Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A visit to Calke Abbey

We were heading up north one day and arranged for the route to take us past Calke Abbey which is a place I have always wanted to visit ever since it was announced that it had been given to the National Trust.

  • its history is covered here;
  • its paintings here;
  • pictures of the superb bed and more history here and here; and
  • some better photographs than mine here;
  • a very good National Trust blog with a lot of information about what the NT have done here.
Many of the owners of the house seem to have been very eccentric. Sir Vance Crewe who inherited the house in 1886, filled it with his collections (lots of stuffed animals / birds etc). He took to communicating with his servants by letter and hid in the woods when is wife entertained. He would not allow motor vehicles onto the estate and hence there are a lot of carriages on display. Electricity first arrived in 1962 !

Calke Abbey

This is the House (I know it is called Calke Abbey but you have to read the history to find out why) from the front. The first thing that struck us about this facade is that there seems to be no grand entrance.

The Greek Portico was built onto the front of the house in the early 1800s, about one hundred years after the house was built. At roughly the same time, the set of grand stone steps which took visitors up to the entrance salon on the First Floor  were removed and replaced with a rather horrid flight of metal steps on each side of the portico - later these were removed. So currently the only entrance on the front is through a nondescript door in the centre of the ground floor which leads into a small lobby.

Calke from the side

The size of the house can be seen from this view.

The National Trust say that what the visitor sees when they go round is exactly as they found it when they took the house over. We were told that they took thousands of pictures of everything in situ before clearing rooms out in order to stabilise them. By this, they mean that they tried to stop the house deteriorating any further and have not renovated anything. Once the structure had been stabilised, everything was put back exactly where it came from.

LIving Room Calke Borthers

To the left of the ground floor entrance is one of the few rooms lived in by the last owners of the house. Apparently they had a deal with the local butcher that whenever an animal from the estate went to the slaughterhouse, the head was returned for stuffing.

Cartoon Room

Around the corner is a room known as The Cartoon Room - why is obvious. These seem to be original political cartoons pasted onto the walls.

In the stair windows (going up to the first floor) are a pair of pigs placed exactly where they were found

Pig 1

Pig 2


then on the first floor is the remains of a kitchen used by the last owners

Chair room

and next to that a room with the largest variety of chairs you will find anywhere.


The original entrance room (double height), now the salon contains numerous stuffed animal cases and a billiard table, paintings and a lot more.

Room full of collectables

By now you should have some idea of how much stuff has just been dumped in rooms. Apparently when one room got too full, they just put the next items collected in the next empty room.

Library Shelf

Books on a library shelf are in the order they were placed - i.e. no order.

Stabilised Decay 1Stabilised Decay 2

Stabilised decay is obvious once you get into the further reaches of the house.

Collections of “things” continue to fill rooms.

Room 1 

Room 2

Room 3

Portable Shower

Above is a portable shower (the six cane poles are removable thus making it portable). Hot water is put into the tank on the top, you shower and your servant uses the hand pump on the front to pump the water back up to the top tank so either you can continue to shower or the next person can shower in your dirty water.

State Bed

The most remarkable and perfect item in the house is “The State Bed” which probably came to Calke Abbey in 1734 with the marriage of Lady Caroline Manners to Sir Henry Harper but was found to be too large to be assembled. So it was put back in its crates and left in the basement to be rediscovered by the National Trust nearly 300 years later. It is now assembled in what used to be a Maid’s Bedroom and is as good as new.

There is a lot more to see in the house but this should have given you a taste of the inside.

We thought that the grounds were just as good as the house in that they were very interesting and a mixture of maintained / restored and unrestored.


All country estates usually have their own church and this one is no different.

Church Inside

It is still in use and the inside contains a number of monuments to the owners of the house with flowery text extolling their virtues and proclaiming how much they were loved by the locals! 

An example is:


and so it continues in the same vein for a lot longer.

Garden 1

The Kitchen Garden has been restored to some extent

Garden 5

with the stated intention of not only growing the vegetables which were originally grown there to feed the house but also to let children, many of whom may not have seen growing vegetables, see them growing and pick and taste them when they are ready. 

Garden 4 Cardoon

This plant is a Cardoon which is a vegetable plant of the artichoke family and was first mentioned in 400BC by Greek writer Theophrastus 

Garden 3

and is beloved of bees.


There were Medlar trees (as above) and Quince in the original 1700 garden and they have been planted here again as part of the recreation of the original garden.

Flower Display

This may look like a display of potted plants but is in fact a rare example of an Auricle Theatre which if you have not heard of before, then click on the link (the explanation is quite a way down the link article).

Managed Decay in Glasshouse

The original glasshouse is still standing and inside shows the managed decay which the National Trust is trying to maintain.

There is also a flower garden

Entry to Garden

which is beautifully maintained

Calke Garden

and seats have been positioned for you to sit and enjoy the garden.

Garden Shed

The Gardeners Shed looks like they have just nipped out fir a moment and smells just like garden sheds did in my childhood. It also contains all of the essential items which other people might have thrown away but a careful gardener keeps just in case the come in handy one day!

