We arrived in the nick of time, having been sent by the Sat Nav down tracks that weren’t really roads. Coming to a T junction when the Sat Nav decided to remain silent, I took a look at the map on my knee (I don’t always trust the Sat Nav) and guessed ‘left’. Good job. There is was. We drove over the treacherous road humps on the private drive, nearly getting stuck on one. However, it was only 4pm and the house says it stays open until 5.30pm so we assumed we’d have enough time (1 ½ hours is usually enough to visit a HHA house).
I had told D that I knew nothing about this house apart from it has red bricks. I couldn’t even guess from the picture its date – I said it could be 1720 or 1920.
I like this kind of discovery game.
Scampering past the Norman church (the family were Catholics and hid a private chapel in their attic, which is on show, together with glazing allowing one to peer into the roof space through which the priest would escape), we came to a door in the wall and passed through the café into the house. We declined the offer of the guide book. We always do. I reel off the line: “if I bought a guide book at every house I visited I’d have an entire library full; we’ll decide after the visit if we want to get the guidebook”. (I do have some guidebooks – Uppark Park, Harewood House, Brighton Pavillion, Buckingham Palace being some of them).
We found ourselves in what looked like (and in fact was) a dissected medieval Great Hall with later panelling, squirreled into a back corner of the house with a sign saying that the family’s coat of arms was designed in 1972. There was a real fire glowing. There were no information sheets so we wandered into the next room, what looked like a middling Georgian dining room with Adam-esque screen of scagliola columns at one end and plenty of chinz that could have been genuine 18th century or 1930s. I found an “information warden” and asked about the date of this room and its relationship to the hall next door. I was immediately told “you haven’t got the guide book, how can you understand the house”. Well, sorry dear room warden, but presumably you aren’t just there to look pretty and enjoy tea with the lady of the house when invited, and might know something about the house’s history? I did manage to extract the information about the front rooms being added in the Georgian period out of her but she wasn’t going to give me any information on the pictures or the furniture. We gave up and moved to the next room (via an exhibition about African influences that made us think ‘slave trade’) where we did find a room warden who would tell us something. He was in a room with a Whistler-esque mural on the wall (only one of two made he said) and seemed surprised when D was able to guess that a small seat was in fact a gout stool.
We were ushered up the stairs as we were told we didn’t have long to go (it was 4.20pm) and found ourselves in a very strange room with shell seats and bed. Apparently all bought at auction – the chairs originally from a grotto and the bed from a French brothel! I can only imagine the room that bed was in. The guide in this room was interesting too – male and wearing full makeup; a man who goes out in full make up is definitely worthy of an invitation to a dinner party – perhaps a History of Art student at Buckingham University? Interesting. He seemed rather flustered as a lady with a hairdo worthy of just having come out of the hairdressers walked by (it was a Sunday so one can only assume either she had her own hairdresser or the ‘do’ had been set since the day before). The Lady of the House no less.
We were again pushed on, into a room showing Lady Camoy’s ‘coming out dresses’ from the 1958 year, the last year when the last coming out balls were held (Princess Margaret said some rather scathing about the debutants that year, when even 17 year olds were rushed into being part of an elite club).
On to a different era, the grand stair (we had come up the back stair). Possibly early 17th century or earlier? No one would tell us by this point (clearly under some kind of firm instruction to tell visitors they must buy the guide book if they’d like information). Dark wood. Up a little stair into the attic where the forbidden Catholic masses took place. 16th century?
Back down and onto the rear of the house into the long gallery, now housing cases of object de arte from overseas trips – the family has enjoyed a privileged position working for the monarchy. We admired some tall Burmese parasols at one end and ask Lady Camoy (who had taken over a room warden here) where they were from. We asked “does the family have connections with…”. She told us off for not having the guide book and then replied in the third person “yes, the family have links with…”. We weren’t quite sure what she makes of having paying visitors in her house. By this point we weren’t feeling very comfortable, despite this house being really rather interesting.
We made a beeline for it. I pondered over buying some antlers in the shop (well-priced), but couldn’t find a couple I really liked (the end of the day so the best had gone). I dragged D around the Italianate garden so I could look at the rear of the house and we took refuge in our car (in an otherwise empty car park), eating our sandwiches and sipping hot drinks while admiring the surrounding landscape in an attempt to avoid returning to our Premier Inn.
This house was interesting and I might have been tempted to buy the guide book, had I not felt held to hostage over the point. There are certainly contents worthy of merit, worthy of going a fair distance to view them. An eclectic collection of Tudor, Stewart, Georgian, French Brothel, African and Asian influences.
Since returning home I’ve tried to find information on the internet but those that flog the guide book seem to have done a clamp down on the World Wide Web too because information is lacking. I really do wonder why…
When visited: March 2013
House * out of 5: ***
Garden * out of 5: **