Friday, 21 October 2011

Conservation Work Update

Work on the Ashdown House conservation project has been continuing apace. With the roof space accessible, several interesting things have been found - carpentry marks on the roof timbers, historical "rubbish" left by previous renovations and a new species of bat for Ashdown - the Serotine!

The original timbers behind the Bath stone window lintels have completely rotted away and will be replaced. Work on the staircase has revealed early examples of wallpaper that have been taken away for analysis and dating. All these fascinating discoveries will be interpreted for visitors to Ashdown when the house re-opens in April.

It's also time to give advance notice of a talk about Ashdown House and the Craven Family at the Shrivenham Heritage Centre on Tuesday 15th November at 7.30pm!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The William Dobson Portrait

Here at Ashdown House we are very proud to have in our collection a group portrait that was painted by William Dobson, Court painter to King Charles I, who was described by John Aubrey as "the most excellent painter that England hath yet bred." Tomorrow, 16th October, there will be a special piece about our Dobson painting on the Number One London Blog. Please do drop in to read about Prince Rupert, Colonel Murray and Colonel Russell and a painting that is packed full of symbols of loyalty to the Royalist cause.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Roof Goes On!

I never thought I would get excited about a crane (at least not of the non-feathered variety) but this week the temporary roof was lifted on to the top of Ashdown House and it was a very impressive and exciting sight. The roof was designed to a special architect's plan and the two halves were lifted on separately and then the middle section was constructed over the top of the cupola. It was originally suggested that the cupola might be lifted off the top to enable conservation work but this is now going to take place on the roof with the cupola slightly raised to allow the work to be done. Work on the cupola is going to be very interesting; the copper panels on the sides will be replaced with lead ones to reflect the nature of the original building and the finial on the top will be re-gilded - and the bullets still lodged in it dug out! These date from the time the golden ball was used for target practice during the 2nd World War when US, Canadian and British troops were stationed at Ashdown. There will be updates here about the cupola conservation and maybe even some photos of the bullets!

Now that the roof is in place work can begin on removing the Cotswold slate, repairing those slates than can be re-used and replacing those that are too damaged. The flat roof will also be removed and re-leaded and the balustrade renewed. A large "jacket" will be put over the entire structure of the scaffolding to protect the ongoing conservation work from the weather. This will be thicker at the top and will hide the whole house, though when the National Trust "season" starts up again in April, hard hat tours of the exterior of the building will be available to show people the progress of the project. Exciting! (Unless you don't like heights in which case there will be an exhibition in the Information Centre.) In a short while the original quarry will be opened and chalk extracted to repair the external walls of the house. There's a lot going on!

The house closed yesterday and the portrait collection is being removed today. Whilst the renovation work is in progress the portraits will also be receiving some conservation care and again this will be reported here on the blog. During October the Information Centre remains open with a short presentation and garden tour on offer to update visitors on the project and show some of the aspects of the Ashdown Estate that don't normally get mentioned. So far the conservation project has proved very popular with visitors and we look forward to welcoming you to Ashdown and showing you what is going on!

There are more photographs of the ongoing renovation project here.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Conservation Project Update

The cupola and viewing platform on the roof of Ashdown House will be closed from next week, 19th September. The scaffolding has reached the top of the house and work is about to start on the roof. The house and portrait collection will still be accessible until the end of September so if you are planning on visiting Ashdown and would like to see inside you need to get your visit in soon! The house will close at the end of September.

However, for those visiting up to the end of the season in October, we will be running garden tours and special talks in the Information Centre. More details to come so watch this space and our Facebook page and Twitter

At the top of the page is an arty photo taken in the Information Centre showing South Lodge's very attractive original beams. More on the history of South Lodge next time!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Up and Down the Stairs

The staircase at Ashdown House is one of the great features of the house and a masterpiece of engineering. Taking up a quarter of the floor space of the entire house, it is built from elm with uprights of oak and individually hand-turned balusters. There are one hundred steps up to the roof. The staircase was constructed "green," with untreated wood, which means that over the three hundred years of its existence it has settled at slightly different rates, giving an uneven tread. When you stand at the top and look down you can see that the stairs are slightly askew! They are - of course - entirely safe, but for reasons of loading, no more than 25 visitors are permitted on the stair at any one time.

The elm stair is the only staircase in the house. There are no servants' stairs as the house is simply too small to accommodate them. Which means that family, visitors and servants were all obliged to use the same space, something that was considered extremely undesirable in an aristocratic Victorian household. If the servants had the misfortune to meet the family or guests on the stair they had to efface themselves against the wall and pretend to be invisible!

