Sunday, 20 November 2022

Dinefwr

So we've come to the penultimate mission of this National Trust Scone Odyssey. Dinefwr (pronounced Din-ever) was left til almost last for one good reason: it was really hard for me to get there. 

But the time had come and I was READY - ready for the 5-hour train journey to the Brecon Beacons, and even more ready for the unavoidable overnight stay, looking forward to the many things I don't get in London - fresh air, total darkness while sleeping, people you don't know saying "morning!" to you etc.

However, I cannot tell you how relieved I was when Corinne, a member of the much beloved National Trust Scone Twitter community, said they'd come with me. By 'they' I mean Corinne, her husband Simon, and my favourite dog in the world, Ole (pronounced Olly).

Dinefwr Castle

Before I get on with the history and the all-important scone, I have to tell you that I set off from my little AirBnB in Llandeilo feeling a lot sadder than I expected. I will 1000% continue to visit the National Trust once this project is finished but this was my 243rd visit and it felt like the end of something.

And then, as I walked up the drive towards the house, I was overtaken by Santa. And then another Santa. And then another, until a whole pack of Santas was streaming past me on a fun run. All that was missing was for them to link arms and start singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and I'd have thought it was a set-up.

Santa Fun Run Dinefwr

Anyway. Having been reminded not to take things quite so seriously, let me tell you a bit about Dinefwr:

Dinefwr played an important role in Welsh history
Dinefwr in medieval times was the capital of Deheubarth, one of the largest kingdoms in Wales. Deheubarth had been created by Hywel Dda and included Pembrokeshire, the Gower and other parts of South Wales. It was disbanded in 1197, when Rhys ap Gruffudd (otherwise known as the Lord Rhys) died and split his kingdom between his sons. The Lord Rhys had been one of the most powerful figures in the history of Wales, strengthening his power base during times of Anglo-Norman aggression and building trust with Henry II. That all collapsed after Rhys's death.

The ruins of Dinefwr Castle remain   
The castle was built in the 13th century. It's thought that Rhys Gryg, grandson of the Lord Rhys, built the round tower and curtain walls. The ruined castle today is not National Trust - it's owned by Cadw, the Welsh version of English Heritage - but you can wander round areas of its ramparts.

Dinefwr Castle Inside

Edward I took possession of Dinefwr in 1277
During the conquest of Wales, Edward I took ownership of Dinefwr. Rhys ap Maredudd, the Lord Rhys's great-grandson, tried to take it back but failed and was hanged, drawn and quartered for his efforts.

Gruffydd ap Nicolas acquired Dinefwr but then it went wrong
Gruffydd ap Nicolas took on the lease of Dinefwr in 1440. His grandson, Rhys ap Thomas, sided with Henry during the War of the Roses and the family continued to prosper. But Rhys's son died young and his grandson (also Rhys) made some powerful enemies and ended up being executed for treason. The property was taken by the Crown again.

Walter Rice bought Dinefwr back
Executed Rhys's son, Griffith Rice, was brought up in England, hence the anglicisation of the family name at this point. He started the effort to restore the family's reputation and he succeeded, as his son Walter was knighted by James I. Walter bought Dinefwr castle in 1635. Around 1659 his grandson, Edward, started work on what was to become Newton House: 

Dinefwr Newton House

George Talbot Rice became Baron Dynevor
In 1756, the latest Rice heir married Cecil Talbot, the daughter of Baron Dynevor (the anglicised spelling of Dinefwr). Their son, George Talbot Rice, therefore became the 3rd Baron Dynevor.

Richard Dynevor loved the arts
The ninth Baron Dynevor founded a publishing company, the Black Raven Press, and the Dynevor Arts Festival in the 1960s. He also began negotiations with the National Trust but they proved unsuccessful. The house was sold off before eventually being acquired by the NT in 1990, while Cadw took on the castle.

The Dinefwr Scone

The cafe at Dinefwr is lovely. It's inside the house, with plenty of tables and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. It also has a serving hatch, for anyone looking for a cup of tea on the go. The scone itself was tasty - it wasn't fresh and it fell apart a bit but it had been well-baked. 

