Seeing what’s been hidden for over 40 years

At the beginning of July I wrote about our taking a mini-adventure to the Isle of Thanet and hopefully to see some sound mirrors up close.

How lucky we were, the weather was fine, and we saw much that was new to us. We based ourselves in Ramsgate, which has a busy little harbour, plenty of eateries, and has attractive regency and Victorian buildings that have so often been demollished elsewhere in the country.

One of the main items on our agenda was to visit the recently uncovered first World War sound mirrors on the White Cliffs near Dover.

Built as aircraft and airship early warning devices for coastal towns between 1915 and 1930, parabolic sound mirrors concentrate sound waves enabling detection of incoming enemy aircraft. They were developed from sound ranging experiments during WW1 to fix the postion of enemy gun batteries by plotting the sound of gunfire.  Many of the 20 or so sound mirrors survive being located in quiet and out-of-the-way places. They became redundant as the speed of aircraft increased such that the amount of early warning time became so small as to be of little benefit, and the arrival of the more efficient radar.

Two sound mirrors at Fan Bay near Dover were covered up by Kent County Council in 1970’s along with all evidence of adjacent three coastal gun batteries to rid the coast of unsightly redundant wartime buildings and tunnels. In 2012 the National Trust acquired a stretch of the White Cliffs coast and knowing that gun emplacement, searchights and tunnels existed at Fan Bay decided to open them as a tourist attraction. These are the photos of our visit to the Fan Bay Deep Shelter and Sound Mirrors. [More info about sound mirrors can be found HERE, and HERE and HERE].


Chandeliers are among the treasures at Waddesdon Manor

Last week we visited the National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor near Aylesbury.

The house and grounds is one of the National Trust’s most visited properties. The contents of the house are among the finest in the land. Naturally, as is my wont, I took some photos. There being so much that I could’ve photographed, I restricted myself to the handsome chandeliers, in which there were some surprises, and some paintings, of which more in the next article.

The formal rooms had spectacular glass chandeliers. There were two rooms with, I think, modern chandeliers, one made of coloured glass, and the other humourously comprising broken plates and cutlery. [Click on images to expand]

Off for a mini adventure to, hopefully, see WW2 tunnels and Sound Mirrors

Do you remember reading about [see HERE to re-read] our visit to an industrial history conference in Kent, when I cajoled my dear wife to join me listening about the discovery of Sound Mirrors on the White Cliffs near Dover. [The photo below is from the coference presentation]

At the conference I bought a book on sound mirrors – Echoes from the Sky by Richard N. Scarth, wowee, it’s 450 pages – which I’ve only dabbled into. You know, looking at the pictures and idle reading a page or two.

My resolve was to visit the recently uncovered sound mirrors on the coat at Fan Bay. Weather is set fair, so we’re off to visit them, and other stuff too.

Details of the Tunnels and Sounds Mirrors at the National Trust website. Looks like the site maybe closed, so will need rethink for our visit.

Visiting the National Trust’s Lytes Cary Manor

When down in Somerset recently to visit the Haynes International Motor Museum we also visited Lytes Cary Manor.

Now owned by the National Trust, it having been passed to them in 1948 by the second owner, Sir Walter Jenner.  The house is an small medieval manor house, with an attached Chapel built in 1343. Though much restored in the 20th century, the Mnaor offers a pleasing look back to 16th century living.

The National Trust’s description of the Manor House is,

The story starts with William le Lyte, who was a feudal tenant of the estate as early as 1286. He paid an annual rent of 10 shillings or the contents of a swan’s nest on the River Cary.  It is believed that it was his grandson, Peter, who built the Chapel in 1343.

Six generations of the Lyte family lived at the Manor and the house was gradually expanded over time.  The Great Hall was constructed in 1447 by Thomas Lyte and the south wing, kitchens and outhouses were added by 1533 by John Lyte and his wife, Edith. .

By the mid eighteenth century the family had fallen on hard times, and in 1755 sold the Manor. In the following 150 years it fell into disrepair, only to be saved by Sir Walter Jenner and his wife Flora in 1907. It’s the Jenner family we have to thank for saving this delightful property and gardens.

Here are a few of my photos of our visit.

Much needed, National Trust plans to improve Runnymede & Ankerwycke

The unloved state of the National Trusts [NT] Runnymede paths and memorials was the subject of a complaining article by me – Comparing standard of stewardship between National Trust and Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Certainly unconnected with my words, the NT announce plans to transform the Magna Carta site at Runnymede. As almost always with these sort of announcements talking about plans to improve something, there’s no project start date, or information about specific actions.

Not wanting to be churlish, I welcome the news, but wish they’d begin work now, rather than wait to get all the funds.

Comparing standard of stewardship between National Trust and Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Warm, sunny weather certainly gets you out and about. And so it was that last weekend we decided to visit all the memorials in Runnymede.

