Norfolk tour 2017

Walsingham Priory

Walsingham Priory

Farnham Society Norfolk tour, 15 – 18 September 2017

Building on the success of tours in previous years, our 2017 tour comprised four days in Norfolk.

We were privileged to have a private visit to the home of Sir Antony Gormley, the renowned sculptor and creator of such works as Angel of the North – which we had seen on our 2013 Northumbria visit. Sir Antony spoke of the evolution of sculpture from classical times to the modern day. Classical and Renaissance works were based upon biblical and mythological events, for example the sculptures in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Nowadays, following the Age of Enlightment and the Industrial Revolution, people find themselves living in a much changed world, and contemporary sculpture is inspired more by the uncertainties which characterise the modern age.


Works by Sir Antony treat the human body as a space, rather than depicting movement or representing an event. We also saw something of the task of bringing a concept to its final physical form. A work would start as a model in clay, cardboard or polystyrene. The finished item, typically a large metal figure weighing several tons and displayed outdoors, required modern manufacturing techniques.

The theme of sculpture continued with a visit to Houghton Hall. The house is currently host to a temporary exhibition by the sculptor Richard Long, as well as being home to a number of permanent sculptures.

Water Flame sculpture

 The present house was built in the 18th century by Robert Walpole, the first British Prime Minister. His son Horace, the novelist, later created Strawberry Hill, in Twickenham – which The Farnham Society has also visited.

We visited two sites with a religious heritage. The first was Ely Cathedral, dominating the surrounding fenlands from its elevated position on the Isle of Ely. Beside the Cathedral are extensive former monastic buildings, now retained mostly as official residences.

Monastic bujildings at Ely
Monastic bujildings at Ely

The second was Walsingham, a major site of pilgrimage in the middle ages, up to the dissolution of the Priory under Henry VIII. Pilgrimage was revived at the end of the 19th century, with the development of two shrines. The Catholic shrine is centred around a restored medieval chapel, the adjacent 20th century chapel emulating the form of a barn. The Anglican shrine sits in the village centre, surrounded by houses from medieval and Georgian periods.

Felbrigg Hall, a national Trust property, is a very different house to Houghton. Much smaller, it was Jacobean in origins though much altered in 18th century. A family home until the mid 20th century, it still has a feeling of being lived in.

Our final day offered something less ‘serious’. A visit to Bressingham gave the opportunity to explore the magnificent gardens developed by four generations of the Bloom family. We were able to enjoy rides on the train and carousel in Alan Bloom’s collection of steam engines and railway carriages.

Bressingham steam collection
Bressingham steam collection

The exhibition also featured some of the sets and vehicles from the BBC series Dad’s Army, filmed nearby.

Visit to Heath Robinson Museum and London Museum of Water and Steam

Heath Robinson Museum and West House

Heath Robinson Museum and West House

William Heath Robinson (1872 – 1944) is an artist renowned for his cartoons of weird inventions. The Heath Robinson Museum, which recently moved to a new building in Pinner (north west London) explores this and other sides of his work.

Having trained as an artist, he sought to pursue landscape painting. However the need to earn a living led him to join his brothers Charles and Tom in a book illustration business. His output covered Shakespeare, contemporary writers such as Kipling, and children’s books, extending to high qulaity magzines such as Tatler. The humorous side of his work can be seen, for example in satirising GF Watts.

Tatler Love and Time image

The First World War brought shortages which affected the publishing industry, and Heath Robinson focussed on his humorous cartoons, contributing to the war effort with bizarre ideas for battlefield tactics.

The museum opened in 2016, in a new building in Pinner Memorial Park, alongside the Georgian West House. Beyond the park is Pinner village, with 16th century buildings lining the mainstreet, which leads up to the 14th century church at the top.

The afternoon took us to the London Museum fo Water and Steam for a guided tour. The museum is located in the 19th century pumping station at Kew, on the north side of the Thames. The site dates from the 1830s, though its origins go back to the early 19th century and the need to supply water both for the canals and for the population of London.

A section on water supply traced the history back to the 16th century, with the use of wooden water pipes – elm was a favoured material. A water main was formed by boring a hole along the length of a tree trunk – hence the names ‘trunk’ and ‘branch’ for main and secondary service lines. Wooden pipes were superceded by iron piping during the 19th century.

The Kew pumping station housed a number of steam engines, together capable of pumping several million gallons per day. Diesel powered pumps were introduced during the 20th century, though the steam pumps were retained as a backup until WWII. Electric pumps were introduced post war.

Several of the steam engines have been restored.The museum also houses various engines brought in from other sites. One engine is run in steam each weekend – fuel costs prevent more frequent operation. On the day of our visit, it was the turn of the Easton and Amos engine. Built on 1863, it had operated at a waterworks in Northampton until 1930.

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For further information, visit

Love and Time’ image courtesy of Heath Robinson Museum.

Visits and Tour Programme 2017

Our 2017 programme offers two single day visits and one short break.

May 2017:

Day visit to Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough.


Day visit to Heath Robinson Museum, Pinner; London Museum of Water and Steam, Kew.


