I was surprised to discover just how few people were blissfully unaware of Avebury Manors‘ existence, prior that is to the BBC makeover and the subsequent television program that followed - “The Manor Reborn.” Strange when you consider the Manor lies within a stones-throw of a magnificent World Heritage site which attracts some 300,000 visitors annually. It was almost as if the National Trust (who acquired the Manor in 1991 from the official receivers following the bankruptcy of entrepreneur - Kenneth King) wanted to keep this little jewel in the Wiltshire countryside a secret.
Following the departure of the last tenant in 2009, which effectively left the Manor pretty much devoid of furniture and fittings, is was quite clear that something had to be done. Avebury Manor was making little money and the cost of maintaining it had to be addressed PDQ. It was decided to open it fully to the public 2009/10 and theme each room as if an imaginary family were in the throws of “moving out.” To achieve this scenario, a few pieces of furniture and several packing-cases were placed in empty rooms and a selection of objects (crockery and the like) were positioned in such a way as to give the impression of...well, moving out. Did it work? well apparently not, for in 2010 the BBC contacted the National Trust with a proposal. They were looking for an empty country house, the plan was to historically style, redecorate and furnish several rooms relevant to whichever property was chosen. In the running were Barrington Court, Somerset and Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, both worthy contenders. Avebury Manor was eventually selected by BBC series producer - Kate Shiers, who wanted, ‘somewhere where people could imagine living’. Well the Manor is certainly that now, but I do wonder whether the proximity to a World Heritage site may possibly have influenced Kate's final decision, after all, where better to showcase such a splendid project.
So, nine rooms were selected which when completed would ‘reflect’ periods and key people in the Manor’s 450 year history. Tudor, Georgian, Queen Anne, Edwardian and early 20th century styles were magnificently recreated. Also earmarked for a Ground Force type makeover, was the neglected Victorian Wall Kitchen Garden. All this had to be completed in just six short months and on a budget of just £225,000 - phew! The final details were agreed by both parties and work commenced in April 2011.
Today the Manor can be enjoyed by all but with a new twist, well, new for the National Trust that is. For at Avebury Manor, unlike the majority of other Trust properties, you’re positively encouraged to interact with all of the furniture and objects, the only exception being the exquisite Chinese wallpaper in the Dining Room which has been beautifully hand painted using water-based paints, a “no touching” policy exists here.
You will find no prickly deterrents on chairs, no ropes and no antiques, unless you class the beautifully restored (by Hubble Sports) late 19th century three-quarter size mahogany billiard table and the marvellous 1904 Wellstood range, the latter saved by Neville Griffiths from a house in the Wirral earmarked for demolition. What you will find are carefully researched period replicas of furnishings and fittings which have been lovingly created by a team of expert craftsmen commissioned for the project by interior designer Russell Sage. Presenters Dan Cruickshank and Dr. Anne Whitelock contributed their extensive knowledge of architecture and historic design respectively and worked closely with the National Trust‘s curatorial staff to ensure historic accuracy. Finally, Wessex Archaeology were appointed to carry out a historic buildings survey. Dendrochronology analyses were undertaken to determin the date of the oldest part of the house. Results from examining a lintel beam in the kitchen, revealed a felling date of around 1555 - 1580, confirmation that the kitchen was part of the original build.
Avebury Manor opened its doors in 2012 and has been enthusiastically received by over 70,000 visitors at the time of this post, some of whom are still a little unsure whether they are permitted to touch this or sit on that. Quite often volunteer room guides are approached and tentatively asked, “is it okay to…?”
The “Avebury Manor Experience” is like no other, it is a break from tradition for the National Trust and who knows, in view of its growing success, it may open the door for similar projects in the future, I do hope so.
The BBC Team
Dan Cruikshank, well known as an architectural historian, on television and radio as well as the author of many books
Dr Anna Whitelock, historian, author, broadcaster and academic from University of London.
Russell Sage, is a successful interior designer with many prestigious projects to his name including. The Goring Hotel, Clerkenwell’s Zetter Townhouse and numerous Gordon Ramsay restaurants.
National Trust volunteers, who’s tireless dedication and hard work were invaluable, both in the Manor and the Victorian kitchen garden.
