Saturday 24 August 2013

Ham House

It’s August Bank Holiday weekend and so I am bravely going for a scone hat-trick, starting with the very lovely Ham House near Richmond.

But before I get to the critical business of scones, I must say that this blog may only be a week old but it’s already achieving its purpose. This week I have spent hours poring over the National Trust handbook, biroing big asterisks onto pages, deciding where I’d like to go next on my quest for the perfect scone. This is not normal. Usually we wake up on Sunday mornings and say “Where shall we go today? Get the book.” and then we argue for about twenty minutes before someone says “Oh I can’t be bothered if you’re going to be miserable.” Now I am on a mission and I must PLAN.

The four or five hours this week that weren’t spent scrawling in the handbook were devoted to mulling over the potentially devastating possibility that all National Trust scones are made centrally, maybe in some huge warehouse in Solihull. It would kind of defeat the purpose of this blog and, more worrying, make me look completely stupid. I had this vivid image of people at National Trust HQ laughing their heads off going “WHAT AN IDIOT!!” as I claimed that the scones at one place were far superior to those of another.

Well, thanks to Ham House I can find something else to get paranoid about, because the scones at Ham were completely different to those in Petworth Park last week. For a start off they were FRUIT SCONES and not plain ones. I used to hate sultanas when I was young so my heart sank a bit when I saw them but I’d actually forgotten that fruit adds a lovely sweetness to scones. The scones themselves were a little bit dry to be honest but the fruit was definitely good. Two scones with jam, clotted cream and a pot of tea was £4.95. The tea came in one of those little teapot-sitting-on-the-cup combo things, which my other half thought was the greatest thing he’d ever seen in his life, so I’ll definitely be getting one for Christmas. 

Apart from that, I really loved Ham House. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Ham House has an awesome history
It was built during the Stuart era and its inhabitants eventually became embroiled in the Civil War. Its one-time resident, William Murray, was a close friend of the king, which was not an enviable position to hold in 1649 when Charles I was beheaded. However, William’s wife Catherine and then his daughter Elizabeth managed to keep the house – Elizabeth remained a Royalist throughout and was rewarded by Charles II after the Restoration. As I walked around, I was wracking my brains trying to remember the name of a book that we read at school about the Civil War. It was about some children that lived in the New Forest but I just could not think of its name. I got home and Googled it and it’s called The Children of the New Forest. (I just looked it up on Amazon and the front cover suggests that it’s a book for a 2 year old – we read this in my COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL. Either we were illiterate or today’s toddlers are able to follow a narrative about Roundheads and Cavaliers.)

2. I now know what a whipping boy is
William Murray had been Charles I’s whipping boy, hence Charles leasing Ham House to him. Nobody was allowed to physically punish a king when he was young and misbehaving, as you would a normal child, so another kid was brought in and if the king was naughty, the other kid copped the whipping. Obviously for this to work the king had to be vaguely bothered about the other kid and Charles and William were indeed close.

3. Ham House is the most haunted Trust property 
Ham House has three ghosts we were told; Elizabeth Murray, a valet, and a dog. I have to say that it’s a stroke of genius having a ghost dog – as we left the house we saw a dog in the grounds. Was it the ghost? Who knows. 

4. The Stuarts had the best hair ever 
Just check out this picture of William Murray (I think Jon Bon Jovi probably did):

You get given a free room guide at Ham, which tells you a little bit about each room, but I would have liked an audio guide – last week’s visit to Petworth was definitely a lot more interesting with some commentary. They do have lots of people on hand to explain the history though, which is very good. 

And so to tomorrow’s exciting scone destination.

Scones: 3.5 out of 5. 
Ham House: 4.5 out of 5. Amazing history, amazing hair.

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