Spring 2017 Newsletter

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Chairman’s messageJackie Arnot

It’s a pleasure to be able to report on another successful year for our Supporters’ Group. We’ve had some excellent talks through the year and next year’s programme looks to be just as interesting. Please try to support these as we always get the best from our speakers when there are few empty seats! All our speakers mention that we are an excellent group to speak to and some comment on the “warm atmosphere” within the group. We include comments on our outings and delightful holiday in Cardiff later in the Newsletter, but “Thank You” to Paul for your organisation and also to all of you who have joined us on these occasions.

I’d like to give special thanks to everyone who came to the Cathedral Christmas Market and supported our stall. Our final total was around £900, the best ever. Thanks to Laurie for making his chutneys and marmalades (he tells me he makes them whilst Eileen is out at the hairdresser’s so may she continue to have beautiful hair!) Thanks go to Beryl for her flowers and decorations, Eileen for her “bits and pieces” and a great big “Thank You” to Olive and Thelma for their year of knitting, which proved a great draw. (A big success was their Choirboy Mice in their local purple robes, I suspect quite a few were popped into stockings!)

It has been good to allocate around £8,700 to National Trust projects in our East of England Region and we’ve been able to buy, or contribute to, many requests on their Wish List. We’ve had “Thank You” letters for:

  • A white-painted timber building on the corner of a streetbenches for the Walled Garden at Ickworth;
  • hand tools for volunteers and Trial & Time Lapse cameras at Essex Countryside;
  • Batwalk and tree winching equipment at Hatfield Forest;
  • a wWork platform and lighting for Grange Barn, Coggeshall; and
  • digital projector and garden signage for Lavenham Guildhall.

The letters assure us that our gifts are greatly appreciated and Alan can show you the letters at the AGM on Wednesday, 8 March, when we welcome Paul Forecast from the East of England Regional Office as our speaker. Please be especially kind to him as he has agreed to speak to us on his birthday!

Finally my thanks to the Committee for all their hard work during the year; most of them have “gone beyond the call” to cover illness etc. And to every one of you I’m grateful for your continued interest and support; we couldn’t function without you and I trust you’ve enjoyed your year with us. Please continue to offer your suggestions!

Jackie Arnot

2016 Group Holiday in CardiffReport by Alan and Jackie Arnot

Day 1: Monday

Everybody was ready with our driver, Marc, to leave promptly at 9 o’clock with an additional pick-up at Widford Church. We had a smooth run to Reading services for a short coffee break before turning off the M4 to head for our main stop at the “Elizabethan Jewel” of An Elizabethan mansionChavanage House, near Cirencester. It had been bought by, and passed on to, the Lawsley-Williams family. The lady of the house welcomed us and her husband gave us an amusing introductory talk while we enjoyed lunch in their renovated dining room. After lunch we were divided into two groups to avoid over-crowding. We joined the group which was led round the house by one of their daughters, who was a brilliant guide. Their dogs clearly loved being spoilt by visitors and one of them – a little black terrier – even tried to hitch a ride on our coach! Not surprisingly, the house had been used extensively as film sets, the latest being the Poldark series. Earlier productions included the House of Elliott, Larkrise to Candleford and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Marc, who was obviously also a keen photographer, got us back on the coach promptly, ready for our final run to our destination, the Holiday Inn in Cardiff. It was conveniently situated opposite the castle, ready for our trip the following day, with the towers of Cardiff Arms Park visible from the dining room at the back.

Day 2: Tuesday

After an excellent and filling breakfast, we made our way gingerly across the busy main road to the Castle entrance, where we waited while Paul went inside for our tickets. There was no guided tour booked, so, once inside, we were free to wander at will according to personal preferences. Most opted to start with the visual but non-lingual presentation upstairs of the history of the castle. Another attraction were the tunnels which were builtA view across water to a red brick building and a modern glass building inside the castle walls and which had been adapted as bomb shelters during WWII. Unfortunately the skies opened by lunch time and it was therefore a good excuse to forego climbing the many steps up to the castle keep and concentrate on the more recent additions to the castle. Their construction was mainly thanks to the wealthy but philanthropic Marquis of Bute, who had also purchased furniture, books and paintings (mainly portraits) for the inside. Eventually the buildings were taken over by Cardiff City Council; thick tomes of the minutes of their meetings were on display in the library! As if all this wasn’t enough, there was an interesting museum below ground dedicated to the Welsh Regiment.

