Royalty and religion (and oak trees) in Shropshire

Charles II in exile, 1653

3 September 1651. Just over 33 months since his father, Charles I, had his head removed from his shoulders on a scaffold outside Whitehall in London, the young Charles II (not yet crowned king) was on the run. A fugitive. His plans to defeat the Parliamentarians under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell had come to nothing. Superior forces of Cromwell’s New Model Army had defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester, bringing an end to the Civil War.

Charles had to escape, but how to return to France and safety? His escape route took him north through Worcestershire (close to where I live, some 13 miles north of Worcester), and through Staffordshire and Shropshire to reach Boscobel House. The Boscobel estate straddles the Staffordshire-Shropshire county boundary (map).

In 1651, Boscobel House was a hunting lodge in the forest. Charles found refuge there, not only hiding in a priest hole overnight, but also among the canopy of a large oak tree (the famous Royal Oak) close by, as Parliamentarian forces searched high and low for him. He was also hidden at nearby Moseley Old Hall (about 10 miles due east of Boscobel, now in the hands of the National Trust, and which we visited in April 2014).

Boscobel House and the nearby White Ladies Priory (which was a converted residence when Charles sought refuge there in 1651) now belong to English Heritage. Yesterday, we made the 45 mile trip north to visit these two sites, and another English Heritage property, the ruins of Lilleshall Abbey, just over seven miles northwest from Boscobel.

Boscobel House and The Royal Oak
The house has Tudor, 17th century and Victorian extensions. The farmyard buildings are Victorian. It was owned by the Giffard family who lived at White Ladies Priory. The lonely Royal Oak that stands in a field a short distance from the house is a descendant of the original tree in which Charles hid.

(1) Hunting Lodge; (2) Garden; (3) Cowhouse; (4) Stables; (5) Dairy display; (6) Smithy; (7) Family room; (8) White Ladies Priory – about 1 mile, 20 minutes walk; (9) Royal Oak – approx 5 minutes walk.

White Ladies Priory

Lilleshall Abbey

It’s all about Trust and Heritage

When I fell over last January and broke my leg, and was incapacitated for almost three months, I never thought that we would be able to get out and about for National Trust and English Heritage visits as we had in previous years. How wrong I was!

Once I’d been given the all clear to drive, around the end of March—and relying on my trusty walking stick—we managed to visit eleven National Trust properties (including four times to our ‘local’ Hanbury Hall), and to five run by English Heritage. I have indicated the distance from my home in Bromsgrove, although we visited some properties while we were on holiday in the south of England in July.

National Trust
During our holiday in the New Forest we made a day visit to Corfe Castle, and on the way home a week later we stopped off at Kingston Lacy. Further on, we passed the entrance to Dyrham Park, north of Bath, but didn’t have time to visit then. So we decided to return later in August.

Not long after I gained my mobility, we visited three properties that are quite close to home, not to visit inside the houses, but to enjoy the gardens, and relax with a cup of coffee or a bite to eat for lunch. The restaurant at Packwood House, renovated over the past couple of years or so, is particularly nice.

If I wrote a specific blog post about each of these visits, I have included a link below.

Hanbury Hall (10 April, 4 May, 29 August, and 18 November) 6 miles
Hanbury is our local National Trust property. I think we’ve been inside the house only once, several years ago, but during the year we did pop over there, in about 15 minutes, to grab a cup of coffee, and walk through the gardens. Of particular interest for me is the glorious parterre, kept immaculately by the resident gardeners and volunteers.

Packwood House (20 April) 17 miles

Baddesley Clinton (12 May) 19 miles

Shugborough Hall (22 June) 53 miles
One of the things we particularly liked about Shugborough was the number of rooms open to the public. As always the volunteers were most helpful in pointing us towards items of interest.

Read about our visit here.

Avebury (2 July) 81 miles
We stopped in Avebury on the way south to our holiday in the New Forest. It was a good halfway place to have coffee and lunch. There’s much to see, with the stone circle and the house (with each room decorated in a different period).

Read about our visit here.

Corfe Castle (5 July) 176 miles
We visited Corfe Castle on a day trip from our holiday home in Dibden Purlieu on the east of the New Forest. The drive west was about 47 miles, on quite busy roads.

