Canons Ashby is a quite delightful National Trust property. It is hidden away in the beautiful Northamptonshire countryside, a few miles south of Daventry and south-west of Northampton itself. This house is not a typical stately home because it is smaller than most and much more of a family home. It is set in a recently restored formal garden within a 2,500 acre estate.
The house and estate were inherited by Sir Henry Dryden in 1837 when he was only nineteen and a student at Cambridge. The estate was in debt and the house had not been updated for more than 100 years. He made the decision not to marry and start a family until all debts had been cleared. It was almost 30 years later that he found himself in a position to marry. His wife, the former Frances Tredcroft, was 42 whilst Sir Henry was five years older. Their marriage was blessed with one child, not the longed-for son to inherit, but a daughter named Alice. Alice's favourite hobby was photography and we have her to thank for the extensive collection of contemporary photographs of the house, estate and surrounding villages. These are on display in albums within the house along with a number of interesting family photographs. Visitors are able to visit Alice's own dark room in the cellars.
The volunteer guides positioned in various rooms within the house are extremely knowledgeable and it is wise to ask them if you have any queries. There are also information sheets for visitors to read in every room. A brief guide is also handed out to all at the entrance. Strangely, there are no bathrooms in this house so water had to be carried upstairs for bathing from the kitchen.
Since the National Trust took over responsibility for Canons Ashby, extraordinary Elizabethan wall paintings have been discovered under the 18th century panelling. This was as late as the 1980s. These are on show in several rooms.
The 1881 census lists only four servants. Louise Woodford was the cook and most senior. There were three others - Emily Carter the kitchen maid, Hannah Staunton the parlour maid and Maria Cox the laundry maid. You can visit their bedrooms, the kitchen and the servants' dining room.
Do allow yourself plenty of time to stroll in the magnificent formal garden, complete with its own croquet lawn, and then to cross the road (beware of traffic coming around the bend to your right) to the Priory Church of St. Mary. The Dryden memorials are within the church as is a model of the entire estate.
The tea rooms and gift shop are also well worth a visit. A buggy is available to transport visitors from the car park to the house if necessary but the walk is not too far.
This is a delightful property which my husband and I will certainly visit again. I recommend it to others.
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