Sunday, 18 September 2016

George Stephenson Birthplace

If I ever went on Mastermind, my specialist subject would be Negative TripAdvisor Reviews of NT Properties. It's a niche topic, I grant you, but I love them - the property was shut, my dog wasn't allowed in, it rained etc.

George Stephenson's Birthplace, however, is an exception. It has a small number of negative comments and they all say the same thing; it's hard to find the place and there's only one room open to the public.

George Stephenson's Birthplace

The first of those complaints was debunked early on. "It's REALLY hard to find this place," I warned the Scone Sidekick. "We're probably going to get lost and then you're going to get annoyed with me, but let's definitely not have an argument about it." We had just started having an argument about me saying that we were going to have an argument when we drove around a corner and saw a sign saying 'George Stephenson's Birthplace', so we parked, followed another sign saying 'George Stephenson's Birthplace' and walked along until we found it. And I'm not exactly Sir Ranulph Fiennes when it comes to map-reading, if you know what I mean.

The second complaint is more justified - there is admittedly only one room in the house open to the public. However, George's family only lived in one room, so it is authentic.


George Stephenson Birthplace Interior

However, there's no space for explaining George's achievements, so I learned nothing about him from the property itself. It's probably just as well though, as I subsequently discovered that his life was incredibly sad in places, so I'd have been sobbing my eyes out:

  • George Stephenson was born in 1781
  • His parents were illiterate and so was he until he was 18
  • He worked in a nearby coal mine as an engine man, paying to study at night 
  • He met a girl called Betty Hindmarsh, but her dad refused to let them marry as George wasn't good enough for her 
  • He married a woman called Frances and their son Robert was born in 1803
  • A baby daughter followed in 1805 but she died aged 3 weeks - George's wife then died of consumption in 1806
  • George went to find work in Scotland, leaving Robert with a local woman
  • He returned, probably because his father was blinded in a mining accident
  • In 1811 he offered to fix a pumping engine at a pit and was so successful that he was promoted and became an expert in steam-powered machinery
  • He invented the 'Geordie Lamp', a safety lamp for miners, which was similar to Humphry Davy's Davy lamp - people (including Davy) couldn't believe that an uneducated man could invent something so useful and George was accused of copying
  • This is partly why Robert was educated privately, to give him the credibility that George lacked
  • In 1814, George designed his first steam locomotive, the Blücher, for transporting coal at a local pit
  • He then set up a company with Robert and two other men to build the Stockton and Darlington Railway - it opened in 1825
  • They then built the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, with Robert's design for the actual train winning the competition - this was called Rocket
  • George spent the rest of his life building railroads in the UK and advising people from the US and other countries on how to build theirs
  • He married Betty Hindmarsh in 1820 - his increased wealth probably made her dad a bit more supportive this time
  • George died in 1848

The tea room behind GSB is tiny, but it seems to be a big favourite with the local dogs, many of whom had taken their owners out for a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon. I don't think the scones were homemade but it was tasty and I enjoyed it. 

George Stephenson Birthplace Scone

It's amazing to think that a man that achieved so much in engineering started life in such a small place with no education. It's a lovely little spot.

George Stephenson's Birthplace: 5 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Information on George: 1 out of 5

Seaton Delaval

I have never watched a single minute of Game of Thrones, but I am led to believe that it is a hugely successful TV series involving a load of bonkers families dying bizarre deaths and getting up to all sorts of scandalous shenanigans.

Now, let's think - who else do we know that has loads of bonkers families dying bizarre deaths and getting up to scandalous shenanigans...wait a minute, it's THE NATIONAL TRUST. If I was marketing director at the NT, I'd be camped outside the office of the commissioning editor at Netflix right now - when GoT finally ends with everybody getting eaten by dragons or whatever and the viewing public says "NOOOO! What will I do with my life?" they will be ready with the next TV sensation, and the NT will be RICH beyond their wildest dreams. Don't thank me, NT, it's fine. 

