Thursday, 21 November 2019

Books for National Trust Fans - A Christmas Gift Guide

If you're looking for gift ideas for Christmas, look no further! I've compiled a list of my favourite books that are connected to National Trust properties, thus giving you some inspiration for the readers/history fans in your life.

The recipients of these books don't have to have visited the properties by the way - many are rip-roaring factual historical reads that don't need a setting (Wedlock, Galloper Jack, and The Greatest Traitor in particular).

I've only included books below that are still in print. There are some other corkers that are out of print but you might be able to find them: Not The Whole Truth (autobiography of society photographer Lord Lichfield, one-time resident at Shugborough) and The Man Who Was Frankenstein (about the one-time owner of Fyne Court) are two excellent examples.

The Book of Scones
Obviously I wasn't going to do a list of books without mentioning the official Book of Scones. It's the perfect gift! I am a bit disappointed that the National Trust hasn't asked me to do an annual like the ones I used to get in my stocking every Christmas, whether for Blue Peter or Smash Hits or Wham! But in the breathy words of the great George Michael: " year".

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore
I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that this is my favourite book of all time. It's a shocking, can't-put-it-down read about Mary Eleanor Bowes, great-great-great-great grandmother to the Queen, who had a lovely dad, a dull first marriage, and then managed to end up with the most awful man in the world as her second husband, at which point it becomes a horror story. Why they haven't made a film/TV adaptation of it is beyond me. Wendy Moore has also written a couple of other excellent books if you've already exhausted this as a gift option. You can also read about the scones at Gibside, Mary Eleanor Bowes' childhood home.

The Greatest Traitor by Ian Mortimer
I read this book thinking it was about the Roger Mortimer who built Chirk Castle. It's actually about his nephew, but the pair of them were a force to be reckoned with in the early 14th century. Nephew Rog went on to have an affair with Queen Isabella and was potentially responsible for the extremely grisly death that is believed to have been meted out to her husband, Edward II. Read more about Chirk and the book.

Galloper Jack by Brough Scott
I loved this book. Jack Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone, and one-time owner of Mottistone Gardens on the Isle of Wight (which makes him a relation of Benedict Cumberbatch by marriage) had more near-death experiences than any other human, as far as I can make out. He also owned a real-life war horse called Warrior. An amazing story.

A Circle of Sisters by Judith Flanders
It's incredible to think that four sisters from a relatively ordinary family became Alice Kipling (mother of Rudyard), Louisa Baldwin (mother of Stanley), Georgiana Burne-Jones (wife of Edward), and Agnes Poynter (wife of Edward). A very interesting read about their lives and times.

A Scandal at Felbrigg by Trevor Heaton
In these woke times, it's unlikely that a man would be known as 'Mad' Windham but that was the case for the one-time owner of Felbrigg Hall (read about my trip to Felbrigg). He met a woman called Agnes Willoughby at Ascot and fell head-over-heels in love with her, which led to disaster.

A Very British Family - The Trevelyans and Their World by Laura Trevelyan
Laura Trevelyan, BBC correspondent, is the great-great-great granddaughter of Charles Edward Trevelyan, who is name-checked in the song The Fields of Athenry (and not in a good way). She wrote this fascinating book about his failure to provide aid to Ireland during the Potato Famine and about the generations that followed him to live at Wallington - read more about my trip to Wallington.

William Armstrong: Magician of the North by Henrietta Heald
Born in 1810, William Armstrong was the inventor of hydraulic cranes that were used in shipyards around the world, as well as cannons, warships, and other weapons. With his vast wealth he built Cragside on "a lunatic site for a house". A fascinating man.  

The Housekeeper's Tale by Tessa Boase
This book covers the stories of several women who worked as housekeepers in stately homes around the country. It's worth reading purely for the engrossing chapter about Ellen Penketh, who worked at Erddig from 1902-1907. It all went horribly wrong and she was prosecuted for stealing - you can read more in my story of Erddig. There's also a section about Sarah Wells, mother of H.G., who worked at Uppark.

Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History by Adam Nicolson
Adam is the grandson of Vita Sackville-West and he tells some fascinating stories in this book. It's also a fascinating insight into what happens when the National Trust takes over a property. Read more about my trip to Sissinghurst.

