Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Valley with a Past

It was a magical late summers day, gliders soared high overhead, the tree canopy was just beginning to show its first flush of autumn gold. A perfect day to wander in the dappled sunlight, breathe in the sweet air, and enjoy.
Setting off down the track, picnic to hand, into a spot just visible from our own hilltop eerie
A valley which was settled thousands of years ago. Neolithic flint-knappings, and a late Bronze Age storage pit used to keep foodstuffs safe and cool have been found. Evidence also of Bronze Age roundhouses, and later during the Roman period it was occupied by a provincial governor, thought to be General Vespasian, who built himself a large villa. The villa had one of the finest mosaics ever discovered north of the Alps - the Orpheus Pavement found and excavated by Samuel Lysons in 1793.
This peaceful wooded valley reveals the remains of a Georgian landscape created between the 17th and 19th centuries influenced by leading landscape designers 'Capability' Brown and Humphry Repton
The peace and quiet occasionally broken
by lowing cattle, bleating sheep, and the plaintive mew from a Buzzard in the treetops
large old specimen trees still stand proud in a neglected landscape that is gradually being reclaimed
Hidden at the end of this valley lies an enigma
An unfinished masterpiece - a splendid Victorian Gothic building
In 1846 William Leigh asked the pre-eminent Victorian architect A.W.N. Pugin to survey an existing property in the valley, presumably with a view to his improving the house for William and his family. However, Pugin condemned the existing building saying "...a more hopeless case of repairs I never saw." He recommended starting anew and sent Leigh an estimate of £7118 and a design for a new house.  Progress on the mansion was slow as often the workforce was withdrawn to do other work on the estate and funding was piecemeal. William Leigh was a perfectionist who actively supervised all the work. His personality may well have contributed to the slow pace and his religious fervour had a significant impact on the style of the house. His health declined and the mansion remained unfinished on Leigh's death.
Today the unfinished mansion is held by a Trust who are slowly rescuing the property from potentially catastrophic decay. The Trust is a pioneer to the Living Classroom model of heritage skills training, becoming the first site in the UK to provide hands-on training to student stonemasons vital for the survival and heritage of our limestone buildings.
It's a good recipe
The students learn new skills
and the building is gradually rescued from decay

35 comments:

  1. Such beautiful surroundings - my kind of countryside. What a shame the building was unfinished - it is quite amazing that it has remained standing with such neglect. Good that it is being put to good use now - it will be interesting to see the end result.

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    1. Inside it rather resembles a cathedral as there are no floors in situ - you are right Elaine I think that this is your kind of landscape.

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  2. What a fabulous building! This is a wonderful way to bring it to life again too. It will be even better when it is done as it will have been built in such an amazing way with an incredible history. xx

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    1. It is really good training for the stonemasons Amy. They will probably go on to help restore many of our churches and cathedrals once they are proficient.

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  3. Beautiful trees, scenery. What a great idea to have students for the house.

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    1. It appears to be the perfect solution to the problem Margararet - a win win situation

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  4. What a perfect specimen for a new generation to be able to learn skills lost to many.
    I can't get over the size of that really large tree. I would dearly love to take a walk there.

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    1. There are several different colour coded walks in the valley that can be followed Janey - some of just over an hour and others more than four hours. There are also five lakes, but we didn't reach them - perhaps next time

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  5. Perfectionism is deadly to any kind of project. I'm not surprised the house was never finished.

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    1. I wonder what William Leigh would think if he knew that his pride and joy was being used as a training project

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  6. What a good idea to use students and train them. The walk looked beautiful, where exactly were you?

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    1. The valley belongs to the NT but not the house - it is near Nympsfield on the way to Dursley Sat. Nav. GL10 3TS

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  7. Hello Rosemary, It is interesting how a long-unfinished house can have the same evocations as a ruin, even without the romance of ancient habitation. I found some quite interesting photos of the Woodchester Mansion interiors through an internet search--I wonder if there is some book documenting the complete building--it would make a perfect coffee-table book.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - the internet is the fount of all knowledge - I am pleased that you found pictures of the interior which reveals just how unfinished the mansion actually is, a fact that is not obvious from my photos.
      There was a book came out in 2014 entitled A History of Woodchester Mansion and a Photographic Record but according to Amazon it is currently unavailable.

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    2. Thanks, I will keep an eye out for that book. I neglected to say before that the house's story is similar to that of Longwood, the huge 1859 octagonal house in Natchez, Mississippi. Like Woodchester, It was never completed, but looks almost complete on the exterior, and is now a museum.
      --Jim

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    3. I had a look at Longwood which is a most unusual looking property. Its oriental appearance looks similar to properties seen in India.

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  8. It would have been such a pity to just leave it to decay , what a wonderful idea to exploit the building for training . And in such beautiful surroundings !

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    1. They have a Halloween Party in the mansion every year which I imagine is a bit spooky. Getting to the mansion down through the valley in the dark must be quite precarious too - I suspect that they probably put lanterns in the trees

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  9. I always enjoy your walks close to home. It must have been a wonderful day for a picnic too. So glad that the beautiful building is being restored and craftsmen are learning new skills. Some of the architecture reminds me of my old boarding school. Sarah x

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    1. It was last Sunday Sarah, I am sure that you enjoyed a lovely day in your area too - I love these Indian Summer days and long may they last.

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  10. I wonder what will become of the building, once it has been restored?

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    1. Hello Jessica - the building will never be made into a habitable building, but kept as it is. Inside it is rather like a cathedral with huge stone arches, fireplaces etc and but hardly any floors, just a few stone stairways.

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  11. How pleasant to walk along the track beneath the tree canopy in dappled sunlight. And then to come across those sheep...are they English Longhorn sheep, Rosemary?

    I am feeling a little bit cheeky today.......

    Ms Soup

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    1. I am happy to tell you that they are a rare breed sheep called Jacob - very popular for their wool, and I believe good guard dogs! The cattle by the way are Belted Galloway - I have shown the breed previously in another post, they come from the Scottish borders.

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    2. Thanks Rosemary. Jacob sheep are new to me, however Belted Galloways are found down here in the Antipodes.

      Ms Soup

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    3. That is interesting because I can remember about 40 years ago when Belted Galloway were only ever seen in the Western borders of Scotland, and now they seem to have gone global. They are very popular - I understand that not only are they very hardy but they also make good mothers and have high quality meat.

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  12. How wonderful! Such a good way of teaching too. Hands on experience seems to have so much more impact than just reading about a technique.

    And of course, wonderful pictures as usual : )

    Cheers,
    Marica

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    1. Thanks Marica - it seems to be a very worthwhile project - there are good career prospects too for the youngsters as most of our cathedrals and churches are made of limestone.

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  13. Overwelming green. Nice.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Yes, summer is still hanging in there

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    1. Thanks for visiting Antonia and pleased you liked seeing the pictures

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  15. The nuilding is fantastic. And this landscape - sigh - so beautiful.
    Hugs

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    1. It is a lovely valley to visit and especially so on a day when the skies are blue and the sun is shinning.

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  16. Rosemary, I think you live in one of the most beautiful places in the world! I have to visit this area one day and I'll have all your blogposts to guide me :)

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