A Journey through the History of Attingham Park

Attingham Park from the Air

©James Humphreys - SalopianJames / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Work started on Attingham Park in 1785 and the house remained in the hands of the Hill family until it was gifted to the National Trust. Saraid Jones gave an excellent presentation on the history of the family, the development of the park and the ongoing restoration. We discovered how the fortunes of the family changed as successive Barons of Berwick inherited the title. We then learnt about the various uses the house had been put to in the 20th century and the current projects being undertaken. Saraid illustrated the talk with numerous anecdotes and her enthusiasm made the presentation both informative and enjoyable. 


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Head Gardener retires from Canons Ashby

Chris Smith has retired after 35 years as Head Gardener at Canons Ashby. He was in charge of the redesign and was very grateful to RNTA for donating the topiary trees which made such a difference. We shall miss him as he was so easy to approach but we are very pleased that Nadine Bayliss who has been Senior Gardener working under him and knows and loves the garden will be an excellent replacement.


Chris and Nadine taken at Chris’s leaving party.

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The Womens Land Army

Following the Annual General Meeting Helen Frost gave a  very enjoyable talk on the Women's Land Army during World War I. We learnt how their contribution to forestry and food production saved Britain from disaster, when supplies were almost exhausted and production was falling behind demand. The talk was illustrated with numerous statistics that brought home the magnitude of the issues facing the country and showed how women, both in the land army and in the general population, toiled under difficult circumstances to provide food and timber.  Helen's enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject was much appreciated by the audience as she took us back to the dark days of the war and the difficult period that followed. 


At the Stables ©ImperialWarMuseum

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Christmas Lunch at Rockingham Castle

Members were gifted with a beautiful, if cold, sunny day for the Association’s annual Christmas outing. The coach arrived at Rockingham in time for morning coffee, taken in the Walkers House Restaurant. Following refreshments there was a tour of the castle. The tours were led by guides, assuming the roll of characters who would have worked in the castle at Christmas time in 1849. The commentary, that was both informative and amusing, brought to life the experience of visiting the castle for a Victorian Christmas.

Following the tour, we returned to the restaurant. It was beautifully decorated in the appropriate style for a Victorian Christmas. Lunch was then served with most members enjoying traditional turkey followed by Christmas pudding.

After lunch there was an opportunity to explore the grounds, that offered magnificent views across the countryside, made all the more attractive by the late afternoon sun.

Table laid for Christmas Dinner

Christmas fayre laid out in the kitchen

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New Carpet Fitted at Canons Ashby

After 7 years of use and the passage of approximately 400,000 pairs of feet, the time sadly came to replace the Staircase carpet. We worked with Grosvenor Wilton, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious carpet manufacturers, to design and make a new carpet.  Grosvenor Wilton still operates from their founding Kidderminster location, using historic looms. Their oldest loom is 120 years old and, whilst it has been converted from steam to electric power, it otherwise remains unchanged from its late nineteenth century design. 

 Grosvenor Wilton specialise in recreating authentic historic designs and they have been very pleased to work with us to create a design that is historically appropriate for Canons Ashby.  We have used Clara Dryden’s watercolours of the Staircase as a starting point for our research into patterns and, as per Clara’s paintings, the new carpet  features a strong pattern with a border and is primarily composed of blues and greens.

 Our Curator has conducted further research into patterns that would have been found in a house of Canons Ashby’s style and status. We worked with Grosvenor Wilton to draw up a number of potential designs to choose from with the intention to install the carpet in the spring of 2019. 


The replacement carpet extends further through the ground floor of the Staircase to mirror the layout on the first floor landing, with one section running between the Dining Room and Book Room doors and another running between the Great Hall and South Front doors. This will act as protection for our floorboards in this area which are amongst the oldest and most vulnerable to damage in the house.  The new carpet has a cut pile, rather than the closed pile of the original carpet, which will better absorb the movement of footsteps and will, therefore, be more robust. It is anticipated that the new carpet will last for at least 15 years and, in this time, will protect the Staircase from the wear of over 1 million pairs of footsteps!

