A VISIT to Claughton Hall is like stepping back in time. As I drove into the courtyard I could almost feel the buzzing atmosphere of the old Claughton Country Fairs and the excitement of the horse trials in which the top names in the equine world were sure to appear.
The Fitzherbert-Brockholes family will always remember these occasions as their vast collection of scrap books bear testimony to the role they have always played in the community.
According to the collection, the gardens were first opened to the public in 1863 when people flocked to see an American Aloe growing in the greenhouse of Thomas Fitzherbert-Brockholes.
The Aloe had come into flower, something which was only supposed to happen once in every 100 years, and the event was covered by the local newspapers.
The gardens were also used in 1894 for the first field day of the Preston Scientific Society, which William J Brockholes was a member of, and the gardens were used regularly up until the first and second world wars.
A gap followed – to allow everbody to "come back to their senses" – and, after the hall was rebuilt by Michael and Edie Fitzherbert-Brockholes in the late 1950s, the gardens were reopened in 1971 to raise funds for St John Ambulance.
In the following years the gardens and grounds were regularly used for local causes and for events on a much wider scale.
These include the Claughton horse trials which were part of the qualifiers for the Midland Bank Horse Trials of Great Britain, and were held at Claughton Hall on a regular basis.
As Vice Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire Michael Fitzherbert-Brockholes had to escort members of the royal family around the grounds during the trials, and visitors included Princess Anne.
The family has also been great supporters of Leonard Cheshire Oaklands, in Barnacre, with Michael Fitzherbert-Brockholes the first chairman, and the home has benefited from public open days at the hall.
David Bellamy himself has paid a visit, when Mr Fitzherbert-Brockholes was president of the Lancashire Trust for Nature Conservation.
Children have always been regular visitors and to this day the gardens welcome groups of youngsters from urban areas as part of a scheme run by the Country Trust.
They are visits the family clearly relish, as Mrs Edie Fitzherbert-Brockholes says: "It is a wonderful thing. They have no idea of the countryside and all the children write letters afterwards. One little girl of nine once said she had seen stars for the first time in her life."
It is their dedication to the community that has prompted the family to open the gardens in June.
Jenny Fitzherbert Brockholes, who is married to Francis, the son of Edie and the late Michael, and who is also a school governer, said: "This is a celebration of the school's successes. They have been through their trials and they have done brilliantly and they deserve to have that acknowledged.
"This is an opportunity for everyone to have a nice day and a way of sharing the successes."