A September 2001 trip
to Woburn by zabelle
Quote: When it comes to opulence the English are unsurpassed. A visit to their country homes is a real eye opener. Newport pales in the shadow of Blenheim, Waddesdon Manor and Woburn.
Frankly, after the first couple it reminds me of when you go out to buy a car, you want to spent ,000. But if you want ABS brakes its ,000 and if you want leather seats its ,000 and when you find your perfect color at ,000 its doesn't seem too expensive. The Duke has 3 Reynolds, the Earl has 4 Gainsboroughs, the Marquess has 8 Canaletto's and pretty soon owning 2 Van Dykes and 4 Monets seems routine. Call it sensory overload of the most amazing sort.
Restaurant | "The Orangery Restaurant"
The soup of the day was "Broccoli and Brie", served in a small tureen with fresh baked rolls.
We decided to try some sandwiches. We had mature cheddar with Suffolk chutney (a sweet, coursly cut relish made from fruit) and ham with English grain mustard. The rolls were hand-thrown and the ham was sliced off a cooked ham, not the deli sort. The sandwiches were dressed with sprouts and green and yellow peppers. They were very substancial and tasty too.
I got brave and ordered traditional lemonade. I always hoped it will be like home but I was wrong again. It was weird tasting and very sweet.
The service here was not the best. The waitresses seemed distracted and I'm not sure weather they have assigned tables but we had to wait longer to give our order than the amount of people in the restaurant warranted. Our waitress was all business too, no personality at all. We considered ordering dessert but were never asked so we just paid and left, with a small tip I might add.
The problem is that when you are visiting the houses there are no other restaurants close and when you want to visit several in one day you need to eat when you can. The food here was good but they could work on the service.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 6, 2001
The Orangery at Burghley
Stamford, Lincolnshire PE9 3JY
The specials of the day were vegetable or meat lasagna, steak , mushroom and ale pie and fish pie. But in our ususal fashion we didn't order the specials. I ordered a jacket potato with chicken mayo. Al had steak pie and Joe had pork pie.
Al's steak pie was exactly what you would expect, tender, flaky pie crust over steak cut in pieces and swimming in beefy gravy. He was in beef lovers heaven.He even got a platter with 4 kinds of vegtables and potatoes. Joe expected something similar but his was different, no crust, served cold , it looked sort of like pork pate. He said it was good but I wasn't brave enough to try it. And I was doomed to disappointment, the baked potatoes were all soggy they said so I had my chicken mayo in a sandwich. It was good , even if I really wanted a potato. The portions were large and we didn't have room for dessert even though they had a blackberry apple tart that looked wonderful.
This was an enjoyable stop, with a warm and welcoming atmosphere and very good food.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 6, 2001
The Stewards Restaurant
The only glitch in our service was that I ordered marinated olives and they were served after the soup instead of before, but it was a small mistake.
For dessert I had The Barons Lawn Tennis Cake, which was traditional English fruitcake loaded with sultanas and nuts and a pot of tea. Al & Joe went for the gusto and ordered the blackberry and apple tart with clotted cream ice cream. I refused to spend $8 for a dessert but both of them raved about it , so I guess I should have.
There is both outdoor and indoor dining here. It was cool and windy when we visited so we ate indoors. This is several levels above every other house meal that we had. Everything was very fresh and the whole atmosphere was very posh but not stuffy.
The Manor Restaurant
The present Marquess is trying to restore the rooms to their appearance in Walpole's time. So you get the impression of stepping back in time and feel like a guest in the 18th century. Many of the interiors are the work of William Kent and there is an extensive collection of Sevres China. Two paintings that we saw early in the tour are the three daughters of the Earl of Waldergrave by George James. They are lovely in pink and cream dresses. There is also a portrait of the First Marchioness by Hopner. Most of the paintings in the house were sold to Catherine the Great to pay debt. There are 3 pastels though, of the brothers Walpole.
Luckily, the state rooms went unused most of the 1800's, this way they were not ruined by a lot of Victorian detail.
