Sleeping with History

Owners of properties that offer the chance to sleep with a slice of history – a Scottish castle, a stately home hotel or our Elizabethan Gatehouse – have never been exactly shy about showing off their guest books as a form of marketing. It’s good business to boast that previous guests include royalty, prime ministers and some of Britain’s best-known historical or society guests as well as famous writers.

But how many of these claims are really true?

At Upton Cressett Hall, where I live in Shropshire, our Gatehouse includes a choice of either staying in The Thatcher Suite in the exact same bed in which Lady Thatcher slept with Sir Denis when she came to stay for two nights in 1994; or up a further floor guests can stay in The Prince Rupert Suite where the Royalist Commander hid from parliamentary forces during the Civil War.

Depending on the sort of guest enquiry we get, the latter is also occasionally marketed as the Elizabeth Hurley ‘honeymoon’ suite, as she has stayed there several times and has been kind enough to call it ‘the most romantic escape in England’. I can vouch for the fact that Hurley really has slept in the four-poster bed – decorated with Zoffany Arden fabric – as I will never forget the look on my gardener-turned-occasional butler after he went up to the bedroom to deliver some tea and found a half-naked Elizabeth lying like a graceful swan in white silk pyjamas; and I know for certain that Lady Thatcher did sleep in the bed and managed to get through a decanter of whisky left for her in the suite next door (now called the ‘Whisky Suite’).

But do we really know if Prince Rupert actually slept the night in the top oor of our Gatehouse? All the history books say is that he arrived with ‘a troop of 60 royal horse’. On where he slept, they are silent. The booming vogue for sleeping with a slice of British history has much to do with the fact that people don’t just want to escape to the country for the weekend – they also want an ‘authentic’ historic experience.

When I show people the Thatcher Suite, what they like most is that the actual bed she slept in is still there – with the same upholstery and decanter that she helped herself to Macallan malt from. This is a backlash from the National Trust trend for populating houses with staff dressed up like a low budget costume drama and history reduced to a Disneyland historical ‘theme park’ approach.

It is much better to experience the real thing, such as staying at Cliveden House in Berkshire, where you can spend £1,535 a night to stay in the Prince of Wales suite or the Lady Astor suite, marketed as one of the ‘very grandest in England’. Located on the first floor of the main house, it boasts high ceilings, private terrace, antique furniture, sweeping views over the parterre and the River Thames and an ‘honesty bar’.

Ah, yes. Historic honesty. Yes, we know that Lady (Nancy) Astor lived at Cliveden and that it was the salon of the ‘Cliveden Set’ of the 1920s and ’30s. During the 1960s, Cliveden – and its swimming pool – became the stage set for the notorious Profumo Affair. Yet this is not referred to on the hotel’s website. Also there is nothing suggesting that the Lady Astor suite was actually Nancy Astor’s own bedroom.

Naming private bedrooms after illustrious former guests – whether prime ministers staying for just a night (with their secret service agents booking into the local pub) to authors who show no inclination to leave – can be fraught with social and political dif culties. Firstly, can you name a bedroom after a famous guest who is still alive? The answer is surely ‘no’. It should be reserved as a form of memorial. They can however, unlike blue plaques, be named swiftly after a person dies, but there has to be some protocol.

 

When we decided to name the Thatcher Suite, I sought permission from her son Sir Mark. It was the first bedroom ‘suite’ (where the public can stay) to be offcially named after Britain’s rst female prime minister. Regardless of The Ritz, however, it won’t be long before dozens more Thatcher Suites will emerge around the world. There are endless Churchill ones, including at The Savoy, London, Hôtel de Paris in Monte-Carlo and the Mena House Oberoi Hotel in Cairo, where Franklin Roosevelt, Chinese General Chiang Kai-shek and Churchill all stayed.

Perhaps one reason for the diplomatic silence from The Ritz is that they may want to distance themselves from any accusation of opportunism. A hotel death can be good for business – the bungalow in which John Belushi died in 1982 at the Chateau Marmont in LA remains one of the most requested.

It’s important, however, not to preserve historic bedroom rooms in aspic, turning them into some sort of Miss Havisham-style mausoleum. At L’Hotel Paris, where Oscar Wilde died in 1900 for example, the suite named after him has been remodelled by contemporary French designer Jacques Garcia, who has framed the original begging letters from the hotel manager to Wilde demanding that he pay his bill. This chic style of ‘designer debt’ works well.

Part of the fun of staying in such a suite is that it is educational. In our Thatcher Suite, a hardback copy of her The Downing Street Years and the new Charles Moore biography sit together on the desk in the Elizabethan sitting room where Lady Thatcher used to make herself, what she liked to call, a ‘proper’ Scotch.

But is there something fundamentally exploitive or boastful about naming a bedroom after a former ‘celebrity’ guest? Is it really a way of honouring somebody – or is it just a grandiose form of visitor book name dropping?

Although the ‘celebrity suite’ business can be a darkly disingenuous business, naming a bedroom after a guest is surely one of the highest forms of social compliment. The very act of ‘naming’ – whether it is the terraced street off the Pimlico Road in Belgravia, where Mozart once brie y lived, or the Oliver Messel suite at the Dorchester Hotel – is an act of respect, as well as a form of remembrance. The young Mozart lived for not even two months at what was then called ‘Five elds Row’ – from 5 August to 24 September 1764 – following which the street was later re-named ‘Mozart Terrace’.

But often it’s just a gimmick. Dig beneath the PR gloss and you can nd the associations – or the facts – are tenuous. For hotels, or even a historic house trying to attract visitors, naming a suite or bedroom after a celebrated historical gure can be commercially canny – even if any sort of real connection is non-existent.

Take the famous Monet Suite (rooms 512 and 513) at The Savoy Hotel. Before the hotel was refurbished a few years back, The Savoy used to charge £720 per night for Monet lovers to stay in the rooms which he turned into a private studio for six months in 1899/1900 in order to paint his famous views of the River Thames. Yet, embarrassingly for the hotel, a scientific paper published by the Royal Geographical Society proved that the hotel had actually got the suite numbers wrong and that the painter had in fact stayed in the room next door.

The main reason I am glad to have re-named ‘The Prince Rupert Bedroom’ as the ‘Thatcher Suite’ is that I’ve always liked to think of the English country house as being the ultimate stage set for the social mobility – as a reward for hard work – that has always set Britain apart from its European neighbours (one reason why we never had a French-style revolution).

Politics – like Elizabethan theatre – has always been a game open to anyone with enough talent and ambition to succeed. In many ways the Globe Theatre itself was like a sprawling country house, with its downstairs ‘pit’ for the lower orders and the best seats reserved for the wealthy merchants, aristocrats and courtiers. But one thing that has always made Britain unique is that anybody, from whatever background, can always leap up onto the stage at any time to play their part. Shakespeare was the son of a debt-ridden glovemaker from Stratford; Thomas Wolsey – who built Hampton Court – was the son of a builder from Ipswich. Lady Thatcher belongs to this tradition.

So it seems only tting that, in our own very humble way at Upton Cressett, with Prince Rupert of the Rhine now being booted upstairs (where servants would have slept on the oor on rough horse-hair mattresses), that triumph of social elevation is dramatised through a bedroom change-over. When we first opened up the Thatcher Suite to the public, one of our house guests was William Dartmouth, UKIP MEP for the South West, 10th Earl of Dartmouth and no stranger – as the grandson of Barbara Cartland and the son of Raine Spencer – to the nuances of English social elevation.

