Saturday, 18 August 2018

Best National Trust Scones 2013-2018

Five years ago today I started this National Trust Scone Blog. We had joined the National Trust but then spectacularly failed to do anything at all with our membership. I decided I needed to a) visit more places and b) learn something at each one, and so the blog was born. I knew I'd pay attention if I forced myself to write about it.

Scone Blog is 5 today

 In the past five years:
  • 171 properties have been visited
  • 64 of them have delivered a 5 out of 5 top-rated scone
And so here is the National Trust Scone Blog Birthday Honours List - the 64 properties with 5-star scones, in reverse order of when I visited:
  • The Workhouse - I was certainly tempted to say "please, sir, I want some more" - the scones were very good.
  • Shugborough Estate - the ancestral home of society photographer Patrick Lichfield was a picture! Ha ha!
  • Chirk Castle - murder, scandal, adultery, violence, great's all going on at Chirk.
  • Longshaw Estate and Eastern Moors - I though the mud might defeat me but no - I finally found my Peak District scone and marvellous it was too.
  • Mount Stewart - its one-time owner, Viscount Castlereagh, was none too popular, but the scones were certainly popular with me.
  • Peckover House & Garden - Lonely Planet has just announced that a cream tea at Peckover is one of the top eating experiences in the world! I concur!
  • Clumber Park - it might have lost its house to the demolition men but Clumber offers beautiful gardens, a beautiful lake, and beautiful scones!
  • The Needles Old Battery - chalk rocks, guns, secret missile testing. And now - outstanding scones!
  • Wicken Fen - home to 9,000 species of wildlife, flora, fauna and a first class species of scone! Bravo.
  • Berrington Hall - even Capability Brown couldn't improve the scones at Berrington Hall - they were berri-good!
  • Tyntesfield - maybe one day someone will describe Tyntesfield without saying "the man who built it made his money from Peruvian bird poo" but that day isn't today. The scones were a bird poo-free zone.
  • Sudbury Hall - a great house AND the Museum of Childhood starring Sooty and Sindy AND an outstanding scone! What more do you want from life.
  • Melford Hall - famed for its celebrity resident, the original Jemima Puddleduck! Her views on scones are not known.
  • Wallington - the former home of Charles Edward Trevelyan, the third most hated man in Ireland (after Oliver Cromwell and Thierry Henry), who was name-checked in The Fields of Athenry.
  • Belton House - the kids book and 80s TV show, Moondial, was set at Belton! And when I tweeted that I'd been there, the actor who played Tom responded! Fantastic.
  • Felbrigg Hall - poor old William Frederick 'Mad' Windham - all he wanted to do was dress up as a train guard and blow a whistle on the station platform at inopportune moments. Instead he ran up huge debts and lost Felbrigg. Amazing scone. 
  • Hidcote - a beautiful garden built by "a dull little man" according to James Lees-Milne but we loved it AND we loved the scones!
  • Plas Newydd - a fantastic scone on Anglesey! We only really went there to see the Victorian dude who dressed like Noddy Holder 50 years before Nodders was born!
  • Dyrham Park - superb scones AND free 17th century hot chocolate (the recipe is from the 17th century, not the actual hot chocolate)!
  • Trengwainton Garden - the 5th NT scone we'd eaten in 48 hours during our Tour of Cornwall and it was FAB!
  • Trerice - a quiet little manor house near the not-so-quiet town of Newquay, with AMAZING scones!
  • Trelissick - the house may be relatively new to the NT but they've certainly got to grips with the scones!
  • Boscastle - a little Cornish fishing village that was almost washed away in 2004 - unusual scones but absolutely top-rate!
  • Acorn Bank - the third top-class scone on the Spring Tour to the Lake District!
  • Sizergh Castle - amazing scone AND a copy of Wham!'s Greatest Hits!
  • Wordsworth House - I was moved to compose a poem about the Wordsworth House scone - I expect a call about being Poet Laureate any day!
  • Saltram - everything went wrong on our first trip of 2016, apart from the scone!
  • Fountains Abbey - it was in the video for Maid of Orleans by OMD! And it had fantastic scones!
  • Lanhydrock - our first foray into Cornwall and we were not disappointed! Fantastic scone!
