Woman and Home, August 2010
Influential Women IN HERITAGE
Emma Pritchard hears from the women who hold key posts in the organizations that preserve our palaces, castles, estates and countryside
Dr Lucy Worsley, 36, has been chief curator for Historic Royal Palaces for seven years and was nominated by the Cultural Leadership Programme as one of 50 women to watch in the arts. She lives in London with her partner, Mark.
It was a picture of Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire, an evocative, gothic buildings up on a hilltop, that first inspired me to think of working with historic properties while I was still studying history at university. The castle was so romantic and I loved the idea of sharing my passion for history with others.
My first job was feeding the llamas, doing guided tours and putting on crazy historical re-enactments at Milton Manor, a small stately home just outside Oxford. I then got a job at The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in the Wind and Watermills section. It was a niche department, but an incredible opportunity to work with people who were genuinely passionate about their field.
I joined English Heritage as an assistant and then as an inspector of ancient monuments and historic buildings. Bolsover Castle, which had first inspired me, was one of the properties I looked after. From there, I was headhunted to work at Historic Royal Palaces and, with properties in the collection including Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace – how could I say no? There’s no greater group of buildings to be responsible for.
One of the loveliest parts of my job is my office! It’s in Hampton Court Palace, up 51 spiral steps, and is home to many of our resting exhibits. It must be one of the few offices to contain armour, taxidermy, a bust of Socrates and some paintings from the Royal Collection. The conservation department recently took away my favourite piece – a raven (stuffed, of course!) from the Tower of London – but he’s now on display at Kensington Palace.
I’m currently spending a lot of time at Kensington Palace, where we have a £12m improvement project to be unveiled in 2012. A lot of people don’t realize the historical palaces are open to the public, so we’re trying to make history more accessible to everyone with innovative exhibitions, such as The Enchanted Palace, on at Kensington Palace at the moment.
I’ve also just finished filming a TV series called An Intimate History Of The Home. I got to try Tudor washing, using urine as a stain remover, and I even took a Victorian bath – I wore a flesh-coloured bathing costume for modestry’s sake!
In contrast to my work, my home is modern and minimalist. Mark and I used to lived at Hampton Court Palace, in a flat where the soldiers protecting the king used to live, but after a couple of years, we wanted our own space. Hampton Court was lovely, but it was cold and the fire alarms are second to none. There was a devastating fire there in 1986, so now they’re set to go off at the slightest whiff of smoke.
Mark and I have been together 15 years and, at the moment, I have no plans to have children. I’m open about saying that because there aren’t many role models for women who don’t have children. Society seems to find it a bit challenging and a bit weird if a woman isn’t incredibly child-orientated. I might change my mind in the future, but right now I’m enjoying my work and my research. I don’t have time for anything else!
Lucy’s book Courtiers, The Secret History of Kensington Palace (Faber, £20), is out now. For info on palaces, see hrp.org.uk
© 2013 Lucy Worsley