LAND at Lowsonford

LAND at Legthsmans

Travelling between Leeds and Cornwall last week I decided to take a detour and visit one of the LAND sculptures created by Sir Antony Gormley for The Landmark Trust in celebration of its Fiftieth Anniversary.

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Two Henrys : The Fourth Part Two and Moore

From Renishaw Hall on the eighteenth of June we made our way to Stratford upon Avon where we checked in at our hotel in time to wash and brush up before heading on foot (only a few minutes distant) to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre by the River Avon. It was a lovely warm evening and there were lots of people about enjoying relaxing by the River and the Canal.


We were booked for supper at The Rooftop Restaurant followed by a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was no dull, boring history play rather it seemed to me dominated by comedy. Anthony Sher played Falstaff and the whole performance was being filmed and relayed simultaneously to a greater audience in cinemas throughout the country. This meant that the director, Greg Doran, came on stage at the beginning to introduce the play.

Swans of Avon

The Swans of Avon and Clopton Bridge from The Rooftop Restaurant

HT Church

River Avon and Spire of Holy Trinity church from The Rooftop Restaurant

Shakespeare Hotel

The Shakespeare Hotel – one time I stayed here

Grammar School

The Grammar School, Stratford upon Avon


The Birthplace

The next morning after a leisurely breakfast and opportunity to take a walk in Stratford we headed off to nearby Compton Verney where we had a full programme of tours, a sandwich lunch and time also to walk in the park, visit the chapel and spend time (and money) in the attractive gift shop.

Approaching CV

CV and 3 piece

CV House

“10.30am Depart for Compton Verney. Set in a park designed by the ubiquitous ‘Capability’ Brown, this long-derelict house of the Willoughby de Broke family is now resurgent under the inspiration of the [Peter] Moore’s Foundation. The collections are numerous and varied. The morning will be given over to the current display of sculptures by Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin, while the afternoon will feature a guided tour of salient points of the main collection which encompasses British Portraits, Chinese Ceramics and Bronzes, British Folk Art and for Textile-buffs The Marx-Lambert Collection. You will be free to visit those parts of the collection which are your particular interest.” [Our Programme]

Moore Rodin

Moore – Rodin

Calais Burghers

Rodin’s Burghers of Calais

Moore Rodin
15 February 2014 to 31 August 2014
10th Anniversary Year – Moore Rodin at Compton Verney

This ground-breaking international exhibition compares the work of two giants of modern sculpture: Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin. This is the first exhibition to be devoted exclusively to these artists, with major works being displayed in our ‘Capability’ Brown landscape as well as in our exhibition spaces.

Fallen Caryatid

Fallen Caryatid by Rodin

Bunched figure

Reclining Figure : Bunched by Henry Moore

In the grounds
Enjoy eleven large scale works which complement, challenge and create new perspectives to vistas ‘Capability’ Brown formed in the 1760s. Amongst these amazing pieces is one of Rodin’s most famous works, Monument to the Burghers of Calais (usually on display outside the Houses of Parliament), Moore’s magnificent monumental Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae and The Arch.

Walking man on column

Rodin’s Walking Man on Column

Upright Motive No. 9

Henry Moore Upright Motive No. 9 with Chapel

Inside the galleries

Gain an amazing insight into the works of these two artists. Explore the parallels between their treatment of the figure through a beautiful collection of drawings and models made for larger works. See a special display curated by Moore’s daughter Mary which reveals both artists as keen collectors of antiquities and found objects which profoundly influenced their work. The final treat is a display of rarely seen archival documents and photographs taken by Henry Moore revealing that … ‘as time has gone on, my admiration for Rodin has grown and grown’.

After our sandwich lunch I wandered round the grounds and visited the Capability Brown Chapel.  This was built in 1776 as part of the relandscaping of the site and is one of the few surviving Georgian chapels in Britain, and one of the very few remaining architectural works by ‘Capability’ Brown. It is currently undergoing a restoration project and more funds are needed to support this work as it’s hoped to use the building in future for music and learning.

