Saturday 22 October 2022

Leith Hill Place

Leith Hill Place in Surrey probably wouldn't win any awards for architectural beauty. But it would be a strong contender for the award of Highest Number of Famous People Connected to a Single National Trust Property.

Leith Hill Place

In one building, Leith Hill Place attempts to explain the lives and achievements of three highly distinguished people:
  • Josiah Wedgwood
  • Charles Darwin
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Wedgwoods
Let's start with Josiah Wedgwood. Josiah joined his family pottery business in 1744 but in 1759 he set up on his own, determined to do something different with ceramics. His first innovation was creamware (also known as queensware after Queen Charlotte ordered a set). Creamware became an acceptable alternative to porcelain.

But it's jasperware that is most recognisable as a Wedgwood innovation. Seen below, jasperware involved a matt finish in many shades, with relief decorations in white and other contrasting colours. The moral of the story of Josiah Wedgwood is perseverance - it took 5000 experiments to get jasperware right.

Jasperware at Leith Hill Place

The Darwins
Josiah Wedgwood was great friends with the physician and naturalist, Erasmus Darwin. Eventually, Josiah's daughter Susannah married Erasmus's son Robert. Their children included Charles Darwin (who married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood) and Caroline Darwin (who married Emma's brother Josiah). 

Caroline and Josiah bought Leith Hill Place in 1847 - it was Caroline who planted the rhododendron wood. The couple had several children who grew up at Leith Hill. One of those children was Margaret Wedgwood, who married Arthur Vaughan Williams. They moved to Gloucestershire, where Ralph Vaughan Williams was born, but Arthur died when Ralph was only three and Margaret moved her family back to Leith Hill. Margaret stayed at the house until she died in 1937.

Ralph Vaughan Williams
It's actually Ralph (pronounced Raif) Vaughan Williams who gets top billing at Leith Hill Place. 
  • He was born in 1872
  • He started learning piano at the age of five, composing his first piece at six
  • He studied at Trinity College Cambridge, and at the Royal College of Music
  • In 1901, he published his first composition, Linden Lea
  • The Lark Ascending, one of his most famous pieces, was written in 1914 but he decided to enlist in the Royal Medical Corps and went off to war. It was first performed in 1920.
  • He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1935, having declined a knighthood
  • He died in 1958 and his ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey
There's a whole room dedicated to his life and times, and his major works are all listed. I'd studied a piece of RVW music at school but I didn't recognise it in the list. I later worked out that we'd covered The March Past of the Kitchen Utensils, which he composed in 1909. I remain confused as to why we studied something that doesn't even warrant a passing mention at Leith Hill but it's not the first time my education has been found wanting.

His very unassuming practice piano has been returned to Leith Hill Place and if you're a professional pianist they might let you play it.

Ralph's brother Hervey inherited Leith Hill Place from their mother but when he died, it passed to Ralph who gave it to the National Trust. RVW's cousin and friend, Sir Ralph Wedgwood, lived at the property before it became a boarding house for a school. 

The cellar
The signs pointing down to the cellar were a bit ominous - 'go down if you dare' being the general message. But it was OK - the warnings referred to the lack of a handrail and the presence of a few spiders.

However, apart from the spiders the contents were very unexpected - it would have taken me 10 years to predict what I'd find in there and I'd still have failed. The walls are covered in murals painted in the 1960s by some friends of the Wedgwoods. The paintings are copies of those found at Knossos, an archaeological site on the Greek island of Crete. Coincidentally, I visited Knossos in October last year - you can read about that trip to Knossos on my other blog. 

Another item for the list of "Things You Really Didn't Expect to Find at the National Trust".

Cellar murals Knossos

The Leith Hill Place Scone

If it's a scone-with-a-view you're after, then Leith Hill Place is for you. The tea room is inside the house, in what used to be the kitchen, with beautiful views over Surrey. 

My companions today were my sister-in-law, Thelma, and niece, Fay, who have had mixed fortunes on this quest. They loved the town of Rye and Lamb House but were surprisingly harsh on the scones. Croft Castle got a unanimous 5 out of 5 for everything, as did Mottistone Gardens on the Isle of Wight. And then this year Fay was with me at Hatfield Forest for the rare no-scone situation that we won't go into here.

Leith Hill Place Tea Room

Today the verdict was unanimously positive once again. The tea was served in bone china cups, they had decaffeinated tea, the kitchen warmed up the scones as requested, and they were very tasty. A triumph in another property where the facilities are relatively limited but the staff do a fantastic job.