The castle restaurant had an excellent selection for their lunch menu, which set us up nicely for our afternoon trip to the water front. Marc arrived promptly and we were given our first views of the highly-renovated City as we drove down to the drop-off point near the Welsh Assembly building. Various attractions were available: a Ferris wheel, giving excellent views of the quayside developments (pity about the weather!), the red-brick customs house and a wide selection of shops and eating places. Marc had agreed to pick us up for the drive back to the hotel but Jackie and I opted for the little ferry boat which took us up the river and dropped us off at the top of the Castle Park, with a short walk to the hotel.

Day 3: Wednesday

A large metal waterwheelAlan packed his case and returned to Chelmsford for the Town Twinning Celebrations at this point and the rest of us set off for the National Botanic Gardens of Wales in vastly improved weather. We all wandered off to see the sites which most interested us from the loos and coffee shop to the world’s largest single-span glasshouse with an amazing display of Mediterranean climate plants (said to be the best in the Northern Hemisphere). Many of us sat in the beautifully restored Double Walled Garden before strolling through the orchids in the Tropical House, or walked beside what is said to be one of Europe’s longest flower beds. An old, atmospheric chemist shop proved fascinating, many of us remembering items from our past like spoonfulls of “Codliver Oil & Malt”! Our trip gave us a general idea of the area, passing Swansea & Port Talbot and we were driven on to the Tinworks and Waterfall at Aberdulais which is a NT Property. The staff were very welcoming, providing us with Tea and Welsh Cakes in the old School House at the end of their busy day. We had time to see where, in 1584, copper was smelted in secret to provide coins for Elizabeth 1 to pay for her war with Spain. Everyone walked to the viewing points to see the spectacular waterfall as had artists Turner and Ruskin before us! We saw proof of the tin plating when Welsh tin was exported all over the world, sadly brought to a halt when the USA imposed heavy import duties. We were not surprised to discover that this site has won awards for excellence; we all felt we could have stayed longer.

Day 4 : Thursday

We’d been forecast showers but it was glorious all day, so umbrellas were left on the coach! Marc drove us to Castell Coch, a pretty amazing 19th century Gothic Revival, built on 13th century foundations by the 3rd Marquis of Bute who was one of Britain’s wealthiest men in 1848,Some red-brick castle turrets a keen Catholic and friend of Benjamin Disraeli. The building was completed in 1891 to be a summer residence (not exactly a summer cottage as it resembles a French castle!) The rooms were enthralling, all with specially crafted, hand-made furniture, the octagonal drawing room had Aesop’s Fables painted on the walls, a vaulted sunburst ceiling & the Three Fates above the fireplace. It was a climb to Lady Bute’s lavish bedroom decorated with monkeys, butterflies and crystal balls round her bed, but it was worth the effort! The incredible Banqueting Hall was covered in stencils on walls & ceiling resembling medieval manuscripts – one’s food would have gone cold just gazing at them! It’s a pity that one can’t stay for B&B or I’d book for a week! The only drawback was the accessibility of the levels which meant that not everyone was able to see everything.

Marc drove us on to 17th century Tredegar House, once owned by the Morgan family who seemed to own half of Wales, near Newport. Now the House is owned by the Newport Town Council but is on lease to the National Trust for 50 yrs from 2012. The ornate iron gates leading up to the front door are the ones shown in the introduction to BBC Antiques Road Show as the motor-bike and side-car sail through. In 1846 Charles Morgan was rewarded for supporting Disraeli and became Lord Tredegar who was known for his generous hospitality to neighbouring Welsh squires. An exhibition of the fall of the family, in particular Evan, Viscount Tredegar, proved fascinating viewing.

Day 5: Friday.