Helen Roadnight

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A Tour of Norfolk

Roger Hailwood gave us a delightful tour round the county of Norfolk. We started at Cromer and took a circular route, seeing many places of interest along the way. The sights seen included ancient barns, interesting churches, a variety of windmills, as well as the broads and rivers themselves. Roger described many of the unique features associated with these buildings and accompanied the description with interesting anecdotes, bringing the history of the buildings to life.

Roger also talked about his own experience's sailing on the broads, illustrated with amusing stories.

Cley Windmill ©TourNorfolk

A Norfolk Broads Scene ©TourNorfolk

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The History of the Willans Works in Rugby

Alain Foote, Chairman of the Willans Retirement Association, gave an absolutely fascinating and deeply researched account of the origins, development and fortunes of the Willans engineering works from its initial foundation at Thames Ditton in Surrey to its move to Rugby by the main London and North Western Railway’s network. He gave a vivid account of the various principal personalities involved in the running of the works and described examples of the firm’s products, many of them huge engines from the steam days through a period with steam turbines to modern diesel engines. All this was set into the context of Rugby town, and how this vibrant concern was interlinked with the town’s economic geography and history. The talk attracted another large audience, who were evidently engrossed and highly appreciative. A true labour of love by Alain, to whom we extend our warmest thanks.  

Thanks to George Brunavs for providing the above report.

Willans Works ©Our Warwickshire

Willans Workforce ©Our Warwickshire

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The Englishman's Castle is his Home

Arundel Castle: The Shell Keep 

Caernarfon Castle

Pembroke Castle: The Circular Keep 

Keith Cattell gave a fascinating talk describing the development of the castle, from the earliest known example through to recently built homes designed to imitate castles. He showed how their design changed to cope with changes in military technology and how, once the need to withstand attack had receded, they became comfortable homes. He finished the talk with examples of wealthy men building mock castles, to enhance their status and suggested that people will never stop building castles. 

Beaumaris Castle

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Sudeley Castle and Gardens

Thanks to Mark Furber for these pictures taken during a very interesting and enjoyable visit.

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We all enjoyed the visit to Barnesdale but, I think, some people found it very hot. There were shady places to sit in the garden which was delightful, as the pictures show. However, the upper deck of the Rutland Belle, which most of us chose, was quite exposed and we were glad of our hats and even umbrellas used as sunshades. Many headed for the ice cream queue to cool off before setting off home.

Thanks to Isobel Palmer for letting know about this trip and supplying photos showing what a lovely day was had by all.

And also thanks to Pauline Springett for these additional photographs.

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Burghley House on a Beautiful Day

Thanks to Isobel Palmer for the pictures and telling us how much the trip was enjoyed.


The weather was lovely for our trip to Burghley House. We had a superb driver giving us a very smooth journey.

Coffee in the Orangery Restaurant or Garden was welcome on arrival with scrumptious, large cookies that set us up for a look round the interesting house at our leisure. The Surprise Garden was a variety of water features in which children could play which was great on such a hot, sunny day. If you still had energy, there was the sculpture park to explore set among the trees and supplying plenty of shade if you wanted to linger.

Also thanks to Pauline Springett for the additional pictures below.  Pauline was particularly taken with the sculptures scattered around the grounds.


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Many members enjoyed Derek Clarke's interesting talk about the repair and restoration of Tyntesfield back in 2017.  This trip provided an opportunity see the improvements to the house and grounds in a house that has changed little since Victorian times.

Thanks to Pauline Springett for providing pictures. 

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Visit to Kew Gardens and Palace

As you will notice, it was a dull day but it didn't stop us from seeing so much. Many of our party took the 'train' to see a large part of the gardens with a very good commentary. All over the gardens we found glass artworks which were part of Dale Chihuly's 'Reflections on nature' which definitely brightened up our views! I'm sure there will be lots of photos of them in the February review of 2019.

Thanks to Isobel Palmer for providing pictures and letting us know how much the visit was enjoyed

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How to make a Pork Pie

The visit to Melton Mowbray and Belvoir Castle started with a demonstration showing how to make a traditional pork pie. Following the demonstration members enjoyed exploring the town on a lovely sunny day. Beside the normal attractions it was the day for both the street market and the cattle market to add to the interest.

