Posts Tagged ‘Wrest Park’

August 26-30, 2016: After Chester I headed back south by train to spend the August Bank Holiday weekend with my elder sister. The train was so packed for the run to Crewe that the reservation system had booked a family with kids into the quiet car. The train largely emptied out at Crewe, but the family remained. My sister lives on the edge of the new(ish) town of Milton Keynes. I say edge advisedly, as I could see sheep and later cows from my bedroom window, and one morning we walked to the local church for coffee, and I found that it had been built in the thirteenth century. (Since I was staying with my sister I was no longer restricted to public transport, and she drove me to a couple of sites that might be difficult to reach by bus.)
The first afternoon we visited Wrest Park, although the weather wasn’t very suitable for what is mostly an outdoor attraction. But at least the rain merely threatened. The de Greys first settled at Wrest in the fourteenth century, but the formal gardens were begun in the second half of the seventeenth century by Amabel, the wife of the 10th earl. Further extended in the next century, the finishing touches were supplied by Britain’s great landscape architect ‘Capability’ Brown. The current house itself, built only in the 1830s, is mostly off limits to visitors, but we did see some of the ground floor rooms, resolutely French and unfurnished. After a checkered career in the 20th century, including stints as a military hospital and a research institute, the house and grounds are now in the care of English Heritage. The grounds were extensive, decorated with statues, and with the ‘Long Water’ leading to an impressive baroque pavilion.

The next day we went back to Waddesdon Manor, which we had visited in 2014 for the Christmas decorations. The decorations had been impressive, with plenty of pretty trees in the house, and some imaginative light features in the grounds, but we really hadn’t been able to appreciate the rooms and furnishings. This time we made a day of it, with morning coffee in the cafe in the former stables, a formal (and very good) lunch in the restaurant, a two hour tour of the building with audio guide, and coffee with scones and clotted cream to top things off. I could easily have spend longer, as the house was full of interesting and beautiful objects, and the audio guide was informative. The house was built in the 1870s for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, who wanted a house in the style of a Loire chateau, where he could entertain weekend guests. We had visited another Rothschild house, Ascott, the last time I stayed with my sister, and that, too, had been well worth seeing.

And on Bank Holiday Monday we went over to Newport Pagnell for a Civil War reenactment. Yes, the English Civil War – I confess that I have now lived in the US long enough that my first thought was of the Union versus the Confederacy, but England had a Civil War, too. Fought between supporters of the monarchy on one side, and Parliament on the other, it started in 1642 and the fighting ended in 1651. Depending on how you look at it, though, it might be said to have finally ended with the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Charles I having been executed in 1649. The intervening years had featured first a Commonwealth and then a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. It had not been a popular regime, and after Cromwell’s death there was no enthusiasm for continuing it. The monarchy after the war, however, was a different institution than it had been before, when Charles I insisted that he ruled by divine right and could ignore Parliament. I consider the Civil War more important for the development of democracy in England than the Magna Carta, although it seems to be the Magna Carta that gets all the attention.

I have always been a little conflicted about the Civil War. The Royalists (I knew them as Cavaliers, and the opposition as Roundheads, but the reenacters objected to those terms) seemed more dashing and romantic, and the Parliamentarians overly somber and puritanical, but intellectually, of course, I supported Parliament. However, here there was a supporter of Parliament got up with lace collar and cuffs, and it is certainly true that even aristocratic families could be split over which side to support. The reenactment itself was a bit sedate, and seemed to be more for the participants than the audience, as despite a lot of gunfire and even cannon fire, no one acted killed or injured during the half hour we watched. There was a fair amount of marching and drumming, and the small contingent of horse galloped around every so often, but it was mostly a big photo op. Off the field of battle tents were set up with various demonstrations and I was pleased to see a spinning wheel actually in use.

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