Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Remember, Remember the 5th of November!

By virtue of its connection to Elizabeth of Bohemia, Ashdown House has a link to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the 5th November Guy Fawkes’ celebrations. Coombe Abbey, the main family seat of the Cravens, has a far greater connection, being the house in which Elizabeth was living at the time of the Gunpowder Plot.

It was the intention of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 conspirators to kill King James I and his eldest son and heir, Prince Henry, plus all the nobility sitting in the House of Lords and all the members of parliament sitting in the House of Commons. They wanted to put a Catholic monarch on the throne. The plot was thwarted when Henry Parker, 4th Lord Monteagle, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend parliament:

“My lord out of the love i beare to some of youere frends i have a caer of youer preseruacion therfor i would advyse yowe as yowe tender youer lyf to devys some excuse to shift of youer attendance at this parleament for god and man hath concurred to punishe the wickednes of this tyme… for thowghe theare be no appearance of anni stir yet i saye they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament and yet they shall not seie who hurts them…”

Monteagle was married to the sister of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, Thomas Tresham. Monteagle took the letter to Robert Cecil, who informed the King. The king ordered a search of the cellars at the Palace of Westminster. The plot was discovered and Monteagle became the hero who saved Parliament. He was rewarded to the sum of £700 a year - £500 in cash and £200 in the value of land donated to him. He invested the money in business ventures in Virginia.

One of the lesser-known aspects of the Gunpowder Plot is what the plotters intended to happen if they had
actually succeeded. Their aim was to put James I’s daughter Elizabeth on the throne as a catholic figurehead. In 1605 the nine-year-old Elizabeth was living at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire.  Lord and Lady Harington, staunch Protestants, had been charged with "the keeping and education" of the young Princess, as was the wont with royal children in those days. At Coombe, Elizabeth was taught amongst other things, French and Italian, music and dancing. King James did not approve of the education of women, stating that: "to make women learned and foxes tame had the same effect - to make them more cunning." However I think we may assume that by most people's standards Elizabeth was very well educated.

In late October 1605 strange rumours of a plot to overthrow the monarchy were circulating in Warwickshire, which was a stronghold of Catholicism. Lord Harington was warned of a threat to the princess and Elizabeth was taken for her own safety to the city of Coventry, for it was suspected that she might be seized should a rebellion take place. She was lodged in the city with an armed guard. Later, after the gunpowder plotters had been arrested and tortured, it emerged that it had been their intention to kidnap "the person of the Lady Elizabeth, the king's daughter, in Warwickshire, and presently proclaim her queen." The plan had been to seize her from Coombe Abbey and carry her off to Ashby St Legers, a Catholic safe house and the home of Lady Catesby, mother of one of the conspirators.

It is said that when Elizabeth heard of the plot she said: “What a Queen I should have been by this means! I had rather been with my royal father in the Parliament House than wear his crown on such condition.”

For the blog post about other houses connected to the Gunpowder Plot, click here:

Happy November 5th!

Friday, 1 November 2013

St Hubert's Day

It's a busy week for anniversaries at Ashdown House. On Sunday it is St Hubert's Day. Hubert was born in about 656AD and was the first Bishop of Liege. He is the patron saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers. Interesting mix! He features in full bishop's regalia in the picture to the left which was taken in the Craven Chapel at Ashbury Church.

During the Victorian and Edwardian period, Ashdown House had its own chapel and private choir (which is another, fascinating story). The chapel was located in Ashdown village and was dedicated to St Hubert as the most appropriate saint for a hunting lodge. Choosing St Hubert as Ashdown's patron saint also underlined the importance that the 3rd Earl of Craven and his Countess placed on hunting, which was one of their great passions. They lived permanently at Ashdown and kept a pack of hounds in the kennels there.

The chapel was demolished in the early 20th century and rather curiously was divided into two parts which became the church halls in two local villages. Half of the chapel is pictured to the right!

The Craven Chapel in Ashbury Parish Church  is also dedicated to St Hubert. It contains a beautiful stained glass window of a hunting scene, pictured left, as well as various memorials associated with the Craven family.

