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Masses to see at (Dunham) Massey
Dunham Massey (Manchester)
Member Name: SWSt
Dunham Massey (Manchester)
Advantages: Lots to see - massive house, parklands and garden, well-preserved, good room guides
Disadvantages: Sterile musty museum like feel, variable quality information, expensive
Dunham Massey is an extensive Georgian property sitting between Warrington and Manchester. It was home to one of the most influential families in the area and (at times) the kingdom before it was handed to the National Trust in 1976.
Dunham Massey is fairly easy to find. The simplest way is to take the A56 towards Altrincham. It's also pretty accessible from the M6 or the M56 and once you get close, it's well-signed with lots of the usual National Trust brown signs, making it hard to miss.
A Brief History Lesson
Dunham Massey is the ancestral home of the Earls of Warrington and Stamford, remaining in the same family from the 1600s until the late 1970s, when the last Earl died and handed the property over to the National Trust. Since then, it has been opened as one of the north west's biggest stately homes, with an extensive set of formal gardens and parklands (full of deer) as an added attraction.
It's Quite Roomy Then!
The first thing to say about Dunham Massey is that it is absolutely huge and you need to allow yourself a good chunk of time to look around it. The property has 108 rooms in total and whilst not all of these are open to the public, a significant number are. The house seems to go on for ever, with new rooms off every corridor. Quite how the people who lived and worked there ever found their way around is beyond me! I would say you need to allow yourself at least two hours to wander around the whole property - even longer if you like to stop and admire things in detail. And all that is before you've wandered around the formal gardens, deer park and mill.
Each room is packed with furniture and, unusually for a house of this age and size, almost all of it belongs at Dunham and was bought and used by the family at some point. This is now quite rare these days, as many families sold their possessions over the years to pay for the upkeep of the property, or as it went out of fashion.
One nice aspect was that, where possible, you were given greater freedom to wander around the rooms, not just stare at things from behind a roped-off area. Where conservation issues allowed, rooms were just open and, as long as you didn't touch, you could go where you wished.
Despite all of this, I never really warmed that much to Dunham. Reflecting its long use as a real home, The house was a hotch-potch of different styles of furnishings. The fact that the furniture is native to Dunham should make it more appealing, but oddly, this mix of style works against it. Dunham felt rather empty and soulless to me. It had a very sterile feel and felt more like a musty old museum than a grand stately home that was once full of life. Somehow it felt sad, empty and abandoned and left me feeling a little melancholy.
Our visit didn't get off to the best of starts thanks to a rather officious, jobs-worth woman on the main door. She didn't exactly make us feel very welcome, demanding to see our tickets and then partially castigating us for standing in the open doorway when it was raining. She then sent one poor family (with a young baby) all the way back across the courtyard in the pouring rain because - even though they were National Trust members and could show their cards - they hadn't picked up a white Dunham ticket from the main ticket office.
Thankfully, she was something of a one-off and the rest of the guides were actually rather good. They were friendly and knowledgeable but, unlike some properties, not intrusive. They tended to stay in the background, but willing to answer your questions when asked, and I saw several engaged in interesting discussions with visitors about particular rooms.
Elsewhere, A4 sheets were available in each room to tell you about specific things. These were slightly variable. In some rooms they were very good, giving you lots of information about the history and development in that room; in others the information was quite sparse and rather dull.
It was also frustrating that there were lots of things (particularly pictures) about which there was no information at all. Who were the people in the pictures? Who painted them? When? Why? Where? These were all things I would have like to have known, but I'll be forever left in the dark.
Once you have finished in the house, you can go for a walk around the parklands or the formal gardens, which in themselves will take quite a while. The nature of the gardens will obviously differ, depending on the time of year you go, but they were certainly packed with plants and flowers of all kinds. This is really not my kind of thing at all, but Mrs SWSt was in her element. The parklands, meanwhile, are full of very tame deer that will let you get very close before they amble off. It was tipping it down with rain on the day we went, so our use of the gardens and parklands was fairly limited, but I do know from past experience how pleasant they are to walk around. We also didn't visit the mill at the property, so I can't comment on that at all.
Dunham Massey is one of those properties you need to be a little bit careful with and check the opening hours before you go. During the summer period, the house is open from 11:00-17:00 Mondays-Thursdays, but does not open at all on Fridays or Saturdays. The mill is open 12-4pm Mondays to Thursdays, the gardens 11:00-17:30 each day and the parkland 09:00-17:30 daily. Confusing, eh? Throw in shorter times for the Autumn/winter months and you can see why I suggest you check before you go!
Dunham Massey is one of the more expensive properties around, costing £10.35 for an adult for the whole property (£5.20 for children) and still a whopping £7.20 if you just want to do the gardens (£3.60 for children). This is a lot and can soon become expensive for a family. We got in for free as National Trust members, so it wasn't too bad.
In fairness, you do get a lot for your money - a big, well-furnished house, extensive gardens and parklands and a mill. Even so, I can't help but feel that it's rather over-priced and if I'd paid to get in, I think I might have been left with a sense of mild disappointment
Facilities & Access
Dunham Massey is pretty well off for facilities. There is a fairly extensive restaurant/tearoom, which provides a variety of food ranging from hot or cold snacks and sandwiches to full meals. Prices are fairly reasonable and although we only had a scone and some coffee, it was very nice. There's also an area of the restaurant set aside as a kid's play area, which is a nice touch. This is set apart from the main restaurant, so that the children can be as noisy as they like without disturbing other visitors and parents can sit in there with them to eat and keep an eye on them.
Toilets are provided on site (although only in one location) and the ubiquitous shop is quite a lot larger than many other properties and sells a wider range of things beyond the traditional NT stuff.
On the whole, I enjoyed my visit to Dunham, although I might have felt slightly disappointed had I paid full price for entry. There's a lot to see and masses of rooms to investigate, but the slightly sterile, empty feel got to me after a while. It had been about 20 years since I last visited the house and whilst I don't regret going, I can well see if being another 20 years before I feel the need to go back.
© Copyright SWSt 2013
Summary: Worth a visit, but not a patch on other properties