A wander around Ruthin


After we’d looked around the exhibition at the Ruthin Craft Centre, we decided to walk the short distance into the small town and have a look around.

There’s been a town here since the 13th century when, during t his consolidation of the conquest of North Wales, Edward I had a castle constructed in this strategic location. There’ not much left of the castle today and it’s now part of a hotel, set in it’s own grounds. Apparently  Prince Charles stayed here for the night before his investiture as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. As was usually the case, a community developed around the castle, so the town was probably originally a bastide, populated with English settlers. But these days it’s very Welsh!

Probably the most notable event in the town’s history occurred during the Welsh revolt 1400–1415 led by Owain Glyndŵr. The revolt was sparked when Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthin, who was a big mate of the king, Henry IV, allegedly stole some land claimed by Glyndŵr . His response was to attack Ruthin with several hundred men, looting and burning down most of the buildings in the town. This was the start of the rebellion, during which Glyndŵr  was proclaimed Prince of Wales.

Being rather out on a limb away from the main industrial centres, Ruthin is rather frozen in time and, as a consequence, there’s a significant number of interesting old buildings. It’s a small town centre, only a few streets, so it didn’t take long to look around.


The Old Court House was built in 1421 after the original court house building was burned down by Owain Glyndŵr ‘s men. It’s a Grade II* Listed building and until 2017 housed a branch of the National Westminster Bank.

The Old Court House

Nantclwyd House in Castle Street is a Grade I listed timber-framed mansion and the oldest building in Ruthin dating from 1314.

Nantclwyd House

Today, it’s a museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit.

There’s some “newer” buildings, too, a number from the Georgian period


Exmewe Hall, on St Peter’s Square, it looks like a Tudor timber framed building, but was actually reconstructed during the 20th century to mimic the black and white town mansion, built around 1550, that originally stood on the site.

Exmewe Hall

I enjoyed looking at the old buildings, but before we headed back to the car to set off for Anglesey, we had to go to prison!

78 Derngate

A couple of weeks ago I had to drive down to Hertfordshire on a Sunday as zi was working down there on the Monday. An 8 o’clock start meant a stay over on Sunday evening. Rather than just belt all the way down the Motorway I decided to break the journey, pulling off the M1 at Northampton, with a view to visiting 78 Derngate, a house where the interior had been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.


The house was owned by a local industrialist, W J Bassett-Lowke a man of Progressive ideals, Fabian politics (he knew G B Shaw who visited the house and stayed in the guest bedroom), had, for the time (the early 20th Century), rather modern tastes.

One of a row of Georgian houses in the centre of Northampton, Bassett-Lowke’s father  bought the relatively small house for him in 1916 when he got married. Being right in the middle of WWI it wasn’t possible to build a new house (which I guess he would have preferred) so he set about getting it modified so it would be more in line with his Modernist inclinations and he hired Mackintosh, who was living in Chelsea at the time, to help with the interior design.


The Bassett-Lowkes lived in the house 1926 when they moved to a newly built Modernist home designed by Peter Behrens. It passed through several owners until 1964 when it was bought by Northampton High School for Girls who initially used it for offices and then later as classrooms.   When the school decided to sell off the house it was bought by Northampton Borough Council. A Trust was formed who restored the house and it was opened to the public at the end of 2003. The house itself is quite small so the Trust has also bought No’s 80 and 82 which houses the reception desk,  gift shop, museum, restaurant, art galleries, meeting rooms and offices.

Although visitors can explore the house and garden on their own, there are regular guided tours, which take just over an hour, and it’s well worth joining one. I arrived about 45 minutes before the next tour was due to start so I spent some time looking around the small garden (it was a fine, sunny, autumn afternoon), the museum and the galleries where there were exhibitions of works by a local artist, Roy Holding, and the Northamptonshire Guild of Designer Craftsmen. The guided tour, which started with a short video, was led by a knowledgeable volunteer and was excellent. After the tour I had about 45 minutes left to have a quick look round on my own to take a closer look at the rooms and furnishings.

Bassett-Lowke had a number of structural changes made to the house. A rectangular extension was added at the back to enlarge the kitchen and the dining room and creating balconies for the two bedrooms. It isn’t clear how much of these changes (and, indeed the décor) Mackintosh designed.