Next week here on the blog we are also celebrating Guy Fawkes Night via The Winter Queen and her links to the gunpowder plot. Check back on the 5th for the whole story!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Ashdown Parterre

The letter P, in the A - Z of Ashdown, stands for the parterre. The current Ashdown House parterre of box and gravel, laid out in S scrolls in the 17th century style, was created in the 1950s when the house came into the care of the NT. The previous elaborate Victorian parterre had been destroyed during the war and the rationale for choosing a 17th century parterre design was that since the 19th century additions to the house had been demolished and it had been taken back to its original 17th century style, it made sense to match this with a 17th century garden.

When the house was built it had gardens on the north and south side rather than to the west, as can be seen in the engraving by Kip from the early 18th century. Whilst it's not possible to see the detail of these they were very plain. The hunting lodge was considered in the 17th century to be a masculine style of building and a plain box and gravel parterre was a masculine style of garden to match. So the parterre we have today, whilst not identical to the original, is in keeping with the 17th century style of the house and contemporary garden design.

In the mid-Victorian period the Cravens did much work to their
houses at Ashdown and Coombe Abbey, including a major garden restyling at both properties. At Coombe this work was carried out in 1860 by the architect and garden designer William Eden Nesfield. It's likely that he also worked on the Ashdown alterations. His father William Andrews Nesfield was an eminent garden designer who specialised in parterres so it is tempting to speculate that he had an input into the new garden at Ashdown. The Italianate style parterre was very fashionable in this era with intricate flowerbeds, colourful herbaceous borders featuring exotic species, fountains and paths of coloured glass. We have detailed photographs of this parterre garden so know exactly what it looked like.

Friday, 4 October 2013

O for an Octagonal Cupola!

“O” is for the octagonal cupola on Ashdown’s roof. A cupola is defined as “a small, often dome-like structure on top of a building.” As at Ashdown, it usually crowns a larger roof and in Ashdown’s case is built as a “lantern” of timber and glass. This style is a classic of Restoration architecture and can be seen elsewhere, at Belton House in Lincolnshire and at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. This photograph shows the Ashdown cupola as it was before last year’s restoration project.

The Kyp drawing of Ashdown that dates from the early 18th century suggests that the original octagonal cupola featured wooden panels in the lantern as well as panes of glass. Certainly we know that the style of the cupola has changed over the 350 years of its existence; successive renovations at times reduced it to four panels, increased it again to eight, displayed trompe l’oeil panels and sometimes replaced the plain glass with coloured panes. This photograph, taken from one of the interpretation panels in the Information Centre, dates from the early 20th century and shows restoration work taking place on the cupola and roof.

The lantern style of the cupola, with so much glass, allows lots of light into the stairway below. In the 19th century there was a lamp lit in the cupola at night, giving Ashdown its name of “the lighthouse of the Downs.” More than one traveller of the track from Lambourn across the top of the Downs used it to navigate by.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

N For North

In the A - Z of Ashdown we are now at N. N is for the North Avenue, a mile long ride that cuts through both Hailey and Middle Woods and ends in a haha by an ancient holloway. The current design of the woods, with its avenues of trees,  rides and glades, was created in the 18th century. At that time picturesque little lodge buildings, now lost, were built halfway along the North Avenue to frame the view.

When the house was originally built the hunting forest was more thickly wooded and the rides were not as formalised. You can see a stylised version of what it looked like in this engraving by Kyp from the early 18th century. The North Avenue contains an ancient badger sett, at least 700 years old, and along the western edge of the wood are two oak trees dating from the 17th century.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The medieval hunting lodge

We've reached M in the A - Z of Ashdown. M is for the medieval hunting lodge that stood on the site long before the current house was built.

The pre-Restoration history of Ashdown Park is fascinating. The name Ashdown is an ancient one. It is first mentioned in a chronicle of 777AD when King Offa of Mercia advanced as far west as the nearby village of Ashbury in his battles against the West Saxons. It is, as previously mentioned, also a strong contender for the site of King Alfred’s Battle of Ashdown of 871AD when he defeated the Vikings. 

