Look closely around the grounds of the 900-year-old Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, and you just might be able to see some strange markings carved into the walls that have gone unnoticed for centuries. They are apotropaic marks, created in order to guard against spirits.
The most common of them is the “daisy wheel”, a hangover from a time in the hall’s history when a belief in witches and superstition was part of everyday life, and when markings like these were hoped to lure and trap evil spirits.
They’re not just there for Hallowe’en – they’re part of Haddon’s rich historic tapestry that is being unlocked by the present incumbents. Lord and Lady Edward Manners and their five-year-old twin sons are the first family to live in the medieval fortified manor house since the 1700s. “Hearing the children’s laughter ring through the halls is a very nice sound,” Lord Manners says. “It brings a fresh spirit to the place.”
The house, with its foreboding fortified exterior, dates from the 12th century. It was first in the Avenell family, then the Vernons’, before an ancestor of Lord Manners, John Manners, married Dorothy Vernon.
“The story goes that Dorothy fell in love with my ancestor John Manners,” he says. “But her father opposed the marriage and basically kept her under lock and key. John Manners would go to the house disguised as a woodsman, and continued to see Dorothy until one day she managed to escape, and they eloped.”
The story grew famous during the Victorian era, which loved a soppy love story, prompting novels and even a Sullivan operetta in its honour. And it’s not the last time the house found fame: it’s since starred in Hollywood films from Pride & Prejudice to Elizabeth to Jane Eyre.
The house survived the Civil War and the War of the Roses, a fate the Manners family’s main seat Belvoir Castle did not share. But from the 1700s Haddon was locked up and remained untouched for more than 200 years. “Because our family had various other places that were more fashionable, and frankly, more comfortable to live,” Lord Manners laughs. “So we could afford to turn the key on it.”
It meant that by the time Lord Manners’ grandfather – Captain John Henry Montagu Manners, 9th Duke of Rutland – inherited the pile, along with the main family home, Belvoir Castle, Haddon was covered with ivy and the beautiful Elizabethan terraced gardens overlooking the river Wye were totally overgrown. “It was a real sleeping beauty, ready to be woken up,” Lord Manners says.
All this means that the hall escaped the modernising touch of the Victorian and Georgian interior designers that many other stately homes suffered. As a result, it has been described as one of Britain’s most important medieval houses still intact today. “Unlike others of a similar age, it wasn’t lived in, so there weren’t any alterations or modernisations,” Lord Manners says. “That’s very unusual.”
Every part of the house is steeped in history. “We have one of the best examples of a medieval kitchen in the country. There are kitchens as old in castles elsewhere, but they’ve all be modernised at some stage.”
Rather than renovate the Tudor-era kitchens, the 9th Duke built new ones in the stable block, “meaning we kept the 17th-century trough and a 16th-century oak table just as they were.” Still now almost everything inside the hall predates 1600. “Once you step in the front door, you step back in time,” he says.
The interiors are the most special part of the house, in particular, the tapestries. In the banqueting hall hangs a huge tapestry with Edward IV’s coat of arms on a millefleur background, given to one of Lord Manners’ ancestors by Henry VIII. “It looks like a great flowery meadow with a huge coat of arms. It’s always been in this room and it reminds one just how old the place is,” he says.
The 9th Duke started renovations in the Twenties. “It was a huge project that started just after the First World War until 1935,” says Lord Manners. “The whole house was basically maintained but not lived in. It was my grandfather’s plan to live in it for six months of the year, but he died five years after the restoration project was completed.”
Lord Manners knew when he was a teenager that he would one day own Haddon: “My father, when he inherited it, made it clear that my older brother David [now the 11th Duke of Rutland] would inherit Belvoir, and I would be given Haddon.”
He grew up at Belvoir, worked as a banker in London and inherited the house in 1999, aged 34. But for his wife, Gabrielle (known as Lady Edward), who had her own lingerie business in London, it took a bit more getting used to. “She was a real London girl,” he says, “but she’s adapted marvellously.”
Lady Edward now runs the house openings, events and weddings. This is just part of their multi-faceted modern business, with the aim of “generating some income to fit with the whole ethos of the estate without being too commercial,” Lord Manners says.
And crucially, it is to continue renovating the Grade I listed house sensitively. “I commissioned a 30-year restoration plan when I took over, from chimneys down to the drainage and everything in between, so I know what needs to be done and in which order.”
The gardens were restored by the designer Arne Maynard, but the modernisation plan doesn’t yet include central heating. “It’s quite parky in the winter,” Lord Manners laughs. “But we pile on jumpers and close the doors.” And stay on guard for any ghostly knocks.
Evening Hallowe’en Tours at Haddon Hall will take place on Oct 29 and 31 (£29; haddonhall.co.uk)