The Wake family has owned the Courteenhall estate since the Tudor period, and the current Georgian house was built in 1792 for Sir William Wake, the 9th baronet. It has changed little since then. The house and adjoining outbuildings and stables stand in extensive parkland designed by Humphry Repton. The family has always been involved in the business of farming.
The house has rooms of handsome proportions on the ground floor, with fine plasterwork, filled with good furniture and many beautiful objects collected over the centuries. Family portraits hang in most of the rooms.
In front of the house, to one side is the Arboretum with an attractive rustic pond. Behind the house there is a small formal garden with pool, and the parkland which extends as far as the Church (not part of the estate) and the listed stable block.
I visited Courteenhall on an ‘Invitation to View’ tour (this one for EH members only.) On arrival we were served tea or coffee and a biscuit, and then our host gave us a lively and informative tour of the principal ground floor rooms. Guests were then at liberty to walk around the grounds.
The estate, positioned between the A508 and the M1 near J15, is relatively easy to find, and well worth a visit. Be aware that the town of Roade to the south has a brand-new bypass.
For those interested in the history of the family, a handsome and substantial hardback volume ‘The Wakes of Northamptonshire’ is available for £20 (collected) or £25 with postage.
Ironbridge Gorge is the centre for a number of historic industrial sites (see https://www.ironbridge.org.uk/). With limited time, my intention was to view the famous iron bridge. This structure (recently restored) is impressive and it is possible to park nearby and walk across the pedestrianised bridge and view it from above and below. The picturesque village of Ironbridge is at one end of the bridge, extending along one side of the river and rising steeply away from the river. The ‘Museum of the Gorge’ is in the village within walking distance.
Acton Burnell Castle, actually a fortified manor house, stands near the village of Acton Burnell. It is believed that the first Parliament of England at which the Commons were fully represented was held here in 1283, in the nearby barn. Today all that remains is the outer shell of the manor house and the gable ends of the barn.
The manor house was built in 1284 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, friend and advisor to King Edward I. The building was rectangular with a tower at each corner. It was three storeys high consisting of a hall, solar, bedrooms, offices, chapel and kitchen.
Much of the building was demolished by the mid-17th century.
Today what remains looks interesting. Only the shell of the residence is accessible, via a path through a wood.
Your satnav may take you to the entrance of a college. If so, drive through the village till you see the brown signs (same postcode).
Clun Castle was established by the Norman lord Robert de Say after the invasion of England and went on to become an important Marcher-lord castle in the 12th century, defending against the Welsh. It was owned for many years by the Fitzalan family, who gradually abandoned it in favour of the more luxurious Arundel Castle. The Fitzalans converted Clun Castle into a hunting lodge in the 14th century, complete with pleasure gardens, but by the 16th century the castle was largely ruined.
In 1894 the castle was purchased by the Duke of Norfolk, who undertook a programme of conservation to stabilise the castle.
Today the castle is very ruined, with the now three-sided Great Keep, built for the FitzAlan family’s resifential use, being the most complete part. Adjacent platforms, the site of the outer baileys, have no structures above ground. The River Clun loops around the castle far below the mounds.
To visit, you should park in the village and look for the gated lane leading up to the castle.
Stokesay Castle, actually a fortified manor house, was built in the 1280s and early 1290s by fabulously wealthy wool merchant Lawrence of Ludlow. It was intended to keep out robbers rather than withstand a serious seige. The striking timbered gatehouse was built much later, in 1640-41, presumably replacing an earlier stone gatehouse.
During the English Civil War the ‘castle’ was garrisoned by Royalists, who surrendered when a Parliamentary force approached the ‘castle’ in 1645 and issued a summons to surrender.
Stokesay has a number of interesting internal features, including a fine hall roof and an elaborately carved wooden mantelpiece. The nearby church (not English Heritage) is worth a look. The gatehouse has some interesting carvings on the inner side. The great hall has an impressive roof structure. In the so-called Solar block, the solar has an elaborate panelled interior dating from the 17th century, with elaborate carvings of fruit, flowers and figures on the overmantel above the fireplace.
