Experts give Blickling Hall stairs the sandbag test
Victoria LeggettVisitors to a popular Norfolk National Trust estate could soon follow in the footsteps of its aristocratic owners as work begins to try to open its grand staircase to the public.Victoria Leggett
Visitors to a popular Norfolk National Trust estate could soon follow in the footsteps of its aristocratic owners as work begins to try to open its grand staircase to the public.
Each year thousands of visitors who walk through the doors of Blickling Hall are drawn in by the sight of the impressive wooden steps - only to be shepherded away through another door.
Now the National Trust is testing the 250-year-old main staircase of the property, near Aylsham, to find out whether it is strong enough to be used every day.
Sarah Bowers, regional building manager for the National Trust, said: 'We know it's out of level - it feels a bit strange to walk up, but we are trying to open it up. You walk in and just want to go up there.'
The Brown staircase, currently used by visitors to get from the basement to the first floor, will also be put through its paces to find out if a wooden strengthening support can be removed.
Yesterday, engineers from Price and Myers used a low-tech method to test how much weight the grand staircase can withstand -loading it with bags of sand.
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If they are both found to be sturdy enough, work would then begin to restore them fully.
Louise Green, assistant house steward at Blickling Hall, said the main staircase would have been used by the grand estate's many owners over the years, including the Earl of Buckinghamshire.
She added: 'In 1767, when the Second Earl was here, he made changes. He expanded the Great Hall and brought half of the staircase in from the lower ante room, then made a newer matching half.'
If everything goes to plan, visitors could be walking up the grand main steps, past portraits of key Norfolk figures like first prime minister Robert Walpole, sometime next year.