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Every day is a school day…

The history of the Hall spans over 950 years. Although I have been working here for two years and have a good understanding of elements of it; I still enjoy discovering new information pretty much every day. I studied the First World War whilst at university but hadn’t looked at the Battle of Jutland in any great detail. It is the 100 year anniversary of the battle today and perhaps unsurprisingly it is part of our 950 years of history. 

I first learnt of the link between the Hall and the Battle of Jutland when one of our very knowledgeable volunteers asked me if I was willing to take a trip to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to have a look at their new exhibition and take some notes for her. Having obviously responded with quite a puzzled look she explained more, and a few weeks later I found myself at the National Maritime Museum.

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Some background: The Battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of World War One and was fought in the North Sea just off the coast of Denmark on 31st May and 1st June 1916. 155 British Navy combat ships lined up against 99 German vessels. The battle lasted two days but was tactically inconclusive, neither side clearly winning the engagement. The British, however, claimed it as a strategic victory as they managed to maintain their naval blockade of Germany and to keep the German fleet away from their own supply lines. During the battle 14 British and 11 German ships were sunk. One of these British ships was HMS Indefatigable (pictured below).

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HMS Indefatigable was hit at 16:02, during the ‘Run to the South’ phase of the battle, by three 11 inch shells fired by SMS Van der Tann, detonating a magazine and she started to sink. Soon after another shell fired by SMS Van der Tann hit and plunged through through HMS Indefatigable’s thin upper armour piercing another magazine the ensuing explosion ripped the ship apart. She sank immediately with her crew of 1,018 officers and men, leaving only three survivors. One of the men that died when she sank was Commander Henry Ernest Digby Hugh Willoughby.

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Henry was born in 1882, the elder son of the 10th Baron Middleton. Henry became a Commander in the Royal Navy in 1896 and was an officer on HMS Indefatigable at the Battle of Jutland. Very little else is known about Henry to the outside world, he was one of eight children and his younger brother Francis also died on active service in the First World War. The Willoughby family had owned Middleton Hall since 1435 and throughout the centuries members of the family had fought and often died on notable battlefield across the country. If you are interested in finding out more about our recent past, the Battle of Jutland and those that fought I can definitely recommend a visit to the National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition. Changing exhibitions are a great way for museums to share their often vast collections and help us mark important anniversaries in our history. We are in the planning stages of our own new exhibition to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and Middleton’s links to 1066, this year. Watch this space for more information…

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A View from the Garden

Hello! This is the first of a series of my blogs telling everyone the exciting changes and events happening in the garden and grounds of Middleton Hall. Let me introduce myself, my name is Andrew and I have the great pleasure of being the Head Gardner here at Middleton Hall.

I have been here for only four months but am already really excited by the opportunity to create something really special here. I have been fortunate enough to work at and visit many great gardens around the UK and I am pleased to be working here as Middleton Hall is a fantastic location. It’s a place with so much horticultural and conversational history especially with two of the Hall’s famous residents John Ray FRS and Francis Willughby FRS.

The Walled Garden in the depths of winter

I am really looking forward to 2017 as this year is the start of our re-development plans for our eighteenth century Walled Garden. The beds will be planted with lush, texturally rich and colourful specimens as we are aiming to create a journey for visitors through the garden; as you walk around the planting will be cascading down from the centre of the borders. Using tall architectural plants such as Romneya Coulteri (Californian tree poppy) will help to create height and by highlighting focal points within the garden we will make the Walled Garden a great place to explore, discover and learn more about horticulture and Middleton Hall’s past residents. We already have the beautiful yellow John Ray rose with its scent and long flowing period is a real treat for any rose lover.

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The John Ray Rose

The Walled Garden is a unique feature of our estate, we have an intimate romantic space which deserves to be visited and appreciated by garden lovers. It’s re-development is going to be a major project which we want everybody to get involved in, be you a novice or experienced gardner we welcome all. This early stage is a great time to get involved to be part of a team working together in creating a unique garden to do justice to this fantastic location.  If you feel you want to be part of our team we have a volunteer recruitment day on the 8th March or please contact us at enquiries@middleton-hall.co.uk for more details.