Tuesday, 1 January 2013
Saturday, 29 December 2012
Avebury Manor dates from around the mid 16th century, recently confirmed by a dendrochronology analysis carried out by Wessex Archaeology. Samples taken from a ceiling lintel beam in the kitchen (the oldest part of the house) showed a felling date of between 1555 - 1580. The land the Manor occupies however is considerably older and in all probability had monastic connections. There have been few excavations of note but those that have been permitted, have revealed several small finds which would indicate the site to have been occupied for at least a thousand years.
Earliest records of a building in the vicinity date from 1114, when King Henry I granted the estate to his chamberlain William de Tancarville, who in that same year gifted it to the Benedictine French abbey of St Georges de Boscherville, Rouen, Normandy. A priory house, probably made of timber, was established soon afterwards and may have stood close to where the current Manor is now situated. The priory was a small unit, just a few monks eking out a simple existence raising sheep and farming the land.
In 1378, England was at war with France which ultimately spelled expunction for the monastic order at Avebury. The last prior to leave Avebury was Stephen Fosse in 1379. Fosse was one of many monks expelled from England during that year. A succession of chaplains took charge of the priory until it finally passed into the hands of Fotheringhay College in 1411.
In 1547, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) the College exchanged the estate for other lands. The Crown took possession of the estate and granted ownership to Sir William Sharington who had recently purchased Lacock Abbey. At some point the priory was demolished or possibly remodelled leaving a small lay house.
In 1551, wealthy businessman, courtier and Auditor to the Royal Mint - William Dunch, purchased the house and estate form Sharington. Recent evidence now points to the Dunches’ being largely responsible for rebuilding a new house between 1555 and 1580.
In 1601 the east range was extended by Sir James and Mrs Debora Mervyn adding the south range and ornate porch over which are engraved their initials.
In 1740 Richard Holford (grandson of Sir Richard Holford) remodelled the Great Hall in the south range and the bedchamber above it inline with the latest fashions. The original stone gables (noted from a drawing in 1723 by William Stukeley) were removed by Holford to allow the construction of a deep coved ceiling which would later become known as the Queen Anne Bedroom. Queen Anne is believed to have visited the Manor during her reign, though the ceiling would have been in its original form at that time.
The final alteration came in the early 1900s when Lt-Colonel Leopold and Mrs Nora Jenner added the west library. In addition they landscaped the gardens introduced Yew and Box topiary.
Sarsen and limestone were used primarily for most of the building projects. It is likely, though not certain, that the sarsen stone would have come from the Avebury henge at a time when the stones were of little interest other than for building material. Failing that, they would have been quarried from the Marlborough Downs.
Over its 450 year history, Avebury Manor has commanded significant importance in the village, surrounded by high boundary walls and formal gateways. Although not the most prestigious of country houses, it still retains an air of opulence with its impressive gables, deep mullion windows, tall imposing chimneys and beautiful topiaried gardens.
Thursday, 18 October 2012
|Tomb of Sir John Stawell and his wife|
Stawell, Sir John, royalist, army officer, born in Cothelstone, Somerset, second of four children and heir of Sir John Stawell (d. 1603) and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1662), daughter of George Touchet, earl of Castlehaven, who later married (1604) Sir Thomas Griffin of Dingley in Northamptonshire. A king's ward during his minority, Stawell was educated at the Queen's College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 25 October 1616. He married on 9 December 1617 Elizabeth (d. 1657), daughter of Sir Edward Hext (d. 1624) and widow of Sir Joseph Killigrew (d. 1616). They had two daughters and nine sons, including John, Edward, and George, all of whom fought for the king in the civil war, and Ralph, who was created Lord Stawell of Somerton in 1683.
Sir John Stawell, who was first elected MP for Somerset in 1625, was again returned both in 1640 for the Long Parliament and in 1661 for the Cavalier Parliament. An energetic leader in the county, he served as a justice (from 1620), deputy lieutenant (from 1625), and sheriff (1628–9), acting also as a member of various county commissions. He was knighted at the coronation of Charles I (1626) and praised for employing himself ‘heartily in the service’, despite suffering ‘envy, reproaches and the raking of ill tongues’ (CSP dom., 1625–6, 445).
