Before unfortunate children were packed off to horrible boarding schools they were educated at home by governesses and tutors. When Sammy Leslie was a young girl, this room was simply a delightfully sunny nursery with wonderful views of the lake.
Breakfast would arrive while dogs barked, nannies bustled and jackdaws cawed in the chimney. Only at lunchtime were the children allowed into the sacred precincts of the dining room, where they were always told off for drowning the grownups' conversations.
Sammy & her sister had a wonderful old rocking horse on which three children could `see-saw', as well as a dolls house made by Hurst, the Estate carpenter. There were also many priceless Victorian toys in varying states of disrepair – even a real steam engine. Sammy has fond memories of a talking picture book whereby an appropriate animal answered when the string was pulled. There was a large model golf course, with tees and bunkers, which could be set up all around the floor. It was played by tiny mechanical men who could even change their clubs for different shots. Some of the more cuddly toys are still in the Nursery. They'd appreciate a kind word!
From a huge collection of "Meccano" (that most wonderful of toys), the kids would construct engineering improbabilities, and when no one was looking, they'd slip out to hold toboggan races down the main stairs, on tea trays, or vanish into the vast dark attics, or climb on the roof, or make the old hand-operated lift race down its shaft by cramming as many people as possible into it, and then disconnecting the speed control.
Most scary of all were the children’s attempts to walk around the narrow ledge, above the main staircase, without breaking their necks. Little grubby hand marks can still be seen on the pillars. This was all strictly forbidden, of course.
On wet days the Nursery (also known as the Schoolroom would become the headquarters for games of "Sardines", in which one person was chosen to hide, and the searchers would join him or her in their place of hiding. Dark cellars, haunted basements, and unlikely spaces between floors were most popular. When Sammy announced her intention to convert the Schoolroom, her father jokingly suggested she turn the dollhouse into a loo. She not only did so; she added a bath and wash basin as well. Monica McNally is responsible for the brilliant painting and artwork and for the illustrated alphabet on the walls.
A single bell can be seen just outside the Schoolroom. This was the architect’s bright idea. He realised that the dinner gong would not be heard at this height, and certainly not above the uproar of children. The bell would tinkle a kind welcome for lunch. But it also rang furiously when the noise emanating from the room proved disturbing, or otherwise incommoded the adults below. The bell still works today. Jack (now Sir John) kept a pet hen called "Hotwaterbottle" and tried to teach it to fly by launching the unfortunate bird from the window. Thoughtfully he provided a pile of straw for crash landings. He also kept pet bats and an owl, which terrified the maids bringing up meals.
This bright and cheery room has been the happy headquarters for three generations of Leslie children. The first Leslie children to use the Schoolroom can be seen today as the little carved heads over the pink stone arches of the entrance porch. They are John (the second Sir John), Theodosia, the family beauty, Mary, the family saint, Constance who disapproved of most things, and the little red -haired Olive, who approved of almost everything, and had an endless repertoire of scandals and funny stories.
The next generation to enjoy this sunny room, were Shane, Norman, Seymour and Lionel. Then came Anita, Jack and Desmond. Finally, it belonged to Sean, Mark, Antonia, Sammy and Camilla, and their cousins Tarka and Leonie. The pictures now in the Schoolroom are of Sean and Antonia Leslie and Helen Strong (Sammy and Camilla’s mother).