All parts of the castle can be visited, including the roof of the south tower.
Stokesay is well worth a visit.
Not to be confused with the nearby Toddington Manor.
The house had changed hands about two years before the date of my visit. I visited via the HHA’s ‘Invitation to View’ scheme.
The house is early 19th Century with late 19th century additions. The family who built it also owned Toddington Manor at the time. The extensive grounds are attractive. Mostly laid to lawn, they include a pond, a lake and a large number of trees, some of which are rare species. The period features of the house interior were mostly removed by a previous owner in the 1970s, consequently there is very little to see inside other than some attractive cornices. The house tour included only two of the principal rooms, one of which was used to host the afternoon tea. We did have the opportunity to look in the cellars, which contain an impressive array of central heating equipment and pipework. The grounds include an original Victorian dairy.
Our host gave an informative tour of the gardens and a description of the house and its history.
The castle, situated on a hilltop, dominates the surrounding countryside. It is accessible via Castell Farm, which actually owns the freehold of the castle. The farm has various rare breeds and a tearoom. Reaching the castle is via a stiff 20-minute walk. It is now ruined, but various levels can be explored, including a passage to a cave which was incorporated in the defences. If you want to explore the cave you will need a torch as the lower part is totally dark. Spectacular views are available form the castle.
The castle dates from the 13th Century, probably built for John Giffard, a Marcher Lord. It was garrisoned for the last time by Lancastrian forces during the Wars of the Roses, and after its capture in 1462, 500 men laboured for four months to dismantle it using picks and crowbars.
King Alfred’s Tower is a brick-built folly on the Stourhead estate, intended as an eyecatch and viewing point. Construction was completed in 1772. The size of the tower is impressive. It is triangular in section with rounded projections at the corners, with a spiral staircase in the corner furthest from the door.
To visit the tower, you can drive there or walk. If you follow the sparse brown signs from the Stourhead entrance, after driving through a wood for some distance, look out for an inconspicuous old-style round National Trust sign. To the right is the entrance to the car park, not obviously visible. Crossing the road from the car park, after a few yards you should exit the trees and see the tower at the end of a field to your right.
Alternatively you can walk from the Stourhead gardens – you will need a map and directions, and time to complete a 5.5 mile round trip walk.
The tower can be visited at any time free of charge, but is open (for ascent) only on weekends in the summer. Check the Stourhead NT website for specific dates.
The former GWR branch line runs alongside the river Dart from Totnes to Buckfastleigh. Before closure, the line terminated at Ashburton, but the trackbed is now buried under the A38 expressway. Stations are at Totnes and Buckfastleigh, with an intermediate station at Staverton. The overall length is 6.64 miles. The Totnes terminal is about 10 minutes walk from the Totnes GWR mainline station, and the heritage railway headquarters are at Buckfastleigh. Along the train route there are pleasant views of the river, etc.
Parking is free at Buckfastleigh, and at the site there are gardens, a museum, rail sidings and workshops, a riverside walk and other things to interest visitors. The nearest parking at Totnes is at the GWR station and costs about £6 a day. There are good modern train connections to Totnes.
If you like heritage trains, this is well worth a visit.
I visited Kelly as part of the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme. The Kelly family have lived at this site for 900 years, and the present Georgian house was built in 1742, incorporating parts of the earlier house. Some alterations were made in the Victorian period, to move the main entrance.
In recent years the estate has encountered financial difficulty, but the Kellys are determined to preserve and maintain the house.
Parking in the stableyard, one is faced with a couple of disused and collapsing buildings. The house is in better condition, but it is not hard to notice various things in need of urgent attention. The tour includes downstairs and upstairs rooms which are generally in good condition with period furnishings (some have been recently restored for use as B&B rooms).
We were shown round by the owner, who gave a very full account of the history of the house and description of its contents, followed by tea and cakes, during which the host and his daughter continued to make us feel welcome.
Next door to the house is a small church which contains memorials of various Kellys.