The stair is four foot wide and was built on such a grand scale for several reasons. Firstly Ashdown is a hunting lodge and so the main purpose is to get the guests up on to the roof to view the progress of the hunt. Ladies with wide skirts needed lots of room when ascending the stairs. It was also thought appropriate in the 17th century that noblemen of the stature of Lord Craven should have a servant on either side of them as they ascended, in case they needed anything on their way up to the roof! The width of the stair also allowed the more infirm members of the family to be assisted up and down. Another interesting reason for the width of the staircase was the fact that it was designed to allow Lord Craven to defend his property by force if required; the staircase is wide enough for a sword fight! It also turns in a clockwise direction because Lord Craven was a right-handed swordsman and this would give him the fighting advantage, descending the stair.

In the 19th century heavy elm and oak staircases such as the one at Ashdown were often ripped out to be replaced by something more light and fashionable. We are fortunate that the one at Ashdown was preserved and also that it survived the stationing of troops in the house during the Second World War when much of the panelling and other wooden features in the house was used for firewood. Originally the upright panels on the stair had carved swags of fruit and flowers, as shown in a photograph from Country Life. These were removed during the 20th century to leave the staircase looking somewhat austere as it does today.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Ashdown visits the Hoydens and Firebrands!

Today Ashdown House is featured on the Hoydens and Firebrands blog. We're talking about the rise to prominence of the Craven family in the late 16th and early 17th century, the career of Sir William Craven and the way the family transformed itself from obscurity to becoming one of the most prominent noble families of the 17th century. Thank you to the Hoydens and Firebrands for hosting us. Visit the blog here!

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Great Fire of London

Today, 2nd September, is the anniversary of the Great Fire of London of 1666, which was the most devastating event in the history of the city. Both Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, contemporary diarists, recorded the event in vivid detail. Evelyn wrote: “God grant my eyes may never behold the like, now seeing above 10,000 houses all in one flame; the noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames, ye shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of Towers, Houses and Churches, was like a hideous storme, and the air all about so hot and inflamed that at last one was not able to approach it. London was, but is no more!”

The death toll of the fire was considerably lower than the 75 000 who had been carried off by the Great Plague in the previous two years but many thousands were made homeless. The fire started in the house of a baker called Farryner, in Pudding Lane, near the Tower of London and, driven on by a high wind, it lasted for three days, spreading eastwards until it ended at a spot called Pye Corner in Giltspur Street. It destroyed St Pauls Cathedral, the Royal Exchange, hundreds of other public buildings and thousands of houses. The Great Fire is commemorated by a monument which stands 202ft tall near the bakery in Pudding Lane where it all began.

One aspect of the Great Fire of London that is not well known is the role played by William, First Earl of Craven, in the attempts to put the fire out. Whilst many of the nobility and courtiers fled the city, King Charles II remained and so did Craven. Craven had already demonstrated his courage and integrity in not deserting London the previous year during the outbreak of plague, commenting then that someone had to remain to preserve law and order. Now he was reported to be out night after night helping the firefighters. In fact it was said that ever after, when his horse smelled smoke it would turn in the direction of the fire. In 1666 there was no organised fire brigade and firefighting was fairly basic, using leather buckets and squirts of water. Against the force of a fire like this they were totally ineffective. The Navy recommended to the King that they needed to pull down the houses to make a fire break but the flames simply leapt the gap. Eventually it was agreed to blow up the houses in the path of the fire to create a greater fire break. The Navy used gunpowder to do this and by the following morning the fire had been stopped.

William Craven was honoured for his role as a London hero with a fresco on the side of Craven Buildings, off the Strand. He was painted in armour, mounted on a white horse, and with his truncheon in hand, and on each side an earl’s and a baron’s coronet, with the letters “W. C.” (William Craven). The painting was recoloured in oils several times but is now long gone although an engraving of it is preserved in Smith’s “Antiquities of London.”

Thursday, 1 September 2011

War and Crafts!

Whilst the scaffolding continues to rise on the house and the building work spreads across the lawns, the displays by members of the Sealed Knot and the traditional crafts on offer still make for a fun and interesting afternoon at Ashdown. When I visited last week the house looked like the picture on the left!

Meanwhile in the woods Ray was busy demonstrating wood turning techniques using locally sourced hazel. The magnificent 17th century oak and elm staircase in Ashdown House would have been made using these techniques and with each upright baluster hand-turned.

