Welcome to Coughton Court, which also has two churches, beautiful grounds and a bog garden. By far the best bog garden I have ever seen. This house is steeped in the history of Catholicism in England, the reformation and the gunpowder plot.
The bedside commode was the closest I got to a bathroom here, sadly, but having said that I really like this piece of furniture. It takes multi purpose to a whole new level, though I'm not to sure about sleeping directly next to such an object. Any evidence of ablutions were within the rooms themselves which are just as interesting. A very personal private time becomes less so despite the help of ornate screens
According to the info handed out this yellow room displays, what are affectionately (I'm sure) referred to as 'The Uglies' a room of family portraits by Willem Wessing. I tried to get a good picture of all of the paintings in this room but it was just too packed full of visitors. Smallish and at the end of a tour route it was an awkward space but probably my favourite room. I loved these paintings, unflattering? who knows but they certainly felt real and I do like a double chin. I saw beauties depicted in these paintings.
There are a lot of miniature portraits at Coughton, a helpful guide told me the back story of the couple pictured above, he would be the last male in the line to inherit the house and grounds and was desperate to marry so he attached himself to his young cousin. The fact that she was a cousin caused a huge problem and was regarded as shameful. When he died she (only in her early 20's) did not re marry and in doing so kept Coughton court within the family. (it would have been great if I had made a note of names and dates as the guide was telling me about what was a wall full of family miniatures as well as the dimly lit room they were in, but alas I did not - a country house rookie mistake)
This was a pleasant surprise, I wasn't expecting to find Edward VIII abdication speech and letter of abdication here. I stood in a room already evoking the feeling of history rather strongly and read the typed speech carefully, I have listened to it several times but reading the old fashion type set and feeling the rhythm of this Kings Speech made it very, very personal.
I've been thinking about what it must be like to live here while a portion of the house is open to the public. It's often the case that the the families continue on in a private part of the house but what must feel like a fish bowl. I wonder What it feels like to give up part or all of your family home in this way.
You can see. More of my photographs from Coughton Court on my Flickr here.
On a rainy bank holiday weekend we make our way to Charlecote Park, as we arrive the rain eases off which is good because the grounds (designed by Capability Brown) are very pretty and make a really nice walk. The trees in particular are really impressive all twisted and broken with time.
Mr & Mrs Lucy in bust form, in fact Mr & Mrs Lucy are everywhere amid the mostly Victorian interior of the house, in some areas it was really a bit of a period style mix up.
Bathrooms and areas to wash are really interesting to me, I'm starting to seek them out now and I'm disappointed if there are no bathrooms open to the public.
On the main stairs there is this window, covered in modern net curtains and blinds, there is something about it which made me think about being trapped in this big house, something about the gloom around it and not really being able to see out.
Elizabeth I stayed here, as did Shakespeare, though his was probably a far less enjoyable stay as it is said that he was tried here for poaching game on the land. This gold parlour is my favourite room in the house because it delivers everything I want from a country house with its over the top lavishness, crammed with large framed paintings of kings and queens, exotic objects and uncomfortable looking furniture. Completely other worldly, decadent and bright.
You can see more of my photographs from Charlecote Park on my Flick here.
...well it was a good idea perhaps but Wallis Simpson didn't take up the offer from Perry Brownlow of Belton House as a hideaway before fleeing to France around the time of Edward VIII abdication and I'm not really surprised, as historian Anne Sebba suggests in her article about Wallis Simpson's relationship with Belton House. Edward, however, was a fan of the estate in Lincolnshire and had a personal connection to the family.
I visited Belton and allowed my imagination to run wild while in a country house which has links to my small obsession: Edward & Wallis, my on going paintings of and about Wallis Simpson can be found here.
The Tapestry room was the first room I walked into after the grand marble hall, and it is lovely. Its the room that feels most like the occupants had just popped out. An antique radio softly plays 1930's music, the lighting is subdued and the furnishing cosy but grand at the same time. Scattered on side boards and the piano are pictures of Wallis & Edward at various times during their early life together.
The photograph on the piano was taken at their wedding, another is of Wallis while she worked with the red cross during the war, signed and with an inscription that I couldn't make out. This was the only very obvious display linking Belton House with Royalty, everything else, other than naming a bedroom 'The Windsor Room' is more subtle, a painting here and there and books about Windsor Castle upon the book shelves.
