Sunday 31 August 2014

Sutton Hoo

I grew up in the East Midlands. This meant that every night for 18 years I had to watch a local news programme called Look East. Except there was nothing local about it; it was all King's Lynn this and Bury St Edmunds that and Felixstowe the other. For a twelve year old girl doing her homework in a house near Kettering, Ipswich may as well have been Papua New Guinea. 

But guess what! It turns out Ipswich wasn't that far away after all! I just looked it up and Sutton Hoo, the site of an Anglo-Saxon king's burial ground, is 109 miles away from my old school! In America, that's practically NEXT-DOOR! You could be there in two hours! Amazing!

What a shame then that we didn't have to learn about the Anglo-Saxons when I was at school...oh wait a minute, we did. Yes, my teachers spent a good 20 hours or so making us read textbooks about pre-Roman Britain, when all the time we could have got on a bus and gone 109 miles down the road to see it brought to life.

Sutton Hoo mask

I spent my day at Sutton Hoo in a bit of a fury, as you can probably tell. It's the perfect place for an educational tour - the burial ground itself needs a bit of imagination but the museum explains everything. 

Let me summarise the history of Sutton Hoo:
  • Sutton Hoo shot to stardom in 1939, when a local archaeologist called Basil Brown unearthed the remains of a massive wooden ship, 90 feet long, that had been buried on the site.
  • Basil had been asked to excavate the area by its owner, Mrs Edith Pretty, who had often wondered what the mounds on her land contained.
  • In 1938, he explored a few of the mounds and found evidence of a burial site - each of the mounds had clearly been plundered, probably in Elizabethan times.
  • In 1939 he returned to excavate Mound 1 and, just 3 days into the dig, he uncovered iron rivets like those found in other excavations of Anglo-Saxon and Viking ship burials.
  • He was amazed at the size of the boat that he was uncovering. In the middle was a shaft that suggested the site had been robbed.
  • However, the burial chamber had not been breached and the team were soon uncovering gold jewellery, coins, weapons, leather and more.
  • The most famous item is the great iron helmet (picture of the replica above), which is now in the British Museum, along with many of the other treasures.
  • The burial site is thought to be that of King Raedwald who died in 625 AD.
  • In 1992, Mound 17 was excavated and a double grave was found, containing a young man and a horse. 

The museum at Sutton Hoo tells the story of the site very well and there are replicas of some of the finds, plus a treasury containing genuine artefacts.

And then you can walk around the actual burial site itself. I did at this point think of some of the kids that I was at school with and how they'd probably have run up the mounds and caused destruction, so it was probably just as well we didn't get to go.

This mound once contained a smaller ship burial - it has been rebuilt to its former size to give you some idea of how the site would have looked when there were 20 mounds looming out of the earth:

Sutton Hoo mound

And this mound, which hasn't been restored, is where Basil Brown found his ship:

Sutton Hoo mounds

The Sutton Hoo scone
It was an all-round day of education for me, as I also learnt something else: if you have to deliver bad news then just cut to the chase and do it quickly (I didn't get this from Sutton Hoo though, this came from The X Factor). So here goes: the Sutton Hoo scone wasn't great. It was very dry and although it was nowhere near as bad as the Wakehurst scone, it just wasn't very enjoyable to eat. The clotted cream was really strange too - it had solidified for some reason, and it just flaked into little tiny bits like a really old soap.

Sutton Hoo scone

It was a real shame because it was a very good-looking scone and the tearoom was great - it's big and there's a lovely outdoor bit.  

But I recommend Sutton Hoo - the treasures might be in the British Museum but you really do get a sense of what old Basil Brown and Edith Pretty must have felt, stood in a Suffolk field, brushing away at the soil and not knowing that they were about to make one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

Sutton Hoo: 4 out of 5
Scones: 3 out of 5
School trip organising skills of my teachers: 0 out of 5


I had a Saturday job when I was 16, in a sadly now defunct childrenswear shop. One day the manager of the shop stuck a piece of paper on the kitchen noticeboard showing our target for the year and the wondrous fame and fortune that awaited us if we beat the target and won Store of the Year.

I got quite excited about it until the other women in the shop put me straight; "Forget it. We won't win Regional Store of the Year - that'll go to Market Harborough because they've just opened and new shops always beat their targets. And National Store of the Year is always Oxford Street." And with that they went back to eating their crispbread, I returned to my More magazine, and we said no more about it.

I wonder if National Trust property managers ever feel aggrieved like this. Take Paycocke's, for example; do they ever read about Waddesdon Manor adding a new car park and a fleet of shuttle buses for visitors, or Chartwell opening a new purpose-built cafeteria, and think "WE'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A STREET IN A VILLAGE IN ESSEX. IT'S A MIRACLE WE'RE STILL HERE AT ALL. WE HAVE NO ROOM FOR CAR PARKS OR EXTENSIVE VISITOR CENTRES."

