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

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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.


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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

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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


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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


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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

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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

 
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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
 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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


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Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Leighton Buzzard Light Railway - Bedfordshire

Even before Harry Potter and his Hogwarts Express there has been a long interest in the railways of yesteryear, when children stood on railway bridges or on platforms, taking note of the engine number or name of every passing train. The advent of diesels and electric took away the individuality of the engines, with many looking alike, apart from the nomenclature.


The Leighton Buzzard Light Railway is narrow gauge, and runs for just three miles, but there has been an interesting build up of old railway stock and the venue is very popular.


Built in 1919, just after the WW1, the railway was constructed to carry sand & gravel from local pits to the construction industry. That lasted until the 1960s. Faced with the closure of this little railway, local volunteers banded together, saved what was there, and then expanded the stock to the point it is at today.


Leighton Buzzard Light Railway

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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Kathy Brown's Garden - Bedfordshire

I think the official website tells you all you need to know:


The Manor House Garden extends to four and a half acres.
It has been developed and almost entirely looked after by owners Simon and Kathy Brown over the last thirty years.
To celebrate this great creativity they have published a garden guide called Painting with Nature
The garden has many different areas of interest
•formal garden with clipped jury,
•cottage garden with honeysuckle, rose and clematis pergolas,
•wisteria and laburnum walk underplanted with alliums
•various herbaceous borders,
•tree and herbaceous peony border, plus exciting new Intersectional Peonies
•major climbing rose displays for end June/early July followed by
•major clematis displays in July and August
•exuberant container garden displays with workshops/demonstrations***
•a dedicated edible flower border with themed classes/demonstrations***
•a wild flower meadow
•avenues of white stemmed birches, metasequoia, eucalypts and gingkos.
•a snaking winter garden 
•a prolific orchard with themed classes***
•Three art gardens using naturalistic planting schemes, a fourth with living Rothko murals and a new room inspired by Henri Matisse's The Red Studio which Rothko so much admired.


You have the basis for a real treat whatever the time of year you might choose to visit.


The Edible flower border has lots of tasty flowers according to the season.....sweet ciciley, bonze fennel flowers with pink, white and blue lavenders, daylilies, marsh mallow, bronze fennel, dianthus, pink thymes and marigolds! Lavender and lemon drizzle is one of my most popular cakes, but raspberry and elderflower is even better! Lavender flapjacks with lots of seeds and dates are excellent too. Carrot and marigold cake has now become one of my late summer favourites whilst a classic Victoria sponge (photo) with strawberry and rosewater jam partnered with rosewater cream is brilliant!  My Tuesday afternoon visitors enjoy different ones each week! Group visitors can arrange demonstrations on edible flowers.

Kathy Brown's Garden



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Monday, 12 March 2018

Elstow Moot Hall - Bedfordshire

King Henry VIII has a lot to answer for, not including head counts. His Dissolution of the Monasteries destroyed much of England's heritage. Many once beautiful places are now just ruins.


Not so Elstow Moot Hall.


Elstow Abbey was established in 1078 and became one of the richest orders of nuns in Europe. The Abbey prospered and the grounds were expansive, so the Moot Hall was built in the 15th Century, originally in wattle and daub.


Less than 100 years later came King Henry. The hall was lost to the abbey, for which it had been acting as a court house. It was built more solidly and became a market house for the village.


Elstow had a famous son. John Bunyan came from close by to the hall, and his Pilgrim's Progress is still read today. Thus the hall became a museum, with much commemoration of Bunyan, amongst a good many other things.


Elstow Moot Hall



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Sunday, 11 March 2018

Dunstable Downs - Bedfordshire

England doesn't really do mountains. Dunstable Downs are the highest point in Bedfordshire, at less than 1000 feet. Yet, they are a definite Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Rising and falling over a large area of chalk grasslands, with the occasional wood as a diversion, the Downs are home to wildlife, wild flowers, and fresh open spaces.


Managed by the National Trust, there are a lot of activities throughout the year, and there are downloadable walks to suit every kind of outdoor enthusiast. May brings a burst of colour as a variety of wildflowers and wild orchids spring up, sometimes in profusion.


July brings the Kite Festival.


Dunstable Downs

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May at Dunstable Downs

Cardington Sheds - Bedfordshire

Also known as Cardington Hangars, No 1 Shed began life in 1915. The land was bought by the Shorts Brothers, and they established Shortstown to house their workers. The object at that time was to build two airships, The R-31 and R-32.


With successful trials behind them, the Royal Air Force looked at the project, which then became the Royal Airship Works. The Number 1 Shed had to be raised to 170 feet and lengthened to 812 feet in order to accommodate the R101.


This was successful and highly impressive for a while, and that brought in Shed No 2, which was relocated to Cardington in 1928. Everything seemed set for great expansion, but then came the disastrous demise of R101, and that put an end to airship building in Britain.


That was not the end of Cardington. In 1936 and 1937 the hangars became the production base for Barrage Balloons. Then from 1943 to 1967 it was used to house and produce Meteorological Balloons, and it is still used today for Meteorological Research.


Cardington Sheds

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The R101

Monday, 8 January 2018

Donnington Castle - Berkshire

There are countless ruined castles in Britain that do not attract our attention, but there is something about Donnington Castle.


Donnington Manor was bought by the Abberbury Family in 1292. In 1386, Sir Richard Abberbury decided to build a castle. In 1398 it was bought by Thomas Chaucer, son of Geoffrey. However, the family (by thern known as the Dukes of Suffolk, fell foul of the Tudor monarchs and in 1514 the castle became Crown Property.


The castle experienced some neglect, but in 1644 it was held by Sir John Boys, who withstood a siege for 18 months at the start of the English Civil War. When the castle eventually surrendered, Parliament voted to raze the castle, and today only the Gate House remains. It is now under the care and protection of English Heritage.




Donnington Castle


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