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The Stratford Society Late Summer Party at New Place - Monday 5th September 2016


On Monday 5 th September 2016, the Chairman welcomed fifty members of the Stratford Society gathered in the warm early evening sunshine to enjoy a glass of fizz. We listened with rapt attention to our Vice-Chairman, Julie Crawshaw, who was the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Project Manager for New Place, as she took us through the challenges the team had faced: first, the rejection of the original scheme, then the approval of the second, only to be frustrated by new archaeological finds which meant the abandonment of the reflecting pool and a new concept for re-imagining Shakespeare’s final home. Then, another unexpected archaeological discovery to the rear of Nash’s House required the redesign of the foundations for the extension to the building and a further 21 weeks’ delay. And finally, the very wet conditions in winter and spring imposed further delays before the site could at last be opened to the public.

We then enjoyed exploring the site, wandering through the re-imagined New Place, the Knot Garden and the Great Garden, admiring the new and revisiting the old; forming small groups to exchange views before going off again to look at something else.Then into Nash’s House, now wonderfully transformed as the exhibition centre with particular emphasis on education. The new viewing platform at the rear was very popular.

As dusk fell, the discreet lighting cast a magic spell on the site (an unexpected bonus, not possible in July) but all too soon we reached our curfew at 8.00pm. Reluctantly we passed out through the mighty oak door and back into the twenty-first century.

Our thanks to Diana Owen and her team at New Place for allowing us the privilege of holding the first event at New Place and to Julie for her talk. Our congratulations to Diana, Julie and all those involved for the successful delivery of the New Place project.

NW

Members Visit - to Sezincote House September 16th 2015
Our party of 34 members and guests enjoyed a fascinating tour of Sezincote, thanks to the very informative (and drily humorous) guide.  For most of us it was our first ever visit to this unique Anglo-Indian house. 

When he visited in 1807, shortly after its completion, the Prince Regent was inspired to insist that the designs for the Brighton Dome be changed from Chinese to Indian.  From its Regency pomp, however, there was decline in the twentieth century and by the end of WW2 it was nearly derelict. 

Bought by Sir Cyril and Lady Kleinwort, it was lovingly restored and furnished to its present glory and it remains in the family.   

The rain held off long enough for us to walk through and appreciate the gardens, which had also suffered neglect during the war but have since been replanted and restored;  they are simply gorgeous and stand comparison with those at Hidcote.  We would love to see their colours in later autumn and in spring. 

Our thanks to Dr Edward Peake and his staff for making us welcome.
Chairman’s Summer Party Friday 3rd July 2015

On a beautiful summer evening, Society members gathered at Mary Arden’s Farm for the annual Chairman’s Summer Party. The weather was perfect… blue skies and warm sunshine as the intense heat gradually slipped away leaving comfortable warmth for an early evening out door event. The venue provided an ideal situation for the planned event. We were given the opportunity of a private tour of Palmer’s Farm with a welcoming, knowledgeable guide dressed in Tudor costume. As those members who had booked the tour were escorted away, the rest of the party were able to mingle on the lawn and patio in front of the Barn and out buildings where we enjoyed a welcome drink.

Once the entire party had reassembled we were given Society update by our Vice Chairman, John Scampion and addressed by Dr Diana Owen who emphasised the strong link between The Shakespeare Birth Place Trust and our Society.

This is shown in the aims of both to maintain and preserve the historic Spine of Stratford and the properties which stand thereon. She also gave us an update of the plans for New Place.

The Tudor band struck up with musicians dressed for the occasion. Dancing was led by costumed experts and members were encouraged to join in and to their delight found how pleasant this could be once the simple steps were mastered! A more congenial pastime on a beautiful summer evening I cannot imagine!