In the Information Centre we had lace-making and outside the main house members of the Sealed Knot were happy to demonstate techniques with sword and pikestaff!

Next week on the blog, a few more words about Ashdown's magnificent staircase as well as an update on the Conservation Project! (Apologies for the weird formatting of this post - Blogger does not make these things easy!)

Friday, 19 August 2011

This Week at Ashdown

The conservation work is about to start! The portable cabins have gone up on the lawn in front of the house, looking curiously like the prefabricated huts that occupied the same position during the Second World War when US, Canadian and British troops were stationed at Ashdown. You can just see the main house peeking over the top in this rather rainy scene!

Before the work gets going, here are a few pictures giving an idea of some of the work that needs to be done:
Extensive repairs to the cupola. Yes, it does look a bit weatherbeaten!

Repair and replacement of the chalk blocks in the external walls. You can see how much of the chalk has worn away here on the south front of the house.

Re-laying of the Cotswold stone slates on the main roof and dormers. This was a photo taken a few years ago, the last time the house underwent some work.

Meanwhile the house is still open and guided tours of the interior and the portrait collection continue. On Wednesday it was very busy with a lacemaking demonstration in the Information Centre, a display by the Sealed Knot in front of the house and wood-turning in the grounds. Photos of all of that next week, I hope, when the sun will be shining!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Conservation in Action at Ashdown

Ashdown House is extending its presence on the web. Yes, we have gone digital with a Facebook page at and a Twitter account @AshdownHouseNT for short and sweet updates on everything that's going on at your favourite 17th century hunting lodge! The main reason for this is that in a couple of weeks time the scaffolding will be going up and a conservation project will be starting. The purpose of the project is to re-roof the house and to do major structural repairs. The progress of the project will be shared here on the blog and visitors to the house will be able to take special tours to see the conservation work in action. It's a very exciting time for all those of us who work at Ashdown and we will be able to see this amazing house with the roof off and to learn much more about its history, design and construction, plus all aspects of the conservation process. I hope that you will enjoy following progress here and on Facebook and Twitter, and that those visitors who can join us at Ashdown will enjoy seeing conservation in action!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Geocaching at Ashdown Park

This summer the National Trust is promoting the joys of geocaching. Here is a link to their site and a list of some of the Trust land where there are geocaches to be found. Geocaching is a high tech treasure hunt; here is the NT's description of what it entails:

"Geocaching is an exciting outdoor adventure for the whole family. It’s a treasure hunt for the digital generation, where you can enjoy the freedom of being outside and discovering new places. All you need is a handheld GPS device and a sense of fun. A geocache or ‘cache’ is a small waterproof treasure box hidden outdoors. Geocachers seek out these hidden goodies guided by GPS, which uses coordinates or ‘waypoints’ that can be sent directly to a GPS device from Simply choose a geocache to find and click ‘send to GPS’.

On the side of a windswept mountain or on an expanse of beach, there are geocaches hidden right across the UK. Most have been set up by keen members of the public with our permission. But some, organised by our staff, also mark out a trail where your mission is to seek out more than one cache as part of a walking route.

Once you’ve found the treasure box – what will you discover inside? Most caches tend to have a log book for you to leave a message in and the satisfaction of finding the box is a reward in itself. But often you will also find a strange array of trinkets that people have left to swap. These can range from a key ring or a small toy to a pine cone or a pretty pebble. It’s important to remember that if you take a treasure out of the box, you should leave another trinket in its place. So come prepared! Always leave the cache in the same place and in the same condition as it was found for the next visitor. Sometimes there may even be a clue leading you on to more hidden treasure nearby."

Ashdown Park is one of the many places where geocaches have been hidden with the Trust's permission. These range from a special trail through the woods to a spectacular hide high on the top of Weathercock Hill to an earthcache exploring the sarsen stones. Here is a link to one of the caches to give you a taster!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Lime Avenue

The Lime Avenue at Ashdown, which runs north from the car park, parallel to the North Avenue, is in full blossom at the moment and the scent is beautiful. The trees also hum because of the number of insects harvesting the nectar! As a tribute to the beautiful lime trees and their scent I am posting up a couple of lime blossom recipes that you might like to try.

The Wild Man Wild Food site offers Carragheen Wild Cherry Mousse, which can be made with lime blossom rather than cherries. It sounds delicious. Check out his recipes here!