Dinefwr Scone

Ole, of course, has been pursuing his own project over the past few years, namely National Trust Ice Creams. I'm pleased to report that he wasn't disappointed today and tucked in with great enthusiasm:

Ole Ice Cream Fan

It was great that Corinne and Simon were part of today's mission because it gives me a chance to thank them. I think I said it all in my National Trust Scone 2020 Review but I'll repeat it: Ole has been the happiest, loveliest presence in the National Trust Scone Twitter Community for years but in 2020 he upped the ante and basically became my virtual support dog. The photos that Corinne shared of him (Ole doing some decorating, Ole celebrating 75 years since VE day etc) made us all a bit more cheerful during a challenging year. I'm very grateful to Corinne and Simon for sharing him with us, and for coming with me today.

Sconepal Ole

I have to say that Dinefwr was a perfect choice for one of my last National Trust scone visits. It gave me a house, a ruined castle, a large estate for walking, a scone, and a very complicated family history that had my brain twisted into knots - pretty much summing up my NT experience over the past 10 years. It was also a really enjoyable day out with lovely friends that I wouldn't have met without this project.

That's 243 properties completed. I now only have the Giant's Causeway to go. I'll be heading over there in the spring. In the meantime, I'm going to give the blog a winter tidy-up and do some looking back on my adventures so far.

Dinefwr: 5 out of 5 
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Day out with Corinne, Simon and Ole: 500 out of 5

Saturday, 12 November 2022

Sandilands

I was scrolling through social media a few weeks ago when I saw the words "baristas" "training" "National Trust" and "exciting news next week". I don't want to say that I went into a panic but I went into a panic.

I discovered that Sandilands, a former golf course near Mablethorpe that the National Trust acquired in 2020, was opening a temporary tea facility. I went into Sherlock Holmes mode, examining the photos for any signs of scones. 

I couldn't see any. Surely a temporary tea kiosk wouldn't serve scones? The Rules of the National Trust Scone Blog clearly state that if there are no scones, I don't need to include the property in this quest.

But I was wrong. The ever-helpful Sconepals did some slightly more in-depth investigating and let me know that scones were indeed on the menu. There was only one thing for it - I had to go to Mablethorpe.

Sandilands Tea Kiosk
A National Trust tea room on wheels. A potential game-changer.
The National Trust is turning Sandilands into a nature reserve. It will cover 74 acres and will take years to complete. I have to say that although there wasn't much to see, it was interesting to see it in its formative state and know that in a few years it'll look totally different.

Sandilands

However, it does mean that there isn't a huge amount I can tell you about the place today. I can tell you that it was a links golf course with a par of 70 and a standard scratch of 69. I don't know what that latter part means but it might mean something to you.

It's a sad story though, as the golf club had almost reached its 125th year anniversary when it ran into financial difficulties and had to close. It's in a lovely spot though and it's good to know that the National Trust will be looking after it.

The Sandilands Scone

I decided to throw myself on the mercy of my family for this outing. They live in Northamptonshire, which was a blessing - Mablethorpe is one of their 'local' seaside resorts, even though it's over 2 hours away. 

Even so, I broached the subject with a heavy heart, wondering a) how I was going to sell a trip to the seaside in November and b) what I was going to do if they said no. 

But I was in luck, thanks to a very bizarre coincidence. It turned out that my sister's partner had had a dream many years ago that he went to Mablethorpe and journeyed around it on a monorail. He'd been looking for a reason to visit the place ever since and now I was giving him that reason. 

Sadly, I couldn't give him his monorail, as there wasn't one. But we did have the beach, 2p slot machines, a seal sanctuary, fish and chips and a lot more besides. 

Scone Blogger

The main event though was the Sandilands scone. It wasn't fresh but it was big and tasty. For the first time ever though, I found myself paying more attention to the toasted sandwiches that were on offer. In my defence, it was chilly and scones are not known for warming you up on a cold day. 

Sandilands scone

What I am worried about is that, in theory, the National Trust could drag this portable tea room around the UK, parking up near every parcel of land they own, and say "exciting news next week!" and I'd have to go there. I'll spend the rest of my life like one of those tornado chasers in Oklahoma, except with scones. I will never finish.

But let's think positive! With the curveball of Sandilands volleyed into the stands of success, I'm back to just TWO more National Trust properties to go! 