Following lunch in the town the party moved on to Belvoir Castle.


St Mary's Church

On arrival at the castle the group enjoyed an interesting and informative guided tour followed by the opportunity to enjoy the gardens at their leisure 



Thanks to Pauline Springett for the pictures and information about the trip


Making a traditional Melton Mowbray Pork Pie

Belvoir Castle

Thanks to Tony Smith for these additional pictures of Belvoir Castle and the surrounding landscape

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Another Wet Walk From Hatton Locks

Unfortunately, for the second year running, the weather was not kind for the walk. Five of us joined Mark and walked mostly in the rain, although it did stop for a short while. It was very wet underfoot but we enjoyed it - good company - followed by lunch in the Canal Café.

Thanks to Isobel for letting us know about the walk and for the pictures.

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Visit to the Richard III Centre and Leicester Cathedral

King Richard III Tomb

The visit went very well with a tour of the Cathedral in two groups. We then went across to the Richard III Centre where we had a soup and a sandwich lunch (very good value). After that we went our separate ways to view the exhibition. The staff and volunteers were brilliant - so helpful.


Thanks to Isobel Palmer for the report and pictures

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Canons Ashby in Bloom

Thanks to Isobel for these pictures showing the magnificent floral displays at Canons Ashby. Isobel tells me the flower bed near the house is particularly spectacular.

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A Camera in the Cotswolds

After spending many years photographing the Cotswolds, Keith Holmes is able to present a fascinating story, illustrating the beautiful but ever changing landscape. On his many visits Keith has not only taken evocative pictures of the region, but has also talked to local people. Passing on the stories and history he has discovered really brought the Cotswolds to life. 

Castle Combe (Daily Mail)

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We have now purchased the terracotta pots, benches and materials to improve the wild play corner. Using yours, and another donation, together we have bought 3 wheelchair accessible picnic benches and one normal bench, to replace and increase our current seating in the paddock.

Helen Avery Clarke

Programming and Communications Officer Canons Ashby

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Discovering the Spirit of Place in the Gardens at Packwood

Having served his 'apprenticeship' at Powis Castle in Wales and Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens in Kent, Mick was appointed head gardener at Packwood House some 20 years ago. Under his leadership, the gardens at Packwood today take the form of a contemporary mingled style garden with herbaceous borders, wildflower meadows and a beautiful orchard, as well as the magnificent yew garden and a recently restored kitchen garden.

In his fascinating and beautifully illustrated talk to more than 100 members, Mick explained in some detail how he had gone about transforming the raised terrace borders, as well as re-establishing the parallel borders and developing a drought resistant garden; all in keeping with the original 'spirit of Packwood'. The borders that Mick has created at Packwood are renowned for their distinctive 'mingled' style which consists of small groups or single plants being repeated at intervals to create a vivid tapestry of plants crammed closely together.

Mick's most recent garden transformation at Packwood has been the restoration of the kitchen garden which we hope will be the subject of a future talk.

During the talk, RNTA Vice-Chair, George Brunavs, presented Mick with a cheque for £1,000 to support the work of Mick and his team in developing the gardens at Packwood.

Thanks to David Knapp for the pictures and report.

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The King Under the Car Park

Iain Gordon, from the Richard III Centre in Leicester, gave an informative talk telling the fascinating, and seemingly improbable, story surrounding the discovery of King Richard's remains. We learnt how research, rumour and even mistakes eventually led to the dig in the car park. How, amazingly, the body was discovered almost immediately. Iain then took us through the complex scientific and historical research needed to establish this was really King Richard's skeleton.

Facial Reconstruction: Based on three dimensional scan of Richard's skull, contemporary descriptions and portraits. 

King Richard III's Coat of Arms

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Thanks to the generous support of our members, a total of £2,460 has been donated to three local National Trust properties:

Canons Ashby - £960

  • Large frost resistant terracotta pots.

  • Wild play equipment for the family area in the paddock.

  • Additional wooden bench for the formal garden

Farnborough Hall - £1,000

  • Information boards to reflect the new park plan and local walks

Stoneywell - £500

  • Additional/replacement china for the tearoom

  • Additional/replacement gardening tools (lopper and secateurs)


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