Having completed our Wellington research at the Hartley Library, University of Southampton, Vicky and I found ourselves faced with a three day holiday weekend before we could move on to begin work at the next archive. Vicky suggested that we take a side trip to the Isle of Wight before moving on to Chichester, and I readily agreed.
From the port of Southampton, we boarded the ferry for the 30 minute trip to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
On arrival, we found ourselves at the Hythe Pier, completed in 1881.
The 1878 Act of Parliament made provision for the construction of a tramway along the pier. The trucks that carried luggage along the pier were found to be damaging the pier decking, and in 1909 a narrow gauge railway was constructed to replace them and in 1922, the railway was reconstructed and electrified.
Vicky and I found ourselves seated within the Royal car.
Taking a taxi to Ryde, we checked into our room at the Castle Hotel.
Naturally, our first priority was to explore the town. Again, it was a glorious Spring day and we spent the afternoon browsing in the shops and enjoying the seafront. Next time, Vicky and I venture out further afield and see the Isle by bus.
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After touring the extensive – and absolutely gorgeous – gardens, Vicky and I headed inside for a tour of the Castle, which is one of the longest inhabited country houses in England. Apart from the occasional reversion to the Crown, Arundel Castle has descended directly from 1138 to the present day, carried by female heiresses from the d’Albinis to the Fitzalans in the 13th century and then from the Fitzalans to the Howards in the 16th century and it has been the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for over 850 years. The 3rd Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554), was uncle to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both of whom became wives of King Henry VIII (1491-1547) and only escaped the death penalty because King Henry VIII died the night before the execution was due and the 4th Duke (1536-72) was beheaded for plotting to marry Mary Queen of Scots.
Many of the original features such as the crenellated Norman keep, gatehouse and barbican and the lower part of Bevis Tower survive. During the Civil War (1642-45), the Castle was badly damaged when it was twice besieged, first by Royalists who took control, then by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian force led by William Waller. Nothing was done to rectify the damage until about 1718 when Thomas, the 8th Duke of Norfolk (1683-1732) carried out some repairs. Charles Howard, the 11th Duke (1746-1815), known to posterity as the ‘Drunken Duke’ and friend of the Prince Regent subsequently carried out further restoration. Between the 1870s and 1890s the house was almost completely rebuilt and the magnificent architecture in Gothic style is considered to be one of the great works of Victorian England.
The private chapel was built between 1890 and 1903 – its design was inspired by Salisbury Cathedral.
Gothic elements continue throughout the Castle and are shown to advantage in the dining room.
Continuing on, Vicky and I were able to appreciate how high design and comfortable spaces were frequently combined to give Arundel Castle the feel of a true family home.
Throughout the Castle, artwork and items of interest can be found at every turn.
It will come as no surprise that Victoria and I both spent quite a bit of time examining the magnificent library and its contents.
Containing about 10,000 books, the double height library is 112 feet long and occupies what was once the Elizabethan Long Gallery. It was constructed in 1815, its design influenced by St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.
Would you like to see Arundel Castle for yourself? We’ll be returning to the Castle on Number One London’s 2020 Regency Tour – complete itinerary and details can be found here.
When Vicky and I visited Beaulieu in September, we were of course aware that the grounds also housed the National Motor Museum, but we were unprepared for the crowds of people who had turned out for a special, televised event that particular day.
Never having planned on visiting the Motor Museum anyway, Vicky and I hurried through the crowds and headed for the gardens and the Abbey.
And we very quickly found ourselves quite alone in the grounds and able to explore at our leisure.
Beaulieu Abbey was a Cistercian abbey founded in 1203–1204 by King John and populated by 30 monks sent from the abbey of Cîteaux in France, the mother house of the Cistercian order.
In 1535 the abbey’s income was assessed in the Valor Ecclesiasticus, Henry VIII‘s general survey of church finances prior to the plunder, at £428 gross, £326 net. According to the terms of the first Suppression Act, Henry’s initial move in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, this meant that it escaped immediate confiscation, though the clouds were gathering.
Though Beaulieu managed to survive until April 1538, at that point it was finally forced to surrender to the government. Many of the monks were granted pensions, the abbot receiving 100 marks per year. Abbot Thomas ended his days as treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral. He died in 1550.
At the dissolution of the monastery in 1538, the Commissioners for the Dissolution reported to the government that thirty-two sanctuary-men, who were here for debt, felony, or murder, were living in houses in the monastic precincts with their wives and families. When the abbey was dissolved there was some debate about what to do with them, however, in the end it was decided, after pleading by the former abbot and certain government officials, to allow the debtors to live in their houses on the abbey grounds permanently.
Following the Dissolution, the monk’s refectory was converted to the current church.
