Aston Hall and Soho House, Birmingham
Thursday 27 April
Our outing to Aston Hall was planned as part of the Campden House project, because of possible similarities in date and design: it was built in 1618, maybe just after Old Campden House, by John Thorpe for Sir Thomas Holte (coat of arms with a squirrel: a group of squirrels is called a holt). We learnt from the excellent guide about the significance of the red hand in the Holte coat of arms, James 1st gave a baronetcy to the first 200 people who paid £1035 to him to help him with the cost of armies in Ulster. The Ulster coat of arms contains a red hand. It was a hereditary title, they would carry a red hand in their coat of arms, but it would not allow access to the House of Lords or be a Peerage. Baptist Hicks could not have been one of these: his baronetcy came later and he does not have a red hand in his coat of arms.
In 1643, during the Civil War, Aston Hall was captured by Roundheads, and the hole made by a cannon ball hole can still be seen in the staircase. We were told an interesting story about a portrait in the Long Gallery of the lady who tied her husband naked to the bedpost and whipped him for changing sides in the Civil War. The painting's frame was bedposts with rope and whips as decoration.
There were many useful pointers to the design of Old Campden House, and with the photographs we were able to make links to our finds from the previous month's dig.
The afternoon visit was equally fascinating - Soho House was the home 1766-1809 of Matthew Boulton, Birmingham industrialist and entrepreneur and the meeting place in this period of the members of the Lunar Society founded in 1750, a pioneering group of manufacturers, doctors and philosophers. Amongst them was founding member Matthew Boulton; James Watt, his partner; dissenter Joseph Priestley, potter Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, James Kier, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, John Whitehurst, William Small, William Withering, Thomas Day and Samuel Galton. They met on the first Sunday afternoon of the full moon, so they could travel home by moonlight after a good meal and discussion about their ideas and inventions.
The house was mainly work of James and Samuel Wyatt in 1790s. Slate, not stone clad, inside with new technology by Boulton, eg Soho Manufactory brass handles, brightly painted canvas flooring, sash windows made with eldorado metal alloy, a rare 24 hour star clock, an early copying machine, steam-heated large bath and warm air central heating with boiler in the large cellars.
Visit to Hatfield House
Thursday 13 July
The visit to Hatfield House was also linked to the project, through Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612) who was a family friend of the Hicks's. Queen Elizabeth I lived in the old Palace, long occupied by the Bishops of Ely, until she was 25 years old: it was under the oak tree in the park that she received news of her accession in 1558. The Palace continued to be a favoured royal palace until James I came to the throne in 1603. At this time Robert Cecil, his first minister, owned a mansion called Theobalds, some miles away. James I visited Theobalds, decided that he preferred it and so decreed an exchange. Cecil favoured a new mansion which was completed in 1611 using bricks from the partly demolished Palace.
There were many features of the house that were familiar from the visit to Aston Hall: a Great Hall entered by the main door, with gallery at one end; a Great Chamber and rooms set aside for the royal family and very important visitors; beautifully carved wood panelling and plasterwork and ornate mantelpieces – and a Long Gallery, for entertainment in poor weather. An arched loggia had been enclosed in Victorian times, but gave us a good idea of the design for Campden House. The house is of course much larger than Baptist Hicks would have been able to build, but there are clues to follow with the design. Our surviving Banqueting Houses are much larger and more decorative than the ones at Hatfield House, so we felt that we scored there!