Here we go again, heading into the South West. Up North they think it's soft down there, but, like everywhere else in the UK, it is a place of contrasts, of haves and have nots.
The Knightshayes estate overlooks Tiverton. In 1816 John Heathcoat, an innovative lace manufacturer, was in this town looking over an unoccupied mill which he had recently acquired, when his lace factory in Leicestershire suffered a Luddite attack. His machines were destroyed, probably through the connivance of the lace-makers of Nottingham, anxious that his clever new machines would destroy their livelihoods - so he upped and moved his business to the South West. As a visitor said on the day we were there, "You can't stop progress."
By the late 19th century his family owned most of the land and manufacturing around Tiverton. His grandson, Sir John Heathcoat-Amory built Knightshayes Court in the 1870s. He was a man who loved hunting and shooting, a taste reflected in the topiary here. Go fox go!
Sir John employed the architect and eccentric artistic genius William Burges to design the house, but, as Simon Jenkins says, "Why such a man should have hired as an architect an opium-addicted batchelor Gothicist, who dressed in medieval costume, is a mystery." Inevitably Sir John fell out with Burges before the work was completed and the interiors were finished by J.G. Crace. Burges may have been decidedly odd but it is hard for me to resist a man who designed interiors like this...
...who liked dressing up as a jester...
...and about whom Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote this limerick;
"There's a babyish party called Burges,
Who from childhood hardly emerges.
If you hadn't been told,
He's disgracefully old,
You would offer a bull's-eye to Burges."
Most men I know are like that.
Moving on from Tiverton, this short trip gave us many, varied experiences.
Brixham, never visited before, wasn't quite what we expected.
Charmouth charmed us as usual; then, on Saturday, we descended on picturesque Ashburton's antiques emporia. The South West has always been full of dissenters and non-conformists so we weren't at all surprised to hear politely raised voices as elegantly dressed ladies and gents protested against the closure of their local hospital, with the help of a be-sheeted dragon.
We were reminded of the six honest farm workers in 19th century Dorset, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were transported for the "crime" of forming a Friendly Society in their fight to preserve a living wage. (They were pardoned after three years and returned home.) The protests continue - a few days ago local hero Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall was marching for Fish Fight, campaigning for the future of marine conservation.
"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves."
Henry David Thoreau
Field at Ashburton