Saturday 2 July 2016

Dyrham Park

If I were in charge of the finances of a National Trust property, my favourite words in the world would probably be 'coach party' or, maybe a bit more ambitiously, 'billionaire Mark Zuckerberg discovers his ancestors built National Trust estate'.

But my most hated words would definitely be 'roof repairs'. It must be GALLING to have to replace the roof on a stately home. It must cost MILLIONS OF POUNDS for something that nobody can really see. If someone offers to sell me a raffle ticket to restore a fishpond currently containing an old shopping trolley and a mattress, I'm all over it. A summer house with no glass that needs repairing? Delighted to help. But a roof? Are you sure you can't just put a tarpaulin over it?

Dyrham Park near Bath replaced its roof last year. It cost - pass the smelling salts, mother - £3.8 MILLION POUNDS. 

It's also very disruptive to replace a roof. The whole house was covered in scaffolding while the work went on, which must have put a lot of visitors off. It certainly put me off. But the staff at Dyrham did a brilliant thing; they made a feature of it. You could actually go up on the roof and see the replacement works going on. I think that's such a brave and clever thing to do - much better than just claiming everything is business as usual, even though 90% of the rooms are shut so disgruntled visitors pile onto TripAdvisor to complain.

ANYWAY. The scaffolding is down, so I got to see the outside of the house properly. And it's a beautiful house - you can either walk from the visitor centre or you can catch the shuttle bus, but in either case you get a lovely view as you come over the hill and look down into the valley.

So here's some history about Dyrham:
  • In 1571, a man called George Wynter and his brother William bought Dyrham manor and park
  • George helped to finance Sir Francis Drake's voyage around the world, which nearly ruined him - but that's a whole other story
  • Dyrham eventually passed to his great-grand-daughter, Mary Wynter
  • Mary married William Blathwayt, a very successful civil servant who had risen to become Secretary at War for James II. We can only wonder what first attracted him to the rich, estate-owning Mary Wynter. 
  • Over 13 years William transformed Dyrham - he used local supplies as was normal for the time, but he also used his colonial network to bring timber from Virginia and materials from other parts of the world
  • He survived quite a few twists and turns in his career - he was booted out of his job after the removal of James II, but William of Orange realised that he needed a man who could speak Dutch, so back came our William Blathwayt
  • His ancestors were pretty happy with a quiet country life and the house continued to be passed down through the family
  • It was leased out, but when that ended in 1946 the future looked bleak - sheep were even found wandering through the house at one stage
  • Dyrham was passed to the National Trust in 1961
In another INGENIOUS move, Dyrham staff also serve up FREE HOT CHOCOLATE in the orangery. It was lovely - a little bit spicy. Here's the recipe if you're ever in the mood for a 17th century hot chcolate:

Dyrham chocolate recipe

The Dyrham Park scone
But on to the 21st century scones. I recently had the privilege of spending a morning baking scones with Clive Goudercourt, the Development Chef at the National Trust. He showed me how the perfect scone should have a 'mouth' - ie, as it rises, the scone should split slightly so that it can be divided easily by hand without a knife. 

So when I looked at my Dyrham scone I shook my head sadly at the Scone Sidekick. "There's no mouth on this one, Sidekick," I said. "I've got insider information on this now. This one won't pass muster." He looked slightly baffled and tucked into his scone as I bit into mine. "Actually, it's not bad," I said. Another bite. "It's actually really good." Last mouthful. "Top marks, I'd say." He gave me a slightly tired look that said 'do you actually even know what you're talking about?' But bravo to the Dyrham scone baker.

Dyrham Park scones

So I really take my hat off to Dyrham. They're trying very hard to keep the place going during the ongoing conservation works and that can't be easy, plus top class scones and hot chocolate to boot.

Dyrham Park: 4 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Whoever suggested the hot chocolate idea: 5 out of 5

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