There has just been an advertising campaign encouraging visitors to Northamptonshire citing amongst other things…
Nothing can diminish the beauty of the Cotswolds, not even the copious amounts of rain which have fallen on it almost incessantly in this sodden summer of 2012. The countryside was certainly more verdant than ever and the hedgerows were laden with dog-roses and elderflower in profusion. We were fortunate in our holiday at the excellent Dormy House Hotel, www.dormyhouse.co.uk near Broadway, to escape the need for wellingtons and umbrellas as we visited some of the sights of the vicinity.
What a man Mr Wade at Snowshill www.nationaltrust.org.uk/snowshill must have been. Not so much bitten by the collecting bug as positively devoured by it! From the moment you walk in the door there are “things”. Lacquer cabinets (in abundance), figures of nearly naked Japanese, carved saints, perambulators, children’s toys and was that really a Chelsea pea-pod I saw in that little niche along with the ivory angel?. Not to be forgotten is the room crammed with samurai armour, and the side of a coach. No wonder he and Mrs Wade had to live in the adjacent cottage, (which one suspects Health and Safety functionaries would nowadays condemn). Gardens are pretty good too; clinging to the steep hillside, with terraces built by Wade with the aid of M H Baillie Scott, and divided up into individual rooms. Each “room” as crammed as the house with flowers and mottoes, particularly thrilling is Well Court with its 24 hour clock with its astrological devices and metalwork by silversmith George Hart of Chipping Camden.
On from there to Stanway, www.stanwayfountain.co.uk an idyll, long in the possession of the Earls of Wemyss and March, whose golden gatehouse stands hard by the narrow Cotswold lane leading to the car-park. Not for this house the proliferation of bossy signs, just a few rather shabby indications that the house is open. Cash is taken by lady using biscuit tin for cash and tickets from a roll more used to the WI meeting. This is country-house visiting as it was before it became “Heritage” and all the more delightful for that. Into the house through dank back passage to the Audit Room, amidst the post-cards and audio-guides (idiosyncratic commentary by Lord W) lurks the bestest collection of Hans Sloane Botanical plates know to man. Wonderful! Then into the Great Hall with its towering thousand-pane oriel window beyond which are views of the gatehouse and the church. Then on to the Drawing Room with its dotty pagoda-roofed Chippendale day-beds surrounded by a proliferation of small tables encumbered with horses-hoof inkwells, bowls of pot-pourri, ashtrays and the usual decorative detritus only to be found, undusted, in a well-loved family home. On and on it goes each room filled with the history of the family not least their association with that aristocratic côterie “The Souls”. In the garden plays the spectacular fountain newly recreated by the family and gushing heavenward to a height of 300 feet making it the highest gravity-fed fountain in the land. Next job on the list is the recreation of the cascade, “should funds permit”. On to the stables for tea, just as it used to be, served on rickety tables with a cat wandering around. This is country-house visiting at its most charming, unhurried and indolent.
There must be something in the Cotswold air that encourages the nonchalant charm of the places we visit, for the next day we visited the gardens at Hidcote www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hidcote. Another spot hidden away down a leafy lane with a manor house and a far-famed garden. A group of Swedish visitors were astonished by the lushness (all that rain) of the plantings and the example of Paul’s Himalayan Musk which cascaded over an adjacent tree. “Heaven’s Gate”, The Red Border, Mrs Winthrop’s Garden and the clipped yew and hornbeam hedges cannot fail to set this garden apart from almost any other. That it was created by an American-born bachelor in the early 20th century says much for the allure of this part of England to our former colony for there was a considerable American presence in the vicinity and the rich built mock Cotswold Manor Houses back home in Maryland and Virginia.
The Cotswolds are synonymous with the Arts and Crafts Movement. We paid tribute to their skills by our visit to Court Barn Museum www.courtbarn.org.uk in Chipping Camden, which houses a fascinating number of displays recalling such luminaries as C R Ashbee and his Guild of Handicrafts, as well as lesser known figures such as Katherine Adams and her bookbinding. This museum emphasises that although the Guild of Handicraft failed in 1908, craftsmen are still to be found to-day throughout Britain practising the skills so redolent of the original guild. The Gordon Russell Museum www.gordonrussellmuseum.org recalls the man who did so much to continue the traditions of the Arts and Crafts movement into our own generation, at the same time making his products widely available to the general public. Russell’s interest extended far beyond furniture and he immersed himself in several aspects of design ranging from glassware, pottery, metalwork, and eventually to Utility furniture. This museum vividly recalls this interest with displays of his furniture in the traditional manner and surprisingly, modern office furniture of the 1980’s.