Thursday 27 July 2017

Snowshill Manor and Garden

Snowshill Manor is home to 22,000 objects collected by its former owner, Charles Wade. I initially felt an affinity with him, as I too have 22,000 objects in my home, collected by me. 

However if the National Trust was to open my house to the public, they'd find that around 10,000 of those objects were little plastic bags containing a spare button that come attached to new clothes, and another 10,000 were hair bands that seem to be everywhere when I'm hoovering, but evaporate into thin air whenever I actually need a hair band.

The collection at Snowshill Manor doesn't include any such trivialities. I would say that, of all the NT properties I have been to, Snowshill is the hardest to put into words. But I will try. 

Snowshill Manor

Who was Charles Wade?
  • Charles Paget Wade was an eccentric - it's the word that gets used over and over again about him in the book A Thousand Fancies
  • He was born in 1883 to a family that owned sugar plantations on St Kitts
  • His grandfather, Solomon, married Mary Jones, a black woman who had been born free rather than as a slave - she was believed to have been his housekeeper
  • Their son, Paget, was born in the West Indies but the family moved back to the UK where Paget eventually met his wife, Amy, and they had Charles
  • Charles hated school - he called them "factories of boredom" - and when he left he became an architect
  • He had always loved well-designed and beautiful things and he began collecting - everything from weapons to costumes to carriages
  • He was eventually called up to fight in World War I - while he was on the Western Front he saw Snowshill Manor advertised in Country Life magazine
  • He bought Snowshill in 1919
  • He turned the Manor House into a home for his collections
  • Queen Mary came to visit and apparently said that the finest thing in his collection "was Mr Wade himself"
  • Other visitors included Virginia Woolf, John Buchan, Graham Greene, and John Betjeman 
At first, Charles reminded me of Catweazle - a wizard from a bygone era who somehow ended up in the 20th century. His eccentric hair and dress sense certainly set him apart from the crowd - apparently when he left the solicitor's office after buying Snowshill for £3,500, someone handed him the money for a cup of tea thinking he had fallen on hard times:

Charles Wade
Charles Paget Wade. He was denounced as "a fraud" by Virginia Woolf,
because she said he pretended not to have a watch and she missed her train
But then I decided he was actually Private Godfrey from Dad's Army; during the Second World War, Charles joined the Home Guard. He was much slower at marching than the others, but they charitably put that down to him having been in the Royal Engineers, who apparently marched at a slower pace. He also once asked to fire the platoon's Lewis gun but he fell over while he was trying to lie down to get in a shooting position and the gun went off into the sky. He resigned soon after.

My other favourite story was how he recruited his gardener: "to maintain his own authority and ownership he instead chose a hardworking man from among the builders, William Hodge, whose name and mauve hat were also to his liking."

What is there to see in the Manor?
I expected Snowshill Manor to be like an antiques shop - just loads of stuff thrown about. But it absolutely is not like that. 

The first two rooms are quite misleading, in that they seem quite ordinary and sedate. But as you push on through the house, you find the most bizarre things, from a tableau of scary-looking samurai warriors to a room that is chock-full of bikes:

Hundred wheels Snowshill
Try winning the Tour de France on one of these, Chris Froome
Where did Charles live?
Charles didn't live in the Manor - that was for his collections. He lived in the Priest's House opposite. Sometimes at the NT you see one room that sums up the person completely - maybe Rudyard Kipling's study at Bateman's or Vita Sackville West's study at Sissinghurst - and Chas's bedroom does exactly that. He definitely wasn't your typical 1920s landowner:

Charles Wade bedroom
The panelled 'box' on the left that looks like something from a crematorium
was Charles' bed - I'm not sure I'd have slept well in it but each to their own
What was my favourite item in the Manor?
I read a pretty scathing TripAdvisor review before we went to Snowshill that said "it's just a load of tat". I quite like tat so I wasn't worried. But I warned the Scone Sidekick and said "if it's a bit boring, let's just pick our favourite thing?" I promptly forgot about this until he reminded me. I decided to go with these masks:

Masks Snowshill

What was the Scone Sidekick's favourite item in the Manor?
It's funny the things that you discover about your loved ones. Today I found out that my partner of over ten years has a thing for sedan chairs. It's not a deal-breaker or anything, but it was a bit surprising.