His comment summed it all up: ‘Good to see a grocer’s daughter from Grantham pulling rank on the nephew of a king – how wonderfully English!’.

SLEEPING WITH HISTORY

Owners of properties that offer the chance to sleep with a slice of history – a Scottish castle, a stately home hotel or our Elizabethan Gatehouse – have never been exactly shy about showing off their guest books as a form of marketing. It’s good business to boast that previous guests include royalty, prime ministers and some of Britain’s best-known historical or society guests as well as famous writers.

But how many of these claims are really true?

At Upton Cressett Hall, where I live in Shropshire, our Gatehouse includes a choice of either staying in The Thatcher Suite in the exact same bed in which Lady Thatcher slept with Sir Denis when she came to stay for two nights in 1994; or up a further floor guests can stay in The Prince Rupert Suite where the Royalist Commander hid from parliamentary forces during the Civil War.

Depending on the sort of guest enquiry we get, the latter is also occasionally marketed as the Elizabeth Hurley ‘honeymoon’ suite, as she has stayed there several times and has been kind enough to call it ‘the most romantic escape in England’. I can vouch for the fact that Hurley really has slept in the four-poster bed – decorated with Zoffany Arden fabric – as I will never forget the look on my gardener-turned-occasional butler after he went up to the bedroom to deliver some tea and found a half-naked Elizabeth lying like a graceful swan in white silk pyjamas; and I know for certain that Lady Thatcher did sleep in the bed and managed to get through a decanter of whisky left for her in the suite next door (now called the ‘Whisky Suite’).

But do we really know if Prince Rupert actually slept the night in the top oor of our Gatehouse? All the history books say is that he arrived with ‘a troop of 60 royal horse’. On where he slept, they are silent. The booming vogue for sleeping with a slice of British history has much to do with the fact that people don’t just want to escape to the country for the weekend – they also want an ‘authentic’ historic experience.

Thatcher Suite Bed

When I show people the Thatcher Suite, what they like most is that the actual bed she slept in is still there – with the same upholstery and decanter that she helped herself to Macallan malt from. This is a backlash from the National Trust trend for populating houses with staff dressed up like a low budget costume drama and history reduced to a Disneyland historical ‘theme park’ approach.

It is much better to experience the real thing, such as staying at Cliveden House in Berkshire, where you can spend £1,535 a night to stay in the Prince of Wales suite or the Lady Astor suite, marketed as one of the ‘very grandest in England’. Located on the first floor of the main house, it boasts high ceilings, private terrace, antique furniture, sweeping views over the parterre and the River Thames and an ‘honesty bar’.

Ah, yes. Historic honesty. Yes, we know that Lady (Nancy) Astor lived at Cliveden and that it was the salon of the ‘Cliveden Set’ of the 1920s and ’30s. During the 1960s, Cliveden – and its swimming pool – became the stage set for the notorious Profumo Affair. Yet this is not referred to on the hotel’s website. Also there is nothing suggesting that the Lady Astor suite was actually Nancy Astor’s own bedroom.

Naming private bedrooms after illustrious former guests – whether prime ministers staying for just a night (with their secret service agents booking into the local pub) to authors who show no inclination to leave – can be fraught with social and political dif culties. Firstly, can you name a bedroom after a famous guest who is still alive? The answer is surely ‘no’. It should be reserved as a form of memorial. They can however, unlike blue plaques, be named swiftly after a person dies, but there has to be some protocol.

When we decided to name the Thatcher Suite, I sought permission from her son Sir Mark. It was the first bedroom ‘suite’ (where the public can stay) to be offcially named after Britain’s rst female prime minister. Regardless of The Ritz, however, it won’t be long before dozens more Thatcher Suites will emerge around the world. There are endless Churchill ones, including at The Savoy, London, Hôtel de Paris in Monte-Carlo and the Mena House Oberoi Hotel in Cairo, where Franklin Roosevelt, Chinese General Chiang Kai-shek and Churchill all stayed.

Perhaps one reason for the diplomatic silence from The Ritz is that they may want to distance themselves from any accusation of opportunism. A hotel death can be good for business – the bungalow in which John Belushi died in 1982 at the Chateau Marmont in LA remains one of the most requested.

It’s important, however, not to preserve historic bedroom rooms in aspic, turning them into some sort of Miss Havisham-style mausoleum. At L’Hotel Paris, where Oscar Wilde died in 1900 for example, the suite named after him has been remodelled by contemporary French designer Jacques Garcia, who has framed the original begging letters from the hotel manager to Wilde demanding that he pay his bill. This chic style of ‘designer debt’ works well.

Part of the fun of staying in such a suite is that it is educational. In our Thatcher Suite, a hardback copy of her The Downing Street Years and the new Charles Moore biography sit together on the desk in the Elizabethan sitting room where Lady Thatcher used to make herself, what she liked to call, a ‘proper’ Scotch.

But is there something fundamentally exploitive or boastful about naming a bedroom after a former ‘celebrity’ guest? Is it really a way of honouring somebody – or is it just a grandiose form of visitor book name dropping?

Although the ‘celebrity suite’ business can be a darkly disingenuous business, naming a bedroom after a guest is surely one of the highest forms of social compliment. The very act of ‘naming’ – whether it is the terraced street off the Pimlico Road in Belgravia, where Mozart once brie y lived, or the Oliver Messel suite at the Dorchester Hotel – is an act of respect, as well as a form of remembrance. The young Mozart lived for not even two months at what was then called ‘Five elds Row’ – from 5 August to 24 September 1764 – following which the street was later re-named ‘Mozart Terrace’.

But often it’s just a gimmick. Dig beneath the PR gloss and you can nd the associations – or the facts – are tenuous. For hotels, or even a historic house trying to attract visitors, naming a suite or bedroom after a celebrated historical gure can be commercially canny – even if any sort of real connection is non-existent.

Take the famous Monet Suite (rooms 512 and 513) at The Savoy Hotel. Before the hotel was refurbished a few years back, The Savoy used to charge £720 per night for Monet lovers to stay in the rooms which he turned into a private studio for six months in 1899/1900 in order to paint his famous views of the River Thames. Yet, embarrassingly for the hotel, a scientific paper published by the Royal Geographical Society proved that the hotel had actually got the suite numbers wrong and that the painter had in fact stayed in the room next door.

The main reason I am glad to have re-named ‘The Prince Rupert Bedroom’ as the ‘Thatcher Suite’ is that I’ve always liked to think of the English country house as being the ultimate stage set for the social mobility – as a reward for hard work – that has always set Britain apart from its European neighbours (one reason why we never had a French-style revolution).

Politics – like Elizabethan theatre – has always been a game open to anyone with enough talent and ambition to succeed. In many ways the Globe Theatre itself was like a sprawling country house, with its downstairs ‘pit’ for the lower orders and the best seats reserved for the wealthy merchants, aristocrats and courtiers. But one thing that has always made Britain unique is that anybody, from whatever background, can always leap up onto the stage at any time to play their part. Shakespeare was the son of a debt-ridden glovemaker from Stratford; Thomas Wolsey – who built Hampton Court – was the son of a builder from Ipswich. Lady Thatcher belongs to this tradition.