The State Bedchamber has a green velvet bed and a shell headboard. It has a custom set of Brussel tapestries made for the room. It is the story of Venus, Vulcan and Adonis. She looks very unhappy with her husband and happy with her lover...a commentary perhaps. This is also the room with the ghost. She is the brown lady and is believed to be Robert Walpole's sister Dorothy. The Prince Regent refused to sleep in this room after doing it once.
You need to check out the ceilings throughout, they are by Robert Kent. After Walpole asked him to tone down the skin color he made all the skin look like porcelain, very pale.
In the Dressing Room there is a set of Morlake Tapestries.
Prince Albert's throne is at Houghton. It was brought here in 1936 so that Wallis Simpson would not be able to sit in it if King Edward VIII tried to marry her. Now every year it is brought down to London for Prince Philip to sit in at the State Opening of Parliment.
On truly fabulous painting is John Singer Sargent's portrait of the late Marchioness Sybil.
The Saloon has a portrait of one of my favorites, The Duchess of St Albans and her son. You might know her better as Nell Gwynn the mistress of Charles II.
We finished up our visit with the gift shop and the stables. There is also a model soldier collection that is one of the best in the world.
Open April 15-September 30, Thursdays and Sundays 2-5:30pm.
Entrance is 6 pounds.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 7, 2001
Attraction | "Holkham Hall"
On his grand tour Thomas Cooke developed a taste for the antique style in the manner of Palladio. This house is his answer. You enter into the Marble Hall where you get to view the acquisitions from his grand tour, a fine collection of ancient statuary. The most valuable piece in the collection is a statue of Diana said to have belonged to Cicero. The contents of the house are almost intact, there were some valuable drawings that have been sold to pay the death duties.
One amazing fact we learned is that all the gilding in the house is original since there is a lack of polution in Norfolk. The current Earl is trying to return everything to the way it was in Thomas Cooke's lifetime. Most of the rooms were created to house certain pictures and there is no other placement that does as much for them as the original.
Among the more famous Cooke's are Edward Cooke, who prosecuted Guy Fawkes in the Gunpowder Plot and the saying "An Englishman's Home is his Castle" is attributed to him.
Another is Thomas Cooke who was an expert in farming methods. There are 2 portraits of him: one by Gainsborough and one by Battoni. He attended Bonnie Prince Charlie's wedding to Princess Louise and it is said she fell in love with Cooke and commissioned the Battoni portrait.
The Landscape Room was built to house this collection of landscape painting. The silk damask was replaced in 1989 with silk woven on 18th century looms.
The State Bedroom has furniture designed by William Kent. The North State Bedroom was a favorite of mine with the beautiful flower arrangement at the foot of the bed.
Among the outstanding art here is a Reuben's portrait of Jesus as a young boy, The Duke of Arranburg by Van Dyke, a Poussin and a Claude Lorraine.
This is a beautiful house in excellent condition. There is also a Bygones Museum, restaurant and gift shop. They make their own pottery and have an extensive collection.
Open May 27-Sept 30 Sunday to Thursday 1-5pm. Entrance is 5 pounds with Bygones Museum 8pds. Covered on the Great British Heritage Pass.
You begin your tour by going through the actual room where Winston Churchill was born and there are several rooms of personal items dealing with his infancy(they have one of his baby vests) youth (letters to his father from school) and his military career. This is probably the definitive collection of Winston Churchill memorabilia. The original Duke is an ancestor of Winston, Princess Diana, and a distant cousin of the current Duke.
You begin the house tour by passing through china rooms with fabulous collections of Canton china, one case of blue and one of green and white and 17th century Sevres and Meissen.
Since Blenheim was a gift from Queen Anne, in order to keep ownership every year on August 13 the current Duke has to send the rent standard to Windsor Castle. If for some reason it isn't done, the Palace reverts to the Queen. In almost 400 years, no one has forgotten.
You can choose to go around with a tour guide or you can go on your own. The problem is that the rooms are so crowded by the the tour groups and they seem to overlap each other that it is difficult to listen to your guide and even more difficult to move around on your own. This is a VERY popular place. We made the mistake of going on a Sunday and the crowds were terrible. The last time I came here was in March and it was much less busy.
