Sunday, April 3, 2022

Horticulture, History and a Hint of Intrigue

We may be fully vaccinated, but we are determined to avoid Covid if at all possible, particularly now a close family member is facing numerous hospital tests.  We can't afford to pass anything on.  Last week's stats made for scary reading.  One in thirteen people in the UK had Covid last week - that's 5 million people.  We now have 20,000 people in hospital with Covid (although not all for that reason).  People may not be dying in such scary numbers, but according to one NSH worker we were chatting to yesterday, the situation in hospitals "is very bad."  

Anyway, we've been quite happy roaming around the great outdoors, especially when the temperature last weekend topped Spain's.  Our chosen destination last weekend was Arley Arboretum, sitting on the banks of the River Severn in the hamlet of Upper Arley.  It's one of the area's hidden gems and is one of the oldest Arboreta in Britain.  Well, I say hidden, but I still managed to bump into an old primary school friend.

It was originally planted by Earl Mountnorris in around 1800 and contains many exotic and rare tropical plants and one of the country's finest specimen tree collection.  

Ownership subsequently passed to Robert Woodward in 1852, before being acquired - in a state of neglect - by Midlands industrialist and philanthropist, Roger Turner in 1959.  Turner took on responsibility for the picturesque hamlet, building 27 new properties, restoring the arboretum and Grade II listed walled garden and bringing the community together by erecting a Sports & Social Club. 

Prior to his death in 1999, Turner, with great foresight, had taken steps to protect the Arboretum by setting up a charitable trust.  He bequeathed the entire 1600 acre Estate to that Trust.  The Trustees took the decision to open the arboretum to the public, having decided that it held sufficient educational importance.  It was officially opened to the public in 2002 by Lord Lichfield.

The Arboretum boasts a wonderful Laburnum Arch measuring 65 metres, sadly not in flower at the time of our visit.

Also, the usually spectacular Italian garden was missing its fountain and one of the pools had been drained.

However, the 300 species of trees dating back over 350 years, the blossom and the acres of magical woodland walks and views more than made up for this.

We even reverted to childhood and entered the Hornbeam maze.  Clocking that the laid hedgerows weren't yet in leaf, I scoffed as we entered, suggesting that this would be a doddle, only to exit, alongside a tearful pre-pubescent 20 minutes later.  He was upset that his biggest fear of getting lost in a maze had been realised.  As for me, I was just a quitter.  

Here's Gareth calling me a loser from the centre.  It still took him way too long to fnd it!

I received a copy of Irish singer/poet Imelda May's poetry collection for Mother's Day after dropping the heaviest of hints.  The collection includes a foreword by Irish Novelist Roddy Doyle and is accompanied by Imelda's pencil drawings.

Here's a lovely little example entitled "Etta."  Apologies in advance for the stream of consciousness layout, but Blogger would not permit single line spacing!

The sun sneaked its head out from a volatile sky and winked at pansy smiles that got the joke Etta James sang her soul out from across the divide and I danced in my slippers with a heart of love and hope.

Back home in the garden, the magnolia is finally in flower and has miraculously defied this year's late frosts.  Here is is, pictured at dusk on Wednesday evening.

Joining me on my evening garden exploration, was Lotte.  The only way I can distract her and stop her relentless head bumps (which mess with my focus), is to throw a twig or a leaf for her to hunt down.  Here she is, my perfect furry muse, hunting her imaginary prey amongst the daffodils.

Later in the week, we were treated to wind, sleet and snow flurries before the weather finally settled into squally rain.

Yesterday, we met up with a customer who was in the area and wanted to collect his latest order of rust paint.  He's transforming this amazing old farm truck imported from Georgia Texas.

For any petrol heads, here's the engine he built himself.

These license plates cost a pretty penny.


I'm sure by now, you've spotted that behind the handsome Ford truck, is a handsome old building.

 Introducing Harvington Hall, a moated Elizabethan Manor House.  

The moat and artificial island can be traced back to the 13th century, making them even older than the majority of the 14th century building work that still survives behind a layer of brick. 

The property houses the largest number of priest holes (7) than any other property in England and houses an impressive collection of rare Elizabethan wall paintings.  

Friends of ours married in the neighbouring church back in the early 2000s and we all enjoyed a lavish wedding breakfast within the walls of Harvington Hall.  A wonderful memory.

