View of The Old Museum guarded by the seven Sekhmets.

View of The Old Museum guarded by the seven Sekhmets

The Present (1)

Shadows of the Past

Didlington is a historic estate, privately owned, some eight miles from Swaffham in Breckland, previously West Norfolk. It is made up of parkland, farmland, woodland and fifty acres of intricately cut lakes. It is a peaceful and tranquil place; home to badgers, wild otters, and herds of fallow deer.

The Hall itself is long gone. Pulled down in the 1950s, all that remains is a meandering maze of brick foundations, and maybe a cellar or two, all now filled in and lost under the grass. However after sixty five years of dereliction the current owners are in the process of building a new Manor House; a pretty neo-classical pavilion which sits immediately on the site of the old Hall overlooking the lakes. Over the last two decades they have restored the flint gothic folly which sits high on a mound between the two main lakes, the boathouse, the clock tower, the Edwardian stables, and the coach house; all original Tyssen-Amherst features of the park. Amongst these remnants of the past the ghosts still linger... even the statues that once guarded the Museum wing seem to have left their mark.

If you had looked carefully at those statues you would have seen how foreign they appeared in that quintisentially English park. Seven Sekhmet goddesses, each with a human body and the head of a lioness, sat in the Norfolk sunshine, dreaming of sand and the great river, heavy with dark brown silt, which once swirled about their feet and brought life to the people who carved them.

six of the Sekhmets in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Six of the Sekhmets in the Metropolitan Museum, New York

Since then those seven statues have continued their journey round the world. Now six stand in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The seventh Sekhmet is on loan to another museum.

This is the story of a family who had immense wealth and privilege. They also had duties and responsibilities which they fulfilled to the very best of their abilities. They lived in an ordered world and believed whole-heartedly in God, Monarch and Empire. Didlington Hall was visited by many eminent people of the day. The Prince of Wales shot here regularly, Rider Haggard is said by some to have found the inspiration for 'She' in a statue in the Museum. The library was home to one of the most important private collections of early printed books; indeed amongst many other treasures, it contained no less than seventeen Caxtons, however the greatest literary treasure was undoubtedly the Gutenberg Bible. This was William Tyssen-Amherst's most prized treasure. The bible was printed in 1456 by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz in Germany. Only 49 are known to survive to this day. It is widely thought to be perhaps the most beautiful work of printing the world has ever known. William bought the bible for £500, the last time it was sold was in 1987 when it went for $5.4 million.

However perhaps one of the most famous visitors to Didlington Hall was the young Howard Carter. As a boy he accompanied his father, a well-respected animal artist, Samuel Carter when he came to work at Didlington. Howard spent hours in the museum amongst the extraordinary collection of Egyptian artefacts collected by the Amhersts. It was there he became fascinated with Egypt, and began the journey which eventually led him to the tomb of Tutankhamun.