Our Tudor Buffet was served in the Great Barn and consisted of authentic Tudor dishes. Delicious Spinach and Date Fritters ….a dish of the upper middle classes due to the cost of imported dates. White Fish Chewitts ….a deep fried pasty containing either meat, fish or vegetables which were loved by the Tudors as frying enhanced the flavours and increased the calorie content of a meal. The average Tudor needed around 5000 calories a day due to the manual nature of their work. Brie and Spinach Tart….. this was a show of wealth as thebrie was imported and expensive. Its inclusion in a menu was a mark of good standing for the master of the house . Shakespeare BlendSausages ….farm reared rare breed pork mixed with award winning Tudor spices. Tudor Meatball Skewers …..The Tudors rarely wasted any food because of the cost, so meatballs were a good way to use trimmings and leftovers from carcasses that could not be made into joints. Gingerbread Fingers ….this had been a popular sweetmeat for some time. Spices were very valuable and were kept locked away and used sparingly. Gingerbread makes quite lavish use of spices and would have been an impressive end to a meal.

It was a remarkable blend of history and quintessential English folk lore, with a twist, for an evening event set in modern times. I am sure I speak for all the members who kindly supported this event in thanking our hosts for the evening, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who provided the venue and the staff to make a most enjoyable experience.

Rosemary Applin

Members Visit to Hill Close Gardens Warwick Thursday 7 th May 2015
A group of members headed off to visit these enchanting gardens armed with umbrellas and anoraks, certain that the showery weather was set for the whole day. How wrong were we! The last shower disappeared as we arrived and the sun shone all afternoon!

These gardens are a must to put on your tick list. The restoration project which rescued the area from developers has taken over twenty years of dedication by volunteers and the formation of a Trust. Impressive does not describe the efforts which have resulted in a most incredible transformation. Gill Cousins our guide has been involved since its inception and even before, as she lives nearby and despaired as the neglectof the area meant its gradual return to nature. It became so totally overgrown that it was difficult to see the original gardens at all. One of our members, a very keen gardener herself, had visited many years ago seeing the gardens in the initial dilapidated state then. Not having returned since she was amazed and thrilled to see what the incredible restoration has achieved.

Originally these were called “guineau gardens” as this was the annual rent. Each plot comprised a lawn, an area for flowers and vegetables, fruit trees and a summer house of either brick or wood. Townspeople used these gardens as a tranquil escape from the town and provided space for their children to play. Each plot has a plaque with the history of the families who have owned them, many through several generations.

We were all amazed by the peace as we stood listening to a cacophony of bird song and no other sound. Each plot was so individual and stepping inside the restored summer houses filled with Victorian artefacts was exciting and nostalgic, giving a clear vision of life in the past.

Our tour finished with tea and cake on the patio outside the impressive visitor centre……..where we perused photos of the “then” and “now “giving us a clear idea of just how much dedicated work has taken place over the years. Members took the opportunity to speak to the head gardener and purchase unusual plants before we reluctantly left the tranquillity of Hill Close to return to life as we know it!

Hill Close Gardens were beautiful on a Spring day in May. They will be even more appealing on a glorious summer day. I highly recommend you put them on your “To Do” list this summer!

Rosemary Applin
Members Visit to Stanway House on Thursday 16 th April 2015
On a beautiful sunny April afternoon a large group of members gathered at the Gatehouse of Stanway House to be met by Lorraine our guide for the visit. While awaiting the arrival of all the group we were able to visit the church which stands adjacent,and the Tithe Barn in the grounds of the House.
Lorraine welcomed our group and began the tour in the Great Hall. She explained the long and complicated history of the house, which is now still used as a residence in the most homely way. She was so knowledgeable and welcomed our questions, amusing us by pointing out stamps on the very high ceiling and asking if we had any ideas as to how they got there. None of us could find an answer. Would you believe that J. M. Barrie was a frequent visitor there who took great delight in sticking stamps to coins which he then flicked and tossed to a great height so that they stuck to the ceiling! He played cricket on the village green and having won a hat trick there he paid for a new thatchedpavilion to be built to replace the railway carriage which was being used at the time!

