Traces Of The Past ~ An English Moated Farmhouse And Why It’s Still Here

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Last Wednesday the power was out on Sheinton Street (the electricity men were in our end of town, trimming off tree branches that were impinging on the lines). A day out was called for. So we set off for unknown territory, over the county boundary into Hereford. Lower Brockhampton Manor near Bromyard was the destination, a 600-year old farmhouse on the Brockhampton Estate, one of the National Trust’s many properties, and the kind of place where the provision of coffee and cake could be guaranteed.

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The Brockhampton Estate is an ancient manor, first documented in 1166 when some worthy called Bernardus lived here. No one knows where, though his house may well have been under the surviving farmhouse at Lower Brockhampton, it being a human habit to re-use a good spot once one has been found.

The earliest part of the house you can see to today is the great hall (in the next three photos), built around 1425 by the Dumbleton family.(A name to almost conjure with for Harry Potter fans). And if you want to know what else was going on around this time well, England’s Hundred Years War with France was still on, Jean of Arc was about to defeat the English at Orléans; Chinese imperial admiral Zheng He was on course for East Africa with his treasure ship fleet of 300 ships and 30,000 crew, and in London some essential repairs were being carried out on London Bridge including building a new drawbridge to facilitate the passage of shipping to the upper reaches of the Thames.

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The house was remodelled during Tudor times, a false floor added to the great hall (above) to provide bedrooms for children and thus privacy for their parents, the need for which being something of a new-fangled notion.

The gatehouse was also added in Tudor times (c. 1545 and so around the time of Henry VIII’s death and the accession of his son Edward VI). The family was clearly going up in the world and wished to show it. I think it is a star piece of historic architecture. Here’s another view – from the window of the great hall (through murky old glass):

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In succeeding centuries the owners of the estate became very grand and built themselves the usual big pile, on a hill a mile and half away from the farmhouse. After the National Trust took over the estate, they wisely decided they had enough stately homes on view to the public, and so leased the more recent estate properties for private occupation, and concentrated instead on the Lower Brockhampton farmhouse.

To my mind the farmhouse, and its 600 years of associated agricultural history, is far more interesting and historically important. Well done National Trust.

BUT THEN they would not have been able to do this were it not for a piece of most enlightened Victorian forethought.  In 1871 the owner of the estate, one John Habington Lutley, commissioned, John Chessell Buckler, a top architect of the day, to restore the crumbling farmhouse. The two men recognised that too much of England’s historic vernacular architecture was being needlessly destroyed because people did not think it could be repaired. They wanted to debunk this notion. So hats off to those two gentlemen.

Once the house was restored, it and its farm fields, continued to be let to tenant farmers. One of the rooms in the house is set in the 1950s, marking the tenancy of Marian and Valentine Freegard who arrived on the farm with their five children in 1952. On their 115 acres they kept  a small milking herd of Shorthorn cattle and reared sheep. They also maintained the existing apple and damson orchards. Valentine had a new Land Rover, a tractor and one working horse called Old George. They sold their milk at the village shop for 2 pence a pint. The next photo could be a scene from my childhood, the Cheshire farmhouses I remember visiting.

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The Freegard children apparently amused themselves by rowing about on the moat in an old tin bath. And in case you’re wondering, moated farmhouses were a common feature of the English countryside from before 1200 and into the Tudor period. A moat could of course be defensive, but it is more likely to have been a demonstration of status.

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Of course one of the cheeriest parts of any farmhouse is the kitchen, and Lower Brockhampton’s is no exception. Unfortunately it was not providing the requisite coffee and cake that had spurred us from home in the first place. For that we had to hike back across the park, through the damson orchard, over a shorn wheat field, past cows, into a wood and up a big hill to the Apple Store Cafe where we had left the car. (There was alternative parking and snack bar nearer the farmhouse, but we thought we needed a walk).

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All in all, the Brockhampton Estate is a marvellous resource. Quite apart from the farmhouse, there are several walking trails through 1,700 acres of stunning park- and woodland. And yes, I know you have to pay to go in, or become a National Trust member, but if it weren’t for the NT, whole swathes of Great Britain’s landscape would have been lost forever, and this includes our magnificent coastal paths which are freely accessible. Better still, they are using the great estates in their care, to pioneer all sorts of environmentally friendly technologies. It’s also good to see that when it comes to family days out, NT properties are increasingly destinations of choice. There is much emphasis on outdoor pursuits and learning about both natural and man-made landscapes; activities where children, grownups and dogs can have plenty of fun exercise, and maybe learn a few important things too.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Traces of the Past

Jo’s Monday Walk

72 thoughts on “Traces Of The Past ~ An English Moated Farmhouse And Why It’s Still Here

  1. Marvelous. The virtual tour had me hankering for the real deal.
    When so much of what we here and read makes one feel down in the dumps, it is a treat to read someone like you paint a cheerier picture all round.
    And I would love a moat around our property – and there has been the odd occasion where we’ve actually contemplated it!
    Certainly had a couple of discussions around the dinner table, and it would save having walls and what-not, that’s for sure.
    🙂

      1. The idea was to keep certain uninvited guests out.
        A moat surrounding the entire property was eventually rejected but there is still an idea floating around of designing a sort of Ha- ha on the upper part of the stand.
        Wide enough not to be able to step across and deep enough to give any intrepid undesirable pause for thought!
        A mini drawbridge was also mentioned.
        We couldn’t reach consensus about the piranhas.

        https://permies.com/t/69936/Ha-ha-fence

      2. ha-has are a good idea. I once lived in a flat in an old house that had one. Doesn’t do to wander out in the garden at night after a glass or two of wine though. I think the labrador surprised itself by falling in too. Sometimes defence systems can ambush the defended, in which case I’d definitely junk the piranha idea 🙂

    1. ‘National power cut to do repairs day’ That made me laugh, Brian. I’m not too keen on the stately homes inside (unless it’s raining), love the grounds though, and the cafs. Our nearest and totally free NT site is just a few fields from our house – they own and care for much of Wenlock Edge.

