Today, the weather couldn’t be more different than yesterday when, with a clear blue sky and not a cloud, we headed out on our first National Trust visit of 2013. We’d just been waiting for the weather to improve. And yesterday, Spring had truly sprung. Out of the wind it was really warm; it actually reached 13.1°C at Wellesbourne (one of the warmest places in the West Midlands yesterday), just a mile down the road from Charlecote Park, a Tudor mansion built beside the River Avon in Warwickshire, about half way between Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick.
Since we joined the National Trust a couple of years ago, we visited nearly all the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – the properties reasonably close to our home. Hopefully as the weather improves over the coming months we’ll find it easier to travel further afield. Charlecote Park lies at the heart of a rather small estate, only about 75 ha, alongside the River Avon, and is the home (since the mid 13th century) of the Lucy family and descendants. The current house was built by Sir Thomas Lucy in the mid-16th century, but has been extensively modified in the intervening centuries, most significantly during Victorian times. The direct Lucy line died out in the mid-19th century, and Charlecote Park was inherited by the family that still lives in one of the wings, the Fairfax-Lucy’s. The tomb of Sir Thomas Lucy survives in the adjacent church, St Leonard’s, which was founded in Norman times but the building today is mainly Victorian. It has some beautiful stained glass windows, and the sculpted marble or alabaster tombs of Sir Thomas and others taken from the old church.
In the house there is access to the Great Hall inside the main entrance, the billiards and drawing rooms downstairs, and several bedrooms upstairs, as well as the main staircase. In the grounds are outbuildings housing a collection of Victorian carriages, and the laundry and brewery. In one wing is an immense Victorian kitchen.
The formal grounds are quite limited – mainly a parterre beside the River Avon, from which there are views across the meadows to the village of Hampton Lucy (about 1 mile away) and what looks like its magnificent parish church of St Peter ad Vincula which, surprisingly, I’ve discovered was built in 1822 and added to 30 years later. In the park there are flocks of rare breed Jacob sheep and fallow deer, the later introduced in Tudor times in the 16th century.
Legend has it that the young William Shakespeare was caught poaching rabbits in the grounds of Charlecote Park in about 1583 (there’s a second edition folio of Shakespeare’s complete works on display in the Great Hall). The playwright had his ‘revenge’, it is said, on Sir Thomas Lucy by lampooning him as Justice Shallow in two of his plays: Henry IV (Part II) and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
In some ways, this visit to Charlecote Park was a disappointment, despite the beautiful weather. The formal gardens were small – I had expected something more extensive. And access to parts of the house was rather limited, partly due to the fact that some sections of the house were being rewired. Nevertheless there were some beautiful objects on display. There was a large nursery selling plants for the garden – hellebores seemed to be the specialty.