Friday 31 December 2021

Broadway Tower - The Highest Little Castle in The Cotswolds

We've been plagued with damp, grey and dismal weather for over a week but yesterday, keen to escape the confines of home, we threw caution to the wind and drove an hour down the road to the privately-owned Broadway Tower, also known as The Highest Little Castle in The Cotswolds.

Standing on the second-highest point in The Cotswolds (1024 feet above sea level), the tower was originally intended as a folly, a purpose-built ruin beloved by wealthy landowners in the Eighteenth Century. Commissioned by William George, the 6th Earl of Coventry, the Saxon Tower was the brainchild of England's Greatest Gardener, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown who was responsible for the landscaping of George's seat, Croome Court (which we lasted visited HERE). The proposed tower, some twenty-two miles away on the outskirts of the village of Broadway, would be visible from Croome and built on land belonging to the Earl. Unfortunately, Capability failed to realise his plan as he died on the way home after having dinner with George at Croome in 1783 and so the task fell to the architect, James Wyatt, who completed the tower in 1798. Broadway Tower was a love token from the Earl to his second wife, Barbara, a famed society beauty who adored the English countryside, but the gift was short-lived as she died in 1804 with William following her in 1809.

Built from the local sandstone, a gorgeous honey-coloured stone commonly known as Cotswold Stone, the tower stands at an impressive 65 feet tall.

The Earl and the Countess used the tower for entertainment but, unlike many follies of the age, Broadway Tower (then known as Beacon Tower) was a serviceable space and over the years had many uses. In 1818 the Tower was purchased by Sir Thomas Phillipps, a wealthy eccentric obsessed with books. In 1822 he established a private printing press and used the space to house his collection of 50,000 books and 60,000 manuscripts. In later years he relocated to the nearby town of Cheltenham, the move took two years, 230 horses and 160 men. Sir Thomas must have been a demanding boss, between 1818 and 1871, the year before he died, 42 printers were listed as working at the Tower.

Following the departure of Sir Thomas, Cormell "Corm" Price took up the tenancy of the Tower in 1866 paying £9 (just over £1000 in today's money) to have the premises repaired and redecorated. As an Oxford undergraduate Corm was part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, alongside Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. The Brotherhood soon became familiar with Crom's Tower. In the Summer of 1876, William Morris wrote to his artist friend, Aglaia CoronioI am up at Crom Price's Tower among the winds and the clouds. 

William Morris with Edward Burne-Jones (SOURCE)

A lasting legacy of William Morris's frequent visits to the Tower was the growing passion for the ancient and historic buildings around him. On a journey through the nearby Cotswold town of Burford, he noticed the poor standard of repairs being carried out on a church and wrote, in a letter dated 4th September 1876 of the vandalism of Burford Church, leading him to found The Society for The Preservation of Ancient Buildings in 1877.

William Morris in the bathtub by Edward Burne-Jones (Fitzwilliam Museum, Oxford)

There are many accounts from Morris's friends of their time at the Tower, not least how the winds around the Tower blew away the cobwebs and Morris's comic rage at the soap flying in gusts as he was having a bath on the roof of the Tower.

The most inconvenient and the most delightful place ever seen...The Tower was certainly absurd - the men had to bathe on the roof, when the wind didn't blow the soap away and there was water enough...but how the clean aromatic wind blew the aches out of our tired bodies, and how good it all was.

- May Morris, William Morris's daughter

I can vouch for how windy that roof was. Here I am, standing where William Morris used to bathe and clinging on for dear life! 

By the beginning of the Twentieth Century the wealthy Bohemians, eccentrics and free-thinkers had vanished and the Tower took on a surprisingly humdrum role as a farmhouse for a succession of tenant farmers who worked the surrounding land. The Hollingtons, a couple who arrived at the start of the 1930s, lived in the Tower until 1972, without electricity or running water. During WW2 a Royal Observational Corps was set up in close proximity but Mr Hollington and two members of the corps were unable to save the Canadian and British airmen whose plane crashed on the hill below on 2nd June, 1943.

