The old saying of not seeing the wood for the trees has deep resonance now. We need to start seeing. The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine in Oxford is a good spot for some illumination; lots of informed common sense on matters covid from Professor Carl Heneghan who is also a practising doctor.
These photos were taken in one of the National Trust’s more unusual heritage properties – Sunnycroft in Wellington, Shropshire – an example of an English suburban middle class villa built by a brewer in 1880. To begin with, then, this small-town gentleman’s residence started out fairly modestly but in 1899 a widow, one Mary Jane Slaney, bought the house and set about creating her own miniature version of an upper class estate. This is what the National Trust has to say:
An estate in miniature (from the National Trust Site)
Mrs Slaney aspired to have a home, garden and estate that had all the essential features of the much larger grand estates of the time, but much smaller in scale. She added a lodge at the top of the drive, a coach house and stables, kennels, glasshouses and an impressive conservatory.
The five acre garden today is half of its original size yet it retains all the key elements of a Victorian garden and grounds such as a paddock, orchard, and formal rose garden as well as herbaceous borders.
But perhaps the most interesting feature of the house, and this is not without a distinct touch of the Miss Havershams, is that it was lived in by three generations of the same family up until 1997 when the whole place plus contents was handed over to the National Trust. It is thus an extraordinary glimpse into family life over 98 years, all the domestic stuff – clothes, personal possessions, contents of the pantry, the medicine cupboard – still to be seen.
You can see more of Sunnycroft’s family possessions in the National Trust collection here.
Now, since I’m sure you’re curious, here are some views of the house, first showing the 1899 added ‘grand entrance’, and then the side elevation from across the croquet lawn:
And finally a teaser – who remembers what this is?
Today, an errand that involved ordering shower room parts took us out of Shropshire and into Worcester. We’d been putting off going since Monday, the weather being so dire. But this morning the three-day deluge had reduced itself to heavy drizzle, so after a fortifying coffee, off we went.
I find bathroom showrooms dispiriting places for all sorts of reasons, but it had to be done, and mission completed, and the vile, multi-islanded Kidderminster bypass survived in both directions, we felt that soothing surroundings were needed. And since our route took us past Dudmaston Hall, which being National Trust has a very pleasant cafe, we decided to call in for lunch. And very nice it was too with the big log burning stove blazing away. (Anyone would think it was October.)
Afterwards we had a wander in the gardens. Many of the roses had been crushed and their stems battered down, but I thought they still looked beautiful in their way. So here are some more with their fallen petals, photos taken with Sue Judd at Words Visual in mind. Sue is a wiz in her studies of decay and transience.
But it wasn’t all mayhem. One walled border that comprised mainly wild flower species – foxgloves and red centranthus in particular – was thriving in the rain.
And out in the parkland among the buttercups there were some very contented cattle browsing lush meadow grasses.
April 1st, All Fools Day, and it flitted through my mind that it was just the day for paying the pink pineapple pavilion a second visit. It was anyway a piece of happenstance. We were driving back from the Malverns and the need for lunch was pressing. And, since you can pretty much rely on a National Trust property for a decent snack, we decided to call in at Berrington Hall.
The last time we were here it was a gloomy October day back in 2017 when Berrington was hosting all manner of art installations inspired by different aspects of the estate’s history. Taking photos then had proved a challenge so it was good to see the gardens full of sunshine. And though the pineapple may not be to everyone’s taste, I was quite pleased to see it was still in residence. And if it seems quite balmy, then it is probably not half as balmy as the kind of extravaganzas created by the overbearingly rich and idle during the 18th century. You can read more about this in the original post A Giant Pineapple In The Garden.
On Monday we were simply happy to have a quick mooch around the walled garden where the ancient apple orchard is currently being revivified, each tree carefully pruned and curated, with big name tags and the dates of species origins. So many varieties, and these days you’re lucky to see six sorts in the supermarket. What treasures we deprive ourselves of and for no good reason. So full marks National Trust for taking pains to restore the garden and nurture these old varieties.
Now for some more garden views:
Lens-Artists #39: Hello April All thanks to Amy for this week’s challenge. Please pay the Lens-Artists a visit.
