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Short Breaks from Birmingham

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Ever needed to just get away, but you can't go for too long? Please tell us about your short breaks away (e.g. day trips, road trips or weekend breaks), whether it be for ultimate relaxation, or to be active and practice hobbies you may have (fishing,

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      30.07.2002 00:10
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      (An idea for a cultural and historical day trip from Birmingham.) Ironic, isn't it, that the work of those who rejected the results of mass-production in Victorian England, was so avidly collected by wealthy manufacturers? Theodore Mander was one such rich industrialist. Having made his fortune as a paint and varnish manufacturer, he bought the original Wightwick (pronounced "Wit-tick") Manor and grounds. In keeping with such buildings of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the house was not built to a grand scale, certainly not grand enough to satisfy Mr Mander. So, in 1887, he commissioned an architect by the name of Edward Ould to create another, larger manor, which was then extended in 1893. The result was the exquisite Arts & Crafts period property we know today as Wightwick Manor. Thus it was conceived, constructed and furnished by Arts & Crafts artisans who believed that beauty should be accessible to all, but for the sole benefit of a wealthy exponent of the production line. Perhaps, though, we should be thankful to men such as Theodore Mander. After all, without their money and sense of taste, properties such as Wightwick Manor would never have existed. Few such fine examples are still around today and, since the Mander family very generously handed the house over to the National Trust in 1937, along with a substantial endowment, it has become a site of pilgrimage to Arts & Crafts enthusiasts. *************** UPON ARRIVAL: *************** There is a free car park near the bottom of Wightwick Bank. A short uphill walk from here will take you to the entrance of the property on the left-hand side. (On the way, be sure to look upwards and you will see a rustic wooden bridge overhead, crossing over into the Bridge Garden.) After you have passed through the entrance gates, walk straight on and then turn first right, where you should see Visitor Reception. Disabled visi
      tors may park inside the grounds in the designated area nearby. When you purchase your timed ticket from Reception, I would advise you to take the free leaflet provided, which includes a map of the grounds and information regarding facilities. A beautifully illustrated guidebook, focusing mainly on the interior of the Manor and produced by the National Trust, can also be bought here. I would also advise you to buy your entrance ticket on arrival to avoid possible disappointment, as the house is very popular with visitors. Depending on your arrival and the timing of your ticket, you may wish to eat lunch before touring the house. If so, I would recommend that you avoid the lunchtime rush. The Tea Room (located in the original "Old Manor House" on the left-hand side of the entrance) is tiny and can seat few people at one time. (Please read later in this review for more details on this and the other facilities.) ***************************** TOURING THE MANOR ITSELF: ***************************** Make your way to the main entrance of the Manor (behind the Old Manor House) at least a few minutes before your timed tour is due to begin. Whilst you are waiting, you can marvel at the glorious hotchpotch of features adorning this part of the house. The effect is entirely intentional, an attempt to represent a medieval-style castle keep, from which various extensions have been built over a long period of time. Castellations jostle with mock Tudor and Jacobean, and the effective is slightly chaotic, yet charming. Make sure you don't miss the beautifully carved inscription above the doorway. Your guide will meet you here and take you, and the others in your group, around the downstairs part of the house. These guides are friendly, informative and quite obviously love their work. Please don't be afraid to ask questions; if there is anything they can't answer, they will make every effort to f
      ind out for you. Once you have been shown around the ground floor, you are invited to make your own way upstairs. The rest of the tour is not guided as such, but there are knowledgeable attendants in almost every room who can provide you with delicious anecdotes about the house, its former occupants and their guests, some of whom were leading figures in the Arts & Crafts and Pre-Raphaelite movements. For a pleasant change, you are allowed to get close up to many of the objects on display. This is a wonderful chance to closely examine some rare pieces, although a few areas are off-limits and these will be pointed out by your guide. I will not go into great detail regarding the interior of the house, as that would spoil many of the delightful surprises that lie in store for visitors, not to mention the fact that it would take me forever to do so! Indeed, this is a house full of wonders to delight the senses. Instead, I will point out a few highlights. One of the first things I noticed was the play of light and dark in the main hallway. The heavy wooden panelling in the first part of this passage makes for a sombre, moody, gothic atmosphere, yet the second half seems flooded with sunlight. Being a child at heart, I took great pleasure in stepping from one half to the other, dark to light, light to dark. I wondered whether this effect was creating purposefully in order to lift the spirits? A more likely explanation is that this was merely a consequence of the 1893 extension to the manor and I am just being silly! Another thing to look out for is the inclusion of inspiring mottoes painted on the walls of many of the rooms. My favourite, found at the top of one of the stair landings was this one: "Hold on, hope hard in the subtle thing that's spirit; though cloistered, soar free." Of course, the entire house is adorned with an astonishing array of rare Arts & Crafts and Pre-Raphaelite pieces, as
