Thursday, 20 December 2018

Botanical Gardens - Birmingham

The Botanical Gardens are one of those places that you can visit any number of times and always find something different. Designed by J C Loudon in 1829 it took just three years to establish and open to the public. It was intended to serve as an attraction for local people and an education centre for the universities and schools.

The gardens cover 15 acres close to the centre of Birmingham. A range of exotic plants are featured in the four main glasshouses: Tropical, Sub-tropical, Mediterranean and Arid. In all, there are more than 7000 different plants in the glasshouses and across the flower borders in general.

There is also a large lawned aviary that houses many exotic birds, but some are also allowed free range of the gardens, and tend to stay there.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

B15 3TR

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Aston Hall - Birmingham

Sir Thomas Holme commissioned the building of the impressive Aston Hall in 1618. John Thorpe was the chosen architect and it took 17 years for the house and grounds to be completed, though Holme moved in in 1631.

There were moments to regret, especially when the Parliamentary Troops attacked in 1643. Some of the damage caused by cannon balls is still evident today.

In 1817 the Holme family sold the hall and parkland to James Watt Jr, son of the famous James Watt. In 1858 he could no longer manage to hold on and the hall was sold to a private company in 1858. They also struggled and in 1864 it was bought by the Birmingham Corporation.

Part of the parkland was hived off and is now the site for Aston Villa Football Club. Later a lower stretch of the parkland was taken to allow the construction of the A38 link road between the M6 motorway and the Birmingham City centre.

The hall in now a museum. For a while it housed most of the exhibits now in the new Birmingham Museum but now there are different themes on view. The hall is open to the public during the summer months. The gardens are ornate and well maintained.

Aston Hall

Aston Hall Gardens

B6 6JD

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Dinton Pastures Pleasure Park - Berkshire

Some parks go a step or two beyond the norm. That is what you will find at Dinton Pastures.

Apart from the boating lakes and wildlife trails, plus the extensive play areas, there are also activities designed to suit all ages, from toddlers, through teens to adults, mature or otherwise. There is organised swimming and boating, playgroups and well structured courses on a wide range of rural subjects and pastimes.

Worth a visit if you have an hour or two to spare.

Dinton Pastures Pleasure Park

RG10 0TH

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Chaddleworth - Berkshire

A few short miles from Brightwalton is the village of Chaddleworth, boasting a population of 500.

There is little doubt that the village has Saxon origins. Claims that it might be even older have not be proved emphatically. The main focus in the village for hundreds of years was the Priory that stood where Chaddleworth House stands today. Like many other such establishments, it fell foul of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and became the property of the Nelson Family.

The Nelson's were happy enough for around 250 years, but in 1809 they replaced the priory with the current Chaddleworth House.

Chaddleworth House

St Andrews - RG20 7DT

Brightwalton - Berkshire

Brightwalton does not warrant a day trip, but for anyone in the area it is worth a detour.

The village is in two halves. The more modern half could not claim to be attractive, but the other end features a cluster of thatched cottages and an interesting church.

The village existed pre-Norman Conquest days and the Domesday Book records, in 1086, the church of All Saints already built and serving the local populace. This church lasted until 1863, but then it was demolished and replaced by a Gothic Revival-styled church which has now been around long enough to be pretty at given times of the year.

RG20 7BN

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Hazelby House - Berkshire

Hazelby House is near the village of East Woodhay. It is in Berkshire but is very close to the boundary with Hampshire.

The house was built between 1900 and 1910 from a design by Sir Reginald Theodore Blomfield for Captain Sandbach. Some 40 years ago the house was bought by Martin and Prue Lane-Fox and they spent the next 20 years creating the 10 acre garden that is the highlight of the 350 acre estate.

The garden is divided into sections, featuring ornamental ponds, terraces, a lily pond and other areas that are themed. The house and grounds are not normally open to the public, but events are staged there from time to time in cooperation with the Hampshire Garden Trust.

