Hi There! My name is Rachel and as you may know I am the Creative Apprentice for Work in Progress. This is the first in a set of (hopefully) weekly blogs about my experiences in the Arts and Culture sector.
As well as my duties with WiP, I also volunteer at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry on an ongoing project known as the Rootes project (read more about that here). A little local history for you: Coventry used to be one of the powerhouses of Britain’s car industry. Brands such as Singer, Humber and Hillman were all owned by Rootes Motors Ltd. and many of their factories were located in Coventry.
The group accumulated a huge amount of archive material in the form of photos, press cuttings, financial ledgers, company minutes books and much more. The team estimates that there are over 26,000 photographic prints alone so you can imagine the sheer volume of content that we’re working with.
I started off helping to collate and digitise these prints, but I’ve now moved on to cataloguing press cuttings at the Coventry Archives & Research Centre which is an interesting archive of (sometimes) unusual news. The Centre is a part of the Herbert, but it’s an area that specialises in local studies and offers resources in family history and it’s a fantastic resource (read more about the Centre here)!
This week, there wasn’t much to note in terms of exciting events, although there was lots of coverage of the Monte Carlo Rally in the 1950’s but there was this really sweet story of these two boys from Colorado Springs who wrote to Santa to ask for a second car for their parents as they needed it to take their poorly sister backwards and forwards from a hospital in Denver. Their letter was sent to the Rootes company US headquarters in New York and a car was arranged for them, completely free of charge (much to the surprise and delight of the mother and father).
Rachel Reviews… Canons Ashby
I’m now a member of the National Trust! (nerdy I know). I’m trying to make the most of my membership by visiting a property every week, where I can.
This week I went to Canons Ashby, an Elizabethan manor house with 18th Century gardens set in the beautiful countryside of Northamptonshire. On the site there are also expansive parklands, a medieval priory and the remains of a medieval village, abandoned after an outbreak of bubonic plague.
Our first stop, naturally, was the Stables tea rooms to grab ourselves something to eat before heading out to explore. As usual, the National Trust’s food was delicious, with a special mention in order for the chocolate brownie! It was decorated with various pieces of equine paraphernalia, and it was a very nice space to chill out and eat.
We decided to check out the priory first. It’s a bit of an odd shape, due to the fact that much of it was torn down during the Reformation, so there’s just a small Nave and one bell tower left behind. It’s still a functioning church, complete with tiny pipe organ, but it’s open for anyone to come in and have a wander. In the bell tower, there’s a small display about the history of the church and a model of what they think the pre-Reformation priory looked like – they think it may have been the size of a small cathedral! It also provided some background into the history of the Dryden’s, the family that used to own Canons Ashby. The graveyard was pleasant with the added surprise of a flock of sheep relaxing in the shade.
Then it was time to check out the garden. The spring display was simply gorgeous! Flowers of every shape and colour were in bloom and the weather was on its best behaviour for our visit so this was simply wonderful. My favourite part of the garden was the huge, beautiful cedar of Lebanon. According to the guide we were given on the way in this garden was a very important example of an 18th Century garden that wasn’t restyled by Capability Brown – one of only a handful in the country. My only wish was that there were some signs about the flowers, because I know nothing about plants and there were some very exciting looking specimens that even my mum couldn’t identify.
I found a set of stairs from the garden that lead us into the parkland. We weren’t actually sure if we could go down to start with but after consulting the map we decided that it couldn’t hurt to have a look. There was a huge lake right at the bottom of the park, but we couldn’t work out how to access it which was a bit of a shame. To make up for this, there were lots of very cute lambs frolicking around the fields and I got lots of pictures of those instead. There weren’t any clearly defined paths around the parkland, and we were unsure of where we were allowed to go so we didn’t stray too far.
Our final stop of the day was the house itself! The staff in the house deserve an extra special mention as they were very knowledgeable and extremely friendly towards all the visitors. They knew lots about the house, the objects and the Dryden family so anyone who had burning questions came away satisfied.
The house was beautiful decorated, and had survived remarkably well seeing as the initial structure was built in the Tudor period. There were lots of hidden gems, my favourite being a Tudor painting that had been plastered over during one of the many redecorations and has now been restored to its former glory. The thing that surprised me most was how nice the servant’s quarters were. I mean, they weren’t anything opulent or grand but they certainly weren’t horrible either (the ceiling was a bit low but there was enough room to be comfortable). The real strength of the house was the Children’s Trail, which took us through every room on a search for missing laundry, which made sure we had a proper look at everything, and not just stepping in and leaving again. My favourite rooms were the Book Room (not called a Library, because Sir Dryden felt this would suggest that people could borrow books) and the Museum (containing one, slightly creepy preserved pufferfish).
As we left we realised that we forgot to have a look for the remains of the medieval village! Oh well, gives us a reason to go back!
I would definitely recommend Canons Ashby to families with young children as there’s plenty for everyone to see and do (including a woodland walk for youngsters) and for those who have an interest in old houses, particularly those that have experienced renovations as fashions have changed. It would help if a member of your group knows about plants to get the most out of the gardens. I give the venue 4 stars – ★★★★
That’s all from me this week! Hope you enjoyed this blog. Let me know if you’ve been to Canons Ashby, and what your thoughts were. Your challenge for this week is to find where your local history centre and perhaps pay them a visit. Let me know what you find 🙂
See more of Rachel’s Canons Ashby pictures on Facebook!