Report on U3A History Group Visit to Boscobel House and Wightwick Manor

On a warm, sunny day, 38 History Group members made their way to two significant, local Historic Houses.

The first, on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border, was Boscobel House (English Heritage), vital in the final days of the Civil War. Black and white buildings steeped in history and character still exude a sense of importance as the hiding place of Charles II, fleeing from the Parliamentarians, after his Battle of Worcester defeat. As a Roman Catholic stronghold, it contains Priest Hides, authentic Roman Catholic artefacts of the period and a wealth of architectural delights.

Split into two tour groups, our excellent Tour Guides, knowledgeable and patient, answered our many questions and gave us time to explore and appreciate each room. One Tour Guide shared our fun as an intrepid member hid in a Priest Hole, allowing the wooden lid to be replaced over him, giving a realistic feel to the Royal Escape story.

Later, members paid homage at the original ‘Royal Oak’ site, where the first descendant of the original tree still stands. It was here that Charles II spent 15 hours hunched in the branches as Parliamentarian troops searched below for him.

We felt a sense of momentous history at this picturesque farmhouse and environs.

We then drove to nearby Wightwick Manor (National Trust), previously in Staffordshire, now in the West Midlands. This beautiful, elegant Victorian home displays to full advantage the creativity and craftsmanship of the ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ and ‘Arts and Crafts’ Movements. Again, our Tour Guides were informative, thorough and enthusiastic, putting the house into its historical and social contexts and allowing us to appreciate the craftsmanship of the house and wealth of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and artefacts.

On our tour of the house we marvelled at the original 120 year old wallpaper, still hanging in most rooms. We saw the original electrical, wiring, fixtures and fittings, Wightwick Manor being the third residence in the United Kingdom to have electricity installed, after Cragside and Buckingham Palace. The magnificent double height Drawing Room had a real ‘WOW’ factor, and the masculine Billiard room reminded us of the distinct roles defining men and women in those days. Upstairs we viewed sumptuous Guest Bedrooms; nostalgic Day and Night Nurseries and the hidden Servants Quarters. We also glimpsed the secret staircase that took the Lady of the House upstairs when unwanted visitors arrived! Every room had its own name, designated on the Bell Board, eg Daisy Room, Agapanthus Room etc indicating a distinctive feature of the room eg wallpaper or bedspread or furnishings etc.

We were informed of Wightwick’s important historical connection – Mr Mander, the seond owner of the house, introducing to Britain the first 40 hour working week for his employees. The house also had significant social connections to our local area, through the four MacDonald Sisters of Wilden and Bewdley fame; one being the mother of Stanley Baldwin, another the wife of the artist Burne-Jones who designed the stained-glass windows of Wilden Church. Another sister was the mother of author Rudyard Kipling and the fourth sister married the President of the Royal Academy.

There was time before our departure to explore the delightful gardens surrounding the house, and admire the distinctive exterior, as well as partake of light refreshments. So! Two very different houses but each with a wealth of history to offer and explore.

 So!  A wonderful day of contrasts.

Heidy Hague