And they would have PLENTY to choose from. I've come across some very rum families during my 146 visits to NT properties, but the Delavals of Seaton Delaval near Newcastle-upon-Tyne take the absolute Hob-nob. 


Seaton Delaval

Here are my four favourite Delavals: 

1. Francis Delaval 
He was a right cad, basically. He was the rightful heir to Seaton Delaval when his dad died in 1752 but he had zero interest in running the place. He had moved to London aged 20 and fallen in with a bunch of dissolute actors. On his return to Seaton he seduced his cousin's young companion, a Betty Roach, but he soon got bored and returned to London. She followed him and had two illegitimate children with him, Francis and Frances  - clearly she was taking no chances on everyone knowing who their dad was. 

His dissolute actor friend, Samuel Foote, then persuaded him to marry a rich but senile 60 year-old called Isabella. They staged an elaborate ruse involving a fortune teller to get her to fall for Francis, which worked, but it turned out that she only had £24,000 and not £100,000. 

He then managed to become an MP - he fired a cannon filled with 500 golden guineas across the town square in Andover so people would vote for him (it worked). He also became great friends with Prince Edward, brother of George III, but got bored of his social circle and joined the army for about five minutes (long enough for an act of reckless heroism that got him knighted). He returned to the theatrical world and fell in love with an actress called Ann Catley. Her father sued him for debauching her and it went to court - Francis lost but Ann left the court with him instead of her livid dad (she was also very pregnant). 

Unsurprisingly, Francis ended up massively in debt. When Prince Edward died, Francis took it very badly and he collapsed and died after a huge meal in 1771 aged just 44. 


Francis Delaval

2. John Delaval
Francis's brother was the Bobby Ewing of the family - he basically sorted everything out for everyone, while his big brother caused chaos. John did love his theatrics, though. When Francis built a bedroom at Seaton where the bed could be lowered into a tank of cold water, thus soaking the poor unsuspecting guest that was in it, it was John and another brother, Thomas, who engineered it. 

But even John had his moments. His wife died in 1783, when he was 60, and he took up with an Elizabeth Hicks, who was barely a teenager, AND a Susanna Knight. The ménage a trois continued for a while until Elizabeth did the decent thing and died of consumption, so he married Susanna. He died in 1808 without an heir.

3. Jack Delaval 
Jack was John's son, but he died before John in very bizarre circumstances. He liked molesting servant girls and while visiting some springs to cure an illness, he tried it on with a maid who kicked him in the crotch and he died of his injuries. I am not making this up - I copied that almost word for word from the book.

4. Sarah Delaval
John's favourite daughter was a daredevil as a youngster, riding horses nobody else would touch and so on - you know what's coming. At 16, she caught the eye of Frederick, second son of George III, so her dad married her off pronto to the Earl of Tyrconnel to avoid any shenanigans. 

Seven years later, Fred returned from the army and within three months he was having an affair with Sarah. The Earl of Tyrconnel turned a blind eye apparently. Frederick was eventually married off to some poor Prussian, but the Delavals had continued to put on plays after Francis's demise and Sarah acted in one, catching the eye of Lord Strathmore from nearby Gibside. Within weeks they were an item and the Earl was turning another blind eye. But Sarah became ill and died aged just 37. 

And if you needed a gob-smacking postscript to that: Lord Strathmore was said to be absolutely devastated by Sarah's death, but he soon took up with a replacement: Sarah's 19 year old daughter, Susan. You couldn't make it up. 


Sarah Delaval

So I REST MY CASE that the NT is full of debauched dynasties that would make a blockbuster of a TV show. AND they helpfully overlap - just go and read my Gibside blog post if you want proof of that. 

ANYWAY. I learned all of this from a book called The Delavals: A Family History. As book titles go, it's not the most exciting, but it belies the contents. I recommend it. 

But let's move on to the Seaton Delaval house itself, as that's a whole other story. It's a fascinating place, although it actually made me very sad.