To be honest, they've probably got better things to do than worry about Chartwell. Paycocke's may be smaller than most properties but it's a fantastic place and I highly recommend it. 

It was built around 1500 and is located on a relatively busy road in a village called Coggeshall. Yet somehow it has survived 500 years of change and development and is still standing sturdy. 


It was built for Thomas Paycocke, a wealthy merchant who made his fortune from wool - East Anglia was very big on cloth back then. 

The house was passed to the Buxton family through marriage. As the cloth trade began to fall into decline in the 1700s, the house was bought and then split into three tenements. It came close to demolition, until Lord Noel Buxton brought it back into the family. He renovated it and donated it to the National Trust in 1924.

There was a sign on the wall with a poignant quote from Lord Noel:

Paycocke's also gave me a rare moment of historical supremacy over the Scone Sidekick. We wandered into one of the rooms in the house and I immediately turned to him and said; "This is linenfold panelling. It was used in houses owned by rich people. They also have it in Sutton House in Hackney." For some reason the Sidekick decided that he still needed to consult the notice on the fireplace and begrudgingly read out "It's linenfold panelling as also seen in Sutton House in Hackney." I'd have done a lap of honour and high-fived the guide if there had been room. 

Paycockes linenfold panelling

The Paycocke's scone
The tearoom at Paycocke's was lovely - it only opened in 2013 and it has a pretty little outdoor bit and then an indoor part within the house itself, which I always love - but I don't think the scone was homemade. It reminded me of the River Wey scone, which definitely came out of a packet, but it didn't matter at all. It was just marvellous to sit outside in the little courtyard on a Sunday morning and marvel at Paycocke's survival and my burgeoning knowledge of Tudor panelling styles.  

Paycockes National Trust Scones

Paycocke's: 5 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Making me feel like Simon Schama with my vast historical knowledge: 5 out of 5

Monday 25 August 2014

Uppark House & Garden

Have you ever been at a National Trust property when someone has shouted "THE ROOF'S ON FIRE!", before encouraging you to join a human chain and remove as many treasures as you can from the house before the ceilings collapse and everything is consumed by flames?

Me neither. But that's exactly what happened at Uppark House in West Sussex on 30 August 1989.

It was a builder using a flame to finish some lead work that set the house ablaze. National Trust staff, visitors, members of the family living at Uppark, plus the fire service had about three hours to rescue as much as possible - at one desperate point firemen were pulling curtains down and ripping wallpaper from walls. 

If I was in charge of a National Trust property that burned down, I would now be doing one of two things; I would either be hiding in Acapulco, living under an assumed name and jumping into a cupboard every time someone said the words 'national' or 'trust'. Or I would still be under sedation somewhere.

But luckily I was not in charge and the Trust rallied itself for the mother of all restoration projects. It was the contents that saved the day for Uppark - the house itself was completely gutted by the fire and there were people who thought it should be pulled down. But where to put all of the contents that had been saved? In the end, Uppark was restored, although it took six years and a lot of money.

They deal with the fire very well at Uppark. In every room there's a picture of what looks like a scene from the Blitz, but is actually the same room in 1989. It's really quite staggering. 

There's a lot more to Uppark than the fire, however. Here's a quick summary:

  • Uppark House was built around 1695 by Ford Grey, Earl of Tankerville.
  • Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh bought it in 1747 and remodelled the interiors.
  • His son, Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, was a bit of a lad - he had a liaison with Emma Hart, who eventually became Emma Hamilton and mistress to Lord Nelson, and she used to dance naked on the tables at Uppark, until she became pregnant and Sir Harry got rid of her.
  • Sir Harry married his dairy maid, Mary-Ann, when he was 70+ and she was 20.
  • Mary-Ann remained at Uppark with her sister, who died in 1895.
  • Sarah Wells, mother of H.G., was housekeeper for Mary-Ann and Frances for a while, but she was "perhaps the worst housekeeper that ever was thought of" according to her son.
  • There was no heir when Frances died, so it was handed to family friends who obligingly changed their names. Today it is still inhabited by some Meade-Fetherstonhaughs. 

No photography was allowed in the house, hence the lack of pictures. 

The Uppark scone
But I do have photos of the scones. Readers, I think the National Trust might be onto me. Of my last six visits, FIVE properties have now scored top marks for their sconeage. It's unheard of, frankly, and I'm worried about my reputation as a discerning sconnessieur.

Uppark didn't help me much: the scones were absolutely top class today. They were fresh, perfectly sized, melt-in-the-mouth...just top drawer. Well done, Uppark scone baker. 

