On Saturday members of the Birmingham Archaeological Society with their friends spent an afternoon at Wootton Wawen. With its interesting old church, and in the adjoining mansion and grounds at Wootton Hall, a palatial residence rich in historic associations, once the home of the Carringtons, the Harewells, and the Smythes, now the property of Mr Capewell Hughes. Mr and Mrs Capewell Hughes had generously extended their hospitality to the Society, and that the invitation was appreciated was evidenced by the fact that their guests numbered quite 200.

The Hall, a magnificent building, in the Italian style, is within a stone-throw of the Church. An elegant lodge of stone stands near the gates, and the mansion is approached by a wide sweeping path. Wootton Hall, it might here be said, was rebuilt by Lord Francis Carrington in 1687. There is strong ground for belief that it was built from plans of Sir Christopher Wren. It is, at all events, beyond dispute that the great architect was much in Warwickshire about this  period, and supplied plans for rebuilding St Mary's Warwick. In 1696 and before this time Sir Christopher and Grinling Gibbons had done work at Arbury. The magnificent cornice is indisputably the work of the “incomparable young Dutchman” whom John Evelyn in 1671 found engaged carving Tintoretto's “Crucifixion” in an obscure thatched house near Saye's Court, Deptford. The chatty old “diarist” introduced Gibbons to Charles II, who employed him in the ornamental carving of the choir of the chapel at Windsor.  Then followed the sculptor's remarkable and lasting association  with the great architect of  St Paul's Cathedral. Wren is said to have lived at Wroxall in 1696. At any rate it is certain he bought it in 1713, and the Wren family lived there for 150 years afterwards. Wroxall is about 6 miles higher up and on the same stream that flows past the Hall at Wootton, where it becomes part of the river Alne at its confluence by the side of the Great Lake, a much larger stream in those days, and no doubt the older Hall and the grand old Parish Church of Wootton were familiar to Sir Christopher Wren.  It is remarkable that Lord Carrington, who rebuilt the Hall, owned also the Manor of Honily, the adjoining manor to Wroxall  (Wren's later residence), and no doubt lived at Honily during the rebuilding of the Hall. Wren was known to have visited Umberslade much, the son of the owner, Sir Andrew Archer, being his pupil, and Bishop Compton, Bishop of London, lived at Compton Winyates in Warwickshire during the whole time of the rebuilding of St Paul's after the great fire, and no doubt brought Wren much into Warwickshire; especially as he had the stone quarries at Temple Guiting, Rowington and Shrewley under his working at this period, and also had relatives here. Withybrook and Monks Kirby being the original home of his family.

Whether Mr and Mrs Capewell Hughes were prepared for an invasion of such force as that which passed into the handsome and spacious hall on Saturday, the writer cannot say. As a matter of fact Mr and Mrs Capewell Hughes are not yet in residence, but such arrangements as could be made for the reception  of the Society had been well carried out, and an exceedingly graceful and cordial reception was accorded each member of the party.  The Entrance Hall has been restored as nearly as possible to what it was at the time of rebuilding the house in 1687, and is exactly the same in size, shape and approach. For the last 100 years it has been used as the drawing room of the house, but now represents exactly what it originally was. The frescoes, illustrating scenes from “Much Ado About Nothing” have been painted by F. W. Davis F.R.I., of Birmingham, formerly a student of the Art School and Institute. The armour is a notable feature, and worth inspection. The welcome over, Mr Humphries, as arranged, conducted his party through the magnificently decorated and furnished apartments. The Drawing Room was first visited, a room of striking beauty hung with rich tapestries and designed to represent a French salon of about the Louis XIV period. Everything is in the most exquisite taste, the mantle-piece and delicately carved furniture eliciting particular admiration. Passing into the Mezzotint Galleries where, by the way, there is a very fine set of the famous steel plate engravings of scenes from Shakespeare, the visitors found themselves in a position to take a glimpse of the Study, which is a portion of the older house, with the lower ceilings and is probably 500 or 600 years old. