Friday, 31 August 2012

The A-Z of Ashdown

Today we are starting a new feature on the blog, an A-Z of Ashdown covering various aspects historical, geographical, mythical and others that defy categorisation! I did consider doing a reverse alphabet and starting with Z but I think there will probably be a few letters we'll be scraping around to find topics for and Z is probably one of them. So I'll start with A, which has a number of potential Ashdown-related topics.

First there is Ashdown - the physical location, the "down covered in ash trees" which features in the Anglo-Saxon records as the generic name for the entire line of the Downs. This was the site of the Battle of Ashdown and local tradition places the battle on the land between Alfred's Castle and the Bronze Age Barrows to the south (more of them when we get to B!)

Then there is Ashdown House itself and Alfred's Castle, the Iron Age settlement. There is also the historic village of Ashbury, of which Ashdown became the "big house" in 1662. Ashbury has its own 15th century manor house, an ancient church, parts of which go back to the Norman period, and lots of other interesting historical features. It definitely deserves a blog piece.

There is also the airfield. During the Second World War there was an airfield to the north of the Mile Drive, by Red Barn Cottages. It ran east to west and there is still a gap in the trees where it cut through that is visible from the path that runs down from the Ridgeway to Red Barn. Parts of the old metal
interlocking landing strip can apparently be seen in the garden of Old Forge in Ashbury. British, American and Canadian troops were stationed at Ashdown (more on them when we reach W!) and they flew Spitfires and Mustangs out of the airfield (this is attested to by the paintings of Spitfires and Mustangs that were found on the walls of the drawing room after the troops had left. There was also a lifesize painting of Rita Hayworth!) There was a canteen at Red Barn and some of the crockery is still being dug up out of the fields whenever they are ploughed.

Local people remember two plane crashes at Ashdown. The first was a Mustang that caught fire as it was coming in to land. The second was when a plane that was landing at the airfield collided with a motorcyclist on the B4000. There are various memories of the Second World War recorded as part of the Ashbury Living History Project. We don't have much written information on the role of the Ashdown airfield so if anyone knows anything of Ashdown's wartime history, please get in touch!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Keith Blaxhall

Today on the blog we would like to commemorate Keith Blaxhall, who died last Saturday. Keith was Head Warden at Ashdown House for many years, loved the estate deeply and always spoke of what a very special place it is. He was hugely knowledgeable about all aspects of Ashdown and was always generous in sharing his knowledge and expertise with others. I know many colleagues and friends will have their own special memories of Keith. I will always appreciate the time he took to encourage my writing about Ashdown and make available to me all the papers and documents he had on the history of the house and the estate. We had many chats about different aspects of the estate's history, from Bronze age archaeology to the Second World War airfield. He showed me the holloways running through the woods and where the rare Herb Paris grows.

Keith was also very active in the Coleshill Auxilliary Research Team and in their tribute to him they write: "He leaves a wife and family and a huge void in the hearts of local historians." A beautiful summary of Keith's contribution and the impact of his loss. Thank you, Keith.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Last Phase of the Conservation Project

Ashdown House is now closed until August 24th for the final phase of the conservation project, which involves the dismantling of the scaffolding and the decoration of the interior. The house will be open on Saturday 25th August although the portrait collection will not be back in place until September nor will the roof platform be open. It's been a long and complicated project but it has also been a fascinating one, revealing so much about the house and its history. We are very excited that the fully restored Ashdown House is about to be revealed!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Kreative Blogger Award

Thank you to Mrs Black’s This ‘n That for awarding the Ashdown House Blog the Kreative Blogger Award! We are all very honoured. Look out for a black cat on your visits to Ashdown as Minerva the shoppe keeping cat can sometimes be seen strolling around the grounds. We love her eclectic blog!

Upon acceptance of such award it is traditional that the recipients carry out the following instruction. We are to share with you 10 things you may not have previously known about us, and to recommend 10 blogs that are worthy of the Kreative Award.

So here are ten things you may or may not already know about Ashdown House:

Elizabeth of Bohemia never saw Ashdown, the house William Craven built for her, because she died before it was completed. However her son, the dashing Prince Rupert of the Rhine did visit the house, as did his equally dashing cousin King Charles II.

The entwined initials of William Craven and Elizabeth were carved onto the original gateposts at Ashdown.

The house has a box parterre garden because this was considered a “masculine” garden design to complement the hunting lodge which was considered to be a “masculine” building.

There is said to be a secret passageway cut through the chalk connecting Ashdown to the manor house at Russley Down several miles away.

At the beginning of the 18th century Ashdown was used by Jacobites plotting the restoration of the Catholic succession.

There was an icehouse at Ashdown. There's a blog piece about it here. There may not be much of it left now but it was a jolly interesting building in its time!

The weathervane on the roof of the Victorian stables is original and features a coach and horses and also sports an earl’s coronet!

The Craven state coach was painted gold with a blue velvet interior and was even more elaborate than that belonging to Queen Victoria. It is now housed in the Carriage Museum at Arlington Court which is well worth a visit.

Ashdown is haunted by the ghost of stable lad and by the sound of a baby crying in the woods. Some of us have heard the crying and also seen shadowy figures and candlelight behind the shuttered windows of the house. Over the years there have been several other ghostly sightings as well.

There is only one staircase at Ashdown and no servants’ stair. The staircase turns in an anti-clockwise direction to allow a right-handed swordsman the advantage when fighting down the stair.

10 blogs we recommend:

There are so many wonderful blogs out there and we already feature some we follow on our sidebar. Here we’ve chosen a few that represent the different aspects of our interests at Ashdown, including history and natural history.

Number 1 London - The best address in London! A blog with an interest in England past and present.

The Purple Empire - All about butterflies from the National Trust expert, Matthew Oates.

Fair Isle Bird Observatory The blog of the world famous bird observatory on the wild and beautiful island of Fair Isle. 

Hoydens and Firebrands - Various fascinating aspects of 17th century history.

Status, Scandal and Subterfuge - Frances Bevan writes about the history of the St John family and their mansion Lydiard Park. Not only did the St John and Craven family intermarry, the St Johns were also involved in the Jacobite plotting of the 18th century (see above!) 

Two Nerdy History Girls - Two great historical authors who consistently reveal extraordinary and fascinating facts about many different aspects of history.

Untold Lives - The British Library sharing stories from the past.

Puppy with a Purpose - We have to confess to a vested interest here. Puppy with a Purpose is the blog of our very own guide dog puppy in training, Rochester, and is all about his experiences as he learns to be a fully qualified Guide Dog. Rochester is sponsored by Swindon Guide Dogs and pays lots of visits to Ashdown, enjoying running in the woods in his time off duty!

 Jane Austen's World - Bringing Jane Austen, her books and the Regency period alive. We are very proud of the Craven/Austen connection here at Ashdown House!

Georgian London - Fascinating and fabulous!