In 953AD the manor of Ashbury including the lands that were then known as Aysshen Park came into the possession of Glastonbury Abbey.  They remained part of the Abbey’s lands until the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539. We know that there was a house built for the Abbot in Ashbury as early as the 13th century and that Ashbury Manor was built in 1488 as a guesthouse for travellers and pilgrims from Glastonbury to Canterbury. At the same time, Ashdown Park was being developed as a hunting ground for the abbey. The King granted the abbot a licence of free warren at Ashbury in 1330 and also a licence to hunt which meant that he could both breed and hunt game on the site.

Documentary evidence tells us that by 1204, Ashdown Upper Wood was surrounded by a park pale, a high ditch and bank to keep the deer inside. You can still see the remains of the park pale in the fields to this day. Inside medieval deer parks there were areas of woodland, spinneys and lawns or grassy clearings, very similar in fact to the way that Upper Wood still looks today.

There was also a hunting lodge. We don’t know what it would have looked like. Most medieval hunting
lodges of this sort are lost to us now; either they fell into ruin or they became part of larger buildings. This picture is of a 14th century hunting lodge in East Anglia that belonged to an abbey so it gives us an idea of what the Ashdown hunting lodge might have looked like. It would have been a substantial building that demonstrated the wealth and social standing of its owner – exactly like the current Ashdown House. Ashdown Park would have been a target for armed poachers so the lodge would need to be defensible. It would also have provided accommodation for the abbot’s gamekeeper and also possibly for hunting parties.

One final question remains. Where was the Ashdown hunting lodge located? Hunting lodges were often on the highest part of the hunting ground, which would have put it at the top of Upper Wood. However, English Heritage records suggest that there was an earlier building on the site of the current Ashdown House, which is another alternative. The farmhouse in Ashdown village, which dates from 1617, also incorporates a medieval core so that is a third possibility. It is another Ashdown mystery. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ashdown in a Golden Light!

We liked this photograph of Ashdown so much we wanted to share it on the blog. It was taken yesterday evening along the North Avenue.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

An Actress in the Family

In the A-Z of Ashdown we have reached L. L is for Louisa. Louisa Brunton is one of the fascinating characters in the Craven family. Born between 1782 and 1785, Louisa was the daughter of a grocer turned actor and theatrical impresario. For part of his career her father John Brunton was manager of the theatre at Brighton where the Prince of Wales was his patron. Louisa’s brother John was also an actor and theatre manager, and two of her sisters, Elizabeth and Anne, became actresses. They were a theatrical dynasty.

The youngest of John Brunton’s six daughters, Louisa made her stage debut on 5th October 1803 at Covent Garden, playing Lady Townley in the 'Provoked Husband' opposite John Kemble as Lord Townley. She followed this role with that of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. The “Theatrical Inquisitor” for November 1803 described her as “extremely handsome and striking” with features expressive of archness and vivacity. One critic predicted a glittering future for her and gushed that she was both beautiful and gifted. Other gossip-writers agreed on her charm and the perfection of her face and figure.

Many other roles followed between 1803 and December 1807. It is interesting to note that from the start the respectable antecedents of Louisa and her family were emphasised in all the newspaper reports and biographies. She was from a professional theatrical family. She was not a courtesan.

Louisa's last performance was as Clara Sedley in Reynolds's comedy 'The Rage.' In 1805, William, 7th
Baron and 1st Earl of Craven of the 2nd Creation had become one of Louisa’s admirers. In 1807 Mrs Calvert wrote in her diary: “She is certainly a very handsome woman but I don’t think her looks pleasing. She has prodigious fine black eyes, but she rolls them about too much. Lord Craven is supposed to be very much in love with her and many think he will marry her.” He did; they were married on 12th December 1807. The marriage took place at the Earl’s London town house in Charles Street, Berkeley Square. The groom was thirty-seven and the bride’s age was given as twenty-five. Louisa left the stage behind. The Earl and Countess of Craven went to live at the earl’s estate of Hamstead Marshall in Berkshire, christening several of their children in the church there.

With the family connections between the Cravens and Jane Austen, it was only natural that Louisa Craven should be an avid reader of Jane Austen's work. In 1816 she was recorded as being a great admirer of Emma but apparently did not think it the equal of Pride and Prejudice.

