Thursday, March 14, 2019

Lower Brockhampton Estate

by Judith Arnopp


Lower Brockhamptom is timeless. The timber-framed house and gatehouse nestle in a valley, ringed by a damson orchard and historic woodland. The house emerges as you walk up the drive and the sight halts you in your tracks and mesmerised, you reach for your camera. 

The manor was home to the same family for 900 years. The land has been occupied since Anglo Saxon times, with the house first mentioned in the 12th century, and the current dwelling dating back to the late medieval, extended further in the Tudor period.


As an author writing in the medieval/Tudor period, places like Lower Brockhampton are invaluable. I prefer to visit out of season, when there are fewer tourists, less intrusive signage and visitor attractions to distract from the past I am trying to locate.


I entered the gatehouse first. It was clearly built for status, not defence and according to the guidebook, may have been a ‘visual pun’ in its mirroring of the manor behind. From the outside the gatehouse is a wonky, half-timbered delight, the diamond casements twinkling a welcome.

 

I passed into the shadow of the gate. There have been many repairs and alterations over the years; the staircase is 17th century, the bargeboards on the south gable are modern copies from restoration in 1999. I run my fingers over the magnificent studded door and instinct tells me it is original. The guidebook confirms this and directs me to examine the bargeboards to the north, also original, the carving still remarkably vivid for its age.


The upper floor is uneven, the beamed ceiling aged to a glorious golden brown. On the walls you can trace the vague shadow of religious marks symbolising the Virgin Mary which, again according to the guide book, support the rumours of illegal Catholic masses held there during the Protestant years. I look around at the evidence of summer swallows and house martins, the ancient floors now trodden only by modern tourists, and wish those praying Catholics would show themselves and tell me how things really were.


Inside the main house, the National Trust direct visitors along a trail that follows the history of the manor’s inhabitants. The great hall for instance is laid out in 17th-century style but it is possible to see how it worked as a medieval hall. As you move through the building, the artefacts and the manner in which the rooms were used become more familiar. Close to the end of the trail, the Lounge looks just like my grandmother’s house once did with a fireplace, a writing desk, a radio and a three piece suite. Being contrary by nature, I walked round in the opposite direction so I could emerge with the earlier period fresh in my mind.


It was the outside that made my creative juices begin to flow. I strolled around the moat, examined the much plainer architecture at the back of the building, craned my neck to see the vast Tudor chimneys and was lured toward the silent peace of the ruined chapel.

 

In the undergrowth were small scurrying creatures whose way of life at Lower Brockhamptom hasn’t altered at all. The crows in the wood, the ducks on the moat, the moles who have dug up the meadow and garden provide the sights and sounds that remain unchanged.

 

It was particularly cold, even for late March, with huge cumulonimbus clouds decorating the blue sky. Every so often, the sun burst from their cover, stimulating reflections on the moat that mirrored the manor, the gatehouse, the sky – revealing another world beneath; a world very much like this one but enticing – the place I’d been seeking, the house where my characters dwell. I sat down, took out my notebook and asked if I could join them ...






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Judith Arnopp writes historical fiction set in the medieval and Tudor period. She writes from a female perspective featuring women like Margaret Beaufort, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth of York and Katheryn Parr. Her most recent novel, Sisters of Arden, traces the fate of three nuns during the dissolution of the monasteries

You can find out more on her webpage: www.judithmarnopp.com
or her author page: author.to/juditharnoppbooks

You can also follow her on social media.
Photographs © Judith Arnopp

4 comments:

  1. This is great. Added to my bucket list. Thanks for the first hand info.

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  2. I will be putting Lower Brockhampton on my list of places to visit, Judith, it looks fascinating.

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  3. I loved this post! I used to live in Gloucestershire (I now live in Canada) and remember the name but had no idea this house existed. It will definitely be worth a visit next time I'm in the UK. Thank you.

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