Sandilands: 3 out of 5 today 
Scone: 4 out of 5
Lure of the cheese toasties: 5 out of 5

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 Park...so 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

Saturday, 24 September 2022

Claydon

Over the nine years of this project, I have discovered a category of National Trust properties that I call 'Doesn't Look Like Much From The Outside But Inside It's Amazing'. Claydon in Buckinghamshire is firmly in that category.

Claydon House

To be honest, I don't even know where to start with it. I'll try and begin with some of the rooms before I move on to the history of the Verney family.

The North Hall

The house was built for Ralph, the second Earl Verney, in the 1750s-1760s by Luke Lightfoot. He was a stonemason and woodcarver who had impressed Ralph with his work and it's easy to see why: all of the elaborate wall carvings you see in the terrible picture below are wood carvings by Lightfoot.

Unfortunately, Lightfoot had his limitations. The planned house was actually three times the size of what we see today - there was originally also a rotunda and a third wing. But he made mistakes in how the house was built - a respected architectural expert at the time referred to him as "an ignorant knave" - which probably resulted in the demolition of the rotunda and the other wing after only 20 years. (The demolition of the rotunda also explains why the house doesn't have a front entrance.)

During construction, it was also discovered that Lightfoot had been defrauding the Earl, and he was dismissed from the project before it was completed. (In a later court case, it was established that Lightfoot had been paid £30,000 but had only delivered £7,000 of work or goods.)

North Hall Claydon

The Saloon

The sacking of Lightfoot means that there is a mixture of styles in the house. The North Hall is fully Rococo and then you walk into the Saloon, which is Palladian. It's another show-stopper of a room, however, with a huge expanse of space covered in elaborately designed fittings.

You can probably guess what's coming next: the second Earl ended up in financial ruin and in 1784 work on the house stopped. The furniture was sold to cover his debts.

Saloon Claydon

The Chinese Room

I had done no real research on Claydon before I visited. If I had, I might have seen the guidebook descriptions of the Chinese Room as "the glory of Claydon" and "one of the most extraordinary rooms in any English country house". 

But I hadn't seen any of that, so I unsuspectingly wandered into the upstairs room and was completely dumbfounded by it. The alcove is a show-stopping sight, with its intricate wood carvings. The rest of the room is also covered in elaborate decoration. I've never seen anything like it. 

Chinese Room Claydon

Florence Nightingale Bedroom

After the jaw-dropping ostentation of the Chinese Room, you find yourself in rooms that are much simpler in style but come with huge amounts of fascinating history.

In 1858, Sir Harry Verney married Parthenope Nightingale, the older sister of Florence. (Both women were named after their birthplaces - Parthenope being the Ancient Greek name for Naples.) 

This meant that Florence spent a lot of time at Claydon from the 1860s through to 1895. There are various rooms that provide insight into her life, her former bedroom being one of them:

Florence Nightingale bedroom

There's a portrait of Florence in her room that really didn't match the image I had of her in my mind, but I liked it all the more for that: 

Florence Nightingale portrait

The Claydon Museum

At this point in my visit, I was sure that Claydon couldn't possibly have any more rooms that would wow me. But Claydon wasn't done and I walked into the final flourish; The Museum. It was created by Sir Harry Verney in 1893 to showcase his artefacts from around the world. I failed to get any good photos of his gamelan, a set of gongs and other instruments from Java. But I did get this picture of the case dedicated to Florence - it's a replica of the type of Turkish lamp that she would have used as a nurse in the Crimea when she became famous as the Lady with the Lamp.

Florence Nightingale Lamp Claydon

Until now, I have always avoided doing 'room by room' descriptions on this blog but it really is the best way to describe the Claydon experience. To be clear, there were other rooms too - I've only shared the most awe-inspiring ones.