Everyone was up, packed, breakfasted and ready “for the off” by 9.30am prepared for a long day of travel, broken by a midday visit to Lydiard ParkA Victorian dining room with a mannequin dressed as a Victorian housekeeper near Swindon. We were given a conducted tour of both St Mary’s Church, one of England’s finest small churches, and the stunning Palladian house itself with a new exhibition of local people who had fought in the First World War and ornate plasterwork, original furnishings and portraits of the St John family. We lunched in the Forest Cafe and strolled in the tranquil Georgian Garden with colourful displays even this late in the season. I don’t think anyone made use of the playground but if they did there was plenty of climbing equipment to let off steam before re-boarding the coach! Marc heard that the M4 was at a standstill so he and Paul devised a route across country and we saw heavy rain clouds ahead of us all the way, but that's where they stayed amazingly and we avoided all the downpours the surrounding areas were enduring, arriving, as predicted, at 5.15pm having had a wonderful break in Cardiff and the super Welsh countryside.

Outing to Chatham DockyardReport by Alan Arnot

Kings Coaches had provided one of their larger coaches for our driver, Tim, to take the 52 of us without stopping to Chatham, arriving at the dockyard ten minutes before opening time. Obviously a lot of work had been done to the site during the summer, including a new surface on the car park. The entrance took us directly into the new covered area which housed models, displays and notes about the history of the dockyards. After refreshing ourselves with coffee we were able to exit into the outside areas where three vessels were open for visiting. Access to the sailing ship HMS Gannet was fairly easy but climbing the steep steps up to the captain’s deck of the warship HMS Cavalier was more tricky. The timed tickets to visit the submarine HMS Oberon had to be pre-purchased at the entrance because only small groups were allowed on the guided tour because of the cramped conditions on board. After negotiating the narrow openings between the upper floor of the “big space” various sections we were full of admiration for the crews that kept such vessels in service!

A ropewalkThe whole group had also been booked in to see the rope-making section. A very funny, but straight-faced, lady guide in period costume, gave us a commentary as if the year was 1875. The building was a quarter of a mile long and housed some of the original machinery but unfortunately was not working on this day. By lunch time the main restaurant was packed with visitors and service was consequently slow but we still had time to visit the rest of the huge site. As well as seeing the buildings which were used in the BBC1 “Call the Midwife” series, there was the impressive chapel, the officers’ houses and the lifeboat museum, housed in one of the original dry docks. There was time for a cup of tea before returning to our coach, just as the rain was starting!

Outing to the Theatre Royal, Bury St EdmundsReport by Alan Arnot

A theatre planThis was a one-coach, one-destination trip to round off the year. Our driver, John, took us non-stop to Bury St Edmunds and was able to drop us right outside the Theatre Royal, from where we walked through to the Greene Room (note the “e”) for coffee and biscuits. The manager welcomed us and thanked us for our donation which was to be used for improvements to the outside garden area. We were then divided into two groups ready for our guided tours. Our group, with Jackie acting as “tail-end Charlie”, climbed the many steps to the top of the theatre where we paused to get our breath back and listen to our guide explain the 200 years of the theatre’s history. Apparently it served as a barrel-storage area for the Greene-King Brewery across the road during the inter-war years, but at least the building was kept from total decay prior to its eventual restoration in the 1970s. We descended gradually to take in the Upper Circle, the Dress Circle and finally the Stalls, but the stage was out of bounds because the dancers were using it for rehearsal and warm-up exercises.

We had free time for lunch, so many of us took advantage of the Greene King Brewery restaurant across the road. There was even time for a quick walk into town. Jackie and I were able to go inside the impressive St Mary’s Church with its magnificent West window. It was then time for the main purpose of the visit – a performance of the ballet Romeo and Juliet, with music by Prokofiev. It was a brilliant display by the young dancers, with the story line following closely Shakespeare’s original script. Most notable in the music was the theme used as the introductory opening to The Apprentice. Ice creams during the interval further enhanced a most enjoyable occasion!

There was no chance of hanging around afterwards as John had arranged, with some difficulty, to pick us up right outside the theatre ready for the trouble-free ride home. The trip had been very different from our usual outings but memorable nonetheless.

