When not waiting…
There seems to have been a lot of waiting around recently: waiting for trains, for buses, for officials, at clinics, for deliveries, for rain to stop, for grass to dry, for paint to dry (yes, seriously, for paint to dry…), for carpet layers to arrive…
But during this last week the waiting game has been punctuated by two rather special (though non-boaty) events.
On Easter Saturday in Bedford the Easter Story was played out in pedestrian areas, on the High Street and at the Castle Mound. Last performed in Bedford thirty years ago the Passion Play involved professional and amateur actors, with representatives from two Roman re-enactment groups, a cast in total of nearly a hundred and a Salvation Army band. Actors, backstage and technical crews were drawn from a range of churches, the local college and the University of Bedfordshire.
This was drama on the move –
a stunningly gripping performance. (For further pictures see the Bedford Passion Play Image Gallery here.)
Then on Friday, there was a road trip into Essex… A year ago a family trip to Wiltshire involved visits to Stonehenge and to Old Sarum Castle. A quick cost effective calculation at Old Sarum showed that it was cheaper to join English Heritage (and do one more heritage site visit within twelve months) than to purchase single visit tickets. Since then Wrest Park in Bedfordshire has been visited twice – but on Friday it was off to Audley End.
“Where is this place you want to go to?” enquired the Captain. It’s just outside Saffron Waldon, east and south of Bedford. Down the A1, then bear left and wiggle across country… It was unfamiliar territory – low hills, small towns, thatched cottage villages, undulating fields. Where did Bedfordshire end – and maybe Hertfordshire start? But then, isn’t Cambridgeshire a long north –south running county…? 75 minutes or so later the magnificent Audley End had been reached.
“Anything we should particularly see…?” Boatwif asked the gate attendant.
Indeed, the house has just been reopened after its winter care programme. The guide in the Great Hall was apologetic (“Please bear with me – I haven’t given this talk for about eight months,”) but she gave an excellent account of how a Benedictine monastery became a grand house and then a palace fit for royal visitations. Photography is forbidden in the grander ground and first floor rooms. Each room is breathtaking, whether largely influenced by Jacobean or by Georgian style. There are elaborate ceilings, highly decorative fireplaces, fine paintings and lavish textiles. The owner in the 1820s was Richard Neville, later Lord Braybrooke. He and his wife had eight children and it is thanks to them that the presentation of the rooms today is so well informed. Their water colours of each room have helped English Heritage create appropriate wallpapers and floor coverings and to position the furnishings as they were previously arranged.
Today’s visitors may feel less than comfortable with displays of stuffed animals – but the Picture Gallery, lined with glass cabinets housing the 4th Lord Braybrooke’s vast natural history collection, is evidence of the lifelong passion of a Victorian gentleman.
On the top floor is the nursery suite. In pride of place in the day nursery is a doll’s house originating from the 1820s. Up here you learn about the role of the wet nurse, the nursemaids, the governess and the tutor. Astonishingly the girls had a broader education than the boys, who had to enjoy /endure years of Greek and Latin, first with a tutor and then at Eton. There is evidence though that the Braybrooke girls were proficient at water colours, piano-playing and botany.
In the early 1760s a gallery linking the north and south wings was installed. Sixty years on it was converted into a service area. Twice a year coal would be hauled in wicker baskets up to fill four large bunkers. In this useful large space hip baths, footbaths and candles were stored.
The grounds are magnificent: there is a huge kitchen garden and a vinery, stables and a fire engine house, a parterre on the south side of the house and grounds peppered with classical structures. After centuries as a grand country house Audley End assumed a new role in the 1940s when it was requisitioned by the government to become the HQ of the Polish Special Forces resistance soldiers.
Should this all seem too far from the usual Boatwif topics, well, there is a boathouse on the River Cam which flows through the Capability Brown designed landscape; there is a cascade which drops water from the river onto a waterway below – and a commode in one of the nursery bedrooms.
And now it’s back to the final round of the Waiting Game: on the next trip north next week Cleddau’s latter day commode (aka the composting loo) will be returned and reinstalled, clean and ready for Cruise 2016, the presumed start date of which is on/about 24th April…