"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

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.


Margaret Adamson said...

I am sure you walled garden and woldflowers in the sumlmer but this visit was wonderful SOOOOOO much to see an photograph. The spring flowers are beautiful. Thank you for sharing such as interesting post.

Dartford Warbler said...

Thank you for such an interesting post and all the wonderful photos. Middleton Hall looks a fascinating place.

Ragged Robin said...

Margaret Adamson - Thanks very much Margaret for your very kind comment. There was certainly lots of colour in the walled garden and it was a real sun trap :)

Dartford Warbler - Thanks so much - so glad you enjoyed the post and found it interesting :)

Deb said...

Fantastic photos of such an interesting place.The spring flowers are so pretty and I love the fairy houses and the little steps going up to the fairy door! Thanks for sharing. :)

Rosie said...

How fascinating, what a lot of history and how well preserved it looks, the volunteers have done a good job. I've seen the Hall from the craft courtyard where we had a coffee in the cafe there on our way to the nearby RSPB Reserve. I've always thought I'd love to go back and explore the Hall and gardens one day and it has been wonderful to see it in your photos:)

Ragged Robin said...

Deb - Thanks so much - I've wanted a little fairy door in our big Whitebeam tree for ages now I just have to go ahead. The little houses look better in real life than the photos!

Rosie - Thanks very much. When you look at the guidebook its amazing how much they have managed to restore it as it was so derelict. Well worth a visit but check website as only open certain days. We go the RSPB reserve occasionally - I do wish they'd install a few hides there although in the past I've had some good bird sightings there :)

Linda said...

Beautiful photos! Thank you so much for sharing this lovely tour!

Wendy said...

A lovely and informative post with some super photos. I really enjoyed it. As you know, I'm very interested in John Ray so I loved reading about him here and seeing more of Middleton Hall. I also enjoyed reading more about Francis Willoughby and the way the two worked together. Middleton Hall is a place I'd like to visit and this time of year looks a great time with all the spring flowers. The idea of a heated walled garden is interesting, too. If you do go back, look forward to seeing the walled garden later in the year and of course the the wild flower meadow.

Caroline Gill said...

What a fascinating place for an excursion - everything from birds to fairies and much more beside! And lucky you seeing a Great White Egret, which I have rarely encountered. What an industrious pair, those scientists! Superb photos to make us wish we could visit ... and the choc. brownie looks delicious! I keep hoping to have the opportunity (not sure when) to visit Down House, Darwin's home in Kent ...

Ragged Robin said...

Linda - Thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment - I am so pleased you enjoyed the tour :)

Wendy - Thanks very much Wendy. Yes, I remember your interest in John Ray and thought of you when we were there and how much you would have enjoyed seeing the Hall. There is much more information in the guidebook and on info boards especially in the John Ray Building and the room he used. I do hope you can visit at some stage in view of your interest - check their website though for opening hours as they are limited (mainly Wednesdays and Sundays). I had a look on Amazon to see if you can buy a book on Willughby and Ray - I did find one on Ray but it was about £35!! :(

Caroline Gill - Thanks so much Caroline - I've visited a few times before (they used to hold the Midlands Birdwatching Fair there many years ago) but there was much more to see than I remembered and I thought it was very good value for £4. I'd love to visit Down House - just been checking location (it may be do-able in a day?) Failing that perhaps a long weekend one day. I'd also like to go to Selborne one day too.

amanda peters said...

Very interesting and a good read, lots to see.
Love all the fairy stuff, we have a little door in our Cherry tree.
"The History of plants" would be a heavy read by John Ray, it must have been a amazing time when they were discovering all these new things, here and abroad. Might not have made it past the book sale though.
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks Amanda. OH is on about making a fairy door but I will be putting some of the other items on my birthday list (long wait!) - I want to make a fairy garden :) Would love to go back in time and meet some of the old Naturalists! OH in tow - hence lack of book purchases! :(

David said...

A most informative and enjoyable post Caroline, the background information about Francis Willughby and John Ray was much appreciated. We owe so much to these early naturalists don't we, and so much knowledge that we now take for granted has its origins in their pioneering observations of the natural world all those centuries ago.

The nature trail looks most pleasant and it is lovely to see all the wildflowers. The Wild Garlic is just starting to flower up here too.

The hall itself is also rather curious and I really like the way that different building styles have been preserved. As you say the Restoration Trust have done an outstanding job!

Hope you are well and my kindest regards to all :-)

Ragged Robin said...

David - Thanks so much for your very kind comment. Glad you enjoyed the information about Willughby and Ray - I could have waffled on for ages about them. There was a lot to learn about them at the Hall and in the guidebook and yes we do owe these early naturalists so much. I wonder if there is a book following the history of famous naturalists through the centuries?

The nature trail was good - I believe there is an artificial otter holt (in use possibly) somewhere but we didn't spot it.

I'm full of admiration for volunteers from various places you visit that do so much to maintain our heritage and wildlife. To see photos of the derelict and dilapidated Hall and to see it as it is now is incredible.

I am fine thanks and hoping to avoid the dreaded "lurgy" affecting 2 members of the family! Hope you are well too and best wishes to you and your family :)

Millymollymandy said...

What an amazing place with so much of interest. Easy to spend a whole day there, and I laughed because we always have virtual cake with you on these visits, only you didn't leave us much this time! I've never heard of heated walls in a walled garden before. Love the different architecture too. Super post!

Ragged Robin said...

Millymollymandy - Thanks so much for your lovely comment - so pleased you enjoyed :)

lol re: the cake! Nearly didn't get any as OH never over keen on cake visits and then he went ahead and had last piece of Carrot Cake which was what D and I both fancied!

The Wessex Reiver said...

Middleton Hall now has to be on my to visit list. John Ray is a much ignored naturalist. Popular natural historians seem to stop at Darwin. However naturalists like Ray began the process of separating mythology and religion as the driving force and replacing it with science and facts There are some good quotes here into Ray's importance http://www.jri.org.uk/ray/cal/linnaeus.htm. He shouldn't be confused either with John Rae a celebrated Victorian naturalist and explorer who is similarly overlooked but brought many examples of the natural world back to the Natural History Museum. His status was tarnished by London Society after he suggested the ill fated Franklin Expedition survivors turned to cannibalism. But that's for another day :-)

Ragged Robin said...

The Wessex Reiver - Thanks very much Andrew and special thanks for the links into Ray's importance - will be checking that out in a minute. Very interesting to read about the other Rae too! I did find a book I have published by NHM London called "Nature's Connections - An Exploration of Natural History" which I must get round to reading as it does have information on great Naturalists. A fascinating subject! :)

Do hope you can visit Middleton Hall one day but as mentioned to Rosie above please check their website as they are only open on certain days.

Ragged Robin said...

The Wessex Reiver - Thanks again Andrew - the link is very useful and has filled in some gaps in my knowledge of John Ray.