Archive for June, 2014


The guest blogger has been galivanting around on holiday and has decided to tell us a bit about it.


I recently had a week away down in Dorset staying in a place right on the south coast.

It’s quite a long journey (nearly 300 miles) and on the way down I decided to have a break overnight in order to visit one of those historical abbey places. (There was no point arriving at my destination before 3pm on Saturday because I couldn’t get the keys to my place before then.)

It was a fairly good run. I had my pre-packed lunch at a motorway services and arrived at Lacock Abbey, which is about 30 miles east of Bath, by mid afternoon. Here’s a front view.


This place was built by the Countess of Salisbury (a lady called Ela, b.1187) as a nunnery and dates from 1232 – yep not far off 800 years old!

Ela, Countess of Salisbury is an interesting character. You remember we’ve had 8 kings called Henry in the UK – well we’re going back to Henry II (b.1133, reigned 1154-89) for our connection. One of the most famous incidents associated with Henry II was concerning his chancellor Thomas Becket who rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry II claimed ancestral rights over the church and as we know Thomas Becket refused to accept this. Becket punished priests who had cooperated with Henry and, shortly after, Becket was murdered by knights loyal to the king who had heard him exclaim: “Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (Take your pick on turbulent, troublesome or meddlesome as there seems to be no concensus.)

Henry II had an illegitimate son – William Longespée (c.1176-1226). He was married to Ela (by  his half-brother Richard I) in 1198 according to the info board in the Abbey (although other sources say 1196). Now just check back a few lines for her birth year. How old was Ela when she got married? – Yep that’s right 11 years old! (And he was 20.) Hard for us to imagine in today’s world isn’t it? They eventually had 4 sons & 5 or 6 daughters depending on which source you read. I guess Ela didn’t have much of a childhood although the first child was not born until she was about 25 yrs old. Sadly after giving birth to 10 children over a period of 14 years she was widowed (in 1226) after which she became a nun and, following the founding of the abbey, she became its Abbess.

Shortly after entering, this is the view from the walkway round the cloister. (Cloister btw comes from the Latin claustrum meaning “enclosure” and refers to an enclosed space surrounded by covered walkways.)


Now it wasn’t long before I came across a really famous connection to the modern day. Check this out.


And close by


I presume those of you who know the Harry Potter films may recognise it but as I’ve never seen them I didn’t! Someone made a short video of some of the areas around the abbey that have been used in the HP films. If you fancy it click on this link:

Incidentally if you’re into TV/film locations parts of the village of Lacock itself have been used in a number of period dramas over the years: Pride and Prejudice, Moll Flanders, Emma, The Mayor Of Castorbridge.

Anyway back to the cauldron – it was made in Antwerp (Belgium) in 1500 but how it came to Lacock Abbey is uncertain. You may be able to see – between the pot’s legs and the stone pillar on the right – what looks like a rectangular stone bath. It was carved from a single block of limestone and they think it may have been used for storing live fish or salting meat.

In the kitchen area was this fantastic table with, as you can see, with what seems to be an extension added to end nearest the camera.


I checked the frame underneath and there didn’t seem to be a break in it so I wasn’t too sure what had caused the odd design on top. Everything about it said “I’ve been here a long time and thousands of meals have been eaten on me”, or something like that. You get the idea. If there was a division of those sitting around for meals I presumed the repaired end would definitely be below the salt.

Also in the kitchen was this early form of “shopping list”.


I’m not sure alphabetically is the best way to do the list as certain things for instance on the cleaning side would seem better together as well as putting all the food items together. If you enlarge it you can see some of the items they chose from and some of the markers. In the list it’s interesting to see some of the more unfamiliar things (to us) they reckoned they might need: bathbrick, blue, borax, candles, capers, dentifrice, emery, hearthst (what’s this?), hollow ware, gas mantles, 5 types of polish, 3 types of soap etc.

Next the dumb waiter


And the servants’ room indicator board to tell them where to hurry off to – any one of 15 rooms shown.


Ever fancy being a dairy maid? Well here is the list her duties at Lacock Abbey. Just try and take in how much she was expected to do and ask yourself whether you could do it?


Wow, guess you’ve just changed your mind, eh?

A bit further on and you come to the library area with this piano.


I’ve enlarged the maker’s name because it turned out to be very interesting.


Sometimes you come across something by accident; you were there to look at something else and another object catches your eye. Well this happened to me with this piano. Surely it was just a grand 

piano in big stately home and maybe quite expensive. Well yes it was both those things but somehow the way the name had been done, the design of the whole thing said to me there must be more to it something more interesting. I didn’t, at the time, realise quite how interesting. I decided to find out a bit more. I had worked in the removals business for a number of years and moved many pianos but I’d never come across the guy who made this one – John Broadwood. Who was he? How successful was he?

The info from the piano manufacturer is quite detailed: it is made from rosewood, ivory & ebony and  described as “a model number 8 cottage grand pianoforte in rosewood c to a screw pin piece, finished 5th March 1870.” Curiously the original purchaser was a guy called the Reverend Edmund Bucknall Estcourt, Rector of Eckington, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire nowhere near Lacock. It was transported to Eckington by train. They even know the names of the four workmen who built it: Angold (casemaker), Darling (marker-off), Dove (action finisher) & Johnson.   

