The Retirees go Abroad – Derbyshire and Elvaston Castle Country Park

We have driven the A52 to Derby so many times now that I have lost count. Each time we would pass the turn off to Elvaston Castle Country Park and think nothing of it. Then one day whilst attending the church working bee, Michelle informed us that this country park was definitely worth a visit, that apart from the park there was a ruin of a castle and some pleasant walks, colourful gardens and surprising topiary.

Monday was a bank holiday (May Day apparently but it is just referred to as a bank holiday). The weather was a perfect English spring day. Sunshine filled the sky and a gentle breeze kept a coolness in the air. It smelt fresh and clean. A perfect day for a visit to a country park.

We took the familiar journey down the A52 and turned off into the village of Borrowwash down a country lane and arriving at the carpark for the park about 9.00am. There were quite a few vehicles there already but plenty of car spaces. We parked paid the ranger for our 4 hours parking and strolled off with the intention that we would come back to the car to collect our picnic. The park is a delightful mix of woodland with shady walks, gardens with a feast of colour and scents, and a surprising topiary garden of privet and holly.

Our visit included a walk through the English Garden with its beautiful blooms

The topiary garden with its wonderful shapes and hiding places for the kids

The Home and courtyard, the Church and the Water Wheel a bit of a mystery

The garden walk around the lake with some magnificent trees

We finished with a picnic overlooking one of the open grass areas. The carpark was now full with cars circling looking for a space and the grounds were alive with people all enjoying the sun and the fresh air.

A bit of history and the future about the Castle:

Wikipedia reports “Elvaston Castle is a stately home in Elvaston, Derbyshire, England. The Gothic Revival castle and surrounding parkland is run and owned by Derbyshire County Council as a country park known as, Elvaston Castle Country Park. The country park has 200 acres (0.81 km2) of woodlands, parkland and formal gardens.

The centrepiece of the estate is the Grade II* Listed Elvaston Castle. The castle has been neglected and has fallen into disrepair; due to its condition, the building is not open to the public, and since 2008 has been listed on the Buildings at Risk Register.”

However something is happening as when we visited there is scaffolding all around the stately home and limited access to the hall on particular days is now organised by the council. Highgate Sanctuary is a developer and its website tells us that “Working with English Heritage and the County and District planning and conservation officers, Highgate Sanctuary is preparing a planning application under which the Castle and its immediate buildings will be thoughtfully restored to their original grandeur, providing a hotel with spa and leisure facilities.”

Hopefully the open spaces and gardens will still be available for public use in the future.

The Retirees go Aboard – The Workhouse Southwell and Rufford Mill

It was a pleasant Friday morning and we planned to visit Rufford Mill for a high tea. There was a special advertised in Amazon Local and it sounded interesting but to travel to Rufford Abbey some 50 minutes’ drive away for no other purpose than to have afternoon tea seemed extravagant. I pulled out the National Trust Guide and settled upon “the Workhouse” at Southwell. Generally in the same direction, the Workhouse had been one of the closed sites that we had wanted to visit. So two birds, one stone.

The morning started with sunshine but as with so many days in the UK, this is deceiving. The breeze was lightly chilling our cheeks as we walked to the car. Both of us had decided that scarves were necessary to keep the chill off our chests. The drive up to Southwell took about 50 minutes and we arrived at opening time of 12 noon. Already the carpark was occupied by dozen or more cars and a bus. From the carpark there is a long walk to the Workhouse past a field then the gardens then some walled areas which we later learnt were the exercise yards for the residents an d finally into the reception shop and tea room.

We both had an idea that this was a place of brutality and Dickensian forced labour camps, with orphaned children being sacrificed to industry as in Oliver, but we were wrong. This was a social experiment that commenced in 1824 and surprisingly continued right up to 1989. In some sense it was a catalyst for the “welfare state” introduced in the ‘40s by the labour governments after WW2.

The building has under gone many changes in its short history and its fundamental purpose changed as society changed but for the purpose of presenting the building and its history the Trust has in some respects taken the building back to 1824. For instance they have stripped out the toilets that had been installed.