A Lady of Cotton by David Sekers
If you liked the TV series The Mill then you'll really like this book. It tells the story of Hannah Greg, who married the enlightened mill owner who ran Quarry Bank. All things are relative though - she might have believed in education and healthcare, but the family was still forcing children to work 12 hour days in dangerous conditions. Anyway. You can read more about Hannah and my adventures at Quarry Bank Mill.

Society's Queen by Anne de Courcy
Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, is not the most famous inhabitant of Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland (read more about the notorious Viscount Castlereagh) but she ran the show in 'society' for 50 years from 1899. 

Mistress of Charlecote by Alice Fairfax-Lucy
Mary Elizabeth Lucy wrote her memoirs for her grandchildren, but it didn't stop her from including bits about how she didn't want to marry their grandfather. She's more interesting than you'd expect, put it that way - read about the Charlecote scones.

Moondial by Helen Cresswell
It's a children's book but does that matter? NO. It's still a great read and is set at Belton House - read about the scones at Belton and my encounter with the eponymous moondial.

So there you have it! Inspiration galore for Christmas gifts! You're welcome!

If you can think of any others, tweet us at @nt_scones or stick a picture up on Instagram and tag @nt_scones in it!!

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Podcast: The Christmas Pudding Scone at Treasurers House

It's time to get your earphones ready everyone, and brace yourself for me outing my pronunciation of the word 'scone' (please don't abandon me if it's different to yours - we're in this together).

I'm pleased to share a 15 minute podcast with you that I recorded at Treasurers House in York, home to the most memorable scone that I've had in the whole six years of the blog: the Christmas Pudding Scone with Brandy Butter.

You can tune in to the podcast here and and hear about:

  • The ghosts of Treasurers House - which one would you prefer to meet?
  • The history of the Christmas Pudding Scone with Brandy Butter 
  • The secret to how National Trust scones in York are all 5-star
  • How Monsieur Viande, the French chef of former owner Frank Green, is inspiring dishes in the cafe (warning: you will be hungry after this)

Monsieur Viande, the chef of one-time Treasurers owner Frank Green

Remember: you have until December 21st to try the Christmas Pudding Scone for yourself. Read the Christmas Pudding Scone Tour of York Intinerary that I lovingly prepared for you.

A huge thank you to Karla Simpson and Devon Allen for taking part in the podcast. Karla runs the food and beverage operation for Treasurers House, Goddards, and Beningbrough Hall so we have her and her team to thank for York's clean sweep when it comes to NT scones - every property has delivered a 5-star specimen.

Karla and Devon - stars of this podcast episode
Devon is the Visitor Experience Manager who is responsible for the stunning Christmas decorations that adorn Treasurers House until 21 December:

The full podcast series is on ice for now but stay tuned - we'll soon be entering the final year of the National Trust Scone Blog and I'm aiming for a series finale that surpasses Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, even Brookside.

Full link to podcast:

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Horsey Windpump

The late, great Whitney Houston said it best; I believe that children are our future. Teach them well about National Trust scones and hopefully they'll remember to come and visit you in the nursing home and take you out for a cream tea every now and again (I'm paraphrasing a bit there).

I've been taking the education of junior scone fans very, very seriously over the past few months. I'm nearing the end of the National Trust Scone Odyssey (I have to be finished by December 2020) and before I collapse over the finish line in a clotted cream coma, I'm hoping to have inspired the next generation to start a similar project. Otherwise what are we all going to read?

I decided that a field trip was in order. Luckily, I've spent the last twenty years working in marketing so I was able to create a tantalising itinerary for several of my youngest friends; we would get on a boat and sail down the Norfolk Broads to the National Trust property with the very best name (Horsey Windpump), we'd carry out a thorough review of the scones, then we'd head into nearby Great Yarmouth where we'd spend several aeons putting £5 of coppers into a slot machine in the hope of winning a unicorn keyring worth about 10p. There would potentially be doughnuts and a lot of chips. Were they in? Readers, they were in.

Horsey Windpump

An early start was needed, so I booked accommodation. I was insanely pleased with myself here; back in the day, I would spend many a Friday night drinking alcoholic beverages with my school pals in a pub called The Cherry Tree. And now here I was, on a Friday night with those same school pals drinking alcoholic beverages and saying things like "did anyone bring any toilet rolls?" in a static caravan on the Cherry Tree Holiday Park! See what I did there? It was completely lost on everyone but I remain delighted with myself.

