Monday 28 July 2014

Moseley Old Hall

I'm not having a go at my history teachers here, but I reckon with a semi-decent lawyer and a copy of the Trade Descriptions Act, I could probably sue them. 

I just don't remember history being very well structured at my school. We did the Tudors. We did the Romans. I have a vague recollection of the Spinning Jenny. We did 'Medicine Through Time' but I only remember the bit about sailors sticking amputated limb stumps into boiling tar. And then a term spent on Sino-Soviet relations (WHY?). 

So I went to Moseley Old Hall near Wolverhampton today knowing that I'd probably meet a few toddlers with a better grasp of the life and times of Charles II than I had.

Moseley Old Hall is amazing. It's a really unusual National Trust property, in that it was given one chance of fame and it took that chance, a bit like Susan Boyle or Pippa Middleton. Over the course of two days in September 1651 it went from being just someone's house near Cannock to securing centuries of fame for itself as the place that hid a king with a price on his head. 

Moseley Old Hall

The story goes: Charles I was executed in 1649, leaving the hopes of Monarchists on the shoulders of his son, Charles II. In 1651, Charles II marched south from Scotland with an army of 16,000 men to reclaim the throne. However, he was soundly beaten at the Battle of Worcester on 3rd September and was forced to go on the run.

On 8th September he arrived at Moseley Old Hall, bedraggled and tired. On his way to Moseley he had stayed at Boscobel House where he had famously hidden in an oak tree while Roundhead soldiers searched for him nearby (thereby giving hundreds of pubs their name, The Royal Oak). 

Moseley Old Hall had been built in 1600 and was owned by Thomas Whitgreave. Thomas was Catholic and had been hiding a priest, Father Huddlestone. It was in Moseley's priest hole that Charles II spent his first night at the house.

The unfortunate thing about priest holes is that they're not very photogenic. This picture looks like the entrance to someone's not-particularly-interesting cellar. But it is the actual spot where Charles II hid, even though he was 6'2" and a king. Apparently when shown it, he said it was "the best place he was ever in", which makes me really like him:

Priest Hole Moseley

The second night they allowed him to rest on a bed, and that bed is still there today in The King's Room. However, troops arrived at the house to arrest Whitgreave for being involved in the battle, which he was not, and so the King was forced back into his hidey hole. He then left Moseley to continue on to Bristol, disguised as a servant.

It's a story that would defy belief if you made it up, but it happened and Charles eventually made it to the Continent, thanks to men and women like Thomas Whitgreave.

I love the end of the story too: when Charles II lay dying in 1685, he asked for Father Huddlestone, who gave him the last rites. This is Father Huddlestone's chapel at Moseley:

Moseley Chapel

The Moseley Scone
I was so engrossed in the story that I almost forgot to stop for a scone. The scone at Moseley Old House was very good. If I was being finicky, it maybe wasn't quite as fresh as the other scones I've had lately but it was a nice-looking scone and very tasty. I am sure that Charles would have declared it "the best scone he had ever seen" had he been offered it in 1651.

Moseley Old Hall National Trust Scones

The only thing that wasn't absolutely brilliant at Moseley was the shop. I've read two great books this year, neither of which I had heard of until I picked them up in National Trust shops, namely A Circle of Sisters from Bateman's and Wedlock from Gibside. We've already established that I am in dire need of education vis a vis Charles II but there were no books on the subject in the shop, which I was really disappointed about. If you're thinking "look, Little Miss Whinge, there's this thing called Amazon?" you are absolutely correct and I've gone there and purchased this.

I will now finish with one of those stories where the person telling it thinks they've had a really spooky supernatural experience and everyone listening thinks 'you just saw something on a shelf'. 

Basically, I spent 20 minutes at Moseley sitting in the sun and mentally berating my useless teachers, asking what kind of education system teaches a British kid about Chiang Kai-Shek but doesn't teach them about the time the King of England hid in a cupboard in Wolverhampton. 

Towards the end of the tour (which was really good, by the way, just as everything at Moseley was really good), was a room containing a chest with this on top: 

Moseley Old Hall Pomander

To you, this may look like an elderly orange with a ribbon and a load of cloves stuck into it, resting on a bed of pot pourri. But to me it was a voice, a voice from beyond the grave, the voice of Mrs House, my 3rd year junior school teacher, saying "What are you complaining about? Did I not teach you to make a pomander EXACTLY like this in 1983? Does your poor mother not still have it, mouldering away in her home somewhere? You were taught loads of history, you just didn't LISTEN." 

And so, thoroughly admonished by an orange, I went home. 

Moseley Old Hall: 5 out of 5
Scones: 4.5 out of 5
Book purchasing opportunities: 3 out of 5 (I bought a guidebook)

Other visits I have made in the West Midlands: Kinver EdgeWightwick Manor, Dudmaston

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