In 1949, the Tower and land came up for sale after the National Trust declined to accept it as a gift. It was purchased by Lord Dulverton, who decided to turn the area into a country park with Broadway Tower as its centrepiece. The Broadway Tower Country Park opened to the public in July 1974. The estate was sold in 1980 to Hans-Eugen Will, an entrepreneur and aviator, and just like with William and Lady Barbara, it was a love token to his wife, Renate. The estate now belongs to the couple's daughter, Annette.

The two-hundred-acre estate is home to a deer park and some lovely picnicking spots, although with the somewhat inclement weather we opted to eat our sandwiches in the car. There's also a relic from a Cold War, a nuclear bunker buried fifteen feet below ground - currently closed until Spring.

On a clear day, you can see views expanse of a 62-mile radius and up to sixteen counties from the top of the Tower, as far as the Black Mountains in Wales to the West and Buckinghamshire to the East.

Yesterday was misty and grim but the views were still incredible.

William Morris was here!

....and so was Santa!

Massive thanks to Claire for suggesting we visit Broadway Tower, I can't believe we've never heard of it before. If you fancy a New Year trip, HERE'S all the details.

Lord Jon and I are taking advantage of a dry-ish morning and are planting the 175 bulbs we bought in Wilko's sale a fortnight ago.

Wishing all my friends in Blogland - the bloggers, the readers and the visitors too shy to comment - a happy and healthy New Year. See you in 2022!

Tuesday 28 December 2021


Forgive me friends, for I have sinned, it has been a week since I last blogged. After spending Winter Solstice at Chirk Castle the days have just flown by. Before getting stuck into hosting The Dead Relatives Society Xmas bash and the day of housework and prep it involved, we squeezed in some charity shopping.

Clockwise from top left: Psychedelic 1960s toiletry set; Gothic saloon girl cotton maxi dress by alternative label, Banned; Two Indigo Moon jackets with labels still attached; 1970s gents wool flares; 1970s gents sheepskin coat.

Clockwise from top left: St Michael wool maxi coat; 1970s Crimplene day dress; All Saints silk shirt dress; 1980s batik playsuit, made in Bali; 1980s midi dress; Another Indigo Moon jacket (someone must have had a huge clearout, we left another three behind); 1970s paisley print day dress.

Our Xmas Day get together was great fun. What were the chances of my cracker hat matching my dress perfectly? Talking of dresses, I wore my Dilli Grey birthday dress but didn't get time to pose in it for posterity, having to wear it again the following day so Jon could take a photo. I teamed it with some cranberry opaque tights bought new from eBay six years ago and my Clarks'/ V&A/ Liberty collab suede shoes. I did have luscious curls but after two bottles of rose wine and 12 hours of sleep, they were looking a little limp.

With the exception of the festive edition of The Great British Sewing Bee, we did as we always do and avoided Xmas TV like the plague. We watched the gentle British film, The Dig and the bloodbath that is Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight which, in my opinion, is one of his finest - witty, stylish and utterly captivating. We continued with the superb cold war spy series, The Americans, leaving the 75th (and final) episode to watch tonight. Having only started watching it this year we found the previous series of The Great Pottery Throwdown on catch-up and we've been glued to that, too. 

I read John le Carré's final novel, An Agent Running in the Field, which was excellent, and I'm currently halfway through Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover. She's an author I discovered during the lockdown and I find her writing enthralling.

I showed you my Morris Ware vase a few weeks ago. Jon bought me a book about the artist, George Cartlidge's work for Xmas.

The book is an absolute joy, I was drooling over Cartlidge's ceramics especially his tiled fireplaces. It was lovely to see my Thistle vase in there, too! 

Normally Lord Jon & I go for a National Trust adventure the day after Boxing Day but the weather has been abysmal so we've postponed our trip until later in the week when we've been promised a couple of unseasonably warm and, most importantly, dry days.