ANYWAY - let's get on with the tale of Horsey Windpump. If there had been a Carry on Farming film, then the Kenneth Williams character would surely have been called Horsey Windpump. It's such a great name. When I first started this quest, HW didn't serve scones and so I had resigned myself to never visiting. And then earlier this year I got the nod that scones were now on the menu. Usually this kind of news causes me all sorts of trauma, as I have to add another property to my endless list, but in Horsey's case I was overjoyed.

Here are some historical facts:
  • There has been a drainage mill on the site since the early 1700s
  • There are similar mills dotted all around this part of Norfolk - by draining the land using wind power, landowners could make more area available for farming 
  • Drainage continues today - there's an electric pump doing all the work these days, but if it wasn't there then the area would be flooded:
  • The area used to be an island used for grazing or keeping horses (hence the name), with one access road that regularly flooded
  • The current windpump structure was built in 1912 on the foundations of the 19th century mill
  • Horsey Windpump was working until 1943 when it was struck by lightning 
  • It was acquired by the National Trust and has been restored - its sails were set in motion for the first time in 76 years in May this year, which must have been a great moment
  • As with all mills, it's not the most accessible property - there are several floors and 61 steps to negotiate to get right to the top, most of which are very narrow (I can report that the young sconepals cared not a jot about this and were scampering up the stairs like squirrels)
  • If you have time and the right footwear (it goes without saying that I didn't), there's a three mile walk from the windpump down to Horsey beach where you might be able to see grey seals
We had taken full advantage of the windpump's location on the Broads by hiring a boat and arriving in style via the water.

Amalia demonstrating some exceptional, possibly genetic, sea-faring skills
John also showing considerable sailing expertise 
We were also treated to a bizarre Rawhide moment when a herd of cattle suddenly appeared and came running down the road. Maybe they'd heard that we were in town and eating all the scones. Whatever - I was just glad that I was safely inside the windpump at the time or I'd have run screaming down the path, pushing small children out of my way as I went.
Rollin', rollin', rollin'
But let's move on to the Horsey Windpump scones. The tea room at Horsey is tiny but the staff were very friendly and tasty beverages and scones were soon served to the team:
Horsey Windpump Tearoom
The young apprentices hard at work - from L-R: Olivia, Amalia, John, Amy and Lara
The scones weren't home-made:

Horsey Windpump scone

But everyone enjoyed them - below you can see Olivia and Amy demonstrating their advanced scone preparation skills, which were honed on a previous outing to Overbecks back in the summer:

And so our National Trust scone field trip came to a close and we headed off to the Pleasure Beach in Great Yarmouth. It had been a resounding success though, and five young sconeoisseurs have moved closer to their black belts in National Trust scone appreciation.
Lara raising funds for the next field trip

Horsey Windpump: 5 out of 5
My scone score: 3.5 out of 5
Average scone score from my young apprentices: 3.8 out of 5 (I've trained them well)
Average scone score from their mothers: 4.2 out of 5 (way off - embarrassing really)
Arriving by boat: 500 out of 5 - I highly recommend hiring a boat 

A special thank you goes to eight year-old Sconepal Amy, who also provided some lovely photos of Horsey Windpump from her collection. I'm thinking of making her my official photographer.

Photographer: Amy King

Photographer: Amy King

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Christmas Pudding Scone Tour in York

If you're looking for an excellent National Trust day out in the run-up to Christmas, I have the answer for you and it's.....York.

To follow my suggested one day itinerary, you need to go Thursday-Sunday between 9 November and 15 December, as that's when you'll be able to pay homage to the eighth wonder of the modern world, the legendary Christmas Pudding Scone with Brandy Butter at Treasurer's House, AND fit in a trip to Goddards, home of the Terry's of York family and their all-conquering stocking filler, the Chocolate Orange.

However, if you want to take your time and fit in shops/the Christmas market as well (and I do recommend this strategy, because York is a beautiful and historic city), then you'll need the Premier Inn on Blossom Street for a night's sleep. 

If you only have eyes for the Christmas Pudding Scone with Brandy Butter, on the other hand, you can go pretty much every day between November 9 and 21 December as Treasurers House will be open and waiting for you (check the opening times though, just in case).

It's not National Trust and you have to pay to go inside but the good news is that a) it's right next door to Treasurer's House and b) you can join free guided tours, which come highly recommended by me. The Minster opens at 9am and the tours start at 10am so you can get an early start to your day.