The curious thing is that no-one seems to know how it came to be at Lacock.


Now although I’m no expert I can recognise when something is very well designed and made. It’s a bit like asking if you can tell the difference between an ordinary car and a Rolls-Royce for example. Of course you can see the quality in a Rolls and likewise you can see that special quality in the Broadwood. Further research told me the firm IS today Pianoforte Manufacturers to our very own Queen Elizabeth II. They have one of those “By Appointment to..” badges at the top of their page. Not only that but in history they were also manufacturers to the following: King George II, George III, George IV, William IV, Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra, King George V, Queen Mary & King George VI. What about that for a client list? But it doesn’t stop there! In 1840 Queen Victoria & Prince Albert made music with Mendelssohn, at Buckingham Palace, on a Broadwood grand piano; Chopin used Broadwood grands on his tour of Britain in 1848; in 1878 Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones received a Broadwood, as did textile designer, poet & novelist William Morris, Arthur Conan Doyle & Edward Elgar; Liszt played a Broadwood on his last visit to Britain in 1886; and the Royal Yacht Britannia had a number of Broadwoods over the years;

Prince Charles & Lady Diana accepted a Broadwood grand at Kensington Palace as a present in 1981. Now that’s an impressive list by anyone’s standards! I also began to realise why I’d never come across or even seen one of these things before. So remember the name – if you come across it you’re moving in very elevated company (or maybe you’re at a National Trust property like me!)



And it’s “Wow” again (although not on the piano scale this time)! I’ve never seen one where not only is the mirror split but because of the way the bottom section is framed means there are actually two frames going round the lower 2/3 of the whole thing. Talk about ornate.

Out to the last room which was really the entrance hall leading out to that fantastic dual staircase approach to the front door you can see in the first pic. Lots of pics on the wall but the ceiling caught my eye


I couldn’t get the whole lot in but this gives you an idea. Each of the squares up there has a family crest inside – but whose? Well apparently when the place was bought by John Talbot he built this bit in about 1754-56. The family crests, I was told by the staff, were of the ones he invited to the first meal in the hall. Must have been quite a job to do every one across the whole length of the curved ceiling.

Outside there was just time to go round the brewery built some time after William Sharington bought the house in 1539 following its seizure during the period of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (by Henry VIII). (Of course not only were monasteries dissolved but also priories, convents, friaries, nunneries.) NT believe this is probably the earliest country house brewery to survive. The person who was in charge of the brewery was called a “Brewster” (so now you know where that surname comes from) and traditionally it was a woman from the household. Following the introduction of hops to Europe in the 16th cent it’s likely the brewery made beer rather than ale.

The place was closing soon so I headed off to my overnight stop in nearby Melksham but planned to return to the village in the morning, before heading south, as there was quite a bit more to see. (Part 2 next week).


“I’d lifted my right leg slightly….”


Where to start with something as epic and all-consuming as How To Lose A Girl In Ten Ways, which I couldn’t take my head out of and finished in a day?


Mr. Smithson does not beat around the bush with his debut offering. In fact, he actively invites you into the bush…. o god. Pun not intended but it’s staying in as it’s rather apt.

Let’s just have a little look at a few of the methods that Mr. Smithson recommends we employ to lose a girl.

#1 Totally misread the situation
#2 Turn up with a guy who has more money than you
#4 Watch porn
#6 Try to sleep with her best friend
#9 Order the hot wings before your date

And how, you might ask, has he become such an expert on girl-losing?

Now, maybe it’s the fear of an ordinary life or low confidence levels, but Mr. Smithson continues to find himself (read: put himself) in pretty crazy situations when it comes to women. And luckily for him, it makes for a great story!

We silently thank the girl who responds to his advances on the bus because he can then tell us about how he ends up in the hotel lobby, casually urinating on the carpet while booking a room (the receptionist doesn’t realise it’s happening – Sean is the master of stealth).

We love that the posh girl noticed Mr. Smithson and liked him enough to take him home, because then he got to tell us about how he ruined the evening with porn.

And yet, we are shocked when he does tell us about it. We are incredulous about the offhand manner in which he announces, “Within seconds, I’d managed to shit myself” and goes on to describe his barecheeked dash for the sink to clean away the ‘evidence.’ We are outraged, on behalf of women everywhere, about how he drunkenly approaches a girl’s best friend, having already slept with the girl. We are disgusted at the regularity with which this man frequents strip clubs.

But then, you know what? We’re actually not. We love him. We love the ridiculous madness that ensues when he has had a drink*. We love that he spends so long holding a grudge against a stripper, who then turns her attention to him, and within a second, he’s in love with her. We love his self-awareness, his willingness to point out his least desirable qualities to us. And he’s certainly not afraid to tell us about hookers.

* A sober Mr. Smithson, I’m led to believe, is quite a different story. Well-spoken, well-dressed and rather handsome, is the rumour?

Every so often, someone comes along and tells a story so well that they could be telling you anything and you’d read it. You’d read it if it were about the rules of golfing or the intricacies of computer programming.

Sean Smithson is one of those people. Of course, his material is fantastic and you can’t help but gasp when told about the right-leg-raising during the shit-himself escapade. But he is also a fantastic story-teller. He could write anything and people would want to read it.