Mackintosh was hired during a period when his architectural and design work had largely dried up, so he must have welcomed the commission.  Bassett-Lowke must have been a difficult client to work for, though. He had had some architectural training and had his own definite ideas about what he wanted and certainly didn’t leave mackintosh to get on with it, organising the work himself. His wife, who it seems had more conventional tastes, didn’t get much of a look in! But  Mackintosh’s touch is clearly evident throughout the house. The décor is a little different  to his earlier work, being more angular and almost prefiguring what became known as “Art Deco” style.

After watching the video which covered the history of the house and an overview of the interior,  the tour started in the garden. We could see the rear elevation which looked very Modernist and nothing like a Georgian property.

This planter looks very “Mackintosh”, but it’s not certain he designed it.


Moving inside the house, first stop was the kitchen. No Mackintosh touches here but quite modern for the early 20th century. Bassett-Lowke was very keen on having all the latest electrical gadgets including an electric kettle and other appliances, many which had to be specially imported.


The kitchen would have been the domain of Lotte, the Bassett-Lowkes’ servant. She was Austrian so an “enemy alien” during the war, so I don’t know how they managed to keep her employed.

Moving upstairs to the dining room


Mackintosh’s main contribution to this room was the walnut cabinets to either side of the fireplace.


Across the stairwell and we were in the living room (the house is only two rooms wide)



This screen beside the staircase is probably Mackintosh’s “tour de force”.



He designed the décor, an angular pattern representing trees, which is predominantly black, making the room rather dark.


Mrs Bassett-Lowke did not like it so it was changed to a much lighter design, which was shown in a display on one of the rooms on the top floor of the house


Up another floor and into the main bedroom. There wasn’t much furnishing in here.


but the guest bedroom on the next floor has been recreated.  This is where G B slept when he stayed in the house. The striped décor is very striking and must have looked so radically different in 1917. It could easily have been designed in modern times.


Mrs Bassett-Lowke did not like it at all.



Across the corridor the bathroom had all the mod cons for the time


I spent almost 3 hours in the house, much longer than I expected. It was certainly well worth the diversion!

Whitby houses

Until the 19th Century, Whitby it was a small fishing port with few houses. But as shipbuilding and other industries as well as tourism took hold the town began to develop. Not surprisingly, then, many of the buildings in the older parts of town are from the Georgian period. These are a few examples of Georgian style houses we spotted around the town.





Some of them rather grand



including Whitehall, next door to our holiday home


The grandest buildings, such as the Bay Royal Hotel and Royal Crescent, are up on the top of the West Cliff. It’s the only historic area we didn’t really explore during our visit so no photos!

There were some examples of earlier buildings scattered around the town




The Tudor ‘Manor House’ of Bagdale Hall on the west side of the river is one of the oldest buildings in the town. It’s been restored and converted to a hotel and restaurant.


We spotted this interesting house on Church Street on the East side of the river. A little piece of Amsterdam in East Yorkshire!


We speculated as to whether the original owner was from the Netherlands or had spent some time there.



After I’d had a look around the Minster in Howden, I decided to have a mooch around the town starting in the town square, which is immediately in front of the east end of the Minster.


It was a thriving town in medieval times with a connection to the Bishops of Durham. They would stay in the town when travelling down to London and had a palace built here. The remains, the Bishop’s Manor, is just off the market square and around the corner from the Minster .



Originally there was a complex range of buildings, inside an irregular walled courtyard. But the majority of these buildings were demolished in the late 16th century. Nevertheless the remaining structure is quite impressive for a small town.

The Minister towers over the buildings in the town centre


The old streets are narrow and twisty, probably reflecting their medieval origin.



but many of the buildings are Georgian town houses built for professional men and tradesmen




With a few grand houses


This is the town’s war memorial. An ornate Gothic monument.


During the First World War an airship station was built just to the north of the town, near Spaldington. The airships based here provided protection for ports and shipping along the east coast. After the war the station was closed but the hangers were converted into a manufacturing facility for airships including the R100, designed by Sir Barnes Wallis (who later designed the Vickers Wellington bomber invented the “bouncing bomb” used by the Dambusters).  The author Nevil Shute Norway (better known as Nevil Shute) was part of the team that created the R100 and lived in the town.




I’m working in East Yorkshire this week, staying in Goole. I had an early start on Monday so had booked to stay over on Sunday evening. Sunday looked a promising day and I didn’t fancy being stuck in front of the telly watching the Wimbledon men’s final (I don’t get tennis I’m afraid) so I decided to drive over the Pennines early afternoon and find something to do. The small, historic town of Beverley is about 30 minutes further east from Goole and as I’ve never been there before (only seen it signposted off the motorway when driving over to Hull) I decided it might be a good bet to keep me occupied. I wasn’t wrong.