We really are at the start of something very special and I look forward to sharing our progress on our monthly Blogs and please come and visit to see how we are doing.

Hope to see you all soon

Andrew

Head Gardner

Middleton Hall. February 2017

The ‘before’ picture, come back throughout the year to see how we are getting on…

February Tips from the Head Gardner

  • Don’t get too cold/woolly jumpers
  • Read plant catalogues for inspiration it’s never too early to start planning your seasonal displays
  • Prune currants, gooseberries and autumn raspberries
  • Remember to ventilate greenhouses on sunny days
  • Stand houseplants on trays of damp gravel or stones to give the plants extra humidity in centrally heated homes
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A guided walk through 900 years of history

“The life of a tour guide is very rewarding. It is really lovely to be able to see people’s reactions when you tell them the story of the Hall’s repair and conservation to see their eyes widen when you show them the before and after pictures whilst telling them that it was all done by volunteers” – Jean

Every Group visit is different, but they all have a tour, given by our knowledgeable volunteer guides. It is always good having got off the coach, or out of the car, after a long drive to start with a cup of tea or coffee, so that is what we do! Once refreshed the tour can begin…

Each tour guide has their own special interest and of the hundreds of stories and facts we have about the Hall and Gardens they each have their favourites.

“The John Ray Room, dedicated to the father of Natural History, as he lived and worked in it the mid-seventeenth century, has its own hidden history. When the Building was being repaired and conserved the eighteenth century external lime plaster was removed. The weight of the plaster had caused the East and West walls to fall away from each other and ever resourceful, the volunteers working on the building came up with an ingenious and cost effective/environmentally friendly way of solving the problem. They had come across a length of wire used to launch aircraft from ships in a skip in Alrewas. It is best not to ask how it got there, or indeed why they were looking in a skip in Alrewas in the first place. This wire proved to be perfect for what they needed and to this day is tying two of the walls of the John Ray Building together.” – Nigel.

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Once the formal part of the tour is complete it is often time for lunch. Sometimes it is a buffet so the group can eat together, or if the weather is nice a picnic by the Lake, or trip to the Coffee Shop in our Courtyard Centre to combine lunch with a spot of shopping.

To rest of the day is then free for the group to explore the rest of the Estate. To go back to any rooms or parts of the Gardens not covered by the tour to see more. The day is not done for our tour guides however. After each tour they meet up and compare notes on the questions they got asked.

“We are forever learning new things about the place. A question asked by a visitor often sparks further research. The most memorable recently was one about someone who lived here in the early 1900s that was related to the visitor. I went back to our History Room after the tour and checked the census and parish records and found the person and where they, used to live. It was in one of the many cottages on site. These being listed in the 1924 sale catalogue I could go back to the person who who had asked armed with lots of information about their relative. It also got us thinking about our more recent past and the 1924 sale by the Willoughby family to pay death duties and we are now researching for a new display all about the 1924 sale which we hope will be ready for March 2017. It is amazing to see where one simple question can often lead you!” – Betty

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If you are interested in visiting with a group please click here for more details. If you ate interested in joining our volunteer tour guide team please get in touch!

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May’s ‘News from the Gardens’

The colour of spring flowers is currently brightening up the Gardens, even on a rainy day like today. Forget-me-nots, many different species of aquilegia and our ‘wedding cake’ tree are full of colour along the moat. Along our Nature Trail it’s bluebells, wood anemones and golden lesser celandine that are carpeting the woodland floor.

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The blossom in our orchard is attracting the bees to pollinate our many varieties of apple, pear, plum, damson and green gage trees. The Walled Garden is beginning to wake up and developing into the beautiful backdrop for many a wedding photograph over the course of the summer. The plants in flower at the moment include this lovely purple clematis montana. Over the course of the next few months the display in the Walled Garden will change on an almost weekly basis.

