Saturday, March 10, 2018

Packwood and Baddesley Clinton

When we went to Canons Ashby a couple of weeks ago we joined the National Trust. It's something I'd half meant to do for a while, turning up at a property the day after I got paid was the final push to cough up the £108 for joint membership. The same weekend I read about Falling visitor numbers to the National Gallery, and National Portrait Gallery in London.

I have a great deal of affection for both galleries, but haven't been to either for a couple of years. This is because train fares from Leicester to London are now so prohibitively expensive that visits have been severely curtailed, when I have been there, there just hasn't been time to fit everything I might want to do in. It sounds like this might be a common issue as the majority of those vanishing visitors are domestic.

That National Trust membership cost as much as our train tickets when we went to see the Charles I and Charles II exhibitions at the end of January- it's looking like increasingly good value, and whilst the majority of the houses near us don't have the kind of artwork that challenges the things to be seen in the National galleries, Tate Britain, or the V&A, they do put what they have into the context of complete interiors and architecture.

Packwood and Baddesley Clinton are a couple of miles apart from each other in Warwickshire - sort of between Stratford upon Avon and Birmingham and a part of the country where it seems like it would be hard to miss some sort of Tudor splendour, or arts and crafts inspired delight, if you threw a stone in any direction.

They're an interesting pair of houses to look at together, Packwood was bought by the Ash family in 1904. Alfred Ash, the second generation industrialist who purchased it apparently did so because his 16 year old son, Graham Baron Ash, wanted it (having a father who is as accommodating as he is wealthy sounds like a sweet deal). It's Baron (as he preferred) Ash who made the house what it is today.

When they bought it, it was a relatively small Tudor manor with currently unfashionable Georgian and Victorian additions. These were stripped away, mullioned windows were reinstated, and a search for Tudor and Elizabethan everything was put in hand. Floors, screens, fireplaces, mantelpieces, brickwork, windows, glass, furniture - all of it - were sought out to 'restore' and enlarge the house into Barron Ash's vision of what an English country home should be. The enlargements include a barn converted into a great hall, and a long gallery to join it to the rest of the house.
Zoom in on the tap - this bathroom is the stuff of dreams.

Despite snide comments from both Pevsner and James Lees-Milne, the overall effect is charming. Packwood was a showpiece, and a backdrop for what sound like fabulous parties, rather than a family home. (Barron Ash never married, and liked everything to be perfectly ordered.) It also has the most fabulous bathroom (I love that bathroom). More importantly it's a perfect example of what money can buy and a very particular vision of an ideal English house. It made me think of  E. F. Benson's Lucia, who would have adored it (the novels are contemporary with Ash's creation of Packwood).

Baddesley Clinton is a moated house with links to the Gunpowder plot, a priests hole, and 500 years of Ferrers family history bound up in its remarkably damp free walls. It's probably fortunate for Baddesley Clinton that the Ferrers family were never particularly well off. It means alterations, improvements, and accruals were modest, and that it was never abandoned or broken up in favour of a bigger house. The rooms inside are essentially domestic in scale, it is surrounded by ducks, and it really outdoes itself in terms of charm and romantic appeal (it's the moat that does it).

Barron Ash actually bought bits and pieces for Packwood from Baddesley Clinton when the perennially broke Ferrers family were trying to raise some money. It has the lived in family feel (albeit an eccentric family with some odd arrangements) that Packwood avoids, and the sense of something that's grown, rather than of something created, but there's also a similar sense of artifice here.

Baddesley Clinton

In this case it's thanks to the splendidly named Marmion Ferrers, his wife, her aunt, and her husband, who lived in Baddesley Clinton from the late 1860's into the early 20th century. It was the aunt's husbands money that kept things going and allowed them to live out an almost fantasy life as lords of the manor. Lucia would probably have approved of that too.


  1. You might like to read this blog: it includes Baddesly Clinton writing too.

  2. Oh what a perfect bathroom! Both houses look wonderful. I do love a moat.

    1. It was a perfect bathroom, it even had an open fire so you could take the chill off of all those tiles. Moats are also very appealing, and is this one was full of ducks it really had a lot going for it :)