Sunday, 6 January 2013

Boscobel House -- Catching up with Charlie the Second

January can be a tough month here.  It's dark, the weather's not great and quite a few sites are closed.  Combining that with the fact that we've picked off the low hanging fruit I've had to cast our net a little farther afield.  I wanted to get back in the swing of things because we had gotten a little soft leading up to Christmas and it was time to get out and see/learn something.  Here we go!

Today's activity was visiting Boscobel House and "The Royal Oak", an English Heritage property (link).  From the guidebook:

Boscobel House, a handsome 17th-century timber-framed lodge, was built by John Giffard, a local landowner.  Giffard was a Catholic and his new house, which was hidden in deep woodland, was well suited to hiding Catholics who needed refuge from religious persecution.  For a few days in 1651, the house played a pivotal role in English History, as the hiding place of future King Charles II who fled to Boscobel after losing the battle of Worcester.
Boscobel House isn't really near anything.  I guess Cannock is the nearest town but that's not saying much.  It's about an hour away from Derby.

The actual 17th-century lodge is on the right.  The "half-timbered" addition was added later.  (It's actually a little cheesy since it is brick painted black and white).

A quick aside:  another interesting connection is that this property was turned into a farm in the 19th century.  It was purchased by a wealthy industrialist, Walter Evans.  Not only was he from Derby, but he was actually from Darley Abbey (the area where we live -- we are just outside the actual village).  Last year, Alex was at Walter Evans primary school.  Neat connection, huh?

Though this sketch is a little difficult to make out, it shows Charles II's escape route as he out ran Cromwell's Parliamentarian Army (Bravely ran away, away.  Bravely Ran Away.  -- Monty Python HG).  Had he been caught, perhaps the monarchy would have never recovered (doubt it -- but it helps enlighten the story a bit).

He first ended up at the nearby White Ladies Priory and then made his way to Boscobel House.  At first, he spent a night in the dense wood in a tree that had been pruned and had grown back thick and full.  Good for hiding but not so good for sleeping.  (He hid with his trusted officer, Major Careless -- surprisingly he made it through the night!).

After a night in the woods, he set off to try to get to Swansea but found that all the bridges were blocked and he then made his way back to Boscobel for a second night.  Fed up with sleeping in a tree, he asked for an alternative and they decided to let him sleep in the "Priest Hole" which was the hiding place for any priests that were surprised while giving an illegal service in the lodge.

After that, he made his way down to the Old Moseley Hall (NT link).  We would have followed him down, but this National Trust site, like many, is closed this time of year.  He eventually made his way to Bristol (with no luck) and finally Shoreham (on the coast) before setting off to France.

I find it amazing that this house and tree got its fame for helping the future king for 2 nights nearly 400 years ago.

One reason for the detail in the account is that this was written down.  We enjoyed the guided tour through the house and the detail of the those two storied nights.

So, what about this famous tree in this dense forest?




Ta da:

Hmm.  Not so inspiring, is it?  This is actually the daughter tree.  The first died 250 years ago due to souvenir hounds.  This one was struck by lightning in 2000 and has been held together by bands.   I think they have a granddaughter tree waiting in the wings.  (It's a royal heritage after all).

As you can see the forest has also been pruned for farmland.  At least they didn't touch the "royal" tree(s).

 Here's a view from the house.  Just as sad.

 quick shot of the kids on the hill

Here's the glassed-over priest hole in the attic.  Unfortunately, you can only see the reflection from the window above.  It was 4' by 4'.  I'm sure it made for a cramped night, but hey, better than sleeping in a tree with Major Careless.

 We decided to drive a mile up the road to see the White Ladies Priory.  Not much to take in at this point.

For a late lunch, we had to eat at the Royal Oak pub.  Literally, it was the only thing around.   Not bad though we didn't exactly have high expectations.

All and all, a surprisingly nice day out.  We got a little bit more of a historical connection than I had bargained for and we had the bonus Walter Evans/Darley Abbey/Darley connection too.

Despite my warnings last week, I did get in a new "15-minute" meal yesterday.  This was a crab pasta dish.  Very complex flavors -- perhaps a little too complex.  We learned/re-confirmed that we don't care for fennel seeds.  I'll leave that one out next time.

Thanks for reading.  Have a good week everyone.


  1. Great history lesson. I liked the Walter Evans connection also, Alex must have gotten a kick out of it.

  2. I made a butternut squash dish yesterday that I didn't like for some reason. There were a lot of fennel seeds, so maybe I don't like those either!