Rufford, Nr Ormskirk
We stopped here on our way up to Carnforth and the Lakes It was a National Trust property that we hadn't visited previously and gave us a pleasant break on our journey. This rather lovely place was the home of the Hesketh family for around 500 years and is now owned by the National Trust . This building is only a few feet above sea level so it is one of the lowest of the NT's properties. It sits on the edge of the Leeds to Liverpool Canal so makes a pleasant place to have a picnic or just walk along the canal side.
You can also hire the venue for functions such as weddings but I am not sure about the cost involved in this but it would make a fine setting for a wedding.
PRICES AND OPENING TIMES
The house and hall appear to be open most days from 11am to 5pm but sometimes they do not open until 1pm so check. It seems to be closed on Thursdays and Fridays or at least it is this week. In short I would check on the NT website as they put the opening times up fresh each week.
Prices are adult £6.70 ( £7.50 gift aided) child £3.35 ( £3.70 gift aided) Family £15.50 ( £17.05 gift aided and individuals in a group are £5.70 per person.
As NT members our entry was free of course
The car park is free but not huge so may get busy in the summer months.
Our first port of call was the toilet as we had been in the car for a couple of hours. The ladies was clean and well presented but in a former out building so quite functional and a little chilly.
The courtyard was all cobbled and very tricky to walk on wearing high heeled boots even though they were chunky heels and only about 1.5" high I still kept slipping off the cobbles so beware. From the courtyard you could go to the tea room, the shop and the toilets or make your way through the garden to the house and Great Hall.
Having toileted we made our way around to the house and Great Hall. We were greeted at the door by a NT volunteer who ushered us into the Great Hall where another volunteer was about to give a bit of a talk about the house and Great Hall so we willingly went through and joined those already in there.
The front entrance was the entrance to the house with a huge fireplace to welcome you in, flagstone floors and a place to put umbrellas or borrow them if needed. Each room had a laminated information sheet which you could use while there and then leave in the stand for other visitors which I think is such a great idea as most people don't really want piles of paper collected from each visit .It would have been a handy reminder for me writing this though.
THE GREAT HALL
The Great Hall is pretty impressive with huge high vaulted hammer beamed ceiling, flag stone floors and dark wood paneled walls. The ceiling is also decorated with dark wood decorative carved pieces between the main beams and there are carved wooden angels flying from the supporting beams along the edge of the ceiling, there are four angels each side of the hall. It was quite a dark rainy day when we were there so quite hard to see the angels against the ceiling. It was easier to see them from the sitting room or parlour upstairs but no photos were allowed in the house.
In the Great Hall we were told by the ex headmaster volunteer, there would have been straw on the floor and animals were kept in here presumably in winter. The straw was pretty rank after a time but also quite deep. It was kept in the hall at the entrance by wooden edge called a thresh and hence you get a 'threshold' meaning the entrance to your humble domain and' carrying the bride over the threshold'.
The original hall and Great hall were built as a letter H with the Great Hall as the cross piece and the present house as the servants quarters and kitchen etc. The original posh part of the house appears to have been destroyed at some time but records appear a bit hazy on that fact.
Our headmaster gave a very good and interesting talk with lots of trivial pursuit kind of factoids thrown in. He told us that the average villager or farm worker coming for a meal in the Great Hall would have brought a board or used a board for his 'plate' and on this he would have a large slice of bread. The meal would then have been slopped onto his bread and he would have eaten with fingers, cut with a knife and possible had a spoon but no fork. After he finished his meal he would wipe it as clean as he could with his bread then turned it over and the dog would have licked it clean for him. He could also use this same board for playing games and hence we get 'board games' and when not in use it was stored along the wall on its side, so 'sideboards' became used in the English language. If you had some hooks above the boards to hang the cups then you had a cupboard presumably a place to store cups and boards. This is also where the term 'board and lodging' comes from, if you had a board then you also got the food as the board is the thing upon which you eat and the lodging merely the place you sleep.
In the Great Hall were a number of suits of armour which held polite notices asking you not to touch as it takes two properly trained volunteers 28 hours to clean a suit of armour. In the corner was a spinning wheel with a lady demonstrating. While we were there a child was trying her hand at the skill but I didn't have a try myself. A huge fire place was along one of the long side wall and above this an impressive display of swords and armour hung. On the end wall was another fine display of swords.
Separating the Great Hall from the main house was a huge carved room divider carved from bog oak. We were told that when wet this is quite soft and carve able but once dry sets like rock. This was quite the most impressive screen I have ever seen and I can't imagine they moved in around much as it was very large and very solid too. This was large highly carved and very dark, our headmaster told us this was the equivalent of the 3D TV in the corner, this shouted 'look I have plenty of money' and be very impressed.
The Great Hall is said to date from the early 1500s but there have been alterations over the centuries. It was built with no foundations with huge limestone slabs at the bottom then huge beams were lid on top with vertical beams held by mortice and tenon joints going up wards to the next horizontal beam. In between you shoved hazel twigs and other bits then clay, dung and whatever else to fill in between the beams. This wattle and daub mixture was then lime washed to make it clean and whiter.