The earl, like his forebears, was keen on field sports and horse racing. He was also a founder member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and in 1809 named his yacht Louisa. It was in Cowes that he died in 1825, aged 55. Louisa became the Dowager Countess with an income of £15 000 a year. She continued to live at Hamstead Marshall whilst her eldest son, the 2nd Earl, chose Ashdown as his main seat. The family was close with the earl and his brothers Frederick Keppel and George and sister Louisa frequently visiting their mother at Hamstead.

The original grand “palace” at Hamstead Marshall had burned down in 1718 and Hamstead Lodge developed as a hunting lodge in its place, probably from one of the original 17th century buildings on the estate. During Louisa’s occupancy this house was remodelled in the Regency style and it was later extended again. Having left the ranks of the middle classes to join the aristocracy, Louisa seems to have been intent on maintaining a grand style. Perhaps her theatrical experience stood her in good stead for the role of great lady. She employed a liveried butler and attended church in a coach and four complete with postillions. She had a French cook. One of Louisa Craven’s main interests was garden design and she had a whole army of gardeners and a park-keeper in her household. The gardens at Hamstead Marshall became renowned for their beauty.

Louisa Craven died in 1860 at the age of 79. Her funeral took place at Coombe Abbey and she was buried in the Craven family vault at Binley. However there was a memorial service for her at Hamstead Marshall and it was here that she was particularly remembered as a generous benefactor to the church and the village school, and for the dances and suppers she held for villagers and tenants. She had become the perfect epitome of a grand aristocratic lady.

I am indebted to Deirdre Le Faye for the information on Jane Austen's Emma and to Penelope Stokes for the detail of Louisa Craven's life at Hamstead Marshall. Penny's book, Craven Country, is available here.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Talk on the History of Ashdown Park

Advance notice that there will be a fundraising talk for Ashbury Village Hall on "The History of Ashdown
Park and the Craven Family" on 22nd June at 7.30pm. The talk will take place in the village hall and there will be an exhibition of pictures and artefacts from the house as well. Supper is included in the £6 ticket price. It's a bargain! Contact 01793 710800 for tickets.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Craven State Chariot

A couple of weeks ago I visited our National Trust colleagues at Arlington Court and went to the National Carriage Collection. One of the stars of this wonderful museum is the Craven state chariot and it was great to be able to see the carriage in real life. I am indebted to Katy Dainton at Arlington for the following information.

"This chariot is one of the most important carriages in the collection. Not only is it in original un-restored condition, but also it is an example of the work of Hooper & Co., one of the very finest London coachbuilders of the 19th century.  It has silver-plated furniture including axle caps and stock hoops, head plates (the crests of the Craven family on the upper quarter panels), snake head body loops and beautiful decorative terminations to the plated pin beads.  It also has the silver-plated coats of arms of the family on the hammer cloth.  The interior is beautifully lined in a bright, very rich shade of blue damask.
It is called a chariot because of the shape of the body.  A coach seats four inside the body, and therefore has
a seat ahead of the doors and one behind them.  A chariot only seats two on a seat behind the doors.  This chariot was built for the Earl of Craven between 1831 and 1836.  State carriages were only owned by the nobility and used on very important occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament, society weddings and grand receptions. This very limited use has kept it, and other vehicles like it, in excellent condition."

I had a good look inside the chariot and it was much smaller than I had imagined, positively cosy! The blue damask is very opulent. It was also great to get a good look at the carriage steps. These folded down and were covered in leather. The windows could be lowered and were covered by blinds for privacy. I loved the lamps, which were much bigger than I had imagined, were silver-plated and adorned with the Earl's coronet!

The carriage was made for William, 2nd Earl of the 2nd creation and would have been kept in the mews at his London address at Grosvenor Crescent.

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Ashdown Kitchen Garden

In Victorian times it was usual for large country houses to have a working walled kitchen garden producing food, herbs and flowers for the family, staff and guests. Great houses were largely self-sustaining in terms of food, especially a hunting lodge that provided its own game and meat.

After the Second World War with reductions in the workforce and increasing availability of cheap, imported food, kitchen gardens largely became neglected and many were destroyed. In Ashdown’s case the decline of the kitchen garden dates from the mid-1920s after Evelyn, Countess of Craven died and the house was let.