Stawell was a man of mediocre ability, whose interest in chemistry and medicine led him to believe that eating breakfast was bad for the digestion. His irritable temper and impulsive behaviour frequently led him to overstep the mark in county politics, particularly in his support of Lord John Poulett's bitter feud with Sir Robert Phelips. He was, for instance, accused in 1627 of vindictive use of power in pressing into army service the bailiff of Phelips's closest ally; and in 1628 of interfering with not only the Taunton election, by using troops to intimidate the corporation, but also the county election, by physically and verbally abusing the sheriff (for which he was fined £200 in Star Chamber). He twice reported Phelips to the council, once for questioning the legality of trained band musters (1628) and later for undermining the sheriff's collection of ship money (1636). After Stawell had been censured on the first occasion for falsifying evidence and on the second for raising frivolous charges, the king urged both antagonists to work harmoniously together in future for the royal cause.
Both Stawell and Poulett (to whom he was totally subservient) had long since professed to champion the king's service, though their support was tempered by self-interest. Their real objective was to gain supremacy in Somerset, not through courting popular support within the county (as did Phelips), but by achieving status at court. Stawell's underlying indifference to the king's interest before the civil war was illustrated by his readiness to abandon it whenever he became wary of county hostility: hence his lukewarm support for the king's plan to drain and enclose Sedgemoor in the 1630s and his refusal to act as deputy lieutenant in 1640 in halting mass desertions and disorders in the army bound for Scotland.
Nevertheless Stawell's personal contribution to war service was impressive. In 1639 he contributed £100 towards the cost of the expedition to Scotland, followed by a bond for £1000 to help secure the 1640 loan. A man of considerable wealth, who purchased Avebury Manor in 1640 for £8000 and generously helped to fund the king's war effort in 1642 by raising large numbers of troops at his own expense. In March of that year he absented himself from the Commons, before accompanying the marquess of Hertford into the west with the king's commission of array in July, for which he was disabled from sitting in parliament on 8 August. Having joined Hertford at the royalist headquarters in Wells (28 July), he intercepted and routed John Pyne's parliamentary force at Marshall's Elm, near Street, on 4 August, before eventually retreating into Cornwall with Sir Ralph Hopton in September. In 1643 Stawell was appointed not only governor of Taunton (5 June), but also a king's commissioner for Somerset—duties which saw him granted leave of absence from the Cavalier Parliament in Oxford. In 1644 he played a leading part in the king's recruitment drive on King's Moor, near Ilchester, on 23 July, and later launched his peace campaign with a petition to the king at Sturminster Newton in September—a campaign he revived in Oxford a year later under the slogan ‘One and all’. His sincere but naïve plan was that the king should win over the country, weary of his soldiers' oppressions, by putting himself as peacemaker at the head of a popular movement—whereupon thousands of substantial countrymen would accompany a peace petition to parliament. The scheme, however, was twice rejected in favour of renewed military pressure. On 21 July 1645 his regiment fought in vain to save Bridgwater from the New Model Army, before Stawell himself fled to Exeter, which he helped to defend against siege (28 October 1645 – 9 April 1646). Whatever his limitations as a military commander, he was praised by Clarendon as a person of ‘notorious courage and fidelity’ (Clarendon, Hist. rebellion, 4.426).
After the fall of Exeter Stawell was taken to London (15 July 1646), hoping to compound under the terms of the Exeter articles. When, however, he appeared before the committee for compounding on 4 August, he refused to subscribe to the national covenant or take the negative oath; and he was committed by the Commons a prisoner at Newgate for high treason nine days later. Although his intended trial at the Somerset assizes never took place, he was finally removed to the Tower of London in July 1650 and tried by the high court on 17 December. The court, however, gave no judgment, referring his case back instead to parliament (April 1651), where it remained undetermined. Although he was briefly given parole (25 May 1653) his estates had been sold in 1651 for about £64,000. His wife and children were permitted to live in the ruined Cothelstone Manor, receiving a fifth part of his income for support (about £500 per annum). Stawell frequently petitioned parliament about the injustice of his treatment, but without success. Although he remained a prisoner until May 1660 he regained his estates in full after the Restoration. His re-election to parliament in April 1661 was, however, short-lived. Broken in health through years of close confinement, he died on 21 February 1662 at Netherham. He is buried on 23rd April in St. Thomas of Canterbury Church which is in the grounds of Cothelstone Manor.
