A year full of heritage

Steph and I have been members of the National Trust since 2011. Following our first visit to one of the Trust’s properties in February that year (to Hanbury Hall, just 7 miles from home), we have tried each year to get out and about as often as we can. After 5 years membership, we were offered a special senior citizen joint membership: such great value for money; so many interesting houses, landscapes, and gardens to visit, and enjoy a cup of coffee (and an occasional flapjack) in one of the NT cafes.

These visits give purpose to our excursions. We’ve now explored 97 National Trust properties in England and Northern Ireland (as well as as few maintained by the National Trust for Scotland). And we have enjoyed many country walks as well around parkland and through gardens.

Click on the various links to open stories I have posted during the year, or an album of photos.

We are fortunate that close to us (we’re just south of Birmingham in northeast Worcestershire) there are half a dozen properties that take 30 minutes or less to reach. The closest is Hanbury Hall, and we often visit there to enjoy a walk around the park – four times this year – or take one of the many paths to the canal, up to Hanbury church, and back into the park. I particularly enjoy seeing how the parterre changes through the seasons. It is a very fine example.

The parterre at Hanbury in August

The other houses close to home are Charlecote Park ( in July), Croome (August), Packwood House (August), Baddesley Clinton (October), and Coughton Court (April and November).

Coughton Court in April

Our National Trust year began in February with a return visit to Newark Park, 58 miles south in Gloucestershire, to see the carpets of snowdrops, for which the garden is famous. We first visited the house in August 2015.

A week later we traveled 20 miles southwest from home to the birthplace of one of England’s greatest composers, Sir Edward Elgar. It was a sparkling day. We even managed a picnic! After visiting the house, The Firs, and the visitor center, we took the circular walk from the site that lasted about 1 hour. I found watching a short video about Elgar’s life to the accompaniment of Nimrod quite emotional.

Then a week later, we decided on a walk in the Wyre Forest, about 17 miles west from Bromsgrove, to find Knowles Mill, a derelict flour mill in the heart of the forest.

April saw us take in three properties (besides Coughton Court): Dudmaston (which we first visited in 2013); Kinwarton Dovecote; and Southwell Workhouse (a fascinating visit).

In May, I had to obtain an international driving permit, and the closest post office was in the center of Birmingham. That was just the excuse we needed to book a tour of the Back-to-Backs on the corner of Inge and Hurst Streets. What an eye-opener, and one NT property that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Closer to home, in fact less than 4 miles from home, is Rosedene, a Chartist cottage that was one of a number erected in the area of Dodford in the 19th century. It’s open infrequently, so looking to the weather forecast we booked to view the property on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the NT guides were unable to unlock the front door, so we never got to see inside, just peer through the windows.

We had returned to Upton House in Warwickshire at the beginning of the month to enjoy the walk along the escarpment overlooking the site of the 1642 Battle of Edgehill, and then around the garden. We had first visited in July 2012.

We were away in the USA during June and July, and just made some local visits in August. We were preparing for a week of NT and English Heritage (EH) visits in Cornwall during the second week of September.

What a busy week! We stopped at Barrington Court in Somerset on the way south, and Knightshayes in Devon on the way home a week later. You can read about those visits here.

Barrington Court


We visited four more houses in Cornwall: Lanhydrock, Cotehele, St Michael’s Mount, and Trerice, and I wrote about those visits here.

Then there were the coastal visits, to The Lizard, Cape Cornwall, and Levant Mine (check out the stories here).

While on the north coast (visiting Tintagel Castle – see below), we stopped by Tintagel Old Post Office.

Cornwall has some fine gardens, and we visited these: Glendurgan, Godolphin, Trelissick, and Trengwainton; read about them here.

October was a quiet month. I can’t remember if we took a walk at Hanbury, but we did enjoy a long one along the Heart of England Way at Baddesley Clinton.

November saw us in the northeast, with a return visit to Seaton Delaval Hall (that we first visited in August 2013), and also to Penshaw Monument that is such an imposing sight over the Durham-Tyneside landscape.

In mid-November it was 70th birthday, and Steph and I spent a long weekend in Liverpool. One of the highlights was a visit to the Beatles Childhood Homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney – rather emotional.

We completed our National Trust year by enjoying Christmas at Coughton Court on 30 November.

We have been members of English Heritage (EH) since 2015. Our daughters gifted us membership at Christmas 2014. Witley Court in Worcestershire is the nearest property to home, and we have been visiting there since the 1980s when we first moved to Bromsgrove. But not during 2108. Here’s a story from September 2017.

