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Shaw House (Newbury, Berkshire)

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Address: Church Road / Newbury RG14 2DR / Berkshire

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      20.08.2012 23:18
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      A restored country house now owned by west Berkshire Council

      Shaw House, Newbury
      While we were enjoying our recent week end down in Newbury we spent a day in the town exploring what it had to offer and when we popped into the tourist information office they told us that there was a walking tour from the town to Shaw House giving a bit of history about the various sights of interest along the way. We decided to take this tour and set off to find the meeting point.

      WALKING TO THE HOUSE
      It was pretty easy to spot the tour guide as he was dressed in Elizabethan costume in a wonderful salmon pink colour which is we discovered the colour used in Shaw House. We were his first ever customers and if it hadn't been for the six of us then he would have had one person in his tour. We did notice that he had a few more for his afternoon tour as we passed him later which we were pleased about.

      On our walk we passed through the Victoria Park with a statue of Queen Victoria which had been on a plinth with four lions surrounding it. The lions disappeared but were found again somewhat damaged they are now with the statue once more but looking slightly dishevelled and rather war weary after their kidnapping.

      It was a pleasant walk and an interesting tour but I admit I cannot remember the details of the places we were told about before arriving at Shaw House.

      PRICES AND TIMES

      The House opens after closing all winter and the first opening of the year for visitors is February half term and it is then open at weekends and school holidays through to September.
      Admission Charges correct for 2012 - taken from their website:
      Adult £3.75
      Child (aged 5- under 16*) £1.90
      Concession (over 60s, not in employment) £3.00
      Family £9.90 (up to 5 people, one must be under 16 yrs)
      Adult (with WB residents card) £3.40
      Child (with WB residents card) £1.70
      Concession (with WB residents card) £2.70
      Family (with WB residents card) £9.90
      * Please note that children must be accompanied by an adult

      A BIT OF HISTORY
      This rather beautiful house was built in 1581 by a clothier called Thomas Dolman. He wanted to show everyone he had made it and the way to do this was to build a fine home. Over the years the house was owned by other families who added to it and changed it but basically it has survived for over four hundred years which is quite remarkable.

      This house has hosted a number of royal visitors in its prime and it has also been the centre of a battle in 1644 during the battle of Newbury. It is very proud of a musket ball hole in a wall upstairs said to have been fired at King Charles I. This story has now been disclaimed a little as research has shown that Charles I never actually stayed at Shaw House so it is a great story but probably just that, a story.
      This historic house has not always been a private house though as upon the outbreak of WWII the building was requisitioned by the army for billeting both US and British troops.

      After the Newbury Secondary school was bombed in 1943 this building was then adapted to become the local secondary school and this was how it was used until 1985. Berkshire Council became the owners in 1998 and looked around for external assistance to restore the building. Help for this came from a variety of sources, The Heritage Lottery, Vodaphone, English Heritage and the council itself put some money in too.

      Shaw House has largely been restored but it is a work in progress. Today it is used for meetings and seminars and is also the West Berkshire Registry Office so you can get married here and register deaths as well. While we were there three different weddings were taking place, one inside and two outside waiting. One wedding looked a little like the guests were attending a Big Fat Gipsy Wedding as the clothes were a sight and the shoes added at least a foot to each of them!

      WHAT WILL YOU SEE INSIDE?
      This is a very interesting building in that the house has not been specifically restored to any one period in history and also the rooms are empty of furnishings and fittings from past times too. Most of the rooms have exhibits and information boards but are otherwise empty. The original furniture was sold over time and because no original furnishings were in the house they took the decision to have the rooms empty of any furniture.

      The exterior of the house is pretty faithfully restored. Inside a lot of repair and restoration was required. Additions such as modern lifts to make the place wheel chair friendly and removing things that had been done that were not in keeping with the building all took time and careful traditional technique to restore.

      While the restoration and building work was being carried out they discovered an original Elizabethan bakehouse under the kitchen, which is now the cafe. The bakehouse is not restored and cannot be visited but photos are on display in the cafe above this find.

