Sudbury Hall, just off the A50 and close to Ashbourne, was shut for what seemed like a very long time whilst they renovated and expanded the museum. It’s reopened as The Children’s Country House Museum and Gardens… but was it worth the wait? We went pretty soon after it opened to find out. I initially wrote up my visit to Sudbury Hall’s Children’s Country House for the July issue of Derbyshire Life magazine, but also wanted to share it with you here.
The Children’s Country House at Sudbury
Previously called the museum of childhood, Sudbury has rebranded as “The Children’s Country House”. Prior to the rebrand, Sudbury was shut for a long time, admittedly this coincided with lockdown, but I was expecting great things when they reopened.
What to know before and what to expect on arrival
Make sure you book if you want to visit Sudbury Hall. Booking is required, even for National Trust members. The Hall itself is still closed, but the gardens and museum are now open and welcoming visitors at weekends and during the school holidays.
There is a large free car park on the other side of the road to the hall. This is well tarmacked and there are loads of disabled parking spaces. There are plenty of picnic benches here – but also many more inside the Gardens. It’s a five minute walk past the Hall to the entrance, on fairly smooth paths.
The entrance is to the side of the Hall. Immediately you are in a stable block courtyard, there is a café, huge picnic area, toilets etc. The entrance to the museum is on the right hand side, past the toilets.
Inside the museum, there is a buggy park immediately to the left to leave prams, pushchairs etc. There is a lift inside the museum but this seemed to be only for wheelchairs. There are several sets of stairs to navigate otherwise, so just be aware of that if you have toddlers.
Inside the Museum of Childhood at The Children’s Country House, Sudbury Hall
The old museum of childhood has been updated and expanded with several new spaces and experiences. New for 2022 is a giant 3D jigsaw; a space station, with a range of space themed toys and games; and a digital play zone where children can scan their colouring sheets to be projected (like magic!) on to the wall. There’s also a dynamic floor. Leap and jump about to see how it reacts.
We really enjoyed the new features but for the length of time it was shut, I was expecting more to have changed (admittedly, we were being whizzed around by a five year old with an erratic attention span).
The highlights of the museum are the kinaesthetic experiences. In addition to the new features outlined above, the old favourites are still some of the biggest draws. Playful, interactive exhibits highlight the hard realities of childhoods past. Brave young ‘sweeps’ can crawl into the darkness to experience what it would have been like for the real-life chimney sweeps, and venture down a Victorian mine tunnel. Then dress up in period overalls to experience a lesson in a Victorian style classroom.
Older visitors might prefer the gentle nostalgic trip down memory lane with the fascinating display of toys through the ages. Visitors of all generations are able to wander freely through the museum. There is plenty to look at, lots of interactive features and it’s not at all stuffy.
Gardens of Sudbury Hall
Built in the second half of the 17th century, Sudbury Hall has always boasted beautiful formal gardens enjoying a romantic lake side position. The gardens have enjoyed a complete revamp into playful country gardens. The emphasis is now firmly on fun, family friendly days out. New spaces have been created and there’s now much more to see, do and explore.
There is also a much greater emphasis on gardening for conservation, for example a more relaxed approach to mowing to encourage more wildflowers, bees etc – something I whole heartedly approve of.
We particularly enjoyed the traditional sack racing, and the pretty maze created with colourful bunting. Our young daughter adored the grasshopper trail. There are eight colourful grasshopper sculptures hidden throughout the grounds at Sudbury Hall. Spotting them proved a fun focus to exploring the different areas of the gardens. Don’t forget to pick up a free spotting sheet and pencil (which we were asked to return) at the entrance.
Sudbury Hall now boasts amazing picnic facilities. There are numerous different picnic areas dotted around the grounds – literally hundreds of benches. It’s probably the best place for a family picnic in the whole of Derbyshire. There were also some shaded options, both in the stable yard and under the trees just outside. Although there are plenty of benches, taking a blanket or your own chairs would give you even more freedom to choose a perfect secluded spot.
Café at Sudbury Hall
National Trust cafés are much the same anywhere (good scones, reasonable coffee – and a decent selection of sandwiches, light bites etc). The café here doesn’t seem to have changed much except for having much more extensive outside seating.
Most of the indoor seating is up a long flight of stairs. On a busy rainy day, if you were parenting solo, this is far from ideal having to carry your own tray up – especially if you had young kids and all their stuff etc.
However, who doesn’t love a hot coffee and a cake?! Disorganised as ever, we bought sandwiches and a few bits and bobs for lunch. It was about £18 for two adult sandwiches, a kids picnic bag, a can of soft drink and a coffee. It would obviously be much cheaper to take your own picnic, but I justify my disorganisation/laziness by seeing it as a charitable contribution to the work of the National Trust in conserving lovely places like this. I was also quite impressed with the contents of the kids picnic bag.
The traditional gift shop has gone and instead there was a fundraising shop. This is run by volunteers and sells mainly pre-loved books and games but was nicely decorated with a small chill out area for children.
It was refreshing to not have to battle not to buy the inevitable tat, particularly as the shop is in a separate building in the stable yard area, and I think Sudbury should be commended for avoiding the usual ‘exit via the gift shop’ dramas.
Our overall impressions of The Children’s Country House Museum & Gardens at Sudbury Hall
We had a fabulous family day out. All the staff were really lovely, helpful and keen to engage. The outside space is brilliant – lots to explore and amazing picnic facilities. The museum has had a bit of a refresh and is worth a visit if you haven’t been before.
An interesting, educational family day out. The gardens are the highlight – and this is the perfect place for a family picnic on a sunny day.
The Children’s Country House Museum & Gardens at Sudbury Hall, Main Road, Sudbury, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 5HT
Only open at weekends (and most school holidays). Booking is required, even if you’re a National Trust member.
National Trust members are free, otherwise Adults are £11.00, Children are £5.50 (under 5s are free). “Family ticket” £27.50 or 1 adult, 2 children for £16.50.
Ample free parking including lots of disabled spaces.
By bus – Route 401 between Burton and Uttoxeter stops along Main Road, Sudbury.
Facilities include toilets, café and fundraising shop. All of these are located in the stable yard near the entrance.
Well-behaved dogs on short leads are welcome in all areas outdoors. Only assistance dogs are allowed inside the buildings.
The Hall itself remains closed – but is expected to open later this year.
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