Saturday 2 June 2018

Brockhampton Estate

I honestly don't mind that some people think the National Trust is boring. They'll change their minds eventually, at some stage of their lives. I've realised that the NT is probably like going into rehab - you have to be ready for it but when the time is right for you, it's the path to a happier life. (Probably. I've never been to rehab.)

Take Brockhampton in Worcestershire. I'd like to think that the 20-year old me would have appreciated the sight of a beautiful 14th century manor house with a gatehouse and moat. I can confirm that the 44-year old me was completely awestruck by it: 

I didn't have to search for this shot, either - it was just there, the scene that greets you as you walk along the path. It was so pretty - worth every single penny that I pay for my NT membership.

Brockhampton had actually done a good job of staying off my sconedar over the past five years. I didn't know anything about it and nobody had ever told me it was fantastic. I think the reason for this is that Brockhampton doesn't have any really scandalous ancestors or celebrity connections.

Here's some history:
  • The manor house you see on the right above was built by John Domulton in the late 14th century
  • The lop-sided gatehouse (to the left above) was added in Tudor times by the Habington family, who had married the Domultons
  • It then passed to the Barneby family by marriage, who became the Lutleys
  • The gatehouse wasn't a defensive feature - it was built to show off the family wealth
  • The same for the moat - it's not known exactly when it was built but it was used to keep fish and impress people rather than defend the property
  • By 1871, the family had moved to a large Georgian mansion on the estate (now rented out privately) and Lower Brockhampton started to fall into disrepair
  • An architect called John Buckler saved the old manor house through renovations
  • John Talbot Lutley left the estate to the National Trust
  • The chapel next door to the manor was probably built in the 12th century:

Brockhampton chapel

The inside of the manor house was also impressive. The Great Hall was restored by John Buckler so we see it as it was in medieval times: 

The crucks in the Great Hall are moulded, with battlements carved at the angle, and the struts supporting the roof apex form quatrefoil openings. (Yes, I've been reading the guidebook. No, I don't have any idea what it means.)

The Brockhampton scone
If you are a regular reader, you will know that I am probably the world's worst scone critic, because I just want everything to be brilliant all the time. And so my heart sank a bit when I went into the tearoom and all I could see was a pile of what looked like flat rock buns. They turned out to be the scones. I was worried.

However, they were actually very tasty indeed. Very fresh and really light. My earlier scone (yes, I had two scones today - the sacrifices I make for this project, honestly) at Edward Elgar's Birthplace had been a little bit doughy, so Brockhampton was a light, fluffy treat. 
Brockhampton scone

I'll finish with a picture of the rear view of the manor house - such a beautiful place - if you haven't been then I recommend it:

Brockhampton: surprisingly, wonderfully beautiful: 5 out of 5
Scone: fresh and lovely, just a bit on the flat side: 4 out of 5 
Ability of NT guidebooks to make you feel like a thicko: 5 out of 5

The Firs - Edward Elgar Birthplace

What's the one thing that you would expect to find at Edward Elgar's birthplace in Worcestershire? I had actually packed some earphones before I set off for The Firs - I figured that if Nimrod was blaring in the car park, with more Nimrod in reception, and yet more Nimrod in the tea room then I could just block it out (if you're thinking 'what's Nimrod?', you'll recognise it - you can listen to it here).

But there was no music. There were a few little snippets in the introductory video but that was it. And I'm not necessarily complaining - the Elgars didn't have Land of Hope and Glory on repeat when he was growing up, so why disturb the quiet.

The Firs Edward Elgar Birthplace
If you're a regular reader, you won't be surprised to hear that I could have written everything I knew about Elgar on a postage stamp before today. In fact, you can fit 'Land of Hope and Glory and Nimrod' on half a postage stamp if you write small.

Luckily for me, there was a lot of education on offer at The Firs - an introductory video, two displays areas, and a human in the birthplace cottage itself explaining his life and times. I discovered that:

  • Elgar was born in 1857 on - wait for it - June 2nd. Happy Birthday Ed!
  • His dad was a piano tuner and had a shop selling musical instruments
  • Elgar had a true gift for music - his parents encouraged this through piano and violin lessons, but he was basically self-taught
  • His dad got him a job in a solicitor's office but he gave that up and began teaching music
  • He eventually married one of his pupils, a woman above him in age and social standing - Caroline saw him as a genius and encouraged him
  • The Enigma Variations (including Nimrod) were his real breakthrough - until then he'd struggled, but at the age of 42 he started to get recognition
  • He is probably best known for his Pomp and Circumstance marches, especially March No.1 (the one we/I know as Land of Hope and Glory) which was first played in 1901
  • It was literally an immediate hit - the first audience to hear it gave it two standing ovations - and Edward VII asked Elgar to put some words to it for his coronation
  • AC Benson wrote the words to Land of Hope and Glory and the rest is history - it has since become our back-up national anthem
  • He was knighted in 1904 and died in 1934

Land of Hope and Glory original music
The original music to Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 -
Elgar said "I've got a tune that will knock 'em - knock 'em flat"
There wasn't a guide book at The Firs, which is a massive shame because I later found two brilliant factoids that would surely have made the edit:
  • Fascinating factoid #1 of the day: Elgar was an early supporter of recorded music and he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra for the first recording made at Abbey Road Studios when they opened in 1931. 
  • Fascinating factoid #2 of the day: Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1 (ie Land of Hope and Glory) is played at high school and university graduations in the US. You can read more about that here.
Elgar's study - I presume he didn't have a statue of himself
in there when he was actually using it.
The Firs scone
But on to the scone. Elgar's views on scones aren't known, but the tea room at The Firs is lovely - it was a beautiful day and I sat outside listening to the birds singing (this probably answers my question as to why they don't play music everywhere). 

My scone was hefty and absolutely FULL of fruit, which made me think of the comedian Laura Lexx. I have co-opted Laura into my band of Sconepals and she sent me a picture today of an 'excavated' scone as she put it - she hates fruit so she picks out all the currants, leaving a scone that looks like a Swiss cheese. She'd have had her work cut out at The Firs, that's all I can say.

Anyway, the scone was very fresh and tasty - it wasn't massively sweet and it was a bit doughy but I really enjoyed it.

The Firs Edward Elgar scone

So there you have it - scone mission number 167 completed. And the day didn't end there - after I left The Firs, I journeyed on to nearby Brockhampton, so watch this space for more about that.

The Firs: 4.5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Likelihood of wanting to come out and listen to Elgar's music, having not been blasted with it for two hours: 5 out of 5