Paranormal Warwickshire Part 17: Coughton Court, Alcester

This is the seventeenth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Coughton Court Alcester Warwickshire
First view of the house at Coughton Court, Warwickshire (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The Tudor house at Coughton Court, for centuries the family seat of the Throckmorton family, is one of the loveliest National Trust properties in Warwickshire and it has a variety of gardens, both formal and natural, including an enchanting bog garden.

view gazebo bog garden Coughton Court Warwickshire
A view along the path to the gazebo in the bog garden at Coughton Court Warwickshire

The grounds slope down towards the banks of the River Arrow.

river Arrow at Coughton Court Warwickshire
The River Arrow at Coughton Court Warwickshire
garden Coughton Court Warwickshire
A view of the garden at Coughton Court (National Trust), Alcester, Warwickshire

The grounds are particularly notable for a stunning walled RHS garden which was designed by two members of the Throckmorton family, Clare and her daughter Christine, professional garden designers.

Nearby are two churches: the nearest, St Peter, is Anglican and was built in the late 15th century by Sir Robert Throckmorton. It began life as a Catholic church but after the reformation became Church of England.

The paranormal tale which I recount in my book Paranormal Warwickshire is connected to the graveyard of the Anglican church.

Anglican church of St Peter and graveyard at Coughton Court Warwickshire
The Anglican Church of St Peter at Coughton Court, Alcester, Warwickshire

Beyond that the Catholic Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Elizabeth was built in 1855, when the family could at last worship openly as Catholics. The family have remained true to their Catholic faith for many generations, and in the sixteenth century they found their way around Elizabeth I’s religious laws, as so many Catholic recusants did in those dangerous and turbulent times.

Catholic Church Coughton Court Warwickshire
The Catholic Church at Coughton Court National Trust, Alcester, Warwickshire

Another curious anecdote relates to the coat of arms which formerly hung over the front entrance. To find out more, do preorder Paranormal Warwickshire here.

View towards Front entrance Coughton Court Warwickshire
View towards Front entrance Coughton Court Warwickshire

The Throckmorton name is of course linked to the Gunpowder Plot and a fascinating exhibition in the house tells the full story.

view gazebo bog garden Coughton Court Warwickshire
A view along the path to the gazebo in the bog garden at Coughton Court Warwickshire

Discover more about the intriguing history, the curious anecdotes, and the many poignant associations with the most dramatic periods of English history at Coughton Court in my book Paranormal Warwickshire.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House and Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park

Cornwall Mini Series Part 15: Lanhydrock National Trust

A vast parkland, a major historical house which has so many associated buildings clustered around it, alongside its own church, it seems like a village in itself – and a garden of ingenuity, beauty and variety, which surprises and delights you as you explore its paths, its structure and colourful planting: this is Lanhydrock.

Closer to the house and church, on our July 2020 visit, we could see that the gardeners have been hard at work during the UK Covid19 lockdown, preparing the beds for new planting, which shows us the perfect symmetrical layout waiting for the lines to be softened with a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes and textures.

garden ready new planting Lanhydrock National Trust Cornwall SC Skillman
views Lanhydrock House National Trust Cornwall SC Skillman

With every bend of the path we come upon new vistas which satisfy our innate sense of proportion and design, please the eye and fill us with a sense of peace and harmony.

Explore the thoughts and feelings of other bloggers who have been inspired by the gardens at Lanhydrock: Shoffmire, roadeveron and ilovecornwall8.

And do check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Part 11 Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

Part 12 Trellisick National Trust

Part 13 St Mawes and Gorran Haven

Part 14 Trebah Garden

Cornwall Mini Series Part 12: Trellisick National Trust

View Trellisick to Fal Estuary Cornwall SC Skillman
View from Trellisick to Fal Estuary Cornwall SC Skillman

What an enchanting location this is for a grand house: situated on the Fal estuary in Cornwall, views across to the water are to be glimpsed from the terrace at the back of the house, and also from many places in the parkland.

As one of my friends on social media remarked, grand houses like those in the possession of the National Trust always remind him of Cluedo. Here at Trellisick, we weren’t able to go into the house due to the Covid19 restrictions, but certainly I was tempted to gaze through the windows of the orangery and imagine which part of the plot might unfold in there behind the giant terracotta urns…

Moving round into the gardens, it seemed every bend of the path brought new vistas and new delights.

I loved a gazebo in the gardens with stained glass windows which was decorated with natural objects; fir cones had been embedded into the design and created an exquisite fairytale effect.

