Thursday, 29 March 2012

Woburn Abbey unveils Rembrandt Masterpiece

A newly authenticated Rembrandt masterpiece has been revealed for the first time at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.  Until recently the original oil painting entitled Portrait of an Old Man or The Old Rabbi had hung in a private room at the home of the 15th Duke and Duchess of Bedford.  On public display from 30th March, visitors to Woburn Abbey will have an unparalleled opportunity to view this ‘new’ Rembrandt up close.

Professor Ernst van de Wetering, acknowledged as a world authority on Rembrandt, was invited to Woburn last year to study the portrait.  His conclusion was that the quality and style of work proves it could only have been painted by the Dutch old master Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn.

Woburn Abbey General Manager Jonathan Irby said: “This is a discovery and a fine addition to the Abbey’s wonderful collection of Dutch art.
“We are very excited about bringing this exquisite painting into the public eye, especially since visitors will be able to get within a few inches of it.  The opportunity to discover a ‘new’ Rembrandt will provide an even more memorable day for our visitors in 2012.”
The first written reference to the painting in the Abbey records is in 1791, showing it was cleaned that year.  Along with two other portraits, it was initially accepted as a Rembrandt.  Over time studies of the three portraits resulted in uncertainty.  However, curatorial staff believed Portrait of an Old Man had virtues that made it stand out as something special.
As Professor van de Wetering has highlighted: “This painting is one of Rembrandt’s most impressive evocations of dignity in old age. The way the light makes the figure emerge from the dusky space and illuminates the wrinkled skin of the face, and the hands resting on a stick, makes it an outstanding specimen of Rembrandt’s art.”  It is therefore implied that this is more than a study of old age.   It is believed that the Woburn picture and a painting in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin (thought to be a portrait of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia) were intended as a pair.  Both were painted in 1643 on a mahogany panel taken from the same sugar case.  This along with the similarities of design and biblical style: the prominent hands each displaying a ring on the little finger, the black hat with fine decoration and the decorative chains has led to the suggestion from Professor van de Wetering that the pair are depicting the Old Testament biblical story of Boaz and Ruth.

For more information on Woburn Abbey, visit or call 01525 290333

Woburn Abbey’s outstanding art collection
Woburn Abbey has been the family home of the Earls and Dukes of Bedford for nearly 400 years and is currently the home of the 15th Duke and his family.   The Abbey houses one of the most important private art collections in the world with over 250 works by artists including Gainsborough, Reynolds, Van Dyck and Cuyp. 
The most popular painting in the collection is the iconic portrait of Elizabeth I attributed to George Gower in 1588.  Known as 'The Armada Portrait' it commemorates the great victorious sea battle the same year against the Spanish invasion fleet.   A statement of power and authority, Elizabeth is portrayed as Empress of the world and commander of the seas.  

The Dining Room at Woburn Abbey contains the largest private collection of Venetian views by Canaletto (1697 – 1768), being 21 paintings displayed in one room. The future Fourth Duke of Bedford visited Venice while on the Grand Tour in 1731 and the paintings were subsequently commissioned. These outstanding paintings remind us of the fascination of this beautiful city for the traveller.

2012 is the third year of the Woburn ArtBeat exhibition.   The village of Woburn and Woburn Abbey join together to promote high quality original art by transforming the village into an art gallery from the 6th April until the 27th April and a large contemporary outdoor sculpture exhibition in the gardens of Woburn Abbey from the 6th April until 31st August.    Works on display in the Abbey Gardens are by artists as varied as Maurice Blik, Philip Blacker, Nicolas Moreton, Paul Vanstone, Peter Randall-Page and William Peers.

Just south east of Milton Keynes, Woburn Abbey is signposted from junctions 12 and 13 of the M1. It is also easily accessible from the A5.

Woburn Abbey Timeline
Hugh de Bolebec founds Woburn Abbey, with monks from Fountains Abbey

Abbot Robert Hobbes executed for treason by Henry VIII and Woburn Abbey dissolved

Francis, Fourth Earl builds two-storey north wing, with the grottos. Both still part of the house today

Charles I twice previously visited as a guest but this time as a prisoner and had a fateful meeting with Oliver Cromwell

Execution of Lord William Russell for involvement in the Rye House Plot

Posthumous pardon issued for execution and Earldom elevated to Dukedom

4th Duke’s Grand Tour takes him to Venice.   Commissions paintings by Canaletto as a souvenir.