Hazelby House

RG20 0AZ

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Caversham Court Gardens - Berkshire

Caversham Court is another of those places that fell foul of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

St Peter's Church was built during the 12th Century. A rectory was built alongside it, and following King Henry VIII's intervention it was gifted to Christ Church, Oxford. The rectory housed many influential local families over the next 400 years, and eventually became known at Cavendish Court.

The building had a chequered life. It came under attack during the Civil War. Later it was rebuilt in the Tudor style. Parts of the staircase and ceiling that sported bullet holes from the attack are preserved and can be viewed at the Museum of Reading.

The gardens were originally created over a 20 year period, commencing in 1660. In 1993, ownership of the house and gardens passed to Reading Corporation. The house was demolished but the gardens and other important buildings were opened to the public in 1934. When Reading Borough Council took over, they closed everything to visitors until the garden was reopened in 2009.

Caversham Court Gardens


Monday, 18 June 2018

Houghton House - Bedfordshire

We rarely detour anywhere to take in ruins, but sometimes the history of a place makes the journey worthwhile.

The Historic Houses Association tells us that Houghton House was built in the early 17th century by Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. It was intended as a hunting lodge. The design was neither one thing nor the other as it included both Jacobean and Classical features.

It lasted as a dwelling for close to 200 years, and is believed to be the inspiration for the ‘Palace Beautiful’ in the John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim's Progress.

It was dismantled in 1797, but rather than simply razing it to the ground, is was decided to keep the shell as attractive ruins and these were featured as part of the Ampthill Park.

MK45 2EZ

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Wickham House - Berkshire

Wickham House in Newbury, Berkshire, looks nothing like its original form. Originally a rectory was built on the site in the late 1700s. In the mid 1800s the Rector was one William Nicholson, an Irishman of some considerable wealth. First he totally rebuilt the nearby church of St Swithum, and then he turned his attention to the Rectory itself. During 1855 and 1958 he added a tower, large bay windows, a cloister, conservatory and finally a vinery. Other additions that he had were later demolished.

The house we see today is available for weddings, conferences and functions, and the gardens are opened to the public when it is deemed that they have something to show.
Wickham House

RG20 8HD

Monday, 23 April 2018

West Woodhay House - Berkshire

The house is not open to the public, but the gardens are on occasions, and then they are worth a visit.

There was once a castle on the site, but there are no remains whatsoever. A medieval manor was next to be built, and again, no trace remains. The current West Woodhay House was built in 1635. It is credited by some to Inigo Jones, but was more probably built by Edward Carter.

West Woodhay House

RG20 0BS

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Welford Park - Berkshire

The area that is known as Welford Park has been occupied for well over 1000 years. There was a monastic lodge that belonged to Abingdon Abbey. This was usurped by King Henry VIII following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He put the manor to use as a hunting lodge. Welford Park is still known today as a deer park.
The house that now occupies the site was built in 1652 for Richard Jones, His Grandfather, Richard Jones (Lord Mayor of London) had bought the grounds in 1620, but had done nothing with it. An extra storey was added in 1700 under the ownership of John Archer, and it was further remodelled in 1840.
During the First World War, the house was used for convalescence. In 1954 it passed to John Puxley and it is still owned by his family. Welford is particularly well known for its splendid display of snowdrops, but there are other attractions, and the house is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday.

Welford Park

RG20 8HU

Friday, 20 April 2018

Shaw House - Berkshire

Shaw House was built sometime after 1575 and was completed in 1581. It was built for, and owned by, Thomas Dolman. He had made a fortune through the cloth trade. During the Civil War, Newbury was the scene of two battles. Shaw House was used by the Royalists during the second battle.

In 1720 the house passed to James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos. He was known for his eccentricity. This must have been a family trait because the Second Duke bought a wife at a sale in Newbury. (Hints of the Mayor of Casterbridge). Anne Wells was a chambermaid in Newbury, so probably enjoyed the elevation to Duchess, all with no sale & return.