As we continued our tour she explained how the House has only changed hands once since the dark ages…it belonged to The Abbey of Tewkesbury for 818 years and for the last 470 years to the Tracy family and descendents, the Charterises, Earls of Wemyss. We enjoyed seeing evidence of the family gatherings as the rooms are in constant use and although it is a grand house, it does not feel intimidating or pretentious.

Our tour of the rooms over, a most refreshing break with tea and cake followed. The fountain is computer controlled, so we gradually drifted outside at the appointed time for the switch on. Wow! The spectacular force and power were a sight to behold, and several people who had climbed the slope for a better view were heavily sprayed as the wind changed direction! It is certainly clear as to how it has earned its claim to fame…….utterly spectacular! Reluctantly our visit came to a close and we were free to roam the gardens, visit the tithe barn and church again had we not had a chance earlier.

A quiet, interesting, restful and informative time spent in a beautiful area and property. A most enjoyable afternoon, made all the more so by the glorious weather.

Members Visit to Charlecote Park Wednesday 4 th March 2015

A large group of members gathered on a bright, breezy morning to meet Sir Edmund Fairfax-Lucy for a tour of his home, the South Wing of Charlecote Park. We divided into two groups to be led by our most congenial host and his charming wife Erica. This meant that after the initial introduction by Sir Edmund, it would facilitate the tour of the rooms to be in two smaller groups. It was both an impressive and fascinating experience. The hidden family treasures in the form of artefacts, beautiful costumes and memorabiliala was breathtaking. So much was brought to life by the personal commentary of both our tour guides. It was a glimpse into the past, but a living history as well. We all felt very nostalgic as we listened to accounts of the life led during the Victorian period in this home. It was as if Mary Elizabeth and family had gone out for the day, but would return soon to enjoy their afternoon tea in the library!

After viewing the family rooms we all gathered in the kitchen warmed by a roaring open fire, to enjoy coffee and cake served by our delightful hosts! This was the time for Sir Edmund to talk to us very informally about the compatability of living life in an historic house but in a modern time frame. The observance of blending duty, responsibility and family life in a building requiring constant attention. His amusing anecdotes and very heartfelt talk made us aware of the pleasure and concerns of living with such a legacy.

We left feeling much enlightened and so pleased that Sir Edmund had been able to share with us his experiences and that of the past history of a fascinating property. As Lucy Worsley says, “ If walls could talk”we would have been privy to many secrets I am sure!

Rosemary Applin

Stratford Society Members Christmas Lunch 2014

Society members gathered at the Falcon Hotel on Sunday 7th December for the annual Christmas celebration.

We enjoyed a welcome drink followed by a delicious three course lunch. Compliments to the new chef! A convivial time was had by all! Especially as we were joined by five members of the family Fogg, four of whom had travelled up from Chesham and Marlborough to be with us! Thank you!

Wonderful entertainment was provided after the meal by the youth drama group “Rogues and Vagabonds”, with a selection of song and dance from their repertoire. Their confidence in dancing and singing were both impressive and inspirational, even more so, as we appreciated that their ages ranged from only 9 years to 21 years.

The joy they brought to the occasion was to be admired and we all left feeling uplifted and in the festive spirit.

Thank you for the support of all members who attended. We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

Nick Walsh
Rosemary Applin

First Members Visit of the 2014/15 Season

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Ragley Hall, Alcester

Thursday 9 th October 2014

Time……………Begin -2pm……finish 4pm (approx.)

Our private tour of Ragley Hall will reveal the hidden glories of the rooms inside a fine Palladian House built in the 1680’s, especially noted for the James Gibb 70 ft Great Hall.

It is home to Lord and Lady Hertford and their family. Our tour guide will take us through the stunning Private State Rooms on the first floor, so called, because the Prince Regent (later George IVth) was a frequent visitor. In 1756 a bed was specially built for him and will be on view in his own room. The State Rooms are still in use by the family; especially for birthday celebrations which are held in the beautiful yellow dining room.

