This was a cracking start to the new series, with practically the whole of the first episode focusing on one of my favourite National Trust properties, Hardwick Hall, and on one of my favourite historical figures, Bess of Hardwick. It was a shame that they didn’t show the lovely tearoom, where (if you can get in before the horrendous queues, caused by the fact that the food ordering point is actually at the till, gah!) you can enjoy a pot of tea and a jam and cream scone with a lovely view of the surrounding countryside, but it was great to see Alan Titchmarsh concentrating largely on the actual history of the place.
I do appreciate that the National Trust feels the need to appeal to families with young children, but it can be a little frustrating when any special event at weekends or on Bank Holidays seems to be aimed at under 8s. Having said which, Hardwick Hall is pretty good at having exhibitions which cover historical topics and are aimed at adults. No offence to under 8s … used to be one myself 🙂 .
The wonderful Bess of Hardwick rose from being minor gentry to being the second richest woman in Elizabethan England, behind (obviously!) only Queen Elizabeth I herself, and was responsible for the building of both Hardwick Old Hall (which belongs to English Heritage), on the site of the manor house in which she was born, and, a few hundred yards away, Hardwick Hall itself – which is spectacular, with loads and loads of windows to show how wealthy she was! Stainsby Mill, also on the Hardwick Hall estate and also owned by the National Trust, was shown as well, although they didn’t show the old quarries, the sheep, the fishing ponds … it’s a very big place!
In addition to Bess, the programme also went into the very sad story of her granddaughter Arbella Stuart, one of the many female descendants of Henry VII whose lives were spoilt by their closeness to the throne amid all the uncertainty over the succession between the death of Henry VII in 1507 and … I was going to say “the accession of James I in 1603” but, in Arbella’s case, it went on into the reign of James I. She was the granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick, and the great-granddaughter of Margaret Tudor – or, to put it another way, the half first cousin (is that expression correct?!) of Mary, Queen of Scots. So she was one of the main candidates to succeed Elizabeth, and spent most of her childhood and young adulthood at Hardwick Hall. Then she married William Seymour, a grandson of Lady Katherine Grey (sister of Lady Jane Grey), doubling up their claims to the throne. James had them imprisoned, and they tried to escape, but, whilst William made it to Flanders, she was captured and sent back to the Tower … where she died a few years later, partly due to refusing to eat. William left her to it. All right, I don’t suppose getting himself locked up as well would have helped, but I still think of him as a bit of a rotter.
So, we had the inspirational story of Bess, and the sad story of Arbella. There was a bit of talk about practical stuff like, er, cleaning the floor, but it was mostly history. Good! History is what we like … well, preferably accompanied by pots of tea and jam and cream scones, obviously. And gardens – the National Trust is very good on gardens. Lots of flowers!
I had an e-mail from the National Trust yesterday, with lovely pictures of lambs and daffodils in it. Chirk Castle, Sizergh Castle and Biddulph Grange are my favourite National Trust properties for daffodils, and Chirk, Sizergh and Tatton Park tend to be pretty good for lambs. Bring it on! Enough snow now. There are a lot of fantastic National Trust properties, and, whilst I’m not sure that this Channel 4 series really reveals any “secrets”, it does highlight the main features of some of the properties and it makes for very pleasant watching.