We didn't have time for the gardens but there is a small train that can take you out to them. We did however visit the shops. They have 3 regular gift shops and one that sells wine, food products, jams, jellies, honey etc. There are 3 restaurants. They also rent out the Orangerie for weddings and conferences. This may be a family home but it is also a thriving business.
Blenheim is open mid-March to the end of October 10:30am to 5:30pm. Parking is free. Entrance fee is 9.5 pounds and is covered on the Great British Heritage Pass.
Woodstock OX20 1PX
+44 (1993) 811091
Attraction | "Burghley"
The current Marquess lives in Canada and has no intention of occupying Burghley. Lady Victoria Leatham, his niece, and her husband Simon are the current custodians. She had agreed to be here for 15 years and has already gone past that, so the future is a little uncertain.
The tour includes a visit to the chapel, we got to stand in the ante-chapel where the servants would have stood for services. There is a Veronese altarpiece and carving by a student of Grinling Gibbons.
One very nice thing about Burghley is that if you are in a wheelchair they bring you up in an elevator and then bring the occupant to join their tour. There are some steps between rooms but they moved the wheelchairs up or down them quite easily.
The Brown Drawing room has an English cut glass chandelier, it also has 2 Gainsborough portraits and a Bruegel (rent day).
There is a Joos van Cleeve portrait of Henry VIII in the Elizabeth I bedroom (she never actually slept here).
The Heaven Room is in the process of restoration and the restorer stopped and talked to us about the work he is doing. The difference in the colors is amazing. This is followed by the Hell staircase.
The last stop on the tour is the Great Hall and it dates from 1555. It has a gorgeous double hammered ceiling made from oak and sweet chestnut. It also has 10 chairs from the Doge's Palace in Venice. The most impressive piece in the room is the solid silver wine cooler. It weights 140 kilos and was made in 1710. It takes 4 people to lift it.
Burghley is open April 1-October 28, 11am to 4:30pm. Entrance is 11.8 pounds. Burghley would be worth a visit if only for the gift shop. It's a great one with lots of unusual items. I did some serious Christmas shopping. If you are interested in painting purchase the Guide to the Picture Collection before your tour. It helps identify the artwork since the guide has limited knowledge.
Stamford, England PE9 3JY
As an American it was interesting to read about the American Revolution as just another skirmish in the Dragoons History. Though, even they had to admit that we turned out to be a much more formidable foe than they had anticipated.
Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the museum because there were many interesting displays. There was a very poignant letter from a son written to his father the day after Waterloo to let him know that he was safe.
After 1816 the Regiment went from being Dragoons to being Lancers. They took part in the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava. Of the 700 Lancers who went into the Valley of Death, only 200 men and NO horses survived.
After World War I, the horse was no longer useful for war transport. The Lancers became part of an armoured brigade.
They are now a part of the UN and NATO peacekeeping forces and they took part in the 1991 Gulf War.
This was a very interesting Museum and even my husband who usually is quite bored, was fascinated with everything they had to tell and display.
Queens Lancers Museum
You enter Belvoir throught the Portico which was built so that the important visitors could drive their cars inside so they would not be subject to the weather. The exisiting castle was built in the 19th century to replace one that was destroyed by fire.
You purchase your tickets for entrance in the parking lot. From there you have a long, uphill walk to the castle. In the pre-Guard Room you can purchase a photography pass for 2pds. The room is filled with 18th century muskets, some of which are Irish flintlocks and some are made locally in Grantham.
In the Chinese Room there is a highly elaborate swan cradle presented to the Duchess of Rutland by the Prince Regent. There is also a small cradle from 1658. My favorite, though, was a Joshua Reynolds portrait of the Manners children. They are playing with their dogs and they have such sweet faces and such pretty white dresses with pink sashes that it's hard to believe one of them is a boy.
