Monday, April 12, 2010

Ashdown House

Ashdown House copyrighted by WikipediaI started out this blog as a brief overview of a well-maintained, seventeenth century hunting lodge in Oxfordshire, now turned into a National Trust site: Ashdown House.

Then as I was reading the blog maintained by Nicola Cornick, who's the National Trust historian at Ashdown, I came across this gem of information: "The enormous sarsen stone a few miles away at Blowing Stone Hill is reputed to have been used by King Alfred to rally his troops for the Battle of Ashdown in 871AD."

King Alfred the Great copyrighted by The Daily OfficeTake a beautiful old house and bring in my current object of fannish admiration Alfred (at this point, I'm on first-name, even nickname, basis), and my mind's churning with story ideas.

Ashdown House copyrighted by Nicola CornickAnyway, back to Ashdown, or Æscesdūn as it was called in Anglo-Saxon, and why I wanted to blog about it. A house built in the 1660s during the Stuart/Restoration Period, in admiration of a woman, a queen, who never lived in it, is now restored and leased to folks who continue in the restoration efforts is highly intriguing. Add in graceful, imaginative architecture, a proper starchy butler and housekeeper wife on site, and meeting historican Cornick in person, you can see my fascination with the place.

Ashdown House copyrighted by Nicola CornickLocated three miles north of the village of Lambourn and a 20-minute drive from Swindon, Ashdown House, also known as Ashland Park, is situated high among the wind-swept, rolling Berkshire Downs in the civil parish of Ashbury of Oxfordshire county.

Interior Hallway of Ashdown House copyrighted by Nicola Cornick The honey and cream-colored Dutch-style building has more than 8,000 square feet of living space, but "it is surprisingly cozy and eminently liveable," according to The Times. Richard Henderson, the National Trust's property manager in Oxfordshire in 2009 declares, "It is one of the most beautiful properties we have." The entire estate is composed of two lodges, three cottages, and 100 acres of parkland.

Northwest Bedroom on the first floor of Ashdown House copyrighted by Nicola CornickThe manicured parkland around the house quickly gives way to grassy fields dotted with sheep and a wandering herd of deer. It is surrounded in turn by woodland and farmland. According to Cornick, "From the Bronze Age barrows on the nearby ridge, to the Iron Age hillfort of Alfred's Castle, from the sarsen stones linked by legend to Merlin to the paths through the medieval deer park, from the weathercock on the hill to the little white "palace" at its foot, there is a timeline of thousands of years of history at Ashdown Park." To read more information about the medieval Park Pale, a bank and ditch with a wooden palisade on top to keep deer and other animals within legal hunting bounds of the estate, go here.

North view of the ground floor Drawing Room at Ashdown House copyrighted by Nicola CornickThe house was carefully maintained by the Craven family until World War II, when it was requisitioned and occupied by the army, who left it in a derelict state by 1956. At that point, the Countess of Craven gave it to the National Trust.

If you're interested in visiting, do so on a Wednesday or a Saturday between two and five in the afternoon from March/April through October. House tours opened on April 3 this year. Since it is tenanted, visitors are allowed on the main staircase through the house, up on the roof, and outside on the terrace, but you can see most of the rooms within.


Diane Gaston said...

I'd LOVE to see this house! It looks so beautiful and interesting.

I cannot imagine how it must have felt to walk into that lovely place after the Army got through with it. The poor Countess of Craven!

Keira Soleore said...

Diane, indeed. The poor Countess of Craven. The army destroyed a lot of such great houses during the war. They openly requisitioned them, because opposing "war effort" was unpatriotic (sounds familiar?), enjoyed living in such exclusive trappings that they'd never otherwise have the opportunity to do so, and neglected or carelessly used and destroyed them.

Nicola Cornick said...

Oh, thank you so much for featuring Ashdown on your blog, Keira, and with *such* an interesting post. So often the Restoration aspect of Ashdown overshadows the others (difficult for it not to, with the house standing there!)but the pre-1660 period is just as fascinating and the links to Alfred in particular.

Keira Soleore said...

The house and surroundings have such an impressive pedigree, I had to talk to it. Nicola, thank you for making it possible for me to experience this place. Some day, I'll have the grand tour in person. :)

Nicola Cornick said...

It will be a great pleasure to show you around the house and we can commune with Alfred at the hillfort!

Keira Soleore said...

The house and surroundings have such an impressive pedigree, I had to talk to it. Nicola, thank you for making it possible for me to experience this place. Some day, I'll have the grand tour in person. :)