Pack your bags, it's time for a trip out everyone...
'Oh, leave the macs in the car,'said Bookhound as we pulled up in the car,' we'll be fine...'
'But I've got my nice Seasalt one...'
So I threw mine back in the car and off we walked to the house.
Which is why half an hour of our lovely visit to Knightshayes at Tiverton was spent holed up in a polytunnel at the top of the walled garden admiring the sweet peas and wondering if we dare help ourselves to a broad bean or two (we didn't...honestly). Rain of course always sounds deceptively torrential in a polytunnel, and so we braved it eventually and only got mildly drenched in the long run to the car.
I still find it amusing that we have all these lovely places on the doorstep which for some reason we have never bothered to visit, but there's nothing like getting value out of our National Trust membership to spur us on, and Knightshayes Court only an hour or so away.
And how have I never heard of the Victorian architect William Burges??
Or the designer John Dibblee Crace??
I have already been into the library catalogue and reserving books.
William Burges is described as one of the most extraordinary architects of the nineteenth century with an allegiance to the medieval in everything he did, and it is hard to disagree when you step down the terraces of the formal gardens and look back at this enormous Gothic Revival mansion.
We see these flowers on stately homes everywhere and someone will tell me what it is. I'd say Magnolia, but haven't they been and gone already?? This one, just starting to flower up the wall of the house, is going to look magnificent in the days to come...
But apparently the Heathcote-Amory family, who had commissioned the house designs in 1869, couldn't cope with the lavish and extravagent interiors at all, and so William Burges was sacked and John Crace called in to tone it all down. That didn't work either and a great deal was covered over only to be revealed again when the house was left to the National Trust in 1962. We could just imagine a family trying to make this Gothic pile into a cosy family home, and to no avail. Sadly no photograpy allowed in the house but imagine rich Gothic opulence at its finest, the deepest richest shades of red and blue, yellow ochre and terracotta all emblazoned with plenty of gilt infill and edging, and with a sense of the impending Arts and Crafts movement about to burst forth. There is a National Trust photo gallery here if you want to see for yourself.
Family history always fascinates us in these places, and much of the Heathcoat Amory's I have only discovered afterwards, because now that we are NT members we tend to treat these first visits as a reconnaissance, do some homework and then go back for a longer and more informed look around. It's a family name I felt sure I recognised and should know something about, but not so.
John Heathcoat (1783-1861) was the inventor of the first bobbin net machine which transformed the lace-making industry from the slow and laborious cottage industry of bobbins and pillows, to something much faster. Cue the Luddites, and with his factory wrecked, 200 men out of work and everything lost within half an hour, John Heathcoat turned his back on Loughborough and headed for Devon to start over. What loyalty must he have instilled in his workforce for so many of them to have followed him on foot to Tiverton where they were immediately re-employed on their arrival.
As we drove through the town there were obvious signs of patronage and philanthropy; rows of beautiful brick-built houses with grey doors. Not dissimilar in number and conformity to Tavistock's now quaint rows and rows of miner's cottages built by the Duke of Bedford, Tiverton's apparently a sign of John Heathcoat's generosity and the lasting legacy of a man much-loved by all.
The diamond in the crown has to be the walled kitchen garden, which quite took our breath away until it rained and the novelty wore off a bit...but huge credit to the National Trust who have restored this with such care and consideration...
I want to weep tears of admiration when I see other people's lettuces looking like this...
and everything in such quantity. We have a single struggling Temperley Early rhubarb plant hanging on by a thread at the moment, and would be blaming it on the soil had we not been told it grew in our garden in profusion back in the 1950s..
and we loved these sweet pea contraptions...