Rural Rides (5)



Claremont  Landscape Garden

Claremont is to be found just outside of Esher in Surrey and is run by the National Trust. The house which is adjacent to the gardens is still occupied, as a school, and is not open to the public ordinarily.

The garden boasts a lake as its central feature which is dominated and overlooked by a man-made amphitheatre with a camellia terrace on top and is fringed by rhododendrons which were just coming into bloom and trees. There are pieces of statuary dotted around the grounds – a boar, peacock and bear – and a charming thatched cottage, the obligatory grotto and island pavilion.

The garden owes its development to the energy and enthusiasm (and money) of Thomas, the Duke of Newcastle (1693 – 1768) who bought the house from Sir John Vanburgh in 1714. Retaining the services of Vanburgh as architect the Duke rebuilt the house, trebling it in size, and landscaped and planted the gardens. Work started on the gardens in 1715 and by 1727 it was already being described as “the noblest of any in Europe”. The kitchen garden, a massive 6 acres, was used to produce “the most delicious fruits of every kind”. The Duke made continual improvements and employed many of the best designers of the time, including Charles Bridgeman and William Kent.

Robert Clive of India bought the house after the Duke’s death in 1769 and employed Capability Brown to pull down the house and build a new one. Clive died in 1774 without having spent a night in his new house. After a number of changes of ownership the house was granted to the newly wedded couple, Princess Charlotte of Wales and Prince Leopold, in 1816. The camellia house which stood where the terrace is now was one of the first greenhouses in the country. Charlotte loved the place but died tragically young at the age of 21 and her mausoleum is sited in the gardens.

Queen Victoria was granted the estate by Parliament for her lifetime but by 1922 most of it was sold for housing development. In 1949 the surviving 49 acres of garden were given to the National Trust.

What Is The Origin Of (21)?…


Red herring

A red herring is something which is used to mislead someone or divert their attention from the real issue.

Salted herrings turn red during the smoking process but why have they been used to denote a campaign of deliberate deceit?

As usual, there are a couple of theories. The first is that it relates to the 17th century practice of laying down oily and smelly herrings to send packs of hunting dogs after them. Nicholas Cox in his Sportsman’s Dictionary of 1686 describes the ruse, “The trailing or dragging of a dead Cat, or Fox, (and in case of necessity a Red-Herring) three or four miles… and then laying the Dogs on the scent”. It is probable that, absent any organised hunting saboteur movement, this practice was used as a training device to improve the ability of the hounds to follow the requisite trail rather than to confuse or mislead them.

A more likely explanation can be found in the delightful tale of the English clergyman, John Mayne. Mayne died in 1672 and in his will left a large sum to assist in the rebuilding of St Paul’s cathedral and to assist the poor and indigent of his parishes in Cassington and Pyrton. He also left for his servant in a trunk something which he described as “Somewhat that would make him Drink after his Death”. Imagine the servant’s surprise and disappointment when the trunk was opened to reveal its contents – a batch of salted herring. A report of the incident in Jacob’s Poetical Register of 1719 calls the ruse a red herring so we can see that the association of the salted fish with deceit had been established by the eighteenth century. I suspect this is the real origin.

Whatever the origin, the phrase had become well established by the nineteenth century as a term for deceit and is regularly used in this context today.

Sowing Your Wild Oats

This phrase is used in the context of foolish conduct, often with the connotation of reckless sexual activity on the part of young (generally unmarried) men.

In England wild oats was a term ascribed to Avena fatua which looked like a cereal oat but was in fact a pernicious weed with no domestic value. Once established it was difficult to eradicate. It is easy to see how the phrase could be used to signify reckless behaviour – the youth was sowing seeds which gave rise to plants with no worth rather than a good crop of wheat. The phrase has a long history and was used by the Roman “comedian” Plautus as far back as  194 BCE in Act IV of his play Trinnumus, “Besides that, when elsewhere the harvest of wheat is most abundant, there it comes up less by one-fourth than what you have sowed. There, methinks, it were a proper place for men to sow their wild oats, where they would not spring up”. Probably, given that originality is one of the few virtues that Plautus cannot be accused of, it dates back far earlier than that.

Avena fatua was also used as a traditional herbal remedy to improve sex drive – the ancient equivalent of Viagra – although there is little evidence that it worked. However, the phrase wild oats in this context could be seen as denoting strong sexual impulses.

The phrase is rarely used in the singular and in the 16th and 17th centuries dissolute young men were known as wild oats.

So now we know!

When I Grow Up I Want To Be A (3)…



Dog Whipper

The dog whipper was employed by many a church parish to remove dogs from the grounds of the church and, particularly, to prevent them from disrupting the services. In some parts of Europe it seems to have been common practice between the 16th and 19th centuries to employ them. This was presumably because stray dogs were a nuisance and/or household dogs followed their masters and mistresses to the church. It seems that the canine’s presence was tolerated at the services, provided they behaved themselves. (You would have thought that the commotion caused by the whipper chasing the offending hound from the premises would have been worse than the original disruption!).