      well as many other Victorian and Continental furniture and objects. Not all of these were collected by the Mander family; the National Trust have amassed a superb collection, which complements this extraordinary dwelling very well. Probably most notable of all is the influence of William Morris (one of the most famous instigators of the Arts & Crafts Movement). Yet although this pervades the place, Morris himself never actually visited it, nor did he design specifically for it. The many wall-coverings and soft furnishings were bought from his company, Morris & Co. When you marvel at the subtle green and cream tones of the beautiful Morris wall hanging in the drawing room, it is hard to believe that its colours were originally deep blue and vivid pink! I think I prefer it in its faded glory, to be honest. Displayed upon that very same wall hanging is one of the many Pre-Raphaelite paintings the house has to offer. If it looks a little odd to you, there is a reason for this. The wistful lady was originally painted by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Yet it was Ford Maddox Brown who, afterwards, gave her the vivid red hair. Apparently, the model in question most certainly was not redhaired in either looks or character! I rather liked her stunning ginger locks. Throughout the house, you can see many other wonderful paintings and drawings by artists such as Rosetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Evelyn de Morgan and Maddox Brown, as well as some very rare stained glass by Kempe, more usually known for his work on ecclesiastical windows. What really drew me to Wightwick, though, was the chance to see some William de Morgan ceramics, and I was not disappointed. From rare ruby-lustred chargers illustrated with fantastical beasts straight out of the gothic imagination to blue and white romantic galleon tiled fireplaces, they were an absolute delight. And, oh, what fireplaces! So very many of them, too! Some were large, others w
      ere cosier. All would have been ideal in which to curl up on the hearth seats with a cat on your lap and a good book to read. I couldn't have been more enchanted. Then there is the Great Parlour, obviously inspired by Pugin, with its vaulted ceiling, frieze and wooden panels. A soaringly romantic atmosphere pervades here that makes you long to linger. Apparently, during school visits, children are often completely breathtaken by the scale and magnificence of this room. Can't say I blame them. Do make sure you don't miss looking down on the Great Parlour from the galleried landing above. The view is glorious. Upstairs are the bedrooms, one of which is filled with the most amazing oak furniture, painted with medieval scenes in the Pre-Raphaelite style. As far as I could see, there appeared to be only one bathroom - large and tiled, plain yet elegant. I'm afraid my thoughts immediately centred on how very chilly it must have been in there during the winter months. Check the walls of the landing just along from the bathroom and you will see some intriguing photographs of famous artistic folk and writers of the period. It's well worth asking one of the guides about them, as they often have some interesting tales to tell. You will also see the day nursery, with its selection of toys from the 1880s to the 1950s. This is probably one of the most touchingly poignant rooms in the house. Some of these toys belonged to Anthea Mander, who still stays in the specially converted flat today, as a part of the agreement made by her family with the National Trust that family members be allowed to do so. When you have seen all you wish to see inside the house, make your way outside again and take a look at the very distinct mock-Tudor/Jacobean side which fronts onto the garden. Again, there are lovely mottoes carved into the wood at various points. ************** THE GARDENS: ********
      ****** Sadly, we did not have time to take a good look around the gardens (designed by Thomas Mawson), as we spent so much time within the house itself. What we did see was the beautifully manicured lawn, followed by steps leading down to another lawn, edged with gorgeous topiary hedges. From the little map leaflet which I picked up in Visitor Reception, I can see that the grounds include a Rose Garden and Herbaceous Border, Yew and Holly Walk, Peach House, Orchard, Pools, South Terrace, Woodland and Paddock. Remember the bridge seen from below on the way from the car park? Well, that leads to the Bridge Garden. I really would have loved to have seen it, but it was closed during our visit. ************* MALTHOUSE: ************* We didn't stay long in here. You can see the sleigh used by the Manders and there is a photographic darkroom downstairs. Occasionally, there are exhibitions, concerts, plays and readings held upstairs. ****************** OTHER FACILITIES: ****************** LAVATORIES: Clean and well-maintained, these are located behind Visitor Reception in the stable block. There are baby-changing facilities in the Ladies. TEA ROOM: Open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and bank holidays from 11am-5pm, serving light meals and snacks, such as soups, sandwiches, cakes, scones and drinks. These are delicious and many of the goodies are homebaked. Note that, as far as I am aware, they only serve soup during the lunch period. Also, since it is such a tiny room, it would be wise to book ahead if you are accompanied by a large group of people. SHOP: Open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and bank holidays from 11am-5.30pm. This doesn't sell the usual National Trust items, concentrating instead on objects inspired by William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement. There are some beautiful things to buy and the books were on special offer at a considerably reduce