So it seems only tting that, in our own very humble way at Upton Cressett, with Prince Rupert of the Rhine now being booted upstairs (where servants would have slept on the oor on rough horse-hair mattresses), that triumph of social elevation is dramatised through a bedroom change-over. When we first opened up the Thatcher Suite to the public, one of our house guests was William Dartmouth, UKIP MEP for the South West, 10th Earl of Dartmouth and no stranger – as the grandson of Barbara Cartland and the son of Raine Spencer – to the nuances of English social elevation.
His comment summed it all up: ‘Good to see a grocer’s daughter from Grantham pulling rank on the nephew of a king – how wonderfully English!’.

Jimmy Goldmith, Margaret Thacther and Bill Cash at Château de Montjeu

Triple festivities at Upton Cressett

There were triple festivities at Upton Cressett over the weekend with the christening of our four month old daughter Cosima and the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents with a special dinner on Saturday night with our old neighbours the Swire family – who have done so much to protect the local landscape from being scarred by wind farms and solar parks – and local friends including former government Environment secretary Owen Paterson – MP for North Shropshire – and his wife Rose, chairman of Aintree race-course.

Cosima,-Parents-and-and-Godparents-7848

During his after dinner speech my father, Sir Bill Cash, refrained from talking about his ‘Thirty Years War’ to save British democracy from EU domination and instead told the story of his courtship of my mother Biddy at Oxford. After meeting in a cinema trip with friends, Bill made sure he was seated next to the dazzling looking sixteen year old who was studying at Beechlawn. They were married on 16th October

1965 at the chapel of Wardour Castle. They went back for a special private blessing. Apparently the wedding – 50 years ago – was a nerve-wracking affair as Biddy – who was just 20 – was late by an hour after being stuck in her car behind a travelling circus in the depths of Somerset.

The christening weekend was a delightful and gloriously happy family affair as well as being something of a ‘Family Masterchef’ contest with Laura cooking the christening lunch (cold fillet of Morville beef and wild mushroom tart) and my mother Biddy cooking for the Saturday dinner party (pork medallions in brandy sauce). Guests were jokingly asked to leave voting cards as to the on the table. They were also asked to not to write a thank you letter but vote for Trip Advisor where I am glad to see that Upton Cressett is rising up the local rankings with 11 Excellent reviews.

Other guests over the weekend included all the Godparents of Cosima whose other names are Elizabeth Rose. Elizabeth because Upton Cressett was built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (there is a date-stone saying 1550 on the front of the house under the twisting 16th chimneys) and also because it is the name of my dear old friend Elizabeth Hurley whom I have known from days living in LA in the 1990s. Other godparents included Bugatti driving Charles Dean – whom I have known since our days studying in Oxford in the 1980s – Shropshire sheep farmer Grania Reed – whom I have known from Cambridge in the 1980s – Tom Faure-Romanelli – whom I have known the longest, since boarding school in the early 1980s – who flew in with his lovely wife Ilaria from Miami. Having another Ilaria around was a bit confusing as my first wife was an Italian called Ilaria but at least this time I managed to get my wife’s name right in my lunch speech!

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Laura invited her close childhood friend Emma de Rosney, who has a daughter just a few months older than Cosima, along with her former London flat-mate Paddy Magan to be godparents. There is a lovely photograph of us all outside the church of St. Michael following the ceremony. The only person missing from the photo is our black labrador Cressetta who somehow managed to join the colourful medieval procession from the Hall to the church and ended up sitting in the front pew with myself, Laura and Cosima as an honorary godmother. The service also included several sets of historic costume dancing (including some flamboyant medieval head-gear worn in the church) by the Shropshire based Courtesie group and beautiful choral works by John Rutter and Ralph Vaughan Williams sung during the service by the Severn Singers, led by Chris and David Carr. The moving service was granted permission to take place in St Michael’s (now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust) the Rev Simon Cawdell, head of the Bridgnorth parishes. The Catholic priest who married Laura’s parents ad baptised Laura in 1984 celebrated the service along with father Alban from Telford and Rev Cawdell sharing duties.

The weekend was also well attended by the Cathcart clan. The third reason to celebrate was that Laura’s father Charles Cathcart planted a sapling from one of the surviving seven sweet chestnut trees of Hougoumont farm-house that survive from the 1815 battlefield of Waterloo where two Cathcart brothers fought at the battle including defending the old Hougoumont farmhouse from the French. General Cathcart had three horses shot beneath him in the course of the battle, the other was ADC to Wellington.

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The chestnut sapling from Hougoumont was given to us as a wedding present from my parents. The new tree is a replacement for an avenue of Spanish chestnuts at Upton Cressett (flanking the main entrance) that were originally planted in 1815 to mark victory at Waterloo. Unfortunately, they have started to die – due to age or disease we are not sure -and two have had to be felled before they toppled over and crushed guests in the new honeymoon Prince Rupert suite on the top floor of The Gatehouse. That would certainly make for an interesting Trip Advisor review.

Although the dinner was to celebrate Cosima’s christening and the Cash family Golden wedding anniversary, Sir Bill and my mother Biddy were by no means the weekend winners of the prize for the longest anniversary of years together. Driving all the way up from Norfolk were also Laura’s grandparents Des and Sue Skinner, who celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary this year.

Des, still active as a racing trainer aged 90, saw action in World War 2 serving in North Italy. When the cheese came around at dinner, he recalled how, after being stationed in Italy during the war, he had bought an enormous gorgonzola wheel of cheese to take home to his parents in Norfolk on his return where nobody had eaten cheese for years because of war rations. Alas, after a week travelling in the heat, the suitcase with his Italian spoils of war had to be abandoned before reaching Norfolk as it ‘smelt worse than any stink bomb’.

It’s a Battlefield

This week Spear’s is submitting its ‘Heritage and the NPPF’ briefing report for Greg Clark’s team of advisors at the Department of Communities and Local Government in Victoria. The results – based on research during our Save Britain’s Historic Landscape campaign, launched back in August before the Telegraph launched their own Hands Off Our Land Campaign (brilliant as it is) – makes for some chilling reading.

The sort that (we hope) will have Greg and his advisory team heading straight to the Bag O’ Nails pub in Victoria right next to the DCLG offices for a drink after reading. Our findings certainly sit uneasily next to the DCLG spokesperson who told the Telegraph on 4 January that it had ‘repeatedly made clear’ that it was ‘committed to safeguarding the natural and historic environment’.

He added: ‘The draft framework retains the protections already in place and puts power back into the hands of local people, ensuring they are in charge of deciding the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected. Listing for buildings and scheduling for ancient monuments will continue. It also makes clear that a local council could not allow development causing significant harm or loss to an important heritage asset apart from in wholly exceptional circumstances with stringent tests needed to justify any such proposal.’

A few days after these claims, the Sunday Telegraph ran a disturbing feature on the six wind turbines that have now been permitted by a Government Planning Inspector which will desecrate the famous Northants (1645) battle site of Naseby – the second most important battle in English History (after Hastings in 1066) and the battle that led the way to the birth of our soi disant Parliamentary democracy.

Upton Cressett and the Cressett family – both Edward Cressett, who was killed in the Battle of Bridgnorth in 1646 and his son Sir Francis Cressett – played at important part in the Civil War, with Sir Francis Cressett – who portrait hangs in our Great Hall dining room – being Treasurer to Charles I (meaning he was the George Osborne of the mid 17th century) as well as his personal steward. He would almost certainly have been with the King at Naseby. When Charles I was later incarcerated in Carisbrooke Castle in 1648, the king used Francis Cressett, along with a secret cipher code to communicate with his allies. This code was known by very few loyal Courtiers close to the king, with Francis being mentioned several times as the anonymous character known as ‘A’ in the secret missives.

