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Violet Manners HeritageXplore

Experience 'Bridgerton' in real life with HeritageXplore

Lady Violet Manners' new platform is making Britain's Historic houses accessible to all

Natalie Salmon
Fashion Digital Editor
June 29, 2024
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When it comes to England’s historic houses, there's not much that Lady Violet Manners doesn't know. 

Her passion for British heritage was brought into sharp focus while studying in Los Angeles in 2019. Despite growing up in one of Britain’s most renowned stately homes, Belvoir Castle, it was actually Violet’s time at UCLA that taught her that the power of these buildings stretched far beyond Blighty’s borders.

It is no wonder then, that when it came to launching a platform that allows users to step inside Britain’s greatest historic properties, gardens, and family homes Violet was an unusually good fit to become the founder of HeritageXplore.

In an era where period dramas like Bridgerton and Downton Abbey captivate millions, the allure of such houses is undeniable. These homes are as crucial as the characters and the corsets when it comes to setting the scene. 

"Why do none of these houses sit in one centralised place?"

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 301 of Bridgerton
Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 301 of Bridgerton

Violet’s mission is to make it easy for everyone to experience Britain’s most spectacular historic houses with her newly launched platform. "HeritageXplore was mainly born out of the seed that was planted back in 2020 with ‘The Duchess Podcast' and travelling around the country with my mum," The tech entrepreneur explains over a coffee at Soho House. 

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Upon returning from her studies in the US, Violet did what any ambitious millennial would do, she started a podcast while balancing her full time job. The strategic consultant, who ran her own business Akana, launched the podcast to allow listeners to learn about the history of historic houses through the women who help to run them. Her mother, The Duchess of Rutland, devoted her life to Belvoir Castle as its chatelaine and was main the source of inspiration for The Duchess Podcast series which ran for three years.

Lady Violet Manners and her mother Emma Manners, Duchess of Rutland© Dave Benett
Lady Violet Manners and her mother Emma Manners, Duchess of Rutland

"I really created that podcast with an ambition for it to be a successful side hustle, and draw the stories out of these buildings into a modern medium,” she explains saying that she wanted, “to discover new audiences for these houses and the history that they hold." 

"The challenge is, how do you reach new people?"

“Growing up in somewhere like Belvoir, I recognise it's so unbelievably unique and incredibly lucky. What I found fascinating about making the podcast is that every single historic house owner in the 21st century has to look at their homes through the prism of an entrepreneur.”

This venture led to a lightbulb idea to expand the podcast into something more: organising once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to visit, meet, and stay at some of the homes featured on the podcast. Thus, HeritageXplore was born, “I genuinely had, like, a bit of a light bulb moment in December 2022 when I was like, ‘Why do none of these houses sit in one centralised place?’” 

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With the cost of living crisis prompting more people to choose staycations within the UK, HeritageXplore is set to be the perfect solution for unique visits. Like SkyScanner or AirBnb, the platform allows you to seamlessly discover and book trips to independent historic houses all in one place, "We are a generation of marketplaces, and there wasn’t a marketplace for the independent sector of heritage," notes Violet.

Growing up she saw first hand by observing visitors' perspectives how exciting stepping into British history was for them, "You see these places through their eyes, and I quickly realised there's such an amazing opportunity to celebrate these places collectively." 

Blenheim, England’s only non-royal palace is one of the many destinations you can visit via the new platform© HeritageXplore
Blenheim, England’s only non-royal palace is one of the many destinations you can visit via the new platform

Despite their glamorous history, these homes are rife with challenges which the platform aims to help offset. "Independent houses are responsible for the upkeep, the maintenance, the management of these collections for the benefit of the UK and its history… The challenge is, how do you reach new people?" 

To appeal to younger audiences, the platform will host various events from yoga weekends to music nights, "trips and weekends that are going to be put on at different houses throughout the year.” 

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This initiative is not just about preserving the physical structures but also about revitalising the cultural and historical narratives they carry. During our talk Violet shares one of many fascinating facts she learned from visiting these homes, coincidentally about another Violet. 

Belvoir Castle (pronounced 'Beaver' btw) and its 16,000-acre estate is run by Emma Manners, the Duchess of Rutland© HeritageXplore
Belvoir Castle (pronounced 'Beaver' btw) and its 16,000-acre estate is run by Violet's mother, the Duchess of Rutland

Violet Van der Elst was the daughter of a coal porter and a washerwoman, who worked as a scullery maid, “She grew up with no money and created Shavex the world's first non-brush shaving foam during World War II, which the men used on the front line. She made lots of money, and ended up buying Harlaxton Manor,” regales Violet. 

"These buildings hold these incredibly important stories."

e these buildings hold these incredibly important stories

The British entrepreneur and campaigner is best remembered for her activities against the death penalty, “Violet was a maverick; she held vocal campaigns against capital punishment, and fought for causes she believed in. Despite coming from nothing, she created an incredible name for herself,” says Violet.

Harlaxton Manor, a striking example of 19th-century Jacobethan architecture, was constructed in the 1830s© HeritageXplore
Harlaxton Manor is a striking example of 19th-century Jacobethan architecture

She painstakingly restored the house and had it wired for electricity, “It's an extraordinary place, more like a castle than a manor. Violet fascinates me because she put all her life's money that she had worked incredibly hard for into Harlaxton, a building she had no prior connection to. How can it have meant so much to her that she put her life's work into it?”

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“And it's because these buildings hold these incredibly important stories, and she recognised that. They hold the narratives of our country... Whether we like it or not, they do, and I think that's what I find so fascinating.”

English businesswoman Violet Van der Elst, purchased Harlaxton Manor in 1937© August Darwell
English businesswoman Violet Van der Elst, purchased Harlaxton Manor in 1937

By making these historic homes more accessible and engaging, Lady Violet is ensuring that the magic of Britain’s heritage continues to inspire future generations... Time to book your next staycation.

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