The weather forecast was good so we planned a visit to Upton House and Gardens near Banbury in Warwickshire. Arriving around 2.00 p.m. on a glorious summer’s day the main car parks were already full but we were directed to an overflow parking area in a field which was only a short walk from the entrance gates.
Approaching the house along its wide, tree lined drive our first stop was in the Stable Yard to arrange timed entrance tickets for viewing the house. Our entry time was 30 minutes later which gave us an opportunity to explore the gardens. On the south lawn in front of the property visitors were enjoying picnics under the shade of the large cedar trees. There was live music ‘Jazz on the lawn’ which takes places between 12.00 and 4.00 p.m. each Sunday in August and it was lovely to take in the views and listen to the music for a short time.
Walking to the end of the lawn, the ground drops away steeply and the bank has been terraced with colourful borders keeping to the style of the original 1920’s planting designs. A gravel path and steps lead down to the large kitchen garden which stretches for one acre, here fruit and vegetables are still grown for use in the cafe and restaurant.
To one side of the lawn we noticed a swimming pool complete with diving board which had been installed in 1936. The pool looked murky and is no longer in use as the water in the swimming pool drains through to the ponds where there are fish. Wandering around the mirror pool at the base of the garden we discovered this was undergoing renovation as its clay lining had worn away resulting in numerous leaks. Returning uphill towards the house by a different route took us up a grand outdoor staircase with ornate spindles. Glancing back, there were some good views of the extensive grounds.
Timing it well, we arrived promptly in front of the house ready for our visit. A National Trust volunteer opened the door and welcomed about 20 of us into the hall explaining that the door cannot be opened from the outside as it was designed for servants to welcome guests into the home. Our guide, ‘the Land Agent’ provided us with a useful short history of the house and its owners and then we were able to tour the rest of the house at our own pace with volunteers on hand in the majority of the rooms for more detailed information.
In 1927 Lord and Lady Bearsted bought the house for its potential and modernised it to their taste influenced by the latest issues of Country Life magazine. The magazine published photos of privately owned country homes showcasing their wealth.
A basement was added to the property with two indoor squash courts, a snooker room and lounge. The squash court even had a small viewing balcony to enable family and guests to spectate. It has now been converted into an art gallery to display some of Upton’s paintings.
Up on the second floor we found a very interesting exhibition of original art work and posters entitled ‘Shell and the art of advertising’. Lord Bearsted inherited his fortune from his father, a co-founder of the Shell oil empire.
After an enjoyable tour of the house and gardens we completed our visit with a refreshing pot of tea sitting outside the Pavilion restaurant which was built in the grounds in 2002.
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