Visit details

Please meet in the car park in front of the house for 2pm. There are steps up to the main door, but ground floor access is available as well as a lift. One wheelchair for use is available.

Minimum group number….20 people - cost £10.00 per person with an optional additional £4.50 for tea and cake.

Click Here for an application form to book your places.

The Chairman's Summer Party Friday 4th July from 7pm at Springfield Farm, Ettington - sat nav CV37 7NT
A most convivial and enjoyable evening was spent at Springfield Farm, Ettington, for our annual Chairman’s Summer Party, attended by members and invited guests;  we were delighted the latter included our Mayor and Mayoress, themselves members of the Society.

Our hosts, Tony and Sarah Brooker, provided a splendid buffet supper which we enjoyed at tables set
amidst Fergusson and Fordson tractors.  It was as well we were under cover as, typically, the weather turned to showery rain!

The proceeds of the evening will be donated to the charity of Sarah's choice, The Ettington Community First Responders.    
                                                                                                                                                                        
Springfield Farm is a very unusual venue, Originally a farm,Springfield is now beautiful family home, surrounded by an impressive set of huge hangars (built by Tony) which house an incredible collection of vintage cars and tractors.

The guests enjoyed exploring this collection and were further challenged by a quiz set by Nic Walsh, our Programme Organiser.  A set of questions led people through all three hangars looking for clues, giving them the opportunity to look closely at the exhibits in order to the find answers.  At the end of the meal, the answers were read out, papers were marked and prizes were awarded to the three highest scores. The quiz provided much entertainment whilst also raising £180 for the charity.

Tony Brooker gave a short speech about his vehicle collection and Kevin Bond made a speech on behalf of The Society.
We presented Sarah with a bouquet to thank her for all her hospitality and hard work during the evening catering for the guests.

We thank everyone who supported this event in person or by donating prizes and we look forward to seeing you all again at future meetings and visits.


 Members Visit to Billesley Manor

Over 30 Stratford Society members spent a very enjoyable afternoon at Billesley Church and Billesley Manor on 2nd April 2104.

Alan Bailey and colleagues of the Aston Cantlow Historic Society had spent many years researching the history of the church, the old village of Billesley and the manor house at Billesley and were able to share this information with members. Old coins, a seal and buckle, all of which had been found in recent years, were all available to handle.

Members Visit to Hemingford House
30 Society members thoroughly enjoyed a visit to the recently refurbished Hemmingford House Youth Hostel in Alveston on 12 th March 2014.

Stephen Dodgson, his wife Dawn and assistant Steve worked hard to ensure our visit was welcoming, interesting and rewarding and portrayed Hemmingford House and the vision of the YHA in a very positive light.   The restaurant, bar, conference rooms plus the common areas and the bedrooms/ bathrooms are all smart and inviting (and we even managed to squeeze 15 members into a double room with ensuite).

We heard about the history of Hemmingford House and how it had evolved over the years.  It had been a private home,  then used in the war effort by the steel industry and became a Youth Hostel in 1947.  Dawn had researched history on behalf of our group which she presented using a data projector and screen in the conference room. Bob Bearman who had joined us for the visit is a great fan of youth hostels and is now going to liaise with Dawn to fill in some gaps in her research.  Paul Standing, who also joined us, had cycled from Sussex in 1947 and had visited Hemmingford in1947 soon after it opened.
Several of members stayed for lunch, some were talking about holding meetings there in the future and one or two were going to suggest to family that they stayed there when they next come to Stratford!
 
Members Christmas Lunch 2013

80 guests attended the Stratford Society Christmas Lunch on Sunday, 1 st December 2013 at the Swan’s Nest Hotel.

A most enjoyable lunch was followed by a short entertainment programme provided by the Heart of England U3A choir directed by Stewart Wallace.