The Ashdown kitchen gardens were laid out some time after 1850. An old map reveals that the kitchen garden was situated on the west side of Ashdown village. We do not have a record of the layout and design of the beds but we do know that these lay behind the high sarsen wall that is still visible today (pictured). The area of the kitchen garden is now a paddock. In front of the sarsen wall, between the wall and the road, were potting sheds, a mushroom house and greenhouses that could be heated. These were built up against the sarsen wall and the outline of the fireplace and flue is still visible today. What we do not know is where the water would have come from for the gardens, a fascinating mystery.

The hothouses would have contained grapevines and other fruit that would be trained to grow up against the
walls. There may also have been pineapples, which were very fashionable, figs, melons, peaches, apples and pears, gooseberries, rhubarb, raspberries and redcurrants grown inside soft fruit cages. Vegetables in the Victorian kitchen garden included asparagus, broad and runner beans, onions, turnips, spinach, cabbages, potatoes, cauliflower, kale, beetroot, carrots, lettuce and Jerusalem artichokes. Salad vegetables, tomatoes and cucumbers, were also grown, alongside herb beds. It is likely that the greenhouses would also contain flowers that could be cut and used for decoration in the house.

According to the census returns there were six gardeners at Ashdown during the later Victorian era but there may have been others who came in to work from the local villages. In addition to the kitchen gardens they also had to keep the formal gardens and parterre looking good.

At Knightshayes House in Devon and a number of other National Trust properties there are existing or restored kitchen gardens and I’m grateful to the information provided by Knightshayes that gives us an insight into the sort of fruit and vegetables that would have been grown at Ashdown. You can read more about National Trust kitchen gardens here.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Is The White Horse Really a Dragon?

To celebrate St George's Day I am posting up an updated blog piece from a couple of years ago. I hope you enjoy it!

Dragon Hill near Uffington in Oxfordshire is in local folklore the place where St George, the patron saint of England (and many other countries), slew the dragon. As "proof" of this deed there is a patch of chalk on the top of the hill where the grass never grows because it is said this was where the dragon's blood was spilt. It's a wonderful legend and a fabulously atmospheric site with the ramparts of Uffington Iron Age Castle looming above and the sweep of the Manger below. It is said that on the night of the seventh moon the ancient chalk figure of the Uffington White Horse comes alive and goes down to the manger to graze.

According to one legend, St George was a soldier in the Roman army who killed the dragon to save a princess in true fairy tale fashion. However as is often the case with legend St George has many incarnations and his story many different interpretations. You can read more about St George here.

Some people believe that the figure of the White Horse is actually a representation of a dragon in homage to
the legend of St George. Another intriguing possibility is that Dragon Hill takes its name from being the burial place of a Pendragon, an early chieftain of Britain. Legend links King Arthur Pendragon to the village of Baydon, which is only a few miles distant. The intriguing connections of myth and legend weave a powerful web around this part of the country.

You can walk to the Uffington White Horse and Dragon Hill from Ashdown House, or vice versa. It is only a few miles along the ancient track of the Ridgeway, past the long barrow at Waylands Smithy. White Horse Hill was this week named by the organisation VisitEngland as one of the top places to visit in the UK. A walk in this historic landscape is a mystical and atmospheric experience.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Jane Austen and King James II

At J in the A-Z of Ashdown House is the Austen family of Jane's fame. I've blogged about Jane's connection to the Cravens and to Ashdown House before and you can see the article here. Louisa, Countess of Craven, was a big fan of Jane's writing, declaring in 1816 that Pride and Prejudice was her favourite of Jane Austen's books, in preference to Emma which she still considered to be very fine. We are very pleased that we have a lovely exhibition board this season which gives some information on the links between the Craven and Austen families.

Meanwhile at J we also have King James II, a friend of the First Earl of
Craven who like his brother Charles and cousin Prince Rupert came to Ashdown for the sport and for other entertainment, no doubt. (Ashdown does has a very impressive wine cellar!) In my research I came across a curious story of how the house at Russley Park, which lies a mile or two away across the downs, was extended especially for a visit from James during the 1680s. Curious because with Ashdown only a few miles distant, why would William Craven entertain the King at Russley?