The Last LaughShirley Deering

Making a wager can have surprise results

“Setting up a second-hand bookshop to raise extra funds for Maythorp House has been a complete failure. We don’t get any donations of quality books. Here’s a Warwick Deeping novel; he may have been all the rage in the twenties, but who reads him now? And here’s a Teach Yourself Italian book, who wants that, when they can buy a course on DVD or download one from the internet?”

“I think some people still prefer to use a book.”

“Huh, I’d like to meet one!”

Madeleine stared gloomily at the torrential rain lashing the shop window, then suddenly brightened.

“Actually, Carol, you may be right. This awful weather has just given me a brilliant idea for a sales pitch. Will you take a bet that I can sell that Italian Course to the next customer? If I fail I’ll treat us to a pot of tea and a slice each of that yummy homemade chocolate fudge cake they sell in the tea room, but, if I succeed, it’s your treat.”

“You’re crazy!” laughed Carol. “But go on, then; someone’s coming now.”

The woman approaching was enveloped from head to toe in a long shapeless raincoat; a waterproof hood covered her head and her feet were encased in sturdy lace-up shoes. A violent gust of wind tore the door from her grasp as she opened it and slammed it against an adjacent bookcase.

“Let me help you,” Madeleine cried, as she sprinted across the shop and seized the door. “What hideous weather. Now it’s starting to hail. You must stay in here till it calms down. We’re just going to have a cup of tea, please join us. Honestly, it’s no trouble, Carol was just about to put the kettle on, weren’t you Carol?”

“Absolutely,” said Carol, hurrying into the back room, while Madeleine found the woman a chair and hung up her wet coat.

Italian flag“Ah, here’s Carol with the tea and we’ve got some chocolate biscuits today. When the weather’s like this I wish I could jet off to somewhere hot and sunny. Italy would be my choice. Have you ever been there?”

“Yes, and I’m going again in September,” said the woman.

“Such a beautiful country, with so much history and culture,” said Madeleine. ”But the pleasure is greatly enhanced if you can speak the language. We have this excellent Teach Yourself book, which promises that anyone working through the exercises conscientiously should have a working knowledge of Italian in three months. It’s priced at £7 but I can let you have it at a bargain price of £5.”

The woman smiled and shook her head. “My mother was Italian, so I grew up speaking both Italian and English from infancy. I am going to stay with my cousin Lucia and her husband Mario at their vineyard near Naples. We shall be chattering away to each other non-stop, in Italian, of course.”

“Of course. What fun.”

Madeleine glared at Carol, who was grinning gleefully at her from behind the till.

“Well, it’s stopped raining, so I’ll get your coat and .......”

“But I want to see what you have on the shelves. Oh here’s a Warwick Deeping novel, my English grandmother’s favourite author. I often wish I had kept one of her books, in memory of dear Nana.”

A painting of a teapot and a cup of tea“Then why not take this?” said Carol. “It’s in mint condition so, when you look at it, you could picture your Nana having just brought it in from the bookshop and about to read it for the first time.”

“What a lovely idea. It’s marked £3 but you must let me give you £5 for it.”

“Most generous. The sun’s coming out, so I’ll help you with your coat. Hope you enjoy the rest of your visit to Maythorp House.”

“Thank you, you’ve both been so kind to me, I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.”

“We certainly shall. Then we’re going to the tea room for a pot of tea and a slice of their homemade chocolate fudge cake, Madeleine’s treat. That’s right, isn’t it Madeleine? Yum, yum!”

Bat walk

A painting of a batOver the years, the Chelmsford & District Supporters Group has been very generous in its gifts to Hatfield Forest. The latest gift helped pay for bat detectors to use on the ever-popular bat walks held over the summer for members of the public. We have been offered something even better, with the Learning Officer at The Forest, Tina Carter, who is willing to lead a walk in August (on a Monday or Friday) for members of the Group, both to demonstrate the equipment and to detect bats. Given the range of habitats at The Forest, all ten of the resident Essex bat species can be found! A date has yet to be arranged; instructions for obtaining additional information and booking are given in the version of the Newsletter posted to members.