Saturday, 31 December 2016

Witley Court - a spectacular ruin

Happy New Year!

As I escaped to the Cotswolds from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, here is a post I prepared earlier, from our visit to Witley a couple of weeks ago.

As much as I love National Trust properties, with their sometimes lavish interiors and opulent decor, I equally enjoy a spectacular ruin.  Thanks to membership of the Civil Service recreational association, HASSRA, I have corporate membership to English Heritage.

Our nearest English Heritage property is the Grade I listed building and Scheduled  Monument, Witley Court. 

Witley Court started life as a brick built Jacobean mansion, built on the site of an earlier medieval manor house.  It was bought by Thomas Foley, son of a prominent Midlands ironmaster, in 1655 just after the Civil War, and he and his descendants remodelled it substantially over the next 200 years, creating much of the familiar footprint that we see today.

During their term of ownership the Foleys also built the attached church, with paintings by Antonio Bellucci, and remodelled the gardens, which included relocating the village of Great Witley, as it came too close to the south side of the house. Don't you just love that idea, neighbours too close?  Just move their house back a bit!  

Church interior 

The brook was dammed to create this lake.  

On a visit a few weeks ago, the lake was part drained for work to be carried out, and thousands of freshwater oysters were revealed along the shoreline 

In the early 1800's, when family coffers were bolstered by an advantageous marriage, noted Regency architect John Nash was commissioned to build two great Ionic porticoes at either side of the property, said to be the largest on any privately owned house in England.

  Not unexpectedly, the family finances took a turn for the worse, and the 4th Baron Foley was forced to sell the property to the trustees of a minor, William Ward, 11th Baron Ward and later 1st Earl of Dudley

Ward set about remodelling the house to his own tastes and it was soon clad in Bath stone, the finish that can still be seen today.

From 1843 to 1846 Witley Court was home to Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV and after requesting the piano to be re-tuned, the young son of the tuner, a certain Edward Elgar, became a regular visitor, entertaining guests in the ballroom by playing the piano for them. 

 The ballroom, as it would have looked to Edward Elgar

The ballroom today

In the late 1800's the house was the scene of many parties, the then Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, attended frequently.

In 1920 the house was sold again, this time to a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer, Sir Herbert Smith.  The house was never properly maintained or lived in after Sir Herbert bought it and a skeleton staff was employed to keep it ticking over.  In September 1937, a gardener noticed flames coming from the roof above servant's rooms and a strong wind carried the fire throughout one wing of the property.  An attempt was made by staff to put out the fire, there was a clever pumping system connected to the Perseus and Andromeda fountain for just such an event, which, due to lack of maintenance, failed to work.

Perseus and Andromeda fountain

The house was still liveable as only one wing was damaged, but Sir Herbert was not properly insured and so sold the house at auction to scrap merchants, who stripped the house of all the finery and valued items, some of which are scattered all over the world.

Even though the fire was almost 80 years ago, the charred wood in the ballroom still leaves a distinctive charcoal residue when you touch it.

Roofless and windowless, the house is a ghost of its former self.  Walking around you can almost hear the chinking of glassware and rustling of ballgowns, it really is an almost disturbing yet captivating place

Ornate plasterwork still intact on the wall and open to the elements

The huge curved wing joining the main house to the conservatory, designed by William Daukes for Lord Dudley.  Those empty plinths were once home to magnificent lion statues in solid marble. 

South view, church cupola visible over the massive conservatory, which had the largest curved glass roof of the time

Remains of the plate glass can still be seen embedded in the stone columns 

Conservatory where grape vines and lavender still grow 

East wing, which was the only part of the house destroyed by fire

The Perseus and Andromeda fountain has been fully restored and is currently undergoing maintenance, it will fire up again in the Spring, and is the second highest fountain in Britain, behind the fountain at Stanway House.  At the moment you can walk onto the scaffolding set up for the masons and view the fountain close up.  We could see the detail on the dragons foot and Andromeda's new hand

Andromeda is once again shackled to the rocks 

 An interesting local website here with more information about Witley and old photographs of how it once looked.

In 1967 Witley was considered to be the perfect backdrop for Procol Harum's video for their song A Whiter Shade of Pale, and historians have been poring over the video's grainy images for glimpses of the state of the building then to compare how much of it has been saved.

More information can be found on the English Heritage site here

I hope you enjoyed the tour of Witley, I may revisit my Summer photographs and blog some more about the places we visited during the year.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

My twelve favourite bargain finds of 2016

Merry Christmas everyone!

As I have been a bit remiss about blogging this year, I thought it only fair to do a round up of my favourite acquisitions over the past 12 months.  After all, what is a blog about being thrifty without any bargains?

I'll start with this, star buy of the year I think and from the local YMCA furniture shop which has since closed down.

