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 Trengwaintonread 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.

‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here . . . ‘

Well, that was what I thought. Until a few days ago, that is.

On the outskirts of Southwell (pronounced Suthell, or more precisely /ˈsaʊθwɛl/or /ˈsʌðəl/) in Nottinghamshire there is a large redbrick building standing in about six acres of land. This is The Workhouse (or Greet House), beautifully stark in its Georgian symmetry.

Built in 1824 during the reign of King George IV, The Workhouse was ‘home’ to about 160 destitute men, women and children who were provided with ‘Indoor Relief’. The cost of providing support, under the Poor Laws, to recipients in their homes (so-called ‘Outdoor Relief’) had become less sustainable. So the Workhouse was built at Southwell to provide shelter for a limited number of paupers, many old and infirm.

Life in The Workhouse was no bed of roses, but maybe not as harsh as many others around the country, where everyone toiled in the most appalling conditions. But shelter and food was provided, and both boys and girls received a basic education, learning to read and write, and do sums.

No doubt the workhouse regime changed from time to time, as each new Master was appointed and took control of their lives. The Master and his family lived in a suite of rooms above the main entrance.

Workhouse Master Herring and his family in 1855

The Workhouse at Southwell was featured in Episode 4 of the second series of Secrets of the National Trust broadcast recently on Channel 5, and presented by Alan Titchmarsh. I have to admit it presented such a despondent scenario, a visit there didn’t seem very appealing. Consequently, Steph and I decided we wouldn’t make a special visit there, but combine it with another trip in the vicinity. And, as it happened, a diversion to Southwell last Monday added only a few miles to our return journey to visit our younger daughter and her family in Newcastle.

I mentioned my preconceptions about The Workhouse (based on the Titchmarsh program) to one of the volunteers. From what he told me, it seems that Titchmarsh wanted to present a more balanced picture of life in The Workhouse, but the series producer somewhat ‘over-egged the doom-and-gloom pudding’ story of The Workhouse. As I said there’s no denying that life inside was tough for the inmates. Life would probably have been tougher on the outside.

Now, having made a visit to The Workhouse I am so pleased that we did. It was revealing, interesting, conscience-pricking (although it’s not altogether appropriate to judge what The Workhouse stood for by today’s standards), and the National Trust volunteers (mostly in contemporary costume) brought the story of The Workhouse to life and made the visit even more enjoyable. They were very convincing, particularly the skivvy in the cellars who answered all my queries, in character.

The Workhouse consists of a three-story main building (with cellars), divided into separate sections for men and women, and able-bodied or old and infirm for each. Each group had its own exercise yard, with a privy in the corner from which ‘night soil’ was collected as manure for the garden.

Plan of The Workhouse. (5) is the National Trust entrance; (6) is the wash-house; (8) is the garden. The exercise yards can be seen either side of the main entrance to The Workhouse, with a privy in one corner of each. There are now gaps in the wall between the exercise yards to facilitate the flow of visitors. (4) is an assembly point for guided tours.

Husbands were separated from wives, and children from their mothers beyond the age of two. In the children’s dormitory, the glass in the windows (at least the lower panes) was frosted so they could not look at and see their mothers working in the yards below.

A block of outhouses to the rear of the main building contained the laundry, a bakery, and the ‘dead’ room.

Water was collected from the roof, and stored in a 160,000 gallon storage tank underneath the kitchen. Food was stored in the cellars.

Able-bodied men, who were unemployed outside The Workhouse, were considered lazy, and set to work on menial tasks such as unpicking old ropes or oakum. The old and infirm often had no work to do.

The various dormitories were on the first and top floors.

Many of the upper rooms have deteriorated and are in urgent need of conservation.

What is remarkable is that The Workhouse was still being used as an emergency shelter to house homeless families, in the so-called ‘bedsit’, as late as the 1980s.

If walls could talk, what tales they would tell us. But in the able-bodied men’s exercise yard (on the right on the panorama immediately below), and presumably out of view of the Master, at least one of the inmates did leave a legacy of their days in The Workhouse. Clearly etched on several bricks, someone has marked off the days.

It’s hard to imagine just how tough life must have been for the inmates of The Workhouse at Southwell. Surely it cannot have been worse than what they had endured, penniless and hungry, outside. With the enactment of the Poor Laws, society provided (limited) support for those who had fallen on hard times. In many ways, society has a lot to answer for today.