Seaton Delaval Main Hall
  • The hall was built between 1719 and 1730 for Admiral George Delaval, great uncle of Francis and John
  • It was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, who also built Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard
  • In 1822, the central part of the house was devastated by fire - by then, the Delavals had died out and John's nephew, Jacob Astley, had inherited Seaton Delaval but he didn't live there permanently 
  • In 1841, the roof on the burnt out central wing was fixed but it remained an empty shell
  • The NT took over the house, gardens and much of the estate in 2009
It made me feel sad for two reasons; firstly, the central wing had clearly been hugely impressive in its heyday when Delavals were marauding through it, and now it looks so empty and abandoned.


But secondly, the Astleys did eventually come and live at Seaton Delaval. Edward Astley and his wife lived in the West Wing of the house until their deaths in 2007. I would hate to live in a building that was half burnt out and full of bats (I don't actually know if it was full of bats, I'm just guessing), even if the other half was bat-free and perfectly comfortable:


One thing Seaton Delaval does have is fantastic room guides. Some properties are just very lucky with having brilliant people to tell their stories - Nostell Priory and Tredegar are two others - and Seaton has several great volunteers. 

We were the first visitors into the tea room on the day we visited and I had a moment of panic when I couldn't see any scones. But we found some and I ate mine out in the sunshine - I don't think it was home-made but it was tasty and I enjoyed it.


I shall end by offering my consultancy services to the NT in getting Games of Scones commissioned. In return, I will want a short but very good part - maybe Dame Mary Bankes defending Corfe Castle from the Roundheads, or Queen Ælfthryth arranging the murder of her stepson at Corfe. I will also insist on cameos for all the Sconepals, so start thinking about which part you would want. There could be a BAFTA in it.

Seaton Delaval: 5 out of 5
Scone: 3.5 out of 5
Entertainment value of the Delavals: 5 out of 5 and surely worthy of a few Emmys/Baftas

Washington Old Hall

I was expecting Washington Old Hall to be a complete disappointment. It's the ancestral home of George Washington - ancestral being the killer word in that sentence. He never actually lived there. 

Washington Old Hall

So I was expecting to find the odd American wandering around the place saying "Gee, Mary-Ellen, I wonder where he slept?" and a guide having to say "well, he didn't actually ever live here, but over there we have a lovely cushion cover belonging to his great-great grandmother..." "WHADDYA MEAN HE DIDN'T LIVE HERE? We've come all the way from Cheesetown, Wisconsin to see his house! Get me my lawyer!"

But there was none of that. And the reasons are pretty simple:
  • Washington Old Hall is undoubtedly the ancestral home of George Washington, first President of the United States of America
  • His ancestors came to Wessyngtonlands in the 12th century and changed their name from 'de Hertburne' to 'de Wessyngton', which later became Washington - just as well really, as Hertburne DC doesn't have the same ring to it
  • In 1613 the Washington family moved south and the estate was sold to the Bishop of Durham
George Washington was born in 1732, so he never actually spent any time in the Old Hall, nor in Washington itself, nor actually in Britain. When the Washingtons set off for Virginia, they did so from Hertfordshire. 

But the fact remains that the capital city of the USA was named after this little Northumbrian village and the Americans are very proud of it. There's a video showing footage of Jimmy Carter coming for a visit in 1977:

Jimmy Carter Washington Old Hall

The Hall eventually became tenement flats, with nine famillies stuffed into it (God knows how). There's a room set up in the style of a tenement flat: 

Washington Old Hall tenement flat

And there are some BRILLIANT stories from people who lived in the tenements. One man remembered it being a good place to live, apart from the cockroaches. Mind you, his expectations of life were admittedly low - when he got his first job down the pit he had to borrow his dad's trousers until he got his own. Another remembered passing the 'White Lady', the resident ghost, on the stairs. And another talked about how every family had a cat to kill the vermin - his mother used to say that the mice sat on the windowsill waiting for her to bake the bread. 

But then the Hall fell into disrepair and was declared unfit for human habitation. A local teacher named Fred Hill rescued it from demolition and raised funds for its preservation and restoration. In 1957 the National Trust assumed responsibility for the building.