CB's chapel

The Chapel Interior

And in the afternoon we had a tour of the permanent collection – British Portraits

Beautiful display

Beautiful Displays

and British Folk Art. Currently there is an exhibition of British Folk Art at Tate Britain and this will then come to Compton Verney  from 27 September 2014 to 14 December 2014.

British Folk Art

British Folk Art

Weather vane

Weather Vane



And finally, the Marx-Lambert Collection.

Marx Lambert collection

Enid Marx (1902-1998) was one of the brightest design stars to emerge from the Design School of London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) during the interwar years. She was an author and illustrator of children’s books, a book designer, a printmaker, a textile designer and a painter.
The Marx-Lambert collection at Compton Verney features both work produced by Marx and a large number of pieces of folk or popular art which were collected by Marx and her friend Margaret Lambert (1906-95). These then inspired Marx’s own work -sometimes directly, as seen in the pair of ceramic wall-mounted cornucopia cases which inspired her ‘Cornucopia’ textile design.”

Canal art and wallpaper

Canal Art and Wallpaper

A wonderful trip full of interest and variety marred only by a 3 hour delay on the M1 due to a lorry on fire.





“A wonderful little church with a chequered pavement … with coats of arms in clusters on the lofty roof” : St Mary’s, Astley

 Astley Church

The above quotation is from ‘Scenes of Clerical Life : Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’ by George Eliot who based her fictional village of Knebley on the real life village of Astley. I wrote about my first visit to Astley here and this what I wrote there about the George Eliot connection :

I first visited Astley in the mid-1990s when studying for a Masters degree in Victorian Studies. A ‘field trip’ to the places associated with George Eliot was planned  and we spent the day visiting Coventry, Nuneaton, Arbury Hall and other places mentioned in her life and works including Astley church where we took in a view of the ruined castle. Astley Castle appeared in George Eliot’s story ‘Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’ as Knebley Abbey. The whole site is also part of the Arbury Estate, where George Eliot’s father, Robert Evans, was a farmer, surveyor and land agent and where the young Mary Ann Evans (GE’s real name) grew up.”

George Eliot’s parents were married in St Mary the Virgin, Astley parish church. “Robert Evans and Christina Pearson, were married in Astley Church in February 1813.” [Parish website]

tiled floor

Tile from the floor or “chequered pavement”

The church is open regularly to visitors on the first Saturday of the month from 10.30am until 2pm and also from 11am until 2pm on every Bank Holiday. (Always check the website if you do intend to visit though)

Staying at the Castle you are invited to call one of the churchwardens (numbers are given in the Information File) in order to arrange a personal tour. I decided to do this and at 10.30 the other Thursday met Judith who was able to show me changes that had taken place since my last visit and to explain lots of the features of the church. Here is how  the Welcome Leaflet briefly describes the church and its ‘treasures’.

We know that a church existed at Astley as early as 1285 because a priest was appointed in that year. However, what remains today contains part of the church that was built in 1343 together with some additions that were built in 1607/8. 

The 1343 church was built in the form of a cross, with a central tower which had a lead covered spire. After dark a light was always shown from the spire which was known as “The Lantern of Arden”. The light was to guide travellers through the thick forest which surrounded the area in those days.

Church lantern

A Lantern in the Church

Lantern of Arden

The Modern Lantern of Arden

“When artist Johnny White created Astley’s heritage feature, the new Lantern of Arden, he took his inspiration from the church. It is made of similar red sandstone. In the lantern’s windows, stainless steel panels mirror the ancient themes and history of the parish. Three queens and the castle are represented. Sir Henry Grey hiding in an oak tree and the Victorian author, George Eliot, can all be found on the lantern, made from the same red sandstone as the church.”[Source]

The church’s purpose was a chantry for Thomas Astley. here priests sang mass daily for both him and his family to aid their souls in purgatory. Over the years the church has passed ownership through Sir Richard Chamberlayne to the Newdegate family.