York Minster

2. Head to Treasurer's House
Treasurer's House is five minutes' walk from the Minster and opens at 11am. I know for certain that they only serve freshly baked scones, so you don't have to worry that early visit = yesterday's leftovers. The tea room is in the basement and is very atmospheric, plus it's table service, so grab a nice table, order a Christmas Pudding Scone with Brandy Butter, and inform any travelling companions that you might need to eat in silence as words will fail you when it arrives. Remember the first rule of Scone Club: take a picture and send it to me BEFORE you eat it.

Treasurers House

3. Walk the City Walls
The Walls aren't National Trust either but they're really worth doing. Climb up the steps at Bootham Bar, which is right by the Minster, and walk along. There are a couple of stretches where you have to drop down to street level and pick up the wall again later on but it's never that far (although weirdly it's not that well signposted on the ground, so you will need your wits about you and/or Google Maps).

York Walls

4. Visit York Castle
There's actually not much left of York Castle - Clifford's Tower is pretty much the only remaining piece and it's run by another heritage organisation who shall remain nameless. However, when you come down from the Walls at Fishergate you walk past the Tower and it'd be a shame to ignore it. There's a museum and they're doing some Christmas stuff so keep an eye on their website. 

Cliffords Tower

If you get back up onto the Walls after the Castle Museum, follow the route to Micklegate. If you then disembark the Walls at Micklegate, it's a fairly straight 30 minute walk to Goddards on the Tadcaster Road. There you can marvel/weep at the history of the Terry's chocolate dynasty and have a second scone brought to you in their beautiful dining room cafe.


I need to point out that other good scone regions are available but York is just particularly good at Christmas. 

You can also listen to the podcast that I recorded at Treasurers House.

There's all to play for as the National Trust Scone Quest approaches its final year. York has admittedly delivered scone excellence but other contenders for Scone To Rule Them All have also emerged:
Remember to send me your pictures!

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Which National Trust properties serve the best scones?

This National Trust Scone project is nearly complete. I've visited 200+ properties, I have around 35 still to go, and I've given myself a deadline of December 2020 to bring the quest to its conclusion.

So it's time to start thinking about the big question: which National Trust properties serve the best scones? Please note that I'm not brave enough to face the biggest question - which is the scone to rule them all? - so we'll leave that one for now.

Almost 80 properties have delivered five star scones in the past six years. However, every Christmas I have shortlisted the real stand-out performers from the previous 12 months and named my scone of the year.

So here's a summary of those annual lists, giving you the Champions' League, the creme de la creme, the pantheon; basically, the scones that I still think about today.

The Champions' League of National Trust Scones (so far, and in no particular order):

Boscastle (Cornwall)
Croft Castle (Herefordshire)
Dunwich Heath (Suffolk)
Felbrigg Hall (Norfolk)
Fell Foot (Cumbria)
Flatford (Suffolk)
Longshaw, Burbage, and Eastern Moors (Derbyshire)
Nostell Priory (West Yorkshire)
Scotney Castle (Kent)
Shugborough (Staffordshire)
South Foreland Lighthouse (Kent)
The Argory (Northern Ireland)
The Needles Old Battery (Isle of Wight)
Treasurer's House (York)
Trerice (Cornwall)
Trelissick (Cornwall)
Trengwainton (Cornwall)
Watersmeet (Devon)
White Cliffs of Dover (Kent)
Wicken Fen (Cambridgeshire)
Winkworth Arboretum (Surrey)

Stay tuned for the final season of National Trust Scones: make sure you never miss a new review by following on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or signing up to the email on this blog. And remember to send me your National Trust scone pictures on social media too! We're all in this together.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Podcast of the National Trust Scone Blog

I ate 21 National Trust scones in August. It must be a world record, or qualify me for an OBE or something. But there's only one prize that I have my eyes on and it's the completion of this National Trust Scone quest. I want to be finished by December 2020.

But everytime I think of the end of this scone quest, I have a very uneasy feeling that it'll be like the running scene in Forrest Gump. He runs for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours (a mere trifle compared to my 7.5 years but let's not quibble) and then suddenly he just stops in the road and says to his co-runners; "I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now," and he slowly limps off, leaving them abandoned.

I've gained a lot from this project - weight, mainly - but the most important thing I've acquired is access to a community of funny, interesting people that have supported the quest on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and have become a huge part of the entire thing.