Last month we'd treated ourselves to a wool duvet (this one HERE) and it's been absolutely incredible, no more sweaty nights for me or chilly ones for Jon. We decided to invest in a couple of wool pillows which I ordered from Dunelm via Click & Collect and drove over to their Walsall out-of-town branch to pick them up. We were greeted at the door and after showing the sales assistant proof of purchase our pillows were handed over without us having to mingle with the sales shoppers. 

I wore my Dilli Grey dress again, this time with the 1960s Wetherall of Bond Street cape I bought in a charity shop almost two decades ago, my Reiss wool fedora (eBay) and my car-booted 1960s-does-Edwardian lace-up boots. The rain splatters were a gift from nature.

During Friday's cleaning frenzy I managed to pull the bathroom shelf off the wall so we popped down to Wilko for some filler. As it was another dreadful day we drove into Walsall and were delighted to see that the Clearance Charity shop was open. 

What did we find? 1970s coat by Sheepskin Products (Bath) designed by Paul H Keen; contemporary wool waistcoat; 1970s balloon sleeve ribbed top; 1970s Lurex cocktail blouse; 1970s deadstock cardi; Srishti block printed Indian cotton kurta; Lacoste hoodie; Jasper Conran boating blazer; Ben Sherman mod all-wool blazer; Dune black suede brogues with the store tags attached (for Jon).

Our current oven glove is a professional chef's, serviceable but boring, while the cushions on our kitchen chairs are knackered old things we've had for nigh-on twenty years so I think William Morris would thoroughly approve of the other items we found in the charity shop.

Two brand new Oxford cushion covers (complete with pads) in William Morris's iconic Strawberry Thief print in the crimson colourway by Le Chateau (HERE) for £2 each and a matching oven glove from the William Morris Gallery (HERE) for £1. That's almost £50 worth of beautifully made, top quality textiles for £5 - a bargain!

Talk about an exciting Xmas present, the owner of Dilli Grey, Vickie, messaged to ask if she could share a photo of me wearing my Dakota maxi skirt on their Instagram page. Of course, I said yes!

The skirt got another outing today. This time I wore it with a vintage Anokhi block printed jacket & Toast cowboy boots (both eBay), my Tricoville all-wool cape (car boot sale, 2011) and a vintage tooled leather snarling lion buckle belt and a 1970s felted wool hat (both charity shopped).

The last couple of days have been Bank Holidays but I've been getting up at my regular 6am for a Wii Fit Workout although I've done my usual weekend thing by taking mugs of tea back to bed as soon as I'm done and reading until 8.30am. The eBay shop has reopened and I've already got a bag of parcels ready for Lord Jon to drop off at the Post Office when it reopens tomorrow.

See you soon!

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Winter Solstice at Chirk Castle

We celebrated the shortest day by taking a long-ish drive to Chirk Castle in Wales, a 13th Century fortress that is still inhabited today. Chirk is just nine miles away from Erddig, the magnificent country house we visited last week and an hour and a half's drive from home.

After the English King Edward I defeated the last sovereign prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, in 1282 he established the new title of Marcher Lordship of Chirklands, which was granted to Roger Mortimer in recognition of his service to King Edward in the wars against Wales & Scotland. Mortimer built Chirk Castle at Chirklands in the late 13th Century.

Roger Mortimer served Edward I and later, Edward II who made him Justiciar of all Wales, but it is said that ambition got the better of him and after he took up arms against the  King, he was thrown into the Tower of London & hung at Tyburn in 1326.  

For centuries Chirk Castle changed hands between some of the most important men of the age, including the Earls of Arundel, Cardinal Henry Beaufort, the Dukes of Somerset, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III) and Sir William Stanley when it was granted to them in recognition of service and later taken away in disgrace.