At Belton House I got really distracted by the bathrooms, there are two open to the public, one has been chopped about and carved from its joining room, long narrow and oddly fascinating, how would one even move about comfortably within it? The other was far more grand and yet charmingly shabby at the same time and is attached to the Windsor bedroom. This bathroom is the most wonderful shade of light blue but with the blind down it is dark and solitary in feel, a loosely painted female nude hangs on one wall, a floral arm chair in a corner, the toilet and bath neatly partitioned along one side of the room.
There was something striking about this bathroom, more so than the bedroom next door. More intimate some how with the thought of a guest getting ready for the day or making preparations for sleep and because of the way the house is designed the bathroom is, rightly so, the most private room and despite its less than feminine colour this felt very much like a room for the use of a female. Of course much of this could be down to the way the bathroom has been subsequently dressed. I'm not sure I want to know really.
There are several busts dotted around the house, I liked the ones that were in surprising places such as above doors and high atop book shelves. I'm still really taken with busts and marble at the moment.
One of the volunteers explained to us that the house is dark because thats how it would have been originally, with its candle light chandeliers. There are allot of large mirrors surrounded by gold placed about the walls in the hope of reflecting what light there is back into the room. I loved this Belton gloom.
I understand completely why Wallis Simpson would perhaps not want to stay here, it is dark and some what imposing inside and although beautiful and secluded outside it would have felt far remote from the city and life of London. Perfect for me, not so much for a socialite. This house is dark and encourages thoughtfulness and reflection. I imagined it to have been be a relaxing escape rather than a gilded cage.
I definitely allowed fact and daydream to muddle up a bit here. I think its a theme with these houses, they encourage it.
I was taken with the black and white floor in one of the entrances, almost as much as I was at Chatsworth, I havn't really got to the bottom of why.
You can see more pictures from Belton House and gardens on my Flickr.
'Your Nearness will give the king comfort, you will not be completely cut off from him. From Belton you can bring your influence to bear and restrain him from any hasty or irretrievable action. meanwhile Kitty and I can look after you' The Heart Has Its Reasons, A Memoir by The Duchess Of Windsor, 1956
I visited Wightwick Manor back in August 2013 intrigued by the sound of the house, in that this was a relatively new house when the National Trust got involved, which was unusual but also that it boasts a massive collection of William Morris and Arts and Crafts designs. They weren't kidding, the house is stuffed to bursting. On every surface, every wall, just every where was arts and crafts.
Unfortunately photography inside the house is not permitted, though the outside is certainly photogenic.
The grounds are not massive but what they lack in size they make up for in a relaxed and slightly ramshackle charm and although this wasn't a visit prompted by a particular interest at the time, and since I am making a list of National Trust sites to visit, I figured Whightwick should have its own post.
You can see more picture from Whightwick Manor on my Flickr here.
This week I visited Stowe House and Gardens. The focus at Stowe is on the gardens although a few rooms of the house (now a school) are open to the public but in a guided tour only. So for me this visit was more about the grounds and the dozens of monuments, structures and temples within the grounds. The gardens are massive and are designed in such a way that there are loads of wooded areas to explore. Its extremely impressive and I did feel like I was constantly discovering areas all day that no one else could possibly have realised were there.
I would love to have been able to get into the temples, the doors were always locked of course. I expect that the interiors are in disrepair but I wouldnt have minded.
These grounds are incredibly romantic and totally other worldly, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would have used them for, what perhaps they were used for and that were I to have lived at Stowe, I really dont think I could find a reason to ever leave
This Duke, much like his father, was terrible with money but I thought it sounded like his heart was in the right place. He wanted to make Stowe the most beautiful and opulent example of a such a house that has ever been. I'm not sure I blame him. Maybe his true love was the house.
An open Temple, and I have fancied visiting one of these for a while. Inside is fairly simple with wall mounted statues and curved seating around the walls and a pretty decoration in the dome.
What was sad about Stowe, and the first thing the tour guide in the house made us aware of, is that very little in the way of treasure or art remains and what is there is usually a replica made from inexpensive materials. 'Everything Must Go' seems to have been the Stowe motto throughout history. Sad but then again, the best bit remains the grounds.
Not much marble but lots of busts.
I'm going to be visiting a fair few National Trust houses over the next year or so, I'm going to do a blog post on each one. You can see more pictures from Stowe on my Flickr here.