Leith Hill Place Scone

It's also possible to sit outside and enjoy your scones and tea, overlooking the spectacular view -  recommended although maybe not in a downpour like we had today:

Leith Hill tea patio views

I'm going to end with a big thank you to Laura, the brave Sconepal who contacted me on Twitter to tell me that I had missed Leith Hill Place from my list. I had been to Leith Hill in 2015 but Leith Hill and Leith Hill Place are different properties. If you know of any other hidden National Trust properties, let me know!

Leith Hill Place: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Brave Sconepals saving the day: 5 out of 5

Saturday 15 October 2022

Crook Hall Gardens

It's happened to me several times over the past 10 years of this scone quest: the National Trust has excitedly announced that they've opened another property, complete with a lovely new cafeteria. In the early days of the project, I would think 'Bravo for the National Trust saving another house/cliff/hill for the nation! I'll add this lovely new cafeteria to my list and go there forthwith! Smashing!'

But when the Trust announced in July this year that they had just opened Crook Hall Gardens, I'll admit that my first thought was "please God let it be within the M25". I was on the home straight, with fewer than 20 properties to go, so I really wasn't in the market for new additions to my list. 

It turns out that Crook Hall Gardens is not within the M25. It's in Durham. But! This presented me with an opportunity because a) I had never been to Durham and b) my excellent friend SJ is from the area and her lovely parents still live there. 

Crook Hall Gardens

With a round trip for me of about 550 miles and winter closing looming, there was absolutely no room for error with this mission. I had checked the opening hours about 100 times before I set off, so you can imagine my total horror when we arrived to find a very large CLOSED sign on the cafe. Luckily we quickly established that this was an error and the cafe was in fact open, so we piled in for our scones.
BUT! Before I get to the scones, let me tell you a bit about Crook Hall and its gardens.

The original hall was built in 1286!
It's gone now but the original building was constructed by Peter del Croke, who gave the place its name. 

The Medieval Hall dates from the 14th century!
The Medieval Hall that still stands today was built in the 14th century. The place was owned by a John de Coupland who captured David II of Scotland after the Battle of Neville's Cross, when a Scottish army invaded England. Over the years the hall has been used for various purposes - it was used as a beer bottling plant at one point. 

Crook Hall Medieval Hall

The Billinghams owned Crook Hall for 400 years!
In 1372 Alan de Billingham was given the living of the manor of Crook Hall and the family stayed here for almost 400 years.

The Mickletons extended in 1671!
James and Francis Mickleton inherited the place in 1668 and extended the house in 1671, adding a new wing. 

The Hoppers added the Georgian wing!
The Hopper family then extended again in the 1740s with the three-storey Georgian part of the house. The house was then either let to, or was owned by, several families including the Raines and the Cassels.

The gardens are arranged like rooms!
I always feel a bit mean visiting gardens in autumn or winter rather than in their moment of spring or summer glory, but Crook Hall Gardens were still lovely. There's a Cathedral lawn, with views up to Durham Cathedral, a Shakespeare garden, a pond, and a vegetable patch with an Elvis scarecrow in it. There's also a maze, which provided a bit of excitement.

Crook Hall maze
SJ and Cooper in the middle of the maze.
I think Cooper may have been expecting a prize.

Keith and Maggie Bell opened the gardens to the public in 1998!
I feel guilty saying this but until today I had never fully appreciated the people who take on National Trust properties before they become National Trust properties. Luckily for me, Keith Bell wrote a book about his experiences of buying Crook Hall and managing it for many years before it was sold to the NT.

The book is called Blood, Sweat and Scones: Two Decades at Crook Hall and it's a remarkably upbeat read about an experience that must have been absolutely awful at times. Imagine buying a house that includes a medieval hall, a 17th-century building and a Georgian building, plus a huge garden. The descriptions of costly roofing projects scared the life out of me, never mind the ghosts that inhabit the place. Yet Keith and Maggie opened the place to the public and even turned it into a wedding venue.

But what I find inspirational is that Keith and Maggie, like all the other people who stepped in to rescue buildings using their own money before the NT took them on, did so without knowing that the NT would eventually take over. The Jenners at Lytes Cary, the Lyles at Barrington Court, the Iliffes at Basildon many people that have loved a place so much they took on all the problems and the financial challenges that old buildings present. I could never do it, so I admire them all greatly.

The Crook Hall Gardens Scone

But let's move on to the all-important scones. I had brought a bona fide expert with me on this mission, as SJ's mum used to work in a bakery. I was a bit worried that I might have to adjust my scoring to allow for her professional insights but she was impressed with her cheese scone, as was SJ's dad.  

