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Candlestick in the Billiards Room: Bantock House Museum and Park

October 13, 2011

VALUE FOR MONEY: ★★★★★

SERVICE: ★★★★★

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: ★★★★

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey (or, as in my case, Uptown Downstairs Abbey) then there may be something on your doorstep to tickle your Edwardian fancy. Just along the Finchfield Road in Wolverhampton, set within 43 acres of parkland, is the beautifully restored Bantock House Museum and Park.

This once belonged, unsurprisingly, to the Bantocks, who occupied the house between the 1860s and the 1940s. Baldwin, who was one of the ten children in the family, grew up to become the Mayor of Wolverhampton – three times, no less – and it was in his honour that the house was renamed Bantock (until then it was known as Merridale House).

History lesson over, I just have to say that even on a blustery, overcast, mid-October day, the settings are far more picturesque than I managed to capture on camera. The size of the grounds needs to be seen to be believed, especially if you’re local and, like me, drive past all the time with almost no consciousness of what grandeur lies just over the hedge! I certainly wasn’t expecting a site of this quality, particularly when told that admission is free.

Once you find your way into the house itself, you’ll be given a guide booklet, told to mess with anything you like (apart from the mannequins) and sent on your merry way. There are also information books lying around on tables in each room to give bits of history and family background, which is a nice touch if you’re interested in a particular topic. I was quite happy to potter around by myself, but there were several dedicated members of staff who were willing to accompany guests around the house and give a guided tour. I was lucky enough to have two!

The inglenook fireplace in the Staircase Hall. Notice the comfy chairs and reading material.

Solid brass Arts and Crafts lectern, dating from 1919. Got one of those in my front room, too.

You can learn a lot about the Arts and Crafts Movement from this house – there are factsheets, booklets, artefacts, everything. William Morris pervades all corners of the building; there are even some of his books lying around for guests to browse.

Other rooms on the ground floor are the Dining Room, complete with dinner menus, and the Drawing Room, which is very much nature-inspired:

You’ll even find, next to the window which overlooks the formal gardens outside, a collection of Victorian poetry on flowers. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the presentation of the house.

Moving upstairs to the first floor, there’s far more indication of the Bantocks’ involvement with Wolverhampton as a whole. From the Billiards Room, with its Wulfrunian ‘wall of fame’, to the Nursery and its townscape mural, and the Lady’s Bedroom with its extensive collection of japanned ware, the pride in local heritage and industry is evident throughout. The japanning was something I was particularly interested in – hard to believe it’s just papier-mâché!

The Billiards Room

Our very own Charles Chubb

The Lady’s Bedroom, complete with japanned ware and – I was told – the bed of Queen Mary!

Not pictured is the Community Gallery, a room on the first floor dedicated to local themes and events. As Bantock House hosts a 1940s weekend every September, the Community Gallery is currently home to an exhibition on the Second World War and the role that Wolverhampton played. I admit that I’m not hugely passionate about the Wars, but it was nice to read the comments of those who are:

People from all over the country had visited and written in the guestbook. I was embarrassed not to have even known about the place, despite living in the same postcode area!

Right, onto business: the café.

You may wonder why, in my ratings, I don’t automatically give five stars to places that have free admission. This is simply because, in my old-lady fashion, I cannot rate somewhere without sampling the tea and cake or other tasty offerings. Frankly, as a student (or pensioner, or parent, or anyone) on meagre earnings, the cost of food is always an issue. Even in touristy places, it shouldn’t be so expensive as to put people off going.

Bantock House has a traditional café menu (think National Trust) with a variety of tempting treats:

I went for the beetroot and hazelnut cake. Sounds weird, but really rather nice!

A slice of cake was £2.09, and with a cup of tea an extra £1.33. You can tell from the awkward pricing that the café has been forced, probably by VAT increase, to raise its prices, and has resisted the tendency to round up to the nearest ten pence. I suppose that’s a good thing – especially as I had spent most of my money in the gift shop!

If you fancy walking off all that cake, there’s plenty of ground to explore, including some well maintained formal gardens (which I imagine would be a lot more impressive in the summer).

It’s amazing to think that, while there’s a perfectly good park next door, it costs no more to visit this listed building and its traditional English country gardens. I don’t suppose the dogs and the football-playing kids would be as welcome, but you never know.

There are all sorts of events running here: talks, valuation days, dances, storytelling, craft activities and workshops for children. Bantock House seems to be particularly accommodating towards the deaf community and learners of BSL, and is just another of Wolverhampton’s art establishments to promote openness, inclusiveness and education for all.

For more information on most civilised events in period surroundings, you can check out the Bantock House website. There’s a craft fair next month, so I know I’ll be going back!

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