In the ballroom you can see the coronation robes worn in 1937 and 1953 by the Duke and Duchess of Rutland. There are several interesting family portraits in this room including John the 5th Duke by Hoppner and Captain Lord Robert Manners by Joshua Reynolds. Also in a case in the room is an illuminated brevary said to have belonged to St Thomas Beckett.
This is a family home and in the dining room there were family pictures scattered about but nothing had that warm, lived-in look.
The picture gallery is magnificent. There is a full length portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein; two Stubbs Dog portaits; two cases of portrait miniatures; a portrait of Charles II as a child, from the Circle of Van Dyke; There is also a wall of more modern portaits of the current Duke and his parents. In the fire of 1816, over 200 paintings including a Rembrant were lost.
But, the most compelling piece of art is the sculpture of Lord Haddon in the chapel, done by his mother the Duchess after his death in 1894. It was her grief therapy.
The day we were here, there was a murder mystery being staged and we heard several horrible screams.
Open April-September daily, 11-5. October - Sundays only.
Admission 6pds is covered by the Great British Heritage Pass.
Leicestershire NG32 1PE
44 (0)1476 871002
Attraction | "St Martin Church"
Saint Martin Church
The house was built to entertain. The Baron planned to show off his wonderful collection and did, to a vast array of the who's who of Victorian and Edwardian England. The condition of all his treasures is phenomenal due to the extraordinary efforts at preservation that have been undertaken almost from day one. The lighting from the outside is kept minimal and there is new interior lighting to show off the painting to advantage.
You enter into the East Gallery which has the 2 largest Guardi paintings in the world. You then pass to the breakfast room, the conservatory, ante-room and into the dining room. The table is set for a dinner party circa 1894 and the flower arrangements are so tall that the two sides of the table can't see each other. The walls have 2 Beauvais tapestries modeled after Boucher paintings.The carpet is Aubusson and dates from 1780.
The Red Drawing Room has 3 Gainsboroughs and a Reynolds. The Gainsbrough of Lady Sheffield reflects beautifully off the Rocco mirror on the opposite wall. There are beautiful pieces of Sevres and furniture from Versailles. The carpet is a Savonnerie made for Louis XIV for the Louvre, the blue and yellow colors are particularly fresh. This is an amazing room.
The Grey Drawing Room has 3 Reynold's full length portaits, one of the Duchess of Cumberland who has bedroom eyes. There is a beautiful little secretaire with Sevres inserts. This room though oppulant has a cozy warmth.
The West Gallery has among its treasures a marvelous French tall clock that appears to be gold and lacquer. It is about 8 feet tall and has a mother of pearl face.
The Baron's room was his inner sanctum. He surrounded himself with portraits of beautiful women , many with dubious reputations. There are 2 pictures of Mrs Robnson, also Lady Hamilton and Mrs Jordan by Romney.
And if you think this is all there was you have to see the West Hall where I was stopped dead by the beautiful Duchess de Polignac by Madame Vigee Lebrun. The Morning Room has paintings by Cuyp, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Gabriel Metsu, and Gerard Dou.
The Sevres Room has among other things a dessert set that belonged to Marie Antoinette.
This place is beyond description and well worth the 9pd admission. It has a really great gift shop and extensive gardens, an aviary and a wine cellar. Also a nice wine shop. Plan to spend the whole day.
A41 to Village of Waddesdon
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP18 0JH
The smoking room had the look of a real family room, well a family room loaded with priceless treasures, but Joe says he could picture himself sacked out on one of the many sofas in the room just enjoying the ambience.
There is a magnificent collection of majolica with some really lovely pieces, there is a portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leister and favorite of Elizabeth I; on one wall, surrounded by majolica, a wonderful little Lucas Cranach portrait of a lady. Priceless...
After this you get to look into several small and quite plain bedrooms, and then you are set free into the gift shop. I bought so much here I had no idea how I was going to get it all home. My favorite is a piece of china made in Marie Antoinette's pattern. I really wanted to buy some toile pillows, but I really couldn't imagine trying to carry them on the plane.
The Bachelors Wing