In which we didn’t quite freeze…
It’s confession time. Baddesley Clinton has to be one the National Trust’s most photogenic properties, but a combination of extreme cold and having so much fun chatting to the room guides, means that I didn’t take a lot of photos on our recent visit. In all the following, I just want you to imagine what it would be like to use your camera in a dark freezer …
And so, Baddesley Clinton, what can I say…
Well, I’ve been several times before (although not for some years), and never on such a cold afternoon. But without doubt, despite the temperature, this was my favourite visit – not because of the house, which as I suppose we’d all hope, hadn’t changed much, but because of the wonderfully enthusiastic and dare I say it, mildly eccentric room guides we met (eccentricity in the best possible tradition).
Right from the start, we found ourselves involved in a series of conversations which were somehow both informative and simultaneously quirky. I’ve been visiting historic houses since they built the Ark, but I’ve never before met so many characters in one place, who in their individual ways engaged with us.
Perhaps the cold was encouraging all of us to be more chatty than normal, or maybe it was because there weren’t a lot of people walking around and in a small house it feels impolite to ignore someone standing inches away from you – whatever the reason, by the time I came away, I felt that we’d well and truly enjoyed ourselves.
I can’t really recreate that experience here, so instead I’ll show you the pictures that I did actually take and just say that if you’re ever near Baddesley Clinton on a Wednesday afternoon – go!
Once you walk through, you find yourself in this delightful area.
Sorry, my interior shots were pretty terrible, I’m no good in low light at the best of times.
What of the house’s history?
The part that captivates my heart most of all, is the connection to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Baddesley Clinton was rented in the 1590s by the Vaux sisters, who were recusants, providing safe hiding places for Catholic priests at a time when they were forbidden to practice their faith. There are three priest-holes at Baddesley Clinton, purportedly built by Nicholas Owen at the behest of Anne Vaux, who was particularly attached to Father Henry Garnet, one of the most famous Catholic priests of that era. The house was raided while priests were present, but the hiding places did their job and they weren’t found. I like to imagine the atmosphere inside the house on that morning, what was it like to be woken by frantic pounding, to quickly have to hide the priests and all their paraphernalia, to turn warm mattresses so that they wouldn’t give away the presence of other people, and then to act super cool while your home is ripped apart, all the time knowing that men’s lives depended on you.
Anne Vaux is suspected by some people of being responsible for the Monteagle letter which warned William Parker not to attend Parliament on 5th November, and thereby eventually tipping off the authorities that the Plot was afoot. Whatever the truth, Anne Vaux lived to see the demise of the priests she harboured. A sad end in so many ways.
So much of the Elizabethan and Jacobean fabric of Baddesley Clinton remains, that it is easy to recreate it in your mind’s eye. I do wish the National Trust hadn’t Victorianised the Great Parlour, it was such a wonderful space, grand and airy, that re-creating the overdone interior of the Victorian owners seems to stifle the life out of it. But then, I’m no great fan of things Victorian in general, and I suppose it will appeal to some people. Just try to see beyond the stuff if you go and imagine it as the builder intended.
There’s so much more to see and enjoy at Baddesley Clinton – especially if you go an a warm day. The tiny church which is just a little walk from the house is also worth a visit. But based on our experience, I’d try very hard to make sure you go on a Wednesday afternoon!
For more information…
For visitor information, go here to the National Trust page for Baddesley Clinton
My favourite book about the Gunpowder Plot is by Antonia Fraser: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605. You can pick it up second-hand from a couple of £s on Abe books etc.
Another house with an incredible collection of priest-holes, is Harvington Hall, Worcestershire (one of my top ever houses, but for very quirky personal reasons). Let me know if you get the same feelings from there.