Newest Review: ... to show though, the scale of this building, it's immense and even once inside, it feels much larger than the exterior suggests. ===Re-enac... more
A Little Piece Of History In My Backyard
Aston Hall (Birmingham)
Member Name: chrisandmark
Aston Hall (Birmingham)
Advantages: Beautiful displays, historically acurate information, free entrance
Disadvantages: An uninspired gift shop and cafe, in one of the rougher areas of Birmingham
Any of you who know Birmingham nowadays know Aston is a grotty hole of a place just outside Brum City Centre, but in those days Birmingham was pretty much farmland with the industrial section of the city being close to Aston and the surrounding areas. Looking up at Aston Hall from the front, I can conjure a mental picture of the area before the factories were built and the high rise flats went up. It really is another world just underneath a motorway flyover.
It’s certainly an imposing house, a perfect example of the Jacobean era – you know just by looking at the stern and subtly elaborate exterior that the man who built this must have been a very important man of his time. It’s a really gorgeous building, I’m not into architecture but there’s something about these beautiful old houses that make me want to grab my anorak and digital camera.
Going inside you’re immediately in the hub of the house, the great hallway. Beautifully tiled, this room is huge. There’s a suit of armour, beautiful wood carvings, stone walls, a sweeping staircase… I’m not going to tell you everything because there are some small pieces in the room which will make you do a double take, and there are surprises everywhere you look – I think Sir Thomas must have had a good sense of humour! The furniture is ‘of the era’ and the Hall makes no pretence that it’s the original items from the house, the oldest exhibit in the house is a robust looking 14th century wooden box.
I took my children and as we walked through the huge front door members of staff handed the kids an activity booklet, which made the visit more interesting for them as they really had to look around the house to find the answers to some of the puzzles. There’s also a guide book to purchase to help you find your way around the house, and this is worth the couple of quid as it gives a brief history of each room as well as general information about the impact on the house from the various wars that were kicking off around England.
One such war resulted in the Hall being attacked in 1643, during the botched arrest of then Royalist Sir Thomas a cannonball caused damage to the staircase which is still visible today. This area of the house amazes my nine year old daughter (and her dad!) and she’ll (they’ll…) gabble on for ages about how she’s standing where a ‘real’ cannon ball landed 350 years ago!
My favourite part of the house is the beautiful 136ft long gallery room. The sheer size of this area is awe inspiring, the same kind of feeling you get when you walk into a church because of the huge space between the floor and ceiling. The gallery ceiling is intricately carved and painted, and amazingly detailed tapestries from the early 17th century line the walls. I love this room, it’s quiet even when filled with people and it feels airy and light thanks to the large windows placed the length of the gallery.
Aston Hall is gorgeous from start to finish. The majority of ceilings are the original 17th century carved plasterwork, and the rooms are beautifully quaint; from the overdone velvet of the dining room to the old fashioned crib and milk bottles in the nursery.
Aston Halls claim to fame is probably the bedroom where King Charles I slept on his way to London. He spent one night there, and the room is now named for him. In 17th century England the pomp of having your lord and Monarch stay as a guest must have been extraordinary – especially for such a Royalist family as the Holtes.
Surrounding Aston Hall is a massive 50 acres of parkland. In summer this makes for a lovely place to sit down for an hour and have your picnic. I’ve always thought the only thing missing from these beautiful gardens is a maze because in the hot weather the flower beds are an absolute riot of colour. The area in front of the house has been made into a large visitor car park, but done with clever and pretty landscaping to disguise what is usually the grottiest part of any visitor attraction. Now and again battle enactments take place on the parkland using local history buff groups, also in the Autumn there’s the Aston by Candlelight’ pageant where hundreds of candles light the exterior of the Hall and actors dress as authentic 17th century aristocracy and servants getting the house ready for Christmas.
The house has a very small gift shop selling uninteresting nick knacks; pencils stamped with ‘Aston Hall’, books about the area, all the usual. Very reasonably priced though so I don’t begrudge them hopping on the souvenir bandwagon. Also, a less reasonably priced café which specialises in sandwiches and cups of tea – anything more obscure than Nescafe is likely to get you a perplexed look from the 80 year old lady behind the counter so don’t bother. And don’t ask her if she met King Charles as my six year old did…
This place really is special. Its a little part of Birmingham which has been untouched by time and it’s like a small step back into history every time I visit. It’s never going to rival the huge budget attractions like Cadbury World and Think Tank but loads of people travel into Brum to visit these and probably drive over Aston Hall on their way into the main snarl of the Birmingham motorway system. Next time you’re doing that, take a diversion from the M6 and follow the signs for Aston Villa Football Ground which stands literally 200 yards from the gates of the Hall. You’ll see a gem of a place which will add that bit of culture to your Birmingham trip.
If it helps sway you into visiting (and I’ve saved this best bit for last) Aston Hall is free to visit. None of your joke £30 admission fees, this is bona fide free and there are absolutely no hidden costs involved. I live roughly a 15 minute drive away and I’ve taken the kids to Aston Hall with not a penny in my purse; we’ve been so many times that we’ve exhausted the tiny souvenir shop and we can eat our dinner when we get home. It can, and has been several times, a completely free day out. Allow yourself a couple of hours to have a good look around the house, bearing in mind that the house is laid out in a higgledy piggledy way and you have to back track half a dozen times to see everything – you’ll still leave with the feeling that you didn’t manage to see that little room just off the kitchen.
If you’re travelling by bus you need to get into the City Centre and catch one of several buses, the numbers 7, 104 or 11 being the most straightforward routes to take. Mind you, if you’re on public transport you’re better off to hop on a train to Aston station and take a short 5 minute walk past the Villa ground to the Hall. Or it’ll cost you a fiver in a taxi from the main rank in the City Centre, and this way you won’t have to worry about being mugged in Aston…
Summary: Learn about local history while having fun.
More reviews in the field of Sightseeing National
- PUTTING THE "GREAT" BACK INTO GREAT BRITAIN.
- Chatsworth House, grandeur of a Devonshire welcome
- So high you could almost touch the sea gulls
- A "TREASURE HOUSE OF ENGLAND" - THE TREASURE'S OUTSIDE THE HOUSE
- try this for size!!!
- A great afternoon out if you want to jump a little
- A brilliant Chinese area
- "A temple of Abomination"
- Would you like to live in your own little castle?
- Birmingham's Hall Of Memory. A place to pause.