We’ve previously been to the Kennedy Memorial, Magna Carta Memorial and the Air Forces Memorial, all in Runnymede. We haven’t seen the newer memorials associated with the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, The Jurors, and Writ in Water. Hence our visit.

Starting with a cup of tea in the National Trust tea room, we walked to see The Jurors. With the aid of the explanatory leaflet we marvelled at Hew Locke’s artwork. Sitting in a mown field, there’s no specific path to it. Fine while dry, possibly not so good when wet underfoot.

The next memorial was the Kennedy Memorial, to which there’s a path with steps through woodland. A path with many steps is not ideal for push chairs and the like. The path has a very unkempt feel. The stone of the Kennedy Memorial needs a jolly good clean, and the visitor experience needs to be improved.

Then onto the Magna Carta Memorial. There’s no real path from one memorial to another, just across a field, which is uncomfortable to walk on, and likely to be worse in the wet.

Next it was onto another 800th anniversary Magna Carta memorial, this time, Writ in Water. Lovely concept that would have been improved had it not been made from exposed rough concrete. But, that’s my opinion. There’s no properly constructed path around the structure, again, shoddy execution.

Our final visit was through Cooper’s Hill Woods to the Air Forces Memorial. The path is in an appalling state, unkempt, exhibiting signs of benign neglect. It needs woodland management and a decent path. The Air Forces Memorial is in splendid condition. What a contrast between the National Trust’s stewardship and the CWGC. All the money the NT spent on the artworks, and yet failed to provide decent paths or upkeep of the important memorials, supposedly in their care.

CWGC stewardship is exemplary, which can’t be said for the National Trust. Here’s some photos of our visits. [Click on images to expand]

Visits update No.4: The National Trust’s Anglesea Abbey and Gardens

On our return home from the Norfolk Broads we stopped off at Anglesea Abbey. It’s a National Trust property, with extensive gardens and a working mill, of which later.

The house and gardens seemed popular with with families, perhaps, it being a sunny Sunday that, and being not far from Cambridge, was not unreasonable. Crowds are easily lost in the extensive gardens, with a number of optional  pre-planned walks. I should mention there’s an excellent spacious modern restaurant, another likely reason for its popularity.

The country  house, while not as large as some, is more accessible as a result; filled with fine furniture, paintings, statuary, and a remarkable collection of clocks.

Our conclusion, house, gardens, restaurant, all well worth a visit. Here are a few photos of the inside of the house and the gardens.

A magical bluebell wood at Hatchlands Park

I know I recommended places locally to see carpets of bluebells. Bad boy, I didn’t take my own advice, I received a recommendation from a friend that the National Trust’s Hatchlands Park in West Horsley was the place to go locally for a magical bluebell experience.

Gosh, they were spot on. We visited Hatchlands Park at the weekend and were amazed at the beauty of the bluebell woodland. I think the recent lack of rain has helped preserve them in all their glory. Oh, and being a National Trust property there was tea and cake for a post bluebell reminisce. [Click on photos to expand]

Combining the National Trust AGM with a visit to STEAM in Swindon

We attended the Annual General Meeting of the National Trust on Saturday. One of the attractions was its being held at STEAM – the museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon.

Not a lot to report on the National Trust AGM, other than the Trust is in a healthy position, – membership up, and conservation expenditure up. Oh, and there’s always some criticism from the membership – to be expected, I suppose, for such a large organisation.

Following the AGM, we were able to spend time in the STEAM Museum. It seems the standard of museums exhibitions has improved immeasurably in recent years. The aim now is to provide context around the major exhibits. I’d have liked longer in the museum, but you know what AGMs are like – too long, and seated uncomfortably, and then there’s the need for refreshment.

We both enjoyed STEAM, perhaps me a touch more than my wife. I’ll write more about our visit later including, hopefully, an interesting video perspective of a steam engine.

We stopped by a signal box exhibit, manned by a signalman, who invited me to pull the levers – and there were lots of them to pull – to move a goods train into a siding to let the Royal Train pass through the station. I passed and got a certificate. Good fun for a minor steam train-o-holic like me. Photo of me and the signalman, plus my certificate. [click on images to enlarge – that’s if you’re interested]

Here’s a place to visit for gardeners or lovers of looking at gardens

Look, I know we have peerless Wisley near us, but gardeners and those of us who enjoy visiting gardens like a bit of variety.

Yesterday we visited the National Trust’s Greys Court near Henley on Thames. While the house is of interest, as you’d expect from a National trust property, it’s Greys Court gardens that really are the surprise pleasure. I think we lost count of the different walled gardens, must be half-a-dozen, all approached by a gate from one garden to the another.  I guess it helps having the gardens in among ruins of earlier buildings.

Here’s a couple of photos – not sure they do justice to the gardens.