A raffle, in aid of the Shakespeare Hospice, raised £185.

Kevin Bond, Stratford Society Chairman, thanked everyone for their support including Robin Sankey, who acted as Master of Ceremonies during the event.

Members Visit to Wroxton Abbey

On 22 nd October 2013, Stratford Society members enjoyed a most interesting private tour of Wroxton Abbey with guide, Paul Edwards. The Abbey is a fine Jacobean mansion dating from the early 17th century. It is now the home of Wroxton College , an overseas campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Following the visit and coffee in the Carriage Room, visitors were free to wander the grounds and view the wonderful Autumn colours.



Members Visit to Thenford Gardens and Arboretum

On Saturday afternoon, 19 th October 2013 members of the Stratford Society joined other societies at the Thenford Gardens & Arboretum Open Day. Thenford, nr Banbury which is the home of Lord & Lady Heseltine offers a wonderful combination of walled garden, water features, sculpture and woodland.

As one member said: We thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and were quite bowled over by the variety, beauty and extent of the gardens, sculpture and landscaping. We were so lucky with the weather. Altogether an enchanting experience.

Tea and cakes were later served in the Church Barn where visitors were joined by Lord Heseltine and his dogs.

A further visit will be arranged for Saturday afternoon, 17 th May 2014. Please contact Jean Clymer for further details or if you wish to reserve a place.
Members Visit to Twekesbury

On 25 th September 2013, Stratford Society members were guests of the Tewkesbury Society. They enjoyed a very instructive and entertaining tour of the Abbey with guide, Don Freeman where members were given access to areas not normally open to the public. Following lunch at Theoc House Restaurant, local councillor John Badham gave members an informative tour of some of the Alleyways in Tewkesbury.

The whole day was a wonderful introduction to the town and even those who were quite regular visitors to Tewkesbury still came away having learned something new.

Astley Castle
 
In September 2010, members of the Stratford Society were guests of the Landmark Trust at Astley Castle.  At the time, the castle was a total ruin and as members walked around in hard hats it was very hard to imagine that it could ever be transformed into a Landmark Trust holiday home. Three years on and Astley Castle has not only been converted into an amazing holiday home on 26th September it won the Royal Institute of British Architects' Stirling Prize which is considered to be on of the top accolades in the world of architecture.
 
If you would like to see how the building has been transformed please follow the link :
Members visit remembered -

Historic Beauty Guided tour of the Abbey and Alleys of Tewkesbury

Wednesday, 25th September 2013 at 11am
Members and their guests are invited to meet in the Abbey Tearooms around 10.30am.

Depending on numbers and to ensure you get the most from your day we will split into two groups and will be collected by our guides at 11am.

One group will visit the Abbey and the remaining group will visit the Alleyways. The groups will reverse the tours in the afternoon.

If you only wish to visit the Abbey please let Jean know.

Members will meet for a sandwich lunch at Theoc’s Restaurant at approximately 12.45pm.

If you prefer to make your own arrangements for lunch please just let Jean know.

At 2pm we will be met by our guides for the remaining part of our visit.

It will be quite a busy day covering quite a large area so if you have any concerns  please contact Jean Clymer

Cost £4 per person to cover Abbey tour

Sandwich lunch optional (£6) and car parking (£4) to be paid separately on the day

Chairman’s Summer Garden Party  Honington Hall near Shipston on Stour Friday 5th July 2013

On Friday evening 5 th July, over seventy members and guests enjoyed Pimms and canapes on the terrace of the beautiful 17th century Honington Hall which opened from the stunning octagonal room. The gardens were immaculate, hedges clipped, perfect trees in the landscape and the Stour running by at the bottom of the lawn, just yards from the Shipston Road, which is invisible from the house. As the soft summer dusk came down some of us drifted in to the drawing room to catch the agonies of the tennis semi-final.

Our hosts, Benjamin Wiggin and Lady Wiggin, were very generous with their guests, answering questions about the house and gardens and especially about the wonderful dome-ceilinged octagonal room.

