A day out in England

Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire.

Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire.

Living as we do in the semi-independent city state of Liverpool, Sarah and I enjoy the occasional day out in England. Having been some time since we visited the grand nob house of Chatsworth for Sarah’s birthday today we motored through Cheshire and, just, into Staffordshire to visit the gardens at Biddulph Grange, between Congleton and Stoke.

Biddulph Grange04

In 1896, before the house burned down.

Not quite a nob house this one as it was bought by Robert and Maria Bateman in 1840 from ill-gotten coal and steel money. But they never did hold on to this money long enough to do enough crawling to become ennobled, and therefore ‘nobs’ – as they spent all they had on building their garden and stocking it with pilfered exotic specimens from all over the world.

Having passed to someone else, the house mostly burned down in 1896 and was rebuilt the following year in imitation of Queen Victoria’s Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, only the two end blocks visible at the top of the post surviving from the original house.

Rebuilt in 1897.

Rebuilt in 1897.

After that it spent most of the 20th Century being an orthopaedic hospital (at first charmlessly called the North Staffordshire Cripples’ Hospital). And the garden was left neglected and overgrown, like a secret.

In recent years though, the National Trust have got hold of the garden, restored it and rebuilt it where they had to, and now it’s considered the finest example of a Victorian garden in England.

The National Trust only have this, one of the original parts of the house.

The National Trust only have this, one of the original parts of the house.

The rest has been privately split into nine apartments.

This part though was never stripped out by the hospital .

This part though was never stripped out by the hospital .

and remains as it was in the mid-19th century.

And remains as it was in the mid-19th century.

Splendidly detailed, though eventually in need of some repair.

Splendidly detailed, though eventually in need of some repair.

An original doorplate.

An original and intricate doorplate.

Even some original Victorian wallpaper hiding in a corner.

Even some original Victorian wallpaper hiding in a corner.

And look at the fireplace.

And look at the fireplace.

Marble.

Marble.

All shown to us by easily the friendliest National Trust person I've ever come across. Thank you.

All shown to us by easily the friendliest National Trust person I’ve ever come across. Thank you.

As you may know, I’ve previously had little time for the National Trust, considering them virtually a wing of the Conservative Party (conserving a version of England none of us lot ever lived in etc etc). But anyway, let’s move on.

And get outside.

And get outside.

To explore the garden.

To explore the garden.

Now by normal nob house standards this garden is reasonably compact. Split into small sections and containing more than a few follies.

Extravagantly maintained yew hedging.

Extravagantly maintained yew hedging.

Everywhere leading through secret doorways.

Everywhere leading through secret doorways.

To other parts of the Batemans' vision.

To other parts of the Batemans’ vision.

Plenty of seats. This one particularly beautiful.

Plenty of seats. This one particularly beautiful.

Looking down the Lime Avenue.

Looking down the Lime Avenue.

On a warmer day than in mid-February books and sketch pads would have been brought here and we’d have stayed an hour on that seat. Today we walk on.

The house across the lake.

The house across the lake.

Then turning another corner we're in China.

Then turning another corner we’re in China.

I told you there were follies here. We are in fact in a Willow Pattern version of China.

Popular on plates in England from the late 18th century onwards.

Popular on plates in England from the late 18th century onwards.

Complete with bridge.

Complete with bridge.

As on your mother's best china.

As on your mother’s best china.

Bells and ducks.

Bells and ducks.

Gold at that.

Gold at that.

Even more gold.

Even more gold.

And look!

It's the great wall of China.

It’s the Great Wall of China!

And just wait, there’s still Egypt to come.

But first, a stumpery.

But first, a stumpery.

With snowdrops.

With snowdrops.

And linking most places.

And linking most places.

The Dahlia walk.

The Dahlia walk.

All beds intensively planted with what you'd expect. Plus tulips.

All beds intensively planted with what you’d expect. Plus tulips.

And I warned you about this.

Welcome to Egypt.

Welcome to Egypt.

The English Empire version that's mainly about robbing  from the Pyramids.

The English Empire version that’s mainly about robbing from the Pyramids.

Sarah stops to say hello.

Sarah stops to say hello.

Before being frightened by the Giardian of the Tombs inside.

Before being frightened by the Guardian of the Tombs inside.

And on the garden meanders.

And on the garden meanders.

We imagine Robert and Sarah Bateman, after a few drinks each Christmas, sniggering about which extra bit they’ll get built this year. Until by 1861 they’ve only got enough money left to keep the Kensington house going (and not the Kensington in Liverpool). Poor souls.

But their garden’s restored now and with us again.

And full of monkeys.

And full of monkeys.

Well fifteen anyway.

All carefully recorded by Sarah.

All carefully recorded by Sarah.

For her ongoing ‘Monkey Map’ of all known monkey puzzle trees. (In fact a single-day record total of twenty six monkeys is gathered today. Many as we pass through Congleton. A top monkey town by any standards). Sarah’s parallel post to this one, all about monkeys, is here.

And more interesting trees.

And more interesting trees.

Many planted on mounds like this so we can see their roots, see the whole tree.

The gardener has had a lovely day out in England and is very happy.

The gardener has had a lovely day out in England and is very happy.

And I enjoyed it too, despite my general feelings about the National Trust and the £15 it cost us to get in. Days out in England can be a pricey do, but occasionally we all need a holiday.

By the way, I haven’t shown them on here but there were a good number of children in the garden and every one of them appeared to be having not merely a good time but a great time. It’s full of secret magic, surprise paths to run off along and dark tunnels to scream in. So there was none of that obediently sullen trudging that many a visitor attraction causes. And don’t bring them in their best clothes because there’s mud as well!

 

National Trust details for Biddulph Grange garden here. See, I can be a public service when I want to be.

Sarah’s parallel post to this one, all about monkeys, is here.

8 thoughts on “A day out in England

  1. radicalrambler

    Amazing. I took my dad there about 10 years ago, though I can’t remember that much about it. More memorable was the morning we spent at the Little Moreton Hall on the way to Biddulph Grange.

    Reply
  2. Cathy Alderson

    Great pics, Ronnie. That’s inspired me to take a trip there this Spring. “North Staffs Cripples Hospital”? Dear me! Terrible labels we used to use!

    My Nanny was in “The Home For Invalid Women” in Upper Parliament Street before she died, in 1965. The dictionary lists Invalid as – “Not valid; not true, correct, acceptable or appropriate.” Oy!!

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Sarah reckons about the end of April that central walk will be full of tulips. They’ve got thousands of them planted up.

      And I remember when I was little and we lived in Diana Street, the other side of Stanley Park, there was an old lady used to look after me and my mum always said ‘Lily’s an invalide (said like it’s French word) so you behave!’ I didn’t know what that was and so would look out for signs of illness or difference but could only see that Lily was obviously old. So I decided that’s what invalide must mean.

      Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      No, it was £15 for the pair of us. £20, I think, for a ‘family’. They also try to get you to ‘gift aid’ them – a higher price – or join. Sarah handled all the entrance negotiations to avoid the, no doubt, volunteers being subjected to my ‘The trouble with the National Trust’ rant!

      Reply
  3. jbaird

    Beautiful restoration. I am glad you monkeyed around the garden grounds! Thanks for sharing this with us. I was in the British Museum in London once and saw the Elgin marbles, many if not all being pilfered from their natural origins. The Chinese bridge reminds me of the one in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The park doesn’t have an outdoor Egyptian display, but that’s probably just as well. x

    Reply

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