4th Duke negotiated the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years’ War. Louis XV gifts Sèvres porcelain service in appreciation

4th Duke employs Henry Flitcroft to rebuild the West Wing, turning Woburn Abbey into a graceful Palladian house

John, 6th Duke employs Humphrey Repton to landscape the park

The gardens are the site of the world’s first ecological experiments and results will later influence Darwin’s argument on the origin of the species

Lord John Russell passes Reform Bill through parliament and twice becomes prime minister during Queen Victoria’s reign

Royal visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

1872 – 1891
Hastings, 9th Duke contributes to agricultural experiments, school improvements and tenant welfare

Mary, wife of the 11th Duke takes on role of nurse and turns Woburn Abbey into a military hospital

After several record breaking flights in previous years, Mary disappears on solo flight to Norfolk

1939 – 1945
Woburn estates taken over as centre for black propaganda and billeting of Wrens from Bletchley Park

The Abbey opens to public visitors

Woburn Safari Park opens to the public on the 20th May 1970

The 14th Duke creates a world class golf facility with Woburn Golf Club.   1976 saw the opening of the first of the three courses: The Duke’s.

1999 – 2002
The 14th Duke and Duchess become television favourites on the TV series ‘Country House’

Andrew, the 15th and present Duke inherits the Estate

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sticky Fingers and Rosy Cheeks at Harewood this Easter

Friday 6th – Monday 9th April, 10am to 4pm

Sticky fingers and rosy cheeks abound at Harewood this Easter Weekend from 6th – 9th April.  Celebrating Easter traditions from across the world, Harewood goes global with a unique mix of activities and crafts, inside and out for all the family.

Photography Shirley Elliot
Visit the superb Children’s Craft Village where children can take part in biscuit decorating, palm leaf weaving, and the chance to make Mardi Gras masks, carnival head dresses, Easter bonnets and Easter baskets.  There will be Easter egg trails through the bird garden and the famous Easter egg hunt around the grounds. Relax and enjoy Morris Dancers, music from the New World Steel Orchestra and Harrogate International Youth Festival in the Courtyard, and donkey rides and an Animal Petting Zoo outside.  If traditional is more your thing and you need a sugar boost, then there’s the chance to see Harewood’s very own chef, Danny, demonstrating traditional chocolate egg making and foods from far and wide Below Stairs in the Old Kitchen.
Plus there are Easter Parades with a difference, combining the traditions of the Brazilian carnival and the Italian carnivale, all wrapped up within a classic British parade.  Children who have taken part in crafts, can then take part in the parades which will be led by musicians in true Carnival style.  The fun culminates on Monday with the lighting of the traditional German Easter Bonfire to shake off the winter season and make way for Spring.

Entry prices to the Harewood Grounds and Below Stairs are Adult £10 (£11 gift aid), Senior Citizen £9 (£9.90), Child/Student £6 (£6.60) and Family £30 (£33). Free to Harewood Members.

Upgrades available to enter the State Floor of the House.  Ticket entry are as per Grounds and Below Stairs prices.  Some activities may require a small additional spend. Visit Grounds close at 6pm.
Harewood Opens for the Full Open season from 31 March 10am – 6pm.

Harewood House Trust, Harewood House, Harewood, Leeds LS17 9LG
Tel:  0113 218 1010

Blenheim Palace Wildlife Blog: Breakfast at Blenheim

Blenheim Palace Wildlife Blog: Breakfast at Blenheim: This bold little nuthatch was recently spotted helping himself to an alfresco breakfast...


Promising a mesmerising mix of entertainment especially for children, The Treasure Houses of England are poised to deliver a fabulous feast of family fun this Easter Holidays.

Expect an Easter egg extravaganza at a multitude of venues, such as with BlenheimPalace with their enticing Easter Egg Challenge (6-7 April) around their glorious Pleasure Gardens.  BAFTA award-winning TV series characters Peppa Pig and George with The Piplings will be at Blenheim Palace to meet families (8-9 April). Piplings Yojojo, Lau Lau, Nok Tok and De Li also invite you to join the fun for their interactive yoga sessions (8-9 April).

During the Easter holidays, 31st March – 15th April, young visitors to Beaulieu can join in a Hare-Brained Easter Trail. Look for the hares, find the answers to the clues and collect a sweet treat at the end of the trail.