Ercol Windsor shaker style chairs and Chester table, £45 the lot.  OH was with me and we had the chairs in the back of my car before the assistant could finish telling us the price!  I've kept the original cushion inners and will make new cushion covers for them. As you can see from the photo, the chairs were very dusty and the cushion covers were filthy and a bit worse for wear. 

Ebay bargain next, I've wanted a patterned coat or jacket for a while, but didn't want to splash out as I'm not keen on standing out from the crowd.  Anyway, this was a bargain at just £29 including postage, they retail at £120

A charity shop purchase next, a lovely grey needlecord Laura Ashley jacket for £1.  Ironically, this is from a charity shop that I used to just give a passing nod to, as it was expensive.  This year they have changed their pricing and I have bought quite a bit from them

A find from early on in the year now, this lovely new crocheted cardi from Next, found on ebay and my winning bid of £7.05 included postage too. 

More furniture, and also from the YMCA shop. A pair of three seater sofas by JC and MP Smith, makers of cottage furniture (now no longer trading).  Cost was £90 for the pair, and delivery was £15

 Next up, a charity shop bargain for OH, this WeirdFish fleece lined macaroni jacket for £7.99.  I hardly ever see these macaroni jackets in charity shops, and OH really liked mine, so when I saw this I bought it, and he loves it!

and another OH bargain, these Merrell shoes for just £7.99 in a BHF charity shop (I thought the price was a bit OTT until I realised how much Merrells cost).  He didn't like them until I asked him to try them on, then he didn't want to take them off, they were so comfy!

A bag next, this gorgeous navy leather Faith bag was unused and just £3.50 in a local charity shop.  I'm a fan of this Hobo shape so will get a lot of use from it.
This next purchase was a carefully considered one, a brand new item!  I bought a Weirdfish Macaroni full zip hoodie in foxberry colour, from Weirdfish a couple of months ago.  We visit the Cotswolds fairly frequently and I had seen them in the shops there for the RRP of £70, the lowest price they got to in the sale was £49 online.  I found a 15% voucher code online as well, not expecting it to work on sale items, it did and I also got free shipping.  Total cost to me was £41.65.

The next item is my new favourite jumper, a charity shop find from Broadway in the Cotswolds.  There are two charity shops there, both pretty expensive, and this jumper was £5.50, but I liked it so I bought it. The actual colour is green and lavender but the overall effect is grey.  The brand, Lilith, appears to be pretty high end and knitwear is somewhere over £100, so it was a bargain.  When I washed it I found it was absolutely filthy though!

This next bargain is a freebie.  I have a voucherback credit card, which I use for general shopping and paying bills if I can do so without penalty, and I accumulate points towards retail vouchers.  I'm pretty rubbish at spending vouchers usually, but always look forward to collecting my freebie retail bargains about once a year (as I actually don't spend much it's only worth cashing them in once a year!).

My last visit to Birmingham, with my vouchers, I visited Marks and Spencer and picked out these two tops for free.

  Last but not least, yet more furniture.  This time a Gumtree find, a pair of Ercol Goldsmith chairs for £30 the pair.  I needed a computer chair and just couldn't bring myself to buy a piece of modern tat.  I liked the dining chairs we already have, they are so comfy, and these are the same shape.  They have been sanded and re-varnished in a mahogany colour but I am hoping to paint one to go in the spare bedroom and sand the other back and just clear varnish it.

  So there you have it, my 12 fave finds from 2016, charity shopped, new and heavily discounted, ebay finds, freebie retail bargains and Gumtree finds too.

Linking this post up to Patti's Visible Monday

Have you found any great bargains this year? 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Perfectly Christmassy Packwood

We've been members of the National Trust for almost five years now, and all that time ago our first visits were to Baddesley Clinton and Packwood House.  We generally visit the two together as they are quite close to us and are only about a mile apart. 

Original front of Packwood House

Over the past few years we've visited more times than I care to think. We are recognised by the regular volunteers and have a chit chat with them about all sorts.

 As we know some volunteers and find them all friendly I find that asking a cheeky question sometimes gets an interesting response.  At Packwood, the original front door has quite a large keyhole, so my obvious question was "bet there's a massive key to fit that" I never thought for one moment it would have a massive key, and as the door is never used I assumed the key was long gone.  

Original front door, no longer used

Through the keyhole

No it isn't, it's still in use and hidden in the hallway. If you visit, do ask if you can see, it's a really, really large key!

Packwood always delights at Christmas though and this year was no exception, tastefully decorated trees in most rooms, and although the upstairs was cordoned off, the visit was still magical.

The hallway, complete with minstrel's gallery, and a real fire to warm yourself by

Apart from traditional trees in all the usual family rooms,the house this year was dressed with Christmas trees made of lampshade frames decorated with old maps and pictures, some having cutouts to let more light through, they were very effective.

These in the long gallery were taller than me

The hall, with its high ceiling, was adorned with smaller versions of the trees, all laid out on the very long refectory dining table.