Anne outlived her husband and remained at Shaw House until her own death in 1750. The house was next sold to the Andrews Family, was later used as a school, but now belongs to the West Berkshire Council. It is open to the public and is also available as a conference centre.
Shaw Manor House

RG14 2DR

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Nature Discovery Centre - Berkshire

Based on disused gravel pits at Thatchem, the Nature Discovery Centre is a good trip for all the family, not just children.

The main focus originally was to provide kids with a great day out, but as the popularity of the venue has grown, so has the intent to please all visitors, and so the site can be said to be a work in progress, especially if ambitious plans to improve the waterfront are approved.

The lakes features important reed beds, with a hide that allows the quiet and interested to investigate at close quarters. The surrounding area is marsh and heathland and abounds with wildlife.

The lakes are a welcoming host to over-wintering waterfowl, but later visitors include redwing and fieldfare, down for a visit from Scandinavia.  There are many moths and butterflies that are no longer common in towns and villages, especially the likes of the garden tiger, butterbur, waved black, holly blue, and gatekeeper. There are a variety of damselflies and dragonflies, interesting and uncommon beetles, and a host of wildflowers throughout the Spring and Summer.
Nature Discovery Centre

RG19 3FU

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Living Rain Forest - Berkshire

The following is taken from The Living Rainforest website:
“The Living Rainforest has evolved over many years and is now run by the Trust for Sustainable Living.

For decades, the site was home to one of Europe’s leading orchid nurseries, Wyld Court Orchids. In the early 90’s, the philanthropist Keith Bromley led its conversion into Wyld Court Rainforest, a visitor centre featuring plants and animals from the world’s threatened rainforests.

In 2000, after a short time as part of the World Land Trust, the centre was passed on to Karl Hansen, who re-established it as part of a global education charity (now the Trust for Sustainable Living). Today the Living Rainforest centre features plants and animals in ecosystem-inspired settings, and invites visitors to make connections between tropical rainforests and their own lives.”
This venue is growing in popularity. Currently around 90,000 visitors a year turn up, but the number is growing, and it would appear that the popularity is as much to do with recommendations by word of mouth as by anything.
The Living Rain Forest

RG18 0TN

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Frogmore House - Berkshire

Work on the construction of Frogmore House began in 1680 and was finished in 1684. The estate itself (within the extensive grounds of Windsor Castle and Park) was owned by royalty for about 100 years before the house was built. The first resident was George FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Northumberland. He was the illegitimate son of Charles II and Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland.  In 1792, George III purchased the house for his wife, Queen Charlotte.

Queen Charlotte  needed an escape from the demands and rigours of Court life and so she and her unmarried daughters would retire to Frogmore to pursue more ladylike pursuits.

The house was modernised by James Watt between 1795 and 1804. Most rooms were altered and the building was extended, especially on the second floor.

The Duchess of Kent was granted tenancy in 1840, and that led to further alterations, especially with regard to internal decorations.  From 1925 until 1953, Queen Mary used Frogmore as a kind of museum, gathering together all the royal heirlooms and souvenirs. When the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, the Duke of Edinburgh moved most of its contents to Frogmore. When it was realised that Britannia was now stark, some were moved back, but Philip remarked that Britannia had been a great venue for the promotion of overseas trade, and equipped part of Frogmore to be used likewise.

There were further renovations during the 1980s, particularly with regard to what Queen Charlotte had wrought. The house is no longer occupied, but is frequently used for Royal functions and entertaining.
Frogmore House


Monday, 16 April 2018

Eton College - Berkshire

King Henry VI founded Eton College in 1441. He had little idea at that time that Eton College would become the most famous school in the world, or that it would produce 19 British Prime Ministers. The original objective of the school was to provide free education for 70 students, with the aim of preparing them to go on the even higher education at Kings College Cambridge.

Henry wanted Eton to be a grand building filled with icons and treasures. Unfortunately, Henry was deposed in 1461 by King Edward IV, and he promptly transferred most of the treasures to Windsor. However, he reckoned without intervention from Jane Shore, who was his mistress. She persuaded Edward to stop ransacking the school and over time the school did grow in size and splendour.

