Wednesday, January 22, 2014

One Final Barrington Court Wassail

The ideal place to stick South Somerset National Trust
Managers.  I reckon we should have got a Wicker Man...
Barrington Court is a delightful Elizabethan country house in South Somerset, and was the first large property ever purchased by the National Trust.  I first worked there in 2005 when I was asked to host a Tudor Day for Barrington Village School who decided to have the event at Barrington Court, rather than in the cramped surrounds of their sweet little school.  I was welcomed to the property by the Visitor Services Manager, a charming man by the name of Matthew Applegate.  We had a great day and Matthew and I got on like the proverbial house on fire.  He invited me back to be Henry VIII at the property at different times over the years and always it was a delight to appear there.  What I particularly liked about Barrington was the rapport that Matthew had with his staff, both paid and volunteers.  They were a really dedicated group of friendly people prepared to do anything for each other and for the name and reputation of the old building.  There was a pride in what they did.  Barrington was never seen as a prestige venue by the National Trust, most of the local spotlight being pointed directly at Montacute up the road towards Yeovil.  Barrington was run on a shoestring budget, in a sort of mixture of amateur enthusiasm and general goodwill.  And it worked a treat.  Excellent events were staged time and time again.  Various imaginative brilliant exhibitions and live shows, and quite a few Henry shows from me.  Sometimes I would do my shows for the place and there would be some money in the pot for me, but the majority of the time I did free shows for them, because I loved the house so much, and bought into the ideal of the staff and volunteers.  But unfortunately corporate management these days just cannot leave well alone, can they?  Faceless suits are moved into areas of authority, and these short sighted narrow minded "executives" seem hell bent on doing something... anything to desperately try and justify their very existence in the job they are doing.  There is a very old adage - if something ain't broke, why the hell try and fix it?  And this is the case with Barrington.  A particularly unpleasant faceless suit has been parachuted into a position of power and for some reason seemed determined to try and make Matthew Applegate's position untenable.  Goal posts were moved, frequently, structure of the running of the venue changed again, and again, to no discernible improvement.  From an outsiders point of view it almost seemed like they were trying to push Matthew to the very limit of his patience to make him walk away from a job that he was brilliant at, and very popular for doing.  But he is a man of substance and virtue and would never have deserted his staff and volunteers.  So once more, after even more changes of goalposts and targets, the suits-that-be did the final dirty and simply abolished Matthew's position.  So his job has gone, but you also have to consider that he also loses his home (he has a flat on the estate) so the National Trust are also making him and his young family homeless as well.  The reaction from the volunteers is one of silent rage.  Anger that someone so popular with them has been so ruthlessly dispatched in such an unkind, underhand way.  And at Christmas as well.  The spirit of Ebeneezer Scrooge is alive and well and living in the management of the National Trust in South Somerset.  I for one, will never do a free show for these people again.  If they want Henry VIII at their property then they are going to have to pay my full whack.  One of Matthew's finest legacies to this property was the re-introduction of the age old practise of a Wassail - the blessing of the apple trees on the old twelfth night (17th January), amid much carol singing, gun firing, drum banging and scrumpy drinking.  At the very peak of these events, probably about 5 years ago, the evening was magical.  Drumming groups, mummer's plays, musicians, hot food and drinks, and literally hundreds of guests gathering in the orchards of Barrington and joining in the tradition.  The last two Wassails have been smaller, private events, but this one was very special as it would very probably be Matthew's last event at Barrington in his current role.  Invites were sent out to a few people, and Matthew's popularity was very evident in the turn out - probably about 50-60 people gathered round a roaring brazier (as seen in the picture above), big lusty glasses of Barrington cider were drunk, poems were recited, traditional Wassail carols were sung, and we progressed to the apple trees and blessed them with toast, cider, drumming and gunfire, all to help bring forth more wonderful apples for the next harvest.  The only thing to have made it even better was to have had a Wicker Man in the orchard and one or two faceless suits stuffed inside and giving it the full Edward Woodward screaming hysterics as we chucked lit torches at them...  It was nice to see all the old faces from Barrington there, plus Jo and Blue Walshe, late of Shepton Beauchamp Post Office stores and soon to be moving to a well earned retirement in the south of France and even Kate Churchill, formerly Matthew's assistant from a couple of years ago.  THIS, if the management of the National Trust needed it, was ample proof of the popularity of the man they have so ruthlessly stabbed in the back.  He will not be forgotten and they will never be forgiven.  It was a really lovely evening.
Monday the 20th saw me back on the road and being Henry again.  My visit this day was to Blundell's Prep school in Tiverton in Devon for my 10th visit to this lovely school.  I was greeted warmly as usual, but it was a sort of disjointed day starting off in the main hall for the first hour, then shunted off to the pre-prep school hall for the remainder of the morning, then back to the main hall for the afternoon session.  All the kids in the group were dressed in fantastic costumes and were up for a really fun day.  I was in the first throes of a head cold and felt pretty croaky and unwell, but the enthusiasm of the children carried me through the day and it was fun all the way.  We finished the day with a belting jousting tournament that was won, for a change, by the boys.  But it was very close.  Our score moves on to:
So again, the gents make it look a little more respectable.  I got back to Crewkerne, had dinner and flaked out on the sofa in front of the TV.  Another wild evening for me!
The cold remained, as did the sneezing and snot, and two days later I was up bright and early for a drive up to Brent Knoll School, in the village of the same name just off the M5 near Bridgwater.  I was last at this school about five years ago and today it was group of about 70 children and a mixture of years 3, 4, 5 and 6.  They were enthusiastic and loud, which is how I like my groups.  We had a load of laughs and I was treated Royally by the lovely staff of this brilliant school.  One lady from the staff even very kindly walked all the way to the local shop and back to get me some lunch - even treating me to a Belgian bun for afters!  What a lovely lady.  The afternoon session was a bit quieter as years 3 and 4 disappeared off for a swimming lesson, but years 5 and 6 thoroughly enjoyed the stocks and then had a deafening jousting tournament that ended with the inevitable victory for the ladies.
Great stuff.  And so it was just left for me to pack everything away in the car, and head for home, stopping on the way to purchase a much needed bottle of wine.  I had a thoroughly splendid evening watching Manchester United being dumped out of the Capital One Cup Semi Finals by Sunderland on penalties.  If anyone deserves to be recognised in the New Years Honours list for services to sport it should be David Moyes. The joy his crap Man Ure team has brought to all football lovers throughout this land is almost immeasurable.  Arise Sir David - a job well done!
I am off to Essex and then Kent this weekend for my brother in law's 50th birthday party, and then next week my Henry appearances are in Swindon (home of XTC!) and then back to Barry Island in Wales.  I shall then be spending a few days with my folks at their place in Newcastle Emlyn.   I can't wait for the rest and pampering!

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