The main body of the church was about 30 m. long but by 1600 the tower had fallen down and the church was in a state of disrepair.

In 1607/8 the present tower and chancel were built, using some of the materials from the old church, at each end of the chancel of the earlier building.”

Stained Glass Windows

Stained glass window 1

Stained glass window 2

The east and north windows contain some 14th century stained glass whereas the south window is modern.

Altar Picture

Altar picture

This dates from the 17th century and depicts the taking down of Our Lord from the cross. It was given to the church in 1905 by Sir Francis Newdegate.


A stone circular staircase leads up to the bells of which there are five. Four of these have an inscription showing that they were made in Leicester in 1607.

Nave Ceiling


“With Coats of Arms in clusters on the painted roof” [‘Scenes of Clerical Life : Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’ by George Eliot]

This is made of oak and has twenty one shields connected with the church. It was extensively restored in 1876.

17th Century Wall Paintings

Wall painting

[“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark Ch. 16 v. 16]

There are six on the south wall showing seven Bible passages, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.

14th Century Choir Stalls

Choir stalls and apostles

There are two sets of nine and behind each stall is a painted panel. There are nine apostles on the north side and nine prophets on the south side.

The Original East Window

Blocked window

Now blocked, this window would have been at the end of the original church. It sits above the 17th century chancel arch. Some of the stained glass from this once magnificent window was moved and placed in the windows of the north side of the chancel and also in the tracery in some windows in the nave.

Interior view chance

Interior view towards the Chancel

Interior rear

Interior view towards the rear and access to the church tower and bells

Astley Castle Interpretation Trail

Astley trail map

The Interpretation Trail Map

Amongst many generous donors towards the reconstruction of Astley Castle the Heritage Lottery Fund was one of the major ones; giving a grant of well over a million  pounds to help the project on its way. HLF grants come with strings attached. So Astley Castle, quite rightly, enjoys many features and events not normally connected with Landmarks, in which the general public may be involved such as local school visits, open days and living history weekends. Public involvement has also included art exhibitions and a competition to design an Elizabethan knot garden in the grounds.

Knot Garden

The Winning Knot Garden

One  excellent result of the HLF involvement lead to the establishment of an Interpretation Trail on public footpaths through the area surrounding the castle (but keeping to the other side of the moat!). Information boards along the route explain the views and relate the history of the castle and its royal connections. Of course, I walked this trail many times in both directions. The views changed as the weather and light did throughout each day.

Let me take you along the trail. (Numbers refer back to the map above)

Astley Reading Room

Astley Reading Room

1. At The Astley Reading Room two boards give a general introduction and explain the creation of Astley Castle as a ‘Landmark for the 21st Century’.

AC South elevation

Astley Castle : South Elevation

2. Astley Castle : South Elevation. Staying at the castle; this is where I began the trail each time.

“This ancient structure still remains, and the grounds surrounding it being tastefully laid out and kept in good order.” (Smith’s “A new and complete history of the County of Warwickshire”, 1829)

Astley Church

Astley Church

Collegiate church

From the Interpretation Panel

From here there’s an excellent view of Astley Church of St Mary the Virgin. [To be the subject of another post] Proceed through the churchyard to a rather muddy lane and panel 3.

Path through churchyard

Path through churchyard

Trail this way

Follow the Trails this way

Astley Parish Walk

The Astley Parish Walk shares this lane with the Trail

3. The New Garden. “Today the New Garden is used as pasture but the many lumps and bumps hint at significant buried archaeology, especially in this north-western corner” [Interpretation Board] In fact from this point we re-enter the Castle grounds and here are ancient fish pools and a man-made ‘Viewing Mound’.

Fish pond and church

The former Fish Ponds and Astley Church

Viewing mound and old oak

The Viewing Mound topped by an ancient oak tree

There can be no real doubt that the New Garden was designed as a garden for the adjacent castle and it was probably laid out with paths, raised-bed type planting, arbours, hedges, and seats, perhaps in the late 15th century. The viewing mount could date from this period too.”.