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It is not just the Gardens that are teeming with new spring growth, our lake is too. The covers 18 acres and is part of our Site of Special Scientific Interest. At this time of year the new growth of the reeds are a beautiful green around the edges and floating on the lake’s surface are thousands of lily pads. The lilies are yellow and called ‘Brandy-Bottle’ (nuphar lutea) and make great homes and cover for the smaller fish, such as tench and bream, that live in the lake. We also have white water lilies (nymphea alba) on our pond in the Walled Garden.

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Keeping everything looking great is the job of our wonderful team of volunteers. Even on rainy days like today they are here, doing even the most boring of tasks like weeding the gravel, to make sure that everywhere looks neat and tidy for when we are open to the public or hosting a wedding. An added bonus this month is that the fruits of our labour in the potting shed are also ready for sale, with all proceeds going towards the continued maintenance of the Gardens.

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Spring news from the Grounds

With spring most definitely here we are enjoying watching each sign arrive, and with the warmer weather our volunteers have been able to crack on with some jobs that just can’t be done in the winter. Here is what we have been up to over the last couple of months…

During the winter months the trees on our Estate can take a bit of a pounding from the weather. Storm Katie did cause a bit of damage on our Nature Trail so whilst we had our tree specialists in we got them to do a couple of other little jobs too. Our Monkey Puzzle Tree (on the left of this picture) was paid some attention and had a bit of a hair cut. It is around 130 years old and now looks like it’s siblings in its native Chile. As these trees grow to maturity their branches lower down their trunks fall off leaving just the crown. Most Monkey Puzzle trees in this country are still quite young so still have their lower branches.

Monkey Puzzle Tree

We have also noticed an increase in the bird life, with a pair of mute swans who have taken up residence on our Lake, a number of grey wagtails who enjoy sitting on the overflow of water into our moat and lots of lovely treecreepers hunting for insects on the trunks of our many trees. These birds you see from a distance but get too close and they will fly away. There are a few types of birds that we have here that are less shy, the robins of course but also some house sparrows (pictured) that like to investigate the crumbs dropped around our picnic tables.

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We have also conducted our small mammal surveys over the last few weeks, before the breeding season so that we don’t disturb them too much. We conduct surveys so that we can monitor the populations of field mice, field voles and water shrews that we have in the different habitats throughout our estate. We know that a healthy population means we are managing their habitats well and that those animals further up the food chain, especially the birds of prey, have a good chance to flourish as well. In the early spring and late autumn we make at least one of these survey mornings open to the public so that people can come and learn about why we conduct surveys and are with us when we open each trap to see what is inside. Our Small Mammal Survey at the beginning of the month saw us find 9 field mice and 1 field vole (pictured) and we had only set 15 traps, which is a very high number of full traps and a good sign of a healthy population size.

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All this has happened along with the weekly maintenance routine of mowing, strimming, clipping and cutting that goes into keeping our 42 acre site looking its best, it keeps us busy but we do enjoy it, especially when the sun comes out!

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Winter News from the Grounds

With winter almost behind us and spring to all intents and purposes already here we are looking back on all the hard work we have done over the last few months and looking forward to seeing the fruits of our labour this spring. 

With the gardens cleared and mulched they were put to sleep for the winter, the first signs of this hard work paying off have been the wonderful display of hellebores that we have had this year. We have quite a collection and look to add a couple of new varieties each year. They give a display of colour early in the year when most other plants are still asleep for the winter.

Hellebores

When it gets cold at the Hall our lake does ice over, we know when it is really cold as the moat ices over too. This happened only a couple of times this winter but it is always entertaining to watch our resident ducks indulge in a bit of ice skating. Our mild winter was advantageous to some species and encouraged an early flowering of our snowdrops but the colder snap more recently was a welcome relief to our volunteers in our orchard. This is because without a colder period our fruit trees were in danger of flowering to early and would then be vulnerable to any sharp frosts in early spring which would destroy there blossom and mean a lower crop yield this year.