Eton is a boarding school, without exception. All pupils live at the school, but these days a good proportion receive financial assistance to meet the course fees, and some receive free education, though they have to meet very high standards in order to justify such support.

Eton College


Friday, 30 March 2018

Englefield House Gardens - Berkshire

Englefield House will be familiar to many film buffs. It has featured in many very popular films and series, but it is the gardens that are the main attraction to most visitors, because they are readily available to the visitor.
The house was built sometime around 1550. It was altered considerably in the 1820s. The house can be visited, but only by arrangement and normally only by groups. The gardens, however, are always open.
The gardens rise above the house and the views from the highest point take in woodland, an impressive lake, and the surrounding deer park. The garden itself has different features appealing to most people, including children.
Englefield House

Englefield Gardens


Thursday, 29 March 2018

Duchess of Kent Mausoleum - Berkshire

There are two mausoleums within the grounds of Frogmore House, though the one dedicated to the Duchess of Kent was not her choice. She wanted to be interred back in Germany. Victoria of Saxe-Coberg-Saalfeld was the mother of Queen Victoria and, as the Duchess of Kent, she spent the latter part of her life residing in Frogmore House.

Sometime in the late 1850s it was decided to build a temple in the grounds, mainly as a summer house at the top and the final resting place on the lower floor.. However, the Duchess died in 1861, before the temple was completed, and so it was decided that the upper floor would become her mausoleum.

Duchess of Kent Mausoleum


Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Douai Abbey - Berkshire

Douai Abbey, or at least its monks, have moved around more than just a little. The order was founded in Paris in 1615, under the patronage of the monks of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Although based in France, most of the monks were English and most of the ministries were effected in England.
The French Revolution meant that the monks had to move from Paris, but they went to Douai, from whence their name. They began to teach young English boys, most of whom were destined for the priesthood.
Under the terms of the French Laws of Association, the Abbot and monks were expelled from France in 1903. They moved back to England, to Woolhampton in Berkshire and began to teach from there. The Douai  Abbey still administers eight parishes and retreats, but the school itself closed down in 1999.

Douai Abbey


Saturday, 24 March 2018

Bekonscot Model Village, Beaconsfield - Berkshire

Being based in the Midlands, travelling across Britain was not an easy task in the days of the 1940s and 1950s, but we did occasionally make it down to the Cotswolds and the beautiful village of Bourton on the Water. One of my favourite places to visit was the model village, built to one-ninth scale and depicting the heart of the village as it was when the model opened in 1937. It took fifty years before I looked at another model village, and was surprised somewhat to find that Bekonscot in Beaconsfield is actually older, by a few short years.

 Bekonscot, to be fair, actually started during the 1920s, but simply as a personal pleasure for the architect Roland Callingham. With the help of his staff and friends, he constructed a model town to represent life in England as it was just after WW1. To Roland the village was a plaything. To his guests it was a wonder to be shared and so, in the early 1930s, Bekonscot was thrown open to the public.

Since those days the village has attracted more than 14 million visitors. Since 1978 it has been run by the Church Army, which has resulted in more than £5 of the entrance fees being channelled into charitable causes.

Bekonscot Model Village


Monday, 19 March 2018

Stotfold Mill - Bedfordshire

According to the Domesday Book, there were four mills in Stotfold some 1000 years ago. Now there is one, and that only because local volunteers decided the history was too great to lose after a huge fire destroyed the mill in 1992.

It is testament to those committed to the rebuild and refurbishment that the mill today reflects how it would have been 100 or more years ago, but that took around 14 years to achieve.

In addition to the mill, the area has been turned into a nature reserve. Access to the nature reserve is unrestricted, but it is wise to check the opening times of the mill. It wouldn't be a wasted journey, because of the nature reserve, but it is rewarding when both can be combined.

Stotfold Mill