As mentioned in an earlier blog, this is a useful phrase, with a respectable pedigree: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_wrong_type_of_snow and it can certainly be applied to the snow we had last week. After two days of fine snow and wind ie blizzards, this pile of snow was found under the roof over our Pugin bedroom, luckily just as the thaw set in.
We do not have one of those vacuum cleaners that suck up water and so presumably are also fit for snow. Anyway, if we did, it would probably suck up the fibreglass insulation as well, so we use traditional methods: hand shovel and black plastic bags. Anthony Marriott, one of our house managers and the one who detected the tell-tale drip, and I lit the roof space with a bright lamp and set about scooping up the snow and bagging it up to be disposed of for melting outside. If it melts under the roof, it can bring down a ceiling or at least make a mess of the paintwork. An hour and a half later (there were other piles elsewhere) it was all gone, and we had managed not to step between any rafters and damage the ceiling below in a more forceful way.
The photograph not only shows the offending snow, but also the cast iron roof trusses designed by the castle architect, Robert Smirke. The slates rest on cast iron purlins and are held in place by nails. It is a system that has survived the test of time, but unfortunately the seal between the slates or torching as described here: https://great-home.co.uk/repairing-torching-on-a-roof/ has long dropped off, and we have not replaced it, allowing, as an architect might say, the ingress of snow. If we had the wrong type of snow every winter, I would think about it.
4th March 2018
The heavy snow produced a magical and seasonal appearance to the landscape, and the lake froze over. We cleared the drive before anyone slipped off the road and drove into the yew hedge, which was already under a lot of pressure from the weight of snow, which, at least for the natural world, was definitely the “wrong kind”: see
Sadly, our cedars and other confers suffered heavily as the weight of snow broke boughs off close to the trunk. All night we could hear cracks and crashes as they came down. Other trees, such as the magnolia in our garden, suffered too, but not as badly.
In a well-timed visit, however, Martin Gardner, Co-ordinator of the International Conifer Conservation Programme at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, https://www.rbge.org.uk/science/genetics-and-conservation/martin-gardners-homepage appeared yesterday with a supply of young specimen trees from seeds taken from native trees under threat. They included firs from Turkey (Abies Nordmanniana) and a critically-endangered Notofagus Alessandrii from Chile. They will be very welcome additions to our stock and will be carefully planted out as soon as the snow clears.
On a different note, a team of men has been clearing the snow from the valleys on the roof to allow the water to run off unimpeded when the snow melts. In the case of the roof, it has been the right kind of snow as it is the powder kind that blows in between the slates and causes trouble to our interiors.
19th December 2017
Our lake is an important feature in the landscape and was made by blocking up two streams once the old house, Castleditch, was demolished in 1818. A few years ago, we had to restore the weir and did so with the help of English Heritage, now Historic England, and the Country Houses Foundation, but this time we have been on our own, as it were.
The first image shows Tony Mckenna and his team from AES Europe https://www.aeseurope.co.uk/ Corby, in the process of hanging netting along the south bank where wave action over the years has severely undermined the bank, causing soil, trees etc to fall into the lake and making the edge unstable. The AES system, also used by the National Trust, will encourage the growth of vegetation to stabilise the bank over the period when the netting is still in place and after a couple of years, we are assured, the bank will look quite natural. If it works, we will extend the protection to other affected areas.
It is good to know, though I may not be around to see it when it happens.
6th December 2016
We have been restoring Clencher’s Mill, a watermill near the edge of the estate off the Glynch Brook. It was bought in about 1700 and has medieval origins. It was modernised in 1812 and redundant after 1939.
Most of the original mechanical equipment has survived and has been put back into working order with the help of a number of grants, referred to in more detail in my earlier blog, but one vital machine was missing, namely the bolter, perhaps not unexpectedly given one alternative meaning for its name. When in place, its job is to separate the meal ie the ground wheat that comes out of the millstones and consists of flour and bran. Some mills just supplied wholemeal ie the mixture, but there is clear evidence that we had a bolter at our mill as certain elements remained.
Rather than have a new one made, we looked for an old one. Alan Stoyel from the SPAB: https://www.spab.org.uk/spab-mills-section/ identified one at Wormbridge Mill, near Hereford, which had closed in about 1900. It was still in place, and the owner, a good friend of ours, was happy to part with it as all the rest of the equipment had already been removed, probably for scrap. It did not quite fit through the door and needed quite a bit of wood replacing, which was undertaken by John Churchill of Burns & Churchill in Ledbury. It was also narrowed to fit.
The images show John, with Steve Howick, our project manager and dedicated volunteer, and Adam Marriott, our millwright, taking a break from fitting new parts and talking to Norman Walker, a retired gamekeeper who used to live at Wormbridge Mill and who remembers the bolter and rest of the mill machinery in place. He was glad to see it being restored and put back to work, though there is some way to go before fine bolted flour is available for baking.