Frozen Moat

Today has been the first day that we have cut the lawns, our volunteers pride themselves in getting the lines really straight. We have also cleared more self-seeded trees in our formal gardens this year, and have prepared the ground ready to seed new lawns. Have a look at our video to see how sometimes the old fashioned machines are the ones that still work the best.

Mowing the West Lawn

 

With all this hard work we will be ready to open this Easter Weekend for the start of our summer season. Our Food & Craft Market is our Easter Sunday entertainment and on Easter Bank Holiday Monday we welcome everyone to our Family Fun Day, with bouncy castles, circus entertainment and children’s trails galore! And for those that prefer a quieter visit we are open every Wednesday from March 30th with tours and talks on the history of the Hall available. We look forward to seeing you here soon.

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Collection Protection

Old Spectacles and case

You can’t touch it, taste it, hear it or smell it, but without it we wouldn’t be able to see. Light; it is one of the elements that causes the most damage to a museum’s Collection. As a museum we are responsible for caring for the items in our Collection, displaying them for the public and making sure that they are protected from potential irreparable damage…and to do this we need your help!

Light: the facts.

  1. The speed of light is 299 792 458 m/s or 670,616,629 mph, fast enough that if you travelled at the speed of light you could go around the World 7.5 times in 1 second.
  2. Without light there would be no life on Earth.
  3. Light is electromagnetic radiation and our eyes can only see a certain portion of light, this is called visible light.

Both visible light and ultra violet light, which the human eye can’t see, cause damage to organic items within our Collection. Visible light causes objects to fade. UV light does this too at a much faster rate whilst also degrading the item on a molecular level.

Embroidery in John Ray Room closeup, Jennifer Habart, 18.01.2015

We have a collection of tapestries, like this one, that needs our protection 

We can stop this by limiting the amount of light that gets to the objects. The best way to do this is to keep them in a dark box so no light could get to them. Unfortunately this would make us a very boring museum as there would be nothing for our visitors to see. So we need to use blinds to block light hitting objects when we are not open to visitors, put UV filters on our windows to eliminate UV light getting through and to replace our existing light bulbs with LED bulbs that don’t emit UV light.

What will this cost?

1 LED light bulb = £3.50
1 window pane UV filter = £4.50
1 window UV filter = £54
1 window blind = £95

And how many do we need…?

76 light bulbs
162 window pane filters
7 window blinds

Can you donate today to help with our Collection Protection?

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Propagating our John Ray roses

John Ray Rose

We have a rare rose in our gardens. It is named after the ‘Father of English Botany’ John Ray and we believe that it is the only example left in the country. With this in mind we have taken up the challenge of attempting to propagate this beautiful and fragrant rose. This blog tells the beginnings of our attempts…

The best time to propagate roses is from new growth, however we did not want to wait until the spring so we have decided to try our luck with cuttings created when we cut back the roses this autumn, ready for the winter. We have 6 plants in total in our gardens and want to make sure that we have new plants to replace any that we may loose and so wanted to start the process as soon as possible.

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Step One : How we took the cuttings
We made sure that the cuttings were taken from this year’s growth and were about 25cm in length. Making sure that we cut below a bud at the base and above the bud at the shoot tip. We then removed all of the leaves except the one at the top. The cuttings are then placed in a glass container half filled with water making sure that the ends without leaves are in the water.

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Step Two : The Waiting Game
The cuttings will stay in the water for anywhere between 1 and 3 months. So far they have been in the water about a month and we are starting to see signs of new growth at the shoots. When we start to see growth at the ends in the water, in terms of the beginnings of roots, we will know that they are ready to plant on into soil. We will update you with the progress of our cuttings throughout the winter.

