Sunday, August 16, 2015

England continued

(It is always a privilege to travel with this always "sunny" lady)
(Bodnant Gardens - Conway area, Wales - are beautiful, and in spring should be magnificent)
(Main house on Bodnant Gardens compound)

(Pictures above and below fascinate us)

As you now know, we became members of the National Trust and visited many a castle, manor, park and gardens. All of them have a story. To avoid telling too many and therefore fastly creating boring snippets, I am taking the opportunity of telling about two castles in more detail.

(Homes as very few could build today)

1. In northwest Wales lies the Conwy valley, where around 1500 a castle was built and extended in the decades following. By 1920 most of its content was auctioned off and the process of deterioration began. It would have become one of the many ruins scattered all around Britain, if not for a young couple, who bought it with their savings, mortgaging themselves into a life of poverty, with the goal of restoring this castle to its former glory.

(Gwydir Castle today, as you read the story imagine this to be wilderness)
(Backside from our bedroom window)
(Peacocks rule the garden and as you see below they can fly to the roof top too. They are horribly noisy in the early morning)
(Our bedroom, where we stayed in one day because of rain and cold)

(The breakfast room)

We stayed in this castle for 4 days as guests of Peter Welford, a Londoner and his now wife Judy Corbett, who grew up in the region and had visited the castle as a child.

(The formal room anno 1600)
(The wall are a few feet thick - the fireplace immense)
(Clock from 1650 returned to the castle through auction catalogue research)
(Judith and Peter never restored just cleaned up and put polish on wood when required)

(The furniture found in here was not auctioned off. The place was used for parties in the late eighties. The yellow paint dates from then)

This is the story of Gwydir Castle, not only a 2 bedroom B&B, but for 6 pounds you can also visit the castle and gardens on a day pass.

(The formal receiving room with below a great grandson of Meredith Gwynn the dynasty founder)

It seems again and again, that setting up a dynasty requires that one serves the King or Queen, go abroad and fight some battles successfully, and when back with title and land grants, father many children. Meredith Gwynn, the founder of the Gwydir dynasty, fathered 30 children by 3 wives and 4 concubines, while enlarging the house (by Jove with such a growing "family" one has no choice!).

During the generations to follow, they successfully maneuvered thru the Tudor and Stuart causes, but lost in the Cromwell era by being royalists.

Although when royals were in vogue again, they visited Gwydir, like King George and Queen Mary and the Duke and Duchess of York (no not the recent ones, all this plays before 1900, although in 1998 HRH the Prince of Wales, came to open a restored dining room.
(This tree is more than 1000 years older than any of the buildings)

(Formal Gardens stretch out and were created and are maintained by Peter and Judy and one Gardener)

There are of course ghosts on the premises, and peacocks strutt around the gardens.

(I am still astonished how 3 people can make all this so beautiful. The grounds measure 10 acres/40000sq mtr)

Judy Corbett wrote a book about their castle restoration "castles in the air", in which she details her many first bone cold wet nights in their newly acquired castle, with scurrying rats and flying bats, with no electricity, fighting with machetes the overgrown wilderness that occupied the premises, wondering whether they had just made the biggest mistake in their lives.

(None of the flower pictures here were found on Gwydir; just to throw you off a bit)

(This pond and English gardens surrounding it are so British - organized chaos)

She recounts, that after a few weeks she could find blindly in the dark the buckets and pans put out to catch the rain, as she got to know the walls of the castle feeling her way around. And how the success of their hard manual labor in cleaning up the place and patching the leaking roofs little by little was measured by bringing the number of buckets to be emptied down from 36 to 16 after a few months. The book is well written and can be found at Amazon.

(I couldn't get enough of the beautiful Gwydir setting)

I was fascinated by this story, especially meeting Judy and seeing what they have accomplished since that day of purchase in 1994. Now they are, although still money poor, in valuing this property they privately own: millionaires.

The most wonderful story about the restoration and the reason why Prince Charles showed up, is a 1921 auction catalogue neighbors gave them when they moved in in 1994. The dining room lot, comprising of 1640's panelling, door case, fireplace and leather wall coverings, was bought by Randolph Hearst for his faux castle in California, but he died soon afterwards and the heirs eventually sold the unopened crates to the New York Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

(The restored dining room, which Prince Charles came to officially re-open)

Peter and Judy were able to negotiate a repurchase, to restore the dining room in its original form, and Judy tells the story how they were blindfolded and driven to a secret storage facility in Brooklyn, where they witnessed the opening of the original crates so they could see what they were purchasing.

