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Thursday, 11 August 2016

It takes a village

Lacock is a rather unusual National Trust property in that it's not just a property, not even an estate, it's an entire village! And a beautiful village as that, even if it is a little odd around the edges!

Lacock village has hardly changed and therefore very popular with film and TV crews. You will no doubt have seen it as it's been in Downton Abbey, The Hollow Crown, Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl amongst many others and most importantly HARRY POTTER!

The village is very cute, lots of nice little gift shops and every other house was selling something out of the garden. Homemade jam, meringues, candles, plants, all with a little honesty box next to them for people to pay. I'm not sure if it a requirement of living in the village or just something to supplement your income as I'm sure living somewhere as picturesque as Lacock doesn't come cheap.

There was a somewhat stepford-y feel to Lacock and at one point I did think we were going to get asked to leave the village after we went into the third cafe asking for afternoon tea before 3pm and being refused. Luckily the National Trust cafe is always willing to supply tea and scones whatever the time of day!

The main property open to the public is Lacock Abbey, built in the 1200's by Ela, Countess of Sailsbury. You begin you tour in the fabulous cloisters and move through the house, jumping about through time as you do so.


The abbey's most famous resident (other than Harry Potter, of course) is Mr Fox Talbot, inventor of modern photography. His first photograph was taken in the abbey and the window that was the focus of the piece is highlighted on the visitor route. 

It felt amazing to be able to stand where he stood, photographing the same view and truly realise just how far technology has come, and how important his work has been. I wonder what he would think if he could have seen me with my phone snapping away in his home.

The first few rooms on the visitor route are large, empty rooms with few, but fascinating objects in. Stone coffins sit in the warming house but they were excavated from the Chapter House which makes a little more sense. There are beautiful mosaic floors and drawings on the walls and carved faces, something to notice in every room if you look hard enough.

After visitors leave the cloisters you head up into what more resembles a house. This is where the first major time jump happens, which did leave me behind a little since there was no warning, nor much explanation. We left a kitchen and suddenly I was looking at a WWI nurse's apron.

The rest of the tour continues like this, hopping around the centuries and along the upper floor and then down stairs which mostly focuses on Fox Talbot and his family. Although there is some very good interpretation here, particularly the Dining Table, it doesn't really make up for feeling lost around the rest of the tour.

The final room on the tour is a very impressive Gothick Great Hall created by John Talbot in the mid 1700's. The hall is full of intriguing and gruesome terracotta statues that were made on site by an Austrian artist, Victor Sederbach. 

I loved looking around the hall at all the weird and wonderful statues, but wanted to know more about each individual one. That summed up my visit really, visually it was amazing, there are no end of beautiful and interesting things to look at, but I don't feel like there was a coherent story being told.

If you visit Lacock for a scenic day out full of visiting little gift shops and enjoying the many beautiful elements of the abbey then it makes for a really lovely day out, just as long as you don't mind your wizadery followed by a bit of wibbly-wobbbly-timey-wimey. It's a brilliant thing that the birthplace of modern photography is so photogenic, and there is so much loveliness to see and sanp away at. 

The village is beautiful, the abbey is stunning and if you're lucky to get a sunny day like we had you will have a wonderful day, just don't expect afternoon tea for lunch!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Coughton Court, a patchwork property.

Coughton Court is a beautiful building or many different styles. You walk up to the door through a lovely Tudor looking courtyard, with a fountain in the middle and plant beds running down either side and enter through a medieval gate house. However looking at the house from the other side you could be forgiven for thinking it was a different building!

Like Charlecote Park, Coughton is also still home to the same family that has owned it for generations.

Coughton plays on the connection it has to the gunpowder plot. The Throckmorton family were an extensive and powerful family for several centuries. They were Catholics in a very protestant world and as such members of the large family were often involved in plots to bring Catholicism back to England, often by attempting to remove the current monarch in favour of a Catholic with strong claim to the throne.

Again the first thing that caught my attention in the house was a pietra dura table, however it was distinctly less fancy than Charlecote's. It had a charm of it's own however and bears the families coat of arms.

I was quite impressed that the runner on the stairs also bears the families coat of arms!

The staircase displays portraits of the family. The tour leads visitors to the top of the building first, then allowing you to explore each room on the way back down.

Part of the tour also includes going out onto the roof in the center of the building. Visitors climb a spiral staircase to get up to the roof which is all very exciting! The weather was lovely so I could really appreciate the view.

I enjoyed the fact that there were very few ropes and stanchions, you could walk right into the rooms and explore them. I know this is often not possible in houses so it feels like a real treat when you visit somewhere you can explore in this way.

There was one room dedicated to interpretation about the various plots that the Throckmorton family has been linked to. The information was very interesting but I'm not sure I liked the 'cage' display piece in the room.

It made the room very small and meant I had trouble reading all the information without feeling like I was in someone's way.

In contrast there was a really well done piece of interpretation in the Dining Room remembering those who lived and worked at Coughton and died during the First World War.

The dining table is set with a place for each man from the estate who died during the First Word War. In the center is a flower arrangement where each flower ha been created out a paper, copies of documents relating to the men and the war. 

The table is laid really nicely and by each setting is a photo of the man being commemorated. On the back of his chair hangs a piece of fabric with the individuals story. In the corner of the room is a display case with artifacts relating to the men, and next to that a table with reproductions of photos, medal cards and other documents for people to read.

The next room along from the Dining Room was full of interesting items, some lovely embroidery, and beautiful cope that in a very nice purpose built display case, and more religious artefacts. This room displayed the catholic relics the Throckmorton had kept safe over generations, despite the risk of persecution they faced for practicing their faith.

The cope is said to be the work of Catherine of Aragon, and it was conserved in 2001 by Blickling Conservation Studio, so looks wonderful!