Anyway. Before I get to the scone, let me tell you a bit more about the Verney family:
  • There have been Verneys in Buckinghamshire since the 1200s
  • In around 1463, the manor of Middle Claydon was bought by one Sir Ralph Verney who had been Lord Mayor of London
  • The house was leased to a Roger Giffard, who built a house on the site of today's building as well as the chancel of All Saints church that stands next to it
  • In 1620, Sir Edmund Verney decided he wanted Claydon back - he bought the Giffards out of their tenancy and became the first Verney to actually live there
  • Sir Edmund was a very interesting man: he had served both Charles I and his older brother, who died prematurely. When Charles acceded to the throne, Edmund was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.
  • He was staunchly loyal to the King during the Civil War, even though he didn't agree with him. There's a lovely paragraph in the guidebook that explains his position: "I have eaten his Bread, and served him for nearly thirty Years, and will not do so base a Thing as to forsake him; and chuse rather to lose my Life (which I am sure I shall do) to preserve and defend those Things which are against my Conscience to preserve and defend."
  • Edmund was right about one thing: he did lose his life. His son Ralph had sided with the Parliamentarian cause and begged his father not to get involved but Edmund ended up as the King's Standard Bearer and died at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. 
  • It all gets a bit grisly in the guidebook after that: the enemy troops who killed him couldn't get the Standard from Edmund, so they hacked his hand off. That's the only bit of him that lies in his tomb in the church, as the rest of his corpse was never recovered.
  • Ralph was not rewarded for siding with Cromwell. He refused to sign the Solemn League and Covenant, and had to go into exile. Claydon was sequestered.
  • Ralph's wife, Lady Mary, came back to Claydon and found it in a terrible state. The house was returned to the Verneys and things improved under Charles II, with Ralph becoming the first baronet.
  • His son John was very successful as 2nd baronet and became Viscount Fermanagh in 1703
  • John's grandson, also Ralph, ended up as the second Earl in 1752 and it was he that built Claydon as we see it today
  • Claydon is located near Stowe, another NT property, which was owned by Sir Ralph's political opponent at the time. Sir Ralph upped his spending on Claydon to compete with the splendour of Stowe. Bad move, Ralph. 
  • But the house wasn't Ralph's only financial mistake. He was patron to Edmund Burke, the philosopher and economist, who wrote that Ralph "suspects nothing, fears nothing, he takes no precautions, he imagines all mankind to be his friend". And Burke would know - he and his cousin William owed Ralph £71,000 between them and they never repaid it. 
  • Ralph died a broken man. His niece, Mary, became Baroness Fermanagh. She took on the job of sorting out Claydon, demolishing the rotunda and other wing. 
  • Mary died in 1810. She was the last in the ancient line of Verneys, and the title died with her too. She left the house to a half-sister who had no children, so she passed it to her cousin, Harry Calvert, who changed his name to Verney.
  • He married Parthenope Nightingale after the death of his first wife 
  • My favourite fact of the whole day: Sir Harry was an MP and was known affectionately in Parliament as "the Member for Florence Nightingale" - I can't imagine there were many occasions in the 19th century when a man was known for being the brother-in-law of a woman more famous than him
  • The sixth baronet, Sir Edmund Verney, still farms the estate and lived with his family at Claydon until quite recently


The Claydon Scone

I wasn't 100% sure that I actually needed to include Claydon in this project. The house is owned by the National Trust but the rest of the estate, including the Phoenix Kitchen cafeteria, is still owned by the family. The Rules of the National Trust Scone Blog state that only scones baked by the National Trust are mandatory. But at this late stage of the project, I'm taking absolutely no chances of missing one.

I was the first customer in the cafeteria today, so the assistant offered to bring my scone over to my table. It turned into the opening titles of Grange Hill, except that instead of a cartoon sausage, it was a ginormous scone that suddenly appeared over my shoulder.

Claydon Scone

It is definitely the biggest scone I have encountered in my nine years on this quest. And although that was great, it also brought problems, because the jam and the cream barely stretched to cover half the scone. On the plus side, it was warm and very fresh.  

I'll finish by reminding you all that, although Claydon was brilliant, there is only one National Trust property that can win the Gold Award for 'Doesn't Look Like Much From The Outside But Inside It's Amazing' and that is Clouds Hill in Dorset. It's a tiny little hovel, basically, but it's where Lawrence of Arabia wrote his books. Both properties are highly recommended.

Claydon: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Number of times I said "Oh my God" or heard other visitors saying it as I walked around: at least 20

Sunday, 11 September 2022

Castle Drogo

Which National Trust property has been the biggest surprise for you when you first set eyes on it in real life? There are loads of contenders - the quirkiness of A la Ronde or the romantic beauty of St Michael's Mount are two for starters.

For me, though, I'm going with Castle Drogo in Devon as my surprise package. Castle Drogo's claim to fame is that it was the last castle to be built in England and when you see it in photos it ticks all the castle boxes: big, solid, made of granite, has a castellated roof for firing arrows at pesky invaders. 