 Garden Tunnel

The owners of the house wanted to be able to walk their grounds without their day being spoilt by seeing their servants. So they had an 85 metre tunnel constructed under one of the estate walks to enable the Gardeners to leave

Garden Tunnel 001

without being seen.

Garden Pump

And continuing my occasional theme of National Trust Garden Pumps - here is number 3 in the series.

Puppet Theatre

One thing which particularly stuck us about the House and the Gardens was the focus upon children and childhood. Amongst the things in “The Garden of the Imagination” was the above puppet theatre

Puppet Mistress

complete with hand puppets for children (and adults) to choose from and logs in front for the audience to sit on. In the

Toy Playing

stable block a number of the stalls had been equipped with all sorts of things for imaginative play including “Dressing Up Clothes”; Tea Party equipment; and much more. To my mind, this was the type of play common when I was a child. Worksheets were readily available covering all of the house for children to use on a sort of “Treasure Hunt” as well as a number of the items in “50 Things to do before you are 11 ¾”.

I thought Calke Abbey was well worth a visit particularly if you have an inquiring mind because the staff there are very keen to answer questions, no matter how obscure.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Some National Trust properties and a revisit to Mary Arden

Last year we went to Stratford Upon Avon for a Rotary Meeting and took the opportunity to visit all of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust sites. The ticket we purchased gave free return entry for the next 12 months and so we decided that we would return to visit Mary Arden’s Farm again if that became possible.

This year we joined the National Trust because we were going to the Isle of Man and knew that we would be able to visit free of charge all Manx National Heritage sites throughout the island because they had reciprocal entry arrangements with the National Trust (we managed to go to nine). A gap in the diary led us to plan a visit two National Trust houses in Warwickshire (Charlecote Park and Baddesley Clinton) and to revisit Mary Arden's Farm.

Charlecote Park

The National Trust website for Charlecote is one of their better ones and worth visiting here.

This is marketed as "A Victorian home set in landscaped deer park” and whilst it is Victorian, it is also a Tudor building in remarkable condition,

Approach Gate Lodge along drive

but as you walk dow the drive, it is its Tudor appearance which you notice first.

The best way of explaining the extraordinarily long history of this place is to copy a paragraph direct from the National Trust website:

"Ancestors of the Lucy family have lived at Charlecote since at least 1189, when Sir Walter de Cherlecote inherited the estate, but the story really begins with the first Sir Thomas Lucy who was born around 1532. He married 12-year-old heiress Joyce Acton in 1546 and using her money he rebuilt Charlecote as one of the first great Elizabethan houses.
Today, you see Charlecote with its splendid Victorian interiors created by George Hammond and his wife Mary Elizabeth Lucy. The present baronet, Sir Edmund Fairfax-Lucy and his family still live in one wing of the house."

It is said that in his youth, Shakespeare was caught poaching deer in the grounds of the house.

Gatehouse rear

The Gate House was used as a place to eat dessert whilst overlooking the grounds and once also as an isolation ward for a child with Scarlet Fever.

Charlecote House

The main house can first been fully seen once you have gone through the Gate House. 

Side of House

Unlike some buildings where “show and wealth” was restricted to the front and the sides were built to a lesser standard, here the sides are just as good as the front. 

Carving 001

Labour was of course cheap when the house was built and wealth would be shown by possessions such as this carved corner stone


or the carved stone trellis around the garden

Parterre Garden

with a very neat Parterre within.

Over the front entrance of the house is the coat of arms of Elizabeth I put there in honour of her visit to the house.

Elizabeth Coat of Arms

Elizabeth was queen of England and Wales and hence there are only the symbols of these countries. That of Scotland did not arrive until James.

Within the main hall is an astonishingly intricate pietra dura stone table. I could not get into a position where a photograph

Table Inlay

would do it justice so you have to be satisfied with a picture of a bit of the pattern. There is information about it here together with a link to a website showing how they are made. It is beautiful (if you like that sort of thing), very heavy and in its day, very expensive at £3400 (perhaps around £250,000 today).

There are numerous rooms within the house which you can walk through. Nearly all give an impression of a

Drawing Room

Victorian House rather than an Elizabethan one because the inside of the house moved with the times. The room above was said to have been slept in by Elizabeth I when she visited the estate.

Drawing Room Ceiling

The ceiling is Victorian in design and similar to that which we saw at the Gaiety Theatre in the Isle of Man a week or so earlier.

Painting of Gate

On one wall hangs a rather nice painting of a lady in Victorian costume standing against a gate. It was in fact painted in the

Painting Gate

1970’s and the gate is just outside the window.

Staircase 001

The Staircase manages to give an impression of Tudor age


and Victorian presence through the family portraits hanging on the wall.


National Trust say that the Library is the most important one in any of their houses 

Library Ceiling

and has the usual ornate Victorian ceiling.

Dining Hall

the adjacent Dining Room is small

Dining Hall 001

but nicely laid out 

Water Pump

Outside and close to the kitchens is an old hand pump which looks much older than the nearby kitchens.