In April we were in the northeast and enjoyed a visit to Warkworth Castle near Alnwick on the Northumberland coast (map) with grandsons Elvis and Felix. Since it was close to St George’s Day, there was a tournament entertainment for the children.

Warkworth Castle

While in the northeast, we visited Rievaulx Abbey, somewhere I had first visited as a student in the summer of 1968, and then again in the mid-1980s on holiday with the family on the Yorkshire coast.

Towards the South Transept and the east end of the church from the southeast.

During our trip to Cornwall in September, we got to visit Chysauster Ancient Village, Pendennis Castle, Restormel Castle, and Tintagel Castle, which I have written about here.

The steps leading up to the castle gate.

Then in November, on the way home from Newcastle, we stopped off at Mount Grace Priory, that is owned by the National Trust but managed by English Heritage.

It was a bright and calm November morning, lots of color in the trees, and we were enchanted by the peace of this wonderful site. On our trips to Newcastle we have passed the entrance to the Priory many times, but never had found the time (or the weather) to stop off. It was well worth the wait.

This has been our heritage 2018. We have barely scratched the surface of NT and EH properties. We look forward to spreading our wings further afield in 2019.

A working-class movement for political reform

Less than 4 miles by road west of Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire (much less as the crow flies) lies the village of Dodford. Nothing remarkable in that, you might say.

Well, until 1849, the village didn’t even exist. The area was known then as Greater Dodford, but became a community (of sorts) when a ‘village’ of more than 40 redbrick cottages (like the one below, known as Rosedene) was built, each in its own 4 acre plot of land. That’s significant.

Feargus O’Connor

Rosedene was built by the Chartist Cooperative Land Company, and the Dodford community was the last of five that were set up around the country by Irish Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor.

So, what was Chartism and who were the Chartists?

Chartism was a national (but geographically uneven) working class movement, with violent and non-violent factions, campaigning for political reform between 1838 and 1857. The movement¬† was named after the 1838 People’s Carter that espoused six principles:

  • manhood suffrage (but not women)
  • the secret ballot
  • abolition of property qualifications for MPs
  • payment of MPs
  • equal electoral districts
  • annual elections.

Communities like Dodford were established to help working-class people satisfy the landholding requirement to gain a vote in county seats. That’s why each cottage was built on 4 acres of land, the minimum at the time to satisfy the landholding requirement to make a man eligible to vote.

O’Connor purchased a farm of more than 250 acres at Greater Dodford, and divided it into 4 acre plots for each cottage. The lanes around Dodford remain as narrow today as when first opened in the 1840s.

Potential occupants placed bids for the cottages, with the highest bidder receiving the ‘choicest’ plot, and so on until all plots had been allocated.

Having walked around the plot at Rosedene, I can vouchsafe that it’s a large plot for one family to manage. Many of those who came to Dodford were working class families from the cities, with little experience of agriculture. What they encountered at Dodford was a very heavy clay soil that was extremely difficult to cultivate. Eventually however, they established that strawberries did grow well, and opened up a market to Birmingham for their produce. Likewise, garlic thrived, which they sold to the makers of Worcestershire Sauce, Lea & Perrins, in Worcester, 15 miles to the south.

By the time Dodford was built, O’Connor had perfected his simple cottage design. Each cottage had a simple central living room with a range for heating and cooking, with a bedroom off to each side. To the rear was a small scullery and an indoor water pump. The ash toilet was in an outhouse (much like my grandparents’ cottage in Derbyshire that they occupied until the early 1960s). Maybe there was a pig sty attached to the enclosed small yard. Behind the cottage there is a small barn.

Bricks for each cottage were made on site. Rosedene sits on foundations of stone. I did wonder whether stones from the 12th century priory nearby (now incorporated into a farmhouse) had been used for this purpose but there is no record of that being the case. O’Connor’s design included the ‘modern’ feature of air vents low down on the walls and into the roof to reduce condensation.

The National Trust purchased Rosedene in 1997 and has faithfully restored it. We visited the cottage a week ago. There is only limited access on the first Sunday of each month between April and December (on pre-booked tours).

Unfortunately, the National Trust volunteers waiting to welcome us to Rosedene were unable to unlock the property so we never got to look inside, apart from peering through the windows.

However, you can see something more of the interior here, which also provides a potted history of Rosedene.