Worthing National Trust Association

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West Country Holiday

September 2018

Each year a short break holiday is arranged to an area not accessible on day trips for the purpose of visiting National Trust and other properties.  Travel is by coach hired for the exclusive use of the members on the holiday.

This is Sue Bolam’s story of the holiday written in her own inimitable style which gives the reader lots of ideas about places to visit themselves.  We are indebted to Sue for the story and to Linda Woolway who supplied many photographs, a selection of which illustrate the text.

Our annual holiday started on 24 September with 32 of us setting off for Bath.  The weather was bright sunshine although accompanied by a chilly wind.  After a brief comfort stop we arrived at our first NT property, Dyrham Park, which is a lovely example of late 17th Century baroque architecture.

Our first glimpse of the house is on the bus from the car park.  Usually big houses were built on the tops of hills but Dyrham nestles in a valley surrounded by a 270-acre deer park.  The bus must come down a steep winding hill to reach the house which was built by William Blathwayt between 1692-1704.  The estate itself is a lot older, the word dyrham being derived from deoham, the Saxon place of the deer and means that there have been deer on this spot for over 1000 years, although they were not ‘emparked’, i.e. had a wall around them, until 1511.

William Blathwayt 1649-1717 inherited the land from his father-in-law in 1689 and began building the house & gardens.  Blathwayt was a civil servant who served six monarchs from Charles II to George I.  For a time he worked in the English Embassy at The Hague; this meant that his ability to speak Dutch made him perfectly placed to serve William III when he took the throne in 1688. The next three generations were all called William.

The house began a slow decline.  Colonel George Blathwayt repaired the house in the mid-1800s but by the 20th Century the colonel’s grandson had to sell off many of the best possessions.  The house was sold in 1956 and opened to the public in 1961.  More recently the Trust has had to replace the roof, which was leaking, and has now found a bulging wall along with a void under the stairs.  Unfortunately, the park has no outside income and relies entirely on visitors.

We leave Dyrham to go to the Limpley Stoke Hotel which is to be our home for the next four days. The hotel, the oldest part of which dates from 1760, was originally known at Stoke Farmhouse.

Next morning starts misty but soon brightens up.  We are off for a day in Bath accompanied by our Blue Badge Guide, Val, who will be with us for the next three days.  She tells us that the Limpley Valley is known as the valley of the nightingales.  We pass the American Museum at Claverton on our way into Bath, where Val points out Prior Park, built by Ralph Allen who quarried the stone that Bath is built from.

Next, I went to the Assembly Rooms and looked at the lovely chandeliers (circa 1771) as well as the Fashion Museum which is housed in the same building.  It was showing an exhibition of dresses worn by royal women: Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.  I was particularly taken by a purple and silver embroidered chiffon dress worn by Queen Alexandra in 1910.

I then decided to go back and have a look round No. 1 The Crescent which was built by John Wood the Younger between 1767-1774 and was a very fashionable residence.  It was given to the Bath Preservation Trust in 1967 to turn into a museum.  In 2006 the Trust managed to reunite No. 1 with its servants’ quarters, taking it back to its original Georgian proportions.

Time is getting short, so I walk back to the centre of Bath and have a quick look in the Abbey.  This is undergoing extensive alteration to the floor so some parts of it are not open, but I did get to see the glorious fan vaulting.  No time to visit the Jane Austen Centre or the Holburne Museum or any other places of interest, it’s back to our coach.  On the way we drop off some of our party who walk back to our hotel along the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Our third day is bright and sunny.  We are on our way to Tyntesfield, the home of the Gibbs family, who made their money importing guano (bird droppings) from Peru, which revolutionised Victorian agriculture.  In 1863 Tyntesfield was remodelled and enlarged in the High Victorian Gothic Style.  George Gibbs, who inherited the house in 1907, became the first Lord Wraxall; however, the family’s fortune began to slip away and the final person to live there was Richard Gibbs who died in 2001.  In 2002 the house was bought by the National Trust.

Our visit coincides with the replacement of the out-dated fire alarm system which means that a lot of the items had been packed up and stored while the work is in progress.  What caught my eye was the magnificent wood carving all over the house and the imitation leather wallpaper in the dining room.  Upstairs all the furniture in the rooms is covered but a helpful guide showed us what they are usually like with a book of pictures.  The Trust hopes that the work will be completed by November.  Coming downstairs I notice a beautiful portrait of a lady dressed in yellow silk which is very skilfully painted; it feels as though you can touch the folds of silk.  It was painted in 1908 by Albert Henry Collings and is of Lady Victoria Gibbs who sadly died just a few years later in the Spanish Flu epidemic.

On our fourth day we have two visits, but first Brian, our driver, has the daily struggle to get out of the hotel entrance which is quite narrow and requires a sharp left turn to avoid the building opposite.  He succeeds in manoeuvring our big coach effortlessly, to much acclaim.  Wells is our first destination.

The present Cathedral was begun in 1175 on an ancient site.  Our Blue Badge Guide hands us over to a cathedral guide who is going to tell us about the five greatest things to see, beginning with the great West Front, which has the largest number of mediaeval carvings in Europe. Unfortunately, most are covered by scaffolding put up to check that the statues are not loose and won’t fall out.  Now, we move inside to see the famous clock which dates from 1392. It’s a 24-hour clock which also tells the days of the month; at every quarter four horsemen ride around the top, while high on the right hand the figure of Jack Blandifer strikes the hour bell. Outside, on the other clock face, two knights also on the same mechanism strike two bells.