Read about our visit to Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy here.

Kingston Lacy (10 July) 134 miles
Kingston Lacy was owned by the same family as Corfe Castle, about 19 miles to the north. This must be one of the National Trust’s premier properties – it’s full of treasures. Well worth another visit sometime.

Claydon (19 July) 67 miles
Our visit to Claydon was a delight. Normally, photography is not permitted inside the house, but when I explained that I write a blog about our National Trust visits, they gave me permission to photograph many of the architectural aspects I am interested in. And I have to say that the volunteers at Claydon were some of the most helpful and friendliest that we have come across.

Read about our visit here.

Dyrham Park (12 August) 77 miles
It’s quite a walk from the car park to the house and gardens. Thank goodness for the shuttle service. On the day of our visit the weather was beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Read about our visit here.

Brockhampton Estate (26 August) 25 miles
We made our first visit to Brockhampton in September 2012. It was great to see that other parts of the medieval house had been opened to the public.

Greyfriars’ House and Garden (14 December) 12 miles (by train)
This was our last visit for 2016, and we hopped on the train from Bromsgrove for the 20 minute ride to Worcester Foregate. From there it was a less than 10 minute walk to Greyfriars’. Nice to see the rooms decorated for Christmas, and we had an excellent tour guide.

Read about our visit here.

English Heritage
This was our second year as members of English Heritage, and we didn’t visit as many properties as we would have liked. But that will be rectified in 2017!

Buildwas Abbey (27 May) 36 miles
We had tried to visit Buildwas in 2015, on our way from Wenlock Abbey to Ironbridge. But it was closed. We had the place to ourselves when we visited in May. Peaceful!

Read about our visit to Buildwas and Langley Chapel here.

Langley Chapel (27 May) 11 miles from Buildwas Abbey
Standing isolated in a field, this is a delightful example of a 17th century chapel catering to a Puritan rural population.

20160527 007 Langley Chapel

Calshot Castle (9 July) 136 miles
Calshot was just a few miles south of our holiday home in Dibden Purlieu. We were amazed to discover how well it had been maintained over the centuries. I guess this is not really surprising considering the active defensive role it has taken on all that time.

20160709 009 Calshot Castle

Read about our visit here.

Bolsover Castle (17 August) 90 miles
Bolsover Castle sits on the skyline to the east of the M1 motorway in Derbyshire. Whenever we travel north to visit our younger daughter Philippa and her family, we have to pass Bolsover. And for years we were intrigued by it, and what it might offer. We had also seen in the past few years a BBC program about the castle presented by historian Lucy Worsley. We were not disappointed in our visit.

Read about this interesting visit here.

Witley Court and Gardens (26 August) 16 miles
Witley Court is one of our local visits, just a few miles west of Bromsgrove on the far bank of the River Severn. We have been visiting Witley Court since the 1980s when you could just wander into and around the ruins. We had last been there in July 2015.

Apartments fit for a King – Bolsover Castle

20160817 012 Bolsover CastleBolsover Castle stands proudly over the northeast Derbyshire landscape, a prominent feature on the eastern skyline as one travels along the M1 motorway. It is owned and managed by English Heritage, and is just a few miles north of Hardwick Hall that we visited in 2015 almost exactly a year ago.

The histories of Bolsover Castle and Hardwick Hall are intertwined.

Bolsover_Castle_-_geograph.org.uk_-_205752

So who built Bolsover Castle? Standing on the site of a medieval castle, the castle we see today dates from the early decades of the 17th century. It was the vision of Charles Cavendish and his son William.

20160817 049 Bolsover Castle

20160817 050 Bolsover Castle

20160817 047 Bolsover Castle

William was married twice.

20160817 046 Bolsover Castle

20160817 044 Bolsover Castle

William’s wives: Elizabeth Bassett (L) and Margaret Lucas (R).

Although one part of the castle was demolished (slighted) by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil Wars, the Little Castle and its exquisite interior decoration has survived until today (although with some restoration by English Heritage).

The Little Castle

20160817 007 Bolsover Castle

The Fountain Garden, the Walled Walk, the the Riding School Range in the distance, and the demolished Terrace Range on the right.

