Mrs Hudson goes Shakespearean

It’s a great year to go all Shakespearean, 400 years since his death.  I had such fun and learned so much at Stratford last year (look here for the full story) so I hope you too get to The Shakespeare Houses this year.

SBT - Tudor Cooking at Mary Arden's Farm

Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust – Cooking at Mary Arden’s Farm

The new visitor experience at Shakespeare’s own house, New Place, opens this July.

But what to do if you can’t get to Stratford?  I thought it might be fun to look at some other ways to get in touch with Shakespeare in other parts of the UK.

First stop, the National Trust’s  Charlecote Park in Warwickshire.  Less than 5 miles from Shakespeare’s front door in Stratford, I can’t resist the legend that finds young Shakespeare being caught poaching deer from Sir Thomas Lucy, who lived here.  Facts are few, beyond the plot of The Merry Wives of Windsor which may lampoon Lucy as Justice Shallow and certainly harps on about deer stealing. The deer, however, have been here since before Shakespeare’s time and today you don’t have to steal them, you can try the venison in the Orangery Restaurant or buy some to take home.  This neo-Elizabethan house of treasures has some early Shakespeare editions as well as several pieces bought after the death of eccentric collector William Beckford of Fonthill.


Compton Verney

Another 5 miles into Warwickshire takes you to the doors of Compton Verney, a gracious 18th century house remodelled by Robert Adam and Capability Brown and now an art gallery.  Compton Verney is mad for Shakespeare this year with two major exhibitions, Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy, which combines paintings, photography and installation with reading from RSC actors and Boydell’s Vision which intriguingly re-imagines The Shakespeare Gallery, a popular 18th century tourist attraction in Pall Mall celebrating the Bard.  There are also talks, walks, games and trails for all the family and a screening of Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which was filmed at Compton Verney) on 13 May for Museums at Night.


Sherborne Castle

Of course, Shakespeare may not have been Shakespeare.  Or so various academics have suggested since the 1840s.  One of the earliest candidates was Sir Walter Raleigh, soldier, adventurer, author, poet and irresistible hero of the Elizabethan age, famous for his mythical exploits with cloaks and puddles as well as the founding of Virginia and his eventual disgrace and beheading.  Raleigh built himself a grand house at Sherborne Castle in Devon in 1594.  It is still there, now owned by the Wingfield-Digby family, and you can sit in Raleigh’s Seat in the gardens to admire the house across the lake and landscape, one of Capability Brown’s earliest commissions. This Seat is where Raleigh is supposed to have had ale thrown over him by a servant who thought he was on fire having stumbled on him smoking tobacco, then a brand new import from the New World.

Perhaps a more convincing candidate was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford proposed as the author of the plays in the 1920s by the suggestively named J T Looney. Make up your own mind at Hedingham Castle, his home in Suffolk and one of the best preserved Norman keeps in Britain.  De Vere was certainly accomplished and well travelled but was he Shakespeare?  A visit to his home reveals little but is a beautiful place that conjures up the Norman conquest and after all, Elizabeth I is supposed to have visited too.


First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays in the Library at Mount Stuart

If you are in Scotland and not a Shakespeare sceptic then there are treats in store this year.  In March, the librarian at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute stumbled a previously unknown First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays.  This collection of his work, compiled and published in 1623 by his colleagues Henry Condell and John Heminge, consists of the earliest known edition of 36 plays.  Although widely distributed, copies are rare and this First Folio is one of only 234 known in the world.  It had belonged to Shakespeare scholar John Reed in the 1780s and was part of the library collected by the 3rd Marquess of Bute at Mount Stuart.  This library consists of over 25,000 volumes and papers, now mostly preserved in the Blue, Red and Purple Libraries. The house is an extraordinary Gothic Revival palace, crammed with the fine art and furnishings collected by generations of the Bute family.


