Tuesday 15 May 2018

Guest post: Emma becomes a National Trust scone baker

My name is Emma and I am a National Trust volunteer. I also love scones.

I have been a volunteer at Lanhydrock in Cornwall for 7 years. I work every other Sunday to fit in with my full time job. I volunteer in the shop, which suits me because I am surrounded by cookery books and jam. Both of which are useful when you love a good scone.

Quite often I have a good old chin-wag with my customers about my favourite bakes and I'm pretty good at recommending a National Trust jam or curd to go in it. One of my favourite recommendations is a citrus scone with the National Trust passion fruit curd and clotted cream. My tummy is rumbling just thinking about it.

Last year, I discovered NT Scones on Twitter. Shortly after, the National Trust Book of Scones was launched. This simply fuelled my passion for all things scone related. I am currently working my way through the book (present favourite is chocolate and hazelnut served with Nutella and clotted cream) and I will tell anyone who will listen about it.

One day, back in March, I attended a preseason meeting with the rest of the retail team. The catering manager popped along to say hello and give a bit of insight into what the catering team were getting up to. This devolved into a rather lengthy (and possibly over enthusiastic on my part) conversation about my love of NT Scones and The National Trust Book of Scones. I think I may have scared her a little - I am rather passionate about the subject.

A few days later I received an email; would I like to do some job shadowing in the kitchen and do some baking? It was arranged. Emma the Scone Lady gets to bake the scones for Lanhydrock!

On the day arranged I eagerly turned up to the kitchens to bake and met Lisa who would be supervising me for the day. Donning my white coat and hat, I had a brief tour of the kitchen and then I was set to work.

First on the list were the scones. 48 fruit scones were needed for afternoon tea in the restaurant. For anyone who hasn't been in a restaurant kitchen, it's just like baking at home but on a much larger scale. I am perfectly happy baking a dozen scones at my home for my friends or to take into work, but suddenly I was making 48 for the National Trust where scones are literally part of a visitor's experience. Assured by my mentor I was doing fine, the scones were put in the oven. 

All I could think about was what would happen if the scones didn't turn out right. 
There would be no scones for afternoon tea and it would be all my fault. 
No one would come to Lanhydrock ever again because they would tell the whole of the Internet that there were no scones. 

Ok, maybe I can be a little over dramatic but I was feeling the pressure! 23 minutes later the buzzer went on the the oven. The scones were perfect. There were set to cool and a couple hours later they went into the restaurant for service. I was so relieved I felt like I had won the Great British Bake Off.

Now, I know this a blog post about scones but I would like to bring your attention to shortbread. Shortbread, the tearoom treat I always ignore for being boring. Never again. I can assure you that the most fiddly bake in the tearoom is the shortbread. Have you ever stopped to think about how the National Trust logo of the oak leaves gets onto it? The biscuit circles are cut out and then a round stencil with the oak leaves cut out in the middle is pressed hard onto it. Then by hand, very carefully, the biscuit it prized from the stencil. It's a skill I would like to see Mary Berry herself try. Too hard and the biscuit gets squished. Not hard enough and the leaves don't come out. Now, I don't know if Lisa was being nice to me, or whether I am some sort of shortbread whisperer, but out of 48 shortbread only 2 didn't come out right. Several weeks later and I am still feeling some proud of myself.

After 6 hours, I had baked 48 fruit scones, 2 trays of gluten free chocolate brownies, 48 shortbread and 5 carrot cakes. All of which were edible. If you ever wondered where the recipes come from, they are in The National Trust Cookbook (available from National Trust shops).

Finally, I'd just like to say a massive thank you to all National Trust catering staff. You work incredibly hard to provide some of the tastiest creations around and thank you for taking me in as one of your own for the day.

Saturday 12 May 2018

The Workhouse

I was very excited when I found out that the National Trust owns a workhouse. I was very excited because it gave me the opportunity to go there and say "please, sir, can I have a scone?" and then laugh uproariously at my own great joke. 

The Workhouse

But I probably don't need to tell you that the workhouse was no laughing matter. I read a joyless tome called The Workhouse before I went, which explains that the national workhouse system was set up in the 1830s to stop poor people from seeking state support for themselves or their children - you'd basically have to be utterly desperate to go anywhere near the place.

So I turned up in Southwell today expecting to find a huge Scooby Doo-esque house with lightning bolts and creaking doors and general misery. But it's not like that at all - it's clean and bright and free of rats and general misery, which makes it quite hard to imagine what it must have been like for the poor souls that ended up stuck in there grinding bones or breaking rocks.

I've tried to condense everything I learned from the book into 6 key facts:

1. Who used the workhouse?
In the TV series Who Do You Think You Are, nearly every celebrity ends up in an archive at some point reading out a census form: "Frederick Jones...the work...house...the workhouse!? He ended up in the workhouse?!" followed by sobs.

But according to the book, only between 0.5-2% of the population of England & Wales was in a workhouse in 1898. That's still a lot of people - anything between 165,000-660,000 - but it was a smaller percentage of the population than I expected.

