Monday, March 26, 2007

The day was ruined - 25 March 2007

Witley Court in May 2005Sunday started with our second visit to Witley Court, a romantic ruin of a grand house built in the 19th century, by the then richest man in England, whose wealth came from coal. In a strange irony, this mansion, built from the profits of fuelling fires, was ruined by a fire that destroyed part of the house in 1937. Uneconomical to The chapelrepair, the rest was stripped and the result today is a picturesque ruin. In it's day, this mansion was a real showpiece.

The interior of the attached chapel was purchased from a bankrupt aristocrat and is an amazingly unexpected celebration of Baroque architecture. However, these places are not really seen at their best on a grey overcast Henley-on-Ardenmorning and it was not long before the low temperature hinted that it was time to press on.

Our lunch stop was the picturesque village of Henley-in-Arden: the long main street has, apparently, examples of nearly every period of English architecture and is well worth a visit.

Kenilworth CastleThen it was on to the ruins of Kenilworth Castle. The original keep was built in the time of the Norman Conquest. (They certainly were an industrious bunch, the conquering Normans: they scattered castles all over the land.) A variety of owners added to it and ultimately Elizabeth I gave the Castle to Robert Dudley, her childhood The stablessweetheart and Court favourite. She visited the property 4 times, although she stayed with Dudley a total of 23 times, at his various houses. The only currently inhabitable building is the original gatehouse, built as an impressive gateway by Dudley for one of her visits.

Berkswell ChurchThe final stop of the day was the attractive village of Berkswell, named after a well (actually a spring) in the village. The church is picturesque outside and inside and has a rare vaulted crypt, open for visitors. The half-timbered porch was the original priest’s lodging. It is the second Church we have seen with mice carved into the woodwork: we only found one of the 17 in the time we had available.

Hartlebury, Harvington, Holes & Hills - 24 March 2007

Hartlebury CastleSaturday began in Hartlebury with a visit to Hartlebury Castle, which is actually a Bishop’s Palace. We were fascinated to find a time-line chart there that showed that a likely (but as yet unproven) ancestor, Bishop John Hooper, was the resident Bishop from 1552-4.

After lunch at the canal town of Stourport-on-Severn we visited the very interesting medieval and Elizabethan house, Harvington Hall. Harvington HallThe Hall has survived largely untouched since the 1580s because in 1696 it passed, by marriage, to the Throckmortons who had other grand estates and did not need this home. Consequently, although occupied by Estate Managers and Clergy, it was never ‘modernised’. While not that far from Hartlebury, it would be most unlikely that Bishop Hooper ever visited the Hall as this was the home of a staunch Catholic family: evidenced by the seven Priest Holes; apparently the most priest holes in any English house.

Priest in a hole under the stairsYou would never know he was there

Now you see him, now you don't

Kinver Edge is very nearby and at the foot of the escarpment is Holy Austin Rock that has several very interesting cave houses built into Rock Housesthe rock. Unfortunately they were not open, but we did the walk around the top of the ‘Edge’, which looks out over the surrounding countryside.

In Kidderminster we saw the statue of Sir Rowland Hill who invented the Penny Post and about whom William Gladstone said, “His great plan ran like wild-fire Doors in Wolverleythrough the civilised world: never, perhaps, was a local invention and improvement applied in the lifetime of its author to the advantages of such multitudes of his fellow creatures.” As we read the plaques on the statue we were entertained by a father and four small children in the bus shelter singing:
The wheels on the bus go round and round,
round and round, round and round.
The wheels on the bus go round and round
except when waiting for the 269.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Never in the course of history .... - 18 March 2007

... have so many owed so much to so few.
... have so many been upset by one theory.

Down House from the gardenIt may have been Mothering Sunday but we focused on a couple of famous fathers. One of the houses that has been on the list for a visit for quite some time is Down House, home of Charles Darwin.

While in the area we re-visited Chartwell, home of Winston Churchill. ChartwellBoth houses were very much focused on the owner’s Study, where their books were researched and written. Churchill said that a day away from Chartwell was a day wasted and Darwin was largely confined to home by ill health, such was the significance of these rooms to these two great men that were nationally mourned at their deaths.

The other place of significance at Down House was the glasshouse where Darwin conducted experiments on plant propagation.

Darwin's glasshouse

Saturday, March 17, 2007

We were there! - 17 March 2007

The new Wembley Stadium opened it's doors to the public for the first time today and we watched the first touch of the first ball of the first public game in the new stadium. Only about 40,000 of the 90,000 seats were occupied and the views from the lower level where we sat were fabulous. Although one of the largest stadia in the world it has an intimate feel.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Keeping an Eye on Big Ben - 11 March 2006

Spring arrives in the countryside - 10 March 2007

"First footing" across a newly ploughed field.

Hedge weaving is in progress.

The daffodils are out.

Wyvern ShippingThe boats are lined up and ready for the summer hire rush and the marinas are buzzing with activity.

Braunston MarinaBraunston Marina

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Marylebone Meanderings - 3 March 2007

Marylebone is an interesting area of London: even the name is interesting, as everyone seems to pronounce it differently. Regent's ParkThere are three official “correct BBC” pronunciations and a forth, used by London Underground when announcing the station on the Bakerloo Line. However you say it, the name derives from the name of the Parish Church, St Mary’s, which just happened to be near a river, or bourne – hence St Mary Bourne: became St Mary-le-bourne; became St Marylebone; became Marylebone. The river Tyburn has long since been culverted and appears only briefly as the lake in Regent’s Park

Property speculators developed the area in the 1700s and it retains a distinctive Georgian style.

Sherlock and Wat(son)-her-name discuss a caseIt is also home to 221b Baker St, a (then) fictitious address made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes series. The address has now been given a physical location and is the home of the Sherlock Holmes Museum: a fascinating collection of memorabilia from the stories.

Hertford HouseOn our wanderings, we revisited one of our favourite Museums: Hertford House, home of the Wallace Collection. This remarkable collection, the work of the 3rd and 4th Marquises of Hertford, was gifted to the nation in 1897 with the unusual stipulation that nothing is ever added to or loaned from the collection.

The day was rounded off in spectacular style as clear skies gave a magnificent view of a total lunar eclipse.

Once in a red moon