This is our regular feature introducing you to the LHF committee and active members. This month we feature the LHF Chair, Julia Knight.
What is your job title?
What does your job involve?
Managing the beautiful Ayscoughfee Hall Museum and Gardens in the middle of Spalding. It’s a grade I listed Medieval house set in 5.5 acres of Gardens that act as the town’s park, and also contains a brilliant Café and our Edwin Lutyens-designed War Memorial.
How many staff work with you?
We’ve got four Museum staff and three Gardeners, plus me, so everyone tends to do a bit of everything! I’m not allowed to mow the lawns though, as apparently I can’t keep in a straight line.
What do you love best about your work?
Telling the stories of the people who lived here, and welcoming today’s visitors. I can genuinely say that no two days are the same- one day I can be giving a talk to architectural history experts, and the next feeding the birds in our Aviary. My ethos is that I’d never ask one of my team to do something I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself- apart from cutting the grass!
What is/are your favourite object/s in Ayscoughfee’s collection?
We’ve not got a huge collection, but we do have some fabulous objects. One of my favourites is the Ada Bonner quilt- this is a large handmade embroidered bedspread featuring the name ‘Ada F Bonner’.
The quilt was for sale at achurch jumble sale in Wimbledon, London, and at the end of the day would have been thrown away but for a lovely woman who bought it for £5. She then did some research into Ada F Bonner, and discovered that, in the 1901 census, she lived here at Ayscoughfee Hall. The donor then got in touch with us, drove up from London and donated the quilt to our collection!
We have also recently acquired a collection of ten family portraits of the Johnson family, our longest residents. These include several members, including the notable Maurice Johnson the Second, who had 26 children with his wife, Elizabeth Ambler Johnson! One of the other portraits is a particular favourite though- it depicts Mary Johnson (nee Baker), who married Maurice Johnson the Third. She was born in Soho, and became Housekeeper at Ayscoughfee, marrying Maurice soon after the sad death of his first wife. She’s got a great look, and I’d really like to have met her!
Where are your favourite places on site?
The roof space – the majority of the timbers in the roof are original, and have been dendrochronologically dated to 1451. They are English heart oak, and you can still feel the chisel marks made by the builders, and see the soot marks from the original open fires. It’s always very tranquil in the roof space, and it really makes me feel close to the people who built the Hall- without the use of power tools or metal scaffolding. It makes me feel really lucky to be the custodian of such an important piece of Lincolnshire’s history.
How did Ayscoughfee cope under the lockdown – could it open at all?
The Hall closed in March 2020, and didn’t reopen until September 2021, but we were really fortunate that the Gardens were able to remain open throughout all the lockdowns. We’ve had some lovely feedback from our visitors that they appreciated everything we did in the Gardens, and even that it kept people going spending an hour each day in here!
Tell us one amazing thing about Ayscoughfee Hall.
It belongs to the people of Spalding. When the last owner, Isabella Johnson, sold the Hall and Gardens for £2,000 in 1898, it was placed into a Trust for the people of Spalding, and remains a registered charity today (number 515905). We take this responsibility very seriously, and hope that people enjoy what we do!