Close up reveals wallpaper, maps and pictures, all stitched together

As a parts of the house were converted from outbuildings and added to by the previous owner, Graham Baron Ash, less than 100 years ago in keeping with the original style, it is easy to forget that the house dates back to Tudor times. The original hallway, now at the back of the house from the main entrance, is smaller and more in keeping with private properties of that era.

Looking both ways from the hall, both rooms are dressed for Christmas

Back towards the front of the house, where dinner is always about to be served in the dining room, note the flowers in the centre of the table which are made of newspaper 

 A quick tour of the grounds, which again are mostly closed off due to weather and to protect them from the heavy footfall of visitors.

A large wobbly yew hedge borders the yew garden

The view back to the house is stunning

When we first came to Packwood, they were about to start building the new visitor reception and cafe.  It has been completed for a few years now and we often treat ourselves to a cream tea, if it isn't too busy.

Special tiles were commissioned from fired Earth for the cafe and toilets, they have designs of all the things we love about Packwood

 More info about Packwood on Wikipedia here

National Trust Packwood page here

For an excellent potted history through the eyes of a first time visitor visit vintage Vixen's blog here

See you soon for another country house tour! 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Tales of murder, recusants and unicorns in Baddesley Clinton

What better way to escape the hubub of 21st Century Christmas consumerism than wandering around a Medieval moated manor house?

We popped over to Baddesley Clinton, a 14th century National Trust managed property in nearby semi rural Warwickshire, home of the Ferrers family for almost 500 years, and just a 40 minute drive away from us, down country roads.

 Originally purchased by lawyer John Brome in 1438 and probably surrounded by the Forest of Arden at that time, the house has a chequered history.

 This back corner is the oldest part of the property.

John Brome's son, Nicholas, took a dislike to the local priest and murdered him, allegedly in what is now the library.  There is a bloody stain in front of the fireplace, but alas, the front part of the property where the library is was not built until decades after the foul deed took place.

However, Nicholas Brome was ordered to rebuild the nearby parish church as penance for his crime, and also asked that he be buried upright in the doorway when he died so that everyone who enters walks over him, so repentant he was for his crime.

It was only recently that we discovered the headstone, hidden under the doormat in the church doorway

We visit Baddesley very frequently, sometimes just to wander around the gardens, and enjoy the peace and quiet, and space.  The rooms are familiar to us but each time we visit we find something new, along with all the old stories we know so well.

In the main family room, a shiny white tusk sits in a dark corner, propped up against the wall.  A gift from the King of France, no less, and he was adamant this item was a Unicorn horn.

It isn't a Unicorn horn of course, (it's a narwhal tusk)  but if the King of France tells you it is, are you going to argue?

Anyway, I digress, Nicholas's daughter inherited the house from her father and married Sir Edward Ferrers, High Sheriff of Warwickshire, and it was Edward who extended and built most of what now stands as Baddesley Clinton, in the early 1500's.

 Peering through to the main hall from an internal hallway.

The main hall, dressed for Christmas past. The huge stone fireplace was previously in a room above the hall, the ceiling was removed and it was lowered into its new position, although close inspection reveals it was not re-assembled correctly.

withdrawing room, complete with modern radiator!

Fully panelled Tudor bedroom 

Complete with Tudor door, how many hands have touched this door?

On the death of Edward Ferrers, the house passed to his son, Henry, a noted antiquary.  Henry was responsible for constructing the gardens and adding stained glass in the form of coats of arms to the house.

Christmas tree in the library

Antique fire extinguishers in the library


The Ferrers were notable Warwickshire recusants, they refused to give up their Catholic faith in favour of the new Anglican church brought in by Henry VIII. 

In the late 1590's the house was rented to two Catholic sisters and became a hiding place for Jesuit priests.  Several priest holes have been found and there may be more hidden within the structure of the building.  One priest hole has access from the upper floor, straight down into the sewer via the garderobe (medieval loo), and could accommodate 12 people!

Garderobe priest hole accessed underneath the makeshift alter, note the magnificently uneven floor!

After submerging ourselves in Baddesley's history once again, we emerged into the brightness of 21st century daylight and strolled around the gardens, also dressed for Christmas.

Baddesley is known for scarecrows, and there were a few seasonal ones on show.

I did ask OH to sit next to Santa, he didn't protest too much and he's not telling what he asked for!

One more wander around the house and grounds, then off to feed the ducks 

 Got to wear my new Weirdfish macaroni jacket in Foxberry, which I managed to get reduced to £42 from £70 with free delivery, one of a very few new items I have in my wardrobe.  Also wearing very old bootcut jeans which have been reshaped to narrow leg, and a vintage 50p charity shop Eastex scarf

We always bring proper duck food to Baddesley as the ducks are very friendly, to the point of mugging you for food, as you can see from OH's expression

Ducks fed, and we left for nearby Packwood House, but that story is for another day, see you soon!