Monday, 30 April 2012

Winter in Spring

This was a photo taken on the 3rd May last year.  I can tell you this year everything is very much behind this.  By at least a fortnight I reckon.

There will be a couple more postings on Tredegar House, but the new Google layout is driving me nuts.  Leave the curser in the wrong place and you get a photo where you didn't want it and you have to start over . . .And can I get line space in between photos?  No . . .  Anyone else struggling or am I just a dimwit?  It really takes away half the pleasure of blogging, if I am honest.

I don't know what the weather is like for my friends across the Pond, but here it feels like we have returned to winter with a vengeance.  Heavy rain and gale force winds which from the North-East which feel like they have come straight from Siberia (which I dare say is the case).

I had to retrieve one of our dustbins from where it was jammed up against one of the cold frames, and the lid yards away.  My little plastic greenhouse has amazingly stayed put, but it is tied down - last autumn the top was ripped off it so this year I have tied the securing cords through the ripped holes and straight onto the frame. 

I have just discovered a new Google blogger problem - I cannot move text from beneath a photo and replace it above.  So now you have a photo of our newly-restored rocking chair where it wasn't intended to be!!!  My clever husband has removed every speck of the white emulsion paint with which this was covered, stablilized the loose front legs and treated the few worm holes . . .

The trees seem bemused and are putting out leaves and blossom fairly slowly.  My little newly-planted (2 years ago) Pear trees are coping.  One is covered in blossom, but the other two are very tentative and the two plum trees are still doing "naked" . . .  There is a little blossom coyly showing on my Christmas eating apple tree and the Bramley is being more beligerant and putting out blossom instead of just buds.  The other four apple trees aren't really even thinking about buds yet!

So, here we are back in winter.  Once again we are low on heating oil so can't use the central heating, only now we are almost out of wood too, so are contemplating which of two dead - and large - Willow trees to fell to keep us going.  I think I will put my money on the one in the paddock which, although smaller, is MUCH nearer the house!

Soups and stews are back in favour, and I have a real hankering for Pineapple Upside Down Cake - winter comfort food!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Wanderings through past lives: Tredegar House

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Approaching Tredegar House, having explored the wonderful and huge stable block which has survived modernization.  Fortunately you can't see the housing development which encroaches within a hundred yards of the back of the house itself . . .
The table was bedecked for a wedding feast - the food looked so realistic and appetizing, that I became very hungry just at the sight of it.  The wedding it celebrated was that of William Morgan to his second wife, Elizabeth Dayrell, a wealthy widow.  Of course, the families with wealth, land and a position in society always chose to marry within those same circles.  Sadly, in this case it was a misalliance as the beautiful widow proved to have what we would call today, mental health problems.  Not to put too fine a point on it, she was as nutty as a fruit cake.  I don't know how long the timespan was between his marriage and the dawning realization that he had married a wrong 'un, but her dowry did not balance sufficiently against her violent behaviour.  She attacked her husband with words and worse.  She once pulled back the bed curtains and told her two maid servants that her husband resembled a monkey and acted like one.  Her violence escalated and she made threats against his life, declaring she would "either kill or be killed" and he had no option but to have her declared a lunatic.  Whether or not she ended up in Bedlam Hospital itself or the nearby private hospital for the insane run by a friend of her husband's, we can only conjecture.  If the former, let us hope she didn't make old bones.

Faceless facsimiles of the bride and groom are stood either side of the fireplace, and you cannot help but gaze in amazement at the detailed carvings on the walls.  I know that Grinling Gibbons often carved in Limewood, so it's quite possible that this panelling has Limewood carvings too.

The feast from the opposite end of the table.  Each chair had a beautiful nameplate at the back of it so each guest knew where they would be seated. 

This is driving me potty!  I have pics all over the place.  Anyway, the one above is the flower fancies hung from a gilded branch from the ceiling.   I'll be back tomorrow to try and sort it all out!!!

Day out at Tredegar House

Photos first, then I will come back and do some captions and a story line . . .

