Friday 28th August 2015
This morning we left our Premier Inn home in Chippenham in the southern Cotswolds to drive north to the Midlands to our one night Premier Inn home in Wolverhampton North near Birmingham. Along the way we stopped off at the very ancient Church of the Virgin Mary in Tewkesbury which was a Saxon site in the C9th and Dominican Abbey prior to the Reformation with the church consecrated in 1121. The Abbey survived Henry V111’s predations because the town of Tewksbury paid him off for the sum of 453 pounds (the cost of the lead and the bells!).
T S Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets,
You are not here to verify,
or inform curiosity
ore carry report.
You are here to kneel where prayer has been been valid
As soon as I walked into Tewkesbury Abbey this is how I felt. In many of the churches we have visited I have found myself “reporting” on this or that or seeking to “instruct myself” about this or that bit of history, art or architecture. Here in Tewkesbury Abbey with its massive round Romanesque columns and simple, stately architecture I felt strongly that people had been praying in this place for a very long time indeed. So here I did pray ..for peace in our troubled world and for peace in my own heart.
The C17th organ in this Abbey today was allegedly played by John Milton. He was someone else who loved beauty and peace and I felt a kindred spirit with him today as yesterday at Stourhead House where Milton was twice honoured in the library. This church has everything, remarkable painted ceilings, naughty misericords, wonderful roof bosses, a tiny Dominican prayer place, a Raphael painting in the Lady Chapel (Madonna del Posseggio) and some wonderful new stained glass windows. It is indeed a place of prayer and peace.
Travelling on up the M5 we turned off at Wolverhampton to find our place of rest and to explore Wightwick Manor House, the newest house ever bought by the National Trust in 1947 (at which time the house was only fifty years old. ) There has been a house on the site since at least the Doomsday book as it is noted there. In the 1600s a wooden manor house was built and remains still exist in the Malthouse today.
The current house was built in 1887 by Theodore Mander and his wife Flora and they doubled its size in 1893. Mander was an industry king (industrial paints for vehicles), a politician, Lord Mayor and highly decorated public figure. He was also an aesthete and together with his wife they set to recreate the perfect “Tudor House” (architect Edward Ould) and formal garden down to the last detail complete with tiny set windows in odd places, a secret staircase from the front reception room to an upstairs bedroom if Flora didn’t like the person who came to the front door, a huge baronial hall with a balcony, two large staircases, room after rambling room with large fireplaces and much more besides.
Both the Manders and their son Geoffrey and his wife Rosalie were also strongly influenced by the Arts and Craft movement, and Victorian art in general and were avid collectors of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian artwork. Each room with one exception is wall papered with William Morris designs and significant artworks are found on every wall (probably the largest Pre-Raphaelite collection in one place in England). Works by Burne-Jones (including Love Among the Ruins), Millais (including the scandalous portrait of Mrs Effie Ruskin painted at the time they fell in love when Millais was staying with the Ruskins in Scotland), Ford Madox Brown, and many paintings by Pre-Raphaelite women including Lucy Madox Brown, Evelyn de Morgan (the amazing Flora), Lizzie Saddal, May Morris, and Marie Spatali Stillman.
In addition the house contains two early and rare copies of the Kelmscote printed Chaucer and there are many fine examples of William De Morgan tiles. It would take a whole day to explore this house and garden. We gave it three hours and found it to be another very restorative experience, not unlike Stourhead the previous day. The National Trust in Britain has done a brilliant job with both properties.