So, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend and the great British public will be visiting the usual selection of attractions and beauty spots…
Well who am I to argue with that? A good excuse to get out with the camera, though with one or two other commitments this weekend I didn’t want to go too far, which is why I ended up at a National Trust property that I had hitherto neglected for no other reason than that is was too close. Just a few miles from pretty much every place I have lived.
Oh and it’s quite small. A few rooms, a compact garden, one or two outbuildings and a nature conservation area that you can circumnavigate in just a few minutes (if you choose to ignore the nature!). Of course as it’s spring nature is determined not to be ignored.
The property is the manor house of what was the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Hwæssaingatūn. The settlement was recorded in the Domesday Book, though the manor wasn’t begun until the century following the arrival of the Normans. Most of the present structure is 17th Century, though it is remarkable that it still stands at all given that once its most famous residents had sold it it was converted into cottages, with residents who allowed it to decay until it was no longer fit for human habitation. Left untouched as part of a farm for a further period it would probably have been completely demolished were it not for the efforts of a local teacher who campaigned for its restoration as an important historic site. Though Fred Hill began his work in the mid 1930’s, the intervening war years meant that the property wasn’t properly restored for another twenty years or so. The National Trust took ownership shortly afterwards.
Another twenty years after that and the significance of the property was marked by a visit by the then President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. The eagle sculptures in the garden hinting at the hall’s special relationship.
For some of my life I lived under a misunderstanding about the place.
Through comedy sketches that distorted history, and stories told with great, if misplaced authority by my father when we attended a wedding reception here, I thought that this garden was the one where Jimmy Carter’s predecessor had famously cut down an apple tree. The settlement is now known as Washington and hall was home to the family that produced the first President of the US. Unfortunately for my childhood version, George Washington never set foot in the place, his family having sold up some 200 years before his birth in Westmoreland County, Virginia!
A small detail when it comes to playing up the connection however, and if you’re around on the 4th of July each… expect to be reminded of it in style.