The town grew up around a monastery that was founded at the beginning of the 8th Century and there’s been a church here ever since. Today the town’s main attraction is the Minster which was built between 1220 and around 1420.


Although it has the size and grandeur of a cathedral, it isn’t the seat of a Bishop, and only has the status of a Parish Church.


The town has an attractive shopping street. Unfortunately it is mainly populated by the main high street chains. There were plenty of pubs and places to eat – a reflection of it being a tourist destination.


Most of the buildings in the town centre are Georgian and Victorian but there are some traces of the town’s medieval heritage. The North Bar is one of them.


It’s the last remaining gateway that protected the entrance to the town and at one time had  a drawbridge. There were originally five but the other four are long gone.

A short distance away is another Medieval Gothic church, St Mary’s. Like the Minster, a fine example of Gothic architecture. It dates from the 12th century and so predates the minster. It underwent a major restoration between 1844 and 1876 under the successive supervision of Augustus Welby Pugin, his son E. Welby Pugin, and Sir Gilbert Scott. So it’s appearance probably reflects the Victorian take on Gothic like many other churches (including our own Wigan Parish church)


There’s a medieval building more or less opposite St Mary’s – now converted into an up-market shopping centre


Lot’s of attractive Georgian buildings around the town.








There are also examples of other architectural styles. This is the local library built in the early 20th Century. I’d probably describe it as Edwardian Baroque


The old Corn Exchange, from the same period.


And an Art Deco style façade in amongst the Georgian buildings on the corner of the Saturday Market and main shopping street, Toll Gavel.


An interesting town, well worth the diversion (as the Michelin Guide would put it). It rather reminded me of a smaller scale version of York, minus the medieval walls.

Dublin Fanlights


Georgian houses in Dublin are relatively plain with little ornamentation. Typically, the front is fairly plain brickwork, only broken up by long windows. In these houses, the main decorative feature tends to be the door and the semi-circular fan-light, which present an opportunity for some individuality.

Fanlights are, as the name implies fan-shaped windows above the front door which illuminate an otherwise dark hallway. In Georgian times, natural light, candles and oil
lamps were the only means of lighting the darker parts of houses, such as the hallways. They’re both a functional and a decorative feature and in Dublin there are many different designs.

During my latest visit to the city, due to the weather I didn’t spend much time wandering around the streets but even a short walk in the streets to the south of the Lifffey takes you past plenty of Georgian squares and streets. I spotted this rather unusual example near to the RHA Gallery.


During a relatively short walk, I snapped a number of other examples – all different.

This is a relatively simple example


A much bigger window with a more complex pattern


This one is a little like a spider’s web


This one is really fancy


This one has a glass box built into it which would hold a lamp or candle to light the outside of the house



As does this one – a grander version




Killyleagh is a small town on the south west shore of Strangford Lough. It’s Irish name is Cill Ó Laoch, meaning “church of the descendants of Laoch.

The top of the main street is dominated by a castle which, with it’s fairytale towers, looks as if it’s been transplanted from the Loire Valley. It’s believed to be the oldest inhabited castle in the country, with parts dating back to 1180. It only acquired its current look in the 1850s when the turrets were added. I got a decent shot of the gatehouse and curtain wall, but the keep was undergoing renovation


So here’s a picture from Wikipedia.

By David Hawgood, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14339108

It is a private family home owned and occupied by the Hamilton family since the 17th century Plantation of Ulster. You can peek through the gate but can’t go inside, which is fair enough.

We were staying in the Dufferin Coaching Inn, at the top of the main street near the castle. An interesting place, it had originally been the local branch of the Ulster Bank and those premises had been combined with an adjoining shop to create the B&B..


We had a spacious, comfortable, well equipped room on the front. There was a whirlpool bath and bath robes and slippers provided.


The Coaching Inn didn’t serve evening meals so the first night we had a walk into the town to check out a restaurant recommended by our host. A short walk took us to the shores of the Lough. We were pleasantly surprised by the fantastic views over the water





There isn’t a lot of choice of places to eat in the town so we decided to try our luck at the Smuggler’s table.


It didn’t look that fancy from the outside


But the food was outstanding and extremely good value.

I had Strangford Lough mussels in a spicy sauce to start


A light version of fish pie which was more like a creamy fish stew


finishing off with a coffee and a mango panacotta


Highly recommended.