The history starts in 1601 with the Poor Act which made parishes responsible for the paupers, elderly, infirm and orphaned. Each parish handled the administration with a board of governors and raised funds for the poor through taxes. Rev J T Becher proposed a revolutionary idea of centralising those in need of help in the form of the Workhouse and banded together 60 parishes to fund the building of the first Workhouse at Southwell.

The building is three stories high, has a central administration and accommodation tower for the Master and Matron and three wings one on the left for abled bodied women, and old and infirm women, the one on the right for able bodied men and old and infirm men and the children’s wing which included orphans. Other facilities such as the wash house were in buildings surrounding the main building. In front of the adult wings were the walled exercise yards with a community latrine open to the sky and beyond that were the gardens and orchard. There was a classroom for the children but it is uncertain as to whether any play areas were provided for the children.

The Master and Matron were usually a married couple and their living quarters in the central tower had indoor flushing toilets and were quite comfortable. Also in the central administration block was the governors meeting room, the Masters office and the clerk’s office. This arrangement allowed the Master to access any area quickly and keep control.

The intent of the programme was to reduce the cost of aiding and caring for the poor, elderly, infirm, and orphaned on the parish, to encourage the able bodied, idle and indolent to return to work by working them at monotonous and physically demanding chores and to make them self – sufficient. The programme was a success on the financial level and by Act of Parliament the New Poor Law saw this model replicated 500 times across the UK.

The system was in the case of an able bodied family – they were stripped of their clothes which were washed and stored securely, they were washed and de-loused and issued the workhouse uniform, segregated into men, women and children and put to work. The aged and infirm were also segregated and often lived the rest of their lives in the institution and the children would be taught to read and write and then some vocation. The idea was that the abled bodied would want to return to the community because the life for them was uncomfortable and demanding and for the children to equip them to join the community. This workhouse had up to 160 inmates completely segregated with no contact whatsoever between the various groups. Often this lead to children being abandoned in the workhouse by their parents.

In relation to the aged and infirm the system continued up til 1989. One of the National Trust guides told us that as a 65 year old in the late ‘80s he could recall visiting “some of the old girls” at the work house and they tended to be gaga. I have posted some photos below. Unfortunately I did not think to photograph one of the third floor rooms which have been left as they found them in 1990. Seriously depressing. The presentation of the rooms as they were in 1824 is misleading in my view as I doubt they were painted in light colours and as clean as they are today.

To sum up, not the Dickensian workhouse that I had expected or been lead to believe was the norm by novels such as Oliver and Dark House but still a dark social experiment in many ways. Well I am pleased to say the high tea was a lot more comfortable than the workhouse. Starting with a glass of sparkling wine and finishing with the same, we stuffed ourselves on finger sandwiches, scones, and cakes before returning home. Rufford Mill was just that an old water powered mill, originally for grinding corn but finishing life as a timber mill. The lake which provides the water to drive the waterwheel is now a haven for bird life and one can walk around the lake to the old ruined Abbey and the Rufford Country Park and golf links.

The Retirees go Abroad – Rotary Club of Nottingham – Children of Courage Awards

.Whilst we have been visiting the UK we have attended Rotary club meetings where ever we can. Being based in Long Eaton we have been visiting the Rotary Club of Nottingham principally and this is one of their projects we attended.

The club has sought to recognise the courage of children (in many forms) in the community. Through schools and churches, the Club sought nominations to recognise these children. The nominations included disabled children and how they cope with their disability, children who have lost a sibling and how they coped with that loss, through to children with a disabled parent and how they cope bearing some of the burden of caring for that parent.

The awards were decided by the Club and presented at a lunch held at Nottingham Park Inn in Mansfield Rd last Thursday. We sat at a table with Edward Hardcastle aged 5 – 6. Edward was born with a genetic disorder which affects sight mainly but can also affect hearing. He now has only 10% vision but despite this he appears happy and communicative. One of the other persons at our table sought to engage with him and he readily responded without any concern that he can only see shadows images.

Most of the children receiving awards were similar to Edward in that they have a significant disability and yet do not make the disability an excuse. One young girl has the responsibility of caring for her disabled mother and wrote a most endearing poem about having to care for her which the club President read to the audience. The children seemed to appreciate the attention given to them as reward recipients and enjoyed their lunch. Photos of the awards, the Club President, the Mayor of Nottingham City and the children follow.