Seen better days – the Terrace Range
The Terrace Range is now in ruins, but when it was originally built it must have been spectacular, not only for the grandeur of the building itself, but also for the views over the Derbyshire landscape.

The heyday of Bolsover Castle did not last long.

20160817 048 (2) Bolsover CastlE

20160817 048 (3) Bolsover Castle

The Ante Room
Just inside the main entrance, and to the left, of the Little Castle is the small Ante Room, with wonderful wood panelling and wall paintings.

The Hall
The next room is the main hall, with fine vaulted ceilings, a large stone fireplace, and more paintings high on the walls.

The Pillar Parlour
Beyond the Hall, and on the left before climbing the stone stairs to the first floor, is the Pillar Parlour. This is one the finest rooms in the castle. It has, like many rooms in the Little Castle, a fine marble fireplace with insets of black marble, a common theme throughout the building.

The Star Chamber
On the first floor is the Star Chamber, named after the beautiful light blue ceiling decorated with gold stars. The tapestries hanging from the walls are not original, but have been installed to show what the room might have looked like four centuries ago. Again there is a fine white and black marble fireplace, and exquisite paintings on the wood panelling.

The Marble Closet
Just off the Star Chamber is the Marble Closet, furnished in black and white marble, with more wall decoration.

The Heaven Closet
This one of the most beautiful rooms in the building, so called because there is a figure of Christ is the center of the ceiling paining. It was completed in 1619.

The Elysium Closet
Decorated in a Greek style, this small room off William’s bedroom, has a theme that is quite the opposite of the Heaven Closet.

The Lantern and top floor rooms
On the top floor, underneath a cupola, is a series of rooms leading off this central feature. It must have been a place where residents and guests met because of the way that daylight floods down to highlight the golden walls.

The Kitchens
There are several rooms in the basement, kitchens and storage rooms, that must have always been busy to satisfy the culinary need of the residents upstairs.

20160817 173 Bolsover Castle

The Fountain Garden
Outside the Fountain Garden is dominated by a statue of Venus, and the planting reflects plants that would have been available during the 17th century. The Walled Walk provides great views over the garden.

The Riding School Range
Just through the main gateway to the castle, and to the left, is along 17th century building with a riding school. It’s possible to climb to the top floor and see the intricate and splendid wood beams holding up the roof.

We have passed Bolsover Castle so many times when we travel up to Newcastle upon Tyne to visit our younger daughter Philippa and family. It was a day trip of more than 180 miles, but well worth it.

In Bolsover there is just a small car park close to the castle entrance, that was already full when we arrived. Just a little further on, and through a rather discreet entrance is another overflow car park – not signposted at all – where you can park free of charge on what must have once been part of the castle terrace.

 

 

 

 

Here a henge, there a henge . . .

On 2 July we set off from home just before 10 am, heading south towards the New Forest in Hampshire, where we stayed for a week with our daughters Hannah and Philippa and their families.

The trip south was about 143 miles, on the route we took. That was south on the M5 motorway, over the Cotswolds to Swindon, then on south via Salisbury to our destination.

We broke our journey at Avebury in Wiltshire, a World Heritage Site, a dozen miles south of Swindon.

Avebury has two attractions: Avebury Henge and stone circles, and Avebury Manor, once the home of Alexander Keiller (of the marmalade family) who spent many years in the 1930s discovering the archaeology of this ancient Neolithic site.

aerial-avebury (eng-heritage)

Avebury village and stone circle.

There is something enchanting about stone circles and , lost in the mists of time, it’s hard to imagine why and how ancient Neolithic people erected these thousands of years ago.

Entering Avebury you certainly do not get an impression of just how big the earthworks are. It’s only when you are on the ground, and see the massive ditches (the henges) that the full impact of their construction—by hand—using the most rudimentary of tools like antlers, really hits you. Of course there are other henges in the vicinity: Stonehenge and Woodhenge, to name just a couple. But this Wiltshire landscape for some reason is an area of considerable Neolithic activity. Due to my current disability, and not wanting to spend too much time walking over uneven surfaces, we did not explore the henge and stone circle as much as I would have wanted.