Prince Rupert stayed in the Upton Cressett Gatehouse during the Civil War – escorted by a ‘troop of royal horse’. It had been built in 1580 and was decorated a la mode with leather and gilt wall coverings. As the Commander of the royalist troops at Naseby and also the nephew of the king, he would have closely known Francis Cressett and it is likely that the famous ‘King’s Chair’ that used to exist at Upton Cressett (sadly now lost) was the chair that Charles I used when he visited Upton Cressett to see his Steward and Treasurer.

I cannot believe that the government can allow the Naseby site to be ruined because of EU carbon targets, not the least as Cameron has just launched a 39£ Britain is Great global marketing campaign that champions our unique heritage. This decision – known as the ‘Kelmarsh Decision’ as it is on land owned by the trustees of the 3,000 acre estate of Grade 1 Kelmarsh Hall – was on 19 December. The Telegraph’s leader of 21 December called for Greg Clark, the planning minister responsible for re-drafting the National Planning Policy Framework, to ‘produce another draft that is more precise and better defined’.

As Spear’s has argued, a crucial area of the new draft NPPF that requires specific and urgent clarity is the positioning of wind farms close to heritage sites of national significance. Currently industrial wind farms are not addressed specifically in either the draft NPPF or the Localism Bill, the latter claimed as the government’s flagship vehicle for local democracy in the planning process.

Yet, despite government assurances that ‘heritage protection’ is not being watered down by the NPPF, the clear evidence of the Kelmarsh Decision – followed on 21 December by the Watford Lodge Decision which settled the fate of the famous ‘command centre’ Gatehouse, owned by Sir Robert Catesby where the Gunpowder Plot was schemed in 1605 – by planning inspectors demonstrates that the government’s blind goal of achieving ‘renewable energy targets’ is effectively nullifying both the very idea of ‘localism’.

It is also completely undermining David Cameron’s claim that ‘heritage’ is a crucial plank of his ‘Britain is Great’ campaign and must be safeguarded in the planning process. Heritage needs protecting as much as our priceless countryside, and is a hugely significant reason why so many people visit the UK ever year. One in three people say heritage tourism is the reason they come to the UK and over 80 per cent of all domestic visitors pay a visit to a heritage attraction while on a mini-break – the highest ranked of all leisure activities in the UK.

With Chris Huhne now promising up to 32,000 wind turbines, the need for some form of tightened heritage protection – and clarity as to where wind farms can be sited – in the revised NPPF is ever more urgent. Northamptonshire is now a wind farm hotspot with over 100 pending applications around the small village of Crick alone. The Watford Lodge site, to be built by the German owned Volkswind energy company, is within musket ball distance of the famous Ashby St Ledgers Manor, owned by Viscount Wimborne, where the Gunpowder plot took place in the Gatehouse.

Despite the government inspector Alan Novitzky admitting in his decision letter of 21 December that the Manor, gardens and parkland ‘provide a wealth of historic, architectural and landscape interest’, he concluded that ‘the public benefit of the proposals would outweigh the harm to the settings of the heritage assets’. In other words, EU driven renewable targets rule, to the detriment of irreplaceable heritage and landscape.

The Kelmarsh Decision is the same story. ‘The battlefield is of great significance as a heritage asset,’ admits Mr Griffiths in his decision letter, after inspecting the site on 10 October, adding clearly that the wind turbines would have a ‘distinct visible presence’, and would act as a modern ‘distraction’ from the open fields of the site, especially from such places as Rupert’s Viewpoint, King Charles’ Oak Viewpoint, the ROC Look-Out Post, Sulby Hedges and the Mill Hill Viewpoint (where the Living History Centre is being built).

The truth is that the cause of heritage is being marginalized at Naseby in the cause of commercial self-interest, as is invariably the case when the mouthwatering subsidies from renewables are involved. English Heritage’s strong objection to spoiling the setting of their own festival that celebrates the very best of English history could sway the inspector away from deciding that the call of renewables is more important cause than that of heritage.

The same verdict was reached by Inspector Paul Griffiths in his appraisal of Lamport Hall, also close to the wind turbines, another Grade 1 historic property with historic parklands and its Grade 1 Church of All Saints. ‘The Hall and Church are of very high quality architecturally,’ states Griffiths, ‘and have great historic and artistic interest.’ This group of heritage assets are of ‘the highest order of significance’.

Yet, after conducting what he refers to as a ‘balancing exercise’, the inspector – overruling the local council – decided that Chris Huhne’s renewable targets are more important, at the expense of any semblance of localism. Around the country, the story is the same, with our heritage being increasingly considered irrelevant by developers and local planning inspectors. In Shropshire, for example, another growing wind farm hotspot, there is a wind farm proposal less than a mile from my place, Upton Cressett Hall, the medieval manor where King Edward V (one of the Princes in the Tower) stayed on his way from Ludlow to the Tower in 1483, which is one of the county’s leading heritage attractions and the winner of the 2011 Hudsons Heritage Award for top UK ‘Hidden Gem’ heritage attraction.

Yet neither Shropshire Council’s planning department, nor Sharenergy – the developer, working with Natural Power, based in Wales – even bothered to mention the historic property in their planning documents, a clear breach of the statutory requirement to consult with English Heritage. The matter has been taken up with a formal letter to Shropshire Council asking for a full explanation as to why they did not consult with English Heritage, not even bother to refer to the famous Jack Mytton Way – the county’s flagship tourist and bridlepath trail – which is threatened by the turbines.

As Spear’s has argued before, there is a strong case for specially designated protection in the NPPF to safeguard the setting of heritage tourism assets of significance, in particular those that directly contribute to sustainable economic growth by being open to the public. The total number of mainstream heritage tourism properties in the UK open to the public amounts to approx just 1,100 properties in total (National Trust around 350, English Heritage around 400 and the privately owned Historic Houses Association core of around 350).

These 1,100 heritage properties play a critical role in contributing £12.1 billion to the UK economy, with £7.3 billion coming directly from visits to heritage attractions and museums. There are approx 400,000 listed buildings on the National Heritage List. These 1,100 properties – across the country – amount to just 0.25 per cent of all listed buildings. Yet these important heritage assets play a critical role in the tourist economy and sustainable economic growth.

There is a very strong case – as proposed by the National Trust for a return to a ‘presumption in favour of conservation’ for these important heritage assets of national importance that contribute so much to our national identity and economy. As Councillor Chris Millar, leader of Conservative led Daventry Council, said to me after hearing of the depressing Inspectorate Decision over Kelmarsh and Naseby, ‘Is the Government’s localism agenda dead in the water already?’

‘If the Planning Inspectorate are going to use the national renewable energy targets as the main reason for agreeing schemes no matter how inappropriate, inefficient and regardless of their impact on the area they are situated within, then is there any point in a local democratic planning process?’ he added. As things stand, the answer is increasingly worrying: ‘Not while wind farms are regarded as being outside the planning system.’ They urgently need to be brought back within the system so that the system can become fair and local democracy and the wishes of local people can be respected. After all isn’t that the whole point of localism?