There were no scones at Washington Old Hall - the tea room is very small but they serve teacakes and other cakes, so we had a cup of tea and sat in the lovely sunshine.

So instead of a picture of a scone, here's a nice photo of the Scone Sidekick with some eagles:


Washington Old Hall: 5 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 (there weren't any)
Chutzpah of the mice in the tenement days: 5 out of 5

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Cragside

"A lunatic site for a house" is how one architectural expert described Cragside near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Having now seen the place, I wouldn't disagree with him.

Cragside

I've seen NT houses built from the landscape before - Stoneywell in Leicestershire is an example - but Cragside is IMMENSE. It's a huge house built on rock that was blasted away with dynamite, and then surrounded by what must be one of the largest rock gardens in the world:

Cragside from the rock

You might already have guessed that Cragside wasn't built by an ordinary person. William Armstrong was an industrialist and scientist who invented hydraulic cranes, breech-loading cannons, iron-clad warships, and a lot more besides. He believed anything was possible, which means he is about as diametrically opposed to me on the great human characteristic chart as it possible to be. 

I read William Armstrong: Magician of the North before I went to Cragside and I can recommend it. Here is a very, very short summary of his life and times:

  • William Armstrong was born in Newcastle in 1810
  • His grandfather had been a tenant farmer - William's dad had worked his way up in a corn merchant business and wanted William to be a lawyer
  • William did as he was told, but his heart lay in science - he did law and science concurrently for many years until he found a way to make money from his inventions
  • His first major commercial success was in hydraulic cranes that were soon being used in shipyards all around the world
  • He then moved into gun-making - he invented a light-weight, breech-loading cannon to replace the front-loading cannons that tended to kill the operator as well as the enemy
  • He had huge success as an arms manufacturers, exporting weapons all around the world - this led him to start building warships on the Tyne
  • At the end of the 19th century he employed 25,000 workers  
  • In 1863 he visited Rothbury, where he had spent time recuperating from illness as a child, and decided to buy some land there for a holiday home
  • Cragside, as it was known, was initially a small holiday villa but it grew in scope and scale until it became the main home for William and his wife
  • It was the first house to be powered by electricity from water power
  • It had central heating, hot and cold running water, and the servants had lifts for getting coal to bedrooms and other helpful devices
  • His wife Margaret saw to it that Cragside had one of the finest gardens in Victorian times 
  • The planting program apparently included more than 7 million trees and shrubs - it is believed that it changed the climate in the area, raising the average temperature by 1 degree and making it wetter in winter. Amazing.
  • Cragside hosted the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1884
  • The estate passed to the NT in 1977
The most astounding room is the Drawing Room. This was the final room that was added - it was finished in 1884 just in time for the royal visit. The chimney is astonishing, especially when you consider that it was largely decorative, as the room was heated by its own boiler and pipe system from below:  

Cragside Drawing Room

The study only gets 8 short lines in the guide book but I LOVED it - it's the studiest study I've ever seen, with a massive desk and a lovely portrait of our chum William aged 21.

Cragside study

William also added some very impressive-looking Turkish Baths. A visitor in front of me said "Is this the spa?" and she was spot-on - they look incredibly modern considering they were built in 1870:


I am also clearly aligning with the NT. I saw this picture in the Gallery, of a dead shepherd being licked lovingly by two sad dogs, and I could NOT believe that anybody would want to either paint or own something so depressing. I later found out that the writer of the guide book totally agreed with me - they call it "laden with sentimentality, gloom, and death" - but that's what the Victorians liked. It was also based on a true story, apparently. It's still awful:

Dead shepherd and dogs

The gardens are beautiful. The iron bridge just down from the house was constructed in 1869. It was closed for years but reopened in 2009 and hurray for that, because it offers really stunning views of the house. This is a not very good picture of the bridge and house:

Cragside iron bridge

But let's move on to the scone. It looked a little bit dry but it was actually very tasty indeed and I thoroughly enjoyed it:


Cragside scone

In the spirit of William Armstrong, I also decided to be all inventive and try a local baked foodstuff as well as my usual scone. This is a Singing Hinny - like a Welsh cake, it looks like a scone that got run over. But it was very tasty.

