Every September heritage houses, museums and other buildings throw open their doors to the public. Entry and tours are free despite the work of many of these organisations being independently funded, so a donation is welcome. The nationwide Heritage Open Days festival closes today and I took the opportunity take a peek behind the scenes over the nine-day event in Winchester. Here’s what I discovered.
“Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the socal behaviour and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups.” Wikipedia.
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Feast and Famine: The Great Hall
One of the very best things about the festival is having access to places not ordinarily open to the public, as well as benefitting from expert guides. A ‘Feast and Famine’ tour at medieval The Great Hall was the chance to see the stunning Winchester Round Table again. The magnificent wooden structure was created around 1290 by Edward I who was enamoured of the great King Arthur, in celebration of the wedding of one of his daughters.
In the 16th century it was repainted to depict Henry VIII as King Arthur, and a Tudor Rose added at the centre. We think of personal branding as a contemporary phenomenon but it’s been around since Roman times. Shrewd King Henry saw the opportunity to borrow some of King Arthur’s heroic qualities by association.
Spoiler alert: The following is not for the squeamish. Our tour guide regaled us with fascinating tales, including the one about the unfortunate demise of William the Conqueror. Injured on campaign when his rearing horse thrust the saddle into the king’s (over large) abdomen, the force was so great that it punctured his intestines with fatal results. The burial was delayed for numerous reasons and this resulted in conditions so as to cause the body to explode while being lowered into the coffin.
Queen Eleanor’s 13th century garden, accessed through the Great Hall, was opened in 1986 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. The “Eleanor” in this instance refers to both Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, and Queen Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III who both spent long periods of time living at Winchester Castle, the city then being the capital of England, and a principal royal seat. The garden is an accurate recreation of an early medieval garden complete with features that would have been present during that century, including the plants which had symbolic meaning. For instance, holly, ivy, and bay, represent the medieval ideal of faithfulness. A water fountain was not simply decorative but provided a sound barrier to eavesdroppers on private conversations, whether of a political or amorous nature.
City walls: Westgate Museum
The defensive city walls at Winchester were first built in Roman times. Only two fortified medieval gateways survive, Kingsgate and Westgate. Built as early as the 12th century, with later additions in the 13th and 14th centuries, Westgate was also used as a debtors’ prison for 150 years. It’s possible to pass through this little Grade I listed building at the top of the high street daily and remain completely unaware of the treasures inside.
Inside is a collection of pre-imperial weights and measures and other artefacts. The most impressive is a fine painted ceiling depicting people in medieval costume. This was made for Winchester College in anticipation of a visit by Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain on the occasion of their marriage in the city in 1554. Below this are two panels of a magnificent frieze depicating putti or winged angelic beings, as well as the phrase ‘Vyve le Roy’ and a crown. Inscribed quotations are based on the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes relevant to marriage so it’s likely the frieze was created at the same time as the ceiling.
Many of the buildings at Winchester College are of national importance and date over six centuries with all still in use. The atmosphere is one of peace, with green, open spaces and stunning architecture, embodying centuries of English history. It’s all very ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ and decidedly reassuring, reminding me of my own grammar school days with affection.
Suzanne Foster, College Archivist, had kindly set out many fascinating documents, photographs and other artefacts in two separate archive buildings, from a king’s seal to everyday school documents. There’s so much to see you could easily spend a day or two browsing through the collections. If I worked there, I would never get anything useful done for being constantly sidetracked. With documents and artefacts stored in different locatioms, Suzanne says she keep fit walking from one to another throughout the day.
The cloister at Winchester College records the pupils, or Old Wykehamists, and tutors who served in conflict beginning with the 500 Wykehamists who lost their lives during the First World War, when the total number of pupils was around 450. Like other similar spaces, it’s a peaceful and very beautiful environment in a similar style to that of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) sites in Arras, France. One charming aspect, however, is that it remains a daily access route for schoolboys to and from lessons, as the worn stone paths bear witness. #livingwithhistory
Designed by the architect Sir Herbert Baker each of the four corners of the cloister is dedicated to a different campaign: South Africa (southeast); Australia (southwest); Canada (northwest); and India (northeast). Within the cloister is a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll, who also designed the gardens for the CWGC. The cloister became a Grade II listed building in 1950.
The Heritage Open Days festival is not all about historic buildings but also encompasses heritage stories such as the artisan coffee roastery continuing a four-generation family tradition in the tea and coffee industry, with the first London tea broker in 1895. Subsequently, Haydon Bradshaw, was a tea taster with Lyons before becoming a broker. Much later in his career he worked at Nestlé and was involved in developing the Gold Blend instant coffee, which became a household name. His son, current owner, Francis Bradshaw, set up Moon Roast in 2012. Here the small team source high-grade, 100% Arabica beans seasonally selected from small farms in coffee-growing countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Guatemala. We were treated to a comprehensive behind the scenes tour of the cupping room, where new beans are tested and tasted and then through the roasting, packing and distribution process. The roastery is open to visitors during the week for takeaway coffee and retail, and The Yard cafe is open at weekends for light bites with an outdoor seating area. www.moonroast.co.uk
Coffee is one of the top counterfeited foods worldwide. If you want to ensure traceability in your coffee read more Your daily cup: How to taste and buy speciality coffee continue…
The earliest evidence of cheesemaking in archaeological records dates back to 5500 BCE in Poland, where strainers coated with milk-fat molecules have been discovered.
Louise Talbot, is a New Zealand farmer’s daughter, and is married to a Scottish farmer. Louise is an Academy of Cheese Training Partner, a member of the Specialist Cheese Makers Association, and has been a cheese awards judge and guest tutor at many prestigious cookery schools, including Waitrose, Leiths School of Food and Wine, Divertimenti, WI Denman College and the Honesty Cookery School where I met her this week at a workshop.
The school advocates real food and is located in a beautiful barn in the Hampshire countryside. Louise demonstrated how to make butter using a high powered food processor. I could not believe how quick and simple it was to churn a large carton of double cream into rich, creamy butter in a matter of minutes. It’s also possible to make butter in a screw topped jar, although it takes a little more effort. Process or shake until the curds separate and you can hear the whey sloshing about. Keep the whey to make scones or add to a smoothie. The curds are then washed under the tap with a little salt added and the butter is ready to enjoy. That’s it!
Top tip: Louise recommends snapping up reduced cream if you see it in your local supermarket to whizz into mouth-watering butter at home. Pop into fun shaped moulds and freeze for quick garnishes, or spread on your morning toast!
We also learned more about making a diverse range of cheeses such as Cheddar and Halloumi using different ‘souring’ products (vinegar or lemon juice) before adding live cultures. Lunch was homemade cheese, with the freshly churned butter and fresh baked bread from the Honesty bakeries. It was one of those ultra-simple and yet so tasty meals, breaking bread and eating informally around the kitchen table as people have for centuries.
Make sure to note the Heritage Open Days festival in your 2022 calendar so that you don’t miss out. If you’re a heritage destination, or a local business with a great story to tell in Hampshire, and would like to get involved contact the team via the contact page at winchesterheritageopendays.org. They would also welcome volunteers to help out if you have some spare time.
One of the best ways to make the most of this wonderful opportunity is to book accomodation. Visit the Heritage Open Days (HODs) web site and book a range of visits and events, intersperse with some rest breaks at good independent coffee shops and dine at a local restaurant, over a glass or two of a local brew. And voila! the perfect autumn short break.