But when you finally see it in front of you, you realise it's a very modern take on a castle. It was built between 1910 and 1925, so the modern look shouldn't be a surprise. But it's like someone has taken a normal castle and then gone at it with a chainsaw to smooth out the usual edges and give it a square and boxy shape:

Castle Drogo

Admittedly, it looks less boxy when you get up close to it. But then it appears almost as if half the castle has sunk into the ground and you're only seeing the top section. It messes with your mind a lot, put it that way:

Castle Drogo

So, the question is: WHY? Let me try and explain:

Julius Drewe makes his fortune and retires at 33!

Julius Drewe was a grocer by trade. His mother was a member of the family who owned Peek, Frean & Company, inventors of the Bourbon and Garibaldi biscuits. Julius set up Home and Colonial Stores, which became phenomenally successful - by 1903, it had 500 stores. By then, however, Julius had retired, at the venerable age of 33. There is a family legend that he turned down the offer of a peerage for £100,000 on principle that honours shouldn't be bought. Instead, he decided to plough some of his money into something that he decided could be bought: an ancestral estate dating back to Norman times.

Julius finds his noble ancestor, Drogo de Teigne!

A genealogist had informed Julius that he was possibly connected to a Norman baron known as Drue or Drogo de Teigne. The village of Drewsteignton on the edge of Dartmoor was named after him and so that is where Julius decided to buy some land, build his castle and claim the ancestral heritage that was rightfully (probably) his.

Julius commissions Edwin Lutyens to design Castle Drogo!

The celebrated architect Edwin Lutyens completed over 400 projects during his career. He is most famous for the Cenotaph in London and Rashtrapati Bhavan (formerly Viceroy's House) in New Delhi, as well as a whole host of other houses, offices, war memorials and churches. In 1910, he was well into his stride, having already transformed a ruined fort into a holiday home on Lindisfarne. Julius commissioned him to build Castle Drogo with a large budget and work got underway.

Castle Drogo

Edwin Lutyens designs everything!

What is astonishing about Lutyens is that he designed everything, even the latches on cabinets in the kitchens (he loved kitchens apparently). How he found the time for such detail when he was simultaneously out in India trying to architect an entire city is beyond me.

Julius and Edwin ensure the castle is comfortable!

Like the outside, the interiors of Castle Drogo are strikingly old-modern. The walls are granite and look austere and cold but the castle always offered central heating and other modern conveniences.

Castle Drogo Interior

You can see how very liveable the whole building must have been:

Castle Drogo Drawing Room

Castle Drogo passes to the National Trust

Julius insisted that Castle Drogo had a flat roof and this caused leakage problems from the get-go. Eventually, it all just got too much for one family to manage; the guidebook tells how Anthony Drewe, grandson of Julius, wrote a letter to the National Trust to ask if they'd be interested in taking on the property. The letter contained just one sentence - "I write to enquire whether the National Trust would be interested in acquiring this house, together with the Teign Gorge stretching over to Fingle Bridge?" - and in 1974, the castle and 600 acres of land were given to the National Trust.

Stunt scones
I was pleased to see some 'stunt scones' doing their thing

The Castle Drogo Scone

It must be incredibly difficult to run the Food & Beverage operation at the National Trust. If you take just today as an example: I started out in Heddon Valley on the North Devon coast in the morning. It was a truly beautiful spot but the cafeteria was really basic - the woman had to put the kettle on to make me a cup of tea. There were no scones but it didn't really matter; they had flapjacks and brownies to keep the walkers happy.  

Castle Drogo, on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the F&B spectrum. The visitor centre is big and visitor-centrey, with a large cafeteria serving all sorts of food and drinks. This prompted me to throw caution to the winds and wander round the castle first - I NEVER do this as I'm always too worried that all the scones will be eaten by a swarm of locusts who followed me into the car park.

Castle Drogo scone

Castle Drogo was the fourth and final stop on my mini Devon road trip: as well as Heddon Valley, I'd also been to Lundy, which had been lovely but no scones, and Lorna Doone Valley, which had delivered a scone but it hadn't quite been a five-star performer.

So I was overjoyed when the Castle Drogo scone turned out to be excellent. It was fresh and tasty and a good size. 

Only a few final scones to go!

Castle Drogo: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Oscar-worthy performance of the stunt scones: 5 out of 5