When Greg Clark and his team meet over the next few weeks in their offices at the Department of Communities and Local Government in Victoria, or enjoy a sandwich over lunch at the Bag O’ Nails pub next door, they need to consider the implications of creating a planning system that is no longer a level playing field.

With the Planning Inspector always holding the ace card of EU driven ‘renewable targets’ which can trump any heritage consideration, it is clear that the planning system is undermining the very principles of creating a fairer and more simply planning system that the new NPPF was set up to produce.

‘Summer before the Storm’: John Piper and John Betjeman at Upton Cressett, 1939

I was delighted to learn from the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that previously unknown photographs from the John Piper archive have just been put on line after a major Heritage Lottery Fund grant to Tate Britain gallery in London had made their digitalisation possible.  Since the Shropshire: A Shell Guide was the first of the famous Shell travel guides to be published after the war (Shropshire was published in 1951) the new collection of b/w photos by the acclaimed English artist John Piper contains a considerable amount of Shropshire images ranging from Upton Cressett to small churches and market towns.

Shropshire A Shell Guide

 

To celebrate the unearthing of these remarkable archive photo discoveries relating to Shropshire’s pre-war heritage heritage, taken by one of England’s most acclaimed 20th century artists, Upton Cressett will be exhibiting copies of these historic photographs at a new pop up exhibition that is opening on Saturday, 22 August and will over the August Bank Holiday weekend. The exhibition – entitled ‘The Summer before the Storm: John Betjeman and John Piper at Upton Cressett, 1939’  – will be open from 12pm to 4.30pm on Saturday 29th August, Sunday 30th August and Bank Holiday Monday 31st August.

The exhibition will include photos taken of Upton Cressett Hall along with a first edition (1951) copy of Shropshire: A Shell Guide written by John Betjeman and John Piper. Entrance is free to the exhibition for those buying an admission ticket to the Hall or Gardens. Hall tickets with a tour and tea/cake is £12.50 and for the gardens only with tea/cake is £7.50.

Members of the public will also be able to view other photos of Shropshire taken by John Piper on-line from the Tate Archive. The Tate have asked that members of the pubic help with trying to identify photos that have not been identified by the Tate research team. The photos will also form part of a new photo led exhibition called ‘Upton Cressett in the 20th Century’ that will be opening next Spring in the new Adam Dant exhibition hut installation that was previously displayed at the Bloomberg Art Space in London.
See:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02z9k86/p02z9k6x.

John Piper was one of the most influential and important English artists of the 29th century. In the piece, you can say that all his approx 250  images of Shropshire – some of which have not yet been identified – can be seen at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/tga-8728-1-31/piper-photographs-of-shropshire/objects.

The exhibition will be a ‘pop up’ temporary exhibition that will give the Shropshire public a chance to see the work of John Piper that is available on line. There will be a new exhibition opening next Spring 2016 that will feature a wider range of photos of Upton Cressett taken by John Piper in 1939, along with other photographs that tell the story of the decline and restoration of Upton Cressett in the 20th century.

‘SUMMER BEFORE THE STORM’
JOHN BETJEMAN AND DAVID PIPER AT UPTON CRESSETT, 1939 

Whilst deserted for decades, the Hall and Gatehouse and Norman church of St Michael remained of considerable interest to architectural historians such as Nikolaus Pevsner. In the summer of 1938, the poet John Betjeman visited Upton Cressett with the artist John Piper whilst researching their Shell Guide To Shropshire (Faber & Faber). Because of the War, their guide-book – the first of the post-war Shell guides – was not published until 1951.

by Lola Walker (Lola Marsden), vintage bromide print, 1950s

In the introduction to his Shell Guide, Betjeman writes that ‘the particular beauties of Shropshire appear in the most unexpected places, such as Hawkstone Park, Tong, Bromfield and Upton Cressett’. Inside the guide, Betjeman writes that Upton Cressett is ‘best approached on foot, horse or bicycle; only so can its peace and various landscape be appreciated. The road to it stops at what was once the manor of Upton Cresset…An orchard surrounds the disappeared Tudor brick gatehouse with towers at its corners and stone dressings to the windows’. The church of St. Michael was also photographed by John Piper with Betjeman writing of its ‘rich Norman chancel arch and south door, and a little late Flemish glass’.

Several years after the Shropshire Shell Guide was published in 1951, Nikolaus Pevsner visited Upton Cressett in the late 1950s for his Shropshire edition of The Buildings of England. Despite its derelict and overgrown state, he described it as a ‘remarkable Tudor house of brick’ that deserved more academic study.

2015 Hudson’s Heritage Awards

The winners of the prestigious 2015 Hudson’s Heritage Awards were revealed at a lunch reception. Dan Snow, historian and broadcaster, presented the awards at Goldsmiths Hall in London with around 100 invited guests including owners and managers of the winning entries, representatives of the heritage tourist industry and the media. Established in 2011, the awards are an independently judged annual national scheme open to historic houses, gardens, museums and heritage sites and celebrate the very best visitor experiences.

Upton+Cressett+Hall+Accommodation+HC+2

The lunch was hosted by an independent judging panel of heritage experts including Chairman Norman Hudson OBE, heritage consultant; Lucinda Lambton, writer and broadcaster; Jeremy Musson, architectural writer; Simon Foster, consultant to Channel 4’s Country House Rescue and Ken Robinson, CBE, tourism business consultant. Accountancy and investment management group, Smith & Williamson, sponsored the award forBest Hidden Gem and Jarrold Publishing sponsored the award for Best Shopping.

At the awards, Upton Cressett Hall was named ‘Runner Up’ in the Best Accommodation category at the Hudson’s Heritage Awards in London at Goldsmith’s Hall.  We were given our award – recognizing the ‘Best of British Heritage’ – by TV historian Dan Snow.

Since we use the Gatehouse as a writers’ retreat as well as for luxury heritage accommodation, I offered Dan Snow the chance to use The Gatehouse himself to get some writing done on his next book or TV project. He seemed interested in our offer to become an Upton Cressett Fellow. Certainly having him around would be a marvelous heritage boost for the area and I would hope that he would be happy to give a talk to locals about his work as a TV historian

Sir Bill Cash gave a special talk on Easter Monday at 3pm entitled: ‘Richard III and Upton Cressett’. The talk described the role the Cressett family played in the Wars of the Roses (the family were divided and changed sides) and how Upton Cressett hosted young King Edward V in April, 1483 as the eldest Prince in the Tower journeyed from Ludlow Castle to the Tower of London where Richard III is accused of murdering his two nephews.

Peacock Trouble

I was pleased to see that our star White Peacocks made the pages of Tatler this summer. Alas the story only tells half the story of the peaccock wars at Upton Cressett – as a result, we are now down to just one white peacock.

DSC_0087

At our Easter Weeekend opening our star new attraction was a pair of rare White Peacocks for the new Moat Aviary at Upton Cressett that is set in the old 15th century grass moat of Upton Cressett Hall.  The Moat Aviary features fowl, including rare chickens. We used to have five India Blue Peacocks and a male pair of the unusual White Peacocks but the ‘peacock wars’ of Upton Cressett has resulted in heavy casualties this summer. I will be blogging separately about the peacock saga. 

The chickens have all been supplied by the Gobbett Rare Fowl Farm near Burwarton. The collection includes  Appenzellers, Salmon Faverolles, Rhode Island Reds, Silkies, Gold Sussex chickens, French Marans and a variety of peacocks. The White Peacocks were tracked down to a rare peacock breeder in Yorkshire after a long search. They were a Christmas present from Lady Laura to her husband William. 