Singing Hinnie Cragside

The only thing I wasn't keen on was that we ended up eating our scones in the tea-room, when we could have been sitting out in the picnic area with this magnificent view. But I'm sure the staff wouldn't have stopped us taking our tray out here, so it's my own fault.

Cragside lake view

I'll be honest with you: I had never heard of William Armstrong before I decided to visit Cragside. So I'm going to finish by talking about why he is not remembered today in the same way as his near contemporaries, Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. 

The book sets out a number of possible reasons, including:

  • William was an arms manufacturer, and making things that kill people was never an admirable line of work, even in Victorian times
  • He ran into trouble with his workers in 1871 when they went on strike for a shorter working day - he didn't handle it very well and public opinion turned against him
  • Scientists were not as popular in his day - they HAD been extremely popular; Robert Stephenson was mourned nationally after his death in 1859. But the outrage caused by the publication of The Origin of the Species caused people to question whether scientists were actually doing more harm than good.
  • He was from the North-East and was therefore not a show-off 
Anyway. You'll have to go a long way to find an NT property that is as unusual and as impressive as Cragside and I highly, highly recommend it.


Cragside: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Cheerfulness of pictures: 0 out of 5

Lindisfarne Castle

I have suffered for years from a terrible affliction. Basically, whenever I hear the word 'Lindisfarne' a little folk band in my head starts singing "Fog on the Tyne is all mine, all mine, fog on the Tyne is all mine". On a particularly bad day, this ends with Paul Gascoigne shouting "come on!" before it repeats, endlessly.

I decided to try and cure this malady by actually going to Lindisfarne, which is just down the road from Berwick-on-Tweed. Lindisfarne is known as the Holy Island and there are two impressive sights to see: Lindisfarne Castle, which is owned by the National Trust, and Lindisfarne Priory, owned by Those Who Must Not Be Named (English Heritage). 

Lindisfarne Castle

Here's a bit of history for you:

  • In AD 635, an Irish monk called Aidan founded an important centre of Christianity on Lindisfarne 
  • He was followed by St Cuthbert, whose monks rebuilt the priory in 1082. The priory was dissolved by that ruffian, Henry VIII, in 1537.
  • A fort was built on a crag on Lindisfarne in 1570 to protect the border with Scotland - this lost its purpose somewhat when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I
  • It continued as a garrison for centuries before being abandoned 
  • In 1902, Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life magazine, bought the place and employed the architect Edwin Lutyens to turn it into a holiday home 
  • Hudson entertained many illustrious guests in his castle, including the future George V and Queen Mary 
  • It was sold and eventually given to the NT in 1944

There's a lovely walk up to the castle from Lindisfarne Village. From the outside, it looks quite compact and simple in its structure. Inside, it's a real wonder - Lutyens used the existing features to their best advantage and created rooms that somehow manage to look cosy. I'm not sure I'd want to be living there in January, however. 

This is The Ship Room, so named because of the model ship that is suspended from the ceiling. You'll just have to imagine that, however, as I spectacularly failed to get a photo of it:
The Ship Room Lindisfarne Castle

We then trotted off across the island to see the ruins of the Priory. It never fails to amaze me that human beings managed to build such huge, beautiful buildings with only rudimentary tools and equipment. 

Here's the Scone Sidekick looking a bit casual I have to say - not sure St Cuthbert would have approved:

Lindisfarne Priory

I'll be honest with you; lovely as the castle was, my abiding memory of Lindisfarne will be the journey across the causeway. You can only drive across at certain times of the day when the tide is out, which gives the whole trip a sense of adventure. 

Even though we had two hours to spare, I was still nervous driving across thanks to the big signs saying "your safety is your responsibility" and the little huts on stilts where people have apparently had to climb to safety while their Ford Focus bobbed off towards Norway. Still, you don't get that at Petworth.

There were no NT scones at Lindisfarne Castle, as there is no NT tearoom. Don't let that put you off though - you can get hot beverages and cake galore in the various pubs and cafes in the village. 