Snowshill sedan chair
Also - the person that wrote "it's just a load of tat" on TripAdvisor needs their head examined. 

The Snowshill scone
But let's move on to the all-important scone. I had foolishly expected Snowshill to be quite quiet on a Thursday but it was absolutely heaving - a coach party pulled up just as we were arriving, forcing me and the Scone Sidekick to make like those racewalking athletes in the Olympics and waddle our way at speed down to the tea room.  

The scone itself was tasty - maybe a little dry, but I ate it all and I enjoyed it.

Snowshill Manor scone

I highly recommend Snowshill Manor. It's very, very unusual.

Snowshill Manor: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Charles Wade's gardener recruitment criteria: 5 out of 5

Saturday 22 July 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested - Part Three

I'm on a roll with this project to bake every recipe in the National Trust Book of Scones. I want to prove that ANYONE can produce scone glory - ANYONE, even me.

I already shared my first five scones with you - including the dark horsedly-good Earl Grey scone - and then last week I shared scones 6-10, which included the world-famous Chocolate Orange scone.

So here we go with scones 11-15! 

The Cherry & Almond Scones
I am not really one for wasting spending time making things look nice - just ask anyone who has received a present wrapped by me, or anyone who has read my hand-writing. And if I had known in advance that the flaked almonds were for decoration only, I wouldn't have bought them. But I did, and I had to use them, so here you have probably the prettiest scones I've ever produced. They tasted fantastic too:

Cherry and almond scone

The Triple Chocolate Scones 
You HAVE to try these. You just have to. They are astonishingly good. They are even worth the pain of baking with cocoa - I had forgotten that the simple act of opening a tub of cocoa sends a spray of fine brown powder up into the air and and down onto every available surface in your kitchen. Wear an apron and you'll be fine.

triple chocolate scones

The Honey, Sunflower Seed, & Ginger
If you said to me, "Scone Blogger, I bet you £20 that you could not get Gwyneth Paltrow to eat a scone," I would probably agree with you. But if I was going to persuade Gwynnie to consume more calories in one bite than she probably does in a week, I would ply her with these ones. Honey! Sunflower Seeds! Ginger! Nature's bounty in a very tasty scone.

Honey, sunflower, ginger scone

The Chocolate & Hazelnut Scones
I'm not going to say much about these, as you're going to scroll down in a moment and see the same scones baked by someone with more of an eye for detail - but these tasted absolutely delicious.

Chocolate and hazelnut scones

The Chocolate & Marshmallow Scones
I had a catastrophe with these ones. And before you say "yeah, look at the state of them! How did they end up that shape?", it's not the mishapenness I'm talking about, nor the enormous hunks of chocolate that look like they're trying to escape because I failed to chop them up properly. I forgot to put the cocoa in. Maybe the experience of baking the Triple Chocolate scones did affect me after all. They still tasted lovely.

chocolate and marshmallow scone

I'm now going to humiliate myself by showing you an example of a Sconepal bake. These are the Chocolate Hazelnut as baked by Sconepal Emma Jayne. Now look back at my Chocolate Hazelnuts above. I think I need to work on my aesthetics.

I love seeing photos of your scone bakes, so keep sending them!

Saturday 15 July 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested - Part Two

I'm like a woman possessed these days - a woman possessed by scones. For four years I have been trotting around the country eating them for this blog, which does require a certain devotion to the cause. 

But once the Book of Scones was published, I decided I had to bake all 50 recipes. I am not an expert baker. If I can do it, anyone can.

I've already reported on the results of my first five scone bakes, including the astoundingly delicious Earl Grey scone.