Kitchen 001

These retain their Victorian look

Ice Box

with an ice chest (before they were able to make ice, it would be collected during the winter and stored underground for use during the year)


a large kitchen dresser

Kitchen Range

and a working range

Kitchen Maid

and a kitchen maid cooking lunch.

We were impressed with Charlecote Park because the staff there were enthusiastically explaining everything to anyone who would listen and because it was a very good mix of Tudor and Victorian.

Punch and Judy

And to complete the Victorian feel of the place, in the grounds was a live Punch and Judy show taking place - the first I have seen for many many years.


Listening, it was obvious that children still know what to do when Punch appears.

Baddesley Clinton

A few miles away is another property dating from approximately the same period. And again, the National Trust website best sums up the house:

"Baddesley Clinton was the home of the Ferrers family for 500 years. Much of the house you see today was built by Henry Ferrers, a lawyer, diarist and antiquarian, in the late 1500s.

The house was a sanctuary not only for the Ferrers family, but also for persecuted Catholics who were hidden from priest hunters in its secret hiding places during the 1590s."

Baddersley Clinton and Moat

The house is one of those rare moated houses

Baddesley Clinton from the side

and is absolutely picturesque.

Baddesley Clinton from the rear

 This is the rear of the house and is made from brick, presumably because brick was cheaper than stone (here).

BC Front

From the front, it looks very a very solid house

Door Bell

and the Front Door Bell pull perhaps reflects its Christian role in earlier years.

BC Door

The front door looks like it dates from the 1500s and once inside,

BC Courtyard

you are in a central three sided courtyard,

BC Courtyard 001

it looks absolutely beautifully maintained.

Dining Room

There is a lot of history inside and there is a clear explanation of its lineage in the entrance. Of interest to us was that the Vaux Sisters lived in the house in the 1590s and some of my ancestors (albeit 100 years later) had the name Vaux.

Like the previous house we visited, this one dates from the Tudor Period but has been lived in fairly continuously and thus reflects Victorian life more than any other.

Above is the dining room and adjacent to that is a sitting room with portraits of “The Quartet”. When we went round, the room guide had a very interesting story to tell about the life style of the four members of “The Quartet” and how the relationships between them came about and developed. I will say no more and let you ask if ever you visit the house.

BC Great Hall Fireplace

The Great Hall is home to a very ornate early 17th century fireplace and upstairs in Henry Ferrers’s Bedroom is an equally historic one which would not lend itself to a good photograph.


The house has its own chapel (as was common with houses of the Elizabethan period).

18th Century Glass Panel

Hanging in one window was a lovely piece of painted glass. Painted in the 1700s, it shows a Dutch church interior.

Art Room

Some members of the quartet were painters and a room has been recreated as a studio.

In the adjacent library is a “blood stain” on the floor which supposedly relates to a colourful period in the past. Again, you will have to ask for a detailed explanation and the story. Then, as now, if you had money, you could buy influence and/or forgiveness.

 Priest Holes were common in houses of the period.

Priest s Hole access

Baddesley contains three and the stairs in this picture enable the visitor to look into one which is hidden behind a wall and above a fire place.

Priest s Hole inside

Another is accessed through a trap door in a room next to the chapel

Priest s Hole Upstairs

and was accessed (if I have understood it correctly) by going down a "garderobe shaft" into the drains below the house.

Ladder down to Priest Hole

They were very successful as Priest Holes in that none were ever discovered.

There is a readable account of the house here. There is a lot more to see and learn than we have covered here. We really enjoyed visiting this house and would like to come again sometime.

Mary Arden’s Farm

Mary Arden’s Farm just outside of Stratford Upon Avon is part of a large site comprising houses, barns, outbuildings, fields and more.

MA House Main Picture

For many years this building (here the rear) was thought to be Mary Arden’s Farm but research suddenly revealed that

MA Palmers Farmhouse from Front

it was Adam Palmer’s Farm (their next door neighbour).

MA Farm yard

This is the rear of Mary Arden’s Farm - the building next door. 

MA Pigs

The farm tries to recreate farming life in the 1600s with a few friendly Tamworth Pigs

Herding the Geese

and Geese who you are invited to herd (the technique is one in front blocking the way you do not want them to go using a long stick, and one behind encouraging them to walk and no sudden movements !). There are also Owls and other birds of prey. 

MA Garden

The Kitchen Garden is tended in the style of the period and a major event every day is Lunch.

MA Lighting Fire

First however the fire in the kitchen has to be lit (and it was in a very traditional way - no fire lighters or matches)

MA Fire

MA Kitchen

and over a few hours, lunch was cooked

MA Lunch

which the Master of the House and the farm workers sat down to eat in full view of all of the visitors. They remained in period for much of the time but also explained how the table worked, what they ate and why etc.

2nd Best Bed

Upstairs are a number of beds (maybe one is the second best feather bed)

Bed in attic

Beds in Attic

and at the end of the loft is where the servants would have slept.

It was pouring with rain for most of the time when we visited and hence what we saw and did was somewhat limited. We did however have the site much to ourselves.