Easter at Chatsworth
Explore the superb Sculpture Garden and Garden of Surprises at Burghley’s Easter Egg Hunt (8 April); and get involved with Chatsworth’s Easter Eggstravaganza (31 March – 15 April), featuring trails in the house, garden and farmyard, as well as themed crafts and much more.
CastleHoward’s Traditional Easter Fair (6-9 April) will see an old-fashioned dray pulled by Shire horses that will deliver you to a bevy of fantastic fair rides and the huge adventure playground. Enjoy lunch at the Boathouse and become transformed into some wild and imaginative creatures courtesy of the incredible face painters for a fun-filled and adventurous day out.

Sticky fingers and rosy cheeks abound at Harewood this Easter Weekend (6-9 April) Celebrating Easter traditions from across the world, there’s some unique activities inside and out for all the family.  We’ve made Easter at Harewood the best place to get in the Easter spirit, with a superb Children’s Craft Village, Easter egg trails through the bird garden, a now famous Easter Egg hunt around the grounds and the chance to see Harewood’s very own chef demonstrating traditional chocolate egg making.

There’s lots of Easter Fun for children at Holkham Hall (6-9 April) with an ‘Egg-stacle’ course in the beautiful walled garden and appearances of the Bouncing Bunny or Mad Hatter, with crafts and egg-citing Easter fun in the Bygones Musuem.  On Easter Sunday 8th April and Easter Monday 9th  Holkham is turning back the clocks to the Edwardian era commemorating the sinking of The Titanic with “titanic Tea-time Treats” bringing historic cookery to life in the Old Kitchen of the hall. 

Easter at Leeds Castle
Children can follow a trail through the grounds of Leeds Castle to collect a chocolate Easter egg from the Bunny Burrows.  With lots of animal fun, crafts and even Easter Egg Archery! (6-9 April)

Revel in the beautiful outdoors of WoburnAbbey (reopening 30 March) and explore their magnificent Deer Park and Abbey Grounds as well as following the Easter Egg Trail in the Abbey Gardens.  The 19th century Hornbeam maze is open for the Easter weekend providing a fun challenge for adults and children alike (additional charge).

The Treasure Houses of England (THE) is a consortium of 10 of the country’s finest palaces, historic houses and castles. Unique in character, each property has its own magical blend of magnificent architecture, fabulous surroundings, world class collections and family attractions to enjoy.

For more information visit

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Chatsworth Delighted to Welcome the Olympic Flame To the Derbyshire Estate

It has been announced this week that the Olympic Flame will travel to Chatsworth on Friday June 29 as part of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay tour of the region.

The torch will be carried into the garden onto the south lawn for a photo opportunity against the backdrop of the restored south façade of the house renewed with re-gilded paintwork and sparklingly clean stonework. Visitors will also be able to see the torch from the parkland being carried in front of the Bastion Wall in front of the West Front of the House.

The Duke of Devonshire said: “We are delighted to be welcoming the Olympic Flame to Chatsworth. The relay is a fantastic way for us to share in the excitement of the Olympics and is a great opportunity to showcase some of the most beautiful landmarks across the country.”

David James, Chief Executive of Visit Peak District & Derbyshire, the area’s official tourist board, added: “It’s great to see that, as well as taking in so much of our varied and beautiful area, the detailed torch relay route includes some of our premier tourist attractions, such as Chatsworth and the Heights of Abraham in Matlock Bath. 

“Excitement is building as the torch relay draws ever closer, and we’re hoping that both local people and visitors will make the most of this unique chance to enjoy the pre-Olympic fun. We are encouraging local tourism businesses and attractions to capitalise by offering special deals and promotions to bring people into the area to join in the celebrations.”

An average of 115 Torchbearers a day will carry the Olympic Flame during its 8,000 mile journey around the UK before it arrives at the Olympic Stadium on 27 July 2012 for the lighting of the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony, signifying the official start of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Schools across the UK can now access free learning resources linked to the Olympic Torch Relay through Get Set (, the official London 2012 education programme. The activities are designed to help schools and colleges make the most of the Relay by lining the route, and cheering on their local Torchbearers. Resources include ideas for making Flame hats and shakers to welcome the Flame, an assembly presentation to get the school behind a Torchbearer and a film showing one Get Set network school's preparations for the Relay.

