Sunday 18 September 2016

Washington Old Hall

I was expecting Washington Old Hall to be a complete disappointment. It's the ancestral home of George Washington - ancestral being the killer word in that sentence. He never actually lived there. 

Washington Old Hall

So I was expecting to find the odd American wandering around the place saying "I wonder where he slept?" and a guide having to say "well, he didn't actually ever live here, but over there we have a lovely cushion cover belonging to his great-great grandmother..." "WHADDYA MEAN HE DIDN'T LIVE HERE? We've come all the way from Cheesetown, Wisconsin to see his house! Get me my lawyer!"

But there was none of that. And the reasons are pretty simple:
  • Washington Old Hall is undoubtedly the ancestral home of George Washington, first President of the United States of America
  • His ancestors came to Wessyngtonlands in the 12th century and changed their name from 'de Hertburne' to 'de Wessyngton', which later became Washington - just as well really, as Hertburne DC doesn't have the same ring to it
  • In 1613 the Washington family moved south and the estate was sold to the Bishop of Durham
George Washington was born in 1732, so he never actually spent any time in the Old Hall, nor in Washington itself, nor actually in Britain. When the Washingtons set off for Virginia, they did so from Hertfordshire. 

But the fact remains that the capital city of the USA was named after this little village and Americans are rightly proud of it. There's a video showing footage of Jimmy Carter coming for a visit in 1977:

Jimmy Carter Washington Old Hall

The Hall eventually became tenement flats, with nine famillies stuffed into it (God knows how). There's a room set up in the style of a tenement flat:

Washington Old Hall tenement flat

And there are some BRILLIANT stories from people who lived in the tenements. One man remembered it being a good place to live, apart from the cockroaches. Mind you, his expectations of life were admittedly low - when he got his first job down the pit he had to borrow his dad's trousers until he got his own. Another remembered passing the 'White Lady', the resident ghost, on the stairs. And another talked about how every family had a cat to kill the vermin - his mother used to say that the mice sat on the windowsill waiting for her to bake the bread. 

But then the Hall fell into disrepair and was declared unfit for human habitation. A local teacher named Fred Hill rescued it from demolition and raised funds for its preservation and restoration. In 1957 the National Trust assumed responsibility for the building.

There were no scones at Washington Old Hall - the tea room is very small but they serve teacakes and other cakes, so we had a cup of tea and sat in the lovely sunshine.

So instead of a picture of a scone, here's a nice photo of the Scone Sidekick with some eagles:

Washington Old Hall: 5 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 (there weren't any)
Chutzpah of the mice in the tenement days: 5 out of 5

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