The house, which is not usually open to the public, made a glorious setting for a special summer event.  

 

Members Visit to Broughton Castle near Banbury Thursday, 16th May 2013 at 11am

24 Stratford Society members were made very welcome at Broughton Castle on Thursday morning, 16 th May.

Broughton Castle which is situated between Wroxton and Banbury is the home of Lord and Lady Saye & Sele, whose family seat this has been since 1377. A medieval manor house, which was later transformed into a Tudor mansion is surrounded by a wide moat and parkland. Broughton was a parliamentary rallying place in the 17 th century, besieged by the royalists in the Civil War. Arms and armour of the period are on display around the castle.

On a beautiful sunny day, members also had the opportunity to view the stunning gardens and surrounding parkland from the roof.

Broughton has been used by many film companies when making films such as Shakespeare in Love, Madness of King George, Scarlet Pimpernel and Three Men and a Little Lady. Members were shown where very clever dummy stonework had been used to cover up the radiator pipes in the Great Hall so that films could be kept ‘in period’. It was also used as the setting for one of the Morecambe & Wise Christmas shows.

Members Visit to Ettington Park Hotel Wednesday, 24th April 2013

On Wednesday, 24 th April, in glorious Spring sunshine, over 20 members from Stratford Society were made very welcome at Ettington Park Hotel.

Ettington Park is a spectacular neo Gothic mansion which is still in the ownership of the Shirley family, whose roots date back to Norman times.

Damon Cornock, the Concierge, gave members a very entertaining presentation of the history of the Shirley family, the house and its evolvement over hundreds of years. Members were also shown the 57 coats of arms displayed in the Oak Room restaurant and reputed to be of Robert Shirley’s children (27 legitimate and 30 illegitimate) . Members were then given a tour of the church which commemorates Shirley ancestors, and more recent members of the family. He also spoke of Shakespeare’s links with the Shirley family. This was followed by a walk in part of the extensive grounds.

The tour concluded with morning coffee and cakes which were served in the Great Drawing Room.

Members Social Event - Friday, 7th December 2012 at 7.30pm
christmas wreath

Stratford Society Christmas Party

Over 100 guests attended the Stratford Society Christmas Party on Friday evening, 7 th December 2012. Members and their guests were welcomed at the Town Hall with mulled wine and canapés.

A highly entertaining selection of Christmas readings and poems, devised by Pat Friday, were given by local actors Sunny Ormonde, Robert Lister, Mark Carey and Tash Cotran They were joined by Kenny Fu who played piano.

Members Visit to All Saints Church, Sherborne, near Barford -Thursday, 18 October 2012

Members of the Stratford Society were privileged to have a guided tour of Sherborne (All Saints) Church, a Grade II listed building, on Thursday 18 October. The Churchwarden, Mr David Hill, gave a detailed and fascinating talk on the history of the site – previous churches having been built in the 14th century (the remaining relic of which now sits within the body of the church) and again in the 18 th century, before the present church was built by gift of the philanthropic Ryland family in the 19 th century.

Miss Louisa Ann Ryland decided to build the present church in 1864 and commissioned Sir George Gilbert Scott to design it He was at the time involved in designing Salisbury Cathedral. In fact, the spire at Sherbourne is a smaller replica of the one at Salisbury. No expense was spared in the design and construction of this beautiful building, which is renowned for the quality of the stone and wood carvings, the stained glass windows, and the inlaid flooring (to a design by Augustus Pugin). The reredos to the rear of the altar and the column capital (all individual, and representing the woodlands and flora surrounding Sherbourne) are particularly fine carvings. Also of special interest is the font, the support of which is formed from coloured Sienna marble, holding a basin of pure white marble inlaid with highly coloured mosaics. A large proportion of the work in the church was undertaken by local artisans.

The two-manual organ sitting behind a pair of elaborate wrought iron gates has also been highly celebrated.

