Saturday 21 June 2014 – Weston Park, Staffordshire.
As part of her job in the publishing world El gets invited to a few events, launches and openings throughout the year. Most of which she cannot attend – some just would not work for the magazine readership and some are just not timed right. Occasionally there is one that meets all the needs of her publication and is on a date that she is free and even more occasionally there is one where I am invited as well. This was one of those occasions – and what a lovely occasion it was too!
Weston Park is an old English manor house set in a thousand acres of lovely Staffordshire countryside in the English midlands. The park is open to the public and already has a popular cafe and restaurant. They are planning a proper English afternoon tea offering in the manor house soon, one of the reasons for the press event. A proper English tea is not just a cuppa and a biscuit; it is a real event with sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, little cakes – and of course there is loads of tea (no coffee !!)
Weston Park was gifted to Britain in 1986 and is now run by a private trust, it is not part of the large National Trust estate, though it is run on similar lines and is largely open to the public. The main manor house itself is not often open to stay in – though it is available for weddings, parties and corporate events, so it is a rare opportunity to be able to stay there the night.
Weston Park is now most famous for being the site for the massive V music festival, though in the past it has held rounds of the Northern Ireland peace talks and the G8 summit.
We left London a bit late after some faffing on the platform at Euston while a train driver was found, though we did arrive reasonably on time at Stafford station. El and I were collected with five others by a taxi-van that took us out to Weston Park, about a half an hour drive from the station. The park is surrounded by five and half miles of wall, and we seemed to drive round all of it in the journey, it just kept on going and going ! But once we got there is was pretty wow ! While I have visited a few manor houses and small castles on my travels I have never had the opportunity to stay in one over night so was quite excited about the prospect.
Construction of the main house was started in the 1670’s, under the design and guidance of the lady of the house Lady Wilbraham and built in the popular restoration style. The house has been changed significantly over the years with the front door and reception area being moved and a whole new wing added from the 1860s. The last major changes to the structure of the house.
The house was open to the public when we arrived and as we are staying the night we were allowed to cross into the roped off area and head upstairs to our room.
We stayed in the ‘Church’ room at the back of the house with a view to Weston Church next door as well as out over one of the gardens – and the roof of the Orangery.
The room was massive and the bathroom was almost the size of my flat ! It was comfortable, though the bed was a bit short for me.
After settling in we had canapés and juice by one of the gardens outside the orangery and met the other guests, mostly similar to us – a writer and their partner.
We also met the people who ran the house who soon took us on an interesting tour of the building and told us about the history of both the area and the families who lived there. This included a walk through the old stables building and on to the main public areas outside.
After a very nice afternoon tea we were allowed to wander around the house and gardens and have a general explore on our own. As this was after the public opening times all the rope barriers had been removed and we could go where we liked. It was very interesting, and quite different to be able to look and touch things that are normally out of reach.
The library – though the books were all locked in, some are incredibly old – and very interesting looking.
The drawing room. I had not noticed on visits to other houses, but the library was very masculine and the drawing room very feminine. I had not realised there was a clear definition between rooms before.
The dining room, where we had our evening meal. As part of the major refit in the late 1800s the dining room was created by removing the first floor and a load of walls to create this lovely large space. I ate my dinner sitting in front of an original Van Dyke portrait of Sir Thomas Hanmer from 1637. I have never eaten a meal in front of a masterpiece before ! It is the bottom left painting.
Dinner was preceded by bubbles outside in the sun over looking another of the gardens as well as an interesting event where we were all 360degree scanned so a 3d model can be printed, though these were not printed on site as they take a long time and we are waiting to see ours.
The meal was fabulous, five lovely courses, matched with lovely wines. Heavenly! This was followed by coffee and port in the library and then sleep.
After breakfast El and I went for a walk around the back of the house, through a small gate.
Into one of the free public areas. This used to be a working farm and I liked these derelict sheds we found,
Before walking back to the house around a small pond.
After our walk it was time to go on the official walk with the head gardener. He is the third generation of his family to have worked on the estate, so he knew it pretty well. He was a very interesting man, and has a major passion for the estate and ensuring that the vision of the original developers is maintained. The core of the estate was planned and built around a design by ‘Capabilty’ Brown in 1765. Capability Brown is a famous (I have discovered) gardener and landscaper and was involved in some of the most famous gardens in England.
We walked up to the temple to Diana – the goddess, not the late princess !
After lunch at the public restaurant it was time to catch a ride back to Stafford and jump, heavily with full bellies after thirty six hours of eating, on to the train back to London.
The following day was an Audi hosted function and as we were leaving the Audis were starting to arrive. I was hoping they were going to be a parting gift !
It was a great night away, the house and gardens are beautiful and the people who run the show are very knowledgeable and engaging. Thanks 🙂