SJ and I both had a fruit scone. I think you will agree from the picture below that it was a beauty - big, golden and full of fruit. We had a lengthy debate though about whether they were fresh - mine was definitely warm and fresh but SJ was not so sure. We'd noticed that the container on the counter had condensation on it, which corroborated the freshness, but moisture can sometimes affect the taste of scones. 

Anyway. I loved my scone and gave it a 5. SJ gave hers a 4. The fifth member of our party, Steph, showed huge resolve and stuck with her banana (she didn't give it a score). 

Crook Hall Gardens Scone

I'll end with yet another big grateful thank you to SJ and Steph. They've accompanied me on several trips this year - Beatles' Childhood Homes, Claife Viewing StationAira Force, and Plas yn Rhiw - while in previous years, they've helped me to cover Fell FootWray Castle, Sticklebarn and Hardcastle Crags. This project has given me some great moments but the best moments have always been when other people have come along with me and SJ, Steph and Cooper have been excellent Sconepanions. 

Crook Hall Gardens Cafeteria

Crook Hall Gardens: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Complexity of maze: 1 out of 5 (but it was still good)

Saturday 8 October 2022

Newark Park

Here's a fascinating fact about Newark Park: it's a registered war memorial. I didn't know a house and 700 acres of land could be a war memorial but the whole place was left to the National Trust in 1949 by Mrs Power-Clutterbuck, in memory of her son, James. He died in combat in 1917, after his plane was shot down by Manfred von Richtofen, otherwise known as 'The Red Baron'. And so Newark Park is officially listed on the War Memorials Register. 

But there are many other things you need to know about Newark Park. Firstly, it's not in Newark, but in Gloucestershire. 

Newark Park

It was originally a hunting lodge!
A Tudor courtier with a very brilliant name built the first hunting lodge around 1550. Sir Nicholas Poyntz had purchased the land from Henry VIII, as it had previously belonged to Kingswood Abbey before the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It became his 'New Worke', hence the name. He died in 1556, deep in debt.

Tudor costumes at Newark
Getting into the Tudor spirit of things

The Clutterbucks turned it into a Georgian mansion!
Debt seems to have been a recurring theme for owners of Newark Park - the next few people to take it on also had to sell up when they got into financial difficulties. Stability arrived in 1769, when the house was bought by James Clutterbuck. It was then inherited by his 3rd cousin, Lewis Clutterbuck who became the Reverend for the church in nearby Ozleworth. Lewis and his son (also Lewis) made a lot of changes to the property and to the gardens.

Newark Park Views

The Clutterbucks rented it out!
From 1867, the Clutterbucks rented the place out to various families who also extended the place and made changes. 

Bob Parsons comes to the rescue!
The National Trust initially let the property and it became a nursing home in the 1950s and 1960s. The house and gardens deteriorated. Then in 1970 an American architect called Bob Parsons took on a repairing lease and dedicated his life to restoring the place. He had been stationed in the UK during the war and returned afterwards, living in East Anglia and London before settling at Newark Park. He died in 2000.

Bob Parsons Painting
I'm not sure I like this painting of Bob and his dog Trudi,
but he loved it so who am I to argue
It has a crinkle crankle wall!
I'm not going to lie to you, readers: I had never even heard of crinkle crankle walls until I read about them at Newark Park. I tweeted about it and then crinkle crankle walls seemed to stalk me on social media for the rest of the week. They're everywhere, apparently. Here's one map of crinkle crankle walls in Suffolk. I'm not sure how useful this will be to you, but it gives you some idea of their popularity.

The Newark Park Scone

I was accompanied on today's scone mission by my oldest friends, Lisa, Sarah and Kathy, along with the young scone apprentice, Lara. It wasn't their first outing - they had also come to Horsey Windpump back in 2019. On that occasion, we travelled by boat along the Norfolk Broads so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to offer the same excitement at Newark Park.

But Montsaye Comprehensive girls are nothing if not resourceful and we turned today's outing into an exciting affair by getting completely lost on our walk around the estate.

Luckily, I had forced everyone to have the scone as soon as we got there. The cafeteria at Newark Park is really just a well-equipped counter with a tent for rainy occasions. I was very doubtful that scones would even be on the menu but they were and we had good weather, so our luck was well and truly in.

Newark Park Scone

The scone looked great - nice and golden and fruity. And it was tasty enough - it was a little chewy for my liking but it was lovely to sit outside on a warm October day. 

Newark Park cafe

Eating scones is great but eating them with brilliant people is even better - massive thanks to my lovely crew for our Cotswolds adventure. Only three more places to visit!

Newark Park: 4 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5 from both me and the scone apprentice; 4, 3.5, 3.5 from the others
Crinkle crankle wall education opportunities: 5 out of 5