Lyveden New Bield

The sun made a welcome appearance, and this afternoon we all headed out to Lyveden new Bield for a picnic and gentle walk. Chris came with us, and refused the National Trust's offer of an all-terrain wheelchair, a decision he later regretted when he discovered how tiring it is to walk using the crutches provided by the NHS. The car-park was busy, but we found a quiet place for our picnic, next to one of the moats. Drifts of swallows and house martins passed over us while we ate, all gently heading south.

Lyveden is one of our favourite National Trust properties and always has a wonderfully calm atmosphere. We'd been planning to visit for a picnic most of the summer, but this was the first time the weather was good enough - indeed it's the first properfamily picnic of the summer! It has a very interesting history, as described in this article from the BBC History Magazine:

"A stark silhouette against the gently rolling hills of Northamptonshire, Lyveden New Bield has all the romance of a stately ruin, but was never completed. Constructed by Sir Thomas Tresham on his estate in Aldwinkle St Peter, it boasted a great hall, parlour, bedroom, buttery and a servants' kitchen, in which the bread ovens and fireplace can still be seen. The house was probably built as a garden lodge, a place where Thomas could retire with a minimum of servants, while the principal dwelling was cleaned.

The Tresham family was fervently Roman Catholic, and it appears that Thomas copied the design of St Peter's in Rome, because the house is symmetrical in shape like a Greek cross, with four equal arms stretching out from the centre.

His passionate Catholic beliefs are highlighted by religious friezes and various inscriptions on the walls, which include the phrase 'Gaude Mater Maria' (Rejoice Mother Mary). Most inspirationally, when the sun shines through the parlour window in the morning, it casts the shadow of a crucifix against the wall behind.

In 1605, after decades of religious persecution, Thomas died and the estate passed to his son Francis. However, he perished in the Tower of London after becoming involved in the Gunpowder Plot. Francis's wife managed the estate on behalf of his younger brother Lewis but, as a spendthrift, Lewis squandered the family's wealth and the estate was sold after his son's death. As a result, Lyveden New Bield remains exactly as it was when the builders left.

In recent years the remains of an enchanting Elizabethan pleasure garden with spiral mounts, terraces and moats, believed to be one of the oldest layouts in Britain, has been rediscovered. The orchard has been restored and new walks linking the house to the once-popular hunting grounds of Rockingham have also been created."

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