So eyes down for recipes 6-10:

The Chocolate Orange
Where would the world be without the Terry's Chocolate Orange? Sad and diminished, that's where we'd be. And the very excellent NT property, Goddard's up near York, probably wouldn't exist, as it was built by Noel Goddard Terry. You possibly need to chop the Chocolate Orange into smaller pieces than I did before adding them to the scone mixture - I was eating the Chocolate Orange faster than I was chopping it, so I had to speed things up - but they taste divine.

The Wet Nelly
If you're in a hurry, then the Wet Nelly scone from Speke Hall is probably not for you. This is because you have to make the Wet Nelly (a type of bread pudding) before you put it in the scone mixture - unless you have loads of Wet Nelly lying around, in which case work away. My friend Kathy came to my house as I took these out of the oven and once she got over the shock of seeing me baking, she was genuinely shocked again by how absolutely delicious these scones were. Well worth the effort.

Wet Nelly scone

The Rhubarb & Ginger
I'm not the world's biggest fan of rhubarb - as you know if you read about my trip to Clumber Park - but the rhubarb and ginger scones were fantastic.

Rhubarb Ginger Scone

The Ulster scones
These were amazing - they taste like Irish soda bread in a scone. The cherries were optional; I would probably leave them out next time as I think the scones taste good enough without them.

Ulster scone

The Raspberry & White Chocolate
It was very late when I baked these scones, it was hot and the raspberries were turning to mush, and I'd eaten most of the Milky Bar Buttons. But somehow these still turned out to be absolutely delicious. It's the magic of the scone.

So there you have it - 10 scones done, 40 to go. Remember to send me your pictures of your scone bakes - I've seen some absolute corkers that put my efforts to shame.

Saturday 8 July 2017

Peckover House and Garden

Peckover House in Wisbech was built in 1722. Sometime after 1794, it was purchased by Jonathan Peckover. How amazingly lucky he was, I thought to myself, to find a house with the same name as him. But don't worry, folks; the penny dropped before I said that out loud - I'm sharing it here as we're all friends and you won't tell anyone. 

In fact, Peckover House only became Peckover House when the National Trust took it over in 1948. Before that it was known as Bank House, for reasons that will become apparent.

Peckover House rear view

Here's what I learnt today at Peckover:

1. The Peckovers were Quakers
Jonathan Peckover was descended from Edmund Peckover, a soldier in Oliver Cromwell's army. Edmund became a follower of George Fox in 1655; Fox had established a Nonconformist religion, the Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers.

Quakers believe that religious faith is a personal matter between the individual and God, rejecting the need for clergy or rituals. Known for their commitment to social justice, their teetotalism, and for fighting the fight against slavery and war, many well-known businesses were set up by Quakers, including Cadbury, Rowntree, Barclays, Lloyds, and Clarks shoes.

2. The Peckovers were bankers
Jonathan started out as a grocer but soon began holding onto his customers' cash for safe-keeping (at their request, I hasten to add). His bank had just seven accounts in its ledger in 1782 but it grew and survived many financial booms and busts until it was subsumed into Barclays Bank in 1896.

Peckover House was home to the bank until 1879, when it moved to new premises nearby - and that building is still the Wisbech branch of Barclays Bank today.

3. Banking was a heavy old game
This is one of the ledgers from the bank. I'll never complain about Microsoft Excel again.

Peckover bank ledger
A rare sighting of my sister, aka Dr Watscone,
marvelling at the office admin tools of yesteryear.
4. Banking was also a bit of a dangerous old game
The man-trap shown below is also on display at Peckover. It would have been positioned in the gardens outside the house during its days as a bank. If a would-be robber tried to gain access, the trap would have grabbed them. There was also a blunderbuss that would have been used to fend off highwaymen who attacked the bank's staff and funds. Banking was not for the faint-hearted.

Believe it or not, this is a humane man-trap - as Quakers, the Peckovers would not have condoned the use of a device that maimed or even killed a burglar that walked into it. Not sure if/how they got around using the blunderbuss.