Glamis Castle

Shakespeare’s Macbeth lived at Glamis Castle in Tayside and it was there that he brutally murdered Duncan, his rival for the throne of Scotland.  Yes, Macbeth did exist, yes he was King of Scotland, yes, he did kill King Duncan II but in battle not in his bed.  Even if Shakespeare moved the facts around a bit, Glamis is central to the story.  Duncan’s grandfather Malcolm II died here, King Malcolm’s Room has  gorgeous 17th century embroidered hangings’, and a Pictish stone in the grounds today may have been his gravestone. Shakespeare probably heard about Glamis at the court of King James I and VI from Patrick, 9th Lord Glamis who accompanied the King to London in the early 1600s, just the time that Shakespeare was performing plays at court.  His Macbeth is nothing like the real ruler who was a successful King for 17 years, but then Shakespeare wanted to flatter his new royal patron’s Stuart ancestors rather than the line of Macbeth. At Glamis, Duncan’s Hall captures the atmosphere of this ancient place whose thick walls and steep stone stairs remind us that the castle was here as early at Malcolm’s death in 1034.  But above these lower rooms the history of Glamis continued to play out alongside the history of Scotland up to the honeymoon of its most famous recent resident, the Queen Mother, and its current owner, the Earl of Strathmore.

Or of course you could just go to a play.


Mrs Hudson in search of Capability Brown

Picture England – rolling green hills, a glimpse of water, stately trees, a sprinkling of sheep – you’ve just described an 18th century landscape garden designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.  I’m off to celebrate 300 years since his birth striding across landscapes with Walpole the dog firmly on the lead (it’s those sheep, you see).

Let’s start at Croome Park in Worcestershire, C



apability Brown’s first major commission in 1751 for his friend and patron, the 6th Earl of Coventry. Brown designed not just the landscape but the house, rotunda and church as well.  The result is a wonderful balance between land, water and buildings gradually emerging from a major restoration programme by the National Trust.  I just can’t decide whether to go for a walk, a lecture or a play performance; all happening at Croome this year.

Autumn scene lake


Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire has “the loveliest view in England”.  Capability Brown worked here from 1763 to 1774, turning a canal into a majestic lake and giving the Palace a glorious setting which I’m going to see from the new Trail around the Park, maybe even from a horse-drawn carriage.  The exhibition here will tell me more and I’m dying to see the reconstruction of Capability Brown’s famous machine for moving full grown trees.

At Weston Park in Shropshire, Brown was employed by Sir Henry Bridgeman to createVB21970294
a’modern’ setting for the baroque house he had just inherited.  What he got was a classic Brown landscape, a stream became a lake, avenues became carefully positioned clumps of trees all framing the view of the house and the elegant Temple of Diana (in which you can now stay overnight).  There’s a new exhibition about Brown here every month so I’m spoiled for choice!


Harewood House South Front angle.jpg

Harewood House

Harewood House in Yorkshire’s Brown landscape was created over 6 years from 1775, as a setting for the new house built by Robert Adam for wealthy landowner, Edwin Lascelles.  I’ll be there in June for talks and walks and to see the year long exhibition of views of the park by the likes of JMW Turner and Victorian photography pioneer Roger Fenton.


Berrington Hall in Herefordshire was Brown’s last landscape where he worked with his architect son-in-law, Henry Holland.  The National Trust are rediscovering it this year with the help of environmental artists, Red Earth, in a series entitled Genius Loci.  This contemporary way of looking at Brown’s legacy sounds really intriguing.

And so to Hampton Court Palace in London, where Brown was Head Gardener to King George III until his death.  The best survivor of Brown’s work here is The Great Vine, planted by Brown in 1768.  It is the largest grape vine in the world and still produces a huge harvest each autumn.  Brown preserved the celebrated royal gardens and The Empress & The Gardener is an exhibition of watercolours of the garden in Brown’s day (Catherine the Great of Russia’s the Empress).


Make a little effort and you can find some heritage places that are open at Easter but not much at other times of year. Here are a few that are pretty secretive but I wouldn’t want to miss.