 Following an unfortunate incident involving a fox jumping into the Moat Aviary, a large Bronze turkey called ‘Pavarotti’ was killed before Easter, along with one of the Gold Sussex chickens. ‘The incident is being called ‘Murder in the Moat’ says Laura. ‘I was very attached to Pavarotti who was huge and used to stamp his feet whenever a male peacock was flirting with his wife, another bronze turkey, who fortunately survived last week’s fox attack’.

The ‘rare fowl’ aviary is located in penned off section of the Grade 1 listed garden medieval moat (which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument). Combined with the new tourist signs, the Elizabethan aviary is hoping to become a popular local family tourist attraction.

To Windsor Castle: And the Band Played on…

I recently attended the  ‘Investiture at Windsor Castle’ for my father’s knighthood for over 30 years of political service. Each person receiving an honour is allowed to invite up to three guests. It was a fine October day, with the early morning mist still shrouding Windsor Great Park as the line of cars of people receiving awards began queuing up from around 9.15 am along the great avenue that stretches before Windsor Castle. Most of the cars (certainly my father’s silver 4 x 4, which was uncharacteristically mud-free) showed evidence of having been through a car wash and wheels polished.

Bill+Cash+Knighthood+photo+

Likewise the formal shoes of all honourees were all shined, brushed and glistening like a Guard’s officer or a Dowager Countess (of which more later). Many shoes, bags and indeed outfits looked new. An Investiture – there are around 27 a year, split between Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and one at the Palace of Holyroodhouse  – is not the time to let your sartorial standards slide. Nobody wants to be remembered by the 100 plus audience of family and friends  – like a Bateman cartoon – for having a mother of pearl button missing from your morning waistcoat.

The orange printed invitation card issued to each guest by the Lord Chamberlain stated ‘Entry from 10 O’ Clock’. Since almost everybody was cautiously early, a police officer walked along the row of cars (resembling the queue to get into Car Park 1 at Royal Ascot) and said it was fine to go off and have a coffee and ‘stroll around’ in Windsor.

Once we were inside the castle gates, the first thing I noticed were Her Majesty’s lawns. Never have I seen lawns so immaculate, edges so manicured, stripes so regimental and grass so glossy, Forest-of-Arden green. Thinking of my bumpy mole hills and un-scarified lawns at home in the country made me realise how a well presented English lawn is one of our nation’s great contributions to civilisation. Windsor Castle’s lawns make Wimbledon centre court or the Lords cricket square suddenly resemble a municipal dog-park.

We were handed smart navy blue Investiture booklets, listing all those receiving honours  and the selection of music like a wedding order of service. The ceremony was in the Waterloo Chamber, a magnificent room decorated with a series of 25 famous paintings by Thomas Lawrence celebrating victory at Waterloo in 1815. Family members and guests sit in the main chamber whilst those receiving honours wait in another room waiting for their moment to be ‘presented’. Once you receive your award, you then take a seat at the back – clutching your award – of the Waterloo Chamber. I was sitting on the end of an empty row in an aisle seat near the back which meant I had a clear view down the main aisle of all proceedings. It all felt quite overwhelming.

There was suddenly silence.

A royal trumpet sounded followed by the National Anthem played by a string orchestra (conducted by Major Philip Stredwick of the Corps of Army Music) assembled in a minstrel’s gallery at the back of the state chamber. The Queen then entered attended by two Gurkha officers – a tradition going back to 1876 by Queen Victoria – and escorted by either the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord Steward or a Lord in Waiting who then stands to the Her Majesty’s right and announces the name and ‘achievement’ for which they are being decorated.

The first up receive their award was Dame Maggie Smith who received The Companion of Honour. The next thing I knew she was sitting next to me as the empty row of seats began filling up with honourees clutching their decorations. Several thoughts floated through my head as I sat in a semi-surreal state waiting for my father’s turn.

First, I never realised how much she was ‘aged up’ in Dpwnton with make-up to look much older than she looks in real life. The second thing that surprised me was that instead of putting down his conductor’s baton when the ceremony began, Major Stredwick’s string orchestra continued to play throughout the Investitute. Perhaps this is just royal tradition or maybe the music drowns out anybody hearing what Her Majesty may be saying to those being decorated.

Nobody can accuse the Royal Household of being stuck in the Victorian or Edwardian era when it comes to their selection of music. The music was far from the sort of Vivaldi court wallpaper music I was expecting. True, the orchestra started with Elgar’s Salut d’Armour but it wasn’t long before Major Stredwick was getting into his stride with film music by John Barry from the movie ‘Somewhere in Time’, followed by ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables (Schonberg). My favourite moment was when the Major played an animated rendition of ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’ – from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair.

When I saw my father walking in, it was a very proud moment. The Queen spoke with him for a short while (he refuses to say what she said as a royal conversation, as Cameron should have known, is not for repetition). Those receiving a Knighthood then kneel on a velvet Investiture Stool which is placed in front of the Queen. Her Majesty then bestows the Accolade (as it is officially termed) using the sword which King George VI used as Duke of York. It was a memorable occasion.
My only regret of the splendid occasion was that the ceremony coincided with a three-line whip for a 12.30pm vote in the Commons on the Referendum Bill. This meant my father had to leave his Investiture early to catch a train on his own to London to make the vote. Despite an attempt by my mother and brother to mutiny in favour of a family lunch, my father is not so easily swayed. Political duty prevailed over lunch.

The only other snag about taking the train back early to vote is that he missed out on queuing up (and it is a real queue) for the ‘official’ photo of him standing by a panelled board in Windsor Castle after the ceremony holding up his decoration. So my father’s ‘official’ knighthood photograph is actually taken of him on the day standing outside the House of Commons (see above).

Speaking Express and Star after receiving his award, my father summed up the day: “I’m so delighted, I try to do everything I can for what I believe in, both in the House of Commons and for the country and obviously Her Majesty in the sense I serve her and am devoted to her as a monarch – so it’s a very great honour.Some people would say the clock has turned a very long way so I’m very pleased about that’.

My father has a way of not letting his views rest. “There is of course unfinished business however’ he added, ‘regarding the whole question of the integrationist programme of the rest of Europe. So we’ve got to deal with the whole question of restoring the right of British people to govern themselves and restore parliament to its rightful place.”

Certainly having his photo taken outside the Commons did seem like the right place.

The Vanity of HS2 Wishes

We haven’t even got anywhere near starting HS2 and already Osborne is launching HS3.

There is a case that high speed travel across the country – say from Manchester to Leeds – is more of a priority than a line that slices through the heart of the Chilterns and the heart of England – including North Warwickshire –  where high speed trains that residents can actually access already exist; and have done since the 1970s.

We need more high-speed cross-coast train links between our northern cities but you don’t have to build HS2 to achieve that. In Europe, it is completely normal for a farmer or entrepreneur to travel from, say Hamburg to Berlin, for a 7.30am breakfast meeting. We should be focusing on the northern cross-city first – before HS2  and saving the nation billions at the same time.

My point is that we already have, thanks to Virgin Pendolino, a first class high speed service that runs between London and Birimingham – direct to Wolverhampton. HS2 will not go direct to Wolverhampton so I will have to change at Birimgham making the 19 minute faster service an irrelevance. In fact, it will probably take longer when HS2 is introduced. Our existing trains betwen London and Birmingham (and to Wolverhampton) are already up to most European standards.

