Monday, 18 April 2016
An Afternoon at Middleton Hall
We made a return visit to Middleton Hall yesterday to look round the Hall, garden and grounds and learn more about Francis Willughby and John Ray.
First of all though a little look round the Courtyard which is full of vintage, sweet, craft shops, a coffee shop and the cheese and ale barn :)
It wasn't the cheese and ale that caught my attention but the range of fairy houses - I brought home a catalogue and you can buy all manner of things from fairy bridges, fairy plant pots,stone arches and benches to miniature bird houses and tables.
Onwards to the Hall.
Middleton Hall was not demolished and rebuilt as new architectural periods began but simply extended so you can see seven centuries of English architecture on the one site.
The oldest part of the Hall is the stone building which was built in 1285 and is believed to be the oldest domesticated building in Warwickshire. It was built originally for Philip de Marmion (whose family also arranged for the construction of nearby Tamworth Castle). From the 15th century until 1925 the Middleton Estate was owned by the Willoughby family and was sold in 1924 to pay death duties. The new owners were the Amey Roadstone Corporation who purchased the land for gravel extraction.
By 1980 the Hall and gardens were in a derelict state due to neglect and vandalism. The Hall is currently leased to the Middleton Restoration Trust who were formed in 1980 to restore the Hall and gardens. The volunteers of this Trust have done a truly wonderful job.
Firstly, we followed the nature trail which meanders round the side of the lake through woodland, across a wild flower meadow, along a hedgerow and back through the wood. Middleton Pool is an artificial lake created in the 16th century and believed to be the earliest man-made lake in the county. Before the construction of the pool there was a medieval Fish Stewpool. The lake (and other parts of the estate) are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The Pool is an important site for breeding birds and is surrounded by fen, reedbed, swamp, neutral grassland, an old orchard and wet woodland. It supports 46 species of breeding bird and 35 species breed in surrounding woodland.
I might have got better photos of the Great White Egret if the Hall and Nature Trail had been open! We watched a pair of Nuthatches in this tree for ages. D tried to get a photo with the Canon but only managed a silhouette.
Lots of wild flowers in the woodland - Wood Anemones, Bluebells, Dog's Mercury, Lesser Celandine, Dandelions and Ground Ivy.
Wild Garlic has buds and one or two
flowers are opening.
Lots of new growth.
Fairy Doors :)
Then off for a stroll around the Walled Garden which dates back to around 1717 - it is one of the earliest examples of a heated walled garden - the walls were left hollow to allow hot air to be circulated which allowed a longer growing season and for plants to be grown which would not normally have survived this far North. The gardens were originally used to provide produce for the Hall. Restoration of the garden began in 1984.
The Gazebo is 19th century and is Grade II listed.
Finally, a look round the Hall itself
The West Wing
The John Ray building is to the left of the photo and the old 13th century Stone Building to the right.
Francis Willughby (he spelt his name this way leaving out the "o") was born at Middleton Hall on 22nd November, 1635 to Sir Francis Willoughby and his wife Lady Cassandra Ridgeway. He was their only son and the youngest of 3 children. He was educated at Bishop Vesey School, Sutton Coldfield and then Trinity College, Cambridge, where he met John Ray.
Francis returned to Middleton Hall in 1667 following the death of his father and he lived there with his mother and later his wife, Emma Barnard, and their 3 children - Francis, Cassandra and Thomas. Francis was a noted mathematician and natural historian and an early Associate of the Royal Society. Papers at the Hall include illustrations of birds, fish and flowers collected by Francis and John Ray, his Cambridge Tutor and friend. Francis and John travelled extensively throughout Britain and Europe during the 1660's and the taxonomical systems they created formed the basis of today's plant and animal classification. Willughby was the first person to study birds in a scientific way rather than mythologically and he was also the first to suggest that swallows flew to hot countries during the winter rather than hibernating. Francis died on 3rd July, 1672, aged only 36, following a series of fevers followed by a pleurisy. In his will he left John Ray an income of £60 per annum and asked him to publish his work "Ornithologia" which after editing Ray duly did. Other published works included "De Historia Piscum" also edited and published by Ray in 1686 and Willughby's "History of Insects" prepared by John Ray, edited by William Derham and published in 1710 as "Historia Insectorum".
John Ray (1627-1705) is known as the Father of English Natural History and was also a philosopher, writer, cleric and taxonomist. Ray studied at Cambridge where he devoted much time to natural history - this study later became his main occupation. His first book was published in 1660 entitled "Catalogus Plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium." He was elected a Fellow at Trinity College and lectured there until 1662. His system of plant classification was in use in England until the latter half of the 18th century when it was superseded by the Linnean method. He wrote books on botany, zoology, theology and literary works. After travelling with Francis Willughby and living at Middleton Hall for some years he eventually moved to Black Notley. His greatest work was "The History of Plants" published in 3 volumes. Ray classified plants firstly by using the differences in their seeds. He then separated flowering plants using their flowers, seeds, fruit and leaves and also classified fungi, lichens, mosses and herbs separately. Although is taxonomical methods may seem fairly primitive today he did classify many of the Families currently recognised. He was a member of the Royal Society.
The room used by John Ray when living at the Hall.
The Great Hall in the West Wing
Oh look a second hand book shop :) There was a very good natural history section but I resisted temptation.
Before leaving we had tea and cake - sorry only remembered to take a photo when I had scoffed three quarters of my Brownie!
A lovely afternoon out and I will certainly return. There were parts of the Hall we didn't have time to visit and I would love to see the Walled Garden and Wild Flower Meadow in the summer. I would just like to say what a superb job the volunteers and Trust have done in restoring this beautiful historic place.
Reference: Middleton Hall Guide Book, website and Information Boards.