LOTS of photos to follow.  This is just the walk through the grounds towards the Orangery, a glimpse of the end of the house lovely walled garden and a greenhouse which made me green with envy . . .

More later.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Back to Winter?

It's hard to believe that this is a Tulip.  I'm afraid I must have recycled the packet which said what its name was, but what a stunner!

A view of the right hand side of my garden with wildlife pond still full of tadpoles and newts.  I am out weeding there this week, having a tidy up.  It will soon be absolutely full of Aquilegias in full flower.
A roly-poly Alfie cat.  He is such a happy lad.  He and his brother Jarvis are always off hunting, and regularly bringing back baby rabbits, or half baby rabbits, and yesterday I found a prone and very dead young squirrel on the kitchen floor.  They're showing off now!!
A visit to the Garden Centre last week saw me bringing these home with me.  The tomato is a 2nd try at growing it (crop failure on first sowing due to extremes of weather in greenhouse), but as it's resistant to Blight, I am keen to try it.  I hope to have a good display of Sweet Peas this summer - I have started several lots of seeds, and also brought 4 pots (so far!) of very well grown seedlings at the car boot sale.
This is our latest arrival for bed and board.  She has a deep throaty voice which resulted in D and I calling her Estelle - she reminded us of a husky Jazz club singer.  Anyway, she was always hissing, spitting and swearing so soon acquired the nickname of Misery Guts.  She knows all about cat flaps, easy living, sleeping on beds and hoovering up everyone's leftovers.  She did go missing for about 10 days when the weather improved, and we thought she had moved on, but then she returned and has been much more even-tempered and happy since being back.  Her father is the same grey tom who is the father of our two remaining boys.
This is one of our "original" strays, Amber, who has been with us about 8 plus years now.  She came to us after the lady who owned her (and Snowy and Timmy) moved to her daughters.  The cats were just abandoned.  Snowy and Timmy are dead now, sadly.
My husband working on a rocking chair which someone had decided to paint white (emulsion fortunately, so easier to get off).  You'd think we were back in the 1960s when beautiful pieces of furniture were frequently "modernized" with a coat of white gloss.  Anyway, it is now just about finished, so I shall put up a photo of the renovated chair in a day or so.     

I have to say that the new format of Blogger is annoying me, as I can no longer write my blog posting as I load photos.  I can only do one or the other.  I can't seem to move things around either.  

The seeds and young plants I have "growing" are on a go slow as we have had a real return to winter following the lovely warm week a month or so ago.  As we walked round town yesterday, you'd have thought it was February and not nearly May.  We are back to wearing 5 layers indoors and 6 out, and the house has sunk back to 13 degrees C again (about 55 deg. F) which is NOT comfortable.  We are still having to light the wood burner each evening and have an oil radiator on if we are in the sitting room during the day.  In fact, if we had the oil, we'd have the central heating on . . .

So, all plans of having well-grown plants and seedlings to sell at car boot sale have been scuppered.  Only those folk with polytunnels are able to provide those at the moment.  Of the things grown from seed, only the Coriander are performing as I expected.  The Purple Basil has germinated and then not grown another fraction, and I lost other seedlings to a very frosty night which decimated those trays at the top of my tray stack in my little plastic greenhouse.  So I am having to start over.  Such is life.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Down by the river side

OK - what the heck has happened to this system?  Oh, how I hate change for change's sake . . . I am now trying to work out how the heck I get photos in each post . . .

Anyway, today my daily walk was taken walking upriver on its bank, along a path now only used by fishermen, badgers, foxes and today, me.  When my children were smaller we used to walk along that way a lot.

There are different swirls and eddies along this stretch of the river.  I missed the bit where they used to bring the sheep down to wash them in a shallow stretch, blocking off that section of the river with hurdles tied to the bank I presume. 

You will have to make do with these photos for the moment, as we have to go in for D.  I am still getting the hang of doing the photos . . .

The first happy little faces of Common Vetch .

 This is looking back downstream.  On the left is a big fallen tree which has collected quite a bit of driftwood against its roots, from when the river was running in spate.