Source, John Wroughton; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (sub edit, Willow)
It would seem that Sir John is reluctant to leave Avebury Manor, for it is the aptly named Cavalier Bedroom, now the Withdrawing Room (renamed for the BBC project) where his ghost has been seen gazing out of the south window which overlooks the gardens. He has also been spotted standing quite motionless to the left of the fireplace. He is described as being solid in appearance, just like you or I and suited in the finery of a Cavalier of the time. A melancholy figure by all accounts, who, when encountered, appears to be weeping. Some say his arrival is often preceded by the fragrant smell of roses. During that period, rosewater was often used to disguise body odour, as personal hygiene was yet to establish itself. Sir John is said to have adored his garden and spent a lot of time strolling therein, which may also account for reports of his ghost being seen thereabouts.
The Cavalier Bedroom
Wednesday, 3 October 2012
The lovely old thresher barn, which is at the heart of the 'Avebury Experience' and a popular visitor attraction and information centre, is in desparate need of a new thatch. Some £80,000 will have to be found before work can commence.
Credits: Jo Mortimer, narration.
Keith Wills, camera.
Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Avebury (South Quadrants)
I think it would be remiss of me not to include in this blog why the vast majority of people visit Avebury - it's standing stones.
The Neolithic stone circles at Avebury are believed to have been constructed between 2600-2400BC. Many of the sarsen stones that make up the three circles within the ‘henge’ (a circular area, often containing a circle of stones or sometimes wooden posts, dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age) would most likely have been relatively close at hand, lying on top, or partly buried within the chalk landscape. Others would have been dragged on wooden rollers (logs) or sledges greased with animal fat, no mean feat when you consider some of them exceed 40 tonnes or more. Once in position they would have been hoisted into place using leather straps. In preparation for the stone a pit would have been dug and wooden stakes driven into the ground to prevent it from over balancing. Once upright the stone's base would have been packed with more stakes, chalk rubble and smaller sarsen stones to secure it in position. The close proximity and abundance of stones must have been a deciding factor when the ‘stone builders’ were looking for somewhere to erect their monument.
The Avebury monument is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting some 500,000 visitors annually. It comprising of a vast henge which covers some 11.3 hectares (28 acres) which, when observed during one early investigation in the 17th century by antiquarian John Aubrey, inspired him to write of the henge, ‘it did as much to excel of Stonehenge as a Cathedral does a Parish church’. The henge is approximately 420m (460yrds) in diameter, inside which are the remains of a huge circle of standing stones, which in turn enclose the remains of two smaller circles of standing stones each about 91m (100yrds) in diameter. The three circles are surrounded by a raised bank and ditch. The ditch, when completed around 3000BC, would have had sheer chalk sides to a depth of approximately 10m (33ft) by 23m (75ft) wide. Chalk rubble would have been hauled up from the ditch by labourers using primitive baskets, leather buckets and ladders, a massive undertaking by any standards. The rubble was then piled up on the outer edge of the ditch to a height of approximately 4m (13ft). It is estimated that 150,000 tonnes of chalk were removed from the ditch. Today, due to natural erosion the ditch is only about a third of its original depth and the bank has much subsided.
The henge has four causeways, constructed around 2400BC, probably the final component of the build. Most grand is The West Kennet Avenue which runs from the south-east of the henge, terminating just short of The Sanctuary at Overton Hill. It is the longest avenue of standing stones in Britain. Originally the Avenue would have had 100 pairs of stones placed some 80 feet apart and 50 feet opposing one another. The Beckhampton Avenue is not as impressive but just as important It lies south-west of the henge and terminates at Longstones, Beckhampton. This avenue comprises of just two stones - the Adam and Eve stones (longstones). These two would suggest solitude but drawings made by William Stukeley in the 1720s show an avenue populated similar to that of West Kennet. In 1999 the Universities of Southampton, Newport and Leicester found six buried stones in parallel confirming Stukeley's drawings, along with several stone pits, the last surviving remnants of where many more of these mighty giants once stood.
The whole project is estimated to have taken 1.5 million man-hours to complete using the most rudimentary of tools; antler picks, ox scapulars and flint axes.