We have also recently had the benefit of a visit by John Brandrick a great expert in the matter of recording mill structures and machinery. His skills in the art of technical drawings are clearly evident in the picture below which allows us to see in one view all aspects of the mill. John’s work is of exceptional quality and more can be viewed on his very informative website at https://milldrawings.com/
The team has made excellent progress and seems to have enjoyed the job so far. We hope to be ready when the mill has an open day on 14th May at 10.30am.
21st February 2016
Electricity first arrived at Eastnor in 1910 when a generator was installed where the Land Rover Experience centre is now. It was used to power 110-volt lighting circuits, some of which survived until a couple of years ago when we had the chandelier in the Pugin Gothic Drawing Room rewired, not before time, we were told. The old bulbs, with their robust tungsten filaments, produce some light and quite a bit of welcome heat, so they were still fit for purpose if supplemented by more modern lights at a lower level.
We have rewired gradually, introducing three-phase in the 1990s and a stand-by generator, acquired second hand from a local authority, to keep the lights on during power cuts. But the demand for power has risen, with multiple and simultaneous uses of hair driers, more by wedding guests than by my wife and daughters, and the installation of a new electric oven, a ten rack Rationale, in the catering kitchen. I admit I have also caught my younger children using an electric fire occasionally in their draughty playroom (my mother used to hide electric fires and reserve them for guest use only).
Our last distribution board has run out of capacity, so we are installing a new Hager model to meet ongoing needs. The image shows Justin Hill and Jason Blewitt working on the two-day job. The mains and generator supplies are switched off, of course, but there is a temporary generator to supply light and my laptop and office. Justin and his father, Michael, fitted the original distribution board when the three-phase came in. The house is unnaturally quiet, apart from the plaintive squeaking of the fire alarm system telling us the power is off. The emergency lighting has worked for the statutory time required and is now rather dim. I am using a head torch to access areas away from natural light. Most of the staff have a day off, though calls are being diverted to the Estate Office. It will be a relief to have the job done and to have a safer system with more capacity.
5th February 2016
In the image, from left to right, are Peter Walker, Stephen Price and Robin Whittaker who have been previously involved in the Worcestershire County Archives, Robin having just retired as the County Archivist, and Hazel Lein, the archivist at Eastnor. The gentlemen, with guidance and assistance from Hazel, have just complete 5 years’ work, at a rate of about one day a month, sifting through and cataloguing deeds that cover among others, land, in the parishes of s of Stoulton, Bransford, Leigh, Castlemorton and Strensham, where our family owned land until it was mostly sold at the beginning of the last century. The reason given for the sale was that the houses and farms had suffered from underinvestment in previous 40 years partly as a result of the Agricultural Depression and probably also because the family diverted the money to other purposes and were not fit to let. They could also make more money by selling off the land to developers especially in the area of the new town of Malvern Link, hence the road names like Somers Park Avenue and Somers Road.
It has been a sometimes slow but for these historians a very exciting task. The original deeds that were still wrapped in the solicitor’s bundles had been placed in six large cupboards in the muniment room. Many of the deeds antedate our ownership of the properties concerned, as well as covering important manorial records. Some of the documents are mediaeval, most on vellum and often the lingua franca seems to be Latin, which Robin can read with ease. But he modestly asserts that that is quite normal for a man of his profession.
They have recorded 3500 items from 67 archive boxes. They have cleaned, sorted indexed and placed everyone in archive quality boxes. They have found deeds relating to various subjects such as houses in Worcester and Droitwich as well as land sold to build Malvern Link Station. There are records of the Worcester Yeomanry’s formation during the Napoleonic Wars, and include a note of a consignment of cutlasses being returned to the Tower of London, then an arsenal, because they were rusty. Attacking an invading Frenchman with a rusty weapon would clearly have been bad for our reputation and possibly not very effective.
Peter, Stephen & Robin have enjoyed the task and been genuinely excited by the chance to view documents that have not seen the light of day for several hundred years. We could not have had a more eminent, knowledgeable, group of experts. Hazel is thrilled to see the project complete, but will miss the fun and the ad hoc tutorials! A note of what we hold will go to the County Archive, and we will allow scholars and other interested parties to inspect the papers on certain conditions. We are very grateful to the team for completing the job.
After our review of what has happened in the 2015 visitor season, when we had about 42,000 through the gates, we have decided to change the layout of our shop and ice cream parlour. Here is an image of Andy Rollins, Andy Thornber and Bob Hayter from our Works Department at the slightly easier demolition stage of the project. They are fitting the work in around the refurbishment of the old Post Office, an attractive building with a thatched roof, at the main entrance to the Castle and Grounds. The new floors went in earlier this week, so there is no access while they are setting.