Norfolk tour, 4 days,  3 nights.

Full details and application forms were circulated to members with our Spring 2017 newsletter. For further enquiries please use the form below.

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Visit to Dover Castle


Thursday, 15th September 2016

Dover Castle’s spectacular site was an Iron Age hillfort many centuries before the medieval castle was built, and it still contains a Roman lighthouse and an Anglo-Saxon church. Soon after the Conquest in 1066 the Normans built a castle here, and this was developed on a grand scale by Henry II and his successors from 1180 until the 1250’s They created one of the most powerful of all medieval castles. Incorporating a square keep at its heart, it was surrounded by concentric rings of stone walls with regularly spaced wall towers, a combination unprecedented in western Europe.

The wartime tunnels are a complex warren of underground rooms and passages adapted from Napoleonic tunnels to play a crucial role during the Second World War. It was from here that Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay inspired and directed the Dunkirk evacuation in May and June 1940. Later in the war the tunnels served both as a large combined headquarters and as a hospital


Visit to Birmingham

Birmingham Statues

Birmingham’s Industrial Heritage

Wednesday, 13th July to Friday 15th July 2016

We led a three day visit to Britain’s second largest city and powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. It was once said that “if it wasn’t made in Birmingham, it wasn’t made anywhere”. We explored Britain’s Industrial Heritage with a visit to Soho House, home to Matthew Boulton the industrialist and associate of James Watt, with whom he worked on the development of the steam engine. There was a grand tour of Birmingham with a Blue Badge guide and a trip along some of Birmingham’s canals, again focusing on the Industrial Revolution. Finally there was a day’s visit to the Black Country Museum, a Living History museum, where we could walk the streets and sample the delights of Victorian Britain. For the more adventurous there was a visit a coal mine or a boat ride through some of the tunnels under Dudley from which lime was extracted. For the less adventurous was a stroll down a Victorian street with a cone of fish and chips in one hand and a slice of bread pudding in the other. We also visited Birmingham’s Art Gallery which has a particularly fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite artwork.

The cost of this tour will be £215 per person based on two people sharing a room and £280 per person for single occupancy.  This includes coach travel and driver’s gratuity, admission to venues plus hotel accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis and lunch on the first day. Lunch on the second and third days and all evening meals are not included.

Priority is given to Farnham Society members. There are still places available.

Click here for full details of the tour.

Please complete the form below for booking information. 

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Visit to Bowood House

Bowood_30th June 2015_086

Thursday 9th June saw the first outing of the Farnham Society for 2016.

Our destination was Bowood House near Chippenham, Wiltshire. After coffee we had an opportunity to visit the house. This was originally the service block for the “Big House”, demolished in the 1950s. The current property was an E shaped building with an orangery added across the front in later years to hide the service block from the main house. The orangery is now a sculpture gallery and an exhibition space. Currently there is an exhibition devoted to the work of Lancelot Capability Brown. The grounds at Bowood are considered to be some of his best work. The house contains many treasures including Napoleon’s death mask and jewellery given to the fifth marquis who, being down on his luck, had to get a job –as Viceroy of India.

After a particularly good lunch we were taken on a guided tour of the private walled gardens. There are four one acre gardens leading one into the other and these were looking magnificent. We visited the vegetable garden, the cutting garden, the wild flower garden and the glass house garden. Finally there was an opportunity for some to visit the lake and view the cascade. Members were astonished to learn that the grounds are managed by a team of just four gardeners. Everyone was sorry to have to board the bus back to Farnham after such a magnificent day out.

Stowe visit


Our third visit of the 2015 season took place on Wednesday 22July, to Stowe House and Gardens in Buckinghamshire. The current neo classical house and gardens date from the 18th century, the work of Vanburgh and Capability Brown among others. In the twentieth century, the estate was divided, with the house becoming home to Stowe School, and the gardens coming under the ownership of the National Trust.


St Albans Visit

St Albans Abbey

On 18 June, our second visit of the season took us to St Albans.

Shortly after the Romans invaded in AD43, they established the city of Verulamium, on the site of an existing Iron Age settlement. In the third century, a Christian convert by the name of Alban was executed on top of a hill just outside the city. He became the first Christian martyr in Britain, and in the eighth century the Saxon king Offa established a Benedictine monastery at the presumed site of his execution.

Our visit ran in reverse chronological order, starting on top of the hill with the Cathedral in the morning and moving down, in the afternoon, to the Roman remains. The cathedral was constructed in the Norman period, and has undergone extensive alteration and renovation since then.

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It has the longest nave in Britain, and among the notable features is a Watching Room to monitor pilgrims visiting the shrine of St Alban.

The afternoon took us down to the Roman remains. Much of the Roman city had been demolished in the middle ages, to be recycled as building material especially for the Cathedral. The site was excavated largely by Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s, with finds on display in a purpose built museum. Some building remains have been left exposed, notably the theatre, which is considered to be the best preserved in Britain.

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2015 Programme


Our 2015 season comprised three single day visits to sites of historic and heritage interest:

Firle Place, Sussex and Sheffield Park Gardens in May;

St Albans in June;

Stowe Public School and Gardens, Buckinghamshire, in July.