After the meal we had a short walk along the shore before turning in.


The next morning we decided to take a look around the town. Originally it would have been a small fishing and agricultural centre with a small harbour. It grew and developed when a linen mill opened in the town in 1852.

There were a lot of older houses around the town, mainly Georgian in style and many of them had been renovated or were in the process of being renovated, frequently painted in bright colours.





This is a row of linen workers’ cottages on the road leading to the old mill.


There had been some new development on the harbour, but the buildings had been designed to complement their surroundings.


There’s a yacht club based on the lough here too.


The sea front is owned by the National Trust which will hopefully ensure that inappropriate development doesn’t take place. The town is something of a hidden gem and deserves to be better known.

Beningborough Hall


Last weekend we decided we’d take a break and go up to the North East to visit family, combining the trip with some tourism and a hill walk. On Saturday, we took a short detour off our route to visit Beningborough Hall, a National Trust property a few miles north of York. The hall was was built for a York landowner, John Bourchier III to replace his family’s modest Elizabethan manor. It was completed in 1716 this year is its 300th birthday.

The estate passed to the Dawnay family in 1827 (distant relatives of the Bourchiers). In 1916 it was bought purchased by the Count and Countess of Chesterfield. During the Second World War Beningbrough was used to house airmen from the bomber squadrons at nearby Linton-on-Ouse. Lady Chesterfield returned in 1947 and lived on alone in the house until her death in 1957 and in June 1958 the estate was passed on to the National Trust in lieu of death duties.

George I came to the throne in1714, two years before the house was completed, so it would be true to say that it is a Georgian mansion, but it is more ornate than the typical great Palladian houses associated with this period of history.The NT describe it as Italianate Baroque, although in a restrained English variation of the flamboyant, Catholic, style found in mainland Europe.


The interior layout was very similar to that of Castletown, the first Palladian mansion in Ireland that I visited last year.

There was the grand, double story entrance hall


and interconnected rooms with doors aligned so that when open you could see along the entire length of the house.




The rooms were very ornate


and there were very grand and tall four poster beds in the bedrooms

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I liked the displays and installations that the NT had set out in various rooms linked to the history of the house.

This display of tea cups in the drawing room celebrated the Dawnay family connection to Earl Grey. There’s probably at least two days worth of tea cups based on my personal consumption!


The horse racing tags in the fireplace below the portrait of Lady Chesterfield celebrate her interest in the sport. There are several racecourses nearby.


The NT work in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery and the hall has oer 120 18th-century portraits on display throughout the house. And on he top floor there are seven interpretation galleries featuring an exhibition – ‘Making Faces: 18th century Style’

They also host temporary exhibitions. Currently here’s a small display of portraits of noted natives of Yorkshire, including this one of Alan Bennett.

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In an outbuilding there’s a recreation of a Victorian laundry.


The laundresses wouldn’t have had a easy life, even if they did have a primitive washing machine.



Afterwards we went out into the sunshine to explore the gardens. There are six acres of immaculate gardens – with lawns, formal garden areas, and a Walled Kitchen Garden



Given the time of year there were lots of colourful tulips in full bloom.






I rather liked this tea pot. A good size for me! Alas, it wouldn’t be practical – it would leak quite badly!


We spent a good half day exploring, longer than we expected. An enjoyable visit and “well worth a detour”, as they would say in the Michelin Guide.

Wordsworth House and Garden, Cockermouth

Although the weather forecast for the last day of our short break in the Lake District didn’t predict rain, they got it wrong! But we hadn’t intended to go out for a walk but to spend the day mooching around Keswick and then to visit the Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth, just over 10 miles away and we didn’t let a little rain disrupt our plans.

The “Wordsworth House and Garden” is a large Georgian townhouse which is the birthplace and childhood home of the romantic poet. It stands in a prominent position on the main street and today it’s owned by the National Trust. At the moment it’s undergoing some restoration work and the front was obscured somewhat by scaffolding, so the following photograph is taken from the National Trust’s website.

Wordsworth House was the birthplace and childhood home of poet William © John Millar

Wordsworth’s father, John, was a lawyer who worked as the agent for the Cumberland estates of Sir James Lowther. He moved into the “tied” house (it came with the job) in 1765, marrying Ann Lowther, the daughter of a prosperous draper from Penrith the following year. They had five children: Richard in 1768, William in 1770, Dorothy in 1771, John in 1772 and Christopher in 1774.