Gosford House, East Lothian

Robert Adam’s late masterpiece, Gosford House, home of the Earl of Wemyss is Gosford Housea short drive from central Edinburgh. Adam, our most celebrated neo-classical architect, died before the house was completed about 1800.  The next architect to work there was William Young, commissioned by the 10th Earl in the 1890s. Young’s Marble Hall is unmatched for magnificence, a confident creation in marble and alabaster hung on a steel
skeleton that allows for an overarching glass dome and an expanse of windows. The 10th Earl’s impressive art collection includes works by Murillo, Rubens and Botticelli.  Enjoy the views down to the Forth and the elegant Adam stableblock.

Norton Conyers, North Yorkshire

Norton ConyersThe smart Dutch gables hide a timbered medieval manor house, recently beautifully restored by the Graham family who have lived here since 1624. There are wonderful 18th century paintings including plenty of country gentlemen liberally supplied with horses and dogs. Best of all is the news that the secret stair discovered here during the restoration is certain proof that Charlotte Bronte used Norton Conyers as her model for Thornfield Hall and inspiration for the story of Jane Eyre. She was here in 1839 and the family must have told her the story of the mad woman who was confined to the attics. I can almost hear Mr Rochester calling.

Arbury Hall, Warwickshire

More literary connections at Arbury where novelist George Eliot was born on the estate. You can walk where she walked. But save your energy for the hall itself and its unmatched Strawberry Hill Gothic interior. Sir Roger Newdigate came home from his Grand Tour to Italy in 1742, but he seems to have been unimpressed by Rome (apart from a brief classical flirtation in the chapel), but instead must have popped into Westminster Abbey on the way home because the whole house is filled with soaring fan vaulting, light and airy and exquisitely pointy. George Eliot thought it was “petrified lace”, you might think of royal icing but the whole concoction is so extraordinary you will feel like dancing.

Tissington Hall, Derbyshire

The magic of Tissington is the survival unaltered of a Jacobean manor house at the centre of a village off the main road in its own time warp. The house is sturdy and speaks of the long generations of the Fitzherbert family who live here still. The rooms are unpretentious and filled with a charmingly arranged melange of Stuart and Georgian furniture and portraits. The principal rooms are on the first floor and overlook the village green and its ancient well. At the rear is an Art Nouveau library where the plaster frieze captures the wildness of the Peak District.

Stanford Hall, Leicestershire

This is a perfectly proportioned house built just after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 byStanford Hall William Smith of Warwick for the Cave family who still live here. There is plenty to see, family portraits and a portrait of an aging Bonnie Prince Charlie as well as textiles and tapestries. Best is the cantilevered staircase in the light and airy central staircase hall which carries your eye through tiers of Stuart portraits. Or the Baroque Ballroom, where the trompe l’oeil scenes of tumbling classical deities on the ceiling have recently been restored to glory.

Whittington Court, Gloucestershire

Whittington Court.jpgThere was a house here before the Elizabethan manor that survives today and the group of house, church and barn feel peaceful and unchanging. Inside, the highlights are the rump of the Elizabethan Great Hall, the fine carved oak Charles I staircase and two overmantels from a contemporary house, one of which sports the Washington Arms – the earliest form of the stars and stripes and always a find for Americans.

Cobham Hall, Kent

Here is one of England’s great Elizabethan houses now a school. Elizabeth I stayed here, in fact the present house was conceived because she was not impressed, and Charles I spent his honeymoon night here. The house is brick with long parallel wings ending in turreted towers. Under the Georges, the house belonged to the Earls of Darnley who turned it into a largely Baroque house without changing the layout. The interiors are remarkable, gilded Baroque plasterwork, the Darnley art collection still on the walls, and magnificent surviving fireplaces so you can sometimes overlook the schooly atmosphere. Don’t miss the grounds where the first recorded cricket match took place in 1776 and the Darnley Mausoleum, restored by the National Trust.