The walk through the gardens eventually leads d

own to the King Harry Ferry which carries motorists and pedestrians across the river Fal and is the best route to take from Trellisick if you are, as we were, planning to visit St Mawes later. You might like to check out some other bloggers’ thoughts, feelings and information about the glorious gardens here at Trellisick: Tinbox Traveller; Trellisick ranger blog, and Trellisick garden blog.

Check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Part 11 Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

Cornwall mini series Part 9: St Michael’s Mount

This is the ninth in a series of short reflections on places in Cornwall.

There will be few words, and mainly images.

St Michael’s Mount is just off the coast at Marazion but may be reached on foot by the causeway when the tide is out.

It is one of those places which has a magical effect upon new visitors. The sight of the castle rising from the island just across the water, silences those who approach across the beach at Marazion, fills them with awe. There is a perfection, a romance, a dreamlike quality to this view that holds us entranced.

During our visit we climbed up through the gardens. From every angle you may pause to wonder at the phenomenally beautiful views.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction.

My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published on 15th June 2020 by Amberley Publishing.

Cornwall mini series Part 8: The Screech Owl Sanctuary

This is the eighth in a series of short reflections on places in north Cornwall.

There will be few words, and mainly images.

The Screech Owl Sanctuary is located near St Columb Major (where we were staying when we visited). This is home not only to a collection of beautiful, talented owls full of personality, but also to meercats, emus, racoons, alpacas, goats, ponies and donkeys.

I find that when we visit a sanctuary like this, enjoy the birds’ flying displays, and wander around listening to the keepers’ stories and engaging with the animals, we leave behind our daily preoccupations, feel calm and uplifted, and are reminded once again of the miraculous diversity of creatures with whom we share this planet.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction.

My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published on 15th June 2020 by Amberley Publishing.

Cornwall mini series Part 7: Trerice

This is the seventh in a series of short reflections on places in north Cornwall.

There will be few words, and mainly images.

Trerice is an Elizabethan manor house set in well-kept gardens, not far from St Columb Major (where we were staying when we visited). It is at Newlyn East, near Newquay.

It is owned by the National Trust, and the formal Tudor garden is beautifully planted.

I can also recommend the tour guide; the lady who told us the story of the house perfectly combined knowledge of the history with a sharp sense of humour – often necessary when we consider the chequered lives and behaviour of the occupants of these historical properties!

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction.

My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published on 15th June 2020 by Amberley Publishing.

Great Gardens of England: Hidcote Manor Gardens, near Chipping Campden

A great garden is an image of paradise, in more than one religious outlook. Perhaps this is because  within such a garden, all the very best of the natural world is taken by human ingenuity, and then gifted and skilled gardeners weave their own design and creativity into it. Our dreams become realised through a beautiful garden.

 

Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds is one of the National Trust’s greatest gardens.

I remember once taking a tour with the Head Gardener here and he pointed out that the garden is defined by borders and obeys a structure closer to the house, and yet the further you wander from the house, the more you feel the garden becoming fluid and serpentine in its design, less structured, as if it is flowing into the land beyond.

And I remember him saying that they have protection rights over the view here, for the vistas are some of the garden’s most prized elements.

When I visited a few days ago (February 2019) the garden was of course still at the end of winter, beginning to move towards the opening-up time of spring.

Even so, its beauty is still apparent.

Enjoy the photos here and reflect upon how much we owe to those visionaries and dreamers who are able to bring what they imagine into reality, for the enrichment of the spirits of others.

SC Skillman

psychological,  paranormal,  mystery  fiction and inspirational non-fiction

Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit, Perilous Path

 

The Throckmortons of Coughton Court, Warwickshire: A Family Forever Linked to those Who Conspired to Murder their King

Approaching Coughton Court, the ancestral seat of the Throckmortons, near Alcester in Warwickshire, we may admire the mellow sandstone sixteenth century house with its dramatic battlemented gatehouse tower and lovely timbered north and south wings.

the entrance to the gatehouse, Coughton Court
the entrance to the gatehouse, Coughton Court

In front is the most exquisitely laid-out garden packed with abundant lavenders.

view from window in south wing, onto the garden in the forecourt Coughton Court
view from window in south wing, onto the garden in the forecourt Coughton Court

Everything about this house and its surrounding grounds and gardens speaks graciousness, fine proportions, serenity: all that tends to make us feel relaxed, good-humoured and full of positive anticipation. But that has by no means always been the case. In the past this house has known betrayal, terror and conspiracy.

This house has been held by the Throckmorton family for over 600 years and during that time the vast majority of them have been fervent Catholics, remaining loyal throughout times of great persecution. Several generations of the Throckmortons have been closely involved with some of the major events of English history. 