1690 Estate Map

The area is labelled as New Garden on this estate map dated 1690.

4. Little Park and Shrubbery. Here we leave the meadow and pass through a gate into a small wood or copse now known as The Shrubbery. It contains the kind of cultivated shrubs popular in the 19th century and is only shown on maps as a separate area on maps of the late 19th century and after.

BCTV path through shrubbery

BCTV footpath through the Shrubbery

Just as building work on the castle began and continued from 2008 “volunteers from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BCTV) worked  tirelessly to clear fallen debris, self sown trees and invasive weeds along the footpaths, here in the Shrubbery and around the banks of the moat.”


The Moat contains water in places

5. East Elevation and The Plash. Emerging from the Shrubbery we gain another view of the Church and the Castle. The East Elevation is to all intents and purposes the Front and Entrance to the building. But looking in the opposite direction there’s a broad green meadow (The Plash) and the still waters of the Astley Pool fishing lake.

East elevation

The East Elevation (Front) of Astley Castle

The Old English plaesc, modernised as ‘plash’ means ‘a shallow piece of standing water, a marshy pool’ so this is likely to be an ancient natural feature, enhanced and adapted by the castle residents. … The Plash is dotted with trees, several of which are mature specimen trees – including a fine cedar tree.”


The Cedar Tree

Plash and Pool

The Plash and the Pool

6. Astley Pool and New Road. Our path takes us across The Plash to Astley Pool, a man-made lake. Although it may seem a typical 18th or 19th century creation it is first referred to in 1501. It is now a private fishing lake.

Astley Pool

The New Road was created to link the drive from Arbury Hall to a new access to Astley Castle. The first part of this was across the top of the pool dam and this would have provided a suitably attractive route up to the castle.”

7. Dark Lane and Castle Approach. The BTCV volunteers had been busy clearing the last lane that leads back to the village and the Castle. I was surprised to read in the interpretation notes that this lane was in fact a disused ‘holloway’. I have recently read Robert MacFarlane’s recent book “Holloway“. I had assumed that these features of the landscape only occurred in Dorset and the Downs of the South of England but here was one in the Midlands.

The Holloway

The Holloway

“‘Holloway – the hollow way. A sunken path, a deep and shady lane. A route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll and rain-run have harrowed into the land. A track worn down by the traffic of ages and the fretting of water, and in places reduced sixteen or eighteen feet beneath the level of the fields.’ “

[See more at: ]

And here we are back where we started at the approach to the castle. On the left is the Coach House like the Castle left to ruin but now repaired and water-tight although it has no use at the moment. Behind are the 18th century Gothick stables.

Coach House

The Coach House


I return to the Castle to study the library and read more about ruins and the rich history of Astley and England.


“The Building Bears Strong Marks of the Ravages of Time and Presents an Extremely Picturesque Appearance” Astley Castle

Astley and Knot Garden

Astley Castle and Elizabethan Knot Garden

“The Building Bears Strong Marks of the Ravages of Time and Presents an Extremely Picturesque Appearance” Britton’s “Beauties of England and Wales“.

The Stirling Prize is the most prestigious prize for British architecture awarded annually :

to the architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year. The prize is for the best building in the UK by RIBA chartered architects and International Fellows, or in the rest of the EU by an RIBA chartered architect.”

The RIBA Stirling Prize was born in 1996 out of its predecessor The Building of the Year Award. The Building of the Year Award had been running since 1988 and the winner was chosen by the RIBA President from a handful of National Award winners. This was thought of as neither transparent nor democratic. The aim with the Stirling Prize was that the winner should be decided in an unbiased way, with different juries visiting the ‘midlist’ and shortlist.

