Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lyvedon New Bield

It's been a National Trust day today with a visit to Lyvedon New Bield in Northamptonshire. Lyvedon New Bield (new build, there is a Lyvedon old Bield too) was commissioned by Sir Thomas Tresham as a, well I'm not to clear what, but some sort of little house in his garden intended for banquets or retreats. It was never finished.

My favourite graffiti was a row of birds carved into one wall

Tresham is an interesting character, a devout catholic at a time when that wasn't entirely sensible, he spent a good 15 years under house arrest. When he was at liberty he spent huge sums of money on building projects including Rushton triangular lodge (which is built around the number 3 which symbolises the trinity, and is also a play on Tresham's name and trefoil coat of arms). The triangular lodge is a charming building with the feel of a folly about it as well as something vaguely mystical - it's the numbers, symbols, and general Elizabethan love of allegory that does it.

 Unfortunately Tresham seems to have made a habit of living beyond his means, died with debts that would be about a million pounds in today's money, and before Lyvedon was finished, when his builders realised the state of play they downed tools and left. Any chance of the family turning things around were scuppered by his son, Francis', involvement in the gunpowder plot.

Now I know what witch marks are I was pleased to find one 

Lyvedon is based around the number 5, the floor plan is a perfectly symmetrical Greek cross made up of 5 squares, each arm of the cross ends in a bay with 5 sides, each side measuring 5 feet (adding up to 25 feet which reference both the nativity and the annunciation- those Elizabethan Catholics would probably have loved sudoku). Being inside it is oddly disorienting, maybe because it was never finished it's hard to work out exactly how the building was intended to be used, but more than that, it's not always clear where you are in it.

Anyway, it's well worth a visit. There's a tea room which had a very welcome wood burning stove in it (there was a chilly wind) and good scones. A second hand book shack where I struck gold in the form of an old penguin edition of Edith Sitwell's biography of Alexander Pope, Margery Allingham's 'Death of a Ghost' which I've not seen before, and a virago - Ellen Galford's 'Moll Cutputse Her True History'. Anything based on The Roaring Girl is worth 50p of my money!

There are also the gardens. Tresham had ambitions for these, also never quite realised, but as with the  building, a surprising amount has survived. In that case the footprint of his plans still exists. The orchard has been replanted with the trees he specified, moats and mounds have been uncovered, and thanks in part to a photo the Luftwaffe took, it's been possible to trace the plan for a maze which it seems was going to be planted with roses and raspberries, both having significance for Christ and the virgin. I can only hope that the national trust decide to plant this - it might be a bit scratchy, but can you imagine how wonderful it would smell at the right point in summer, and how pretty it could be?

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