The first Throckmortons to own land in Coughton were John and Eleanor in 1412 and John became the founder of this historically-important family.  A later Throckmorton, Robert, was knighted in 1494 along with Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII, thus beginning the family’s long association with the Tudor monarchy, sometimes profitable, always dangerous, and ultimately fateful.

His son George was to discover the folly of opposing Henry VIII in his attempt to divorce Katherine of Aragon; the mortification of being a dissenting guest at Anne Boleyn’s coronation; the inadvisability of thwarting Thomas Cromwell in a land dispute; and, no doubt, a rather uncharitable sense of vindication at finding himself prosecution witness at Thomas’s trial and in a position to seal his fate.

Robert’s son Nicholas stands out among the Throckmortons as having been a Protestant; and I cannot help wondering how that affected his family relationships, coming as he did from an otherwise unbroken line of devout Catholics.  Nicholas too discovered the slipperiness of close involvement with the Tudor monarchy.

 He had a very narrow escape when his support of Lady Jane Grey ended in defeat; found himself in prison after opposing Queen Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain; and suffered the thanklessness of Elizabeth after he had acted as confidant to the young princess, brought the news of Mary’s death to her, and finally acted as her emissary to Mary Queen of Scots. All of this failed to win for him the high office at court which he had hoped for. 

After Nicholas’s death, the family resumed its activities on behalf of the Catholic side with renewed zeal. In 1584 his nephew Francis was executed for trying to depose Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.

In 1858 a 16th century priest-hole was rediscovered in the Tower Room: a double hide, one chamber on top of the other, so the priest hiding in the chamber below would have been highly unlikely to be discovered, even if the upper chamber came to light.

The Drawing Room, Coughton Court
The Drawing Room, Coughton Court

The Tower room is where the family kept a small altar with everything needful to celebrate Mass according to their Catholic faith; the windows both sides of the room gave extensive views out onto the surrounding countryside so they would be alerted to anyone approaching the house from a considerable distance away. Certainly they would have had plenty of warning if Elizabeth I’s priest-hunters were approaching, and enough time to hide the priest together with all the objects of Catholic worship in that ingenious hiding place.

The view from the battlements of the gatehouse tower, Coughton Court
The view from the battlements of the gatehouse tower, Coughton Court

When you begin your tour of the house, you are soon shown through a well-laid-out exhibition about the Gunpowder Plot; and after visiting that, as you enter the drawing room on the first floor of the Gatehouse, you cannot but be very aware that this was the room where the first news of the plot’s failure was broken to those who waited here. In the early hours of 6th November 1605, Lady Digby, the wife of Sir Everard Digby, one of the Plotters, sat in this drawing room, anxiously awaiting news.

At 6am Thomas Bates, servant to Robert Catesby (charismatic mastermind of the plot) galloped across the bridge over the moat and climbed the stairs to the drawing room. No doubt drenched with sweat, wild haired and eyes full of terror, Thomas broke the news which would have filled her with horror and fear: the plot had been discovered, Guy Fawkes arrested, her husband Sir Everard captured, and his fellow conspirators were all on the run in fear of their lives. She would have had no doubt whatsoever about what lay in store for her husband and his friends. The fate that awaited all those found guilty of treason was a vile and brutal punishment: hanging, drawing and quartering. It was, however, a fate that many chose to risk. They were desperate times. The stakes were high, and hot-headed, religious zealots were willing to run that risk for their passionate beliefs.

Following this, the party at Coughton Court quickly dispersed to various locations, among them two priests, Nicholas Owen the master priest-hole builder, and the Vaux sisters who had rented Baddesley Clinton for the express purpose of providing a safe meeting place for priests, together with concealed chambers they could hide in during raids. Meanwhile, the plotters fled to the house of another Catholic friend, hoping for support, which they did not receive: instead they headed off to Holbeach Hall, where final disaster awaited them.

Of those who fled to Holbeach Hall, we learn in the special exhibition at Coughton Court, four suffered the least painful, and the quickest, death. They (incredibly) betrayed their presence by trying to dry their gunpowder in front of the fire. Not surprisingly (but presumably, it surprised them) their gunpowder exploded. The noise alerted the Sheriff of Worcestershire who came with his troops and surrounded the house. In the ensuing gunfight the next morning, four conspirators were shot dead, including Robert Catesby the charismatic mastermind of the plot. Of the others, six were tried on 27th January 1606 and executed at the end of that month.  One other, Francis Tresham, was arrested on 12th November and fortuitously died of a natural illness in the Tower on 23rd December.