Alongside the organ is a plaque to commemorate a young man called Henry Maudsley who came from Sherbourne and was the youngest Squadron Leader in the Dambusters who lost his life during the attack on the Mohne Dam in 1943 aged 21.

Members were also privileged to be shown the four different altar clothes - all of which were made one hundred and fifty years ago, beautifully embroidered with gold thread, and still in spectacular condition.

The afternoon ended with delicious tea and cakes provided by Maureen Tweedie.
Members Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway Fish & Chip special - 6 October 2012

On 6 th October, 14 Stratford Society members spent a very enjoyable afternoon on the ‘Fish and Chip special’ with the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway.

Arriving at Winchcombe Station you could not fail to be impressed by the standard of the station buildings all of which had been lovingly restored by a totally dedicated team of volunteers. The scale of the work carried out was truly amazing!

The Station ticket offices, cafe and shop had been carefully transported from Monmouth Troy Station in the 1980’s with each brick and boulder being carefully numbered and rebuilt in Winchcombe. The former Hall Green, Birmingham, signalbox was also re-built at Winchcombe The building and platform were immaculate and set off by the wonderful hanging baskets and tubs of flowers everywhere – again all tended by volunteers.

The Station Master was resplendent in his immaculate uniform and was there to greet us on arrival.

The steam train ‘chugged’ in to the station and we were shown to our reserved seats in preparation for our journey. Whilst on board more volunteers made us feel welcome and took our orders for drinks (including bottles of ‘Rail Ale’). The Ticket Inspector and Guard who walked up and down the train were also immaculate and stopped to offer advice about the route. We were taken back in time listening to the ‘clickety click’ of the wheels on the track. Such happy memories!!

We later tucked in to fish and chips which were brought on board the train at Cheltenham Racecourse Station.

To complete this happy experience it was all enjoyed on a beautiful sunny Autumnal day.

Members Visit to Ashorne Hill - 14th September 2012

On Friday 14 th September, in Autumn sunshine, a party from Stratford Society were made very welcome at Ashorne Hill.

Ashorne Hill is a Grade II Arts and Crafts inspired mansion built in 1890 and has enjoyed a colourful history. It is now a conference and training centre which also provides a civil weddings venue.

Stephen Upton, Business Development Director, treated members to a presentation of 1000 years of Ashorne Hill history. Stratford Society members, John and Sue Lampitt, were able to impart local knowledge to connect a number of loose ends. This was the first time such a presentation had been made to an outside group, and it may have provided inspiration for other similar visits.

During the war years Ashorne Hill became the administrative centre for the iron and steel industry in Britain and due to its operational secrecy has been dubbed the “Bletchley Park of the steel industry”. Members were able to tour the grounds and viewed some of the original 1940’s operational huts.

After a brief walk through the gardens (which comprise some 35 acres, with an additional 200 acres of parkland), members were treated to afternoon tea in the Great Hall.

Stratford Society Chairman’s Summer Garden Party - 6th July 2012


Following a day of relentless rain on Friday 6 July, members of the Stratford Society and their guests enjoyed an evening of very welcome sunshine in the Charlecote Park Orangery. A few intrepid folk even took up the challenge of various lawn games, while many were able to spend the evening on the patio.

Charlecote staff were very attentive serving drinks and canapés, while Lisa, the Parks and Garden Manager, was on hand to answer any questions regarding the park and gardens. It was particularly interesting to know that the Park now has its own on-site shop selling Charlecote lamb, venison, and honey.

In all a most enjoyable, informative, and dry, evening!




Visit to Stanway House - 13th June 2012

on Wednesday, 13 th June 2012 at 2pm 30 members of the Stratford Societyenjoyed a private, guided tour of the house, tithe barn and gardens outstandingly beautiful Jacobean manor house of the Stanway House nr Broadway

Stanway House is the home of the Lord Neidpath and several members saw him working in the Library as the Library remained open to visitors.