  • Biddulph Grange Garden - they had a singing tree and a golden water buffalo but nothing could upstage the scones!
  • Nostell Priory - one of the best properties EVER with THREE types of scone!
  • Coughton Court - 7 of the 13 Gunpowder Plotters were Throckmortons! Somehow they kept hold of Coughton and are still there today! 
  • Tredegar House - fantastic scones AND they keep a Dalek in the stables (Doctor Who is filmed there)! 
  • Anglesey Abbey - they have a working flour mill! You can buy bags of flour that you transform into scones that won't be as good as the ones here!
  • Montacute House - they filmed Wolf Hall here! If only Anne Boleyn had been able to bake scones like these, it could all have turned out differently!
  • Goddards - brilliant scones at the house once owned by Noel Terry, of Chocolate Orange fame! There used to be a Terry's Chocolate Apple as well! 
  • Beningbrough Hall - spectacular works of art (and a few pictures on loan from the National Portrait Gallery as well, boom, boom!)
  • Sissinghurst Castle - did you see the scones, Orlando? They were great - and fantastic gardens too, in the former home of Vita Sackville-West!
  • South Foreland Lighthouse - excellent sconeage in this 'shining' example of a National Trust property HA HA! 
  • The White Cliffs of Dover - I really was inspired to ransack the Vera Lynn back catalogue and sing "we'll meet again" to the WCoD scone - it was that good. 
  • Speke Hall - it has the River Mersey, it has a priest hole, it has a baker on Twitter, it has fantastic scones, I LOVED it!
  • Studland Beach - famous for the UK's most popular naturist beach, for inspiring Noddy's Toytown, and now for very good scones!
  • A la Ronde - a round house full of trinkets AND fantastic scones, what more do you want from life? 
  • Upton House and Gardens - a lot of pictures, an outdoor swimming pool, and truly excellent scones!
  • Treasurer's House, York - they had a Christmas pudding scone with brandy butter that I literally still dream about!
  • Hinton Ampner - lots of sheep and fantastic scones!
  • Uppark - burned to the ground a few years ago while it was open to visitors, but now restored and serving very excellent scones!
  • Stowe - it costs £30,000 a year to attend Stowe school - I'd rather spend that on scones, personally!
  • Charlecote Park - William Shakespeare was once caught stealing a scone from Charlecote Park. Did I say scone? I meant deer.
  • Bateman's - "Well I'm the king of the sconers/the tea-room VIP", as Rudyard Kipling would have written if he'd had scones at Batemans!
  • Claremont Landscape Garden - more of a park than a garden but who's counting - the scones were fantastic!
  • Standen - tests proved that the Standen scone was genetically closer to a cloud than a baked foodstuff!
  • Nymans - another place that burned down (before the National Trust was involved), now serving amazing scones!
  • Waddesdon Manor - they have a mechanical elephant that flaps its ears at Waddesdon but as an attraction it's no match for the top-class scones!
  • Scotney Castle - the scones were EPIC. Scotney also had a Banana and Walnut Scone of the Month and Richard Gere, who filmed Yanks there!
  • Dunwich Heath - they had 20 TYPES OF SCONE at the Sconeathon we attended! Sticky Toffee, Chocolate Orange, Apple & Cinnamon, Malteser...!
  • Morden Hall Park - big, warm, and glazed. 'Morden enough' to warrant a five out of five (ha ha ha! Sorry.)
  • Sutton House - Sir Ralph Sadleir of Wolf Hall fame built Sutton House - go along and see them bring out the sconies!
  • Quarry Bank Mill - amazing scones in one of the most fascinating NT properties ever - you can even buy a tea towel made in the cotton mill!
  • Flatford Bridge Cottage - we helped bake the scones at Flatford but we gave them 5 because they were mince pie scones and they were ruddy delicious! 
  • Winkworth Arboretum - a very understated place - not a fridge magnet to be had - but serving fantastic scones!
  • Houghton Mill - the Scone Blogger was very hungover but she soldiered on and tried the scone made from home-milled flour, which was DELICIOUS!
  • Brownsea Island - we didn't see any red squirrels, which shows that they don't have very good taste as there was a Sconeathon on the day we visited!
  • Bodiam Castle - our very first 5 out of 5, setting the benchmark for all!  
You can see all 150 scones on Pinterest

There's also a book! Yes indeed, the National Trust Book of Scones is available in NT shops or on the internet.