      d price when we were there. STUDIO POTTERY: Same opening hours as the shop, above. The handmade items sold here are not from the National Trust. I did see some rather lovely little Ruskin-inspired glazeware on the tables in the Tea Room that were made here. **************************** SUIITABILITY FOR CHILDREN: **************************** To be perfectly honest, I would not personally recommend taking young toddlers into the house. Not only would they probably become bored fairly quickly, but it would an absolute nightmare trying to keep an eye on them amongst all of those very expensive and fragile objects! Older children, particularly those with an interest in art, history, or simply with an appreciation of beautiful things, may well enjoy a visit. If you do have young ones, then it might be preferable to bring them along to the special family days on Wednesdays during August. They can take part in garden trails, searching for clues, with the chance to win a prize (most suitable for 6 years upwards, but younger children might enjoy the chance to run around). Shorter tours of the house, geared towards children, are also available then, where the guides dress up in period costume. An activity room is provided on these days, giving potential young artists the chance to be creative with stencilling, block-printing and (non-Arts & Crafts period!) glitter. Please note that, although there is a baby changing area in the ladies lavatories, there are not many other facilities specifically for children. ******************** ADMISSION DETAILS: ******************** (To the best of my knowledge, these are correct at the time of writing, but it is always wise to check ahead to avoid a wasted journey.) 1st March - 31st December 2002, the Manor is open on Thursdays, Saturdays and bank holidays from 1.30-4.30pm. Family tours and hands-on activities take place during August on Wednesdays from
      1.30-5pm. Please be aware that viewing is by timed ticket ONLY and tours are guided. Tickets are purchased at Visitor Reception from 11am onwards. Note that due to the fragile nature of house's contents, it is not always possible to view every room. The garden itself is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and bank holidays from 11am-6pm, and on other days by appointment. Admission to the house and grounds costs £5.60 for adults, £2.80 for children and students. Family tickets are available for £13. For visits to the garden only, you can purchase a special ticket for £2.50. National Trust members do not have to pay for admission and need only show their membership card. For disabled visitors: "The ground floor of the house is accessible with two steps. The garden is accessible with some steps and slopes. Parking available in the stable yard. There are also braille guides to the house and Pre-Raphaelite collection. Guide and hearing dogs allowed in the house, all others in the garden on leads." (Information taken from the National Trust website.) ************************************ ADDRESS & CONTACT INFORMATION: ************************************ Wightwick Manor, Wightwick Bank, Wolverhampton, West Midlands WV6 8EE Tel: 01902 761400 Fax: 01902 764663 Email: wightwickmanor@ntrust.org.uk Information from National Trust's website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/scripts/nthandbook.dll?ACTION=PROPERTY&PROPERTYID=133 **************** GETTING THERE: **************** The property is located 3 miles west of Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, off the A454. Turn up the small road next to the Mermaid Inn, up Whitwick Bank. **************************** ARTS & CRAFTS MOVEMENT: **************************** The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1878 in a protest against the "emptiness and artificiality of contemp
      orary art". This rebellion of artists greatly influenced the likes of William Morris and led to the establishment of the Arts & Crafts Movement, a group that harkened back to simpler times of good, honest design, creativity and expert craftmanship. The handmade items they produced were inspired by the noblility, chivalry and spirituality of Gothic and Medieval themes. (Some information taken from the National Trust website) ******************************************** So why do I feel Wightwick Manor is so important? The beautifully designed and crafted work of the Arts & Crafts movement was priced way beyond the reach of many, much to the dismay of William Morris and his associates, with their socialist beliefs. As Morris himself once wrote: "What business have we with art at all unless all can share it?" Paradoxically, the very manufacturing industries scorned by Morris provided the most accessible means for the common man to own beautiful objects, through considerably lower production costs. Having said that, there is something just so very wonderful and soulful about items that have been individually created by hand, with loving care. Thanks to the Mander family and their kindness in giving this property to the National Trust, Morris' wish has come true and we can all share in their delights, and we can dream. If you are at all interested in any aspects of the Arts & Crafts period, or would simply enjoy a day out amidst man-made beauty, then a visit to Whitwick Manor is highly recommended. ******************* If Wightwick Manor inspires you to create your own little Arts & Crafts haven, then you might find this excellent site of some interest. "The Arts & Crafts Home" can supply reproduction items (admittedly, replicas are somewhat against the ethos of the period, but never mind) or perhaps it may give you some ideas of your own. http


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