Canons Ashby

The man pressed us to ride in his golf buggy, complete with perspex walls against the rain, though it was only two hundred yards from the car park. He was very friendly and chatty. I guessed South African for his accent, a softer version of the Afrikaans accent, but actually it is from “Rhodesia, a country which no longer exists”. He pressed us to ask the receptionist to call for him to come up, but we walked. Having volunteered for this task, he wants to be used.

In the entrance hall, there are  swords displayed- nothing like Blair Castle, home of the Dukes of Atholl, a lineage which predates the union of Scotland around 900, but a large display for England. There is also a strange looking flintlock, its barrel encased in wood, with a long iron spike below it which I took for a trigger. What is that? It’s a poachers gun. It was set up with a trip wire to frighten the poachers. It dates from the mid 19th century. Given that man-traps from that period could crush a leg and cripple a man- possibly kill him, if he was far from help and could not get to shelter- it may have done more than frighten.

The house was a farm house in 1500, built up shortly after. The study, now a bedroom, was panelled, but when the panelling came down line drawings on the walls were revealed. I am fascinated. There is a donkey prominent in one. It is the story of Jeroboam, says the room-guide. Because they pick it up as they go along, and do some research, I am unsure of this, but don’t know enough about the first king of Israel divided from Judah to say.

Here is a bedroom with dark hanging tapestries round the bed. They cover over the mullioned windows. So soon after the new rooms were built, mullioned windows were out of fashion, and sash windows with wooden frames were in. Some of the stone framed mullioned windows were replaced with sashes, even though the wood was unable to support the roof: so that when the National Trust took over the property in 1980, the front wall was leaning 13° from vertical, and might have fallen down.

What would it be like to sleep in such a place, the dark hangings, the dark curtains hanging from the four poster bed- did people draw those curtains? The large room, an 18th century settee and two chairs with so little wear to the covering- did people use those chairs? Stories, half-remembered, passed on…

I liked the drawing room, though I would paint the whole crenellated ceiling in different colours rather than white. I don’t know if that large family portrait, the children are girls, or boys not yet breached. Strange that the man is in the background, in shadow, off to one side, the woman surrounded by her children. Perhaps the guide has a story, it is less reliable still for me to use my own knowledge.

Canons Ashby

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