The house has a very much lived in feel and is home to some wonderful pieces of furniture including a Charles I working shuffleboard which has been in the house since it was built. There were also two wonderful Chippendale day beds in the main drawing room and regular visits are made by connoisseurs of Chippendale furniture from all over the world to see them.

One of the more quirky items we saw was a wonderful screen which was a family tree of the family’s dogs.

Members were later served tea and cakes in the Audit room, where tenants still pay their rents today.

After tea, and in glorious sunshine, the magnificent fountain was ‘turned on’ and we were able to see the magnificent fountain, the tallest in Britain, in all its spendour.

Visit to Honington Hall - 16th May 2012

On Wednesday, 16 th May 2012 at 2.30pm members of the Stratford Society enjoyed a private tour of All Saints’ Church and Honington Hall, escorted by Mr Benjamin Wiggin, the owner of Honington Hall

Apart from the West Tower of the church, which dates from the 13 th century, the main part of the church was constructed around 1680 by an unknown architect, but in the style of churches in the City of London that were reconstructed after the Great Fire. There are memorable features within the church – notably, the fine carvings on the pulpit, the lectern with large calf-bound bible, the organ, and the stained glass. There are also fine monuments dedicated to members of the Townsend family, one of whom, Mrs Mary Elizabeth Townsend, founded the Girls Friendly Society in 1875, which still continues to do excellent work.

A short step from the church is the Hall, a fine manor house built around 1682, the east façade of which has six of a total of twelve marble busts of Roman Emperors, each displayed in a stone niche. The interior of the house displays very fine plasterwork throughout, particularly on ceilings, and also on wall panels and cornices. The Salon was of particular note with a glorious vaulted ceiling rising up to an octagonal painting, and fine plasterwork in the eight angles of the room and over the doorways. Mr Wiggin explained how, in the mid-1970s, extensive work had been necessary to eradicate dry rot. While this resulted in the absence of some detailed gilding, the high quality of replacement work in no way detracted from the beauty of the whole. The room also has long windows that give a fine vista through cedar trees down to the river Stour.

The visit took place on a day of unexpected sunshine, which added to the undoubted pleasure in the visit.

Exclusive visit to the studio in Radway of sculptor - 23 April 2012

James Butler MBE, RA  

Monday, 23 April 2012 at 10.30am  

His work which includes the Stratford Jester in Henley Street is one of many fine works by this prominent artist which include carvings and designs of the Queens Beasts in Kew Gardens, the Royal Seal of the Realm, and commissions in Africa, USA, Singapore and Saudi Arabia  

This was a unique opportunity to see commissions currently being undertaken by this world renowned sculptor.

25 Society members thoroughly enjoyed a visit to sculptor James Butler’s studio in Radway. James spent over 2 hours with members showing them around his workshop and studio explaining how commissions had come about, how they had developed and finally been installed. It was a fascinating insight in to his work which was backed up with lots of stories.

James told the story behind his commission to sculpt the last Great Seal of the Realm in 2001.

‘When I arrived at the palace for the sitting, I was told that we couldn’t use the real orb and sceptre as there was no one to available to go to the Tower to collect them,’ he said. ‘So an aide produced a couple of mock-ups wrapped in silver paper and with a cardboard cross.

‘I thought the Queen would refuse to hold them, but she was totally professional. She didn’t bat an eyelid and simply said, “How would you like me to sit?” ‘

The Great Seal, used also to proclaim royal marriages and ratify treaties, is made of 8.5lbs of silver from two 6ins matrices. The first was made for Edward the Confessor in the 11t century and is replaced when it shows signs of wearing out. The monarch then ‘destroys’ the previous seal by tapping it with a specially made hammer.

Since our visit James has issued a further invitation to members saying ‘ When some of my recent commissions are beginning to take shape, I shall let you know and maybe you would like to come and see a work in progress’. Please form an orderly queue!!