Just what motivated our ancestors to build such an elaborate structure and their ultimate purpose in doing so remains a tantalising mystery. In the absence of any written records, generations of archaeologists have had to piece together this magnificent monument's history through recovered fragments. One of many theories put forward suggest the henge may well have been a place of sacrificial offerings, indeed human and animal bones have been discovered along with knives, flints, broken pots, nuts and twigs from fruit trees. These relics may well have played a part in rituals to appease the gods ensuring a good crop yield and the continued fertility of animals and people.
There are those who favour an astral observatory, believing the stones were placed in some kind of geometrical plan, especially the two in the north-east quadrant, which along with a third stone (now destroyed) where thought to gauge the solstice. All very difficult to prove I shouldn't wonder, in view of the fact that many of the stones are missing, making any alignment with the stars iffy at best.
Some suggest the banked ditch may have served as a public theatre or amphitheatre, an elevated viewpoint for the faithful to gather and observed the rituals taking place within the henge.
Today it is revered by pagans and druids as a place of religious ceremony, but in the main, people come to Avebury to marvel at mans’ extraordinary ingenuity. Whatever the reasons for its construction, its true purpose still eludes archaeologists and antiquaries to this day.
It is unfortunate that not all of Avebury’s estimated 500 - 600 stones have survived. Of the three rings only 36 stones are left standing and at least 20 remain buried. Many were pushed over in the 14th century by zealous Christians wishing to ‘deconsecrate’ what they saw as a pagan temple. Christians at that time also regarded the stones as harbingers of ill luck. This practice was quite benign compared to what was to come. In the 16th and 17th centuries many stones were broken up into smaller pieces in 'fire-pits.' The stones were toppled over onto a bed of burning straw where they would be super-heated then doused with water causing them to crack, at which point they would have been broken up into manageable pieces using sledgehammers. This practice was undertaken to clear the land for agriculture and to construct many of the buildings in the village. Some of these magnificent stones even went to cobble the streets of Avebury and Devizes. Evidence of stone burning can still be seen about the village, look out for a dull reddish tinge on some of the walls. It is utterly incomprehensible why such disregard for the monument was allowed to continue, especially when you consider the abundance of stones lying about the landscape which were not part of the monument but would have served just as well for building. William Stukeley, who witnessed much of the destruction knew many of the culprits, the most notorious of all being Tom Robinson, a housing speculator who's blatant indifference of the monument beggars belief.
John Aubrey (1626-1697) and William Stukeley (1687-1765)
It was the discovery of Avebury’s megaliths by antiquarian - John Aubrey in 1649 whilst out on a foxhunting jolly, that would ultimately, in years to come, alert the many to the significant importance of Avebury's standing stones. Aubrey’s drawings (there were few) of the monument were to prove vital for future research, as they showed mid 17th century Avebury and its subsequent destruction.
In the early 18th century Avebury was visited by antiquarian - William Stukeley who witnessed the mindless destruction to the monument. Stukeley’s drawings, maps and extensive research proved extremely valuable as they clearly show many of the stones that no longer exist or had been buried.
Between 1719-1724, Stukeley made annual visits to Avebury staying at the Catherine Wheel Inn which once stood in the north-east sector close to the ‘Cove’. Stukeley’s measurements, drawings and sketches encouraged him to produce a book Abury. This book, along with his many notes are now held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford where they remain an invaluable reference to early 18th century Avebury.
One of Stukeley’s ‘pseudoarchaeological’ theories (alternative archaeology) was way off the mark however when he expressed the view that Avebury had been constructed by the druids during what we now call the iron age. This was later disproved as the monument is at least 2000 years older. Stukeley’s obsession with druidism distorted his ideas to such a degree that he was ostracized by his contemporaries.
Today, a few so-called modern day druids still favour Stukeley’s inaccurate theories and have subsequently adopted Avebury as there own. But fear ye not dear reader, for all are welcome at Avebury, it is not obligatory to dress up like wizards to enjoy your visit.
Avebury complex by Adam Sorell - 1958, based on archaeological excavations and historic drawings.
