One of the HALS volunteers mentioned the other day that she had taken a very pleasant walk through the well-kept grounds of Balls Park. My memories of this beautiful Jacobean mansion are more of the interior and are fading fast so I thought it would be worth recording them. I’m not at all sure whether they are coloured by working there as opposed to enjoying its elegant and historic ambience but I certainly have fond-ish memories of teaching in this fine building. At the time I was lecturing in Marketing when it housed the University of Hertfordshire Business School. The structure had a ramshackle charm and I remember that in idle moments I would look at the exquisite ceilings and the cracks in the cornices and try to calculate how many more lectures i might manage before the gaps got so wide that they would fall down on us.
My most vivid memories are of getting completely lost for the whole two years that I worked there. There were so many enticing spots that I would often go exploring but I rarely used the same route twice (actually that was more because I couldn’t find the same route again). Those of you who have been inside the building will know that the black and white hall and the minstrel gallery were rather beautiful but it was almost impossible to find out how to get to them. But best of all was my office in the servants to the servants quarters. It was right up in the eaves and the Dean told me that what made me ideal for the job was the fact that I was the only candidate who was small enough fit into this tiny space and it was the last square inch of office available. On the upside very few students could find it. The Dean’s office (which has since appeared on Foyle’s War) was magnificent with a ceiling that was so rare that English Heritage took a plaster cast of it. I hope they also took copies of the Jacobean fireplaces because a couple of them mysteriously disappeared (we were told) in the refurbishment. It also boasted a portrait of Charles Townshend who had the cute nickname of Turnip Townshend.
Oh happy days – the joy of wandering round and round the top floor lost in the maze of rooms and walking through other people’s lectures which always sounded more interesting than mine. The grounds obviously had potential but they were not particularly well cared for. The Sunken Garden was well and truly sunk. The grounds also boasted a lovely dwelling called Ben’s Cottage. Let me qualify that. We could only guess that the interior was lovely because it was defended against all-comers by the Post Graduates who occupied it as though it was under siege. I think I was once invited in for a cup of coffee but got no further than the kitchen. I vaguely recall that the Economists were in overall control but I never worked out what they did in there. All these memories are coloured by the rose tinted mists of time so I cannot guarantee their accuracy. And I’m sure that the building is marvellously refurbished. But has it lost its rambling decaying charm? And where is the thrill of wondering if you are going to survive the falling masonry?