Sunday 8 March 2015

Upton House and Gardens

I keep getting Upton House mixed up with Upton Park. They are not the same thing at all. Upton House is a stately home near Banbury. Upton Park is a football stadium in East London. 
Upton House

I will tell you now that I LOVED Upton House. There are many reasons for this. It has an impressive art collection, complete with fascinating stories about where those artworks came from and where they were hidden during the war (in a quarry in Wales). 

The house itself also has a very interesting history; in 1927 it was bought by Walter Samuel, Lord Bearsted. He had a lot to contend with during his years at Upton - apparently Hitler had two lists of people that were to be rounded up immediately after an invasion of the UK and Lord Bearsted was on both of them, as the chairman of an international business - his father had founded the Shell oil company - and as a prominent member of the Jewish community. 

However, I wouldn't have known any of this if we hadn't joined a tour. I'm a MASSIVE fan of audio tours but I normally avoid being led about by a human - mainly because I don't want to wait an hour and a half for the next one, or go careering around the place trying to catch up with the one "that just left two minutes ago".

After today, however, I will try harder to join a tour if one is available. It was full of fascinating facts and it really helped to bring the place to life.

The art tour basically showed us round the gallery area of the house. There are plenty of impressive works. This one, painted by El Greco in 1579, was one of my favourites. Poor old 'El' had his fee cut apparently, because he painted the heads of the crowd higher than that of Christ, which didn't go down very well in 16th century Spain: 

El Greco at Upton House

Once the art tour was over, we wandered around the rest of the house. It was built in the 17th century and had many owners, before the Bearsteds bought it as a weekend country bolt-hole. 

I think it's the only National Trust property I've seen with a swimming pool in the back garden. It didn't look all that inviting today, in the drizzle:

Upton House swimming pool

The Bearsteds have remained connected to Upton. The daughter of the 3rd Viscount, Felicity Waley-Cohen, is the mother of the jockey Sam Waley-Cohen and they still own a nearby stud farm called Upton Viva. So there is a sporting connection after all.

The Upton House scone
Let's be honest though - there was only really one work of art I was looking for today and that was a show-stopping SCONE. It hasn't been a good year for me and my scone odyssey so far. In 2013 and 2014, I managed a total of 20 top-scoring National Trust scones, giving me an average of 1.18 top class scones per month. This year, the Scone d'Or has been gathering dust and it's the 8th of March already. 

The tea room at Upton House was lovely - it's big and welcoming and without doubt one of the nicest I've seen. It was early, though, and I had serious concerns about that. Going into a tea room at 11.30am and asking for a scone - you might as well say "I know you're more concerned with preparing lunches at the moment, so please just give me one of last Thursday's scones and I'll get out of your way". I know this probably doesn't happen, but I fear it all the same. 

But there was no reason for concern because the Upton scone was A TRIUMPH. It was warm, fresh, and literally melt-in-the-mouth, which is really all I ever ask of a scone. Even the scone sidekick agreed and he's normally saying things like "I'd give it a two".

Upton House National Trust Scone

I did learn one other thing today, and I hope the National Trust forgives me for this. I sometimes think that I've gone a bit native with the NT - I so rarely find anything to complain about, and I've even started feeling more positively inclined to gardens, which was UNHEARD of two years ago. BUT today I came to the firm conclusion that even if I live to be 104, I will never, ever be interested in porcelain. But if porcelain IS your thing, then there's plenty of it at Upton. 

Upton House: 4.5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5! Get IN!
Artwork tour: 5 out of 5
Porcelain: 0 out of 5 for me, 5 out of 5 if porcelain is your bag


  1. Am so pleased to hear such good news.. normal service seems to have been resumed :D :D

  2. Sadly, today's scone would just about scrape a 3 BUT it is Boxing Day and they are exceptional in being open so I'm very grateful for that.