As ever, my heartfelt thanks to all of the lovely Sconepals for your ongoing support - keep sharing your National Trust scone sightings, either on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. I love them. 

By my count, I think I have around 60 scones left to go. We can do this. Onwards!

Fyne Court

"Fyne Court was once owned by the electrician, Andrew Crosse," I learned during my research for this 170th scone mission. It cheered me up immensely - what hope to us all, that the National Trust might one day be interested in our homes! Electricians today - who knows, maybe even marketing managers will get a look-in eventually. I should probably start tidying up.

But of course the word electrician meant something very different in 1805 when Andrew Crosse inherited Fyne. He was known locally in Somerset as "The Thunder and Lightning Man" because of his experiments with the relatively unknown force of electricity...and eventually it all turned a bit nasty, with vicars doing exorcisms outside his house and what-not. Here's what I learned:

1. Fyne Court burnt down in 1894
...but before you jump to any conclusions, the fire had nothing to do with electrical experiments going wrong, or deranged arsonist vicars coming to stop the Devil's work - a housemaid's candle was to blame. I'm only mentioning it so early in my story because you're probably wondering what has happened to my usual stunning photograph of the house (I'm joking about the stunning photography). Answer: there is no house at Fyne Court because it was engulfed in flames and pulled down. But here's a picture of the Boathouse which fell into disrepair: 

Fyne Court Boathouse

2. Fyne Court had been built in 1634
The Crosse family built Fyne Court in the 17th century. They were descended from a bloke called Odo de Santa Croce, who had sailed to England with William the Conqueror, and they had stayed close to the political action ever since; Andrew's own father had witnessed the Storming of the Bastille.

Fyne Court folly
This isn't the Bastille - it's the folly at Fyne Court
3. Andrew, the scientific wonderkid
Andrew Crosse was born in 1784 and became interested in electricity when he was around 12 - his father was a friend of Benjamin Franklin, which may or may not have influenced him. He continued his interest at Oxford and then set up his laboratory at Fyne when he returned to live there.

4. Was Andrew Crosse Frankenstein?
I bought a book about Andrew Crosse before my visit, called The Man Who Was Frankenstein. It argues that he inspired Mary Shelley to write her famous book. Further, it argues that the character of Dr Waldman in the book is based on Crosse. 

There is undoubtedly a connection - Crosse gave a lecture about his experiments in London in 1814 that Mary Shelley attended, and she started writing her famous novel in 1816. But much as I'm a sucker for a great story, I wasn't totally convinced, especially as the author bizarrely tries to support his claims by pointing out that a gargoyle in the churchyard looks like Boris Karloff in the 1931 film - don't they all??

However, I was happy to see the NT promoting the possible connection with a big display in the little information centre. I went to an NT property once that had an unsubstantiated link with the Gunpowder Plot and they didn't mention it anywhere. I took this as a sign that the NT is probably very risk averse when it came to rumours and conjecture. But no - turns out they like a good story as much as anybody.

Fyne Court information centre

5. What happened to Andrew Crosse?
Crosse's work benefitted experts and locals alike. He corresponded with some of the leading thinkers of the day, even though he preferred the quiet life at home in the Quantock Hills to hobnobbing in London. Locally, his electrical machine was used for curative purposes - a farmer who had been paralysed on one side was treated by Crosse and was much improved. 

However, it all got very difficult when he made a surprising discovery. During one of his experiments, he seemed to create living insects from a stone. Unable to explain it, he shared this news with a small group of people, one of whom, unfortunately, was the editor of a local newspaper. The good news was that the insects were named after him. The bad news was that it stirred up a tidal wave of vitriol and fear that Crosse was consorting with the Devil and meddling with nature/God's work. This is what brought Reverend Smith up to the estate to perform an exorcism.