The room in which Lady Digby received Thomas Bates’ news is a beautiful one to our eyes, and we might expect to find a lingering atmosphere of fear and dread. But indeed no such feeling hangs around this room, and our emotional response to the story may be most clearly elicited in the room which holds the exhibition. The information about the Plot is imaginatively displayed, thus giving visitors their best chance to remember the names of the people involved and the details of their desperate flight and foolhardy actions during those final fateful hours after Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament.

Whatever we may think now of the issues at stake during years of turmoil in which England swung back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism, nevertheless, when viewed on the human scale, we see individuals chancing their lives and family destinies, on the hoped-for success of desperate strategies, utterly at the mercy of the State’s ruthless response to their own religious zeal, often leading to heart-rending and grisly outcomes.

Here at Coughton Court, home of the Throckmortons who were so closely connected to those dramatic events, we may see this played out through generations of unswerving Catholic devotion both before the events of 1605 and for centuries after, right down to the present day. After Sir Robert Throckmorton became Lord of Coughton in 1680, he built an illegal Catholic chapel, only to see it burned down by a Protestant mob, during the anti-catholic riots which were followed by the exile of James II. The mob also burned the east side of the house, and the ruins stayed there for another century.

When I enter a house such as Coughton Court, the rich surroundings, the elegant and lofty rooms, the grand family portraits and the harmonious decor play their part; but most powerful of all is the story of the house, brought alive by the artefacts that are displayed here. We may find the chemise that Mary Queen of Scots wore on the day of her execution; the dole-gate that one of the family, Elisabeth Throckmorton, Abbess of Denny, brought with her as a poignant memento as she fled the dissolution of the monasteries; the chair made out of wood  originally used for the bed Richard III slept on before he fought the Battle of Bosworth.

And, too, we may view the family photographs of the present-day members of the Throckmorton family – two of them, Clare McLaren-Throckmorton and her daughter Christina, responsible for the design and creation of the enchanting walled garden. These photos also have a poignancy to them, when you remember the contemporary family’s forbears. We may consider this a luxury few may claim, to know your family history back 600 years; but I believe there may be a certain burden in carrying this, a certain weight on your shoulders, a weight of knowledge of the details of your ancestors’ vices and virtues, their hopes and failures, their deeds, their triumphs and disasters.

 

How to get there:

Alcester

Warwickshire

B49 5JA

 

Find out more

 

New Book: Spirit of Warwickshire

Now I’ve begun work on my new book Spirit of Warwickshire, here’s a taster of what you’ll find in it.Baddesley Clinton 26 Mar 18 image 2

The book, which I plan to release later this year with Luminarie, will contain a selection of articles about places in Warwickshire which I’ve visited and which have spiritual resonance. These will be places which carry meaning, places which have power, and places which set off chains of reflections, memories, dreams.

Each of my articles will be accompanied by a full colour original photo of the location by my photographer daughter Abigail Robinson.

This will not be a traditional tourist guide, but an individual take on various places that visitors to Warwickshire may well want to include on their itinerary. This is a guide for travellers of spirit, not just tourists. Here’s a glimpse of just some of the places that will be on my list of contents:

  • Holy Trinity Church, Morton Bagot: Water, Rock, Moon & Ancient Stone
  • Guys Cliffe House: Romantic Ruin
  • St Peter’s Church, Wootton Wawen: Saxon Sanctuary
  • Upton House: A Watered Garden
  • The Saxon Mill, Warwick: a Writer’s Delight
  • The Saxon Mill, Warwick: A Snowy Walk
  • Enchanted Kenilworth
  • Kenilworth Castle: Boxing Day
  • Kenilworth Castle: Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Garden
  • Kenilworth Castle : Christmas Wreath Making
  • Kenilworth Castle: A Dream Arising from Ruins
  • Kenilworth Castle: Elizabeth and Dudley
  • St Mary’s Church, Warwick: Inspiration from the Tower
  • Spring at Baddesley Clinton
  • Shakespeare’s , New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon: Garden of Curious Amusements
  • The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon: Sir Antony Sher and Shakespeare
  • Folk Festival, Warwick
  • St James’s Church, Old Milverton: Country Graveyard
  • House of Bread, Shipston-upon-Stour: Sheep and Lamb
  • Compton Verney: Capability Brown Landscape
  • The Castle Inn, Edgehill

Spring is Starting to Win… at Baddesley Clinton

A few photos from Baddesley Clinton, one of my favourite National Trust properties, a short drive from my home in Warwick.