Sunday, 18 August 2013

Petworth House

I think it says a lot about me that on the day I decide to start a new blog called National Trust Scones I go to a National Trust property that doesn’t do scones. 

I sat in the coffee shop at Petworth House miserably eating a piece of perfectly nice lemon drizzle cake while my other half said unhelpful things like “just call it National Trust Cakes instead”, which is completely stupid because who wants to read a blog about National Trust cakes? I wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t bother with this idea because no-one’s ever going to read it and let’s face it I could spend my time doing other stuff, such as cleaning out our fridge so that I don’t ruin another holiday fretting that the cat-sitter is going to find the bag of wizened carrots with a sell by date of February 2013 that I keep forgetting to throw away because they’re under the onions. 

But then I remembered my reasons for writing about National Trust scones (see the intro to your right) and reminded myself for the 2,000,000th time in my life that I shouldn’t give up so easily and lo and behold I saw a sign for cream teas being served in the restaurant. 

So that’s the first thing you need to know about Petworth House – the scones are in the restaurant. And don’t be put off; the restaurant is just a bigger version of the coffee shop and not a formal place with waiters or menus or anything that involves you having to walk out £40 poorer.

The second thing you need to know about Petworth is that the scones are ruddy excellent. One serving contains two nicely sized scones, jam, clotted cream and a pot of tea for £4.95. But being in a hurry and full of lemon drizzle, I didn’t realise this and so we ended up sharing one portion. The tea was proper loose stuff so it tasted like the tea my nan used to make (with a strainy thing in the spout of the pot so you don’t have to ingest insect-textured tealeaves) and the scones were great – just a tiny bit too much sugar in them, which I love because it reminds you you’re eating a cake and not bread.


Picture of scone at Petworth House

The third thing you need to know about Petworth is that it’s really very good indeed. It reminded me of Blenheim Palace in some ways, although it lacks the vista that BP offers. To see the full glory of Petworth you have to walk up to the house and then walk away from it through the grounds so you can turn back to marvel at its frontage (or at least we did, there may be a better approach).

There has been a house at Petworth since the 13th century (although only the very impressive chapel dates from that era) and it was once owned by the Percy family (the Dukes of Northumberland). The estate has been passed down through the family and for the last couple of hundred years has been owned by the Wyndhams. It was given to the National Trust in 1947, although the current Lord and Lady Egremont still live there. I do find that really bizarre – even if your private quarters are quite spacious, it must be like living in The Borrowers: you get up off the sofa, open the living room door and there are 100 people wandering round your house peering at your tapestries. You get used to it, I imagine.

They’re very fond of Turner at Petworth, which is a shame because I am really not very fond of him at all. I blame the Tate: I once went to an exhibition of his and there were about 5000 pictures of ships negotiating wearily similar stormy situations and I was bored out of my brain. Today I learned that he did other things so I’ll have to revisit him. The third Earl of Egremont was Turner’s patron, hence the connection. Other works of art can also be found – Titians, Van Dycks, and carvings by the very marvellously named Grinling Gibbons.

I definitely recommend paying £2 for the audio/video tour. Petworth has a lot of volunteers on hand to explain things - I was particularly encouraged that the woman manning the pantry seemed to think that I’d know how to make ice cream - but as my other half always reminds me, I am incapable of asking anyone for any help of any sort at any time in any place so the audio guide was ideal. 

If I hadn’t done the audio tour I would have been oblivious to the fact that the huge book in the glass case in one of the rooms is a hand-written manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, dating from 1400. The second Earl of Northumberland was married to Chaucer’s grand-niece apparently. Anyway, once the shudder that comes with being forced to remember your English A’ Level had subsided, I marvelled at the fact that such an important relic was not worthy of any kind of mention at all until you actually walked into the room. They’d have built an entire museum around it in the States.



Scones: 4.5 out of 5. I may have to revise this once I’ve got more to compare against.

Petworth: 4.5 out of 5. It’s got a bit of everything. 

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