It's quite overgrown along the bank, and the trees are just left to grow, in the main, although I did notice one or two branches cut back where they had fallen across the pathway.

Sometimes we used to see Roe Deer here in the scrubby woodland to the right of the path.

There are different eddies and dips along this stretch of the river, although it isn't the rocky canyon it becomes below the bridge.

The riverbank was studded with the white flowers of Wood Anemones, and the yellows of Primroses and Celendines.  Apart from the Ash, which is always late to the feast, all the trees were putting out green leaflets.

The river tossed and leapt over rocks as it passed this little rocky islet to one side of the main flow.

A Peacock butterfly paused on the pathway, long enough for me to take a photo of him.  One that has over-wintered safely.  I sawOrange-tips, Small Whites, and a Speckled Wood too.

This field has been planted with indiginous trees - Silver Birch, Ash, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Gean (wild Cherry), Oak, Beech and many many Hazels!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

An evening walk

I've just burned 225 calories by walking quickly for an hour. Not so quickly, I might add, that I couldn't enjoy the birds, the wild flowers or the views. Every now and then I stopped to appreciate all three.

I walked up the valley towards Jim's, but at the junction I climbed the steep hill a little way, just so I could lean against the gate and take in the valley view. The sun hadn't quite stooped behind the western hills yet, so everything was bathed in a soft golden glow. The first Swallow had reached our valley and skimmed low over the pasture, shape-mimicking the Red Kite which prowled the skies above him, lazily leaning on a wing to change direction. Across the valley, Penrhiwmeredith's ewes were gargling bleats at their lambs, encouraging them to come and follow them on their grazing wander across the field. The hedgerows were littered with Primroses, Dog's Mercury, Celendines with their faces closing up for the night, the occasional Red Campion, Stitchwort, ragged button-like leaves of Shining Cranesbill with its tiny pink flower, banks of Violets, the first flowers on the Ramsons and arching new growth of brambles.

Another Red Kite flew down and settled on a field which had just been spread with slurry, intending to look for worms for a pre-bedtime snack, but the Crows had his number and one dropped out of a nearby oak tree and mobbed him, so that the Kite moved further down the valley.

Every hundred yards or so a fresh pair of Chiff-Chaffs called to each other, a Robin sang, Blackbirds flew up into the hedgerow and Sparrows dropped down a spray of two of Brambles to reach cover as I passed.

As I walked up our steep hill, I upset the entire Blackbird population and they were yammering away with warning calls that a human was coming. Gosh, now I know where all the 26 who come to our garden in bad weather live.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Hellens Manor - part II - mainly the history

Hellens Manor has a long and fascinating history, and seems to have links with virtually all the royal families since the very first stone was laid. Starting with the land being linked to King Harold, then passing through William the Conqueror (his land by right of conquest) to Walter de Lacy (d.1085), there was subsequently a link to the Magna Carta itself as John de Balun's family were Lords of the Manor from 1096 and witnessed the signing of that historical document.

The de Helyon family gave the Manor its name, and Walter (d. after 1357) is buried close by in St Bartholomew's church, where the huge and ancient yew - which was planted around 500 AD - would have been a substantial tree by the Medieval period. Also within the church is a beautiful effigy of Sir Roger Mortimer's daughter Blanche, who married Sir Peter Grandison. She had been taken off for restoration at the time of our visit. The Mortimer connection with Hellens dated from around 1275 when Sir Walter de Balun married Roger Mortimer's sister, Isolde and upon his death in 1292, she married Hugh Audley.

Roger Mortimer was the power behind the throne, unsurprisingly given that he was Queen Isabella's lover. It would appear that they were staying at Hellens when the Great Seal of England was delivered to them, after Edward II had fled to Monmouth. It is said that it was Mortimer who arranged for the brutal death of Edward II at Berkeley Castle.

Subsequent Audley marriages brought connections to royalty, as Hugh m. Margaret de Clare, granddaughter of Edward I. Connections with the Black Prince are also strong, as Sir James Audley was military adviser to him at the battles of Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356).

