David Saint column: Trust trio truly worth a visit

David Saint's County Tales

By David Saint
Wednesday, 29th July 2020, 3:44 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th July 2020, 3:46 pm
Lyveden New Bield
Lyveden New Bield

‘The need of quiet, the need of air, and I believe the sight of sky and of things growing, seem human needs, common to all men.”

So wrote Octavia Hill 125 years ago this year. The result was that, with two others, she founded The National Trust.

Now, more than 5.6 million people, all with a common cause, are helping to preserve the heritage of England and Wales.

Often accused of being elitist, the trust is a charity for all and the range of properties in its care includes, I admit, a fair number of stately homes.

However, consider the vast areas of open countryside, miles of endangered coastline plus ordinary domestic homes like ‘back-to-backs’ in Birmingham and John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s teenage homes in Liverpool.

Northamptonshire has three trust properties and they are as different as chalk and cheese, although their one link is that they are all built of stone!

Two of them are, without doubt, of major national importance, while the third is a simple oddity!

Amazingly within this long and narrow county, the stone used in each is, similarly, like chalk and cheese!

The oddity first. It is called The Priest’s House and is in the beautiful village of Easton-on-the-Hill, way up towards the Lincolnshire border.

Dating from the 15th century, it was originally a chantry house and is now a small museum. It is built of the medium-fine grained sandy Lincolnshire Lime rubblestone.

Even though the name Lincolnshire may be off-putting, the fine stone was quarried throughout north-east Northamptonshire and as far south as Maidwell and Geddington.

Many may think that our second trust property is also an oddity, but close study reveals a magnificent edifice full of Christian symbolism.

Lyveden New Bield stands proudly on high ground overlooking the rolling open countryside.

Built by Sir Thomas Tresham in 1595, it was his unfinished retreat set beside unique Elizabethan gardens where grass paths lead up spiral viewing mounts above the canals below.

Easily my favourite place in the whole county, I never tire of showing Lyveden to friends from far and near.

The Lodge, built of two types of stone – Blisworth Limestone and the slightly lighter Weldon Stone – looks as crisp and perfect as though it was still in the process of being built now.

And so to Canon’s Ashby House. Home for 450 years of the Dryden family, it echoes so many literary and artistic connections.

The Drydens were related, by convoluted marriages, to Elizabeth Creed, the early 18th century artist, to John Dryden the first poet laureate, to Samuel Pepys and also to Edmund Spenser.

The fascinating house, built around a courtyard, it is mostly of Helmdon Stone and the Augustinian priory church opposite, also trust property, is Northamptonshire Sandstone.

Sadly, The Priest’s House and Lyveden are closed, so only Canons Ashby’s gardens and parkland are open for visitors on a booking basis, not the house or the church.

The Tack Room café is open for drinks and snacks (card payments only) and don’t worry, the toilets are open too! Contact 01327 861900 or see [email protected] for details.