In which William Cash throws an Elizabethan bash at Upton Cressett to celebrate his wife’s birthday, his father’s knighthood, and a local planning triumph.
A Tudor hat nearly goes up in flames, there’s some evangelising of the Churches Conservation Trust, some Grade I listed modern art and a tent, lots of torrential rain, and Elizabeth Hurley sleeps in Margaret Thatcher’s bed. Oh, and (cousin) Johnny Cash.
Saturday night (June 28th) saw the medieval heavens descend with a downpour of rain to mark the opening of our new Medieval Pavilion on the moat at Upton Cressett. To mark the occasion, I hosted an Elizabethan costume party with authentic Elizabethan dancing for my wife Laura’s 30th Birthday.
Friends of Laura came from as far as Normandy and Siciliy, along with local figures and family members. My father in law came dressed as a medieval executioner – with a small axe borrowed from the tool shed – which was picked up on by the Daily Mail, who ran a comical Diary story the next day entitled “When Father In Law Comes As An Axeman” which we all thought absurd but amusing.
The party was to celebrate the birthday of my wife Laura as well as to celebrate the recent knighthood of my father Sir Bill Cash (pictured, dressed as Caravaggio in cloak, next to Vivien Cathcart and Ivan Lindsay). There were fifty guests, mainly old friends of Laura and her family.
Elizabeth Hurley stayed the night in The Thatcher Suite in the Gatehouse at Upton Cressett, where Baroness Thatcher stayed for two nights with Sir Denis Thatcher in 1994. “I love Upton Cressett as it is so untouched by the industrial age – it is a magical step back in time,” said Hurley, who lives near Ledbury in Herefordshire.
There were many reasons to celebrate last weekend. We have been wanting to do an Elizabethan themed party for many years and the news last week that the wind turbine application that has threatened the historic setting of Upton Cressett had been withdrawn was an extra reason to raise glasses this weekend (read more on that here).
Another reason to celebrate was that we are also looking forward to the imminent return (from Monkhopton church) of the “Cressett Brass” to the Grade I church of St. Michael, where the Elizabethan supper was hosted.
The church is owned and maintained by the wonderful Churches Conservation Trust who gave us permission to host the event in the church, which is no longer used for services.
I thanked the CCT in my speech and told everybody about the great work the Trust is doing in conserving churches such as St Michael’s. I am a huge supporter of the Churches Conservation Trust and have become involved with the CCT’s s national fundraising arm as it is a cause that urgently needs money, being yet another casualty of the government cutting of arts and conservation grants.
One of the reasons for hosting the Elizabethan supper in the church of St Michael was to raise awareness for the work of the CCT and show how such beautiful Grade I CCT churches can be used for local events – exactly like the Elizabethan themed dinner at Upton Cressett. This way we can get local people to see how the buildings can actually be USED today as opposed to just sitting empty. That these architectural gems can once again be enjoyed by the local community is very much part of the raison d’etre of the CCT.
The problem is that many local people are generally not even aware of the beautiful churches in their area, and secondly, that they can be used for hosting events – from lectures to concerts to dinners. Following the dinner, we had a complaint from somebody who saw a photo of the Elizabethan supper at St Michael’s in the local Shropshire Star paper, without possibly realising that St Michael’s is no longer used for services today.
The publicity surrounding the private supper and poetry evening can only – in my view at least – help realise awareness in the local community that a former church is available for use by the local community if they are only aware that the CCT actively promotes such “appropriate” usage. We were thrilled it was such a success and look forward to hosting more events in the church in the future which help raise awareness of the CCT’s work and the beauty of their buildings.
Earlier in the week, the Jerwood Prize winning artist Adam Dant, whose mural work was included in the Grade I status of the Hall, visited Upton Cressett to paint the Cressett sea dragon motif onto the new Bosworth Pavilion that I commissioned three months ago from the specialist Nottingham based heritage tent company George Mudford & Sons who have been making tents since 1832.
Mudford & Sons are known as the Rolls Royce of heritage tents, used for re-enacting battles including the Battle of Bosworth. The tent chosen is an exact replica of the sort of field pavilion used by Henry Tudor at Bosworth in 1385.
Round marquees, called Pavilions, were common in the days of the English longbowmen. The Pavilions were often decorated with woven, striped cloth, embroidery and applied motifs – from the Cloths of Gold to Agincourt and the fields of Bosworth, these tents created a varied and colourful camp scene.
The costumes added to the festivities; I dressed as the 17th century poet troubadour John Cash whose family sailed to America and whose later ancestor included the late country singer Johnny Cash.