In a further fascinating twist, there is a legend that a secret tunnel cut through the chalk hillside connects Ashdown with Russley Park. If this is true then it's location is lost today but it does raise the question of what it's purpose could have been. Intriguing!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Ashdown House and the Heidelberg Connection

Last week we had the pleasure of a visit from Nichola Hayton, the President of the German-English Society in Heidelberg, who had come to Ashdown to view the splendid portrait collection bequeathed to William Craven by Elizabeth, the Winter Queen. During this 400th anniversary year of the marriage of Elizabeth and Frederick, the Elector Palatine, there is a series of celebratory events taking place in Heidelberg. The programme can be found here. The Queen is a patron of the festival and the British Ambassador commented that it "is a special expression of the friendship between our two nations." It was a great pleasure to talk to Nichola about the festival and Elizabeth's often overlooked role in 17th century European history.

Here at Ashdown House we are privileged to have a small part
of Elizabeth Stuart's portrait collection on display. It includes some very fine paintings from the 1620s and 1630s from the studios of several Dutch artists as well as the wonderful group portrait by William Dobson of Prince Rupert, Colonel Murray and Colonel Russell. We'd like to encourage art lovers to view this fascinating collection for themselves at Ashdown as part of the anniversary celebrations!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Ice Houses and Iron Age Forts

In the A-Z of Ashdown we have reached I for the Iron Age hill fort and, most appropriately for the weather, Ice Houses. I have blogged about the Ashdown House ice house before - here - and I hope it doesn’t make anyone feel too chilly!

The Iron Age hill fort of Alfred’s Castle lies to the north west of Ashdown House. It is small as hill forts go with a single rampart bank and ditch but it has a large enclosure attached that in aerial photographs shows as crop marks. It is possible that a second ditch was re-used as part of the medieval park pale in 1204. The current bank was originally revetted with sarsen walls but when Ashdown House was built in 1662 these were robbed out to lay the foundations for the house. The antiquarian John Aubrey who passed Ashdown at the time recorded this act of historical vandalism!

Two excavations by Oxford University recorded Bronze Age origins for the site, dating from the 6th century BC. This is an interesting tie-in with the line of four Bronze Age barrows on the horizon, thought to mark a tribal boundary and with the Bronze Age artefacts found on Weathercock Hill. Evidence of an Iron Age roundhouse was found and also a Romano-British building dating from the 2nd to the 4th century AD.  The Roman building was a “villa farmhouse” of fairly high status with six rooms, several of which had an “opus signium” floor of stone and tile. The building was substantially built of stone and had painted walls but no hypocaust or mosaic floors. It is one in a series of early villas in the area.

In 1855 William 2nd Earl of Craven donated a copper Romano-British brooch and two bracelets found there to the British Museum.

Alfred’s Castle was originally known as Ashbury Camp and was given the name Alfred’s Castle in the 18th century when antiquarians wanted to tie it in with King Alfred’s Battle of Ashdown of AD 871. I’ve blogged about the battle in other posts (links here and here) and Ashdown has at least as good a claim to be the site as any, with Alfred’s muster at the hill fort. The Second Earl of Craven also donated a number of other finds from the estate that show Anglo Saxon origins including a knife, shears, spear heads, and a sword. There was also a Viking axe…

In modern times the author James Long used the archaeological dig at Alfred’s Castle as inspiration for his book Silence and Shadows.

There is currently no interpretation board at Alfred’s Castle as we are waiting for the final report from the Oxford University dig so that we can incorporate the details. However it is a site that is well worth seeing as part of the historical landscape.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Hamstead Marshall Palace

Today we’ve reached H in the A – Z of Ashdown and I’m writing about a house built for love of a queen: No, not Ashdown this time, but the grand mansion of Hamstead Marshall, near Newbury. It was at Hamstead that William Craven planned a “miniature Heidelberg” for Elizabeth of Bohemia, The Winter Queen. The intention was to model this mansion on the Palatine palace lost during the 30 Years War. As with many things to do with Craven and Elizabeth the term “miniature” was relative. This was a very grand house indeed. However, after the death of Elizabeth in 1662 its design did not mirror Heidelberg much at all.

