Trip to Shrewsbury and Stokesay Court – Aug 1st 2018- by Margaret Hathaway

Combining forces once again, Clent and Belbroughton History Societies enjoyed a good day out on Wednesday 1st August. We were blessed with delightful summer weather, not as hot as some recent days, sunny with a light breeze- perfect for exploring and sight-seeing weather.

We spent the morning in Shrewsbury. The gardens were spectacular in preparation for the flower show. The marquees were going up and although the parkland was showing signs of the recent dearth of rain some of us enjoyed a lovely riverside stroll. We scattered widely to explore different sides of this surprising town; some in the museum; some distracted by the markets; some exploring the varied architecture, some focusing on the churches and a group of us able to piggyback on the local knowledge of a friend of Sarah from Belbroughton. Nigel tailored a short tour to explain the origins and growth of the settlement and to explore the history through the buildings and we still had time to grab something to eat and return to favourite places to explore further. We enjoyed his tales of the Bear Steps area, especially Grope Alley although y efforts to retrace my steps to look at it and a display of Women in WWI  posters in the gallery there failed as I was continually distracted by other delights. Many, many thanks to Sarah and Nigel.

Our afternoon was spent at Stokesay Court where we were met by Caroline, the owner, who also joined us for tea and cakes after our tours. We learned the story of the acquisition of land and the final missing piece joining up estates which was the land on which Stokesay Court was built making the very best of such wonderful views. It was the first house in the country to have electric throughout from the start and to have central heating. The property is far larger than most of us expected although logically knowing the numbers of wounded soldiers who convalesced there during WWI and of the officers who were based there in WWII it is no wonder it is expansive. For those who had seen the film ‘ Atonement there was the surprise of seeing a whole wing which some film tech wizardry had removed from all shots of the house in the film.

Whilst almost all of the contents of the house were sold in a four day Sotheby’s auction in the early 1990s Caroline has worked to refurnish it. The house itself was in a dreadful condition as her aunt had largely retreated to a couple of rooms in the years before her death and it was never really opened up again after the second world war. There were fallen ceilings and numerous leaks and vast areas of brown plaster. Caroline is quite open about the opportunities being used as a film location have brought. Some ebay purchases and modern works of art sit alongside period pieces and quite remarkable medium oak panelling and carving. At the top of the stairs sits the huge statue which was the centrepiece of the fountain which is the focus of the most famous scene in the film. The statue is apparently polystyrene and would blow away if outside! The work which the film company did to prepare the house for shooting is astonishing- huge pedimented bookshelves in the billiard room, stunning redecoration of some bedrooms and intricate carpentry. In the lovely three bay sitting room some of the decorative panels remain and are a simple frame with fabric attached hinged and battened to the wall which can be swung open to access the light switches and to show the sorry state of the walls behind. In another bedroom Caroline opted to keep the reworked, reshaped room which had been made by erecting panels. It does mean that to access light switches and sockets one has to reach through hatches cut in the panels.

Many of us remarked how grateful we were to be going home to our more simple lives and not to have the worry of the upkeep of such a property despite its spectacular views and garden and space to roam.

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