The Arts Society High Weald plans trips usually twice a year, often to places of special interest that cannot be visited by the public.
Wherever possible we arrange a guide for the day which always gives a visit that extra dimension.
We are always open to suggestions but subjects have to be of a wide enough interest to attract at least 30 people to make a trip financially viable because of transport costs.
6 May 2020 – Greenwich, with a Blue Badge Guide, focusing on the Queen’s House and the newly-restored Painted Hall
29 September 2020 – Firle Place: a guided tour of the house and artworks, followed by a chance to explore the village of Alfriston, home of the Clergy House
Chevening House Tuesday, 24 September 2019
We were privileged to be allowed to visit Chevening this year. A draw was held at our June meeting for the 25 places on the trip and following an inspiring lecture on the Maya, the lucky members drove to Chevening and assembled in the forecourt, to be met by the Secretary to the Board of Trustees, Colonel Alastair Mathewson OBE, who was our guide to the house. Looking North from the front of the house, the Keyhole, a narrow cut through the hanging beech woods was fleetingly backlit before the clouds closed in again. A suitably dramatic start to our visit.
Chevening House dates back around 800 years, but the house we see today is almost entirely the creation of seven generations of the Stanhope family, until the 7th Earl’s gift of Chevening to the nation ensured that the distinguished history of the family and the estate has been preserved for future generations. The house is currently the country residence of a nominated Cabinet Minister and thus continues to play its part in the political life of the nation.
We were able to view a wide variety of rooms, from the mundane kitchens and laundry rooms to the library and the state rooms, including the wonderful Tapestry Room. We climbed the amazing wooden cantilevered staircase from the entrance hall, but only 5 of us at a time. This staircase was apparently designed by a military engineer, and we half expected to be asked to break step.
Our visit ended with beautifully served afternoon tea, and some of us also took the opportunity to visit St Botolph’s Chevening which lies on the Pilgrims Way and dates from the 12th century.
Romney Marsh Historic Churches Thursday, 5 September 2019
Our first visit to these beautiful old churches in 2018 encompassed Lydd, Old Romney, St Mary in the Marsh and Ivychurch. Our second trip took us to a further four churches guided by John Hendy from the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust, who shared with us his love and in-depth knowledge of their history and how they and the Marsh come to be as we see them today. Our base was once again the Rose & Crown at Old Romney, from where we set out first to New Romney, where there were once five parish churches. St Nicholas is the only one now remaining. The coast is now a couple miles away, so it is hard to imagine today that when it was built the church stood at the head of the harbour and ships were moored at the edge of the churchyard. In 1287, the great South Coast storm filled the port with four feet of sand and shingle and singlehandedly moved the Rother estuary west to Rye. While New Romney was covered in a deep layer of debris and went into decline, the church survived it all, and still bears witness to the disaster through its below-ground entrance and the stained pillars at its west end.
Our next visit was to St Peter and Paul at Dymchurch, the home of Dr Syn. A very different and much smaller building but with a beautiful Norman chancel arch, and not one but two scratch dials to mark the times of the masses before the age of clocks. When the porch was added in the 13th Century it blocked the sun, so the first one became redundant. The church also had two interesting modern stained glass windows, one of which has a tiny steam locomotive smuggled into one corner.
After an excellent lunch, we moved on to St Augustine in Brookland, well- known for its freestanding wooden bell tower (complete with a bat when we visited). The interior of the church showed other adaptations required by the marshy ground, such as internal flying buttresses. We saw a beautiful 13th century wall painting of the Death of St Thomas Becket, hidden beneath plaster for centuries, a wonderful decorated lead font and a fragment of exquisite medieval stained glass.
All too quickly we had to leave Brookland to cross Walland Marsh to the tiny church of St Thomas Becket at Fairfield. The weather was fine and dry, ideal for us to walk along the causeway across the field, and unlock the church to find the distinctive white box pews and triple-decker pulpit, and a number of lovely text boards. Again this church would originally have been built very close to the sea, and the roof beams echo the shape of the wooden ships of the period. A beautiful and fitting close to our visit to the Marsh churches.
Walmer Castle and the Salutation Garden 9 May 2019
A day of dodging the showers but much enjoyed by all. After coffee in the keep on arrival at Walmer, our tour of the castle was enhanced by an engaging and knowledgeable guide, George, who was full of interesting information that really brought the castle and its history to life. This is one of the three “castles in the Downs” built by Henry VIII as part of coastal defences against the threat of a French invasion, but later became the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Seen from above, the castle and its bastions are in the shape of a Tudor Rose (a coincidence we were told), so when it was converted to a domestic residence the rooms had to fit within the 18ft thick curved walls, resulting in some unusual and interesting shapes.
This is a unique place unlike any other country house as it is in the gift of the crown, so hasn’t had a family living there handing it down from generation to generation. Among the notable Lords Warden to leave their mark are William Pitt the Younger, the Duke of Wellington, high street stationer William Henry (W.H.) Smith, and more recently former Australian prime minister Sir Robert Menzies and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The gardens were originally laid out in the early 19th century by Pitt and his niece Lady Hester Stanhope, who later achieved fame through her visits to the Middle East. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to see the newly-opened restored “Glen” garden. An abandoned chalk pit, which had been an impenetrably dense jungle of bramble, gorse and fallen trees for more than a century has been revealed as a magical place for peace and quiet.
We then moved on to the historic town of Sandwich, one of the five original Cinque Ports and well worth further exploration. After a stop for lunch we visited the gardens of The Salutation, designed by Lutyens and entirely enclosed by sheltering walls. Despite the showers the strength of his design shone through and framed the lovely plantings.
Many of us resolved to return to see more on another day, always a sign of an interesting and enjoyable visit.
… Other visits
The Wren Churches of London 0n 18th October 2018
The Medieval Churches of Romney Marsh on 12th April 2018
Glyndebourne behind the Scenes on Thursday 7 Dec 2017
Polesden Lacey & Hatchlands Park on 27th April 2017
Dulwich Picture Gallery & Horniman Museum on Thurs 17 Nov 2016
Chevening House on 22 Sept 2016
Tower of London & Tower Bridge or St.Katharine Dock 10 Mar 2016
Parham House, Storrington on Thurs 24 Sept 2015