Cornwall House, Monmouth

A deliciously pretty Georgian town house in the centre of historic Monmouth, open over Easter weekend. Originally a brick house in Queen Anne style, the street front was updated in the mid-18th century and it has been divided many times in its history; you’ll find the local newspaper currently in half. The bones of the well-proportioned interior survive with a handsome staircase and fireplaces. It’s fun to peek inside a private house like this and learn a bit of its history.

Cobham Hall

Hudson’s Heritage Awards 2016

Hudson's HA 2016 Landscape Logo 600pix

Tuesday 1st march 2016 marked the annual Hudson’s Heritage Awards; a great time was had by all and we thank everyone for their participation. Below are the winners and highly commended:

Best Accommodation

Winner: Frampton Court Estate
Highly Commended: Bruisyard Hall
Special Judges Award: The Churches Conservation Trust



Best Eating Out

Winner: Waddesdon Manor
Highly Commended: Glansevern Hall Gardens



Best Event/Exhibition sponsered by Ecclesiastical

Winner: Dunham Massey
Highly Commended: Houghton Hall



Best Family Day Out

Winner: Newby Hall
Highly Commended: Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust



Best Hidden Gem sponsored by Smith & Williamson

Winner: Blenheim Palace
Highly Commended: Keats House




Best Innovation

Winner: Blenheim Palace
Highly Commended: Croome
Special Judges Award: Woburn Abbey & Gardens



Best Loos

Winner: Lowther Castle
Highly Commended: The Alnwick Garden



Best New Discovery

Winner: Bletchley Park
Highly Commended: The Judge’s Lodging



Best Shopping sponsored by Jarrold Publishing

Winner: The Harley Gallery
Highly Commended: Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts Centre



Best Wedding Venue

Winner: Combermere Abbey
Highly Commended: Chiddingstone Castle



Best Picnic Spot as nominated by the public, sponsored by Fortum & Mason

Winner: Clearburn, New Lanark




Best Leisure and Spa Hotel: The Coniston Hotel, Country Estate and Spa
Best Hotel: Dart Marina
Best Dining Experience: Langar Hall




Mrs Hudson’s Year of the Monkey

Hang out your lanterns on 8 February to welcome Chinese New Year!  There are several great collections of Chinese art in Britain and it is hard to find a stately home or an historic garden that was not touched by the 18th century’s consuming passion for all things Chinese.  So I’m going to celebrate the Year of the Monkey by exploring some.

Chinese wallpaper is actually amazingly rare, yet it was the coolest décor around for the Georgians.  And a Chinese room is a surprisingly common feature of historic houses today.   Perhaps the earliest trend setter was the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey in the 1740s, whose original Chinese decoration for his private suite of rooms and those of his Duchess was rediscovered recently. Sometimes sumptuous handpainted Chinese wallpaper is in the bedroom, as at Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire, and sometimes an exquisite drawing room as at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire or Dalemain in Cumbria, both rooms where the new fashion for tea drinking would have made these rooms spot-on for fashionable entertaining.

The Chinese Dairy at Woburn Abbey dates from 17817.jpg

The Chinese Dairy at Woburn Abbey – 1717

Tea drinking also required the right equipment and aristocratic families
rushed to order porcelain services from the East. Find surviving examples of Chinese Export Ware in the collections at Floors Castle in the Borders or at Weston Park in Shropshire and Saltram in Devon.  Chinese furniture made its way into houses here as well, one of the finest examples is the Chinese Cabinet at the National Trust’s Uppark in Sussex and this inspired a generation of fine cabinet makers at home including Thomas Chippendale.  Experience Chippendale’s Chinoiserie furniture at Harewood House in Yorkshire. Here the Chinese rooms were dismantled

The East Bedroom at Harewood House

The East Bedroom at Harewood House

when they went out of vogue but in 1988 the original handpainted wallpaper of 1750 was found carefully rolled up and stored (it was expensive stuff).  In the now restored East Bedroom you can see the room as it was filled with Thomas Chippendale’s extraordinary suite of japanned furniture.

