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.