The job description of a dog whipper was fairly simple – they were to remove offending canines from the premises and were supplied with either a whip (hence their name) or a pair of large wooden tongs. It was a salaried position – many parish account books show the stipend paid to the incumbent of this post. In Derbyshire the going rate for this position seems to have been 7d in 1604. Regrettably, accounts for 1716 show the stipend had not changed – so much for inflation proofing!

Some dog whippers were granted land by the grateful parishioners – it is thought that the small park in Birchington-on-Sea in Kent called Dog’s Acre was such a gift. Occasionally, the whipper would have a room in the church – there is a small room in Exeter cathedral known as the Dog Whipper’s Flat. Other relics of this quaint and charming post remain – a dog whipper’s whip survives in the parish church at Baslow in Derbyshire and his pew can be found at St Margaret’s church in Wrenbury in Cheshire. One was immortalised in a carving on a church column as you can see from the photo.

It seems that in some parishes the job description was extended to include the role of “Sluggard Wakeners” whose job it was to rouse those who were nodding off during the service. I would have thought this would have been great fun.

Unfortunately, the role fell into disuse during the 19th century, probably because dogs were discouraged from attending the services in the first place. One of the last recorded whippers was John Pickard who was appointed to Exeter Cathedral in 1856.

It seems to have been a fun job and it is a shame it is no longer an option.


The Meaning Of Life – Part Fifteen Of Forty Two



The perfect cream scone

I must confess I am very partial to a Devon cream tea, the highlight of which, of course, is the cream scone. But there are so many dilemmas associated with this treat. How do you pronounce scone. Is it scone, as in own, or scone, as in on? My preference is for scone as in own. How much cream and how much jam should you put on the scone? Should you only use clotted cream? Should you put the jam on first and then the cream or the other way round? How do you stop them crumbling into pieces when you take the first mouthful?

Relax, dear reader, because help is at hand thanks to some research carries out by mathematician, Dr Eugenia Cheng, of the University of Sheffield. Her research broke the cream tea down into three key elements; scones, cream and jam. The key to a perfect scone is to follow the weight ratio of 2 : 1 : 1 – in other words, a 70 gram scone needs 35 grams of jam and 35 grams of cream. Cheng’s research, unsurprisingly as her research was sponsored by Rodda’s Cornish Clotted Cream, concludes that clotted cream is better than whipped cream. This is because of the excessive volume of whipped cream required to cover the same area as clotted cream.

The ideal thickness of the scone should be 2.8 centimetres to allow it to fit into the mouth easily and the jam should be put on first before the cream. Putting the cream on first causes the jam to run off the scone causing an unholy mess.

The key to successful construction of the perfect scone is to ensure that the cream is the same thickness as the scone, otherwise the cream will topple off, and you need to ensure that there is a rim of 5 millimetres between the scone and the jam and a further rim of 5 millimetres between the jam and the cream. Compliance with these instructions will ensure that you have the perfect scone which will neither collapse nor drip.

Frustratingly, Cheng does not address the question of how the word scone should be pronounced.

The pursuit of perfection is all well and good but some ne’ersayers opine that one of the joys of eating a cream scone is the mess you get into. I suppose it is, as is often the case, a question of paying your money and taking your choice.

But at least we now know!


Rural Rides (4)



Winkworth Arboretum

TOWT and I had a trip out to Winkworth Arboretum which is situated just outside of Godalming in Surrey.  It is a hillside arboretum with over 1,000 different shrubs and trees and has been under the care of the National Trust for around 60 years.

The brains behind the arboretum were those belonging to Dr Wilfrid Fox (1875 – 1962) who, as well as being a practising dermatologist, was a keen horticulturist and, especially, dendrologist. He was instrumental in founding in 1928 the Roads Beautifying Association whose mission was to improve the streetscape by planting ornamental trees along pavements. He was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour, the Royal Horticultural Society’s highest award, for his pioneering work in this field.

Until 1937 the land which is now occupied by the Arboretum was part of the Thorncombe estate owned by the Fisher-Rowe family. The estate then passed to the actress Beatrice Lillie who immediately put it up for sale in lots. Fox who lived at the neighbouring Winkworth Farm snapped up some of the land and set about creating his arboretum.

Unusually Fox was not precious about his creation and allowed the great unwashed to tramp around the arboretum from the outset. In 1952 he gave 62 acres, including the Upper Lake to the National Trust and a further 35 acres, including the Lower Lake, were acquired five years later. He chaired the Management Committee which was established to maintain and continue to develop the arboretum until his death in 1962.

The site is like an amphitheatre with the lake surrounded by tree-clad hills. There is a preponderance of specimens from the sorbus genus, including mountain ash and hornbeam. Some of the walks, particularly on Sorbus hill, can only be described as challenging but are well worth the effort for the stunning views they command.

Our visit was timed to enable us to enjoy the stunning glades full of bluebells and ferns and the Azalea steps which were a riot of colour, the yellows, reds and white dappled by the sunlight. We can’t wait to revisit in the autumn when the leaves on the trees are sure to be breath-taking.