Outside the passion for Chinoiserie splashed out into gardens as well. A Chinese bridge like the one recently restored by the National Trust at Croome Park was just the thing and some could afford a Chinese house like the one at the Stowe Landscape Gardens as well.  At Woburn the number of Chinese influenced buildings in the gardens extended to the gorgeous Chinese dairy, bridge and pagoda, all now restored and still arresting.

Don’t forget that the ultimate expression of Chinoiserie in Britain is surely Brighton Pavilion, built for the Prince Regent by John Nash.  The Chinese Music Room is so theatrical you’ll think Kublai Khan himself is about to burst in.


The extravagant Music Room at Brighton Pavilion.jpg

The extravagant Music Room at Brighton Pavillion

China dropped out of fashion but not for long, at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire in the 1930s, for example, the celebrated decorator Nancy Lancaster created a Chinese room with more than a nod to the 1750s.

So make the Year of the Monkey a year for rediscovering our Chinese past.  Let me know what you find out!  Monkey see, monkey do.


Mrs Hudson Stays in Town

Mrs H & Walpool

I’m fed up of muddy puddles and mackintoshes so this month I’m planning to stay in town and visit some unusual heritage places where I can keep my feet dry.
London is so full of options it really pays to seek out the unusual.

I think I might go to capture the spirit of Dr Johnson in the garret where he wrote his Dictionary at Dr Johnson’s House in the City, or to Hampstead where at Keats House the romantic poet first fell in love, or find a little of the spirit of William Morris at the house he designed for Frank Dickinson at Little Holland House in Carshalton.  But I think I shall settle for Kensington where the artist Frederick Lord Leighton’s home, Leighton House at 12 Holland Park Road has some of the most imaginative exotic interiors in the land.  I feel I could waste all of January just lounging by the pool and gazing at the Iznik tiles in the Arab Hall.

No Scottish town can take you back to the Renaissance the way Stirling can and Argyll’s Lodging in Castle Wynd is probably the best surviving 17th century house in Scotland.  It dates mainly from the 1670s and its changing ownership matches the turbulent fortunes of the nation.  The lavish wall paintings of the 9th Earl of Argyll’s time survive along with tapestries and furnishings of the period.

Cardiff Castle is right in town and if you aim for the extraordinary William Burges’ neo-Gothic interiors you hardly need to step outside.  Drawing on the long history of the castle – Henry I blinded and imprisoned his elder brother here for 15 years – Burges created a fantasy dream palace that is one of the wonders of 19th century interiors.  Standing in the highly ornate Study you are not sure whether you are in Wales, at Disneyland or in a Harry Potter movie.  My favourite detail is the birds painted into the decoration of the Winter Smoking Room.

Historic British towns often have a castle right in the middle.  This is a great time for discovering Lincoln Castle after its restoration last year and you will get to see an original Magna Carta without the crowds.  I think that taking the wall walk all the way round the curtain walls takes you right into the shoes of the Norman defenders and gives you a sense of Lincoln’s importance in the past.  This is also far and away the best place to view the Cathedral.

Birmingham is a good town to choose for heritage.  I particularly enjoy Matthew Boulton’s home, Soho House, a charmingly elegant Georgian villa filled with good mahogany furniture.  Matthew Boulton was one of the great enablers of the Industrial Revolution, the business partner of Scottish steam engine inventor, James Watt, wealthy manufacturer, silversmith and founder of the Lunar Society. At home he enjoyed probably the first domestic central heating system in the country as well as flushing toilets and a vast steam heated bath.

Leeds has grown outwards like so many industrial towns and swallowed up Jacobean Temple Newsam House whose park now provides a green lung for the people of the city.  This is, however, a pre-eminent country house which Leeds Museums Service have managed to restore and interpret in a way which makes the complicated family history fun and helps to explain the outstanding collection of furniture, paintings, tapestries and ceramics.

Many other historic places are closed in January for housekeeping and restoration so if you are planning visits, do check opening times before you go.  And meanwhile have fun in the town!