Cowdray House in Midhurst, West Sussex, was a Tudor nobleman’s grand mansion, built around 1520 and 1542. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I visited and stayed there, no doubt hunting in the local hazel wood forest. The house was a near copy of Hampton Court, although not quite as big. No one was permitted to have a house bigger than the king, although Cowdray did have a bigger Bay Window, much to Henry’s envy!
In 1793 a double tragedy happened. The house caught fire and gutting all the wooden interiors, priceless paintings, furniture and hammerbeam roof. Also, the current owner, the 8th Viscount Monatgue and his intended brother in law drowned in a boating accident in Germany. As a consequence the house was left in a state of ruin as no one knew quite what to do with it.
In time the house became an attraction in its own right, particularly with the Victorians after the railways arrived in Midhurst. It still is, but these days it is run by the Cowdray Heritage Trust and manned by enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers. It is definitely a Vobes recommended place to visit.
The parish church is one of the oldest buildings in the British landscape. Most of them have been here for over 900 years and some date from the Saxon period. They are ubiquitous; their steeples point above the rooftops, the bell towers chime on a Sunday, pews of some age are lined up towards the altar and their churchyards are packed with ancient headstones of once prominent members of the the locality.
The importance and role of the village, or town church, is hard to over state; and yet, these very buildings, where men, women and children have been baptized, married and sent off to life beyond (if there is such a thing) are in trouble. The parish churches are crumbling away and there is not enough people supporting the faith, attending the congregation or concerned about it’s up keep.
Richard Vobes, the Bald Explorer, is on a mission to find out if we should continue to try and preserve these icons of our history or whether it is better to allow them to crumble away gracefully.
Hard to believe but in the south of England there was a terrible disaster – in fact, the worst avalanche in British history and it happened on the site where a pub stands as a reminder of this tragedy.
The Bald Explorer heads off to explore this tragic disaster in the Victorian era. He is in Lewes, in East Sussex. This town used to boast a number of splendid breweries, but now all have disappeared except Harvey’s. One of the pubs it supplies is the Snowdrop Inn where a terrible thing happened in 1836.
Hopton Castle in south Shropshire is a medieval tower house which thanks to the funding from the National Lottery the old ruins have greatly been preserved for future generations. The remains, a subject of the Channel Four TV programme Time Team is looked after by the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust.
Richard Vobes, aka The Bald Explorer meets up with local historian Tom Baker to learn about the story of the castle from his construction by Walter De Hopton to the dreadful and bloody siege during the English Civil War in 1644.
‘I have always been fascinated by medieval castles in England and Wales. We tend to think of these buildings always as being made from stone, but some of the early fortifications were in fact simply earth works and then later timber forts. After the motte and bailey castles were deemed to be easily destroyed with fire, bigger and more stronger defences were required. This is where the stone castle came into its own, although these were often attacked successfully by mining underneath the thick seemingly impenetrable walls.
Hopton Castle, although called as such is not really a castle in the true sense of the word. It is a tower house of square design. It wasn’t designed to withstand much of an assault, although put up a pretty good defence against the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. However, the siege that took place in 1644 ended up in tragedy with many deaths.
Rector, John Gay, tells Richard Vobes about the problems with the roof of his beautiful church in Itchingfield, West Sussex in this preview of the new Bald Explorer episode coming soon to the Community Channel in 2013.
Wendy Dorkings, the church warden at St. Nicolas, allows the cameras in to see the wonderful and rare priest house that stands in the church yard and shares some of the fascinating history.
Itchingfield is home to a group of dedicated bell ringers who enjoy practicing the traditional art in the extraordinary timber built bell tower.
This is just a preview of the episode that will explore the problems the rural parish churches faces as congregations decrease and ancient buildings begin to need attention.
As part of my Bald Explorer episode about our crumbling churches I have been working with Julian Humphrys from the Battlefield Trust. The reason was to explore a rather nasty clash between the Roundheads and Cavilers during the English Civil War (1642–1651) at a church in Alton in Hampshire. I further wanted to find out more information about the Trust and their work so I popped over to see him at his house in Surrey and filmed a short interview.
Julian suggests that nearly everyone in the UK lives within half an hour’s drive of a battlefield. Some, like Hastings, Bosworth and Culloden, are familiar to most of us. Others are relatively unknown. Yet the battles fought on them all played their part in shaping the way that we live today. How much do we know about these important fields where dreadful battles were fought, arguments were settle and Kingdoms were won and lost.