Booking forms were circulated to members with the Spring issue of the Society’s newsletter.


Firle Place Visit

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Our first visit of the 2015 season was to Firle Place and Sheffield Park Gardens in Sussex on Thursday 21 May.

Firle Place, near Lewes, has been owned by the Gage family since the 15th century. The present house dates from the Tudor period, having been much altered in the 18th century to achieve its current appearance. Inside is an extensive collection of art, ceramics, furniture etc. The house was opened specially for us and two very knowledgeable guides showed us around. A delicious lunch followed.

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Lunch was followed by a guided tour of Sheffield Park Gardens, a National Trust property. The history of the estate can be traced back to the Saxon nobleman Godwin, whose son Harold Godwinson lost the estate to the Normans following his defeat at Hastings. A house, dating from Tudor times, was subsequently remodelled in the Gothic style and is now privately owned. The National Trust took over the gardens during the 1950s. The garden design dates originally from the 18th century, with a group of four lakes, connected by waterfalls. There was extensive planting of trees and shrubs during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Glorious weather meant that the gardens were displayed at their seasonal best.

Past Visits and Tours

The Journey by Fenwick Lawson

The Journey by Fenwick Lawson

In 2014 our members enjoyed a varied programme:

In June a day at Penshurst Place, near Tonbridge in Kent, proved popular.  The house guides had a wide-ranging knowledge of the Sidney family – in continuous occupation of Penshurst for more than 460 years since Edward VI granted the estate to Sir William Sidney, forebear of the 2nd Viscount de L’isle who now lives there with his family.

The Baron’s Hall (1341) is one of the best examples of medieval domestic architecture in the country, and the formal gardens are delightful.

In July members of the Society visited the new Mary Rose Museum and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to see the hull of the Tudor ship, 30 years after she was raised in the Solent.   Currently viewed through the windows of an insulated area (a ‘hotbox’) as water is removed from the timbers after years of spraying with preservative, the hull will eventually be seen in an open museum environment.   A unique collection of 16th century artefacts are displayed in mirror-image context galleries running the length of the ship, and other themed galleries illustrate the working lives of the crew.

After timed entry to the museum, members were free to explore HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the National Museum of the Royal Navy with a major exhibition new for 2014 on the centenary of World War I, and Action Stations, which brings to life the modern Royal Navy through interactive displays.


Since 2012 the Society has organised tours further afield –

to Rouen and Monet’s garden at Giverny in 2012,

With guide Richard Briggs Outside Rouen cathedral
With guide Richard Briggs outside Rouen cathedral


Rouen cathedral facade
Rouen cathedral façade
Farnham Society's members enjoying Monet's garden
Farnham Society’s members enjoying Monet’s garden
Monet's garden at Giverny
Monet’s garden at Giverny


and Northumberland in 2013.

The Journey by Fenwick Lawson
The Journey by Fenwick Lawson
At the foot of the Angel of the North
At the foot of the Angel of the North

In September it was a tour of the  Cotswolds. link


Tour of the Cotswolds

Rodmarton Manor

Rodmarton Manor

Cotswold tour, 18 – 20 September 2014

Last September a 40-strong party toured the Cotswolds, with two nights spent in Cheltenham (at a hotel next to GCHQ who no doubt kept a watchful eye and ear on us!) First stop was the Arts & Crafts gem of Rodmarton Manor, near Cirencester. Built in traditional Cotswold materials in the early 20th century for Claud and Margaret Biddulph, the family have lived there ever since. Furniture, internal fittings and wall hangings were hand-made specially for the house in true Arts and Crafts style. The gardens retain their original design, comprising a series of outdoor ‘rooms’.

rodmarton pipe feature
rodmarton lead pipe feature

Next day, on to beautiful Stanway House. The present building dates from the 16th century, but, prior to the dissolution of the monasteries, Stanway Manor had belonged to Tewkesbury Abbey since Saxon times. The Manor had several mills, and there is a mill on the site today, which has been restored recently and which we saw in operation. A 14th century tithe barn is evidence of the long history of the house. We were also treated to a display of the fountain in operation, this being the highest gravity fed fountain in the world.

Stanway House

  Our final destination was Upton House, near Banbury. Built in the late 17th century, the house was acquired by Lord Bearsted (of the Shell Oil dynasty) in the 1920s, and was remodelled to add some Art Deco features inside. The house contains a superb collection of fine art and porcelain, and was hosting a temporary exhibition on Shell and the art of advertising. Outside, the garden was redesigned under Lady Bearsted’s supervision , to recreate an 18th century garden. Beyond the formal lawn and a ha-ha, is an impressive series of terraces, invisible from the house, with extensive flower beds and a kitchen garden.

Farnham Society members outside the 14th century tithe barn  at Stanway House
Farnham Society members outside the 14th century tithe barn at Stanway House

A guided tour of Cotswold villages on the second day had brought J B Priestley’s words about Cotswold stone to life:  “The truth is that it has no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and the light is cold, these walls are still faintly warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them”