Alexander Keiller (1889-1955)
In 1873 a Victorian MP, Sir John Lubbock passed a bill preserving ancient monuments. But it wasn’t until the intervention and purchase of the monument by Dundee Marmalade tycoon and archaeologist - Alexander Keiller in the 1930’s, that the destruction ceased. Keiller set up the Morven Institute for Archaeological Research in 1937. He and his team of local men were responsible for the re-erection of many of the stones. When Keiller first arrived there were only 10 stones standing in an overgrown and neglected landscape. He undertook a mammoth task to clear the detritus and prepare the way for excavation. He re-erected 26 stones and cleared the ditch of rubble. Where he found 'receptor pits' (pits where stones once stood) he placed concrete markers which are still in situ today. It was the outbreak of WWII which ultimately put a stop to his work. In 1943 he sold his holding at Avebury to The National Trust for £12,000. Ill health prevented him from completing his work and much of the henge remains uninvestigated.
Keiller acquisition of Avebury Manor in 1937 from Lt. Col Leopold Jenner, allowed him to modernized the Manor’s stable block to house a museum for his work and findings. Although small, it is very informative and well worth a visit. He died in 1955 of lung cancer at his home in Kingston Hill Surrey.
Folklore has evolved over hundreds of years regarding the alleged power of Avebury’s sarsens. These enigmatic giants appear to cast a spell on many who see them. Some believe the stones have healing properties and by a 'hugging' one will release its magical properties and cure most ills. Others have claimed whilst hugging a stone, to have felt vibrations emanating from within its very core. 'Stone hugging' is a common sight at Avebury. Often when I have been passing through, I can pretty much guarantee that someone will be flat against a stone, adopting a pose reminiscent of the crucifixion and gazing heavenward in eager anticipation of 'the vibe‘. Now I’m no cynic but I think 'the vibe' can most likely be attributed to the rumble and subsequent vibration of heavy traffic passing close by on the A4361. As mentioned earlier, the locals used to believe the stones were harbingers of ill luck, so hugging one is probably not such a good idea on hindsight.
With all the magic, mystery and ancient rituals which have grown up around the stones, you would have thought the circles would be a supernatural hotspot. If truth be known, the opposite is very much the case, especially when compared to the generous helpings of ghostly history from the likes of The Red Lion pub, which stands within the circle, the stately Tudor Manor and 12th century church of St. James and not forgetting reports of ghostly hitchhikers on the A4361 and the famous coach and four said to thunder through the village in the dead of night. The few hauntings that have been reported from the stones are as follows:
Back in the Sixties, a woman driving through the village late at night, reported seeing ghostly figures dressed in period costumes dancing amongst the stones. I would question, that what she actually saw, was probably nothing more than one of the many pagan rituals and parties which take place regularly at Avebury.
There are claims of dwarf like creatures seen darting amongst the stones in the dead of night and of a spectrum of tiny twinkling lights believed by some to be fairy folk. These lights have been seen countless times dancing above the stones, especially the mysterious Diamond Stone, which is located at the north-west quadrant, a stone incidentally, said to uproot itself and cross the A4361 at the stroke of midnight, no mean feat at around 40 tonnes.
In the South East quadrant you will find the massive Devil’s Chair stone, its name will become apparent as you approach it. Here, many have sat awhile to have their photograph taken, but I do wonder how many would stick around if they knew that on occasion the ‘chimney’ will belch black smoke as a warning that the Devil himself is in residence. There is a legend that if you run round the stone anticlockwise 100 times you will evoke the devil. These stories probably came about to prevent God fearing Christians from attacking the stones.
The henge is thought to have been constructed on top of several ley lines (hypothetical veins of invisible energy beneath the earth, said to connect ancient megalithic sites, monuments and even buildings, particularly churches) which dowsers especially believe intersect beneath the henge and are most likely responsible for generating subterranean ‘earth energy’ which may account (according to dowsers) for some of Avebury’s strange goings on.
There have been reports of poltergeist activity in some of the cottages in the village where sarsen stones were used to build them. A friend of mine, who, several years ago rented what is now ‘The Lodge’ was convinced the place was haunted. Many items, especially in the kitchen, would be mysteriously moved when he was out or in bed asleep. He, was the only occupant.
Avebury is a fascinating place and well worth a visit, if only to marvel at its construction and debate its mystery. That said, the claims surrounding the stones abilities will, I'm sure, stretch even the most vivid of imaginations.