20160702 055 Avebury

20160702 004 Avebury

20160702 005 Avebury

20160702 009 Avebury

Avebury Manor is a 16th century building, that was restored by Keiller. But in 2011 its refurbishment was the subject of the BBC TV series The Manor Reborn, by a group of experts in collaboration with the National Trust. There is no consistent theme throughout the manor’s decoration, each room representing a different period in its history. It’s an interesting concept, but from my perspective this doesn’t allow a visitor satisfactorily to develop a solid impression of the house and its worth. There’s no doubt that it is a beautiful building in a rural setting. I thought the mishmash of historical themes was inappropriate and it would have been better to have chosen a single era for its decoration. nevertheless I do recognise that the BBC’s and experts’ involvement in this way have probably helped save the building in a better state for the future.

Almost 500 years and 21 monarchs later . . .

Yes, almost 500 years and 21 monarchs, not counting the Commonwealth (1649-1660) under Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard, nor the joint monarchy of William III and Mary II as two.

Built between 1539 and 1540, during the reign of Tudor monarch Henry VIII, Calshot Castle has proudly guarded the approaches to Southampton Water in southern England under almost continual occupation since then.

20160709 062 Calshot Castle

The south face of Calshot Castle, with an 18th century extension on the left.

Situated at the tip of Calshot Spit it commands a view over The Solent towards the Isle of Wight to the south, and north along Southampton Water that leads to one of England’s premier and ancient ports.

20160709 003 Calshot Castle

Looking across The Solent to the Isle of Wight.

20160709 027 Calshot Castle

Looking north up Southampton Water towards the Port of Southampton.

Of course it has undergone several modifications during the intervening centuries, but from the basement to the roof it’s still possible to see some of the earliest Tudor constructions. It last saw active service during the Second World War, and anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the roof. Calshot Castle is now in the care of English Heritage. We visited there during our recent holiday in Hampshire. It was quite windy the day we headed along Calshot Spit. I thought that perhaps we would spend at most 30 minutes looking round the castle. We must have been there for almost two hours. Calshot Castle is fascinating, and its history just oozes from the fabric of the building.

The Royal Air Force maintained an air station there for many decades, and it was the site for seaplane and flying boat operations. There’s an interesting museum in the castle detailing this. Calshot was also the site for the 1929 Schneider Trophy air race. Today, the original hangars have been given a new lease of life as a recreation center. A lifeboat station and coastguard tower have also been constructed alongside the castle.

Two years in the planning . . .

Steph and I have two lovely daughters.

20160711 244 New Forest holiday

Hannah (on the left), the elder, lives in St Paul, Minnesota, and is married to Michael. They have two children: Callum, who will be six in mid-August, and Zoë, who turned four last May.

Philippa (on the right) has stayed in the UK. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, and married Andi in 2010. They have two boys: Elvis will be five at the end of September, and Felix will be three on 1 September.

But until this past week, we had never all been under the same roof. And the grandchildren had never met each other.

20160711 514 New Forest holiday

L to R standing: Michael and Andi. L to R sitting: Callum, Hannah, Zoë, me, Steph, Elvis, Felix, Philippa.

Two years ago, Hannah and Michael had planted the idea of coming over to the UK for a summer holiday. But where to stay, and what to do—apart from enjoying each other’s company? With us living in the Midlands south of Birmingham, and Philippa in the Northeast, it seemed logical to plan a holiday somewhere nearby to either of those locations. Unfortunately our home is not large enough to host everyone. Northumberland to the north of Newcastle is a beautiful county, but was eventually ruled out as probably not enjoying the warmer weather everyone hoped for.

So we eventually focused on the New Forest, west of Southampton, an area I know well having family links with the area, as well as from my undergraduate days at the University of Southampton. But apart from a week’s holiday there in the late 1980s, I haven’t been back since.

For various reasons the 2015 plans fell through, and even this year nothing was settled until quite late. Originally we had said that if Hannah and family came over to the UK we wouldn’t plan to take our usual break in Minnesota this year. As a trip to the UK didn’t seem to be in the offing, we went ahead and booked flights in early September for a three week stay in Minnesota. Then, Hannah and Michael confirmed that they would fly over here after all, and the search was on for a holiday home that would accommodate six adults and four small children. Thank goodness for the Internet. Hannah quickly zeroed in on three properties, and we eventually chose a five bedroom house in the village of Dibden Purlieu on the eastern edge of the New Forest National Park.

