Tuesday 3 September: Day visit by coach to Malmesbury and Badminton House.
Malmesbury is a beautiful town and it was a good place to start our visit as it wasn’t too long a journey. Several places of interest were pointed out to the group whilst travelling to the town and so once we arrived people separated to follow their own inclinations. Most went to the Abbey and the Museum while some went to the Abbey Gardens which are privately owned. The Abbey dominates the town. Only a third of the abbey has survived, but in the Middle Ages the building had a spire which was higher than that of Salisbury Cathedral. Malmesbury was founded as a Benedictine monastery around 676 AD by the scholar-poet Aldhelm. In 941 AD, King Athelstan was buried in the Abbey. By the 11th century it contained the second largest library in Europe. Malmesbury is the oldest borough in England, with a charter given by Alfred the Great around 880. Today it has a wonderful welcoming feel with a cafe which allows you to sit in the nave and feel at home. Part of this is due to the large west window which lets in so much light and was inserted in 1823. The other stained glass windows come from the Burne Jones pattern book and were made in the William Morris workshop in 1901 and are well worth viewing. One window shows the flying monk Elmer who c. 1010 fashioned wings and leapt from the tower and survived with two broken legs. The illuminated manuscripts of The Book of Numbers is on display and the tomb of King Athelstan is in the north aisle. He was the grandson of King Alfred, and was a great military and political leader. One of the great delights is the amazing carvings in the Norman porch which were once painted in bright colours. It allowed pilgrims to see the bible stories pictorially as they were unable to read the Bible which was written in Latin. The carvings of the inner arch deal with the creation and the middle arch with the journey of the patriachs and kings, whilst the outer arch portrays the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostles of the early church look down and Christ is flanked by wonderful flying angels.
The Abbey House and Gardens are privately owned and there is a fee for entry. These Abbey Gardens are famous for their beauty, walks and history. Many of our members had visited them before, but as it was such a beautiful sunny day, they took the opportunity to see them again. The house on the site dates back to the 13th century. With the abbey as a dramatic backdrop, its five acres feature more than 10,000 plant varieties spread between formal gardens dotted with fish ponds and a wilder section that cascades into a valley cut through by a tributary of the River Avon. At The Old Bell Hotel, many of us had lunch in the sunny garden, and a superb lunch it was too. The market place with the market cross c. 1500 stands in the middle of the town and we all took time to gaze and wonder. Most of us visited the Athelstan Museum which is free. It tells the history of Malmesbury, an attractive hill top town built to a Saxon road plan on the site of a 4,500 year old hill fort. The present exhibition was the history of Hill Forts and the Iron Age people who lived in them with particular reference to Malmesbury.
The Badminton Estate lies in the heart of the Gloucestershire countryside and is home to the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort. The House dates from the 17th century and is set in a deer park which hosts the world famous Badminton Horse Trials. The game of Badminton was invented in the house in 1863. We arrived at Badminton House at 2.15 pm, the home of David Robert Somerset, 11th Duke of Beaufort (b. 1928). We were extremely fortunate to be allowed to visit, as not many group visits are allowed in a year, and we were so pleased to be met by John Harris, an architectural scholar and distinguished historian who has written many books, but has also written a short illustrated history of the house and the estate. This book is available for purchase and can be ordered from the estate via the webpage. We began our tour in front of the West wing. We had been promised a display of documents from the estate archive and we were not disappointed and a display relating particularly to Raglan Castle was provided. The Somerset connection with Monmouthshire, with Raglan Castle and Troy House, meant this was of great interest to us all. We wish to thank Elaine Milsom the archivist for her efforts. The tour began in the Old Kitchen and we were shown into the Old Hall and continued around the downstairs rooms. The paintings were of great interest especially those relating to Monmouthshire and the Somerset family. At the end of the tour we looked at the North Wing in some detail. We then went back to the old kitchen and we thank Sheilah Michael for providing an excellent tea.
The connection with Troy House, near Monmouth
Troy House was rebuilt by the third Marquess of Worcester, Henry Somerset, after the Civil War. He was also built Great Castle House in 1673 in the grounds of Monmouth Castle. In 1682 he became Duke of Beaufort and rebuilt Badminton House. Troy House became the seat of his eldest son Charles Somerset, Marquess of Worcester. John Harris, architectural historian and historian to the Duke of Beaufort states there was a long house and Elizabethan H-shaped house previously. In 1902 the eighth Duke of Beaufort sold the property and it became a convent school run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and after 1935 it became an approved school. It is regarded by John Harris as an historical building of the first importance and the second house of renown of its date in the old county of Monmouthshire.