Outing to Stoke Bruerne and Canons Ashby 15 September 2017

At 9 o’clock we set out from Carterton on a dry typical Autumn day, and praying that the forecast showers would not spoil our day.

Stoke Bruerne is the home of the Canal & River Trust and is just a few miles to the south of Northampton, on the Grand Union Canal that runs from London to Birmingham. Luckily for us although dull the day was still dry. The locks are about halfway along the canal, and although only one operating lock and one redundant lock are to be seen, within a short walking distance are a series of 14 locks descending a total of 55 feet and in the direction of London. To the north is Blisworth Tunnel and we all took advantage of the canal boat ride that took us to the tunnel and a short way inside to experience what it would have been like in days gone by when boats lacked lighting. In its heyday, Stoke Bruerne was a very busy place with many thousands (circa 15,000+), boats passing per annum. During the early and middle 1800’s, horses on the towpath hauled all the boats. As horses could not go through the tunnel, boards were placed on the top of the cargo on which men laid their backs and then using their well-studded boots on the tunnel roof and walls, walked the boats through the tunnel. At 1¾ miles long, this was hard and exhausting work.

The museum was very interesting with much of the history of canals on show, including models, pictures, artifacts, storyboards and much more besides. As you would expect from our members much use was made of the rather nice café.

Soon we were off to Canons Ashby. This country house is the ancestral home of the Dryden Family who were Puritans originally from Ulster. The house is built from the ruins of Canons Ashby Priory, built by the Black Monks (Augustinians) and destroyed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the Monasteries. The church still survives and was well worth a visit. As Puritans, the Dryden’s were supporters of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians and during the Civil War was a Roundhead Base. A battle with Cavaliers took place around the church and shot holes can still be seen on the walls. A reminder of those days can be seen in the house gardens, as the flowerbeds are all edged with Orange Marigolds. In the heat, smoke and mess of battle, the roundheads wore armbands or scarves of Orange to help distinguish them from the Cavaliers, many of the uniforms of both sides being of similar style and colour.

Unfortunately, at one point the heavens opened and we all dashed to the café for our included Cream Tea, which was very nice indeed. The house itself was very interesting, being homely but rather dark. Whether this was because the Dryden’s were Puritans or the furniture was uniformly dark, who can say.

All in all we had a very good day, and our thanks again to Pam for a well-organized trip. Henry Howard

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