2. Why were workhouses built?
  • In the days pre-Elizabeth I, people who were down on their luck had to turn to their families or the monasteries for shelter and food
  • The closure of the monasteries led to the Poor Law of 1601, which made each parish responsible for taking care of its own poor people
  • A lot of this care took the form of 'out-relief' - giving fuel and clothes to poor people in their own homes (often nothing more than a hovel)
  • But parishes couldn't cope as times got tougher - industrialisation and the joblessness and urbanisation that went with it led to a big increase in the cost of caring for the poor 
  • The government looked into the options and were impressed by the work of a Reverend Beecher who had written a pamphlet with the charming title of 'The Anti-Pauper System'
  • He based his theories on a small workhouse he had built in Southwell - he had seen good results, and so expanded it to a large institution funded by a number of parishes (the workhouse we can now visit today)
  • The New Poor Law of 1834 took his ideas and put them into practice across the country
3. How did they work?
  • Each workhouse had a master and a matron and a school teacher - the master reported to a group of local Guardians, who were usually District councillors or similar
  • The inmates were divided into categories: able-bodied men and able-bodied women (also known as the 'undeserving poor'), old and infirm men and old and infirm women (the 'blameless' poor), boys aged 7-15 and girls aged 7-15, and children under 7. 
4. What happened to the 'undeserving poor'?
  • The workhouse was designed to stop the able-bodied looking for support, but if they did need to enter its walls they were forced to work - either breaking rocks or grinding bones
The work yard for the able-bodied (aka 'undeserving') poor
  • Another task was picking oakum - basically old ropes that were tarred and knotted and had to be unpicked:

5. What about the children?

This is the surprising thing about workhouses - they were basically orphanages (as Oliver Twist attests). In 1889, of 192,000 people in the workhouse, a whopping 54,000 were children and 33,000 of those were orphans.

I was amazed to read that the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (of "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" fame) had been a workhouse orphan. He wrote an incredibly sad account of his time there, which included a sadistic teacher who seems to have treated his charges very cruelly indeed, even beating one of the boys to death. One day the young Stanley retaliated and "determined to die before submitting again" he apparently scaled the workhouse walls and made his escape.  

6. What happened to the old and infirm?
The aged and infirm were supposed to be treated well in the workhouse (as they were the 'deserving' poor) but the book catalogues a long list of cases where elderly people were subjected to cruelty and neglect. 

infirm bedroom
Bedroom for old and infirm men
The guidebook at The Workhouse paints a less depressing picture than the book by Norman Longmate did - the guidebook points out that children got an education that they wouldn't have got otherwise and so on - but I'm sticking with the book.

In fact, one of the depressingly recognisable things in my workhouse reading was the Guardians turning up for their annual visit and enjoying a big sumptuous lunch on expenses, while the inmates were denied any such thing (it didn't mention the Guardians getting their moats cleaned or having a duck house built at taxpayer's expense, so clearly our elected officials have got a bit more brass-necked over the years). Anyway - I felt a bit self-conscious tucking into a scone in a place where destitute people had once made do with the barest of rations, but I soldiered on.

The Workhouse scone had me worried at first glance, as it looked a little bit flat. But it turned out to be delicious - a really, really tasty fresh scone that I enjoyed immensely. 

Workhouse Scone

I'll leave you with a passage from the book, written by an MP in the East End who was also a Guardian at the Poplar workhouse:

"On one visit I inspected the supper of oatmeal porridge...served up with pieces of black stuff floating around. On examination we discovered it to rat and mice manure. I called for the chief officer, who immediately argued against me, saying the porridge was good and wholesome. 'Very good, madam', said I, taking up a basinful and spoon, 'here you are, eat one mouthful and I will acknowledge I am wrong'. 'Oh dear no,' said the fine lady, 'the food is not for me, and is good and wholesome for those who want it'. I stamped and shouted until both doctor and master arrived, both of whom pleaded it was a mistake, and promptly served both cocoa and bread and margarine."

The Workhouse: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Realism of rat-themed light show in cellar: 5 out of 5 

Saturday 5 May 2018

Shugborough Estate

I'd been hearing great things about Shugborough near Stafford. However, the tipping point for me actually beetling up there as fast as I could wasn't the scones or the impressive mansion. It was this photo:

I will explain it to you, just in case your eyes are going wibbly with the whole AMAZINGNESS of it - it's basically Lord Lichfield (aka Patrick Lichfield, fashion and society photographer) with his weather-defying bouffant hair, aviator sunglasses, jaunty scarf, and leather jacket, on a motorbike. With Britt Ekland.

There is a connection, just in case you think I have finally taken leave of my senses: Lord Lichfield's family owned the Shugborough Estate until it was given to the National Trust after his grandfather died in 1960. Our debonair friend above actually had apartments in the house until his own death in 2005.