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You may notice that there are a few less cuttings now than we had to start with, that is because some haven’t grown and they have dried out. So far we have had a 50% success rate which we are very pleased with and we are hoping that these cuttings will survive the winter and be ready to pot into soil in the earl spring. Then we should have lots of new John Ray rose plants ready for the gardens and maybe ready for sale in our new nursery. Come and visit us in the spring to see for yourselves how they are getting on…

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It’s all in the planning

We host a lot of events here at Middleton Hall, and the biggest one of the year is our Christmas Food & Craft Market.  But what exactly goes into the planning of an event like this…?

2 days, 49 stall holders, 45 volunteers, 2 members of staff, 62m of Christmas lights, 25kg sweet chestnuts, 152 colouring pencils, 3 Christmas Trees, 102 roadside posters, 26 bottles of mulled wine, 14 Christmas wreaths and a weekend of lovely early winter weather…oh wait the weather is the one thing that we can’t arrange!

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The Team at the Hall start planning for our Christmas Market way back in April. April is a long way out from Christmas you may think but the beginning planning stages do really start 227 days before the Market actually takes place. Marquee hire and booking Santa in start this early to make sure that they are both available, they get booked up quickly so we have to make sure that we are prepared! Then the focus can turn to organising the stall holders and making sure that those that want to come have a place.

In the days leading up to the Market the final preparations are done, the tables laid out, the marquee put up, Santa’s Grotto is decorated and all of those little things that make the day run smoothly like direction signs for our visitors and wifi code handouts for the stall holders who use card payment machines are all ready. Even with the best planning some things still go wrong, if I had one wish it would be that the Georgian owners of the Hall had built the walls a little thinner so that the wifi connection would be more reliable, which is why I will rely on cash rather than cards this weekend.

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So if you want to escape the Black Friday Weekend crowds why not visit us instead? We are really proud to support local food producers, artisan crafters and small businesses and would love it if you did too. Whether you are looking to stock up on edible Christmas goodies or find that perfect Christmas gift that the High Street just doesn’t stock, or even just to visit Santa, make sure that you stop by between 10am and 4pm this Saturday and Sunday.

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Without our volunteers we wouldn’t be able to put on an event like this, they kindly give their time so that all the money that we take can be put back into the Hall in order to continue restoring and maintaining our lovely buildings and grounds. Thank you to everyone that will help us over the weekend, you do such a wonderful job and always with a smile!

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Best friends to play star crossed lovers

Misnomer Theatre are putting the finishing touches to their performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet which they are performing here at the Hall this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Alex is back again to tell us a little bit more about what is going on…

“Romeo and Juliet follows the story of two lovers caught up between their feuding families, and the leading actors are played by best friends Neil Lucas and Olivia Shepherd, who met just last year when they played alongside each other in the Tamworth pantomime.”

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Neil said: “In the last twelve months we have worked together on three different shows, and we always seem to end up as lovers! We are also working together as Aladdin and the Princess in this year’s pantomime, so fate seems to be bringing us together on the stage.

“To play the part of Romeo has been exciting and challenging and I’ve loved working with the rest of the cast. We have become so close throughout this process and I’ve learned so much.  Middleton Hall is the perfect place to be doing this and it’s not hard to imagine yourself being from a different time period when you’re here.”

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Neil is a hairdresser and runs Alter Ego Salon just off Buckingham Road, while Olivia works at Tamworth Castle, as well as being a drama teacher and Local Councillor for Fazeley.

Olivia said: “I’ve always wanted to play Juliet, it’s such an iconic part and one I can really get my teeth into. It’s fantastic working with such a good local cast, who are mainly made up of members of the local community, some of whom have never been in a Shakespeare play before. It’s an exciting challenge and we can’t wait to get to Middleton Hall next Friday and get started.”

Romeo and Juliet has tickets available for Sunday 8 November at 1pm and 7pm, with limited availability for Saturday 7. The opening Friday night is now completely sold out.

 

Tickets are £12 and include a complimentary drink on arrival and tea and coffee in the interval. They can be bought from the Tamworth Tourist Information Centre on 01827 709618 or from www.MisnomerTheatre.co.uk.

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