      1. Here in the east my favourite is the walled garden at Felbrigg hall, a riot of colour in summer all intermingled with fruit, veg and herbs plus a super parkland and lake, the house itself is a tad boring though.

  2. Good old NT, they have certainly rescued some interesting places. I just feel that they ‘over sanitise’ places, they look too neat, but I guess that’s a lot to do with keeping the structure of a building intact

    1. I know what you mean, and that especially applies to the big houses. Am not keen on the guides’ recent habit of making much of extant family members who may live in part of the property. It all gets a bit ‘Downton Abbey’. The back-to-back houses in Birmingham are apparently well worth a visit though. As of course is Wenlock Edge (free) and Cardingmill Valley (parking fee only) and the Long Mynd (free) in Church Stretton. It’s the saving and enlightened management of landscape that I really support. Also the fantastic activities they provide – mushroom hunting and star gazing etc

  3. What a lovely place, Tish – thank you so much for sharing it. You’re right about the National Trust which – despite its faults – has a status of national treasure itself. And who doesn’t love a moated manor house? Some of my happiest days out have been spent in them – Little Moreton Hall, Stokesay Castle, just beautiful places. Ah, you make me hanker after a stately home visit – and tea and cake of course 🙂

    1. I was thinking of Little Moreton Hall as we were visiting the farmhouse. It was my favourite place to go as a child. I still have a sense of its atmosphere – a whopping half century and a bit later.

      1. It’s such a lovely place, hard to forget once you’ve visited. That long gallery at the top, where the ladies would take their exercise on rainy days … just lovely. I love LMH and Stokesay for being so comparatively empty of later furniture and for not having been altered by alter generations. You get a real sense of what the houses would have been like to live in, your imagination runs riot! 🙂

      2. I’ve heard Stokesay has done some recent improvements – more of the building opened up and Janet Suzman audio(or video) being the lady of the house. Must get ourselves along there.

  4. Nice to find someone who doesn’t ‘diss’ the NT – I think they do a wonderful job too. Like you I am more fond of the grounds and gardens and rarely go inside the houses. Although on a dull day they can be good. Lanhydrock for instance has a wonderful ‘long gallery’ that I could live in! Strangely enough we never did visit the Brockhampton Estate despite passing by hundreds of times to and from the motorway. I am sorry I missed it.

    1. I’m quite keen on the NT Scotland’s Craigievar castle (it would do for Becky’s pink season too https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/craigievar)
      I love everything about its insides including the Forbes family tartan covered sofas. It also has a long and sunny gallery, up in the turrets and when I was last there years ago, honey was dripping in through the ceiling. Bees had set up home in a turret and no one had a mind to evict them. I shall stick Lanhydrock somewhere in my memory for our next trip to Cornwall.

      1. Tartan covered sofas sounds lovely. I always fancied a tartan carpet in a dining room with lovely wooden bookshelves and an open fireplace. A snug kind of room with paintings on the green painted walls. Trouble is we’ve never lived in anywhere big enough!!

      2. The Forbes tartan if I recall is in an indigo blue and jade green sort of palette. It looked wonderful in the great hall which itself was not too overpowering. Just wanted to move in. Of course it was summer when I visited.

  5. Posts like this one are constant reminders to me of the rich history you can so easily access. I practically swoon at the thought of buildings from 1100-1200!!! My favourite is the old gatehouse with its odd construction of being bigger on top. There is just something about a path or roadway that goes THROUGH a building. I find it infinitely appealing 🙂

    1. It is the quirkiest little building, I agree. And I love the throughness too. The stairs to the upper floor inside were quite a challenge. I’m not sure how it was used, whether a watchman lived up there so he could man the very sturdy door.

      1. These next couple of weekends are going to be so busy with the Heritage Open Days. Have you got much going on in your neck of the woods, Tish? I hardly know where to start! This is so like Stokesay, which somebody mentioned in the comments. And yes, 3 cheers for the NT! 🙂 And I hope Ark gets his moat. No piranhas! I laughed at your ha-ha story. Appropriate, really!

      2. Yes. Good to laugh at a ha-ha. I am busy-ish, trying to finish a piece of fiction and get round to sowing some spinach and make tomato sauce from the polytunnel excess…

      1. Hi Tish! I’m great, thanks. Was just in Europe myself for a couple weeks, feeling about “Europed-out” by now. You must be starting to think about your December plans in Wales, I’m envious. Though there’s no place like home, right? Best, Bill

  6. The NT deserve their accolades for preserving all the magnificent old (seriously old too) buildings and showing how people used to live. I loved this guided tour. This is a fine example of old manors and well done the couple that originally restored it, I’m assuming that was maybe before the NT was around.. when I looked at the first photo my initial thought was a puff of wind could blow it over. But it must be sturdier than it looks as it has been around a LONG time. We have NT over here but only 300 heritage places in all of Australia

  7. What a great post, Tish. I love this stuff. The National Trust property in Alfriston is amazing. Their first, and one of their oldest. Some years ago Bea and I stayed at a very old moat house near Rye, and it was a great experience. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Definitely my kind of place, Tish – obviously! Wonderfully told history and lovely illustrations; we expect no less, of course. Love the way you put the history in context; not sure about rowing on the moat in a tin bath, though…sounds a bit precarious to me.

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