Lime blossom tea is also a soothing remedy with a sweet aroma. To make lime blossom tea, pour one cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of the dried flowers. Cover the pot and let the tea brew for about ten minutes. Lime blossom tea can be taken as a herbal tea to sooth anxiety and fatigue and also as a remedy for fevers.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Sir William Craven - Gentleman?

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of The City Madam at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon. This would have been enough of a treat on its own but the fact that the play, a satiric comedy, was written in 1632 and reflects on the consumer culture of the early 17th century was an added bonus. The story contrasts the city and the court, new money and old and as such throws a contemporary spotlight (okay, that's an anachronism but you know what I mean) on precisely the society in which Sir William Craven, founder of the Craven family fortunes, rose to prominence.

The playright, Philip Massinger, was the son of a provincial gentleman and a tradesman's daughter who was very familiar with the scramble up the social ladder in 17th century society. As such he was well-placed to ask the question "What makes a gentleman?" John Evelyn, in The Mode, 1661, complained: "How many times have I saluted the fine man for the master, and stood with my hat off to the gay feather, when I found the bird to be all this while but a daw." Clothes, it seems, not birth, did maketh the gentleman, at least superficially.

In scene two of The City Madam Sir Maurice Lacy makes fun of the gentleman Mr Plenty with the following words: "Thy great-grandfather was a butcher, and his son a grazier; thy sire constable of the hundred and thou the first of thy dunghill created gentleman." This demonstrates the arrogance but also the fear and dislike that the aristocracy had for those rich men on the rise.

One of the themes of the play is that there should be a distinction between the city and the court. Wives of city merchants, no matter how rich, should not ape their betters in the aristocracy, either in terms of their dress or in their proud attititudes. Their social climbing is ridiculous; inappropriate and a poor example. The character of Lady Frugal, for example, dresses with extraordinary ostentation in her silks and furs despite the fact that she is the daughter of a country farmer who was only "ladified" because her husband made a fortune.

Sir William Craven fits beautifully into this profile of a man on the make. He came from a poor family, he was a self-made man and he rose to be Lord Mayor of London. He married late, when he had made his pile, into the rich mercantile class to which he now belonged. He bought himself a knighthood. His wife was thereby "ladyfied." Craven was also renowned for his charitable giving - another feature of rich London merchants - both in the City and back home in Yorkshire where he endowed a school, rebuilt the parish church, paid for a bridge and causeway to be built and undertook many other good works. He was also a moneylender to the aristocracy, which increased his fortune immeasurably.

Despite this rampant and some might say entirely admirable social climbing, Craven was still very much a man of the upper middle classes, not the aristocracy, when he died in 1618. What happened next in the Craven family, though, was possibly even more interesting in terms of upward mobility. In his will Craven specified that his wife (for obvious reasons now one of the most sought-after widows in London!) should invest some of his billions in land. This she did, buying estates at Combe Abbey, Ashdown, and Stokesay amongst many others. This was an interesting move. Arguably land was a good investment but it also had strong social implications as well. Craven was posthumously moving his fortune and his family's social positioning from the middle to the upper class.

The transformation of a "poor" family into an aristocratic one was achieved in only two generations when Sir William Craven's sons William and John became respectively First Earl of Craven and Baron Craven of Ryton. The entire family in fact moved up the social scale with Sir William's brothers and sisters and their children becoming country gentry and moving on the edge of aristocratic society. At the end of the 16th century no one would for a moment have considered the apprentice William Craven to be a gentleman. In 1664 his sons were undeniably aristocrats in that they both held titles in the peerage.

Interestingly William First Earl of Craven chose not to further consolidate his family's position in the aristocracy through a rich marriage. A suggested betrothal between him and Lady Mary Cavendish did not come off and he never married at all. And although he was undeniably a member of the court and prominent in the aristocracy, old prejudices of blood and title still persisted. The First Earl was very much looked down upon as an arriviste by members of the "old" nobility. It was ever thus...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

One Man and His Dog

Rupert of the Rhine, son of Elizabeth of Bohemia and nephew of King Charles I was renowned for his love of animals, a curious and rather endearing trait in a man also known for his ferocity in battle! In this he was said to take after his mother who, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, was recorded as “preferring her dogs, her hunting and her monkeys to her children, in that order,” according to her youngest child Princess Sophie. Perhaps this explains why Elizabeth was estranged from all her children at one time or another.

It was said that when Rupert was little more than a boy and captured during one of the battles in the Thirty Years War he had a pet hare to keep him company in prison and trained it to open the door of his cell. Now that I would have liked to have seen... Given that Rupert also had a pet dog at the time, it would have been interesting to see how the dog and the hare interacted.

