August 20, 2014
Wollarton Hall Nottingham
We are both awake early as the electrician is coming this morning, we are joining the rotary meeting at Woolloongabba via google hangout and going to St Mary the Virgin Church to help clean up. The electrician arrived and fitted the new fittings except for one which was for a lamp not a ceiling and provided a solution to the poor lighting in the bathroom – he put in another light which now floods the bathroom so that it is brighter than outside the flat.
In the midst of the electrician’s work we “hang out” with the Rotarians at home. I think that some of them thought it was fanciful that we even try to attend the meeting from 26,000 miles away. Great fun and good to catch up but it feels like we have not left home.
The electrician is still here and we have to give St Mary’s a miss. Finally finished he stands around chatting until 12.00 noon – it was bloody hard to get him here then equally hard to get rid of him.
We decide we will change the lamp shade so into the car (THISTLE) and off to British Home Stores Derby. Oops cannot find the receipt but manage to exchange it anyway at the cost of 2 pounds parking. As we are out and about we decide to visit Wollarton House one of the sights of Nottingham recommended to us by our mates at Nottingham Rotary.
Wollarton Hall is located in the centre of Nottingham (CBD is only 3 miles away) in a very large park by the same name with Europe’s oldest and first cast iron greenhouse, and with herds of red and fallow deer running around. It is an Elizabethan mansion (late 16th century) completed in the same year the Spanish Armada was sunk 1588. (Interesting because this lead to some innovation around sourcing timber for the Prospect Room as the Navy was using every stick for ships). The Willoughby family had been sheep farmers in the county and changed their family name to reflect the wealth they were accumulating (they adopted the locality name). By the time that Sir Francis Willoughby (a Baronet) built this mansion the family were the wealthiest family in Britain next to the Tudors (Elizabeth I). Funny thing is that Sir Francis had a problem with status and wanted to lord it over everyone. So he invited Liz to visit his family home (the one before he built Wollarton Hall) and when Liz did visit her comment was something like – We don’t like the man, nor do we like the wife nor do we like the house. So he built Wollarton – the first place in Britain to have central heating, a bathroom and double glazing but more about that later. Money was no object.
One hundred years later Francis Jnr became a pioneering naturalist so the Hall is filled with stuffed animals and heads on the wall. The practice was continued down the centuries by the family.
As is the fate of these ambitious families someone loses the family fortune and the property falls into disrepair. In this case it was death duties that got them and the house and park has ended up in the hands of the Nottingham City Council and is now a natural history museum the stables are the industrial museum and shops and the park is open to the public (the day we were there it seemed every member of the public).
There was a tour on offer for 5 pounds each and as entry was free we thought what the heck. So as the kids disappeared to see Batman (yes it was a dress up day for the kids) we started our tour in the main hall. Most home for the gentry up to this date were castles or fortified buildings but this was to be a stately manor and they had no template other than a castle or a church so this looks like a castle but is intended to be a house. It is square (the only square manor house in the UK) and has a central court which was entered through stone arches to greet the Lord on his throne. Behind that was the dining room and the kitchens underneath in the basement. I mentioned the Spanish Armada. Well they did not have enough timber to provide the supports to the Prospect Room which is above the centre court. Also they tried to emulate the manner of support of the ceiling with the grotesques at the bottom but instead of support it actually pulled down on the floor. And when the architect could not get the timber he wanted because of the Navy he design a lattice support beam which never did work which meant the Prospect Room which was designed to allow notable guests to view the extent of the Willoughby lands (to the horizon for 360 degrees) all that was safe was a small viewing platform at the top of the stairs 3 storeys above ground. Of course when the Council took it over they put in the correct supports hence the floor today looks unworn although it is over 500 hundred years old.
From the Prospect Room we walked down to traverse a section of the roof (apparently a favoured past time of the Tudor gentry). Here we see the double glazing installed at a time when the government charged a tax on the number of windows but money was no object. The second lord (they climbed their way up to Dukedom also) had installed side doors to the centre court which created a draught and the centre court could not be kept warm so they installed steel pipes behind all fire paces filled with water channelled underground from a cistern installed 3 miles away to carry heat throughout the home (the first heating system) and then later the doubling glazing to contain heat (the first of its kind). On the corners of the house are the bedrooms for the guests starting with the highest ranking having access to the roof.
After viewing the walk we returned into the house and were shown the household safe (a solid steel door) and to protect the inhabitants of the house and the money from the staff at night there were two iron grilled gates and then a heavy wooden door before you got to the staff quarters (prison). Beyond were the Tudor kitchens discovered by the Council when renovating the hall. They are a bright yellow in colour and the Council discovered this was a paint made up of lime wash and pigs urine (the urine acted as a disinfectant). There were three areas to the kitchens and a slaughter room beside the meat salting room.
From the slaughter room we went into an underground tunnel which operated as both a beer cellar wine cellar brandy cellar and the cistern room for collecting the water from that cistern 3 miles away, channelling it through the tunnels to clear the air in the tunnels and ultimately to fill the man-made lake in the park. The tunnels allowed servants to clear the path for the water and to service that cistern and others but they could also call into the “Admiral Rodney “ a pub in the village going to and returning from the cistern.
After existing from the tunnels we viewed the rest of the house in particular the natural history displays and then the stables but they were closed – we had run out of time. After all was said and done a most interesting visit to see a Tudor household as it might have been.
Although I forgot the big camera we are starting to get prepared and I had the small camera in our travel pack and took some pictures and here they are:
• the Hall, its grounds,
- some of the “heads of the household”
- the centre court,
- the Prospect Room
- the view to the horizon, and
- the stables (bigger than some other stately homes)
• The bathroom (between the floors of the Prospect Room and below was the first indoor bathroom in Britain)
• The kitchens and slaughter room