After a quick lunch we head off for Montacute House, a beautiful example of Elizabethan architecture; built in honey-coloured stone, it was created for Edward Phelips between 1595-1601.  Phelips was a lawyer who became Speaker of the Commons and later Master of the Rolls.  His descendants inhabited the house until 1913, when much of the land was sold and the house leased out.  One of its notable tenants was Lord Curzon who lived there with his mistress, the romantic novelist Elinor Glyn.  After Lord Curzon died in 1925 it reverted to the family who sold it for scrap in 1931.  Fortunately, it was bought by Ernest Cook (of the travel agents Thomas Cook) who gave it to the National Trust.

Starting at the top you come to the gallery running the length of the house which houses the National Portrait Gallery Collection of Tudor and Jacobean Monarchs with prominent members of their courts.  Going down to the first floor many of the rooms were altered by Lord Curzon but there is an interesting collection of samplers going back to the 17th Century.  The ground floor is furnished but it is not original to the house, but I noticed the tapestries which come from Belgium and France; “The Hunter” from the Gobelin factory in Paris still retains much of its colour.

It is our last day, but we have one more property to visit on the way home.  The Vyne is a lovely house in Tudor brickwork which was originally part of a much larger Tudor house built by William, first Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain.  Henry visited it on several occasions and it was therefore fitting that it was recently used in the BBC series Wolf Hall.  The estate was sold to Chaloner Chute, Speaker of the House of Commons in 1653.  This family held the property until 1956 when the house and its contents were given to the National Trust.

We arrive back in Worthing where everyone is saying what a lovely time they have had and how friendly everyone was.  Our thanks go to Jean White (whose first time as leader this was) for her hard work in organising everything and for having looked after us so well.  We are all now eagerly looking forward to finding out where next year’s holiday will be.

Although we were not able to visit some of the rooms, the art work has been displayed so that we can inspect it at close quarters.  The most striking are two paintings by Samuel Van Hoogstraten: “The perspective view of the courtyard” and, my favourite, “A view through a house” which really makes you feel the dog will bound forward to greet you.  Also, there is the original and a copy of a work by Murillo entitled “An urchin mocking an old woman eating migas” where you are invited to guess which is which.

Among other things are the Delftware, particularly the tulip vases and the Gillows Regency-style chairs.

Our tour of the city begins with a look at the outside of No. 1 The Crescent, which is now a museum, then we look at the frontage of the Assembly Rooms, and on into the centre of Bath, where on foot we look at the front of the Roman Baths, the Pump Rooms and the Abbey.  We also pass Sally Lunn’s house (baker of the famous bun) although no one knows if she is real or the name is a corruption of the French for day and night.  The buns are dark on top and light underneath.  Even more fascinating is the reason for the holes at the top of the building which is to encourage owls to nest and keep the vermin down.

Now everyone has free time to do what they want.  Some want to go shopping and others are going to have a leisurely lunch in the Pump Rooms.  I am not going there as I tried the waters many years ago – never again!

I decided to visit the Roman Baths as I have not been inside for a long time.  How it has changed!  A very modern museum now adjoins the old baths and extends

under the Pump Rooms to display the remains of the Temple of Sulis Minerva.  The waters for the baths come from the Mendip Hills and is the only thermal spring in the UK.  The Iron Age tribe, the Dobunni, dedicated the spring to the goddess Sulis but it was when the Romans arrived in AD 43 that the site was enclosed.  The Romans were careful not to upset the locals and so twinned the goddess Sulis with their goddess Minerva.

Among the wonderful treasures to see are the gilded bronze head of Sulis Minerva which was dug up in 1727 and the carved blocks from the temple pediment in which the centre is possibly a depiction of Neptune.

Sally Lunn’s House

Lady Victoria Gibbs

Inside the Chapel

A view of Tyntesfield

Group photo outside the Royal Crescent

Bath Abbey

Passing out of the house via the lovely chapel I explore the gardens. Down in the Kitchen Garden, in one of the greenhouses, I find the finest display of gourds I have ever seen.

The beautiful scissor arches which were originally put up to stop the tower falling down are the third of the wonders of Wells and the fourth is the Jesse Window showing Christ’s family tree from Jesse, father of King David.  The original 14th Century glass glows with vibrant yellows and greens.  The fifth is the Chapter House which I am not going to visit as it has some very uneven stairs, so I go back to join Val.  On the way out I notice the font, which is older than the cathedral, going back over a thousand years.

Val takes us to the Vicars Close, originally built in 1384 as housing for the choristers, then we walk to the Bishop’s Palace to see the swans on the moat, but they are not ringing the bell for food today as there is no rope for them to pull on, no one being in residence.  It is now too late to go into the Palace although I think some managed to get a look around.



 The Scissor Arches

 The Vicars Close

 Montacute House

 A garden view

 A tapestry

 “The Hunter”

I was particularly taken with the grand staircase which was created in the late 1700’s and by the Print Room which, as was the fashion in the 19th Century, was covered in prints pasted on the walls.  Upstairs is an exhibition devoted to the recent re-roofing which includes a film taken from a drone high above the new roof.  We exit via the chapel, passing the Tomb Chamber which has a monument to Speaker Chute.  In the garden there is a domed summer house built in the 17th Century and a large lake full of wildlife.

 The Print Room

The Garden looking towards the Summerhouse

 Hall and Staircase

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