Tricks, Illusions And Fruity Talk In The Home Counties

  • 4 June 2021 4:53 pm


The National Trust presents an intriguing programme of Autumnal events

This autumn presents an excellent reason to visit the jewels in the crown of the Home Counties’ countryside. Basildon Park in Berkshire, Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire and The Vyne in Hampshire are the sumptuous settings for a series of exclusive autumnal events.

The intriguingly-entitled ‘Nearly Naked Natters’ (9 Nov) looks at the use of secret compartments and hidden passageways by the servants of Basildon Park – employers did not wish to see or hear their staff more than absolutely necessary! Visitors will enjoy a tour of the house and have access to all the nooks and crannies normally out of bounds to the public. Discover a spiral staircase tucked discreetly behind a panelled door, and uncover the many uses of the dining room pedestals – containing everything necessary for uninterrupted dining – even a chamberpot.

Find out what really happened when Elizabeth Bennett ran from Mr Darcy at the Netherfield House ball. How did those carriages sweep up to the house without any horses? In ‘Darcy on Your Doorstep (16 Nov), Jane Austen fans will be taken behind the scenes by house steward, Neil Shaw, who oversaw the filming of the star-studded adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ featuring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Basildon Park as Netherfield. Neil reveals some of the tricks of the film trade and the immense work undertaken to transform the great house’s reception rooms into scenes from Jane Austen’s much-loved classic.

Are your soft furnishings home to woolly bears? Is your glassware cloudy? Pick up some tips from expert conservationists as the precious contents of Basildon Park are cleaned, inspected for pests, and wrapped in protective coverings for the winter months (7 Nov). This mammoth operation, known as ‘putting the house to bed’ often involves the simplest ingredients and methods, passed down through generations of housekeeping staff. Many of these techniques can be used in today’s homes for the care of glassware, ceramics, textiles and books.

Living in a haunted building is definitely something that needs to be taken into consideration when applying to work for The National Trust. On 7 November, Hughenden Property Manager, Nick Phillips, will be treating visitors to an illustrated show, focusing on the haunted properties he has lived and worked in, and the theories behind these phenomena. The 15th-century King’s Head Inn at Aylesbury is one such building, being home to a female apparition that has made several appearances. Nick recalls unexplained changes in temperature, watches stopping at midnight and items flying from walls!

Autumn is definitely the time for a fruity focus and Hughenden’s head gardener, Frank Parge, has the huge responsibility of caring for 57 different varieties of apple tree (not to mention pear, plum, cherry, peach, apricot, quince and meddler trees!). On 18 October, Frank’s theory and practical talk introduces people to the concept of growing their own apples. A tour through the orchard and walled garden will give visitors the chance to see some of traditional English varieties, such as the delicious-sounding Blenheim Orange and Worcester Pearmain. As a special treat, the group will be invited into Hughenden’s WWII bunker apple store, remnant of Hughenden’s top secret war history as an air reconnaissance base. Here they will enjoy a fresh apple tasting session, before indulging in the ‘rare recipes’ apple dinner provided by the estate’s restaurant.

Who could take seriously a candidate for Parliament who regularly wore purple trousers with gold seams, lace ruffles to his fingertips and brilliant rings? This colourful character, once described by Queen Victoria as an ‘upstart’ and ‘opportunist’, was none other than Benjamin Disraeli – a Prime Minister whose interest in social improvements saw the end to many dreadful practices, including the use of boys as chimney sweeps. On 8 November at Hughenden, Blue Badge guide, Rachel Kolsky, offers an intriguing insight into the London life of Disraeli, using links with London buildings. Anecdotes from his wife and friends reveal Disraeli not only as a man of great intellect and compassion but as charming, witty and a lover of social gossip!

The Vyne is closely associated with one of the world’s most famous novelists: Jane Austen. In fact, visitors to The Vyne could literally be following in the footsteps of Jane, who is thought to have attended dances at the property, which provided the perfect backdrop with its spectacular Palladian staircase and fine furniture. Local events featured significantly in her correspondence: “It was a very pleasant ball for there were nearly 60 people. There was a scarcity of Men in general and a still greater scarcity of any that were good for much.”

To celebrate the life of Jane Austen, costume historian, Tanya Elliott, will be focusing on women’s clothing of the day, in her talk on 26 October. Would Jane have been prepared to follow in the footsteps of high fashion, which at one time demanded the wearing of a wet gown and no corset?

‘The Devil’s Garden’ presents the English garden as never before (5 Nov). Russell Bowes takes a look at plants with sinister histories that have been associated with banishment, devilry, madness, black magic and murder. From the screams of the mandrake plant and the Forbidden Fruit of Eden, to ghosts in a plate of beans and something nasty in a pot of basil, this is certainly a garden tour with a difference, and a warning: plants can seriously damage your health.

The English upper classes regarded The Grand Tour as an indispensable part of a young man’s development – a cultural and educational exercise. However, during the Commonwealth and after the revolution of 1688, The Grand Tour was often a cover for political activity. Supporters of the exiled Stuarts travelled widely, risking their lives to carry money and messages, whilst gathering support for the planned invasions. In this fascinating talk on 14 November, historian Jane Clark will be comparing two famous travellers, Lord Burlington and Robert Adam. The talk also features John Chute, former owner off The Vyne.

Each event will include a delicious two course lunch, using locally sourced ingredients.

To book, please telephone 0870 428 8933, or visit Ticket prices range from £18.50 to £25.