Confessions of a Country House Tour Guide

Ashdown 1 Nicola here. Now that we are into May, I’ve restarted my volunteering at Ashdown House, the 17th century hunting lodge in Oxfordshire where I work for the National Trust. It’s a great pleasure to be back, not least because we have only been open intermittently during the last two years of the pandemic and I really missed being in one of my favourite places.

I love visiting historic houses myself and when I go, I’m always curious to see the tour guides and volunteers in action. So often, things seem to run so smoothly yet when you’re behind the scenes you know it isn’t always the case at all. As with organising anything, there’s mad paddling going on below the surface!

I’ve worked at Ashdown for 20 years now. For years I drove past the stunning little 17th century white stone house that sat looking mysterious in the middle of a wood. I wondered a lot about its history but I always seemed too busy to visit. It was seldom open to the public and then only by guided tour. However when I gave up my job to become a full time author I was looking for something to do that would get me out of the house and meeting real people. Since history was my obsession, volunteering with the National Trust seemed like a good option.

Read more

My Tudor House is Falling Down!

Exterior LMHNicola here and today I'm sharing a visit I did recently to an amazing country house. Just to the side of a busy main road in Cheshire, surrounded by houses and traffic, lies a throwback to another time. It’s called Little Moreton Hall and whilst it’s not a stately home it certainly isn’t that small either. Built 500 years ago, it’s a time traveller from the Tudor era to the present. It was built to impress; a half-timbered house with decorative timber, plasterwork, painting and glazing that is totally dazzling.

I hadn’t been to Little Moreton Hall since I was a child and it’s a tribute to what an amazing place it is that I remember it so well. It was wonderful to revisit it. My first thought when I saw it, though, was to wonder how on earth it had managed to stand for so long. It looks like a house that is crumpling under its own weight. It bends, sags and buckles and the floors and walls are nowhere near straight. It is extraordinary.

Read more

Lyveden New Bield – Visiting “An Interrupted Dream”

Lyveden 1Nicola here, with another of my summer historic house travelogues. I finished my latest manuscript a week ago and in traditional fashion celebrated by cleaning the house and doing some ironing. As regular readers of the Wench blog will know, this is the time we all catch up on the thousand and one things that get neglected whilst we are in our writing caves desperately trying to get to The End. Much as a city break in Europe or even a trip to the seaside might sound nice, it’s usually the mundane things that claim our attention, partly because we don’t have energy left for much else but also because we urgently need some clean clothes.  However, when my husband tempted me with a visit to one of my favourite historical sites, I felt a lot more enthused for that than for ironing! So it was that on a baking hot day we set off very early in the morning for Northamptonshire and the intriguing Lyveden New Bield.

Lyveden, like so many country houses, occupies an isolated position. It’s set Lyveden deckchairs the middle of the glorious Northamptonshire countryside and as you approach, you see what looks like a ruin standing alone in a field. It’s an extraordinary sight. The house was the dream of Sir Thomas Tresham, a Tudor knight who was a staunch Catholic. He was a wealthy landowner who moved in the highest social circles in the county but although he was ruthlessly efficient in managing his estates to produce profit, he was also very extravagant and pursued a lavish lifestyle. It was, however, the heavy fines levied on him for following the Catholic faith that were eventually to lead to his financial downfall.

Read more