Mrs Hudson's Top Tips
MRS HUDSON GOES FOR A RIDE
It was our iron age ancestors who first domesticated horses, and they have been our constant companions ever since. Heritage places are a great way to have an encounter with horses. Go to horse trials or a polo match, watch a joust, seek out stables or very occasionally still find horses kept as they always were. Here are my Top Ten.
Audley End: Horses through History 30 April – 1 May 2017
I’m a horse lover so I had to get to the old stables at English Heritage’s Audley End in Essex to enjoy them still in use. Audley End is one of England’s great prodigy houses built for the Earl of Suffolk to impress James I. The house is smaller now but still of astonishing magnificence but don’t miss the Victorian stables. Here you can meet the horses and watch them exercise but also get hands on, try out saddles, dress up and see what it was like for a Victorian stable boy living above the stables. Over the May bank holiday there is a special weekend for horse lovers with displays, a Victorian gymkhana and plenty of horsemanship to enjoy.
Woburn Abbey: Carriage Tours April 2017
A special treat in April might be a pre-booked carriage tour around the grounds of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire. Setting off from the North Courtyard, you are starting on the spot where the estate blacksmith used to work. Travelling in a landau, a convertible carriage first introduced in the 1740s so exactly contemporary with the Palladian rebuilding of Woburn Abbey, you have views across the parkland, largely the creation of the 6th Duke of Bedford in the first decade of the 19th century. Landaus, here drawn by a pair of horses from the Woburn stables, are vis-à-vis, in other words you face the other passengers and can converse, so they were very popular from 1800 to around 1840 and are still used by the royal family for state occasions today.
Catton Hall: National Carriage Driving Championship 6 & 7 May 2017
If you would rather stand and watch carriages fly by, then try the thrill of a carriage driving competition. The National Carriage Driving Championships at Catton in Derbyshire make good use of the parkland surrounding this handsome brick house of 1745, built by Smith of Warwick. The competition is on the lines of any horse trials with dressage, a Marathon cross country course and the Cone Obstacle course, all requiring horse drawn carriages to demonstrate thrills, speed and skill. Catton Hall itself is open only on Bank Holiday and August Mondays, for a chance to enjoy these elegant 18th century rooms filled with family and royal portraits and a collection of Grand Tour paintings. It was home to Anne-Beatrix Wilmot-Horton whose youthful loveliness in a sequined black velvet ball dress inspired the poet Lord Byron’s famous line, “She walks in beauty, like the night”.
Rockingham Castle: International Horse Trials 19-20 May 2017
Another horse trials event early in the year, this time for riders, is held at Rockingham Castle over the weekend of 19/20 May. Rockingham was a royal castle until sold to the Watson family in 1544. You enter the castle through the best preserved 13th century gatehouse in Britain which dominates the surrounding parkland. The Watson family still live here and watching the horse trials in the Great Park is not only a marvellous spectacle but reminds you of both the medieval hoofbeats that once rang out here and of the battles of the Civil War which raged around the castle in the 1640s. There will be showjumping, dressage and cross country, plenty of stalls for a bit of shopping and a wide choice of food and drink. You can even enter your trusty dog in the canine competition!
Peover Hall: The Stables
As stables fell out of use, many were converted and reused for offices, garages and housing. To find an unaltered stable is special and one of the very best is the stable at Peover Hall in Cheshire. These stables were built in 1654 when Oliver Cromwell was in charge and they are just the same today. The Peover horses had rather grand quarters. The stables were built in brick as a gift from the owner to her son, Thomas Mainwaring who went on to be an MP and a baronet after Charles II’s restoration. The stalls are fronted by an elaborate carved screen and the ceiling of each is decorated with plasterwork friezes and flowers. So Peover’s horses lived in surroundings almost as luxurious their owners; Peover Hall is a largely Tudor house with fine 17th and 18th interiors all set in an inspiringly planted Arts & Crafts garden.
Bolsover Castle: Cavalier Horsemanship
William Cavendish was Master of Horse to Charles II and we have him to thank for introducing the continental art of dressage to Britain. His important book A General System of Horsemanship, published in exile in 1658 describes the complex moves of ‘riding art’ which were practised in Cavendish’s Riding House at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire. This airy building still survives and is the finest example of its kind in Europe on which all subsequent dressage arenas were based. Better still, at weekends through the summer you can see Cavalier Horsemanship displays of dressage complete with costumed riders in beplumed hats. English Heritage own Bolsover and have recently restored the walk around the walls from where you can look back over the Fountain Garden and far over the surrounding countryside to the Vale of Scarsdale.
Dalmeny House: Racing
Horse racing has always been the sport of kings. In the 19th century, the Prime Minister Lord Rosebery was just as obsessed as his contemporaries and he married into another great racing dynasty, the Rothschilds. In his career as a race horse owner, his horses won 11 classic races including three Derby winners. His son, the 6th Earl, inherited his passion and went on to breed a string of famous horses, winning over 500 races and 5 classics. At the Roseberys’ home, Dalmeny House in Lothian, you can step straight back into those great days. For a start, the house is fronted by a magnificent bronze statue of King Tom, the Derby winner of 1871, and the 6th Earl’s sitting room is kept just as it was when he died in 1974 – full of lists of mares and foals and collection of paintings of horses, jockeys and the Turf.
Arundel Castle: International Jousting & Medieval Tournament 25 – 30 July 2017
Jousting tournaments were where medieval knights had a chance to show off their skills as riders and mounted warriors. At Arundel Castle in Sussex for a week in July we all have the chance to relive some of those most exciting medieval contests. This jousting tournament fought by knights in full plate armour will be fierce, competitive and noisy. It will be impossible not to back one team against another; to which side will you grant your favour? Knights are based in a medieval style encampment supported by men-at-arms and the whole event will be enlivened by a host of craft displays, including armour making and fletching, have-a-go archery and entertainment. Arundel Castle is an astonishing setting, a complete medieval castle restored in the 19th century and has been home to the influential Dukes of Norfolk for nearly 1000 years.
Hovingham Hall: The Riding House
In Yorkshire, Thomas Worsley had two abiding hobbies, horses and architecture. At his home at Hovingham Hall we can see the results of his interests financed by a successful career as a courtier. From the minute you arrive in the village of Hovingham, you see the imposing front of Worsley’s stables and riding house, completed in about 1770 to his own design. A Riding House of this scale was not unusual in a Palladian house but few survive and in this one, Thomas Worsley is reputed to have taught a young George III to ride. Hovingham today has exceptional 18th century interiors and a fine collection of paintings and sculpture; visit in June.
Cowdray House: Polo Grounds
For over 100 years, the game of polo has been played in the grounds of Cowdray House, Sussex by the Cowdray Park Polo Club. There are polo marches most weekends through the summer, an engaging way to spend a summer afternoon, not just for watching the highly trained polo ponies compete but because spectators get involved by stamping in the divots knocked out of the turf by the flying hooves of the riders as they wheel and turn. Cowdray House is a Tudor mansion destroyed by fire in 1793. Though open to the skies, the ruins are spectacular and set the imagination working as you trace the kitchens, storerooms and Buck Hall. Don’t miss the interesting visitor centre and shop.