A subsequent marriage introduced the name of Walwyn, in the early 15th C. and the family, finding the accommodation at Hellens "miserable" set about renovations using the new-fangled bricks (made from clay from an old pond behind the house). The courtyard where we entered the house was completed in 1451.

The Walwyn family was an influential one and held positions in the county as Sheriffs, MPs and of course, close to the royal court. They held their own Courts Baron in the first room we entered, which had a gallery above it where the accused men stood awaiting their fate (which was pretty well always a one-way trip to the gallows). The Walwyn family was bankrupted in the late 16th C and an entry in the Court Rolls of 1619 states: "Hellens ruinoso est." Hellens is ruined . . .

But subsequent marriages put right the wrongs and Fulke Walwyn's marriage to Margaret Pye resulted in much restoration and remodelling of the house, including the building of the Dove Cote in 1641 (above) incorporating the original gaol.

We were shown the holes made by musket-balls in the thick oak door leading into the house from the courtyard - the family were of course for King, in the Civil War. Inside the house, we walked across floors made uneven by use and settling of the wooden floorboards and were led from room to room, stepping up and stepping down, admiring the most amazing paintings and tapestries which were centuries old. In the Baron's Court room was a table with a stone top which had probably once been an altar stone, with Maltese crosses carved into each corner.

We passed along a long corridor and in the next room were shown an amazing 16th C carving of Griffins - or Welsh dragons! - set into one side of the staircase. Another detailed carving - probably originally a bedhead from the time of James I - now served as an overmantel over the fireplace. Incidentally, the fine panelling and staircase were made by Charle's I's carpenter, John Abel. Before we climbed the stairs we admired a portrait of Sir Nicholas Kemeys (d.1648) who saved Charles I's life at the battle of Edge Hill, but subsequently fell foul of Cromwell's forces after holding Chepstow Castle. After his beheading, portions of his body were handed to troops to wear in their bonnets, though it is not stated how long the poor troops were expected to wear this noxious offering.

The Music Room was beautifully panelled and had contrasting paintings of various actresses who had secondary careers as mistresses. There were also some black and white photographs of the Munthe family, who also married into the rich tapestry of Hellens history when Hilda Pennington-Mellor married Axel Munthe, the philanthropist and physician to the Queen of Sweden, early in the 20th C.

I wish I had paid more attention to the showcase on the landing as it contained many fascinating artifacts including the bezel diamond ring given to Sir Nicholas Kemeys by Charles I after he saved his life, silver spurs in memory of James Audley's rent to his uncle, the crown which Munthe brides wore on their wedding day, and an ivory and steel dressing-case that once belonged to Ann Boleyn.

The Cordoba room had amazing panels of beautifully-worked 18th C Cordoba leather, which was once carried round from house to house to beautify it, ending at Hellens. There were more portraits of members of the royal family from the time of James I and II. The Boleyn connection shows in a portrait of Philadelphia Carey, holding her great aunt Ann Boleyn's comb. A portrait of her father, Henry Carey, is nearby. This room overlooked the garden and you could see the big iron gates which had once been the entrance to the house when guests arrived by carriage.

Then on to such a sad room, Hetty Walwyn's bedroom - and subsequent prison. Just after Civil War times, Mehitabel Walwyn fell in love with and eloped with a totally unsuitable local boy called John Pierce - I think he was a stable boy at the house. Anyway, she was gone two years before returning, full of remorse, to her family home, the scales having fallen from her eyes as to the true meaning of loving the wrong man. Her parents, having been scandalized by her behaviour which had cast a slur on their family name, kept her captive ever after. There is a bell rope in her room which was her only means of summoning them in extremis. Scratched into the window glass was a melancholic remark: "It is a part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it should prove our bane." After 30 years Hetty took her own life, dieing aged 50 in 1728. I moved around the bed to look at her portrait - it shows a sad lonely woman - and became aware of a dire coldness which concentrated on my back - in what was already a cold house since there is no heating bar open fires "in season". I moved away, and the penetrating cold followed me, soaking down into my legs. I motioned to my friend Judy to look at the painting and she felt exactly the same. Hetty had never left.