Earlier this year we were invited by Johnny Cash’s daughter Roseanne Cash to attend a concert at the Barbican in London at which she had invited all her Cash relations. It was wonderful to know that we are related to the great Johnny Cash and we are talking about inviting Roseanne Cash to Upton Cressett for a visit, or perhaps even a concert on the moat next year.
My favourite costume, however, was worn by Henry Dent Brocklehurst, owner with sister Mollie of Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire – where Catherine Parr is buried. Henry had forgotten to go to a fancy dress store to get a Tudor costume so decided to pay a visit to Sudeley castle ‘s famous 16th century Tudor museum where he picked out a black felt hat with a feather from the 16th century actually belonging to Lord Seymour (Thomas) who married Catherine Parr after she was widowed by Henry VIII – she was the sixth wife who ‘survived”. He twinned it with a white Gucci jacket.
I was so impressed by this authentic Tudor detail that I wore Thomas Seymour’s hat during the birthday speech I gave from the podium of the church of St Michael (pictured, right) before toasting Laura inside the Grade I church where the dinner took place.
As I spoke, the Tudor feather attached to the 16th century hat nearly caught fire as it dallianced with a candle placed close to the podium. There was some light singeing before I realised the Seymour headpiece was about to go up in flames during my speech.
The toast was followed – in true Elizabethan style – with the historic costume dance group called Courtesie entering the candle-lit church and dancing a processional dance known as a Pavane – which is a 16th century Italian word meaning “To Peacock”. We certainly peacocked all night.
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About Upton Cressett Hall
‘A splendid example of the English manor house at its most evocative’Country Life
’The gatehouse is an Elizabethan gem’ Simon Jenkins, England’s Thousand Best Houses
‘A remarkable Tudor house of brick’ Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England
‘One of the finest Tudor houses in Britain’ Shropshire Magazine
Upton Cressett Hall is a moated Elizabethan brick manor with historic gatehouse and Norman church set in an unspoilt and romantic landscape near the Shropshire market town of Bridgnorth in the heart of PG Wodehouse’s Blandings country. The house has long been admired by architectural critics ranging from Nikolaus Pevsner to Simon Jenkins, who included Upton Cressett in his acclaimed ‘The Thousand Best Houses of Britain’, describing it as an ‘Elizabethan gem’.
The manor was the historic home of the Cressett family for centuries, before the Cash family began living there in 1971. Following restoration work, Upton Cressett is now open to the public and for group visits. The property is also available for events, concerts and filming. A special production of Much Ado About Nothing was performed to mark the re-opening of the Hall. In 2012, the Hall and grounds will be used for events during both the Wenlock Poetry Festival and the bi-annual Wenlock Festival.
Upton Cressett Hall was named the winner of ‘Hidden Gem’ at the 2011 Hudson’s Heritage Awards, the Oscars of the heritage world recognising ‘The Nation’s Finest Heritage’. The awards were announced on 1st December at the Grosvenor Square Hotel and presented by Norman Hudson OBE, chairman of the judges. The other judges were Lady Lucinda Lambton and Jeremy Musson, former architectural editor of Country Life. Upton Cressett was also short-listed for Best Restoration and Best Accommodation. The only other historic house to receive three nominations is the Elizabethan stately home of Burghley.
The two year restoration of Upton Cressett was the cover story of the October 2011 issue of Shropshire Magazine. In the article, editor Neil Thomas, describes Upton Cressett as ‘one of the finest Tudor houses in the Britain and a true Shropshire gem’. William Cash will be writing a new column for Shropshire Magazine from May.
The Gatehouse is available for luxury mini-breaks and private let. Featuring two octagonal turrets, thick Tudor brick walls, an oak carved spiral staircase, and rare sixteenth century ornamental plasterwork, as well as all modern comforts, the Gatehouse is one of England’s most secluded and luxuriously appointed romantic hideaways.
Prince Rupert of the Rhine took refuge in the Gatehouse whilst escaping the Parliamentary army; others who have stayed at Upton Cressett throughout its remarkable history include the young King Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower, on the way from Ludlow to the Tower of London in 1483, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, novelist Sebastian Faulks and Elizabeth Hurley.
The Gatehouse is also used by the Upton Cressett Foundation, a writers’ retreat for novelists, academics, playwrights, biographers and historians to shut themselves away for up to six weeks – by invitation – to make creative progress with a project in a quiet and uniquely remote historic setting. Often compared to the Tower at Sissinghurst, where Vita Sackville-West built her library and wrote her many books, the Gatehouse has an inspirational environment.
The views of contributors are not necessarily those of PrimeResi or its Publishers. We thought this worth repeating.