On Wednesday 10th October, more than twenty members paid a visit to the hamlet of Mapledurham, led by Peter Anderson and Ruth Gibson. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day and we soon learned a great deal about milling flour from Jane, who, with her husband, John, manages the watermill on the Thames which has stood there since Saxon times. The present building dates from the 15th century, but it is actually mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Today it is much more modern and boasts an Archimedes screw-thread electricity-producing turbine which will eventually make money to keep the Estate going.
From there we proceeded to the Tearoom in the old medieval manor house, where cups of delicious tea and cake were served to us before we entered the present Manor House itself under the guidance of John, the Estate Manager. This was constructed between 1608-1612 by Sir Michael Blount and his son with an eye to impress any visitors who might come here but now seems to be set in a time warp because, like the many Catholic manor houses in this area, the family were highly taxed and penalised for their Recusancy, (1715–20) in the far-off days of religious intolerance. The state rooms were all on the second floor, so guests could take in the fantastic view, right down to the river at Reading which, in those days, did not have the high-rise buildings which one can see now! One of the impressive things that were pointed out to us was the exquisite chandelier, recently cleaned at great expense, which made beautiful and fantastic patterns on the ceiling. Other attractive items included a model four-poster bed, made not really for little girls to play with, but as a woodcraftsman’s example of the bed he could produce. There was also a rocking-horse in the Nursery. Again, it was not just a toy but to accustom children to ride
As in many historic homes, in the early days there was no running water, sewage or gas, even though the estate, which today still comprises two thousand acres and employs over a hundred employees, was only a few miles from Reading. Nowadays it has to pay for all these ‘luxuries’. One way is that they rent out land to the Reading Festival, as well as the traditional means of money-making, i.e. farming, forestry and letting some of the cottages as holiday homes. It has also been the site of many scenes in films and on television.
As we came to the end of our visit, everyone agreed that it had been a most enjoyable afternoon.