Ann-Christine aka Leya https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/
Here we are, walking between high, high hedges, the castle terraces in the gloaming above, and overhead, stars pricking the black. It’s quite a climb to the castle from the formal garden: several flights of stone steps, and paths wending between the ancient yew trees that have been sculpted into strange shapes over three centuries. On this December evening many are lit from within, so that as you approach they barely glimmer, but when you draw level they open up like grottoes, revealing contorted arboreal workings beneath the close-clipped exteriors.
And now for some treescapes and garden views that did not feature in yesterday’s post:
As darkness closed in and yet another squall blew up, we slipped over the Welsh border and headed for Welshpool. We had hemmed and hawed up to the very last minute of departure: should we or shouldn’t we go; it could be muddy; the parking a nightmare; too many people; the prospect of getting soaked; nearly an hour’s drive on unlit winding country lanes. So many reasons not to go. And then we simply gave up the argument and set off.
It was not promising. The constant swish of wipers; rain that felt set-in; roads awash and headlights picking up flooded fields and burst river banks. But as we reached the outskirts of Welshpool the rain suddenly stopped, and ahead and high on its rocky promontory Powys Castle glowed like some fairy-tale bastion. And as it turned out, parking was easy; we were not mired in mud despite days of rain; and though there were plenty of visitors, we all soon lost ourselves in the castle grounds and it quickly became a big, magical adventure.
And not a little bonkers, I must admit – going round the steeply terraced castle gardens in the dark – the whole thing laid on by the National Trust as part of their season of festive celebrations at the castle. Anyway, here are a few other-worldly scenes from the night garden of this ancient Welsh borderland fortress.
…was that out in the garden the air was filled with the dreamy scent of cyclamen. They were growing everywhere including under a medlar tree whose unpromising looking fruit is only ready to eat in winter, after it has ‘bletted’ i.e. the flesh softened by frost. Then, so I read, it tastes like apple sauce and can be eaten raw, or else made into a fruit jelly. The tree was introduced to England by the Romans.
Nor inside the house did I show you the ornately carved Tudor bedstead in the master and mistresses’ bedroom off the gallery above the great hall. Or down below, the huge fireplace where once, in medieval times all the main cooking would be done. The spit-roasting tackle is on the floor beside the cast iron grate.
Then there was the impressive timbering upstairs in the must-have gatehouse for the family going up in the world. Also in the doorway there was a nice sample panel of wattle and daub, the construction method of choice in medieval England. And then there’s the door itself – very much the thing to keep out unwanted callers with its faux portcullis lattice work:
Back in the garden there was the swing to linger on, and across the moat the ruins of a thirteenth century Norman chapel. In the orchard the damson trees were hanging in fruit. I’m guessing these might have been sold as much for dyeing as for eating, since this is what they were used for in my part of Shropshire during the nineteenth century, and therefore probably earlier too. The apples in the orchard would have been turned into cider, Herefordshire’s traditional tipple.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
See previous post for more of the manor’s history.
Today over at Becky’s it’s all pink wigs and tutus.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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).
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.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
In the 18th century Britain’s landed rich expended their often questionably-gotten gains in the creation of pleasure parks around their grand houses. These were places for promenading, a little sporting activity (fishing, sailing, archery), for re-enactments of famous naval battles (if you had your own lake); there were ‘eye-catcher’ summer houses, grottos, fake ruins, and classical temples. It was also the era of wholesale removal of villages from the sight-lines of the gentry in the ‘big house’. Garden tunnels were also dug so the horticultural workforce could go about their labours largely unseen. Above all, these gardens were ‘show off’ places, and if you wanted the best, you employed the likes of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to design it.
Another show-off item was exotic fruit, especially the pineapple whose possession, in the flesh or as architectural motifs about the house, demonstrated your wealth and prestige. Here at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire there are both pineapples and the surviving landscape contrivances of Capability Brown. The park is magnificent, and Brown’s last stand as a garden designer. The National Trust owners encourage visitors to explore all of it, the Brown vistas currently being celebrated in 21st century style by a series of sculptural works by environmental artists Red Earth.
The Trust is also busy restoring the hall’s extensive walled gardens, and this is where you will find the extraordinary Giant Pink Pineapple Pavilion. It is the work of installation artists Heather and Ivan Morison; their own interpretation of the Georgian garden pleasure principle which included all manner of temporary structures for dining, conducting assignations, or communing with the great outdoors. I think the Georgians would have been suitably impressed, don’t you?
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
Six Word Saturday – with apologies, Debbie, for lots of extra words.