Lady Craven, the widow of Sir William Craven, bought the estate of Hamstead from Francis Jhones in 1620 as part of her policy of turning the vast Craven fortune into land ownership. As at Ashdown, building work started some time in 1661 as soon as Lord Craven had returned from exile in Europe. The grand house at Hamstead Marshall was designed by Sir Balthazar Gerbier with the assistance of William Winde. When Gerbier died in the early 1660s Winde took over the design and build. Papers in the Bodleian Library in Oxford give a detailed description of work on the house, which continued for the rest of the 17th century. They include 40 drawings that show designs for gateposts, porticoes and stabling and a floor plan with 30 rooms including a “withdrawing room to repair the records” a “room to repose after bathing” and a distillery, spicery, confectioner’s room and “Lardery.”

As with Kyp’s view of Ashdown, his engraving of Hamstead Marshall is stylised but there is no reason to suppose it is inaccurate in detail. Aerial photographs have shown the outlines of the parterre gardens, and the remaining gateposts show very fine details.

In 1718, 21 years after the death of the first Earl of Craven, Hamstead Marshall burned to the ground when a brazier was left untended on the roof. Very little is left of this magnificent mansion that was originally intended as a palace for a queen.

In her book Craven Country Penelope Stokes writes extensively about the fascinating history of Hamstead Marshall. You can find more information here. http://www.hamsteadmarshall.net/history/cc.pdf

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Commemorating the marriage of the Winter Queen

With the recent 400th anniversary of the wedding of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Frederick, Elector Palatine, there has been a series of programmes on the BBC commemorating the couple and their marriage. There was a feature on the wedding music on the  Early Music Show on Radio 3 on 16th February. Unfortunately this isn't available to listen again but you can download it as a podcast here. The wedding celebrations were organised by Sir Francis Bacon and included over a week of lavish entertainments including music by Robert Johnson, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Campion and John Coperario. There were also 17th century ballads, dances and catches.

In A Point of View on Radio 4 on 24th February Lisa Jardine spoke not only of the celebrity style of the couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge of their day, but also of Elizabeth as a powerful political force in 17th century Europe. You can hear Professor Jardine's programme here and there is an article based on it here.

History Today also featured an article on the marriage of the Winter Queen which is available here. To celebrate the event we are posting up not the portrait of Elizabeth that we have hanging in the collection at Ashdown which shows her in her widowhood but the miniature of her painted in her youth by Nicholas Hilliard. This shows why she was considered to be one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Ashdown House is getting ready for the 2013 Season!

Spring is around the corner, the snowdrops and daffodils are coming through and in less than 2 months, Ashdown House will be open again. We can't wait to show you around!

The 2013 National Trust Handbook does not feature any opening times for Ashdown so we're giving all the dates, times and other information here on the blog in order for people to plan their visits. I'll be repeating this throughout the season. We would like to encourage as many visitors as possible to come to Ashdown because as one of the little gems of the National Trust, this is a house well worth visiting!

Opening times for Ashdown remain unchanged from 2012. Ashdown House and the parterre gardens are open on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, 2pm - 5pm.

The first day of opening is Wednesday April 3rd and the season runs to Wednesday 30th October. The woodland is open all year round every day except for Fridays.

Our rather special guided tours take place at 2.15pm, 3.15pm and 4.15pm. We view the elegant entrance hall, the magnificent 17th century staircase and take in the view from the frankly splendid roof platform. Along the way we take a look at Ashdown's renowned 17th century portrait collection and give visitors some background on the fascinating characters who have been a part of Ashdown's 350 year old history, including the dashing cavalier William, 1st Earl of Craven, Elizabeth Stuart the Winter Queen, King Charles II and even Jane Austen. From the royal court to the servants' hall, Ashdown has a tale to tell!

Throughout the year there will be talks, walks and exhibitions in the Information Centre. Our talented lace makers, wood turners and re-enactors will be around to give people a flavour of 17th century life. For those who prefer to visit at their own pace there are self-guided walks around the gardens and also a children's tour. (Don't miss our gorgeous Balleroy ponies!)

Also not to be missed is the atmospheric Iron Age hillfort of Alfred's Castle, said to be the rallying point for Alfred the Great's army before the Battle of Ashdown against the Vikings in AD871.

