In which we visit the West Wing…
I sneaked out earlier this week for an afternoon at Claydon. The sun was shining and I felt like a gentle stroll around and the attraction of the second-hand book shop clinched it for me (I am sooooo happy to find these at more and more National Trust properties).
Claydon is one of the closest properties to our house, so I’ve been there a number of times over the years, but I’m sitting here now having trouble deciding how to describe it. The thing about Claydon for me, is that it’s almost more about what you can’t see than what you can.
The obvious thing you can’t see (oh dear, am I sounding a bit Donald Rumsfeld here…), is the rest of the building that once stood with the bit that’s left. The building we see now is only a fragment of the original eighteenth century mansion, the West Wing, built for one of the Sir Ralph Verney’s in the 1750s. Poor Sir Ralph had a dreadful case of the ‘keeping-up-with-the-Joneses’ definitely a problem when your neighbour was the owner of Stowe.
Sadly for Sir Ralph, his finances didn’t keep up with his aspirations and not long after his death, the house was reduced to its current size.
Not that I think you’d complain if what’s left was your own country pad. Think rococo interiors gone wild and you’ll just about be on the right track – (you’ll have to take my word on this though, or Google Claydon images or look up Claydon on Pinterest, because the National Trust won’t let you take pictures).
You have to see the interior – it’s magnificent. You want to dress up in your posh Georgian gear and swagger about – no really, you do.
But then things start to get, what shall we say… eclectic?
I don’t know, this is where it begins to confuse me. The thing is, once you venture upstairs at Claydon, it’s a bit like entering a historical pic ‘n’ mix.
At the moment you get some lovely memorabilia about weddings, including wonderful seventeenth century letters from the Verney family and the wedding suit from 1662 of Sir Edmund ‘Mun’ Verney. But the next room contains all sorts of ‘stuff’, largely collected by a pirate Verney (oh yes) – you could spend quite some time in that room alone – and then what do you expect? You’ll never guess, no you won’t…
You get Florence Nightingales’s bedroom – there, you didn’t guess did you.
And then, just when you thought things couldn’t get any more odd, you walk through into two simply breathtaking chinoiserie-style rooms, the second of which will have you gasping.
(This would definitely be better with pictures – go away now and Google)…
Anyway, whilst you’re visiting, you’ll probably have taken in – even if on a subconscious level, the faces of quite a lot of Verney’s. This is something I adore, for me, it’s just so much more interesting if I can put a face to a name, and with so much family history on show, that makes a big difference.
The face I most want to be able to go back and talk to is that of Sir Edmund Verney, standard-bearer at the Battle of Edgehill to Charles I.
This poor chap, who looks such a nice, if rather worried fellow from his portrait, deserved so much better. He was the father of ten surviving children (I’d like to write a whole book about his wife), who worked tirelessly for the king, and then when the Civil War broke out, despite disagreeing with Charles on substantial matters, remained loyal to the king.
He was killed at the battle, still holding the royal standard. His body they say, was never recovered, just the hand that had been severed, so the standard could be taken.
You’ll see and hear a lot about him in the house, but of course he never knew this house because it wasn’t built until 100 years after his death. He would have known the previous Jacobean building of which we see nothing at all. This worries me, not least because I somehow want to see him in that interior and also because he is said to haunt the current building, which must be extremely confusing for him too.
The best place to see the Verney’s though isn’t the house at all. It’s in the church.
Here at last you do get a sense of continuity. After all, the house may be eighteenth century, but the Verney’s have lived at Claydon for over 400 years, the church then, is the one connection they all share.
They must have been a close family too, there are some simply amazing memorials. The best of which of course is to brave Sir Edmund.
While I’ve been writing this, I think I’ve worked out what it is that I like most about Claydon – it’s the people. Some places you visit, you enjoy and then forget about, but at Claydon you leave wanting to know more, and more, and more, and more…
For more information…
This is the link to the National Trust visitor page for Claydon – do make sure to check it out especially if you’re planning a visit. Lots of pictures and loads more history there too.
As I mentioned, there’s a little book shop at the back of the house (actually in the part where the present day Verney’s still live) – don’t miss it.
And out in the courtyard are a variety of shops and places to eat – oh and you can pay extra to visit the garden.