6. Fyne Court today
There might not be a house at Fyne Court, but the estate covers 65 acres and there's lot of space for walking. 

Fyne Court walled garden
The Walled Garden - it is indeed walled
7. But what about the scone?
I really wanted a showstopper of a scone today - it was the 170th mission after all, AND it was also the 5th anniversary of me starting this National Trust scone blog project. But the Fyne Court scone turned out to rather suit its surroundings, in that they'd done their very best with limited resources. There's no proper kitchen at Fyne, so I assume the scones were bought in - mine was dry and didn't seem very fresh. But it did taste better than it looked.

Fyne Court Scone

I'm going to end on a sombre note because much as I enjoyed The Man Who Was Frankenstein, it is also sad. Crosse was prone to introspection and depression throughout his life, even before the world ganged up on him and vicars started waving crosses around outside his house. 

His final words to his wife before he died were: "My dear, the utmost extent of human knowledge is but comparative ignorance". Does that mean that when this odyssey is over, I'll still be none the wiser about scones??

Fyne Court: 4 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Andrew Crosse's choice of confidants: 0 out of 5

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Dyffryn Gardens

I love listening to people's conversations at the National Trust. If you believe the critics of the NT, you'd expect to hear one of two extremes: "Oh look, Andromeda, what a perfect example of the Hoity-Toit school of architecture - such fine joodlings and boodlings, wouldn't you say?" or at the other end of the scale: "What a load of boring old pictures - as soon as little Ronaldo has finished jumping on that antique sofa let's get a cup of tea, Barry, I'm parched".

But it's not like that at all. At Dyffryn Gardens today I overheard three different groups of people eagerly discussing the life and times of John Cory, the industrialist who bought the Dyffryn estate in 1891 and spent a considerable amount of his cash remodelling the house and gardens:

Dyffryn House

Let me try and share what I learned (from the guide book as well as the earwigging):

1. John Cory
  • He was born in Devon but his family moved to Cardiff in 1831
  • John expanded the family shipping business when his father retired - he established 80 coal depots around the world on major shipping lines, as well as running coal mines in the Rhondda and Neath valleys
  • He was a philanthropist, donating large funds to the Salvation Army and Dr. Barnardo's, among many others
  • He was a teetotaller and a big cheese in the local temperance movement
  • He bought Dyffryn in 1891 and employed Thomas Mawson to create the gardens

2. Reginald Cory 
  • John died in 1910 and his son Reginald continued the work in the gardens
  • He was a keen horticulturist and often went on plant hunting expeditions with Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote fame
  • He worked with Thomas Mawson and created the gardens we see today

3. The gardens
I'm not going to mention the heatwave in this post, because in two weeks' time it'll be pouring with rain and we'll all have forgotten the sensation of crunchy grass under our feet (it's true though, people of the future, it's all true). 

But I will say that I have NO CLUE how the staff at Dyffryn are managing to keep at least 25 different gardens alive without any rain (although judging by my eavesdropping, they are getting asked the question about 40 times a day).

The Pompeian Garden was one of my favourites:

Pompeii Dyffryn

As was the Reflecting Pool:

Reflecting Pool Dyffryn

And having finished with the smaller enclosed gardens, I wandered out onto the Great Lawn and was very impressed with the views: 

great lawn dyffryn

There's a lot more - lavender gardens, an arboretum, a rose garden, a rockery, a fernery - if you like your gardens, you're in for a treat at Dyffryn.

4. The house
The house was the big surprise for me today. I wasn't expecting it to be open to the public at all - it turned out I had an out-of-date guide book - but you are indeed allowed inside, and a lot of the rooms are accessible.

It's a work in progress, so some rooms are empty, but there's enough to give you a vague idea of how the Corys lived: 
Oak room Dyffryn
The Oak Room - I can confirm it contains a lot of oak
The house was sold in 1936 when John's daughter, Florence, died and it became a conference and training centre. Dyffryn House is like Croome, in that someone tried to turn the place into a hotel at some point and did a load of damage that the Trust is now having to fix. 