The ancient track the Ridgeway is nearby, as is the magnificent hillfort at White Horse Hill and Wayland's Smithy Long Barrow. The picturesque village of Ashbury with its 15th century manor house and pub, The Rose and Crown, is just down the road and there is fabulous walking and cycling all around on Weathercock Hill and the Berkshire Downs.

I hope we have whetted your appetite for a visit!

For more information please see the Ashdown House National Trust page at:

You can follow us on Twitter as well on @AshdownHouseNT

There is also an information line on: 01494 755569.

For all bookings and any other enquiries please do contact the regional office on 01793 710252 or email asdownhouse@nationaltrust.org.uk or direct to this blog at ncornick@madasafish.com

We look forward to seeing you soon!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Commemorating the Battle of Ashdown

The Battle of Ashdown between the West Saxon army and the Danes, took place on 8th January 871 AD. It happened a couple of months before Alfred became King of Wessex. I've blogged about the site of the battle previously and the work local historian Peter Knott did to locate it at Ashbury.  You can read the post here. Today on the anniversary of the battle I'd like to quote from Asser's description of what happened:

"In 871 the Viking army came to Reading. On the third day two of their earls rode out for plunder. Aethelwulf, ealdorman of Berkshire, confronted them at Englefield. The Christians won the victory.

Four days after these things happened, King Aethelred and Alfred assembled an army and went to Reading. They reached the gate of the stronghold. The Vikings burst out. Both sides fought fiercely but the Christians eventually turned their backs and the Vikings won the victory. Aethelwulf fell there. The Vikings, after a short rest, started to advance westwards from Reading.

The Christians, four days later, advanced against the Viking army at Ashdown. The Vikings, splitting into two divisions, organised shield walls. The Christians too split up into two divisions. But Alfred and his men reached the battlefield sooner (than King Ethelred who) was still hearing Mass.

Since the king was lingering still longer in prayer, and the Vikings had reached the battlefield more quickly, Alfred could not oppose the enemy battle-lines any longer without either retreating or attacking, and he moved his army against the enemy.

But the Vikings had taken the higher position, and the Christians were deploying from a lower position. A rather small and solitary thorn tree grew there, around which the opposing armies clashed violently. The Vikings took to ignominious flight and many thousands were slain over the whole broad expanse of Ashdown."

We will never know for certain the exact location of the Battle of Ashdown unless some incontrovertible proof comes to light, which seems unlikely. Here on the Ashdown House blog we are celebrating Alfred's victory and feel Ashbury has as strong an historical claim to be the location as any other site. It's also a wonderful opportunity to post up some of our gorgeous landscape photographs of the surrounding countryside!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Gerbier and Golf

G is for Gerbier and also for golf. In the Victorian heyday of Ashdown House there was a nine-hole golf course in what is now the fields to the west and south west of the house. I have a sketch of what the course looked like and we have drawn it onto an ordnance survey map to see where it would have been.

A number of National Trust properties once had family or “informal” golf courses as part of their landscape. Many, like Ashdown, have been lost but at Lyme Park in Cheshire, Studley Royal in Yorkshire and on Lundy Island, traces remain. There is a fascinating article about the ghost of the lost golf course at Studley Royal in the National Trust Views magazine, which you can click here to see (p33).

Golf first came to England from Scotland in the 17th century with the Stuart dynasty. At Ashdown the golf course was part of a wider sporting estate that also offered hunting and shooting and had its own cricket team. Whilst we have photographs of the early 20th century cricket eleven I have yet to come across any of Ashdown’s golfers.

And so to the other “G,” Sir Balthasar Gerbier. Gerbier was born in 1598 in Holland and was, amongst other things, a courtier, diplomat, art advisor, miniaturist, and spy. He was also an architect who worked with William Winde for the first Earl of Craven on the plans for Craven’s “palace” at Hamstead Marshall. It seems plausible that the same combination of Winde and Gerbier also worked on the plans for Ashdown House, which were drawn up at the same time. Gerbier died at Hampstead Marshall either in 1663 (according to a petition to the king from his daughters who asked for £4000 in unpaid salary) or in 1667 (according to Gerbier's monument in the local church). He is also buried there. It seems likely that the date on his memorial is wrong and that the building of both Hamstead and Ashdown were in their early stages when he died.