When Ann died in 1778 William and his brother Richard were sent to Hawkshead Grammar School where they lived with a local woman and his sister Dorothy was sent to live with elatives in Halifax. Their father died in December 1783 and as the house went with the job the children became homeless and had to be sent to live with relatives.

Visitors see the house as it would have appeared when Wordsworth lived there with his parents, and siblings in the 1770s. It’s probably pretty typical of the type of house a Georgian middle class professional family would have lived in.

John Wordsworth’s study


The Clerk’s office


The Dining Room where guests would have been entertained


but wouldn’t have been used for the family’s daily meals. They would have been taken in the cosy Parlour, the main family living room, on the other side of the house, just off the kitchen



The large kitchen


The Drawing Room, another room used for entertaining and impressing guests, is at the front of the house on the first floor, very typical of Georgian houses



The family bedrooms were also on the first floor

Ann’s bedroom


The childrens’ bedroom


There’s a large garden at the back of the house, overlooking the River Derwent





The scarecrow has his own blog!

Wordsworth wrote about his childhood in his epic biographical poem The Prelude and he clearly had happy memories of living and growing up in the house.



Castletown House was the first Palladian style house in Ireland. It was built between 1722 and 1792 for William Conolly, who was the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. It’s not far from Dublin and on my route from the city to Clane, where I’ve been staying this week, so after I’d been to the IMMA I decided to make a visit.

I made a tour of the house – self guided as I arrived an hour before the final guided tour. It took close to an hour to get round all the rooms, and I took the opportunity to talk to the room guides to find out more about the house to supplement the information in the guide book. The house had been quiet on a grey day so they seemed quite pleased to be diverted by a curious Englishman.

The main house is flanked with two “service wings” – the kitchens were located in the west wing, which now houses while the stables were in the east wing, now converted into the visitor reception and book shop. The wings are connected to the main building by Ionic colonnades. Following the Palladian tradition, on the ground floor the main living rooms are at the back of the house, which faces north. Quite sensible in the Italian climate – the rooms are not so likely to be overheated by the direct sunlight. But not such a good idea in Ireland. On a cool grey afternoon the rooms were decidedly chilly!


The front of the house is dominated by the entrance hall which is two storeys high. It has a chequered marble floor and ionic columns. The decor is relatively plain, however.



The dining room was converted from two smaller rooms in the 1760’s.



The Butler’s pantry. Food would have been brought here from the kitchens prior to be taken into the dining room


Round to the back of the house – this is the Red Drawing Room



Then into the Green Drawing room which, located immediately behind the main entrance hall, would have been the main reception room on the ground floor.


An impressive Georgian period musical clock


The Print room

one of the most important rooms at Castletown. It is the only fully intact eighteenth century print room left in Ireland. During Lady Louisa’s time it became popular for ladies to collect their favourite prints and then arrange and paste them on to the walls of a chosen room, along with decorative borders. …….. the Print Room can be seen as a scrapbook of mid eighteenth century culture and taste.


The last of the reception rooms on the ground floor – the State Bedroom. Here, William Conolly would receive guests during the morning while sitting up in his bed or being dressed – just like Louis XIV at Versailles. Conolly clearly had visions of grandeur.


Back round to the front of the house and into the the staircase hall. The elaborate rococo plasterwork was created by the Philip Francini, who, with his older brother Paul, had worked at a number of Irish houses including Leinster House for in Dublin and Russborough House which I visited last year.







Upstairs now and into the Blue Bedroom which is decorated and furnished in Victorian style


The Boudoir – the lady of the house’s territory!


Finally into the Long Gallery

one of the most celebrated rooms at Castletown, and is unique in Ireland. Originally intended as a picture gallery …… (it) became a space for informal entertaining unlike the grand state rooms downstairs.




After looking round the house I decided to explore the grounds which extend south of the house down to the River Liffey and the town of Cellebridge


An ice house


A classical style temple

complete with columns removed from the Long Gallery during it’s redecoration in the 1760s. This temple, visible from the from the south front of the house, was erected in honour of Sarah Siddons, the actress.


The Liffey



Dark clouds looming!



A view of the house across the lake


Raindrops started to fall


Not long afterwards the heavens opened. Wearing only a jacket I took refuge under a tree while it eased off.

It was getting close to 6 o’clock when the house and grounds were closed, so I headed back to the car to drive the 10 miles or so to my hotel in Clane.