The most famous of Prince Rupert’s dogs was a standard poodle called Boy or Boye, who ran with his cavalry. Boy was a particular target for the Roundheads, who became obsessed with the idea that he was Rupert’s familiar and attributed various magic powers to him, including that he was fluent in several languages, that he was invulnerable in battle and that he could put a spell on the enemy. Boy began to feature in Roundhead propaganda. In a pamphlet of 1643, “Observations upon Prince Rupert’s Dogge called Boy” the writer reported that Boy sat beside Rupert in council meetings and that the King himself allowed Boy to sit on the throne. Boy attended church services most… doggedly. After one Royalist victory it was said that Prince Rupert and his officers sat up all night drinking in celebration and raising a toast to Boy. The Roundheads tried both poison and prayer to destroy “this Popish profane dog, more than halfe a divill, a kind of spirit.” Although the dog was a white poodle they depicted him as black in the propaganda pictures in order to identify him with the traditional colour of the devil.

Almost inevitably, Boy fell prey to a Roundhead bullet at the Battle of Marston Moor. The Puritans claimed in another pamphlet, “A Dog’s elegy, or Rupert’s Tears” that Boy had been “killed by a valiant soldier who had skill in Necromancy.” The verse ran:

“Lament poor cavaliers, cry, howl and yelp,
For the great losse of your malignant whelp.”

In an age of superstition it is easy to see why men might attribute magic powers to such a creature and also why the enemy might use it as a symbol of the Royalist cause. To the cavaliers, Boy was a talisman and they mourned his loss very deeply. Boy went down in the Army records as the first official British Army dog.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Palatine Pets!

In a memorable line in her memoirs, Sophie of Hanover, youngest daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, commented that her mother preferred "her hunting, her dogs and her monkeys" to her children. This may be a little unfair - Sophie was renowned for her sharp tongue and her criticisms of Lord Craven, amongst others, were somewhat ungrateful perhaps - but there was certainly some truth in the fact that Elizabeth was devoted to her animals.

Even as a girl at Combe Abbey Elizabeth had a pet dog, a "ruffle dog" as he was referred to in the accounts when Lord Harington paid twelve pence for his shearing. She also had pet monkeys, who slept on beds of herbs and cotton that cost three pence, and parrots, whose cages were renovated by a joiner for three shillings and ten pence.

After her marriage Elizabeth took her dogs and her monkeys with her to Heidelberg where Frederick extended and modernised his palace to include a monkey house and menagerie. Friends sent Elizabeth pets; Irish dogs and more monkeys which were apparently shunned by the older ones already in residence. Elizabeth loved her monkeys so much they were referred to as her "jewels" and they became so conceited with her attention that they would come to no one but her. She would play with them every morning.

There is a story that when Frederick and Elizabeth were forced to flee Prague after the Battle of the White Mountain, a servant was hurrying through the palace checking that nothing of importance had been left behind and discovered that Prince Rupert had been left behind in the nursery. He rushed out to the carriage with the child, only to find that Elizabeth had made sure that her monkeys were safely on board! Whether or not this is true, by the time she had been in exile in The Hague for a few years, Elizabeth's menagerie had increased to thirty dogs and monkeys. Jack, the most senior monkey, would sit by her writing-desk in the salon. Apollon, her favourite dog, was a beautiful greyhound. Right until the end of her life, in fact, Elizabeth took solace in her menagerie and in her letters often enquired into the health of her relatives' pets whilst sometimes forgetting to ask after their family!

Some of the portraits of Elizabeth feature animals though in the 16th and 17th century the inclusion of an animal in a painting might have a symbolic meaning rather than indicate that it was necessarily a pet. Dogs in particular have been human companions for thousands of years and so might feature alongside other possessions. Their close connection to the sports of hunting and shooting also make them obvious choices to include. In Elizabeth's case, though, it seems likely that the animals that appeared in her portraits were real pets.

Of her family, Prince Rupert notably inherited Elizabeth's love of animals (despite having had to take second place to a monkey) and next time I will be blogging about Rupert and his dog Boye.

Monday, 28 February 2011

The Lost Battle

Today for your pleasure a historical mystery... It's not unusual for the site of an ancient battle to be disputed, unknown for certain in the present day, and the location of the Battle of Ashdown, which took place in January 871AD, has long given rise to discussion. From Compton, near Streatley on the River Thames, to Uffington Castle and various other points east, the Battle of Ashdown has been mooted to have taken place in several places that fit the somwhat vague geographical description given is Asser's life of King Alfred: that of a place where the Danes held the high ground and there was a lone thorn tree. Sadly this doesn't really narrow the field a great deal.