Shugborough mansion

In fact, Pat's apartments were the highlight of my visit today, so without further ado let me tell you about Shugborough:

1. Patrick Lichfield's apartments
Top tip: make sure you go and get a timed ticket for Patrick's rooms as early as you can. I had been tipped off by one of my tribe of National Trust scone fans, Natalie Randall, that I would need to look lively, and she was right - I was nearly thwarted by a COACH PARTY. I ask you.

Anyway. You can't take pictures in the family apartments but you can see where he lived and worked (including a kitchen that is straight outta 1986). The walls are covered in pictures - of Princess Margaret and her friends on holiday (she is lying on a chaise longue while they all stand around her - I'm going to try that with my own friends at the soonest opportunity), Princess Anne on a motorbike, Patrick himself, other royals, Patrick himself, Mick Jagger, oh look there's Patrick again etc. 

2. The mansion
The Shugborough Estate was bought by the Anson family in 1625 (Patrick Lichfield's surname was actually Anson) but it wasn't always so grand. Two brothers really established the estate we see today; 
  • George Anson (aka Admiral Lord Anson) was a hugely courageous and successful sailor - he was the second British person to circumnavigate the globe (after Francis Drake) on a treacherous journey that took almost four years and ended in 1744. He had 961 men when he set off but his crew was decimated by scurvy and dysentery and all sorts of other disasters. He made a huge amount of money from attacking Spanish ships, however, and it was that money that was used to extend Shugborough.
  • Thomas Anson, brother of George, was the elder son and heir of Shugborough. He spent George's money building and landscaping Shugborough to create an estate fit for a successful family.
Library Shugborough
The Library was one of the rooms built by Thomas Anson - you'll
just have to pretend you can't see the tool box or the table.
  • Thomas was eventally succeeded by his great-nephew in 1789, who worked with the architect Samuel Wyatt to make further improvements to Shugborough
  • But then along came his son, another Thomas, who was made Earl of Lichfield in 1831. He frittered away the family fortune (there's always one), ended up in financial ruin, and had to sell off a lot of Shugborough's furniture, artworks, and books.
  • Subsequent earls tried to manage the debts and keep the estate going, but it was offered to the National Trust in 1960. Staffordshire County Council maintained it for many years until the NT took control in 2016.

4. Highlights of the gardens
Thomas Anson also installed a number of buildings and monuments within the gardens. The Chinese House was probably my favourite - it was built to house Admiral Anson's collection of artefacts that he brought back from China. 

I also liked The Ruins - especially the sign explaining that the Ruins were almost ruined when the National Trust took over and had to be rescued.

It's also customary on this blog that there is always a feature of the estate that I don't actually see and today it was Hadrian's Arch - I did mean to walk up there but somehow the day ran away with me:

Hadrians Arch Shugborough

5. The Cat Monument
The cat momument was slightly disappointing, if I'm truly honest. It's not known if the monument celebrates a cat that circumnavigated the globe with Admiral Anson, or a different cat who just stayed at home. If one cat really did survive four years on a boat, when hundreds of sailors didn't, it deserved more than just a monument.

Cat monument Shugborough

And that's just part of what Shugborough has to offer - it's a big, varied estate that could keep you entertained for hours. I would go as far as to say that it's one of the best National Trust properties that I've ever been to.

But did they deliver on the all-important scone front? Shugborough had been getting RAVE reviews from my fellow scone aficionados - a honey scone that had been on offer last weekend had sent everyone WILD (well, two people). 

So I'm very pleased to report that the Shugborough fruit scone was indeed absolutely superb. Fresh, fluffy on the inside, crisp on the outside, and served with Rodda's that didn't need a pick-axe. Perfect. 

Shugborough scone

BUT! In the words of be-wellied Irish comic Jimmy Kricket, THERE WAS MORE: Lemon & Cranberry scones were also available (next to a copy of the Book of Scones - they know the way to a girl's heart at Shuggers). There was nothing else for it - I had to risk looking like a glutton and try one. It was delicious - light, very lemony, and fresh. They know how to bake scones at Shugborough.

Shugborough lemon scone
I am aware that Patrick Lichfield would NOT approve of this horrendous photo
but I was so keen to start eating that all composition went out of the window
I will close with a mention of Patrick Lichfield's autobiography. I am only on page two but it already promises to be a ripping yarn. Sample line: "Officially he was the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Viscount Lyon and Baron Glamis, Tannadyce, Sidlaw and Strathdichtie, Baron Bowes, of Streatlam Castle, County Durham and Lunedale, County York. We called him Big Grandpa."

By the way - the book is called 'Not The Whole Truth'. It says a lot about me that when one of the volunteer guides mentioned the book's title today I conspiratorially asked "do you think he made a lot of it up then?" to which he replied, patiently and courteously while probably inwardly asking himself why they let people like me in to stately homes, "I think more likely he left a lot out?" 

Anyway - I'll update late with any fascinating factoids. Stand by!

Shugborough: a resounding 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Derring-do of Admiral Anson's cat that sailed around Cape Horn and went to China while mine lies on the spare bed all day: 5 out of 5