secretary of the National Trust 1936 - 1950
Portrait of James Lees-Milne, Country House Secretary of the National Trust 1936 - 1950
Portrait of James Lees-Milne, Country House Secretary of the National Trust 1936 - 1950

After the ‘near miss’ of losing their house, Archie and Diana are so worried about the future, that they again approach James Lees-Milne from the National Trust.

" The Field Marshal and Lady Massingberd […] were so pleased [that the property was saved from demolition] that they decided to make the property over to the National Trust there and then. They declared that once this happened it would be more difficult for the Ministry to change its mind, which otherwise it was capable of doing. "
- James Lees-Milne, secretary of the Country Houses Committee of the National Trust 1936 - 1950

1944 Gunby is saved for the nation

In 1944 Archie, Diana and her cousin Norman Leith-Hay-Clark - as trustees of Gunby - sign a deed of gift transferring Gunby Hall, its 1,500-acre estate and large parts of the collection into the care of the National Trust.

The signed contract of the hand-over of Gunby to National Trust in 1944
The signed contract of the hand-over of Gunby to National Trust in 1944
The signed contract of the hand-over of Gunby to National Trust in 1944

1944 - 2019: 75 year anniversary

This year we celebrate Gunby’s 75 year anniversary with the National Trust.

Thanks to the generous donation of the Massingberd family Gunby was saved for the nation
Field Marshall and Lady Montgomery-Massingberd on a bench at Gunby
Thanks to the generous donation of the Massingberd family Gunby was saved for the nation

Explore an exhibition in the first floor sitting room to find out more about how Gunby was nearly lost and then saved and who stood to inherit Gunby after Archie and Diana.

Gunby's Music Room looked elegant in 1944
The Music Room at Gunby as it was in 1944
Gunby's Music Room looked elegant in 1944

When visiting the house, look out for photos that show what the rooms looked like 75 years ago. Leaf through the inventory from 1944 to find out which pieces of the collection were gifted to the National Trust and which ones were 'reserved' by the Massingberd family.

See if you can find six photos on display in the gardens - what are the differences from 75 years ago?

In 1944 there was a water feature at the back of the house - can you spot the outline of it on the lawn today?
Massingberd family members at the back of Gunby Hall in 1944
In 1944 there was a water feature at the back of the house - can you spot the outline of it on the lawn today?

'Us' art installation by Michael Sanders

Don't miss 'Us' an art installation in the Servants' Hall by artist and Gunby tenant Michael Sanders. Find out more about the people who made Gunby their place to live and work - now and 75 years ago - and their relationship with the Massingberd family.

Explore 'Us' an art installation by Michael Sanders that includes a model village of the Gunby Estate
Art installation at Gunby by Michael Sanders
Explore 'Us' an art installation by Michael Sanders that includes a model village of the Gunby Estate

You can enjoy the anniversary exhibitions and photos until 28 October. The house is open Saturday to Wednesday (closed on Thursdays and Fridays).