5. The scone
Let's move on, as I have bad news and I want to get it over with. The Dyffryn scone today was not the best. It felt squidgy when I picked it up, which usually means it has been stored in a container and/or microwaved. It managed to taste both damp and dry at the same time - I would be very surprised if it was fresh. But the tea room itself was very nice...

Dyffryn scone

..or so I thought. I've been caught out before by properties with multiple tea rooms, so I was extremely proud of myself for checking the map in advance of my visit. But the out-of-date guide book let me down again - I finished my scone and walked around to the back of the house, only to find another cafe allowing people to drink their tea on the terrace as if they owned the gaff - which is, let's face it, my most favourite thing in the world. 

So if you go to Dyffryn, hang fire until you get to the house and have your tea on the terrace like a teetotal toff:

Dyffryn south front

Dyffryn Gardens (and House): 5 out of 5
Scone: 3.5 out of 5
Location of tea room if you can be patient: 5 out of 5

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Brockhampton Estate

I honestly don't mind that some people think the National Trust is a bit boring. They'll change their minds eventually. I've realised that the NT is like Alcoholics Anonymous - you have to be ready for it but when the time is right for you, it's the path to a happier life.

Take Brockhampton in Worcestershire. I'd like to think that the 20-year old me would have appreciated the sight of a beautiful 14th century manor house with a gatehouse and moat. I can confirm that the 44-year old me was completely awestruck by it:

I didn't have to search for this shot, either - it was just there, the scene that greets you as you walk along the path. It was so pretty - worth every single penny that I pay for my NT membership.

Brockhampton had actually done a good job of staying off my sconedar over the past five years. I didn't know anything about it and nobody had ever told me it was fantastic. I think the reason for this is that Brockhampton doesn't have any really scandalous ancestors or celebrity connections.

Here's some history:
  • The manor house you see on the right above was built by John Domulton in the late 14th century
  • The lop-sided gatehouse (to the left above) was added in Tudor times by the Habington family, who had married the Domultons
  • It then passed to the Barneby family by marriage, who became the Lutleys
  • The gatehouse wasn't a defensive feature - it was built to show off the family wealth
  • The same for the moat - it's not known exactly when it was built but it was used to keep fish and impress people rather than defend the property
  • By 1871, the family had moved to a large Georgian mansion on the estate (now rented out privately) and Lower Brockhampton started to fall into disrepair
  • An architect called John Buckler saved the old manor house through renovations
  • John Talbot Lutley left the estate to the National Trust
  • The chapel next door to the manor was probably built in the 12th century:

Brockhampton chapel

The inside of the manor house was also impressive. The Great Hall was restored by John Buckler so we see it as it was in medieval times: 

The crucks in the Great Hall are moulded, with battlements carved at the angle, and the struts supporting the roof apex form quatrefoil openings. (Yes, I've been reading the guidebook. No, I don't have any idea what it means.)

If you are a regular reader, you will know that I am probably the world's worst scone critic, because I just want everything to be brilliant all the time. And so my heart sank a bit when I went into the tearoom and all I could see was a pile of what looked like flat rock buns. They turned out to be the scones. I was worried.

However, they were actually very tasty indeed. Very fresh and really light. My earlier scone (yes, I had two scones today - the sacrifices I make for this project, honestly) at Edward Elgar's Birthplace had been a little bit doughy, so Brockhampton was a light, fluffy treat. 
Brockhampton scone

I'll finish with a picture of the rear view of the manor house - such a beautiful place - if you haven't been then I recommend it:

Brockhampton: surprisingly, wonderfully beautiful: 5 out of 5
Scone: fresh and lovely, just a bit on the flat side: 4 out of 5 
Ability of NT guidebooks to make you feel like a thicko: 5 out of 5

The Firs - Edward Elgar Birthplace

What's the one thing that you would expect to find at Edward Elgar's birthplace in Worcestershire? I had actually packed some earphones before I set off for The Firs - I figured that if Nimrod was blaring in the car park, with more Nimrod in reception, and yet more Nimrod in the tea room then I could just block it out (if you're thinking 'what's Nimrod?', you'll recognise it - you can listen to it here).

