We had an unplanned day off the other day and once again put our National Trust membership cards to good use. This time we visited Coughton Court near Alcester, a splendid Tudor house with a fascinating history peppered with religious persecution and its involvement in various wars (not to mention its links with the Gunpowder Plot).
I’ll start by clearing up confusion over the pronunciation; as the young man on reception informed us, its first syllable does not, in fact, sound like something that you get when you have a cold. It’s pronounced “COW-ton”. Ah, the joys of the English language.
The estate has been owned by the Catholic Throckmorton family since 1409, and one elderly family member still lives in the half of the house tantalisingly out of bounds to the public. The central Tudor gatehouse, dating from 1530, features these hexagonal turrets, vaguely calling to mind the gatehouse of Hampton Court Palace, built just ten years later.
You enter the house round the back, where you see some older parts of the building. One gets used to black-and-white (or black and sort of beige in this case!) buildings when one lives in Warwickshire, but having approached the house from the front, I hadn’t been expecting this style at the back. It sits rather incongruously with the more impressive gatehouse, though this adds to its architectural interest and variety.
This is the view out the back once inside. It’s an up-and-down, higgledy-piggledy sort of house, full of unexpected nooks and crannies. Interestingly, during the war, one half of the house was designated as a safe zone for the Speaker of the House of Commons in the event of a German invasion.
This was one of my favourite rooms; it was so cosy, and I loved the colours of the wall and chairs.
The real highlight is stumbled upon quite unexpectedly having ascended a narrow spiral staircase in one of the turrets. The guide explained to us that this fabulous document/artwork is called the Tabula Eliensis, and it records all the families who continued to practise Catholic Mass after the Catholics started to be persecuted, or who were imprisoned for their faith. The Throckmortons were devout Catholics and are among the families named; a number of monarchs and knights are also featured on it, and the building at the top is Ely Cathedral. The whole thing had been hidden away in a loft, chanced upon one day in its present condition. It’s oil on canvas, and an astonishing survival.
This room also had a priest hole on display in the corner – another reminder of the religious persecution in which the Throckmorton family was involved.
Going further up the turrets you come out onto the roof, where you get 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. This fake owl was the master of all he surveyed; presumably his role was to warn off passing pigeons.
I loved the suitcase and chest at the foot of this bed, the chest bearing the name of Lieutenant Colonel H. Langford-Brooke.
This lovely room was entered with a staircase leading down each side of the room, from which this photograph was taken. A young man was playing the piano beautifully, which really brought the room to life and gave it a wonderful atmosphere.
In addition to this rather splendid array of drinks, this room also contained an original copy of Edward VIII’s abdication letter.
In a room not far from this one we discovered a chemise, said to be the one worn by Mary, Queen of Scots, during her execution. I don’t have a picture of it, but it’s pretty astonishing if it is indeed the one she wore.
After looking round the house we went for a little stroll in the gardens, where daffodils were still cheerily heralding the arrival of spring.
The resident flock of Jacob sheep had recently had lambs; this little group were inhabiting the attractive brick farmyard buildings to the rear of the house.
After all that walking (and the purchasing, in the second-hand bookshop, of another vintage Observer book for my collection) it was time to sit down in the cafe for afternoon tea. I have finally taught myself to like tea, so this photograph records my first ever *proper* cream tea featuring actual tea (previously I have substituted it for coffee or juice!).
The perfect end to a delightful day. We shall definitely be returning!
Information about visiting Coughton Court is available here if you’re interested. It’s not open all year round – only April to October, and Wednesdays to Sundays. There is a week in November when it’s open with Christmas decorations, which is already in our diary.