With every annual trip, the National Trust has continued to impress me with their family-friendly programs. At Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire, I discovered a spotless changing table and rocking chair. During a tour of Basildon Park, which “Downton Abbey” fans will recognize as the family’s London residence, we were offered a baby carrier if we wanted to explore the stroller-unfriendly upper floors of the 18th century home.
At Barrington Court in Somerset, where parts of the television series “Wolf Hall” had been filmed, volunteers didn’t mind as our son endlessly toddled up and down a wood-paneled hallway. On our most recent trip in August to Winston Churchill’s family home Chartwell, our son was delighted by the play kitchen in the child-sized playhouse that Churchill built for his own daughters and that the National Trust recently stocked with toys.
As the mother of a now inquisitive preschooler with ninja-like skills at leaping onto antique chairs and fast fingers eager to touch everything new that reaches him, I appreciate even more the risks involved with welcoming children into these homes.
Denise Foster, a manager on a National Trust team to improve visitors’ experiences and a self-described “history nerd,” spent the past seven years working on ways to offer better services for families.
She recognizes that when parents work, these visits are “precious family time where you are building memories together.” Ms. Foster has made sure the cafes have child-sized cutlery and high-chairs that pull up to tables, well-conceived playgrounds, step stools in bathrooms and extra events during school vacations. Volunteers who used to act as guards protecting artifacts are now encouraged to welcome families.
We have an annual family membership that covers more than 500 properties (114.60 pounds, or about $151). Royal Oak Foundation, the U.S. arm of the National Trust, lets visitors buy membership before their trip. We even use National Trust properties as rest stops on long car trips. We broke up one journey and had lunch at The Vyne — a 16th century Tudor Palace in Hampshire, less than an hour’s drive from Heathrow Airport. There our son ran around the grounds and sized up the playground. The grounds we strolled around Dyrham Park, just north of Bath, let our son marvel at herds of deer.
Ms. Foster recognizes that there are limits to how child-friendly she can make homes filled with priceless paintings and furniture. So at homes like at Avebury in Wiltshire, better known as the home of Stonehenge and where the National Trust had produced a television show with the BBC called “The Manor Reborn,” the National Trust kept the replicas after filming finished and welcomed children to play. There my son played peekaboo behind the curtains of a Tudor era bed. Then he ground coffee in a grinder dating from a1912 kitchen and asked why it lacked batteries.
Just as Ms. Foster had hoped, Avebury, along with all of these homes, gave us more memories to add to our own family history.
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