Monday, November 1, 2010

Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire

Plotters' place
I remember that when I was a child my parents had a book with a picture of this gatehouse in it. The gatehouse was identified as belonging to the manor house at Ashby St Ledgers in Northamptonshire, and the reason it was illustrated was because this house was the home of Robert Catesby, leader of the group of Catholics who plotted to blow up Parliament and James I on November 5th 1605 in the hope of then installing the king’s nine-year-old daughter as a Catholic head of state. Plots of all kinds fascinated me, especially the Gunpowder Plot, not because of any Catholic or republican sympathies but because it was the cause of fireworks, bonfires, Guys, sausages, and other delights.* I imagined people plotting in the upper room of this gatehouse, from which, no doubt, they’d be able to escape in a hurry if royal spies got wind of their scheming.

When I finally visited Ashby St Ledgers, I was amazed that the gatehouse forms a tiny part of the whole house, which is huge – more like a cluster of large houses than a single dwelling. But being near the road, the gatehouse is indeed a good place for plotters, who could both keep a lookout and decamp quickly if they needed to. Its simple architecture, a good deal more rustic than that of the main house, also lends it a useful air of innocence. When the plot was discovered, Robert Catesby fled from London and when trying to make a stand against his pursuers in Staffordshire was shot dead. I must admit that I was pleased to find that his gatehouse had survived.

*My overseas readers may need to know that these things, especially fireworks, attend the yearly celebrations of the discovery of the plot on November 5th. Fireworks are lit all over the country, but the towns of Sussex, where pyrotechnics become spectacle on the grandest of scales, excel in the art of whiz, flash, and bang.


Peggy Braswell said...

Thanks for the overseas comment. I find your site amazing.

expat said...

I think the tar barrels at Ottery St Mary give Lewes a run for its money.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you both for the comments.

Yes, Ottery St Mary celebrates November 5 with a real bang. Likewise Edenbridge in Kent while I think of it. And no doubt many others.

Peter Ashley said...

Superb Lutyens' cottages in the village too.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Yes, they're terrific. I think Lutyens did some work on the big house too, though quite what he did I don't recall. Much other good (non-Lutyens) stuff there too - church, gate piers, village hall, etc, etc.

bazza said...

The inclusion of the historical background makes this so much more interesting.
I think you might be treading on dangerous ground with the claims for Sussex's fireworks!
Incidentally I watched the first episode of 'The High Street' last night and it was excellent. Good luck with the book.