So I'm creating a podcast where I'll interview some of the people that have inspired and influenced this National Trust Scone Odyssey. The idea is currently on hold until 2020 but you can listen to the first episode, which covers the important subject of Christmas Pudding scones. Enjoy!

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Carlyle's House

SPOILER: There are no scones at Carlyle's House in Chelsea, as there's no space for a tea room. The building is almost Harry Potter-esque, in that you leave the King's Road, head down a leafy London side street, and probably walk straight past the house if you weren't paying attention.

And if you do manage to spot the neat little sign and go inside, you find yourself immediately in the 19th century. It genuinely feels as if you're paying a visit to Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane. It's very different to other National Trust properties and quite an odd experience to be having in 21st century London.

But let me share some highlights as it's a lovely, fascinating house:

Thomas Carlyle - influencer of the 1830s and 1840s
Carlyle was a Scottish author, historian, and social commentator who influenced Dickens, Ruskin, William Morris, and many others. His most celebrated book, The French Revolution, almost didn't make it into print - he lent the only copy of the manuscript to John Stuart Mill, who appeared at the front door one night in 1835 with the unenviable task of telling Carlyle that a servant had accidentally thrown it on the fire. Carlyle had to start all over again from scratch.

Thomas Carlyle bust
One of the many busts and portraits of Carlyle in the house
- I'm surprised he got any work done with so many artists turning up.
Jane Carlyle - the witty one 
Jane and Thomas married in Scotland in 1826, although her mother wasn't happy about it as she had higher hopes for her daughter. Jane and Thomas seem to have become a bit of a Carlyle double act - she was witty and sociable, and was well-liked by many of Carlyle's friends.  

The house - never actually owned by the Carlyles
The Carlyles always rented the house on Cheyne Row. I might not know much about his books, but I do know that Thomas deserves a lifetime achievement award for being the only person in the history of mankind that has managed to live in London for longer than two weeks without ever seeing a rent increase; for the 47 years that he lived in the house, the rent was £35 a year. 

Cheyne Row - not the stylish part of town
Chelsea wasn't an attractive part of London in the 1830s and 40s. Thomas himself described the house as "unfashionable in the highest degree but in the highest degree comfortable and serviceable." However, lots of illustrious people lived on Cheyne Row, including the artists Turner and Whistler and the authors George Eliot and Mrs Gaskell.

Jane Carlyle - the demanding one? 
Until Jane died in 1866, the couple managed with one live-in maid-servant who had to do pretty much everything. The fact that Jane got through 34 of those maid-servants in 32 years says a lot. One was fired for being "mortal drunk", while another one gave birth in a closet without Thomas knowing, even though he was sitting in the next room at the time. The mind boggles.

The Parlour 
There's a lovely picture from 1857 on the wall of the Parlour that shows Thomas and Jane actually in the very same Parlour. It's a strange experience, as the furniture and decoration are exactly the same, so it's almost like a mirror - you half expect to turn around and see Jane sitting at the table (probably writing out another P45).

Carlyles House Parlour

A shrine since 1895 
Thomas died in 1881. A Carlyle devotee called George Lumsden visited the place in 1894 and was shocked to see that it had been taken over by stray cats and dogs. He launched a campaign to buy the house and it was opened to the public in 1895. The National Trust took over in 1936.

The National Trust Scone Blog podcast
I live about 9 miles from Carlyle's House, so it's unforgiveable that I hadn't visited before, scones or no scones.

But I had an extra reason for my visit today; the brilliant staff at the house had very kindly agreed to let me record an episode of the upcoming National Trust Scone Blog podcast. I got to hang out in the kitchen that would once have been presided over by Jane Carlyle and her endless stream of skivvies.

My interviewee was Helen Wood, the comedy performer who took her one-woman show, the National Trust Fanclub, to the Edinburgh Festival last month. She's going on tour in the spring and I recommend getting yourself a ticket if she comes to a town near you - there's a whole section devoted to scones. Anyway, watch out for the release of this podcast episode in the next few weeks. And a heartfelt thank you to the wonderful Linda and the team for accommodating us.

The weighing scales belong to the kitchen and are not part of my recording equipment,
just in case Colin the podcast tutor is reading this and thinking "HUH?"

Carlyle's House: 5 out of 5
Scone: there's no tea room
Staff: A million out of 5. The loveliest people ever.