Chatsworth house, garden, farmyard and adventure playground opened on March 11 2012. For more information and ticketing options including a 10 percent discount for online booking, visit

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Royal Harewood: Celebrating the Life of The Yorkshire Princess 31 March to 17 June 2012

HRH Princess Mary with her husband Henry,
6th Earl of Harewood on the Terrace at
Harewood, 1946 © Harewood House Trust

Harewood House in Yorkshire was home to Princess Mary, The Princess Royal, through four decades. Her love of Yorkshire and the affection the people of Yorkshire felt for her in return mean that she will always be remembered as ‘The Yorkshire Princess’. Harewood is proud to celebrate this Jubilee year with a special exhibition remembering her, an exhibition that runs through the House and out into the gardens which she loved so much. We are also commemorating Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee with an exhibition of intimate family photographs of The Queen, from childhood to motherhood.

HRH Princess Mary
© Harewood House Trust
Princess Mary married Henry, 6th Earl of Harewood in 1922 and they moved into Harewood House in 1929. They introduced many modern amenities and commissioned architect Sir Herbert Baker to design a suite of rooms for them. They were both keen gardeners and the changes and improvements they made to Harewood’s gardens can still be seen. They were also avid collectors and, with the generous help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, we will be displaying for the first time many of the things that were precious to her: personal items such as exquisite fans, gifts from heads of state, presents from her royal relations by the great designer Fabergé. She loved the countryside and Harewood was her family home, where she brought up her two sons before the war and where she continued to live for nearly twenty years after her husband’s death in 1947. She saw Harewood through times of tremendous change and died here, walking round the lake with her son and two of her grandsons, in 1965. Family photographs, portraits, period footage and precious personal items will allow you to see Harewood as the family home it has always been, especially for the Princess who preferred country life to that of the city, and loved Harewood more than anywhere.

The Queen with Prince Charles and Princess Anne,
6 November 1954, Marcus Adams.
The Royal Collection © 2012,
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Marcus Adams: Royal Photographer
Photographs from the Royal Collection

Harewood is also pleased to be hosting a special collection of photographs generously lent by The Queen from the Royal Collection. Taken by favourite royal photographer Marcus Adams, they capture with wonderful charm the early life of the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret from Princess Elizabeth’s first sitting when she was just over seven months old in 1926, to life as the new royal family, the pre-war years, their last sitting in 1941 at Windsor Castle, then later a new generation of royals; Prince Charles and Princess Anne were photographed by Adams thirteen times between 1949 – 1956. Some formal, some fun, striking portraits and vibrant photographs with their own distinctive style, the collection provides a unique insight into the life of the child destined to become Queen.  Two vintage prints of Prince Charles and Princess Anne taken in October 1952 when they attended Marcus Adams’s studio together will appear in the exhibition for the first time.  In the Terrace Gallery we will also be screening a short piece of film of a very young Princess Elizabeth, an intimate glimpse into a royal childhood.

The exhibitions open on Saturday 31 March 2012 and run until Sunday 17 June.

Harewood Winter opening 7 Jan – 29 March (Below Stairs open half term only – some parts of the garden may be closed over the Winter Season – please check website) 10am – 4pm, £5 per car
Open for half term week 11 to 19 February 10am-4pm
Members Day 30 March
Harewood Opens for the Full Open season from 31 March 10am – 6pm
Harewood House State Floor opens 12 noon to 3pm Monday to Sunday
Royal Harewood: State Floor, 31 March to 17 June

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Make Mothering Sunday a truly magical experience by visiting one of the Treasure Houses of England. Hosting a selection of celebrations, the magnificent houses, castles and palaces all provide a beautiful backdrop to ensure Mothers feel like Royalty during a memorable day out.

Blenheim Palace
 Blenheim Palace offers an extraordinary array of spectacular sights, from their Capability Brown landscaped gardens to great lake and award-winning formal gardens – a heavenly spot to enjoy the budding spring blooms in supreme style.   Wander round the gorgeous grounds before enjoying a special three-course Mother’s Day carvery for just £24.95 served in the elegant orangery and accompanied by live music. Mothers will also receive a free peach Bellini and box of truffles to take home.

Children will be given a daffodil to give to their mum in the Chatsworth garden during Mother’s Day Weekend (17-18 March). In the farmyard, complimentary tea and coffee will be served while mothers indulge in some premier pampering at their Nail Bar, and children can craft their very own Mother’s Day cards in the Oak Barn

Harewood House
The captivating Courtyard café at Harewood House will host families for a spectacular lunch courtesy of their exclusive Mother’s Day menu. Mothers can toast the day with a complimentary glass of Buck’s Fizz or Prosecco while listening to the talented sounds of acoustic performer, Charlie Barnes.  Meanwhile, creative types can partake in a pottery class or floristry workshop for an inspired shared experience between mother and child or friends.