In the middle of the roof was a sort of tower which no one knows really what it was therefore. Some say originally it had louvered slats on the sides and this allowed smoke from a central brazier to escape but as there has always been a fire place in the Great Hall others argue it is unlikely to be what happened. It does let a lot more light in and was obviously added after the main roof was built but no one knows why, in fact.
One of the great claims to fame of this hall is that William Shakespeare once played on its stage before he became famous but again that is not a substantiated fact according to our headmaster guide.
From the Tudor Great Hall you then pass into the house and you leap forward to a Victorian house. The parlour has a table and beautiful sideboard as well as other interesting bits of furniture such a unit with tiny drawers all beautifully carved and ornate. The table had a jigsaw that anyone could have a go at as they passed through. The other room that led off the Great Hall was set up as a dining room and very posh it looked too. On the sideboard was the menu and plastic versions of all the food from mock turtle soup through lobsters, steak, partridge and so much more. No photos were allowed in the house so I am relying fully on my poor memory with no photos to jog it back into the fore front for me.
Two other rooms downstairs were set up as a study and another room had a display of botanical water colours from Ellen Stevens but although I can see they are very detailed and botanically correct as pieces of art they didn't do much to inspire me in truth, not my thing at all.
Heading towards the rather lovely wooden staircase we noticed another fine piece of carved furniture which proudly displayed a label saying it had been restored by a NT lottery funding. The present lottery was going towards repairing a statue of Pan which had recently been vandalised and had rather sadly lost its head and arm.
Going up stairs we turned tight into a room with seats and a reading table as well as newspapers from the early 20th century that you could read. I was fascinated by one featuring the Titanic disaster and after reading that I flicked through and noticed an advert for Zambuk which is a great South African antiseptic balm which you can buy here in Boots but |I had no idea you could buy it that long ago in the UK.
Down the corridor and straight on we came to a fabulous, huge room known as the Drawing room which had two for places, a huge grand piano and a wooden ornate hole cut out so that you could see the Great hall below. When the Heskeys lived in the house this was covered by a door made to match the panelled walls. The ceiling was a high vaulted beamed ceiling and there was just so much to see in here in the way of carved furniture and knickknacks belonging to the family collected over their time in the house. The room had a friendly, warm comfortable feel about it and I felt I would have been happy to live there. Most NT houses are either rather cold or too ornate and flashy where this was comfortable and felt welcoming.
I loved the cartoon hunting scene paintings all down the top corridor. They were sort of similar to those my mother had in an old book of her by Robert Smith Surtees I think. They were sort of Thelwell but more grown up, hunting style and very witty.
At the end of the corridor was a bedroom set up with a four poster bed with 'ensuite' facilities , the chamber pot chair and washing bowl and jug. Victorian laced boots in boot stays beside the bed and all very typically Victorian set up.
Downstairs we went and back out though a side door passed a gong held by two elephant tusks, not very conservation friendly these days but of the time I guess,
We came out into the courtyard again and made our way over to grab a cup of tea. We were then inspired by the Lancashire tea and ream tea. These were £4.85 each. The cream tea came with clotted cream and a small pot of strawberry jam and two huge fruit scones straight from the oven and they were so tasty. I managed one and popped the other in a paper napkin and brought it out to eat later. My husband chose the Lancashire tea which came with a savoury cheese and herb scone with butter and a slice of fruitcake and a chunk of Lancashire cheese, that all went I note. They both came with a pot of tea.
We had to find a table, check the menu and then go and order our food from the girl at the till. The food and tea was then brought to our table on a tray. The cafe was quite small with two distinct areas either side of the entrance where the till was and you ordered your food from. The kitchen looked pretty large from where we sat. I understand they do meals for lunch and also offer sandwiches should you fancy those.
These looked lovely but it was pouring with rain and neither of us fancied getting soaked. Somehow wandering around gardens is not as attractive in the pouring rain for me.
This offered a range of food like chocolates, biscuits and pickles and jams. There were also gifts, cards, pocket money gifts and some plants as well as a fridge with ice creams which was possibly more popular in summer. We purchased a few postcards and made our way back to the car.
ACCESS FOR THOSE WITH MOBILITY ISSUES
The cobbles were awful even for able bodied people to walk on so if you had a stick or zimmer frame I would say that would be a challenge too far. I believe you can get into the downstairs and Great Hall another way but the upper floor would not really be possible. The same applies to push chairs.
I would say the toilets once you managed to get across the cobbles would be accessible. The cafe had a couple of small steps but nothing that would be too much of a problem but it is quite small so you might find getting in a challenge because of room.
ALSO visitors are asked NOT to wear shoes with sharp heels as they damage the floors.
If you are driving through this part of the world I would say it is well worth dropping in. I thought the place had a really pleasant feel about it. We felt comfortable and welcome and found the furnishings very different and interesting.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.