Our holiday began on Saturday 2 July, and we planned to get to the holiday home by about 5 pm, in time to be there when Hannah and Michael arrived from Southampton Airport. However, we decided to make something of the trip south, calling at Avebury in Wiltshire to visit two National Trust properties: the 16th century Avebury Manor and Garden, and the world famous Avebury Neolithic henge, comprising three stone circles. We spent just over two hours exploring the manor house and garden, but because of my current walking limitation, were not able to walk the length of the stone circles.

Sunday was a rest day. Hannah and family didn’t emerge from their beds until after noon, so we decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing around the house.

Phil and Andi didn’t arrive until Monday evening, so we decided to make a short excursion before lunch down to the coast at Lepe, just a few miles south of Dibden Purlieu. Callum and Zoë had a blast on the shingle beach, and afterwards in the play area above the cliff in the main part of the country park. Just what was needed to flush away the remnants of jet lag.

After Phil and Andi arrived, it didn’t take long before the newly-introduced cousins were playing together and running round the garden having a grand old time.

Tuesday was a very bright and sunny day, hot even, so we set out to cover the 40 miles plus drive west to Corfe Castle in Dorset (another National Trust property). Visiting a castle was on Callum’s list of things to do over here in England. So he was somewhat unimpressed—to begin with—when all he saw was a ruin. But once inside and we had the opportunity to climb on to the walls, peer through the narrow windows, imagine what life would have been like centuries ago, and even dress up in medieval clothes, then all the grandchildren had a whale of a time.

Wednesday saw us at Exbury Gardens just south of Beaulieu on the Beaulieu River, purchased by Lionel Nathan de Rothschild in 1919, and where he developed a world collection of rhododendrons and azaleas (which had mostly passed flowering when we visited). But there were many other features to explore, such as a very large Rock Garden, a steam train ride, and all the space the children needed to run around.

On Thursday, we set off for a walk from Beaulieu Road Station across the heath at Shatterford Bottom towards the southwest edge of Denny Wood, then on for a picnic on the edge of Matley Heath. After lunch we headed to the coast at Barton-on-Sea where the children could get their feet wet; the water was too cold for any swimming. And to watch the paragliders. We had hoped to have a fish and chip supper in Barton, but we’d finished on the beach by 4:30 or so. We therefore decided to head back to Hythe and had a pub meal at The Lord Nelson overlooking Southampton Water, where we could watch the huge container ships and cruise liners pass by.

Friday was a lazy day, and we didn’t head out into the forest until after lunch. Fritham was our destination, for another walk through the forest, and hopefully grab a bite to eat for dinner at The Royal Oak, a small pub I first visited in 1969 when I was Morris dancing with the Red Stags Morris Men (University of Southampton) and we joined the Winchester Morris Men on one of their tours.

Just south of Fritham, we visited the Rufus Stone where the killing of William II (William Rufus) in August 1100 is commemorated. I first went there as a young boy with my elder brother and mum and dad in the 1950s. It was great to be able to take my grandchildren there.

After a walk of a mile or so, we returned to The Royal Oak for a welcome pint. The pub, although modernised, still has all the kegs of beer lined up behind the bar, just as in the later 1960s.

20160711 507 New Forest holiday

L to R: Felix, Callum, Hannah, Elvis, Michael, Andi, Philippa, Steph, and Zoë.

There was no food to be had at The Royal Oak, but we found a child-friendly pub, the Coach and Horses, at Cadnam.

On Saturday, the children were desperate to have a pony ride. So while they all headed off to a petting farm near Ashurst, Steph and I decided to visit an English Heritage property nearby. Calshot Castle, constructed by Henry VIII in 1539, guards the entrance to Southampton Water at the tip of Calshot Spit. For many decades it was an RAF base for flying boats and seaplanes; the original hangars are still there.

On the Saturday evening, Philippa and Hannah prepared a lovely roast chicken dinner that was washed down by several bottles of wine, and preceded by not a few G&Ts.