But there was no music. There were a few little snippets in the introductory video but that was it. And I'm not necessarily complaining - the Elgars didn't have Land of Hope and Glory on repeat when he was growing up, so why disturb the quiet.

The Firs Edward Elgar Birthplace
If you're a regular reader, you won't be surprised to hear that I could have written everything I knew about Elgar on a postage stamp before today. In fact, you can fit 'Land of Hope and Glory and Nimrod' on half a postage stamp if you write small.

Luckily for me, there was a lot of education on offer at The Firs - an introductory video, two displays areas, and a human in the birthplace cottage itself explaining his life and times. I discovered that:

  • Elgar was born in 1857 on - wait for it - June 2nd. Happy Birthday Ed!
  • His dad was a piano tuner and had a shop selling musical instruments
  • Elgar had a true gift for music - his parents encouraged this through piano and violin lessons, but he was basically self-taught
  • His dad got him a job in a solicitor's office but he gave that up and began teaching music
  • He eventually married one of his pupils, a woman above him in age and social standing - Caroline saw him as a genius and encouraged him
  • The Enigma Variations (including Nimrod) were his real breakthrough - until then he'd struggled, but at the age of 42 he started to get recognition
  • He is probably best known for his Pomp and Circumstance marches, especially March No.1 (the one we/I know as Land of Hope and Glory) which was first played in 1901
  • It was literally an immediate hit - the first audience to hear it gave it two standing ovations - and Edward VII asked Elgar to put some words to it for his coronation
  • AC Benson wrote the words to Land of Hope and Glory and the rest is history - it has since become our back-up national anthem
  • He was knighted in 1904 and died in 1934

Land of Hope and Glory original music
The original music to Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 -
Elgar said "I've got a tune that will knock 'em - knock 'em flat"
There wasn't a guide book at The Firs, which is a massive shame because I later found two brilliant factoids that would surely have made the edit:
  • Fascinating factoid #1 of the day: Elgar was an early supporter of recorded music and he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra for the first recording made at Abbey Road Studios when they opened in 1931. 
  • Fascinating factoid #2 of the day: Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1 (ie Land of Hope and Glory) is played at high school and university graduations in the US. You can read more about that here.
Elgar's study - I presume he didn't have a statue of himself
in there when he was actually using it.
But on to the scone. Elgar's views on scones aren't known, but the tea room at The Firs is lovely - it was a beautiful day and I sat outside listening to the birds singing (this probably answers my question as to why they don't play music everywhere). 

My scone was hefty and absolutely FULL of fruit, which made me think of the comedian Laura Lexx. I have co-opted Laura into my band of Sconepals and she sent me a picture today of an 'excavated' scone as she put it - she hates fruit so she picks out all the currants, leaving a scone that looks like a Swiss cheese. She'd have had her work cut out at The Firs, that's all I can say.

Anyway, the scone was very fresh and tasty - it wasn't massively sweet and it was a bit doughy but I really enjoyed it.

The Firs Edward Elgar scone

So there you have it - scone mission number 167 completed. And the day didn't end there - after I left The Firs, I journeyed on to nearby Brockhampton, so watch this space for more about that.

The Firs: 4.5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Likelihood of wanting to come out and listen to Elgar's music, having not been blasted with it for two hours: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Guest post: Emma becomes a National Trust scone baker

My name is Emma and I am a National Trust volunteer. I also love scones.

I have been a volunteer at Lanhydrock in Cornwall for 7 years. I work every other Sunday to fit in with my full time job. I volunteer in the shop, which suits me because I am surrounded by cookery books and jam. Both of which are useful when you love a good scone.

Quite often I have a good old chin-wag with my customers about my favourite bakes and I'm pretty good at recommending a National Trust jam or curd to go in it. One of my favourite recommendations is a citrus scone with the National Trust passion fruit curd and clotted cream. My tummy is rumbling just thinking about it.

Last year, I discovered NT Scones on Twitter. Shortly after, the National Trust Book of Scones was launched. This simply fuelled my passion for all things scone related. I am currently working my way through the book (present favourite is chocolate and hazelnut served with Nutella and clotted cream) and I will tell anyone who will listen about it.