Uppark National Trust Scones

Uppark: 4.5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Optimism in face of total adversity: 100 out of 5

Saturday 16 August 2014

The Best National Trust Scones (So Far)

The National Trust Scone Blog is one this weekend! Happy Birthday, blog! 

National Trust Birthday Scone

I thought it only right to thank all of the National Trust properties that have made the past 12 months so sconetabulous.

We've visited 50 properties this year in 23 counties, and we've eaten 70 scones. 4 properties had no scones but 17 - yes 17! - were awarded the Scone D'Or for scone excellence! 

Eyes down for the full list of 17, in order of visit:

It costs £30,000 a year to send your child to school at Stowe. I've worked out that you could get around 17,647 scones for that. I know which one I'd spend my money on. Educate yourself (ha!) about the Stowe scones...

Charlecote Park
William Shakespeare was once caught stealing a scone from Charlecote Park. It forced him to leave Warwickshire for London. Did I say scone? I meant deer. The scones at Charlecote were scone perfection though, so it's an easy mistake to make. Read more about the scones at Charlecote Park...

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And continue with your National Trust Scone Mission just the same" - I'm paraphrasing one-time Bateman's resident Rudyard Kipling a bit there, but it's an apt motto for the scone blogger. We definitely met Scone Triumph at Bateman's - read more about the Bateman's scones...

Claremont Landscape Garden
Claremont surprised us on many levels. First, it's more of a lovely big park than a garden. Second, it served the fluffiest scones we had ever seen (until we went to Standen a week later). Read about Claremont's scones... 

Standen deliver when it comes to scones - we thought nothing could outfluff Claremont's scone but we were wrong. Tests proved that the Standen scone was genetically closer to a cloud than a baked foodstuff. Read about the Standen scone...

"You must go to Nymans in West Sussex," I was told by about 8 million people "because it is absolutely wonderful and the scones are delicious." I finally went and it was absolutely wonderful and the scones were delicious. You must go there. Read about Nymans scones...

Waddesdon Manor
It might look like a tornado has picked up a French chateau and dropped it just off the M40, but Waddesdon near Aylesbury ticks every box in the scone blogger's guide to National Trust awesomeness, ie it has an audio guide and the scone was perfect in every way. Read about the Waddesdon scone...

Scotney Castle 
I spent 20 minutes of my time at Scotney Castle in Kent sheltering under a tree from a torrential downpour. I was never so pleased to see a pot of tea and a scone in all my life. And the scones were EPIC. Scotney also won credit for having a Banana and Walnut Scone of the Month, and for Richard Gere, who filmed Yanks there. Read all about the Scotney scones...

Dunwich Heath
I came home from my Dunwich Heath mission near Ipswich in need of therapy and a 3-day gym session - they had 20 TYPES OF SCONE at their Sconeathon in March, including Sticky Toffee, Chocolate Orange, would be easier to think of things they hadn't included. The Sticky Toffee Scone left us uncharacteristically speechless. Read about the Dunwich Sconeathon...

Morden Hall Park
Our first scone mission of 2014 was not the frosty, blue-skied January experience we expected, but the biblical deluge made the scones at Morden Hall Park in South London all the more welcome. They were phenomenal - big, warm, and glazed (a first). 'Morden enough' to warrant a five out of five (ha ha ha! Sorry.) Read about the Morden Hall Park scones...

Sutton House
Hackney is famous for many things - marshes, young men growing massive beards - but the National Trust scone blogger is going to add SCONES to that list. Sir Ralph Sadleir, who appears in the book Wolf Hall, built Sutton House and it's well worth a visit. Read about the Sutton House scones...

Quarry Bank Mill
Quarry Bank Mill near Wilmslow is a big and slightly troubling place, if you allow yourself to dwell on the misery of the lives of the orphans that slaved there in dreadful conditions in the 19th century. The scone was big but not troubling at all - it was just delicious. Read about Quarry Bank Mill's scone...

Alright, we helped bake the scones at Flatford but that's not why we gave them 5 out of 5. We gave them 5 because they were mince pie scones and they were ruddy delicious. The cottage and landscape where John Constable painted The Hay Wain were stunning too. Read about the Flatford scones...

Winkworth Arboretum
They keep the scones in a bread bin at Winkworth Arboretum, which caused some initial palpitations that they didn't have any. We forgave them for our distress though when we tasted the scones. Read about the Winkworth scones...

Houghton Mill
The scone blogger will admit to having been extremely hungover on the day she visited Houghton Mill (the night before had been the party for her first schoolfriend to turn 40, enough said) and a scone was quite literally the last thing she wanted to eat, but the Houghton scone, baked with flour milled on-site, was too delicious to be resisted. Read about the Houghton Mill scone...