The son of the governor of Denbigh Castle, Sir Thomas Myddelton I (b.1550) had little hope of inheriting his father's position & he left to make his fortune in London, which he did with remarkable success being one of the first investors in the East India Company. In 1595 Sir Thomas bought Chirk Castle for £5,000 with the intention of turning it into his family seat but spent more time at his home in Essex and after spending vast sums of money on the castle passed it to his son in 1612. Sir Thomas Myddelton II was a Civil War general, first on the side of Parliament, and then later, disillusioned by Cromwell's military dictatorship, as a Royalist in support of Charles II. For the next 400 years, the family ruled a vast estate from Chirk Castle.

In 1910 Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Lord Howard de Walden (who was known as Tommy), fell in love with Chirk Castle and negotiated a lease with the Myddelton Family, which continued until 1946. A man of many talents including writing plays, operas and pantomimes, commissioning flying machines, working with radio, Welsh theatre, falconry, fencing, art and literature. Tommy spent lavishly at Chirk Castle, bringing the infrastructure into the twentieth century so that he and his wife could host generous and lavish house parties. In 1946 Tommy left Chirk Castle and retired to his Scottish estates, dying that same year.

If you're of a prudish disposition look away now - there's lots of full-frontal nudity in Chirk's marvellous gardens! Here's Hercules by Jan Van Nost (d.1729), a prolific Flemish sculptor whose work can also be seen at Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Chatsworth and Castle Howard.

Inscribed on the plinth:
This lead statue of Hercules was commissioned in the 1720’s by Robert Myddelton, and stood outside the main entrance to the Castle with a companion figure of Mars. In June 1770 it was removed to an outlying wood in the park, whence it was rescued in 1983 by means of an R.A.F. helicopter. The severely damaged statue has been restored by the National Trust. 

The first formal garden was laid out by Sir Thomas Myddelton II in 1653, following contemporary French examples. The next major alterations were in 1764 when Richard Myddelton commissioned the landscape architect William Emes - who also designed the gardens at Erddig (HERE) - to remodel the gardens and parkland. Emes made substantial changes, moving fences, walls, pathways, and planting vast lawns and thousands of trees.

In the 19th-century yew topiary, hedges and wrought iron gates were introduced, and then under the guidance of Lord Howard de Walden in the early twentieth century the celebrated gardener Norah Lindsay created a magnificent herbaceous border on the Upper Lawn. The gardens were neglected during the Second World War until they were almost single-handedly revived by Lady Margaret Myddelton, creating the colourful planting scheme that the National Trust's team of three full-time gardeners and garden volunteers maintain.

I'm sitting on a 200 year old Cedar of Lebanon tree, that fell during heavy snow in 2013 and was carved into this memorial bench.

 Baby, it was cold outside! Lord Jon's wearing his charity-shopped vintage Swedish army military issue parka to keep out the chill while I'm dressed in my 70s Afghan and vintage Collier Campbell for Liberty wool maxi dress.

There are four beautiful bronze women in Chirk's gardens. One of the entrances is flanked by these two naked females, one blindfolded and the other with her hands bound behind her back. They were cast by the Victorian artist Luchessi and are called Oblivion & Destiny.

In the West Range part of the castle, we were able to explore the Adam Tower, complete with two-level dungeons, medieval toilets and murder holes (where the men inside could surprise invaders by dropping stones or fire arrows on them). 

The dungeons were pretty grim, just as you'd expect!

Chirk Castle overlooks Offa's Dyke (see picture below), a large linear earthwork that followed the border between England and Wales. It was named after Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia (757-796AD), widely believed to have ordered its construction. The octagonal tower on the right is a dovecote, lucky doves!

After a few hours of exploring we enjoyed a car picnic in Patrice, thawing out our tingling hands on tea-filled enamel mugs singing along to 6Music. By the time we got back to Walsall, it was already dark - hooray for the solstice and the return of the light!   

See you in the Spring, Chirk!

If I don't get round to posting before 25th December (guests, housework....arghhh!), have a cool Yule & I'll see you on the other side.