The new prize was named after James Stirling, the great British architect who died in 1992. The aim was that the Stirling Prize would be for architecture what the Booker Prize was for literature, and a £20,000 cash prize for the winning architects made the prize covetable as well as prestigious.” [Source]

In 2012 I was fortunate enough to be invited by friends who are Patrons of The Landmark Trust to attend the celebration opening of Astley Castle in July 2012. Immediately on leaving the reception and arriving home I decided to book the castle for a week (Monday to Friday) in November 2013.

Here are some of the highlights and light effects from this unforgettable stay.

Arriving at Astley

Arriving at Astley

The Ruins

The Ruins

Sunlight after the rain

Sunlight after the rain

Outdoor Dining

Outdoor Dining

Dining table shadows

Indoor Dining



Kenilworth Castle

Castle Visiting – Kenilworth Castle

Courage and Collaboration : the Challenge of Astley Castle

Last week I had the great good luck to be invited to attend the Opening Day of The Landmark Trust’s latest holiday property. Dating back to the 12th century Astley Castle near Nuneaton in Warwickshire has proved to be the biggest challenge to Landmark, so far. It even proved to be a challenge right up to and including the Opening Weekend due to the waterlogged fields being unfit for visitors’ parking.

“[The Trust] was established to rescue historic and architecturally interesting buildings and their surroundings from neglect and, when restored, to give them new life by letting them as places to experience for holidays.” [From the Landmark Trust website]

In the case of Astley Castle a completely new building has been inserted sympathetically into the medieval ruin.

I first visited Astley in the mid-1990s when studying for a Masters degree in Victorian Studies. A ‘field trip’ to the places associated with George Eliot was planned  and we spent the day visiting Coventry, Nuneaton, Arbury Hall and other places mentioned in her life and works including Astley church where we took in a view of the ruined castle. Astley Castle appeared in George Eliot’s story ‘Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’ as Knebley Abbey. The whole site is also part of the Arbury Estate, where George Eliot’s father, Robert Evans, was a farmer, surveyor and land agent and where the young Mary Ann Evans (GE’s real name) grew up.

The church of Astley St Mary in 2010

The church can be seen from one of the four bedrooms, July 2012

Since 2009 I have been following developments with great interest. On a visit to the Midlands that year I stopped by after browsing the secondhand book shelves at The Astley Book Farm to find the ruin being stabilised by scaffolding whilst awaiting the raising of sufficient funds to begin the huge task of bringing Astley Castle back to life again.

In October 2010 work was well under way when I visited with friends at the invitation of The Landmark Trust and we were given a guided tour of the work so far.

But in August 2011 on the next visit, amazingly, we were invited to climb to the top of the scaffolding and viewing the ongoing work from above – fluorescent jackets and hard hats compulsory!

The day also included a lunch with Landmark’s Director at the time, Peter Pearce. The lunch actually took place in the first floor sitting, dining room, kitchen.

August 2011

July 2012

Alongside the work on the castle improvements were being made to the area around which now include public footpaths with information boards dotted along way and landscape features including a viewing mound and fish ponds and a lake.

An Elizabethan knot garden of flowers and herbs has been planted near the castle.

Hooray for Astley! Hooray for Landmark Trust! Hooray for my Landmark Patron friends! Can’t wait to experience a stay at the castle for myself but that won’t be until the end of next year – it’s getting booked up very fast!!

Binton Church – a Link with Antarctica

South of Bournville and a few miles west of Stratford and less than a mile from the River Avon, in the peaceful Warwickshire countryside, lies the little village of Binton. It is just a few houses (very nice ones, though!), farms and a church. There is no longer a pub and no railway station, shop or Post Office. The church is Victorian and dedicated to St Peter.

This quiet village seems an age  away from the icy cold blasts of the Antarctic continent. Nevertheless here in Binton’s satisfying little church is a further link with a theme that seems to crop again and again during this centenary year of Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition. This village was one of the last places visited by Scott before he set out for the Antarctic. The reason was that his brother-in-law, the Rev Lloyd Bruce, was rector of the parish.

