Two women three hundred years apart, united by one home

The family and architect at the rebuilding of Melford Hall in Suffulk

In 2018, properties across the National Trust are marking the centenary of women first gaining the right to vote with a programme of exhibitions called Women and Power. Melford Hall is a property with a history of interesting female inhabitants and visitors and, in celebration of this, we are remembering the lives of Elizabeth, Countess Rivers and Ulla, Lady Hyde Parker and the impact they had on the house they loved. Two women from very different backgrounds, separated by three hundred years, they are united through their ability to survive in the most challenging of circumstances.

The story of Elizabeth, Countess Rivers, is one of riches to rags. During the early years of the C17th, Elizabeth and her husband Thomas embarked on an ambitious expansion plan for Melford Hall to accommodate their large family and reflect their position at the royal court.  However, in 1642 civil war broke out in England, and not only Countess Rivers, as a Royalist and a Catholic, but Melford Hall itself were in grave danger as Parliamentary forces closed in; the years of success and prosperity were over. However, Elizabeth was a survivor and you can share in the drama of her life and its impact on the house by taking the Countess Rivers Tour or by visiting the North Bedroom.

Get to know Ulla, Lady Hyde Parker through her own words as you explore the house she made her home. You will be able to see how her interest in fabrics and embroidery and traditional Danish papercraft, which references her roots, have been used in telling her story.
Ulla Ditlief Nielsen married Sir William Hyde Parker, the 11th Baronet, in 1932; moving from her home in Copenhagen to live at Melford Hall, she quickly had to learn how to run an English country house. You can share her first impressions of the house in the Great Hall. In the years before the outbreak of World War II, she was able to employ her creativity in the house and garden. A skilled needlewoman, examples of her work are displayed throughout the house.

Sir William introduced his wife to Beatrix Potter, his mother’s cousin, and a firm friendship was established. You can find out about their relationship in Cousin Beattie, a memoir written by Ulla, Lady Hyde Parker after the family stayed with Beatrix Potter in the Lake District in 1940.
In 1942, Ulla, Lady Hyde Parker faced one of the greatest challenges of her life when the North Wing of the house was destroyed in a devastating fire. Less than a decade later, widowed and with two young children, she vowed to complete the restoration of the house that she and her husband had begun. You can see her vision for the house made real when visiting the Dining Room. With the rebuilding completed, Lady Hyde Parker’s concern for the preservation of Melford Hall led her to  approach the National Trust and open the house to visitors. In her Sitting Room, find out how she went about this and promoted the English Country House movement.