One day, back in March, I attended a preseason meeting with the rest of the retail team. The catering manager popped along to say hello and give a bit of insight into what the catering team were getting up to. This devolved into a rather lengthy (and possibly over enthusiastic on my part) conversation about my love of NT Scones and The National Trust Book of Scones. I think I may have scared her a little - I am rather passionate about the subject.

A few days later I received an email; would I like to do some job shadowing in the kitchen and do some baking? It was arranged. Emma the Scone Lady gets to bake the scones for Lanhydrock!

On the day arranged I eagerly turned up to the kitchens to bake and met Lisa who would be supervising me for the day. Donning my white coat and hat, I had a brief tour of the kitchen and then I was set to work.

First on the list were the scones. 48 fruit scones were needed for afternoon tea in the restaurant. For anyone who hasn't been in a restaurant kitchen, it's just like baking at home but on a much larger scale. I am perfectly happy baking a dozen scones at my home for my friends or to take into work, but suddenly I was making 48 for the National Trust where scones are literally part of a visitor's experience. Assured by my mentor I was doing fine, the scones were put in the oven. 

All I could think about was what would happen if the scones didn't turn out right. 
There would be no scones for afternoon tea and it would be all my fault. 
No one would come to Lanhydrock ever again because they would tell the whole of the Internet that there were no scones. 

Ok, maybe I can be a little over dramatic but I was feeling the pressure! 23 minutes later the buzzer went on the the oven. The scones were perfect. There were set to cool and a couple hours later they went into the restaurant for service. I was so relieved I felt like I had won the Great British Bake Off.

Now, I know this a blog post about scones but I would like to bring your attention to shortbread. Shortbread, the tearoom treat I always ignore for being boring. Never again. I can assure you that the most fiddly bake in the tearoom is the shortbread. Have you ever stopped to think about how the National Trust logo of the oak leaves gets onto it? The biscuit circles are cut out and then a round stencil with the oak leaves cut out in the middle is pressed hard onto it. Then by hand, very carefully, the biscuit it prized from the stencil. It's a skill I would like to see Mary Berry herself try. Too hard and the biscuit gets squished. Not hard enough and the leaves don't come out. Now, I don't know if Lisa was being nice to me, or whether I am some sort of shortbread whisperer, but out of 48 shortbread only 2 didn't come out right. Several weeks later and I am still feeling some proud of myself.

After 6 hours, I had baked 48 fruit scones, 2 trays of gluten free chocolate brownies, 48 shortbread and 5 carrot cakes. All of which were edible. If you ever wondered where the recipes come from, they are in The National Trust Cookbook (available from National Trust shops).

Finally, I'd just like to say a massive thank you to all National Trust catering staff. You work incredibly hard to provide some of the tastiest creations around and thank you for taking me in as one of your own for the day.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Workhouse

I was very excited when I found out that the National Trust owns a workhouse. I was very excited because it gave me the opportunity to go there and say "please, sir, can I have a scone?" and then laugh uproariously at my own great joke. 

The Workhouse

But I probably don't need to tell you that the workhouse was no laughing matter. I read a joyless tome called The Workhouse before I went, which explains that the national workhouse system was set up in the 1830s to stop poor people from seeking state support for themselves or their children - you'd basically have to be utterly desperate to go anywhere near the place.

So I turned up in Southwell today expecting to find a huge Scooby Doo-esque house with lightning bolts and creaking doors and general misery. But it's not like that at all - it's clean and bright and free of rats and general misery, which makes it quite hard to imagine what it must have been like for the poor souls that ended up stuck in there grinding bones or breaking rocks.

I've tried to condense everything I learned from the book into 6 key facts:

1. Who used the workhouse?
In the TV series Who Do You Think You Are, nearly every celebrity ends up in an archive at some point reading out a census form: "Frederick Jones...the workhouse!? He ended up in the workhouse?!" followed by sobs.

But according to the book, only between 0.5-2% of the population of England & Wales was in a workhouse in 1898. That's still a lot of people - anything between 165,000-660,000 - but it was a smaller percentage of the population than I expected.

