So Henry VIII dissolves the monasteries (some believe his erratic behaviour to be the result of head injuries sustained in jousting) and in doing so gives a plot of land and a small church to his ally Sir Francis Bryan, who realises a quick profit within a year and shortly afterwards the property comes into the hands of the Dryden family, who with a ready supply of stone available from the former priory construct an Elizabethan manor house.
Virtually unchanged since the 18th Century it was bought, in a state of some decay, by the National Trust about 30 years ago.
Now one of my biggest frustrations as a Trust member is to arrive at a property and find it closed (like my trip to Speke Hall on Merseyside). At this time of year it’s virtually inevitable. The parks and gardens may still be accessible, but most of the great houses are closed, their artefacts carefully wrapped and their furniture smothered in dust covers.
It’s an unavoidable fact that such properties need a lot of care, and of course the best time to do this is when visitor numbers would be at a natural low so the conservators, decorators and restorers can work without interruption and without risk of accidental damage to other contents. As they do so I fume with frustration.
But I was pleasantly surprised at Canons Ashby House. Not only was it opened up in a state of semi-undress but the Trust had produced a room by room guide to the restoration and preservation work needed; the waxes used to polish and protect silverwares, the ponytail brushes for dusting the numerous art works, the checks against insect damage and the five-year inspection cycle for the books in the library.
I was fascinated by the great wooden sideboard which apparently is Spanish with a later English bench top, but in doing so completely missed what was one of the most significant features in the same room. A framed embroidered coat of arms on green baize is mounted over the piece of furniture.
The Board of the Green Cloth was an official committee who met to audit the expenditure of the Royal Household, and was named after the covering of the table at which they sat. The arms on this example are those of William and Mary who reined in the late 17th Century. The cloth is extremely rare, there being only one other example in existence now. Naturally it is in the possession of the monarchy, so how the Dryden family came to possess another is rather questionable.
It was fascinating to learn more, yet still have access to the property. The pictures below give a sense of what was on show and what was covered. The real surprises came after I ventured upstairs, but more of that tomorrow.