About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Sunday 17 September 2023

Ay, now am I in Arden

All I've ever really wanted, since I was a child, is a house with a garden that has a high wall around it and a door in the wall. Not too much to ask, you'd think. 

Oh, and windows with stone mullions, and a window seat. And crooked walls. Though the fact I've never lived, even temporarily, in a house with just one of these features makes me suspect it's almost certainly an unachievable dream, especially this late in the day. 

And now, to make matters worse, I want a moat, for which I blame Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire, which I visited last weekend. Thanks, Baddes, for zapping that dream even further out of reach. 

Never mind. The real reason for my third foray to the Midlands in two months was to see Angela, friend from my undergraduate days, but having left Bristol early, I had time to visit this beautiful 15th century manor house, which I'd wanted to see ever since I first heard about it. 

As the house didn't open till 11am, I started with a wander around the gardens and grounds.

Look at this ancient vine planted outside the glasshouse but growing through the window and trained over the ceiling. 

common carder bee

buff-tailed bumblebee on cardoon

three buff-tailed bumbles on cardoon

sheep grazing in the parkland

a rotten apple

There are several ponds of varying size, most containing quantities of duckweed, through which the ducks leave sinister black trails.

On the whole I prefer wild flowers to garden flowers, but every now and then, I fall for something spectacular, like these dahlias - I think they're called Black Narcissus. 

Inside the house, my eye was caught and caught again by the stained glass, most of which was installed by Henry Ferrers the Antiquary and dates from the 1600s.

In the kitchen there was the usual vintage kitchenalia, the usual fake comestibles and the usual priest hole (one of three). This one, the actual old garderobe shaft, leads to a narrow sewage channel, only four feet high, where in 1591, following a gathering of all the Jesuit priests and novices in the country, five remaining Jesuit priests, two novices and three Jesuit servants crouched for four hours while armed men pounded on walls above them, overturned furniture and tore off panelling in  search of them.

That they weren't discovered points to the ineptitude of the searchers - local thugs, apparently, who'd heard a rumour of the gathering and were after the reward money. 

Unbelievably, this colossal stone chimneypiece was once located upstairs, before being brought back down and installed in the Great Hall.

There's something so pleasing about ancient oak furniture and blue and white pottery

I'm not going to post photos of bedrooms with four-poster beds and artfully placed teasels so that punters don't sit on them; I'll stick with some other, more interesting rooms, such as this chapel. Before the Reformation, the Ferrers family, who gained ownership of Baddesley Clinton through marriage in 1517, worshipped in St Michael's, the mediaeval parish church close to the house - more about there later - but their loyalty to the Catholic faith meant they subsequently had to worship in private, and so they offered Mass in their domestic chapel. This version of it was recreated in the 1940s, the original chapel having previously fallen out of use and been used as a lumber room.

This is the Great Parlour, which was used as a studio in the second half of the 19th century, when the house was inhabited by 'The Quartet'. There's an interesting story attached to this group of people, namely, that in 1859 the wealthy novelist Edward Dering asked fellow-writer Lady Georgiana Chatterton for her niece, Rebecca Orpen's, hand in marriage. Lady Chatterton was hard-of-hearing and thought he was asking her to marry him, so accepted the proposal herself, despite being twenty years older than him. Edward, being too gallant to disabuse her, married her. Ten years later, they moved to Baddesley Clinton to live with Rebecca and her husband, Marmion Edward Ferrers, who owned it. Here they immersed themselves in the painting, writing, music, poetry and restoration of the house. Lady Chatterton died at the age of 70 in 1876, followed by Marmion in 1884. After a year of living together in the house with a Roman Catholic priest as chaperone, Edward finally got to marry his Rebecca, when they were 59 and 55 respectively. They had seven years together before Edward died in 1892, leaving Rebecca to live on for another 31 years.

In the library next to the studio there's a blood stain on the floor by the fireplace; allegedly, the blood of a priest murdered by Nicholas Brome, the owner of the house in the late 15th century. The story goes that he drew his sword and killed the priest in 1485  when he came home and found him 'chockinge his wife under ye chinne'. 

Except wouldn't there be more blood than that? I suggested to the NT volunteer stationed in the library that somebody was having somebody else on, and that was exactly the case: it was those naughty writers of the Quartet - 'you know what writers are like, they love a good story' - who spilled pig's blood on the floorboards for the entertainment of visitors. So while the murder really did happen, the evidence of it is fake - in fact, the part of the building housing the library wasn't even built until a century later.

Choughs featuring on a coat-of-arms

The courtyard

By now I was running a little late for my assignment with Angela, so I almost ran the several hundred yards up the lane to the Church of St Michael. The current building dates from at least 1305, but there's believed to have been a church on that site two to three centuries earlier. Until the 19th century, it was dedicated to St James.  

The painted table tomb of Sir Edward Ferrer, who died in 1535

I love the lectern with its simple etched decoration.

It's in the church that there's a final encounter with Nicholas Brome, who killed not one but two people during his life, having seen fit to avenge his father's murder by killing his assailant in 1471, 14 years before the murder of the priest. Being upper class, he got away with a fine for the first murder, and was pardoned by the Pope for the second, with the proviso that he renovated and extended the church. 

As part of his penance, he arranged to have his body buried vertically in the doorway of the church, so that people entering it would walk on his head. Hence the marker stone under the mat. 

And on to Angela in Coventry, where, after lunch at Fargo Village, we repaired to Charterhouse for ice cream by the River Sherbourne and a fine chin-wag, catching up on memories from 40 years ago and everything that's happened since we last saw each other. (Safer than a chinne-chock any day.)

Himalayan Balsam with carder bee ... 

... the bum of a tree bumblebee ...

... and the tree bumble itself 

Will be up that way again soon. 

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