Lindisfarne Castle: 5 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 (there weren't any, but we knew that)
Risk of drowning not normally experienced on an NT outing: 5 out of 5 

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Knole Revisited

These are worrying times for the Scone Blogger. This week the Scone Sidekick asked if we could go back to Knole - this is the SECOND time in THREE years that he has asked for a say in where we go. I could be on the verge of a coup. 

But his reasons were actually very valid; last time we went to Knole it absolutely TIPPED it down with rain and there were NO SCONES - in fact, there was NO TEA ROOM, never mind any scones - and we were both very dejected.

In fact, I laid into Knole at the time for the lack of tea room. I just couldn't it work out; in 2014 they decided to close the cafe and replace it with a Portakabin and an outdoor seating area FOR TWO YEARS. TWO YEARS!

But I'd like to say sorry to Knole for my critical words back then, because today I realised the enormous scope of the renovation work that's going on; they're spending around 18 MILLION POUNDS on stopping Knole from turning into a festering pile of damp (my words) and that can't be easy. 


Knole

Anyway. I'm not going to tell the story of Knole again - you can see it on my original moany post. But I will highlight a few things we saw today that we didn't see last time.

1. Reupholstered chair (not as boring as it sounds)
My favourite factoid about Knole is that Thomas Sackville, who built the place, was known as 'Fillsack' because he was always on the take. But it paid off! A later Sackville with the same attitude managed to relieve Whitehall of a load of furniture that the royals didn't want anymore. Whitehall later burnt down and everything in it was destroyed, which means that Knole has chairs belonging to James I and the other Stuarts that are completely unique.

I wasn't allowed to take a picture of this, which is a real shame, but one of the guides pointed to a faded old chair with arms that looked brand new. AMAZINGLY, when the conservation team looked inside the seat of the chair to see what it was stuffed with, they discovered that it was full of remnants of the original fabric! Imagine that! So they took those pieces and put them on the arms to show how the chair would have looked new. It's worth going to Knole for that alone.

2. The Tower
We also got to go up to the top of the Tower and look out over Kent and down into the courtyard. It's a massive place.


Knole from the tower

3. Eddy's rooms in the Tower
The 3rd Baron Sackville had no sons - his only daughter was Vita Sackville-West. So when he died, Knole and the title went to his brother and then eventually to Eddy, Vita's cousin. Eddy's rooms in the Tower at Knole have been restored - they're very impressive in their cosiness in such a large and otherwise quite forbidding house. I'm not sure his gramophone was big enough though:

Eddy's room at Knole

4. The cafe
The new cafe is very nice, although I did have a moment of panic when I couldn't see any scones. I then had another moment of panic when mine looked dry and hard when I cut into it. But it actually turned out to be really tasty - worth going back for.


Knole scone

I would suggest that you head to Knole soon though, if it's scones you're after. They have deer in the grounds and they are ruthless in their hunt for food, as the photo below clearly shows. They might not eat your children, but they'll certainly eat your picnic. They'll have the scones away in no time, mark my words.


Note the dog cowering under the bench 
Anyway. We then decided to drive the extra 10 miles and check out Hever Castle, or Heaving Castle as I am going to call it.

Hever is privately owned and not part of the NT or English Heritage. The reason for its popularity is very simple: it's the former home of Anne Boleyn. I seem to be following her around at the moment - I went to Blickling a couple of weeks back, which is supposedly her birthplace.

Anyway, her story is nicely told at Hever and there's plenty to look at, including some beheading swords. It was great to see so many kids asking questions about Henry VIII and Anne B - it really is a very compelling part of our history. I was particularly moved by Anne's final letter to Henry before she met her grisly end (it basically says 'I am completely innocent and you are going to burn in hell for this' but in a slightly more polite way). We didn't stop for a scone, as that would be very disloyal.



Knole: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Risk of deer walking into tea room and helping selves to scones: 5 out of 5

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Belton House

I have discovered the secret of making a National Trust property EXTREMELY popular. Yes indeedy, if I was put in charge of an NT house I would simply write a best-selling book about the place and get the BBC to make a TV series about it. Job done.

