Places where children played

Have you ever wondered how the children who lived at our places spent their free time? Did they enjoy hide and seek in the grounds, paddling in the streams or climbing the trees? What toys did they play with? We’ve delved into diaries, books and albums to discover some of the places where they loved to play.

Rudyard Kipling's children John and Elsie at Bateman's

Messing about on the river at Bateman's, East Sussex 

Author Rudyard Kipling’s children Elsie and John loved to play in their boat on the garden pond and on the River Dudwell. Kipling wrote them a spoof ‘Charter of the River’. In it he gave them the right at all times to be ‘free to come and go and look and know - whether shod or barefoot’ by the river. They were also granted ‘rights’ over the birds, beats, reptiles, fishes and insects. You can read about their adventures as they inspired some of Kipling’s books including Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies.

Rosalie Chichester at Arlington with her ponies

Mad about animals at Arlington Court, Devon 

Rosalie Chichester was an animal lover from childhood. She spent hours playing with her pets in the gardens and by the lake at Arlington. A proud owner of mice, birds, a parrot, rabbits and ponies. After inheriting the estate at the age of 16 she eventually left it to us with the wish that it should be used as a wildlife haven. We think she would have been pleased with it today, as a home to lesser horseshoe bats, wild red deer, herons and more. See what wildlife you can spot in the two woodland play areas, bird hide and lake

Queen Victoria as a child with her mother (detail)

A princess's playground, Claremont, Surrey 

The young Queen Victoria described her visits to Claremont as ‘the happiest days in my otherwise dull childhood.’ She often stayed at her Uncle Leopold’s estate near London. On one visit she was presented with two little Shetland ponies that she adored. As a young girl she enjoyed exploring and sketching pictures of the house and sweeping gardens with its lake, grottoes and haha. Picture the princess at play as you explore the gardens for yourself.

Three members of the Agar-Robartes family cycling at Lanhydrock

Playing on bikes at Lanhydrock, Cornwall 

There were nine children who lived and played at Lanhydrock, Cornwall in Victorian times. They were members of the Agar-Robartes family who moved there in the late 19th century. They loved riding their horses and bicycles around the parkland of the estate. They also enjoyed games like cricket and tennis and swimming in the pool that used to be there. Some of the trails they used still exist so you can hire a bike or bring your own and try it out for yourself.

The Meinertzhagen family moved to Mottisfont in 1890

Wild adventures at Mottisfont, Hampshire 

The ten children who moved into Mottisfont in 1890 loved the ancient trees, bubbling brooks and rolling lawns. One of the ten, Richard Meinertzhagen, wrote: ‘We… were allowed to run wild and amuse ourselves … we had ample horses and ponies to ride, a huge area of country over which we could wander at will and many miles of the most beautiful river in England where we could fish or bathe.’ Today you can enjoy the Wild Play Trail we have created to keep a sense of adventure alive.

Children at the wartime nursery at Rainham Hall

Wartime playtime at Rainham Hall, London 

The nursery set up at Rainham Hall during the war was a haven for children. Their mothers would bring their children here so they could help in the war effort. Many drove ambulances, worked in bomb factories and various other jobs. The children loved playing with nursery’s wooden toys, made following wartime government issue instructions. The children also enjoyed running around the grounds, playing on the see-saw and swings.

Phylliss Beale on the trolley at Standen

Swimming and whizzing at Standen, West Sussex 

The 12 acre garden at Standen was heaven for the seven Beale children who lived here in the late 19th century. They used to take it in turns to hurtle down the bank of Standen’s exotic gardens in a trolley. You can still see the trolley in the house today.They also loved bathing in the swimming pond which has recently been dug out again. Our gardeners have replanted the surrounding area as it would have been at that time.

Image of aliens attacking from book of HG Wells' War of the Worlds

Dreaming of space at Uppark 

As a young boy, famous science fiction author HG Wells was inspired by stargazing. He used to spend his school holidays at Uppark in West Sussex where his mother was housekeeper. He would look out of his bedroom window in the Georgian mansion set high up on the South Downs. Peering through his telescope at the night sky, his imagination was ignited. His adventures exploring the servants' tunnels are said to have influenced his book ‘The Time Machine’.

Children having a snail race on the pavement at a National Trust site.

50 things to do before you're 11¾ 

Fancy running free in the fresh air, learning new skills and trying new things? Grab your gear and start your adventure.