(The repurchase brought wood panelling and leather furnishings back)

(The impressive door panelling was fully intact)

(The gold wall covering is leather)

Judy recalls that the smell of Gwydir emanated from the open crate as she peered in closer to inspect. She told us that they are still using that auction catalogue to find other original furnishings, in the hope to bring them back home to Gwydir.

(Above and below pictures on top of the walls surrounding Conwy)
(A church yard with stones from 1700 and older)
(Wales in all its beauty)

(But also showing it's unpredictable side, fog, wind, cold and desolate)
(Though it is green and with the fast running streams absolutely beautiful)

(Presenting you Hardwick Castle the "more glass than stone" home of Bess, countess of Shrewbury)

(Her initials and her coat of arms - stags)

(There was nothing coy about Bess's display of wealth)

2. Now the second story as told to us during our visit to Hardwick Castle and its most formidable occupant Bess, or formally named, Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, who was born in poor circumstances - her father made it to Esquire and left mother and 4 daughters nothing when he died.

(In an age of female power, with Elizabeth I, queen and Elizabeth of Hardwick, number 2 person in all of England, it was possible for a woman to create her own coat of arms)
(As I stated before the Flemish tapestry makers delivered the No. 1 wall coverings all over Europe)
(Images of Bess and below her bedroom)

She married four times, starting at the age of 13, amassing more and more wealth and titles along the way and ended up feuding with her last husband, who when he died had made her so rich that she became the second richest person in the U.K., behind the Queen, Elizabeth I. An annual income of 10,000 pounds in 1590 could be recalculated to about 1.5 million to 2 million pounds today.

(Receiving room with beautiful views of the gardens)

(Guest bed)

Queen Elizabeth made Bess and her last husband caretakers (a nice word for jailers) of Mary, Queen of Scotts, for 17 years. Bess's granddaughter Arabella almost became queen after Elizabeth died, but in the turmoil that ensued James I became king. Princes William and Harry are descendants of Bess from both sides of the family.

(Descendants lived here and used the property till 1960 when the widow of the 9th Duke died)

(Bedroom of Evelyn, 9th Duchess of Devonshire)

Hardwick has Bess's initials on top of the Hall. The building is more glass than brick. (Bess owned glass factories)

(Picture taken from the ruins of the original Hardwick Hall of Beth's creation)
(One of the numerous properties of Beth of Hardwick, Chatsworth Castle. Now owned by a trust operated by an American management company. The 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire pay market rent for their private quarters)

(35000 acres / 140 sq km of the Duke are now retained in trust of the total of 83000 acres / 340 sq km of original holdings)

I am fascinated by the stories about all the nobles, whose premises we visited and the imagination runs wild, when wandering through the rooms and halls of bygone eras. The whole Downton Abbey TV series comes alive all around you.

(Staff dining hall in Hardwick)
(Kitchen area with below a picture of the staff early 2000 - so Downton Abbey like)
(Copper was the metal dominant in cooking utensils)
By the way Bess was told by a seer, that as long as she was building houses she would not die. She died on a frosty day that was so cold, the workers could not mix mortar or do carpentry at the age of 81)
(This was a home, where the impoverished last son could not afford to make changes)

(He lived alone in it with a generator for TV. No electric lights or central heating. To protect the property and its valuables he strung tins on a string at entrances that would make noise should intruders come)

(The shower was to be filled with hot water, with the pull string to open shower head)

(Original doll house)
(Below an in-house chapel; and now compliments of the National Trust, beautiful gardens)

I know this blog feels like a history lesson and where is Erik's personal input?

Well may the pictures AGAIN rescue my blog.

(Above and below pictures of the city of Chesterfield)
(Above and below the twisted tower of Chesterfields cathedral; according to legend the work of the devil, who when a virgin married in the church twisted the tower and promised to untwist it when a second virgin would marry there. More likely however the result of unseasoned wood, clad with heavy slats of lead, drying out over 50 plus years)






(The smallest 10 ft high house in all of England - 2 rooms, occupied by a 6 ft 3 inch fisherman till 1900. Still owned by the family - enter for £1. I was too cheap to do that)
( the last 2 pictures - nature at its most beautiful: budding promise and the lure of far away lands)