It certainly seems to have worked wonders for Belton House near Grantham. The children's book, Moondial, was set there, as was the BBC TV series of the same name:


Moondial TV show

And now Belton is the 5th most popular National Trust property, with over 400,000 visitors a year! Amazing.

Sadly, the Scone Sidekick had never seen the TV series, so he had absolutely no idea what he was looking at today. He was even more confused when I explained that it was actually a sundial. The two figures represent Eros (for love) and Chronos (for time). I thought it was great - I can see why Helen Cresswell, the author, was so inspired by it.


The Scone Sidekick - unsure of what he was looking at
I must admit though; I was expecting to find hundreds of people gathered transfixed around the moondial/sundial, but there was only me, the Sidekick, and one other woman of a similar age to me. Maybe the 399,997 other visitors just like Belton.

And that's very possible because Belton is LOVELY. Here are 5 things I learned today:

1. Belton was owned by Brownlows and Custs from 1609 to 1984
Richard Brownlow, a very successful lawyer, bought the Belton estate in 1609. Various Brounlows followed until Sir John Brounlow, Viscount Tyrconnel, had no children and passed the estate to his sister's son, Sir John Cust, in 1754. It remained in the family until 1984, when Edward Cust, 7th Baron Brounlow, gave it to the National Trust.

2. The house was built from 1684
'Young' Sir John Brounlow inherited Belton in 1679 and work started on a new house in 1684. It was built around four central rooms that are still there today, although the property has undergone a lot of change since those days. The very impressive Chapel and the adjacent Drawing Room are the least altered of the 17th century interiors.

3. It played a part in the Abdication crisis!
Peregrine Adelbert Cust, the 6th Baron Brounlow, inherited Belton in 1927. He was a close pal of Edward, Prince of Wales, and became his Lord in Waiting in 1936 when Edward became king.

It all went a bit wrong after that, however. 'Perry' accompanied Wallis Simpson to France to try and extract her from the media storm in 1936. He persuaded her to release a statement on 7 December saying that she would withdraw from the unhappy situation, but by 10 December Edward had decided to abdicate. Many people, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, blamed Perry for the whole sorry mess. He withdrew from public life and died in 1978, after which his son (named Edward) gave Belton to the National Trust.

This is Perry and his wife, Kitty. They even look a bit Eddy-and-Wallisy, don't they?



Perry and Kitty

4. It has a lovely Boathouse
A path takes you from the house through the Pleasure Grounds to the Boathouse, which was designed by Anthony Salvin in 1821. It's a lovely little spot - the Brownlows used it for fishing and picnics.


Belton boathouse

5. It was also in Pride & Prejudice!
It's not just Belton itself that has benefitted from some TV glory. In 1995, this beautifully crafted bureau decided to get a piece of the action by sharing a scene with Colin Firth in the TV series of Pride & Prejudice. 

Belton stood in as Rosings, home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and this is where Mr Darcy wrote his letter to Elizabeth Bennet:



Here it is, having its moment of fame and waving to its mum:



Anyway, twenty years on and the bureau needs some conservation work, so they are reminding people of the hugely important role it played in bringing Darcy and Lizzie together.

But let's talk about scones. I had always known that the Moondial TV series was filmed at Belton, but I hadn't realised until recently that the original book was actually set there too. There's even a little promo for the NT in there:


Moondial mention of National Trust

There's also a mention of scones in the book, which therefore makes it my favourite book of all time (soon to be replaced by Around England in 50 Scones). Sadly the scones that get mentioned in Moondial are not strictly NT scones - they were made by Aunt Mary - but still.

Belton House in the real world has a smashing tea room, with a very impressive display of cakery. The scones themselves were great - very fresh and light. 


Belton scone

Anyway, I highly recommend Belton House. And now I need to get a wriggle on, as I've got 565 best-selling books to write. 

Belton House: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Successful TV career of both house and items of furniture: 5 out of 5