17 bedrooms, a safari park and a well-run home - the 'regular' life of the Countess of Derby
Sept. 12, 2019
The Countess of Derby opened the doors of Knowsley Hall to talk about her life and work
Driving over the motorway and onto a leafy George Hale Avenue, the hustle and bustle of life in the borough of Knowsley is quite literally left behind.
Some 2,500 acres of breathtaking country land and a 17-bedroom stately home lies behind the grand main gates of Knowsley Estate, which many would not expect to find in Merseyside.
The Earls of Derby have played an intricate part in Knowsley's history and that of Britain as a whole, with Lord Thomas Stanley being made the 1st Earl of Derby in 1485, after the Battle of Bosworth.
And the rich history of the family and the estate cannot be missed when looking at the elegant Georgian facade of Knowsley Hall or the historic art works that still hang in the many rooms and corridors around the property.
But like any home, the hall requires care and plays a huge role in day-to-day work and family life.
It is here, in the Walnut Drawing Room, that Caroline, Countess of Derby, is sitting surrounded by plush patterned curtains and antique furniture.
She says: "I try not to be overwhelmed by the scale of it, because obviously everything is so much bigger than a normal-sized house or a normal-sized garden or a normal-sized park.
"Once you get used to the scale of it, you have the same problems but it's bigger plumbing and bigger gardening problems.
"I think it's been really good for my children to grow up here, so they are very comfortable with what they have to take on, particularly my eldest son.
"He is devoted to the place and really enjoys just wandering round and talking to everyone and being part of the community."
'I have not got a huge thirst for fame'
For the Countess of Derby, there is no such thing as an average day on Knowsley Estate and plans and schedules can quickly become ambushed.
But her role both in the household and out in the community remains a priority.
She says: "My role is sort of quieter than my husband's.
"He is involved in over 120 institutions and charities in the area, so I wouldn't actually see him at all if I had my own public life.
"I'm not interested in having a huge public life, I believe charity begins at home and that a well-run house makes for a well-run home.
"For events to be put on in this house, the house has to be run-well. I would say that is my primary role and being available for my children."
Unlike some other people with titles, she is not interested in seeking celebrity.
She says: "I have not got a huge thirst for fame so I'm not going to be doing Strictly Come Dancing like Emma the Viscountess of Weymouth, who is amazing.
"I wouldn't have the confidence to do that.
'I'm a regular person. I don't have enough sleep'
"I love horses, children, dogs, travel... I'm a regular person. I don't have enough sleep, don't have enough time off all those things."
The Countess of Derby has been heavily involved with Alder Hey Children's Hospital for 20 years and as president of the children's charity has worked closely with the oncology unit, the building of the new hospital and hosting fundraising events.
She is also involved with children's hospice Zoe's Place, in West Derby , and nature charity The Acorn Centre.
The Knowsley Hall estate is also best known locally for its safari park , which has been open since 1971.
The Countess of Derby says: "I love the Safari Park because every day something different happens, there's a birth or the vet gets very involved with something.
"They all care so much about the animals and I'm particularly proud of how the life in the wild is replicated.
"They are wild animals, not caged and living a wild life as much as we can offer - and they have got a huge amount of space for that."
A connection to animals runs back into the Derbys' family past. Edward Smith Stanley, the 13th Earl of Derby, owned a menagerie of animals that is famous for having been painted by artist and nonsense poet Edward Lear, who penned The Owl and the Pussycat while staying at the hall.
And Knowsley Hall will open its doors to visitors this month for tours of the building and an exhibition of the family's equestrian paintings entitled A Passion for the Turf.
The Countess is a competing dressage rider and won a national title last week.
As well as paintings, on display this month will be an exceptional collection of The Countess of Derby’s haute couture racing outfits and feature pieces by German designer Ulrich Engler, who she met while at London University 30 years ago.
She says: "In the present generation we've already had now we've won the Oaks and bread a Derby winner, which most people would dream of.
"To be a small time owner continuing that family tradition has been amazing.
"One day we'd love to win the Derby. It's the Queen's lifelong passion to win the Derby but she hasn't yet. So maybe this year or next year."
Another of the Countess' passions is history. She is currently researching the Derby family's links with Shakespeare who is said to have visited Knowsley and has inspired the development of a new theatre in Prescot.
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She says: "The Prescot Playhouse is obviously a project that we're all so excited about and involved with.
"We're going through all the archives here to find any nugget of information on Shakespeare."
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