Peckover Mantrap

5. I want to live in Peckover House 
Like Rob in the book Hi-Fidelity by Nick Hornby, I spend a lot of my time making lists of my top-fives. Naturally my top-fives all relate to the National Trust and not to music. But one of my top-fives is "Top Five National Trust Houses I Would Move Into Tomorrow If the National Trust Would Let Me". 

Peckover House goes straight into that Top Five. It feels so homely and comfortable with a huge amount of light. I'll start packing.

Peckover Morning Room
The Morning Room at Peckover
(If you'd like to know the other four properties in the Top Five National Trust Houses I Would Move Into Tomorrow If the National Trust Would Let Me: Hughenden, Sunnycroft, and at joint number one: Goddards and Bateman's. Let me know yours - when I finally get round to setting up a Sconepal AGM, this will be the subject of the first debate.)

6. Peckover scones are bloomin' excellent
My sister has now done several scone expeditions with me and so she has picked up my dread that the scones will have run out by the time we get there. And it was a very really fear today; we didn't get to the tea-room until 4pm. 

But we needn't have worried; there were plenty of scones AND THEY WERE WARM. They were light and fluffy inside and slightly crisp on the outside - a complete triumph and worthy of a unanimous 5 stars.

I'll end by praising the surprising loveliness of the town of Wisbech. I grew up in the Midlands, but for some reason we had to watch Look East and other East Anglian news programmes. Wisbech was always getting a mention, along with Felixstowe and other places that might as well have been on the moon for all I knew of them, so I took against them a bit and have harboured that irrational dislike for about 40 years. And now I go and visit them and think "THIS IS A LOVELY PLACE! Why was I not told about this? Pah!"

ALSO, for all you National Trust fact-fans, Wisbech was the birthplace of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust! So there you have it. 

Peckover House: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Surprising loveliness of Wisbech: 5 out of 5

Friday 7 July 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested

I'd like to say a massive, massive, heartfelt THANK YOU to all of you that have bought a copy of the Book of Scones. I am so very grateful to you. 

I can honestly say, though, that you have made a canny investment. 

The Book of Scones is more than just a book containing 50 scone recipes and some crumbs of history. It's like that scene towards the end of Harry Potter where his mum and dad and Sirius and Remus all appear to him in a wood and say "WE ARE WITH YOU - TO THE END". That's how I see the Book of Scones - whenever you pick it up, 20-odd National Trust scone bakers appear in your kitchen speaking words of wisdom, such as "work quickly - scones prefer it that way" and "don't twist as you cut - it stops them rising". Unfortunately the bakers do not hang around to clean up your kitchen.

I decided to put my money where my mouth is and bake all of the scones in the book. Here are my first five bakes. They were all, without exception, absolutely delicious. 

Ginger & Treacle scone:

Ginger and Treacle scones

There was an extra ingredient in the G&T scone: beginner's luck. The scones rose beautifully and I've yet to see it happen again. They tasted like a warm and cosy armchair on a cold night. Even though it was June.

Earl Grey scone:

The surprise package of the Book of Scones. They were absolutely stunning. I think my dough was a bit too soggy, hence they look like buns, but the fruit and the tea are an incredible combination. I urge you to try this one.

Singing Hinnies

THESE ARE MEANT TO BE FLAT! Stop sniggering! Trying to find some lard in West London was harder than I expected, but I'm glad I persevered - these were a revelation. 

Walnut & Maple scone:

Look, it was very late and I was tired. I had diligently chopped up loads of walnuts, sending walnut knobbles all over the kitchen, but then I absent-mindedly plomped the lot into the mixture and didn't save any for the tops. I couldn't face more chopping. So big chunk o' walnut for decoration it was. They were absolutely lovely.

Apple & Salted Caramel scone:

I recommend that you make double the amount of caramel sauce for the topping, because if you're anything like me then you'll need to test the caramel fifty several times before you deploy it. They tasted incredibly appley. Delicious.

So there you have it - the first five bakes to prove to you all that anyone can bake a scone. Look out for the next five attempts and remember to send me your scone bake pictures!