2. Why were workhouses built?
  • In the days pre-Elizabeth I, people who were down on their luck had to turn to their families or the monasteries for shelter and food
  • The closure of the monasteries led to the Poor Law of 1601, which made each parish responsible for taking care of its own poor people
  • A lot of this care took the form of 'out-relief' - giving fuel and clothes to poor people in their own homes (often nothing more than a hovel)
  • But parishes couldn't cope as times got tougher - industrialisation and the joblessness and urbanisation that went with it led to a big increase in the cost of caring for the poor 
  • The government looked into the options and were impressed by the work of a Reverend Beecher who had written a pamphlet with the charming title of 'The Anti-Pauper System'
  • He based his theories on a small workhouse he had built in Southwell - he had seen good results, and so expanded it to a large institution funded by a number of parishes (the workhouse we can now visit today)
  • The New Poor Law of 1834 took his ideas and put them into practice across the country
3. How did they work?
  • Each workhouse had a master and a matron and a school teacher - the master reported to a group of local Guardians, who were usually District councillors or similar
  • The inmates were divided into categories: able-bodied men and able-bodied women (also known as the 'undeserving poor'), old and infirm men and old and infirm women (the 'blameless' poor), boys aged 7-15 and girls aged 7-15, and children under 7. 
4. What happened to the 'undeserving poor'?
  • The workhouse was designed to stop the able-bodied looking for support, but if they did need to enter its walls they were forced to work - either breaking rocks or grinding bones
The work yard for the able-bodied (aka 'undeserving') poor
  • Another task was picking oakum - basically old ropes that were tarred and knotted and had to be unpicked:

5. What about the children?

This is the surprising thing about workhouses - they were basically orphanages (as Oliver Twist attests). In 1889, of 192,000 people in the workhouse, a whopping 54,000 were children and 33,000 of those were orphans.

I was amazed to read that the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (of "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" fame) had been a workhouse orphan. He wrote an incredibly sad account of his time there, which included a sadistic teacher who seems to have treated his charges very cruelly indeed, even beating one of the boys to death. One day the young Stanley retaliated and "determined to die before submitting again" he apparently scaled the workhouse walls and made his escape.  

6. What happened to the old and infirm?
The aged and infirm were supposed to be treated well in the workhouse (as they were the 'deserving' poor) but the book catalogues a long list of cases where elderly people were subjected to cruelty and neglect. 

infirm bedroom
Bedroom for old and infirm men
The guidebook at The Workhouse paints a less depressing picture than the book by Norman Longmate did - the guidebook points out that children got an education that they wouldn't have got otherwise and so on - but I'm sticking with the book.

In fact, one of the depressingly recognisable things in my workhouse reading was the Guardians turning up for their annual visit and enjoying a big sumptuous lunch on expenses, while the inmates were denied any such thing (it didn't mention the Guardians getting their moats cleaned or having a duck house built at taxpayer's expense, so clearly our elected officials have got a bit more brass-necked over the years). Anyway - I felt a bit self-conscious tucking into a scone in a place where destitute people had once made do with the barest of rations, but I soldiered on.

The Workhouse scone had me worried at first glance, as it looked a little bit flat. But it turned out to be delicious - a really, really tasty fresh scone that I enjoyed immensely. 

Workhouse Scone

I'll leave you with a passage from the book, written by an MP in the East End who was also a Guardian at the Poplar workhouse:

"On one visit I inspected the supper of oatmeal porridge...served up with pieces of black stuff floating around. On examination we discovered it to rat and mice manure. I called for the chief officer, who immediately argued against me, saying the porridge was good and wholesome. 'Very good, madam', said I, taking up a basinful and spoon, 'here you are, eat one mouthful and I will acknowledge I am wrong'. 'Oh dear no,' said the fine lady, 'the food is not for me, and is good and wholesome for those who want it'. I stamped and shouted until both doctor and master arrived, both of whom pleaded it was a mistake, and promptly served both cocoa and bread and margarine."

The Workhouse: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Realism of rat-themed light show in cellar: 5 out of 5