Tales of the Royal Oak

Oak treeNicola here. I’m away from my desk on a research trip at the moment so I’ve pulled up and re-written an old Wench classic post from more than ten years ago which I really enjoyed writing at the time and which feels appropriate all over again at the moment as we approach Royal Oak Day on May 29th.

Here in the Northern hemisphere the flowers and the trees are starting to look very lush as spring is slipping into summer. In the past couple of years I think I’ve been more aware than previously of the environment around me because of the restrictions on movement we’ve all been through as a result of the pandemic. I’ve always loved nature and the countryside but I’ve definitely looked at it more closely and taken more solace from it in the past months than ever before and one thing I do love is trees. I love their strength and their beauty and the way they can look so dead during the winter (unless they are evergreen!) and then leap into life all over again. I’ve also loved discovering trees we don’t have in England whenever I’ve travelled to other parts of the world. The Quiver Tree in Namibia was a particular favourite. A look at the list of “national trees” shows a huge and wonderful variety across the world.

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Home Improvements Historical Style!

Appuldurcombe exteriorNicola here. One thing that always interests me about the castles and old houses I visit is the different stages in their life; the way in which their purpose changes over the years and so they change shape and the usage of the rooms varies and the gardens are altered and each generation develops the property and leaves their mark on their home. It struck me recently as we planned some renovations to our cottage that the process we go through is not so different from that of grand builders of stately homes, only on a much smaller scale! (The picture is Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight – more on that later.)

Ashdown House, for example, was used as a hunting lodge for several hundred years and so was not lived in permanently. It therefore remained architecturally unaltered all that time because there was no change in its purpose and so no need to spend money on alterations. However the moment the Victorian Cravens decided to take up residence there on a full time basis, they changed it completely. The house was too small to be an aristocratic family home so they extended it, just as people build extensions now. They added two wings, with a ballroom, a smoking room and a billiards room, and most importantly, one suspects, they built servants’ quarters to house the thirty eight people who waited on them! The gardens were also considered too plain so they remodelled them as well with a fashionable Italianate parterre garden that was all the rage in the mid-nineteenth century. 

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