Stoneleigh Abbey: Verdure is the most perfect refreshment

PUBLISHED: 01:16 22 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:45 20 February 2013

Stoneleigh Abbey, one of Warwickshire's most splendid stately homes, is where history, from Henry VIII to Jane Austen, comes alive, says Godfrey Brian.

In an age of rapid technological progress, it probably isnt such a surprise that history and heritage are undergoing a surge in popular interest. No-one should underestimate the importance of history especially history which is right on our doorstep.

We can learn so much from how life used to be, says Ted Walmsley, Education Manager at Stoneleigh Abbey near Kenilworth. People want to know more. They get great satisfaction in the quest for a better understanding of the past. Our heritage has to be accessible, to be appreciated and enjoyed by young and old alike.

To that end, Ted is helping bring the past to life at the Abbey, inviting people to experience history at close quarters.

There has never been so much history available - in books, magazines, on television and in the cinema, says Ted. Thats why we want people to come to Stoneleigh and immerse themselves in these wonderful buildings and landscapes.
Ted, together with Paula Cornwell, the Trustees Visitor Manager are keen to provide a real educational aspect for visitors to the Abbey.

The site was originally a Cistercian Abbey, until Henry VIII dissolved it in 1536. By 1561, the association with the Leigh family, one of the countys great families, had begun.
You can actually walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen on one of our Costume Guided Tours, says Ted. The Abbey is Southerton Court, from the book Mansfield Park. Jane Austen was here in 1806. Her mother, Cassandra, was a Leigh by birth.

The rooms are just as described in the book. The beautiful chapel stands as serene as ever. You can only guess how Jane was inspired by such a magnificent setting. A number of schools study Jane Austen and use her works in creative writing. Here is the ideal environment for it.
The State Rooms also allow the visitor to see the world of Queen Victoria, including the Saloon where she dined and danced, and the four-poster bed where she slept. Ted says: Theres even her bath and royal toilet! This has to be the best classroom for students of all ages and interests to learn and be inspired.

There are also some quite stunning views from the Abbey across the Avon valley beyond the Humphry Repton landscaped garden where riverside and woodland walks are a delight.
You can cover just about every aspect of the national curriculum for schools on this estate, says Ted. Theres English, with the Jane Austen connection and the inspiring setting combine; History, where the beautifully set out rooms give a vivid impression of how people lived and worked on a great country estate in years gone by.

And the house and grounds are an ideal location for artists and photographers to practice their skills. There is an art competition currently running and open to all ages and abilities. Local artist Mark Kaiser has been kind enough to put up an excellent prize and hes agreed to judge the entries.
The Repton gardens, woodland and riverside walks provide the opportunity to branch out into the realms of science and nature too, says Ted.

We have an on-going project in the grounds involving the building of a new footbridge over the river as well as work on the weirs.

This year, weve moved the caf into the Orangery overlooking the Avon. Its an ideal location for visitors to meet and chat.

Stoneleigh Abbey is hoping to attract more visitors from schools, colleges and universities, as well as clubs, societies and other social-interest groups.
For anyone interested in history and heritage in this corner of Warwickshire, I can think of no better location to visit.

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