My  friend had discovered that the church contained a set of windows designed and manufactured by Charles Eamer Kempe in memory of the Expedition and illustrating stages of the journey.

There’s a small exhibition telling the Scott story and illustrated with photographs, commemorative stamps and other memorabilia.

My friend discovered the existence of the memorial window so near to Stratford in John Timpson’s ‘Timpson’s England : a look beyond the obvious’. She, like me, is always out to discover hidden gems and the unusual whenever she travels around Britain and abroad.

Coughton Court, Warwickshire

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder, treason

Should EVER be forgot…

Actually, I have read recently that there is a move afoot to gradually replace our traditional Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night with Hallowe’en which seems rather a shame. I shall digress briefly and reminisce about Bonfire Nights past. When I was a young girl November 5th was a low key family event. After tea, about 6 to 6.30pm, when dad was home from work, we would take our box of fireworks (bought from the special counter set up for that purpose at the local newsagent’s) into the back garden. The box would usually contain a Roman Candle, a Vesuvius, a Catherine Wheel, some Jumping Jacks, a couple of bangers and a couple of packets of sparklers. You can’t have a ‘firework party’ without sparklers. We never actually had a bonfire with a guy but I knew people who did! We would stand back the obligatory 6 paces whilst dad lit the blue touch paper and admire the whoosh and sparkle and sniff the smell of cordite in the air. Invariably, the Catherine Wheel would need a bit of encouragement to help it spin. for this reason it was usually the most disappointing. On Hallowe’en we would just fill a pail with water and duck for apples. Rather boring – but then we always had Guy Fawkes Night to look forward to a week later.

Early in August on my way to visit The Runner (younger son) I visited Coughton Court in Warwickshire where there is definitely no intention of letting the Gunpowder Plot be forgotten. It was to this house in 1605 that the news of the failure of The Gunpowder Plot was brought in the early hours of the 6th of November. The house has been in the hands of the Throckmorton family for 600 years.

“The mothers of two of the conspirators, Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham were the sisters Anne and Muriel Throckmorton, grandaughters of the original builder, Sir George Throckmorton, and sisters as well of the lord of the manor in 1605, Thomas Throckmorton. Two other conspirators, Robert and Thomas Wintour, were also great-grandchilden of Sir George Throckmorton.” Read more about the Gunpowder Plot and Coughton Court connections here :

The Gunpowder Plot

Coughton Court from the gardens behind the house.

Coughton Court is now run by the National Trust but the Throckmorton family appear to be very much involved still, especially with the gardens. As you can see it was a wet day when I visited so I didn’t get the chance to walk all round the extensive gardens. Instead I did a tour of the house, had tea in the restaurant, visited the shop and browsed in the secondhand bookshop.

It is possible to climb right to the top of the tower and view the surrounding countryside and the lovely gardens and try to imagine how it might have looked and felt if you were a member of the group of Catholics waiting for news of the success (or failure) of Guy Fawkes and his colleagues in their attempt to blow up the King and parliament in November 1605.

View from the tower at Coughton Court

There are several unrelated things that I particularly remember noticing as I toured the house.

  • The famous Newbury Coat is on display in the Hall. Read here about Sir John Throckmorton winning his coat in 1811. It was made in one day in June between sunrise and sunset from shearing the wool from the sheep to being tailored into a coat :
  • The Newbury Coat
  • There is an annual Gunpowder dinner or Fawkes Feast held here each year :
  • Fawkes Feast 2011
  • The abdication letter, written by Edward VIII, is displayed in the Hall. The letter was acquired by Geoffrey Throckmorton in the 1930s, when he was Clerk of the Journals at the House of Commons. It has been passed on through the family and can now be seen on display. I’ve been reading a lot about Wallis and Edward this year so this was a special surprise and thrill for me to come across on my visit to Coughton (pronounced Co-ton) Court.
By coincidence this very morning I have just read about this forthcoming exhibition at Compton Verney, also in Warwickshire :