Also in this room was the chemise Mary Queen of Scotts was wearing when she was executed. I had no idea this was housed in a Trust property so me and um were quite excited when we found this. I don't know how sure they are it is definitely Mary's chemise, it was given to the Throckmorton family in 1820, over 230 years after Mary's execution. The embroidery on the front is in Latin and makes that claim that the garment was Mary's, and who am I to argue with embroidery?

The Saloon is the last main room on the tour, and then you exit the building through a hallway that looks like it is used by the family that still live there, boots are sat around, coats hung up and umbrellas and walking stick lent up against the wall. It was quite strange to leave such a grand house through such a normal, homey looking area.

There are also two churches in the grounds, although we just popped in one as time was getting on. The church we visited was St. Peter's, completed in the late 1500's. My favourite part of this church was the stained glass window which looks to have been broken at one point and pieced back together at a later date, but in a very patchwork kind of manner. 

It looked quite striking, even if it wasn't what was originally intended.

A  bit like that stained glass window Coughton is a real patchwork, not only does the exterior look like several different buildings tacked together, the interior houses such a varied collection and it seems to be a house of many parts. 

Though the families' deep sense of religion runs through the whole visit there seems to be very little coherence, but I actually quite liked that as although there was no one 'feel' there was lots of interest and beauty in the house and grounds. Each room had a different style and story making a visit to Coughton a very interesting one.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Another Trusty Holiday

Recently I went on another National Trust holiday, with a portion of re-enacting in the middle, and visited another four wonderful National Trust properties. 

First on our tour was Charlecote Park, home to the Lucy family since the 12th Century. The current, rather impressive, house was built in the 1550's, the walls built of contrasting red brick and pale stone.

In the Great Hall the first thing that caught my eye was the fabulous pietra dura table, just like the one at Powis Castle where I used to work. I love the colourful stone and intricate designs. Turns out this trip was a good one for my love of pietra dura. 

Also in the Great Hall were lots of family portraits. There was an interesting one of Thomas Lucy III and his family. It is strange that the eldest son, Spencer, seems to be stood outside, while the rest of the family were stood close together inside. We thought it may have been to symbolise that he had died as a child, but he lived to inherit his father''s title. The picture features seven of the families 13 children.

There were also a series of slightly strange plaster busts of members of the family displayed in the Great Hall. I love looking at paintings and statues like these, they give a great idea of the clothing and fashion of the period.

The Dining Room has fantastic decor, amazingly bright wallpaper and a lovely plaster ceiling.

It also has great views out over the formal gardens.

I love libraries, and this library is a real treat. Beautiful inlaid furniture, and lots of lovely looking old books and another pietra dura table!

Charlecote also has a small connection to William Shakespeare as it is believed it was at Charlecote Park Shakespeare was caught poaching. The connection is amplified in the library where Shakespeare's Second Folio is on display (under a cover to protect it from too much light).

There were a lot of very nice objects in the house, pretty earth quake detectors in the Billiard Room, where looked like tall buildings with lots of bells hanging from the roof that would ring if the ground shook.

There was a lovely love seat in the Drawing Room, where they were doing some conservation in action! There was also a lovely gold and jeweled writing set on a table in one of the bedrooms. 

There didn't seem to be a lot to see on the top floor but that might have been because the family still have rooms in the house. It must be amazing to say that your family have lived in your home since the 12th Century! 

Despite a strong start, and the fact that the family still live there, I didn't really get a feel for the characters, or the story of the house. 

The grounds were lovely, and there is a really pretty stone work along the walls and the top of the house. It helped of course that it was a lovely sunny day!

We then had the first of many cream teas of the holiday in the Orangery, which was very nice, and headed off to the next property.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Welcome to Willow Tree

As Chapel and Collections Officer at Clumber Park I look after several collections of objects on the Estate, including a museum of agricultural tools donated to the estate in the 1980's.

The collections is called Willow Tree Farm and is housed at a farm in Hardwick Village on the estate. It is open every Wednesdays until October and both May bank holidays and is looked after by a fantastic group of volunteers.

Before it opened again we gave Willow Tree Farm a good deep clean to get rid of the many cobwebs that had gathered there over winter.

Luckily for us it was beautiful weather and with our fab team working hard we had pretty much the whole place finished in a day. Starting from the top, brushing the cobwebs and dust down to sweep it all up. All the objects got a bit of TLC and now look spic and span.

There were several large stone plinths in the barn, blocking one of the door to the farm courtyard so I asked the wonderful Estate Support Team to help me move them out of the way to where they could be admired.

The stone plinths are enormously heavy so the guys used a tele-handler to move them. They made it all look very easy and the plinths are now arranged nicely and not getting in our visitors way.

There are lots of interesting bits tucked away at Willow Tree Farm, from a life-size plastic cow (her name is Gertrude and she's quite famous around these parts!) to some interesting graffiti.

The graffiti shows horses pulling carts and jumping and is in an area that quite possible once housed horses. Maybe these pictures were the stable boys way of inspiring the horses that lived there.

Another equally interesting but distinctly less agricultural thing housed near the farm is the masts to the Lincoln ship. The Lincoln was a replica ship built in miniature for the Dukes to sail on Clumber Lake. The ship was unfortunately sunk and now lies at the bottom of the lake and the masts are no longer with it.

The museum itself showcases the evolution of agricultural equipment, and many of the pieces are still in working order meaning visitors can really get a feel for how farmers work and how food is produced.

There are also plenty of activities for children to have a go at, and the farm is a brilliant spot for a picnic in the sunshine!

As always I have to say a huge thanks to the wonderful volunteers for all their hard work in making what we do possible, and thanks to Sleem for his photos!