As a brief background: In 870, the Danes embarked on an invasion of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex. They sailed up the Thames and came ashore at Maidenhead in Berkshire. Moving inland, they captured Reading and began fortifying the site as their base. The Danish commanders, Kings Bagsecg and Halfdan Ragnarsson, were supported by five Earls. They met considerable resistance from Aethelwulf the Earl of Berkshire, who was backed up by King Ethelred of Wessex and his younger brother, Alfred. After initial successes Ethelred planned an assault on the Danes' camp at Reading but was unable to break through the defences and was driven back to the Berkshire Downs. The Danes, seeing an opportunity now to crush the Saxons and take Wessex, rode out from Reading with the bulk of their army to take on the Saxons on the Berkshire Downs. Where did this encounter occur?

Local legend tells of Alfred riding to Blowingstone Hill near Kingston Lisle to use the ancient sarsen blowing stone to call all men to battle. He then mustered his forces at "Alfred's Castle" the Iron Age hill fort west of Ashdown House, joined with his brother's troops who had been encamped at Hardwell Camp, and rode to do battle with the Danes at nearby Uffington Castle. All well and good, but other sources place the site of the battle elsewhere on the Berkshire Downs, at Compton, near East Ilsley, and in other places to the east, along the Ridgeway, closer to the Thames and to Reading. No one knows for certain... One could say that the clue is in the name but during the Saxon period the word "Ashdown" referred to the entire expanse of the Berkshire Downs.

Recently I read a fascinating and cogently argued article by the late local historian Peter Knott that drew on field names and other local evidence to place the Battle of Ashdown to the south west of Ashbury village, along the escarpment that borders the Ridgeway. Up until the mid-eighteenth century this escarpment was too steep to cultivate for crops; even now the steepest inclines are covered in trees. Ancient records identify this area of land as called "The Wayte," a name that can be traced back to usage in the 13th century. Margaret Gelling, in "The Place Names of Berkshire" gives the meaning of the wayte as a look out place, but an alternative is given in the Oxford English Dictionary: an ambush. This meaning is still in use today in the form of "lying in wait." Could this be a record in a place name, a piece of land where the Saxon lookouts patrolled and Alfred's army lay in wait for the Danes as they marched out of Reading?

One of the most intriguing aspects of the case is the reference in a charter of 947AD to a place near Ashbury called Rammesburi or The Ravens' Fort. This raven is the familiar of Woden, the Teutonic god of war and death. It also has sinister connections in literature as a bird that haunts battlefields. Today the location of the Ravens' Fort is lost, but we know from the charter that it lay on the boundary of Ashbury lands. Could the Ravens' Fort have been named in memory of the Battle of Ashdown? As a final twist, ravens are birds that habitually nest in the same places that they have inhabited for centuries. Today there are ravens on Weathercock Hill, to the east of Ashdown...

"Alfred moved his army against the enemy... The opposing armies clashed violently... The Vikings took ignominious flight, and many thousands were slain over the whole broad expanse of Ashdown..." Asser.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Ashdown House - The Ultimate Romantic Gesture!

It is the ultimate in romantic gestures. Ashdown House is a Valentine’s Day gift in bricks and mortar (or chalk, actually), a house built by the Earl of Craven for the love of a woman who never lived to see it – Elizabeth of Bohemia, The Winter Queen. On Elizabeth’s return to England from exile in 1661 the Earl of Craven, knowing of her desire to live quietly in the country, commissioned not one but two houses for her pleasure. The first, Hamstead Marshall, was designed to mirror Elizabeth’s palace in Heidelberg. The second, Ashdown, was a hunting lodge so that Elizabeth could continue to pursue her lifelong passion for hunting.

In honour of the approach of St Valentine’s Day, the fascinating blog lostpastremembered, which marries food and history, has posted a piece about William, Elizabeth and Ashdown. As well as detailing the Earl of Craven’s devotion to his lady over the course of forty years, the blog piece gives a wonderful insight into all things culinary from the period, from the way the table would be laid for a banquet at Elizabeth and Frederick of Bohemia’s castle in Heidelberg, to a stunning recipe for Raspberry Sauce with Port to complement the romance of the story. You can read the whole post here - and make the dessert as well if you wish!