Sunday, June 10, 2007

Upton House and Berkswell

On Saturday, we drove to Upton House, not far from the site of the Battle of Edgehill (October 1642), the first battle of the English Civil War. Upton House is a seventeenth-century stately home that in 1927 became the home of the 2nd Viscount Bearsted who, in addition to being the chairman of the Shell Oil Company, was also an avid art collector. The house is now an art gallery operated by the National Trust, full of wonderful European paintings dating from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century—everything from quattrocento Italian altarpieces to the sentimental eighteenth-century soft porn of Jean Baptiste Greuze. The painting below, though not itself in Upton House collection, is typical of their five Greuze paintings, and of his work as a whole. He churned out paintings such as this to pay the debts incurred by his wife's extravagant lifestyle.

Upton House is also known for its collection of fine porcelain, its beautiful gardens, and its dramatic ha-ha.

This afternoon, we made good on our intention to visit Berkswell, a small village about five miles north of Kenilworth. The name Berkswell is thought to come from "Bercul's Well;" Bercul was the original Anglo-Saxon inhabitant, and his well still stands near the church. In the Middle Ages, the "well" was evidently used for immersion baptisms, but today seems mainly to breed insects.

Church of St. John the Baptist, Berkswell, Warwickshire

The lovely Norman church, much of it dating back to the late twelfth century, is notable for its fine Norman crypt and for the lovely half-timbered vestry over the porch. The church was included in Simon Jenkins' book England's Thousand Best Churches (less expensive from than from, which remarks upon the "immaculate" setting of the church in the picture-postcard English village of Berkswell.

The Berkswell Museum.

In the summer, afternoon teas are offered in the village reading room. We chose instead to spend a quarter of an hour in the village museum before heading down to Meer End for a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord Bitter at the Tipperary Inn. The museum is full of artifacts from the history of the village, from fourteenth-century tiles from the church, to WWII ration booklets, to special displays on the three most famous natives of the village: former England cricket captain R.E.S. Wyatt, actor Jeremy Brett, and Maud Watson, the first women's singles champion at Wimbeldon (1884). Maud Watson is buried in Berkswell, where her father was the rector of the church.

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