We have been lucky to have a number of famous visitors to Eastnor, often here for filming, TV, the Big Chill or to drive Land Rovers. But the one most remembered is Fred Dibnah, the world-famous steeplejack who came here after we met and became friends at the Welland Steam rally, where I was showing my Fowler B6 Heavy Road Locomotive, “Atlas”. Fred came over to admire the engine as it had been well known in Lancashire where he lived, and I invited him to drive it back to Eastnor with me.
Fred was passionate about engines and, as I then discovered, old buildings, especially those of the 19th century, where elements of Victorian engineering and craftsmanship survived. Eastnor filled the bill nicely. Late, after he had repaired “Atlas” in his Bolton workshop, he returned the engine here as part of one of his TV series, and then came back to film under the roof where we examined a huge cast iron beam, used over the Great Hall in the construction of the house to support the Keep. Fred was a natural broadcaster, enthusiastic, articulate and professional, he kept his cap on throughout.
Fred then generously came back to attend our steam rallies and sign books, videos and photographs for visitors. He certainly drew the crowds and had time for a chat with everyone who was prepared to wait. He sat in the shadow of “Atlas”, drinking beer steadily throughout the day. Being a celebrity did not change him: he was always himself, and he was loved for what he was.
We display photographs of Fred dangling from one of our towers in his bosun’s chair, scraping the remains of the Virginia creeper off the walls and swinging about with a long hoe trying to finish the job. If I ever meet strangers who say they recognise me, it is always because they remember my appearing on Fred’s programmes. He was a great man, and we miss him. JH-B 7th January 2011
At the south end of our lower terrace is a stone pool filled by a water spout. The spout, which is said to be based on one at Viterbo in Italy, is of carved stone, as seen in this photograph, and it was restored to working order a few years ago when we stopped the pool from leaking. My parents had kept it empty deliberately, recognising the risk to visitors, but we prefer to have it filled by the spout but discreetly fenced off.
Aesthetic considerations apart, the pool seems to attract visitors with money to spare. Soon after the pool was first filled, we were surprised to find that visitors were throwing money into the water, perhaps making a wish in the process. As the bottom of the pool every year, the coins are easily visible. They are mostly 1p and 2p pieces, but occasionally the odd 50p or even a £1 coin finds its way to the bottom.
At the end of the season, we drain the pool and clean it out. The coins get shovelled into buckets with the mud that also inevitably finds its way there. The contents are washed and sieved, and the money is given to St John the Baptist Church in Eastnor. Although the counting process is laborious, and we can’t do it by weight as the occasional foreign coin appears, the result is worth waiting for. Last year, we gave £122.38 to the Church, for which the PCC were very grateful. JH-B 5th April ’10
We launched our first holiday cottage, Peacock Villa, in January and bookings are coming in. The first reactions of our visitors have been very favourable, but the test will be the level of repeat bookings.
We are now working on the restoration of our second one, Golden Gates Lodge. It stands on the Ridgeway, the old carriage drive to the Malvern road, and is on the edge of the Ridgeway Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest overlooking the deer park. It has a great view towards the south.
The lodge is in two halves. The west side will have the living room, kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom, the east side, which is smaller, a bedroom and bathroom only. There is a garden on the edge of the wood below the east side, which we are also restoring. An interesting but redundant feature is the old privy, which, visitors may be relieved to hear, we are not restoring, and indoor facilities will be provided.
Our Works Department team are doing the job, and it is going well. It should be available to let from Summer 2010. Watch this space… JH-B 5th March 2010