20160711 512 New Forest holiday

L to R: Steph, me, Zoë, Michael, Callum, Elvis, Hannah, Andi, Philippa, and Felix.

We departed for home on the Sunday morning, leaving Hannah and Phil and families to enjoy another week together. And from all accounts they have had a wonderful time.

But we didn’t head straight home. First we went due west about 45 miles, to Kingston Lacy, a 17th century country house and estate built by Sir John Bankes after the family was expelled from Corfe Castle during the English Civil Wars (between 1642 and 1651).

Kingston Lacy must be one of the jewels in the National Trust crown. It is sumptuous. In fact the only property that we have visited that can rival it is Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. But Kingston Lacy is several centuries older. The Bankes family apparently never threw anything away, and amassed a magnificent collection of works of art by several masters, furniture and porcelain. What a feast for the eyes!

From Kingston Lacy it was a direct, but rather winding, route north towards Bath and the M4 motorway, before joining the M5 motorway near Bristol, and covering the last 80 miles or so to Bromsgrove in much less time than I had feared. I think many people had stayed at home to watch Andy Murray win the Wimbledon Men’s Championship, or the British F1 Grand Prix. Or maybe they were settling themselves to watch the Euro2016 final from Paris between hosts France and Portugal. In any case, we did not have any hold-ups, thankfully, and were home not much after 5 pm, to enjoy a welcome cup of tea, and reflect on a wonderful week’s holiday with the family.

 

 

On the ecclesiastical trail in Shropshire . . .

In August last year, we had a great day out visiting Ironbridge and Wenlock Priory in Shropshire, between Telford and Shrewsbury. We intended also to visit Buildwas Abbey on the banks of the River Severn, north of Much Wenlock during the same trip. But I hadn’t checked my English Heritage handbook carefully, and we found the entrance gate to the abbey securely padlocked.

Not so yesterday, and Buildwas Abbey was the focus of our second ecclesiastical foray into Shropshire, a round trip from home of exactly 86 miles.

But, as on other days out, we always look for other National Trust and English Heritage properties close by to really make a day of it. On this occasion, it was Langley Chapel, about five miles west of Much Wenlock (map) over the other side of Wenlock Edge, and perhaps one of the most rural locations I have visited in a long while. There were minor roads, very narrow, edged by tall hedges, and just wide enough for one vehicle. I was commenting to Steph that my father would have said on such an occasion – just to encourage my Mum: ‘I hope we don’t meet a double-decker bus coming the other way!‘ Well, we did. Almost. I had to slow for a right angle bend, and just ahead of us was a large truck approaching down the lane, with several vehicles following slowly behind.

Rural and isolated it might have been. But what a glorious spot, with just the sounds of the lambs bleating in the meadows, and the wind rustling through the young wheat crop.

20160527 001 Langley ChapelOur first stop was Langley Chapel, an early 17th century building with its original roof dating from 1601. The chapel has no known dedication, and has not been used for services since the end of the 19th century. It was not altered during the 18th and 19th centuries (as happened in many other churches and chapels). It still retains the original Jacobean furnishings and fittings typical of a Puritan place of worship, such as box pews, a reading desk, and communion table, not an altar. the slightly raised chancel is paved with re-used medieval tiles.

Read more about the chapel and its origins below. Just click to view a larger image.

20160527 011 Langley Chapel

Buildwas Abbey
Founded in 1135 by Richard de Clinton, Bishop of Coventry, Buildwas Abbey was originally a Savignac monastery that eventually merged with the Cistercians. Situated on the Welsh borders, it suffered frequently in the civil turmoil and was often raided by Welsh princes. It was closed in 1536 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII.

We were the only visitors (as at Langley Chapel). It was a haven of peace, and sitting there in the sun, taking in the beauty of the ruins, and some the fine dressed stone that can still be seen, many thoughts raced through my mind about the people and events that those noble ruins must have seen.

A particular fine feature is the Chapter House, with its columns and beautiful vaulted ceiling, and medieval tiles paving the central part of the floor.

20160527 078 Buildwas Abbey

The Chapter House.

These monks certainly knew how to choose a location to build their communities.