Hatfield House’s Coach House Restaurant is open Tuesday - Sunday for morning coffee, lunches, snacks, salads and afternoon teas and is delivering a special Mother’s Day menu (12noon-4pm). An extra treat finds form in their special scrummy cupcake, which will be available all day for £2.50.

For an entertaining evening out, book tickets to the Chamber Music Concert at Holkham Hall (18 March, 7pm). Featuring Dame Felicity Palmer as Mezzo-soprano and Simon Lepper on piano, ‘Women on the Edge’ delivers a programme of songs by Britten, Purcell, Tchaikovsky, de Falla and Sondheim that looks set to be a spellbinding show.

Leeds Castle
 Leeds Castle ensures a spectacular setting for afternoon tea with friends and family. Offering an assortment of fine teas and coffee, the mouth-watering menu will serve a selection of freshly cut sandwiches traditionally presented on a two or three tier stand. Complete your belly fill with raisin and plain scones with strawberry preserve and clotted cream followed by a lavish assortment of afternoon tea cakes (17-18 March, 3pm, £15.00 per person.  Available to book on up until 16 March).

For a fabulous Mothering Sunday, why not book an Afternoon Tea at the Duchess’ Tea Room as a special treat for mum?  Plus entry into the Woburn Abbey Gardens is complimentary with your   pre-booked Afternoon Tea.  (Price £12.50 per person)  The Gardens are celebrating Mothering Sunday and helping to raise vital funds for Keech Hospice Care. All children will have the opportunity to make something for mum with seed planting and pot painting activities taking place. Activities included in your standard gardens admission price.

Or for something a little different, head to Beaulieu on Mothering Sunday for the Lancaster Reading Aston Martin Rally. Displaying over 40 cars in the beautiful Beaulieu grounds, it will make for a unique and memorable day out for all the family.

For more information visit

Monday, 12 March 2012

Blenheim Mother Extraordinary

As Winston Churchill’s mother Lady Randolph Churchill left much to be desired.

Throughout his childhood and youth she gave little demonstration of affection; her priority was very much the pursuit of her social life. No doubt she loved him but, as he himself commented, although he adored her it was as an Evening Star – it was at distance! From his father he received virtually nothing but total dismissiveness.

There was a huge gap in the life of the deeply emotional child that Winston was. His childhood letters to his so often absent parents beg for affection unceasingly; it was rarely shown.

He could have been deeply scarred by the experience. It is interesting to query how the qualities such as the self confidence, leadership and sense of purpose, which made him the inspiration he was in the Second World War, would have developed from such a vacuum.

He was fortunate that two other women did much to fill his need for caring and love; to provide the mothering he lacked but craved. One, famously, was his nanny, Mrs Everest, from whom he received and to whom he returned unconditional love until she died. The other, perhaps more surprisingly in being so lesser known, was his grandmother, Frances Anne, 7th Duchess of Marlborough. She might appear to have been very much a typical Victorian martinet. “At the rustle of whose silk skirts the whole Palace trembled,” was one comment about her and photographs of her, in unsmiling, formal Victorian style, might seem to support this view.

She was far from this. The truth is that she was a woman of great warmth, compassion and capacity for caring. Not only did she demonstrate this unceasingly to her own eleven children (including to the very difficult Lord Randolph) but to so many other family children that she mothered that one family member remarked that Blenheim was becoming,    “a great dumping ground for children”.

Thus, inevitably perhaps, throughout his childhood and youth his mother and father dumped him on Duchess Frances at Blenheim, where often she acted as surrogate mother. So, during his formative years, it tended to be Frances who provided the care and love for which Winston was desperate.

Many instances of this are on record even to this day. So, for example, at Christmas when he was only seven, he was left at Blenheim with his grandmother – and actually had to write from there a letter of thanks for his present to parents, who had neither been there to give them not to see them opened.  

And so it went on for many years. Even in his twenties it was to his grandmother he wrote not long before her death. In a long, very personal letter (“My dear Grandmama ....Ever your affectionate grandson”) he entrusted to her his hopes and ambitions on his momentous decision to leave the army career for one in writing and politics. Tellingly she kept the letter; it exists to this day - revealing a grandmother  - and mother extraordinary!

 Written by the Archivist to His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, John Forster.