Kent, Part 1

I had a whistlestop trip to Kent, packing in as many “Savings” as I could within a few days.

My first stop was Chartwell (Winston Churchill’s former home). The outside was certainly very grand indeed, whilst the inside was more like a normal home (and nowhere near as big as it looks from the outside, unless the National Trust have cunningly hidden a huge chunk of it). There was a huge amount of Churchill memorabilia in an exhibition room, but I thought the most interesting bit was a small display near the exit that explained how he’d gone ahead and bought the house without telling his wife. She thought they could’t afford it, that the upkeep would be too great, and she seems to have been right. I hadn’t realised that he’d had to shut the house up twice, once in the late 1920s (when they moved into a cottage in the grounds) and once in the late 1930s. They’d tried to sell it twice before a group of admirers finally bought the property in 1946 and gave the Churchills the right to live in it for the rest of their lives, after which it was to go to the nation. I’d never really imagined Winston Churchill ever being hard up. Maybe it’s because he was born at Blenheim? Or maybe it’s because politicians nowadays never seem to be short of a squillion or two…. (Tony Blair?)

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There were plenty of paintings by Winston Churchill on the walls inside the house. Frankly I thought they were all rubbish, although as he did win awards, that just goes to show how much I know about art! It did remind me of an episode of Fake or Fortune we watched a few months ago, where the painting in question was purported to be a Churchill. In response to a comment about the figures being “weak” the question from the expert was along the lines of “ah, but are the weak in the same way that Churchill would have painted them?”…

Quebec House is very close to Chartwell and is the birthplace / childhood home of James Wolfe, the general who captured Quebec from the French in 1759, died of his wounds, and was immortalised in many a painting. There was a lot of talk about art here too, as the famous picture of Wolfe’s death by West apparently brought in a new era of realism as the figures were wearing uniforms not Roman togas and the like. It still didn’t look too realistic to my untrained eye though. Wot not blood? I thought he was dying of wounds received in battle? Hmmmmm….

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Onward to more Savings….

My next stop was Knole, which from 1604 on was the home of the Sackvilles and is the birthplace of Vita Sackville West. Described as “more like a town than a house” it was certainly huge. They have major work going on at present, which meant that half of the house was closed though they were keen to point out that they have reduced their ticket prices this year to reflect that (damn, I thought, that means less savings!).

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To be honest I was relieved that half of it was shut, as I’d had enough by the time I got to the end of the rooms that are currently open. It’s very dark and gloomy and the walls are covered with very old dark dismal portraits. The National Trust guides are very keen to present you with a sheet describing all the pictures as you walk into each room. It’s a relief when finally, after what feels like several weeks of obediently squinting at very similar pictures, you finally come across the obligatory Holbein-esque portrait of Henry VIII. Phew! From that point I decided that I would just scan the info and only look at pictures by or of people I had heard of….

There was one interesting snippet to be collected from Knole though. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside so I couldn’t take a pic. There was a billiard table and on it some curved maces. The room guide explained that these were used to push the ball around on the table in an earlier version of billiards that sounded very much like table-top croquet.

On to the next property, Ightham Mote, and what should I find in their billiard room but a picture of exactly the game that had been described at Knole…..

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Ightham Mote was a bit of a brain-bender, much more interesting than I’d thought it would be from the handbook. It’s a right old hotchpotch of every period from medieval times onwards. On entering, you’re catapulted straight from a very medieval-looking hall straight into the Victorian housekeeper’s room. As I walked round I did get the feeling that I was boinging around in History in a pretty uncontrolled fashion. Near the end was a room in which they were showing a Timeteam programme about the £10 million restoration of Ightham that was completed around 2004. Baldrick explained all about the various bits of the building and showed how the National Trust were uncovering all kinds of things then putting the Victorian panelling back and hiding them again…. The place did make a lot more sense after having seen the video . Ightham Mote is one that I would go back to for another look once I’ve finished mentally processing my first visit!

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From here I switched camp site and moved further South to Marden, which is prime ancestor country…..

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