Some years ago, I was invited to the Mansion House for a 7.30am breakfast to hear Martha Lane Fox give her thoughts on the challenges of the digital revolution. As David Cameron’s Digital Champion, I wanted to hear what she had to say so was happy to get up early (4am to be exact) – catching the 5.19 am train (the first) from Wolverhampton to London.

As I parked my car in the ghostly and deserted car park at the station and boarded the train, I felt strangely and smugly Swiss or German as I settled down in an empty First Class carriage where an advance ticket costs about £20 as no sane Brit – or ‘business traveller’ – is commuting down from the West Midlands to London at a time when most self-respecting London clubbers are still just getting warmed up on the dance-floor.

The best thing about First Class on Virgin is that you get free WiFi (there’s a WiFi apartheid on Virgin trains with Standard class travellers having to pay, and worse, try to work out how to pay) so I was able to do an hour or so of emails and get some work done before sliding into London Euston just before 7am.

Despite having come over 160 miles, from deepest Shropshire, I found myself the first person to arrive at the Mansion House, arriving twenty minutes early. I remember this clearly as it as my early arrival at the Mansion House that caused me to first meet a thirtysomething tax advisor at the breakfast orange juice bar, also early herself, who later became a girlfriend. One reason we started chatting is that she asked me hiw far I had come that morning,

No doubt expecting me to say ‘Fulham’ or ‘Pimlico”, she certainly looked at me twice after I replied ‘The 5.19 am from Wolverhampton’.

Would 19 extra minutes have made any difference to arriving at my Mansion House breakfast? One can often wait for 10 minutes just for a tube at 7am. Of course not. I was early anyhow.

The marginal time difference between the current high-speed train service and HS2 is just one of many reasons why I am so opposed to HS2. Having recently toured the North Warwickshire villages of Water Orton, Gilson, Coleshall and the Packington Hall estate – the last surviving part of the old Forest of Arden – and spoken to many people affected by HS2, I am even more bitterly opposed than I was back in 2011, after I learnt that the train did not actually stop anywhere between Birmingham and London.

 
Thus despite being pitched to the public as a high-speed revolution, there was no benefit at all (including little compensation and only the prospect of years of traffic and construction misery compounded by collapsing house prices) for those residents whose houses, gardens and land were being ‘sacrificed’ for the soi disant common good on North-South connections.

When I first heard about the new train link, I simply assumed they were going to use the old London-Birimingham lines and upgrade them. But this is not what has happened at all. Rural and social vandalism is being conducted for reasons of political vanity.

I am favour of high speed rail travel but not if the environmental and social cost – let alone financial cost – is just too high. Why cant we just upgrade the existing superb high speed Pendolino service and spend the £50 billion where it is really needed?

Cutting my journey by 19 minutes would not have got me to the Mansion House significantly quicker. Indeed, various studies have now found that although 19 min may be saved on the journey to London, actually getting to central London from the new terminal will take longer.

Back in 2004, Deutsche Bahn, opened a high-speed rail line connecting Berlin to Hamburg which slashed more than half an hour of the journey and – reaching a top speed of 230 km per hour – reduced the travel time between the two cities to just 90 minutes. (In the Cold War the journey took up to six hours becuse of border controls.) At the time, Deutsche Bahn’s CEO went so far as to declare that Hamburg was now a ‘suburb’ of Berlin, as it was now within commuting distance.
 
Whilst I don’t think anybody in Leeds would like to be described as living in a ‘suburb’ of Manchester, I can see the obvious advantages of much faster travel between major Northern cities. We should be focusing on creating these essential cross-city links  – now.

When the high-speed rail route was first launched by Lord Adonis under Labour, there was much talk about how this was going to revitalize the economy, creating 10,000 jobs and yield £2 in benefits for every £1 spent.

But is that really why this colossal folly of a rail project has been approved by the Coalition? No. The real reason our politicians like high speed trains is the same reason that car makers from Mercedes to Renault indulge themselves with FI teams. It’s a national ego project.

Even I will admit some pride in knowing that the Ashford, Kent bound HS1 train goes at 250 mph – 20 km faster than the German train to Hamburg. That’s no mean engineering feat for a country who used to have a reputation for having the slowest and most unreliable trains – and worst sandwiches – in Europe.

As Hitler proved with his all conquering Nazi funded motor sport programme in the 1930s, and the Russians did with the space programme, speed is the most priceless and ruthlessly effective form of national propaganda. But don’t try to con the public that it is anything else.

The August Bank Holiday: Welcome to Upton Downstairs!

This year Laura and myself have gone for a Bank Holiday Blitz of new attractions. There is our new Medieval Tea Pavilion; Laura’s Rose Garden (below), the new Gatehouse borders by Lindsay Bousfield. Andy the gardener has been planting up this morning with new last minute additions – including some huge delphiniums and hydrangeas – from the Gobbett nursery near Burwarton where Laura has also been busy acquiring her new exotic chickens and wildfowl that wil be roaming in the dry ramparts of the old moat.

Tea+Tent

I have called BBC Radio Shropshire in the hope they might send a reporter to do a story on Laura’s exotic new chickens and fowl collection. Keeping rare fowl, including Silkies, peacocks and black & white stripe wild turkeys in a dry moat could be a first for a historic house around here. To keep the foxes out that love our medieval wood, we have built an Alcatraz style pen that covers a quarter of the medieval moat.

But will anybody come? The weather is lookiing promising but it can be so fickle.

So can the manners of our ‘guests’. Yesterday – with our houskeeper having left us just before our busiest week of the year – Laura and I had no extra help at all as we worked incredibly hard between us to give teas, tours and serve 38 members of the Sutton Coldfield National Trust (NT) group. They seemed to have a wonderful time, helped by Margaret’s delicious home made walnut, coffee and lemon sponge cakes.

We thought the NT group would like to experience the new Medieval Tent, which one NT group a few days before had said was ‘better than any National Trust tea room’. So we put in the extra effort to lug 40 sets of cups, saucers and cake plates up from The Dairy, along with gallons of water for the tea caddy. All this when it was a working Thursday and I was also having to field a couple of important work emails in regards to sponsorship of The Spear’s Awards in London in late October.

We then lugged trays of freshly made cake across the Moat to the tent. AT 1.30pm, I sped into Bridgnorth to buy two additional cake stands from the Low Town Antique Centre. As I brought them int the house, alas one smashed on the brick path outside the kitchen as it wasnt fixed properly together.

I had arrived back at Upton Cressett just after 2pm to find that the members of the National Trust group from Sutton Coldfiend had already arrived (they were booked for 2.30pm). Several cars had actually arrived an hour early. This often happens. But if you are not ready…..it is the host who is greeted with disapproving glances.

Anyhow, yesterday’s tour group from Sutton Coldfield were fairly typical of the groups that have been descending on us this August. They seemed to have a splendid time as I spent 25 minutes giving them a history of Upton Cressett in the Norman church before the tour as it was drizzling with rain. I then gave two further 30 min tours of the Hall with the 38 strong National Trust group splitting into two groups, with one havng tea first in the Bosworth Tea Tent whilst I showed the other around the house and Elizabethan garden. So in total I spoke for nearly an hour and a half.