Harvington's history is naturally rich in stories.  Adam he Herywnton (Harvington) lived and almost certainly died here in March 1344.  Upon his death the estate passed to the Earl of Warwick and in 1529 was sold to a wealthy lawyer, Sir John Pakington.  Curiously, there is documentation to say that Pakington was provided with a special grant by Henry VIII no less, permitting him to wear his hat in the King's presence!

Sir John's great nephew, Humphrey Pakington, inherited the estate in 1578 and the manor we see today came into being.  

Unfortunately, being Catholic, Humphrey was repeatedly fined for his refusal to attend the Church of England Sunday services.  The fines started at 12p per week but increased to £20.00 per month, equating to around £4,000 today.  When, in 1585, it was made illegal for a Catholic priest to step foot in England, Humphrey equipped Harvington with ingenious priest holes (including a "swinging beam hide"), which visitors can see today.  Some of these were almost certainly the handiwork of master carpenter Nicholas Owen (who met his own death in the Tower of London in 1606).

A potted history, post Humphrey.  Harvington became the dower house of his widow, Abigail.  Upon her death, Harvington passed to daughter Lady Mary Yate in 1657.  Mary died at Harvington in 1696 at the grand old age of 85.  As she had outlived her son and grandson, Mary's granddaughter, another Mary Yate.  Mary was married to Sir Robert Throckmorton of Coughton Court (now under the care of the National Trust).  Sir Robert had very little use for Harvington and so demolished two wings of the property and in the 19th and early 20th centuries, most of the furnishings were stripped, leaving the hall in a dilapidated state.  

With only two generations of gentry living at Harvington, the house was restored, courtesy of the generosity of a new owner and Catholic lady, Mrs Ellen Ryan Ferris, who in 1923 purchased the Hall and gifted it to the Archdiocese of Birmingham, who still own the hall today.

Outbuildings including cafe, cottages and Georgian Chapel

Yesterday's visit was confined to the grounds and the Georgian chapel, which are free of charge to enter, although we both intend to return for another guided tour as soon as possible.  

A glimpse inside the Georgian chapel.  The light was exquisite.

We also took a stroll down memory lane for Gareth, visiting the location of his first job at another historic local landmark - Hagley Hall Mews.  Fresh out of uni, Gareth was employed as a product designer at this lovely location. 

Here you'll have to use your imagination and conjure a mental image of a courtyard surrounded by converted stables, each housing small independent businesses.  For some reason, my memory card appears to have erased these photos!

Lunch hours (or half hours) were spent wandering the footpaths on the Hagley Hall Estate, a Grade I listed 18th century house in Hagley, Worcestershire, the home of the Lyttelton family, currently owned by the 12th Viscount Cobham.  

Here's the church of St John the Baptist, 

there's the steeple, 

go through the lychgate...and here's a lone teen scrolling on his phone!  OK I'm paraphrasing the old nursery rhyme, but you get the picture.  Incidentally, I have a confession.  The line "I am the resurrection and the life" was introduced to me not via Bible studies, but by The Stone Roses, atheist that I am.

The deer were out in force in the deer park, but you'll have to take my word for it.  Pre dating the Palladian mansion and once considered amongst the greatest of all landscaped gardens, today, the park is under construction and not open to the public after almost 150 years of neglect.

There are numerous follies connected to the estate, scattered around Hagley, one of which can be glimpsed from the summit of Clent Hills.

Another, the Grade II listed Hagley Obelisk, stands close to the summit of Wychbury Hill in Hagley.  Here is it, just visible on the hill above the housing estate.  

The obelisk was constructed in 1747 under the orders of Lord Lyttelton.  However, the monument  for over three quarters of a century, has become part of local folklore courtesy of a very intriguing tale and was also branded with graffiti referencing the local mystery.  But I shall keep you in suspense until my next post!


  1. arrgh - cliff hanger!
    beautiful old england...... although the history is not so beautiful sometimes - like everywhere. thankfully there are trusts and brave people to save the inherited buildings and landscapes...... thank you for taking us with you via your wonderful photos!
    @C: today was "freedom day" here.... guess what the numbers will do...... we too will be careful and not joining masses and wearing masks in supermarkets and such.