The next room was Bloody Mary's room - decorated in a deep red, and with very grand bed-hangings and an important Tintoretto of the risen Christ, probably acquired in her honour, as was the religious icon over the fireplace containing a splinter of the true cross or a drop of Christ's blood or similar. I think all the work was in vain, as Mary never came to stay. This was also the room where the family priest was killed when the Roundheads sequestered the house, and the priest is said to disturb current guests with his panicked flight from door to door in the room, not knowing which he should take to avoid his assassins. Again, a room with an intense cold to one side of the bed (between the doors). HERE is a link about ghostly encounters at Hellens. I felt no awful atmosphere, just the intense cold which seeped into my back. Not nice but not as threatening as what we encountered at Breamore House once before . . .

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Birthday day out - visiting Hellens Manor, Much Marcle - part 1 (with all the photos!)

The approach to Hellens Manor, with beautiful Pear trees, some swathed in huge bunches of Mistletoe, which is common in the county.

More pear trees in what had once, I assume, been an orchard - perhaps a Perry Pear orchard for Perry making - Perry is the equivalent of cider, only made with pears rather than apples. A really good perry (and I have tasted one at Ludlow Food Festival) is like champagne. Do not think that the fizzy bubblegum water currently masquerading as the cheaper varieties of "Pear Cider" (yeesh!) in supermarkets is even remotely related to Perry - or even Pears!

There were some lovely mounds of Forget-me-Knots growing in cracks in the paving stones.

A grass walkway with Aubretia highlights, extends across the middle of the formal gardens.

Out in the wooded margin to the main garden, we found this funny little willow elephant. Nearby were two small topiary elephants, just growing into their shape.

This is a lovely view of the house which shows its dimensions and its official approach. The grand doorway had once been, I believe, an entrance to the courtyard, and once farmcarts would have delivered fodder and supplies to what is now the inner courtyard.

Above and below, now the dovecote, this building, with its extremely low doorway, was once used as a gaol where prisoners, having been found guilty at the Courtroom within the house, spent their last night before facing death by hanging to the East front of the house. Many a Welshman met his end thus - just to be found on the Manorial lands if you were from the wrong side of the Border, meant certain death. Hellens is situated on the Welsh Marches and the border has fluctuated either side of it in past centuries. According to the booklet we bought at the house, in 1282 Ely Walwyn (one of the family) was involved in the capture and killing of Llewelyn, the last Prince of Wales.

We began our guided tour in the inner courtyard. Very little of the original Norman building remains above ground. You can just see a couple of courses of sandstone at the bottom of the tower and adjacent walls. This I think is all that is left of the original house.

The land around the village of what is called Much Marcle today was, at the time when Earl Harold Godwinson was Lord of it (1057 onwards) was known as Merkelan. You may be more familiar with Hardolf Godwinson than you think, as he was Britain's King Harold, who died at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. William the Conqueror then generously gave Merkelan to his standard bearer, Walter de Lacey. In due course, the de Balun family (from France) were Lords of the Manor from 1096 and those courses of sandstone date from that period.

Hellens was name from Walter de Helyon, whose wooden effigy (below) lies in Much Marcle church, just a few hundred yards from the house.

The inner courtyard showing a blocked up window and behind the chimney is a blocked up doorway - where the farm traffic once entered the yard.

Up in the attics, this room is apparently occupied if the geraniums in the window are anything to go by.

This is where visitors pay for their tour and I thought was a lovely building in itself. It had a wonderful atmosphere inside and an intriguing little staircase of just a few steps leading to a tiny door. I SO wanted to open it! The room has several paintings and some wonderful driving bridles which looked as if they had been associated with the horses that may have pulled the grand carriage in the photograph 3 down.

The interior of the cider barn, with implements still used each autumn, I am glad to say. The barn was fragrant with paper-wrapped apples in wooden boxes.

Cider making information below. Double click and all the photos should enlarge.

Part II with more of the history of the house and family, and a discussion about its ghosts . . . will appear shortly.