Canons Ashby (Northants): Elizabethan England wasn’t plain manila

I could smell the sweat in the walls of this house.

Whoever lived here did not lead an easy life.

This is a rural Elizabethan country house dating to 1551 with later additions.

Having arrived fresh from our visit to Woburn Abbey, Canons Ashby didn’t stand much chance of impressing – I don’t really like either Elizabethan, gothic or Victorian architecture and interior decoration.

Reason to visit: impressive Elizabethan fireplace and wall murals that have been revealed under later paintwork.

Canons Ashby took us an hour to visit, with its best features being the spacious entrance hall with weaponry on display and the revealed paintings that would have originally decorated the wood panelling in the house – the Edwardians had whitewashed over them and the NT have pealed back the layers of paint.

Shields revealed in a downstairs sitting room (under the whitewash)

Always threatening to fall down, the National Trust (who accepted the property in 1981) prevented Canons Ashby from doing so after a national campaign.  The NT present it as though the Victorians were living there, including boarding up some of the windows in one of the bedrooms and placing a bed in front of them because the Victorians did (it’s that bit on the picture above on the upstairs floor and the left-hand side).

You’ll make your way over the weeds in the cobbled courtyard up through the front door, right into the kitchen and then through a series of ground floor rooms, including the ‘book room’, so-called because Sir Henry Dryden (who lived here from 1818-1899) said libraries are where books are taken from, but this would be a room where books would be read.

Upstairs offers grandeur, including a barreled double-height room (the ceiling from 1630s, added by John Dryden) and earlier fireplace that looks like it nearly fell down a few times.  The other rooms are bedrooms and the walls are more interesting than the furniture.

16th C grisaille murals revealed in the bedroom

The exterior at the rear once boasted bay windows, which were replaced with sashes by the Georgians.

The late 16th C fireplace in the upper saloon

You’ll find a shop and cafe in the stables across the drive and there’s also a Victorian garden and croquet lawn to the side.

I left feeling subdued and ever more connected to my admiration of the light and elegance offered by Georgian properties, their simple lines and mathematically pleasing dimensions.  I knew I was going to Farnborough Hall next, so I kept my spirits lifted…

When visited: 2011

House * out of 5: **

Garden * out of 5: **

Website: click here

Theme tune: Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’

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