    1. ps: lisbeth insisted to send greetings to her very cute sister lotte!! <3

    2. Thanks Beate. You're right. History is ugly and beautiful. Freedom Day is frightening for a lot of people isn't it? It's a shame. If everyone just exercised a little caution, things might be different. Lotte sends a slow blink back to Lisbeth! xxx

  2. Hello Claire, what a fantastic historic tour - and all done sat in my PJs and with cuppa - thanks for that. Always going to love a bit of blossom and brick. The laburnum arch must look sunning smothered in flowers. I think I recongnise the Arboretum, possibly from Vix's blog (?) You are very brave going into the maze. Things never end well for me in mazes. I hope Gareth managed to find his way back out! The Imedlda May book looks intriguing - all the more for that snippet you provided.

    Is your gorgeous cat part dog per chance? Throwing a twig! I laughed at that. What a fine truck that is and how clever for the owner to make the engine. Gosh, if I had a machine like that I'd have to constantly refer to it as 'my gooddam truck' - but in a Texan accent.

    How bizarre about Harvington Hall's SEVEN priest holes. Now, I wonder if it was just one priest that had to peg it quickly from hole to hole, or whether there was one priest per hole, totaling seven priests ;) (Please forgive my ignorance - I too only know the 'I am the resurrection..' line from the Stone Roses song). I am going to quietly leave know before I greatly offend anyone. Peace xXx

    1. Thanks Lulu. I bet you needed that cuppa - it was a long post for me. I do believe Lotte is part dog. Judging by the dreadlocks she's been growing recently (her fur can matt before your very eyes), I think she's part Komondor dog. The goddam truck owner needs to work on his accent - it's definitely more rural Worcestershire than Texan. :-D Your comment about the priest holes made me laugh. Now that's the kind of question I can imagine Dougal asking Father Ted! xxx P.S. I'm not easily offended, so fear not!

  3. What a lovely post - I do love a little tour! I remember Humphrey Pakington and Harvington Hall from the fun-but-silly "psychic questing" Green Stone stories/ true accounts by Andrew Collins/ Graham Phillips. Worth a read since you're familiar with the landscape and cast.

    Really looking forward to your next post - I love a bit of "WPBITWE?".

    I too only read "I am the resurrection..." in Ian Brown's cadence!

    1. Hello! Thanks for your kind words and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I had a nosey at the psychic questing article - very interesting. Imagine stumbling across that stone in a casket! I suspect my next post will be preaching to the choir, as you're clearly familiar with the story, but it's always fascinated me. :-)

  4. What a wonderful tour of history and horticulture, Claire! Arley Arboretum is going on my list for June, although I think we'll need more than just two weeks to tick it all off! I've only ever attempted to master a maze, which turned out to be a fairly easy one, especially as Jos was able to give directions from a small tower overlooking it!
    I can't get over Harvington Hall having 7 priest holes!
    Fantastic photos as always - and what a naughty memory card eating some of them! My very favourite must be Lotte among the night time daffodils! xxx

    1. You're right Ann. That list is getting longer. Arley is so pretty - well worth a visit. You can easily see all of its delights in one day. I'm hopeless in a maze, although I'm also a glutton for punishment. I think my red line would be a snow covered maze. I would be terrified that Jack Nicholson would come limping after me at any moment! I didn't want to give too much away about Harvington, because the priest holes are ingenious and it would be a shame to spoil it for anyone planning to visit. Lotte sends her thanks! xxx

  5. Arley Arboretum and Harvington Hall are two places we've never visited and I think we need to! That photo of the woman with her trug looks like something from a filmset, utterly wonderful. I bet the Hall would love that image for their promotions!
    I'm a bit scared of mazes, I've only been in a titchy one for fear of never getting out again.
    I love that photo of Lotte and the American truck is very cool (even more so when its ratted up!)
    I thought of The Stone Roses, too - I don't think I've ever read the bible or if I have it's been blotted out of my memory! xxx

    1. Thanks Vicky. I was lucky to be photographing the pathway at the precise moment that volunteer turned up for duty! I think you would love both Harvington and Arley Arboretum, but maybe wait until the Laburnum arch is in bloom. That said, there's always something of interest. I'm with you. I don't think I've ever read the bible. I do own one - a pretty little white leather bound gilt edged one. It was no doubt a Christening present, but that's as close as I've come. xxx


A Balancing Act

  I always find myself in a reflective, pensive mood at this time of year.  Life moves at pace and I'm finding it increasingly difficult...