Brownsea Island
We didn't see any of the things that Brownsea is famous for (scouts, red squirrels and John Lewis employees), but we did see some magnificent scones. Read about the Brownsea Island scone...

Bodiam Castle
Bodiam Castle is one of those castles that looks like it was drawn by a 6 year-old - a true fortress in every sense of the word. Bodiam also delivered scones that were delicious in every sense of the word too - our very first 5 out of 5, setting the benchmark for all others. Read about the Bodiam Castle scone...

This is the tip of the iceberg, though - there are hundreds of other National Trust properties, many of which have amazing scones that we need to try. 

A quick bit of maths suggests that the National Trust Scone Odyssey will take around 5 years to complete but we'll soldier on in our quest. 

I'm going to end by thanking all the sconepals that have tweeted and Facebooked and everything else this year - you're all sconetabulous.

Saturday 2 August 2014


It costs £30,000 to send your child to school at Stowe. I thought to myself; 'That's a lot of money. But if it guarantees you 7 years of education, 36 A'levels, and a network of friends who probably have to try quite hard NOT to be successful in life, then I can see how a certain type of person would think it worth it.' But it's £30,000 A YEAR, readers. A YEAR. Still, some people pay it - Richard Branson went there, as did Prince Harry's former squeeze, Chelsy Davy. 

But let's be clear: the National Trust owns the gardens at Stowe, not the school, so I've split this post into three chunks: the house, the gardens, the scones.

1. The House
Stowe House has been a school since 1923 and NT visitors can only marvel at its exterior. This is my single picture of Stowe House, taken during the torrential downpour that lasted for pretty much the entire duration of my visit - I'd taken my sister along, so naturally something had to go wrong and it was the weather:


The core of the house was built in 1677-1683. Various parts were rebuilt and extended throughout the 1700s until the 2nd Duke of Buckingham went bankrupt in 1848 and the contents of the house were sold. It was eventually saved by the people that turned it into a school.

2. Stowe Gardens 
The National Trust has looked after the gardens at Stowe since 1990. They were created mainly by Viscount Cobham and his nephew Richard, Earl Temple, who inherited Stowe in 1752. Many illustrious talents worked on the gardens, including Sir John Vanburgh, William Kent, James Gibbs, and 'Capability' Brown, and it became a popular visitor attraction in the 18th century.

There are three main paths at Stowe: the Path of Vice, the Path of Virtue, and the Path of Liberty. As you walk round, you come across 30 or so statues, temples, and other buildings - there were others, but they've been demolished over the years.

We took the Path of Liberty, which was one of the last areas of the gardens to be developed. In this view, you can see the Gothic Temple, Lord Cobham's pillar, and the Palladian Bridge:

Stowe temples

I will advise that you don't make the same mistakes as us: if you go to Stowe, set aside a good three hours minimum to see the sights and don't go when it's pouring down. And if you do happen to go during wet weather, don't wear open-toed shoes, as they don't combine well with rain and sheep poo.

But here are a couple of highlights to whet your appetite.

The Palladian Bridge was completed in 1736 and was probably designed by James Gibbs. It provided a nice sheltered spot for visitors, and it really did serve that purpose for us today:

The Gothic Temple was completed in 1748 and was also designed by Gibbs. It commemorates the British liberty of Saxon kings like King Alfred, as opposed to Roman tyranny. Apparently, it's now a holiday cottage:

Stowe gothic temple

And that is sadly as far as we got before we had to admit defeat and make our way like two drowned rats back to shelter out of the rain. There's loads more to see, though, and I will definitely be back.

3. The Stowe Scones
I had really high hopes for today's scone, purely because Stowe was the 50th stop on the National Trust Scone Odyssey and I felt that this deserved a 'golden' scone. But as we've seen before, high hopes are a risky business when it comes to scones. 

The tea room at Stowe was lovely (it looked very new) and the scones were beautiful dinky little things. Then I cut into one and my heart sank - it looked really dry (which was a bit ironic considering the torrential deluge that was battering off the windows). But it didn't taste dry at all. These scones were dense, sweet and tasty as anything. Top marks and five house points to Stowe.

Stowe Scones National Trust

I then went home and tried to dry off, a task made somewhat easier by the radiant evening sunshine that streamed in through the windows and made it impossible to watch the TV. I felt like getting back in the car and returning to Stowe but that'll have to wait for another day.

And so that completes 50 National Trust scone missions. We're taking a few weeks off but look out for the scone blog's 1st birthday round-up of Top National Trust Scones in two weeks' time. 

Stowe: 4 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Man rescuing us from the mud in his little golf buggy: 5 out of 5