A very civilised day out. A taster tour round the lovely Tudor House of Canons Ashby, in Northants, focussing on the hidden world of caring for old buildings and complete with blue linen light meters, secret thermometers, back strap vacuum cleaners, and specimens of death watch beetle.
We mooched round the pretty gardens, admired the little church, further explored the house, and played croquet on the lawn. Don’t miss the pics of Lady Jane WW with her skirts hitched up in order to get a better swing at the mallet, and the state of near collapse in which it left Margaret , watching from the sidelines.
We made numerous visits to the cafe to supply our various refreshment needs and finally set off in the minibus for Everdon Stubbs, a pretty little woodland a quick ten minutes up the road. Rather late for the time of year we were delighted to find bluebells in full bloom, and perfect for a gentle amble amidst the blooms, to build up our appetite for….
Afternoon tea at Rushton Hall, a fitting and delicious end to a lovely day out.
Grey skies and a chill wind couldn’t dampen the enthusiastic spirits of our group of Red Hatters, chauffeured by the peerless Queen Tess, who visited Canons Ashby on Saturday, 18th May.
This charming National Trust property, south of Daventry, dates back to the 1550s and was owned for centuries by the Dryden family, one of whom was the celebrated poet John Dryden.
Our visit began with a behind-the-scenes taster tour of three main rooms, the Great Hall, the Dining Room and the Book Room – a feast of Jacobean plasterwork, wall-paintings and tapestries – focussing on the restoration, care and maintenance involved in historic buildings, and the constant battle against the triple enemies of damp, sunlight and insects. Who knew, for instance, that silverfish (not bookworms) love grazing on the cloth covers of old books, or that blue linen is the best monitor of fabric fading?
An hour or so of free time followed, giving us the opportunity to do our own thing – wander round the grounds admiring the vivid flowerbeds of tulips and pansies,
visit the small church hidden away among the trees, buy garden plants at the shop, have lunch in the cafe (oh, haven of warmth) or even polish up our skills at a game of croquet.
We returned inside the house for a second, unsupervised, look round, following in the tracks of one of the property’s most influential owners, Sir Henry Dryden, who was just 19 when he inherited Canons Ashby in 1837, and remained there throughout the Victorian era, stamping his somewhat eccentric personality on the place. He resolved not to marry until he had settled his inherited debts, forcing the family to live in somewhat genteel impoverishment (what’s new?) but despite that, he was a passionate book collector and gardener – in fact the grounds are currently being restored to the colourful designs detailed in his records.
I was less impressed to learn that when his only child, a daughter, was born when he and his wife were well into their forties, Sir Henry was so miffed that it wasn’t the hoped-for son and heir that he sacked all the female servants, declaring there were too many women about the place. (They were very quickly re-employed, of course.)
Away from the alterations of later times, the older part of Canons Ashby reveals a rabbit warren of little rooms, and wherever one looked there was just a glimpse of a Red Hat disappearing down a creaking staircase or through a low doorway, or along a narrow gallery that smelled of beeswax and the dust of centuries.
Back in the minibus, we made a short detour to the pretty little woodland at Everdon Stubbs, where the bluebells had braved the cold Spring to put on a scented display that carpeted the ground as far as the eye could see, and were a real delight to walk amongst. Then on to our final stop, Rushton Hall, a Tresham building steeped in history, where some of our members enjoyed a sumptuously calorific cream tea, while others wandered round the magnificent grounds.
And just as we were finally setting off again, the sun broke through at last, and the skies turned forget-me-not blue to see us home.