Wessex Attractions: Little Fleece Bookshop

Former bookshops are, sadly, far more common nowadays than still-open ones. But how about former bookshops owned by the National Trust, and available to let as a holiday cottage?

The Little Fleece in Painswick is a fine example of a Cotswold stone building, refurbished in the Arts & Crafts style so strongly associated with the Cotswolds. It will reopen on July 21st, having been closed due to the COVID19 lockdown. It has 3 bedrooms, and can accommodate up to 5 guests. The bad news? It costs £371 a night to rent, and the minimum stay is 2 nights. The property carries a 4 acorn rating (out of a maximum of 5), signifying luxury accommodation with premium features. For those who can afford it, it provides a perfect base for exploring the Cotswolds.

Wessex Attractions: Hidcote

Hidcote Manor and its gardens, located near Chipping Campden in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. are a National Trust-owned property bought by the American-born Major Lawrence Johnston and his mother in the early years of the 20th century and restored according to the principles of the then-burgeoning Arts and Crafts movement. Charles Ashbee moved the Gild (sic) of Handicrafts from East London to Chipping Campden in 1902, and the area quickly became a centre for the movement.

The G(u)ild dissolved five years later, but Major Johnson continued its legacy, He spent the period up to 1914 remodelling the house and gardens according to Arts and Crafts principles, but progress was halted when he went off to fight in World War 1. After the war, a period of expansion began, and the estate was sold to the National Trust in 1948.

Like all National Trust properties, Hidcote Manor is currently closed. but their website allows visitors to experience a virtual tour.

Wessex Attractions: Farnborough Hall

Apologies in advance to anyone who uses this blog as a guide to days out (I'm sure there must be thousands of you). My magic blog post randomiser, which tells me what I'm going to blog about in any given week, has this week given me an attraction that is currently closed for the winter. But fear not, it will open again in April next year.

Farnborough Hall is a stately home near Banbury, home of the Holbech family for nearly 300 years, until it was sold to the National Trust in 1960. Built from honey-coloured stone by William Holbech in 1684, and extensively remodelled in the 1740s by his son, the imaginitively-named William Holbech the Younger. It remains a well-preserved example of a Georgian house, with a magnificent rococo drawing room, even if the paintings now on display are replicas of the originals, which had to be sold off in 1929.

The gardens were designed by Sanderson Miller (1716-1780), and based on the Ferme Ornée (ornamental farm) principle. Devised by Stephen Switzer (1682–1745), this simply meant farmland designed for aesthetic pleasure as well as practicality. The parkland contains several follies, including a game larder, a faux-classical Ionic temple, and a 60-foot Egyptianate obelisk.

The farm buildings were once home to a museum commemorating the Battle of Edge Hill, the first major battle of the English Civil War, which took place several miles to the north, over the Mercian border in Warwickshire. However, I was unable to find any recent references to it, so it may have been closed down.

The postcode for Farnborough Hall is OX17 1DU. Check the National Trust website for opening dates and times.

Wessex Attractions: Fyne Court

Fyne Court is a National Trust owned garden set among the ruins of a burnt-out Georgian house rumoured to be the original Castle Frankenstein!

Before I explain what I mean by that, a little overview of the garden as it is today. Set in the Quantock Hills, Fyne Court covers 65 acres. It provides a popular venue for orienteering, and three walking trails. one of which forms a part of King Alfred's Way. Species that can be found here include red deer. skylark, and Dartford warbler.

The house formerly belonged to Andrew Crosse (1784-1855), a pioneer in the field of electricity. Sir Humphry Davy visited Fyne Court in 1827, and the two of them were among the first to create voltaic piles. a type of primitive battery, Cross later experimented with separating copper from its ores using electricity. During one experiment, he noticed a number of mites, which he believed had been hatched from eggs laid in the ores. He was accused of blasphemy, usurping the role of God by "creating" the insects (which he never claimed to have done). A popular legend claims that this was the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It's a nice story, but unfortunately, the experiments took place some 20 years after Frankenstein's publication, so it could not possibly be true.

Fyne Court was burned down in 1894, not by an angry mob of villagers carrying flaming torches, but by an ordinary kitchen fire. Parts of the structure still remain, and the National Trust has tried to recreate the layout of the house, for example by placing doors in the same position as they would have been when the house was still there.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is TA5 2EQ.

Wessex Attractions: White Barrow

White Barrow is a neolithic long barrow south of Tilshead in Wiltshire, which was the first property to be bought by the National Trust purely for archaeological interest. Prior to that, the Trust had mainly been interested in stately homes, parks and gardens. But in 1909, the Committee of Imperial Defence, forerunner to today's Ministry of Defence, was buying up land on Salisbury Plain for military use, and so the Trust decided to preserve it for the nation. They bought it by subscription for the princely sum of £60.

The barrow is approximately 77.5m by 47m, and carved out of the chalk, giving it its name. It has never been fully excavated, keeping it well-preserved, and was first described by the archaeologist William Cunnington. Human skulls were found that were believed to have been subjected to cranial trauma, suggesting that the people buried there had died by violence, but later examination showed the "wounds" to have been inflicted post-mortem.

Rare bees and wild flowers can be found at the site. In 1998, a badger sett was relocated in order to prevent the badgers from burrowing further into the burial chamber.

White Barrow can be accessed on foot from a byway leading south-west from the A360. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is SP3 4RX.