      The Hall is the first room that you enter with it panelled walls. The odd windows were altered to allow for the changes in the ceiling height as this hall was originally open through two floors so had an impressively high ceiling. Part of the wall panel has been left open so that you can see the structure.

      My favourite room was the Chandos Dining room with its beautiful Chinese wall panel pictures. These are very clever copies of the originals but make this a splendid and very elegant room.
      A very fine wooden staircase with decorative banisters leads up to the next floor. The ceilings have decorative cornices which research has suggested were added in the early 20th century but the other decorative motifs maybe earlier.

      Upstairs you will find the King Charles I room with the musket ball hole in the wall. The display had a cavalier and a roundhead hat or you to try on next to the display information board. The Dolman Suite where Queen Anne stayed in 1703 which was above the Hall and was added as a second story in the 17th century. In this room children could dress up in Elizabethan costumes and the board had a few questions to challenge children too.

      As well as these rooms there are rooms with exhibitions and displays and also a room for children to use for activities. When we visited we went through the Shaw House Exhibition which had photos and information about people who had lived in the house as well as photos about when it was a school and during WWII.

      I loved this quote from the Duke of Chandos writing to councillor Jones in 1726;
      "As I came down to Bath I took a view of Sir Thomas Dolman's House and find it to be much better than I expected and am much pleased with the place and situation, and should therefore be glad to get it and keep it."
      It is just so superior and you can just picture the man saying this.

      As this is Jubilee year there is a special Exhibition called 'Royal Revels - 15 years of West Berkshire Celebrations'. This was basically a display of royal celebrations that had taken place in West Berkshire starting as far back as Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887.

      IS IT CHILD FRIENDLY?
      Iwas impressed with the number of displays and hands on activities that there were around the place for children to feel, touch and try on. The information boards were child friendly too written in simple language and readable fonts. There is also a family trail pack which you can ask for at reception so that children find clues around the house to complete. There are also activities in specific rooms on certain dates which are listed on the website or you can ask at reception too.

      You are requested NOT to bring pushchairs into the house but they will lend you hip seats this is to protect the floors and walls.

      There are baby changing facilities in the women's and men's accessible toilets in the basement accessed by a lift. While down there you can also check out the bread oven exposed in the corner of a wall down there. The toilets were clean and informative as information facts were framed on the inside of the toilet doors!

      OTHER BITS
      The cafe was in the old kitchen and was a pleasant place with plenty of seating. On the wall were photos of the bakehouse beneath and some old kitchen equipment. We enjoyed a coffee and cakes but you could also buy cold drinks, ice creams and sandwiches but not full meals. There are highchairs available for small children

      You are allowed to take photos inside the house but not in some of the exhibition rooms as the exhibits do not all belong the West Berkshire Council. Commercial photographers need to speak to a staff member first. You are asked to switch OFF your mobile phone when in the house visiting.

      A small gift area is found between the cafe and the ticket desk and sells a few souvenirs and books but not a lot of pocket money friendly gifts.

      THE GROUNDS
      There were some very attractive parts of the grounds and gardens which were great back drops for wedding photos. I have to say we didn't have a lot of time in the grounds but on a nice sunny day I think they would be perfect for a picnic.

      We walked back into Newbury and were pleasantly surprised with this house. I thought it was very attractive from the outside and was particularly taken with the chimneys which were all set at different angles. The brickwork was unusual and made the front of the house look far bigger and 'castle -like' than it is when you get to see inside though it must have been a pretty impressive house in its prime.

      RECOMMENDED
      Yes it is certainly worth a look and I was pleasantly surprised by the way the people setting it up had included so many hands on activities for children. It is all wheel chair friendly and the toilets nice and clean too. There is free parking at the property although we walked from Newbury town which was certainly a very walk able distance.

      Thanks for reading. This review may be published on other sites under my same username.
      ©Catsholiday

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