All seemed to go swimmingly, although I was surprised to see a few people opening the main door of the Gatehouse to have a snoop around the kitchen after I had expressly asked them not to enter the Gatehouse as we had a wedding couple from Australia staying. This polite request was ignored.

As they left, the tour leader and her husband thanked myself and Laura for the day and said they would ‘spread the good word’. They had ‘all had a lovely time’ and would be recommending Upton Cressett to other National Trust groups. They were in every way the very model of politeness and good manners and they genuinely seemed to have enjoyed themselves. This is why we give tours and I give up half a day (on a working week day) so that others can enjoy the magic atmosphere of Upton Cressett that we enjoy sharing with the public.

I then went into the Tea Tent to help Laura clear up and lug all the cups and saucers back to the house (we currenly have no staff at all) to find her lookng a little cross. ‘Some people can be so ungrateful’ Laura said. ‘This one white haired lady was quite rude to me. She said ‘ I dont like chocolate or walnut cake. I only want lemon cake’.

When Laura had apologised saying that they had run out of lemon cake, she got quite tetchy. This is a lesson you learn quite eary on in the tea and tours business. Never give punters too much choice as some late-comers will end up disappointed. And will let you know. In the end the lady next to Mrs Moan kindly said; ‘Oh don’t worry dear you have mine and I’ll have the walnut whch looks delicious’.

Then, as I opened the Visitor Book, Laura and I had another shock as we read through the comments with remarks like ‘Lovely visit !’; ‘Interesting and unusual with lots of histroical interest’…. and then my eye caught the following comment from a ‘Sue’. ‘Not very organised, almost as if we were not expected. Much waiting around. Felt it was very bad manners to take phone calls’. This was followed by another attack on me (their host) by a Ms Anonynous: ‘No information of substance given as clearly we were not allowed much time’.

I was not ‘taking’ any phone calls as we have no mobile signal here. I took 30 seconds to read one email. I have been giving tours of Upton Cressett since I was about twelve. Sadly, in the era of Twitter and Trip Advisor, when everybody thinks they are Egon Ronay or Alan Whicker this new trend of ‘host abuse’ is ever-increasing. So from now on, if anybody is rude, anti-social or offensive I cam going to strike back – on this Blog. Name and Shame, Ms Sue Gobran and Co.

You had to wait for five minutes or so before your tour because we have no exra staff. We are not like the National Trust with each property having dozens of ‘volunteer’ guides of a certain age (retired) and often more guides and staff patrolling around than guests. We do everything – including washing up your plates, and cleaning the new ‘public toilet’ in the stable block that we have just had installed to make your visit more ‘satisfactory’. We were on our own yesterday ourselves after our former housekeeper bolted back to Leighton Buzzard in the middle of the night and has never been seen again.

Laura and myself host ‘tours and teas” for groups because we genuinely enjoy sharing our history and unique heritage with the public. The photo (right) was taken when a simply delightful group recently from the WI and they all wrote in the visitor’s book how much they had enjoyed the home-made tea and cake, served by Laura, my tours and especially the new loo. More of these sort of visitors please !

When Sir John Betjeman came here with the artist John Piper for The Shell Guide to Shropshire – one of the country’s first heritage touring guides (published in 1951), the Poet Laureate described Upton Cressett as ‘a remote and beautiful place’. We try to keep it that way by giving visitors the chance to escape the modern world for an afternoon. As I said above mobiles don’t work here anyhow so I am not sure what on earth the woman was talking about.

Upton Cressett is the antithesis of Dowton Abbey. When you are open to the public, things have a horrible way of going publicly wrong. We have very few staff, with myself and my wife (milliner Laura Cathcart) having to do almost all the work this August after our housekeeper bolted in the face of almost daily group tours. My wife may have an aristocratic background but when she comes into the kitchen with plasters around her fingers from pricking herself whilst hand-stitching all day making hats, she jokes that her current life as a seamstress/tea-lady is more ‘below-stairs’ than upstairs.

Being chatelaine of a house open to the public in the summer is not always glamorous as Laura discovred yesterday. Life at Upton Cressett often resembles a mongrel cross combining the best and worst of Fawlty Towers, Tom Sharpe and To The Manor Born.

Every week at Upton Cressett we have an abundance of episodes, mostly darkly comic: disastrous washed out Bank Holiday weekends with just two wet visitors; semi-naked MPs (my father Bill Cash likes to sunbathe in his next-door garden); on-going civil war with the local farmers, from wind farms to 50 acre solar schemes; our crazy Romanian housekeeper throwing out a priceless leaded original Elizabethan window thinking it was junk; horror  TripAdvisor reviews;  house opening signs being stolen from the road; missing £1000 pugs; the holy quest for the perfect Tory blue piped sheets for The Thatcher Suite; how do get rid of a 14 year old BMW in the public car park with grass growing through the chassis?; runaway housekeepers.

In the heritage tour business, all your house is a stage. For four months, your house and garden resemble a theatre set as the curtain goes up on your private life. Not that this normally stops people from trying to snoop around other parts of the house that are officially closed: bedrooms, loos, attics and so on. The other day we caught somebody down in the laundry room below the kitchen having a peek inside our airing cupboard.

All this can be often difficult for people marrying owners of historic houses who aren’t used to having visitors trekking around their house. As they politely sit listening to your 800 year old house history and family anecdotes during the tour, they are secretly wanting to know how long it will be until they can sit down for a cup of tea and judge that ‘home-made’ walnut cake that your website boasts is made by your very own cake-maker.

Being brought up in a house open to the public is the perfect apprenticeship for an acting career. Before each weekend tour,  I sit in the kitchen, usually finishing off a glass of rose after lunch, watching the kitchen clock slowly turn towards 2.30pm. This is my cue to walk through the Tudor dining room, through the panelled doors into the Salon and then open the front door to start the show with the first tour of the day.

Near calamities this season to date have included the time when I opened the back hall door at the end of the tour and said, ‘And now it’s time for home-made cake and tea’ … Only to be greeted by the sight of my black labrador, Cressetta, and my wife’s pug both guzzling on a large lemon drizzle cake that had just been placed on the outdoor table.

On another occasion, on a Saturday lunch time at around 1.45pm, I was driving  to a local pub for lunch with some friends we had to stay when we encountered a small armada of cars heading towards the Hall. Stopping the first car, I asked if I could help?

‘Yes, we are trying to find the Hall’ the man said.’We are a group from the National Trust and are coming for a tour’.

I had forgotten a volunteer group from the National Trust group was coming. ‘The tour starts at 2.30 pm’ I calmly responded, whilst my wife Laura looked at me aghast. I quickly dropped off my friends at the pub, and then bolted back home in a local taxi to just make it in time for the tour on time. Phew.

When you open your house to the public – Shropshire Art Society, Rolls Royce Owners Club, the Condover Women’s Institute –  there is, however, an unwritten contract between owner and visitor. Just because you are paying doesn’t mean that you can treat the house as if it is the local pub or KFCoutlet.

One hopes – and prays – that your ‘guests’ (as the Duke of Devonshire tells Historic House Association members that they should call visitors) will likewise behave as if they are visiting a private home as opposed to a railway station. Just because a few token pounds have passed hands doesn’t mean ‘guests’ have the right to think the ‘client is always right’ – that most nebulous of modern mantra’s – and that they have a self-righteous right to abuse the owner.

Now that we have installed a smart new outdoor loo, hopefully that won’t be happening this Bank Holiday Weekend.