Having relocated to Nottingham, there is a whole new artsy region for me to discover and I've dived straight in.
As usual, forgetting that heritage is more alive and lived with in Britain, I was astonished by the great number of cars already at Belton on a Thursday at
noon, The visiting crowd dispersed, however, over the grounds and the timed entrance for the house made it one of the most pleasant visits yet. Belton stands as a landmark in the grounds with
open views to the front. It looks truly like the „archetypical country house“. Before going into the house, I joined one of the 1-hour Basement tours about the lives of the servants. How
thankfully much has changed since the time when 10-year old girls were sent away to wash the plates of others in lead-lined sinks. The workspaces and lives of these stood in contrast to the
elegant family rooms upstairs.
Belton is a delightfully airy country house that does not have the heavy athmosphere some places from the 18th century have. The delicately plastered ceilings in the style of Classicism are matched by the quality of the interior that meanders between classicistic and chinoise.
The gardens behind the house are a gem, with a landscape park and a formal area leading up to the orangery. The latter is flanked by a small church. In the courtyard to the side of the house are the shop (which offers very tasty apples from the estate for a donation), a restaurant, buildings devoted to activities for children and families.
My favourites: the ceilings, the greenhouse and a curious rubbish bin made from the spines and boards of two books.
My being a bit miffed by the drive there (Britain’s love for complex roundabouts continues to elude me, as does the right exit occasionally) was immediately dispelled by the place. Moseley Old Hall is lovely and full of history. Not only its own history and patina, but indeed the history of the State for here Charles II fled and hid on Sept 4, 1651. You drive down that very narrow lane (and throw yourself into the grass on the side when a car approaches) which was busy with traffic in the 17th century. The house lies directly by that road, only separated by a brick wall, and you then park in a parking lot surrounded by autumn-coloured woods. Through the courtyard and into the garden, and the entrance lies before you.
When my hand touched the ancient wood and metal studding and I pushed open the heavy door I felt like I had stepped back in time. The building dates back to around 1600 and (most of) the interior remains. While I admire the clear forms and soft colours of Classicism, Tudor Age houses have a more absorbing power to me – less lofty and systematised and impeccable, more one of a kind and capturing. Who walked around these nooks and crannies before? Who liked to have a mug of small ale by that fireplace at night or had a favourite spot by that window to do mending? Life was hard and full of privation and that makes the people in these ages all the more admirable.
Moseley in particular has stories to tell of admirable people. Wherever you stand in the debates around monarchy and religion, risking ones life and that of ones family to save others is a brave and moving deed. This, Thomas Whitgreave and his mother Alice did. Not only did they take in and hide a distraught Charles II, but also did they provide protection the priest Father Huddleston who was kept as tutor in the house. The priest hole under the floor of the small wardrobe can still be seen and the King had to spend five probably very studdy and terse hours in there at one point while Mr Whitgreave was being kicked about by Cromwell’s soldiers outside for his falsly suspected participation in the Battle of Worvester.
At first, I walked around on my own and then joined a lovely guided tour. As in every National Trust place (or indeed most historic places in Britain) the house is set up and conserved with an eye to detail, breathing life into the century-old rooms by giving them small touches of habitation – 17th century ceramics filled with rose petals and oranges larded with cloves, and a pair of glasses on the books in Thomas Whitgreave‘s study.
Besides original pieces of furniture and, stunningly, the original embroidered curtains from the 17th century, there is a number of portraits of the chief players in the deliverance of Charles – Thomas Whitgreave, Charles himself, his siblings, his mother Henrietta Maria, Father Huddleston, and Jane Lane who bravely smuggled the King to Bristol, disguised as her servant.
After a walk through the gardens, kept short by the drizzle of rain, I fled to the tea room for a break before driving back.
My favourites: the set-up dining table, the original curtains and the knot garden.
- no ad or affiliation, just sharing my personal experience