The Abbey and its grounds are said to be haunted by the monks. The video below is a portion of a special called The Stately Ghosts of England, with actress Margaret Rutherford, her husband, Stringer Davis and celebrity ghost hunter of that time, Tom Corbett. In it, you will see the grounds of the Abbey and visit Beaulieu house.
Victoria and I, too, visited Beaulieu House, adjacent to the Abbey and reached via a wooded walk.
Beaulieu Palace House, to give it its full title, is a 13th-century house, originally part of the Abbey. It was purchased by Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton in 1538, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries and is still owned and occupied by the earl’s descendants, the Barons Montagu of Beaulieu.
Though a grand house, Beaulieu feels more like a family home, as evidenced by the post box in the hall and the children’s table, above, set up in the dining room.
Above and below, the coronation robes worn by family members at the coronations of George IV (top and bottom right) and those of George VI and Elizabeth II.
The memoires (1906-30) of Lord Montagu’s grandmother Pearl Pleydell-Bouverie have been published and tell the story of her childhood and her time as wife to the motoring pioneer John, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu.
Something was cooking in the kitchen – and it smelled good.
Leaving Beaulieu, we drove through the New Forest and saw many of the famed ponies, who definitely have the right of way. You can read about the breed here.
More adventures to follow . . . .
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After our morning in Ewelme, we headed off with Beth behind the wheel, on to our next adventure.
Which turned out to be The Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul, more usually called Dorchester Abbey, a Church of England parish church in Dorchester on Thames, Oxfordshire.
Formerly a Norman abbey church, Dorchester Abbey was built on the site of a Saxon cathedral.
The church of Dorchester Abbey, as it stands today, was built entirely by the Augustinian Canons, although there are traces on the north side of Saxon masonry, probably part of the ancient cathedral.
Between 1998 and 2006 the Dorchester Abbey Campaign Committee raised £4,000,000, allowing the Church Council and the Dorchester Abbey Preservation Trust to undertake significant works in the abbey. These include the Cloister Gallery managed by the Dorchester Museum Committee and restoration of medieval and Victorian wall paintings. Dorchester Abbey Museum was longlisted for the Gulbenkian Prize in 2006.
Afterwards, we strolled the surrounding historic village of Dorchester-on-Thames.
Eventually, we found ourselves at The George, where we sat and enjoyed lattes in the sunshine. The George has a galleried yard dating back to 1495 and it used to serve coaches on the Gloucester-Oxford-London route. The George was used as a filming location for ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot in the episode Taken at the Flood in 2006.
Visit The George and you’ll truly feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
Several episodes of Midsomer Murders were also filmed in Dorchester, and the photos below will demonstrate why – the bypass road has been diverted so that Dorchester sees little traffic and the village retains it’s historic flavour. It would be hard to find anything as lovely or as quintessentially “oldy worldly” English as Dorchester.
Outside the churchyard is The Toll House, an octagonal brick building erected in 1820. Tolls were collected until 1873, and the building now houses an architectural firm.
What can be better than a day out in the English countryside? Spending that day with Vicky and Beth Elliot. Once again donning her guise as local guide, Beth took us for another day out to a few hidden and special places.
Our first stop was the picturesque village of Ewelme.
Beginning with the church of St. Mary the Virgin in Ewelme.
The Church of St Mary the Virgin has been a focal point of this historic village for over 600 years, and much within predates the Reformation.
The highlight of the interior of the church is surely the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer’s daughter, Alice de Pole who became the Duchess of Suffolk. The alabaster tomb, almost undamaged by time, consists of a canopy of panelled stone, below which is the recumbent effigy of the Duchess on top of the tomb chest which contains her remains; the space beneath the chest encloses her sculpted cadaver, which is viewed through elaborate reticulated arches. Her effigy was examined by Queen Victoria’s commissioners in order to discover how a woman should wear the insignia of the Order of the Garter.
The most memorable feature of the tomb is the cadaver, set beneath the tomb chest. It is the only life size cadaver of a woman that has remained intact in England, and the only cadaver in the country made in alabaster.
Above, volunteers spring clean their beloved church.
Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927), author of Three Men In A Boat, lived at Gould’s Grove just southeast of Ewelme. He and his wife Ettie (died 1938) are buried in St. Mary’s churchyard; their tombstone reads “For we are labourers together with God.”
William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, Lord Chamberlain of England, and his wife, the aforementioned Alice de la Pole, established the school and cloistered almshouses from their profits from the East Anglian wool trade in 1437.
The almshouses are officially called “The Two Chaplains and Thirteen Poor Men of Ewelme in the County of Oxford.” The thirteen almsmen have now been reduced to eight due to redesign of the original floor plan to allow for mod cons, but the building is still run as a charity by the Ewelme Trust.
Through the gate above, one arrives at the front door to the school and, across the lane, you will find Ford’s Farm, now run as a B&B.