View of The Old Museum guarded by the seven Sekhmets.

View of The Old Museum guarded by the seven Sekhmets

The Present (1)

Shadows of the Past

Didlington is a historic estate, privately owned, some eight miles from Swaffham in Breckland, previously West Norfolk. It is made up of parkland, farmland, woodland and fifty acres of intricately cut lakes. It is a peaceful and tranquil place; home to badgers, wild otters, and herds of fallow deer.

But the Hall itself is long gone. Pulled down in the 1950s, all that remains is a meandering maze of brick foundations, and maybe a cellar or two, all now filled in and lost under the grass. However after sixty five years of dereliction the current owners are in the process of building a new Manor House; a pretty neo-classical pavilion which sits immediately on the site of the old Hall overlooking the lakes. Over the last two decades they have restored the flint gothic folly which sits high on a mound between the two main lakes, the boathouse, the changing rooms for the bathing pool, the clock tower, the Edwardian stables, and the coach house; all original Tyssen-Amherst features of the park. Amongst these remnants of the past the ghosts still linger...

If you stop a moment and listen very carefully, you might hear the sound of children laughing and calling out to each other. Perhaps you will wonder whether the children are hiding deep in the nearby woods. Maybe they are children of the second millenium, but maybe they are not. It is possible that you are listening to echoes of the past. Maybe if you close your eyes and then open them again you will see the great house standing at the head of the lakes. If you wait and watch quietly enough, perhaps a group of laughing girls will appear, running and skipping out from the shadows of the trees. They move so fast it is hard to count how many there are. One, two, three..., maybe six. No, there's still another: a smaller girl hurtles out from beneath the trees and races up the steps as if she were being chased by the devil himself.

'Oh,there you are at last, Bea,' calls the tallest child, 'we were getting worried. Come on, Fardie is waiting. He said to find him in the museum.' The group of seven, turn right, and walking now, straighten their pinafores and pat their hair into place as they go. Without a glance they pass by the seven statues which line the East Wing, and shortly they disappear round the far corner of the house.

However if you could look carefully at those statues you would see how foreign they appear in that quintisentially English park. Seven Sekhmet goddesses, each with a human body and the head of a lioness, sit in the Norfolk sunshine, dreaming of sand and the great river, heavy with dark brown silt, which once swirled about their feet and brought life to the people who carved them.

six of the Sekhmets in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Six of the Sekhmets in the Metropolitan Museum, New York

Since then those seven statues have continued their journey round the world. Now they stand in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Currently the seventh Sekhmet is on loan to another museum.

This is the story of a family who had immense wealth and privilege. They also had duties and responsibilities which they fulfilled to the very best of their abilities. They lived in an ordered world and believed whole-heartedly in God, Monarch and Empire. Didlington Hall was visited by many eminent people of the day. The Prince of Wales shot there regularly, Rider Haggard found the inspiration for 'She' in a statue in the Museum. While the library was home to one of the most important private collections of early printed books; indeed amongst many other treasures, it contained seventeen Caxtons.

However perhaps the most well-known visitor to Didlington Hall was the young Howard Carter. As a boy he accompanied his father, a well-respected animal artist, Samuel Carter when he came to work at Didlington. Howard spent hours in the museum amongst the extraordinary collection of Egyptian artefacts collected by the Amhersts. It was there he became fascinated with Egypt, and began the journey which eventually led him to the tomb of Tutankhamun.