Buying ice creams and souvenirs is an essential part of the visitor experience, and it now makes sense to combine them by knocking down the temporary partition wall between the two areas. The aim will be to encourage a flow of visitors between the two outlets and streamline the operation while making it easier for visitors to access.
Ice creams sell in almost any weather, but the right sort of sun certainly helps. The parlour is conveniently situated on the way to the playground and to the tea room. We staff it with young people keen for seasonal work. Our shop, which is run by Rachel, who otherwise helps with our in-house catering, is a more complicated business, but not weather dependent. We stock some Eastnor Castle branded souvenirs, post cards and other gifts. At one time we also included remaindered books, which sold rather well, but I think Amazon may have taken that market.
We re-open at Easter when these adjustments will be put to the test. I am confident there will be an improvement, and it will not just be attributable to the weather.
This is not a newly discovered adventure of the fictional schoolboy at Linbury Court preparatory school, as might have been written by the late Anthony Buckeridge, but a reference to one of our two surviving Victorian water closets supplied by George Jennings. In the first image Mick Woolley, our versatile contract plumber, and Bob Hayter, our also versatile joiner who is a member of our Works Department, stand over the WC after replacing a leaking valve and replacing perforated lead piping, which was allowing wastewater to leak through the ceiling of the Red Hall below.
George Jennings is best known for supplying the WC’s for the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in Kensington Gardens in 1851, where they were the first public conveniences. Over 800,000 people paid a penny to use them and started the expression “spend a penny”. He was a successful sanitary engineer, and his family firm lasted until 1967.
In the second image, a more detailed view of the WC is shown, with the patent valve on the left.
This one had a leather diaphragm, which had hardened over the years, cracked and started leaking water into the pan. After the valve was removed, I sent the valve for restoration to Phil Jefferies of Heritage Foot Pumps, Stafford, a business which has now sadly closed. In the meantime, Mick & Bob managed to find the leaking waste pipe, removed it after some difficulty and replace it with a modern plastic one. I was surprised that an original lead pipe would have leaked, but the final image shows the holes, which Mick blames on the use of modern cleaning agents.
The Jennings with its fine mahogany surround is now back in working order, a tribute to a fine Victorian sanitary engineer and to the skill and persistence of Mick & Bob. It remains an attractive-and convenient-feature of the castle.
We have been dealing with Mintons for some time as they are a relatively local firm who supply us
with soft drinks etc.. In this image, Russell Grimmer is seen as he delivers a few cases of Belvoir Fruit Farms ‘Elderflower Pressé for consumption at weddings and other events, where it is a very popular alternative to Coca Cola and mineral water.
Belvoir Elderflower Pressé was developed by my late father-in-law about 30 years ago when we successfully tried to reproduce an elderflower drink he had been given as a child. Somehow, the old recipe had survived and after the family had been drafted into harvesting elderflower from the hedges and woods around Belvoir, the cordial was produced. He and my mother-in-law then brewed up enough to allow them to take it to numerous country fairs so it could be tested on members of the public, who were encouraged to comment on the taste so that it could be refined to satisfy the palate of the majority before production began in earnest in redundant farm buildings.
My brother-in-law now runs the business and he has expanded it considerably, adding new products and markets. We make a very modest contribution to his sales efforts by supplying Belvoir Fruit Farms’ products at Eastnor, and my younger daughters are looking forward to selling some at our Chilli Festival on 3rd & 4th May this year.
It is tempting not to throw things away, whatever the size of your house, and the problem is worse if your house is big and has extensive cellars. Earlier this week, I was thinking about a bit of clearing out in the cellars when I came across the floor polisher shown in the image – I refer to the wooden device, not my daughter, who is seen trying to make it work.
It consists of a wooden box filled with lead and cloaked in material, which on investigation proved to be two layers of felt and then a roughly applied piece of old blanked, which perhaps experience in use had shown either to be easier to push and pull or more effective in doing the job. The device had survived quite well despite attention from woodworm and moth, though the moth had clearly given up at an early stage after finding the material too dirty.
I have cleaned and polished the lead-filled box and put the polisher for others to try in the Gothic Drawing Room, where there is a bit of exposed oak flooring. I have also made a Risk Assessment, as you must, and concluded that the risk of anyone injuring him or herself or damaging any pieces of furniture is low, but anyone who manages to move it more than twice will appreciate how hard the physical labour of cleaning used to be. At the same time, there is a chance that we will get our floor polished, in a small area, rather in the same way as those with safari parks have some of their animals fed by selling packets of feed to visitors to give out.
James H-B 29th August