Northumberland's answer to the Sistine Chapel waives admission fee for reopening

For the first time ever, a Northumberland museum will have no admission charge when it opens its doors on May 17.

By Ian Smith
Friday, 14th May 2021, 11:30 am

Trustees of Lady Waterford Hall, a museum in Ford village on Ford & Etal Estates, felt it was important to give something back to the community after such a challenging year.

The humble Victorian schoolroom is adorned with giant Pre-Raphaelite murals that run from shoulder-height to ceiling.

Vicky Smith-Lacey, curator at Ford & Etal Estates, said: “We want as many people as possible to come and be inspired by Lady Waterford’s ‘great experiment’.”

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Lady Waterford Hall in Ford is not charging admission fees when it reopens.

Lady Louisa Waterford was a Pre-Raphaelite artist and philanthropist, who associated with the famous names of the Pre-Raphaelite movement; Ruskin, Rossetti and Holman-Hunt. She was an artist of some repute and the Royal Collection is home to some of her paintings.

Lady Waterford (1818-1891) made Ford Castle her home after the death of her husband, Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquis of Waterford in 1859. She devoted her time to improving the lot of her tenants, financing the construction of Ford village, building housing and a school to educate children.

At the same time, she began her ‘great experiment’, producing 16 vast watercolour murals to decorate the walls of the schoolroom, using local people as models.

The paintings depict bible scenes and were designed to help educate the children. It took 21 years to complete this mammoth undertaking.

Lady Waterford Hall, Ford.

Despite this astonishing creation Louisa’s work remains little known, as is often the case with history’s great female artists.

The museum also houses many other paintings by Lady Waterford, as well as sketches and preparatory work for the giant murals.

Ford school moved to new premises in 1957, but there are still people living on Ford & Etal Estates who attended primary school here and remember their days there with great fondness.

Renamed Lady Waterford Hall after the closure of the school, a charitable trust was set up to safeguard this important artwork and building, and it was opened to the public.

Murals in Lady Waterford Hall, Ford.

Lady Waterford Hall does not operate at a profit, entrance fees go towards covering staffing and maintenance costs. However, it is hoped that those who can afford it will make a donation toward the upkeep of this local treasure.

Lady Waterford Hall will be open daily, 11am-5pm, last entry at 4.30pm.

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One of the murals.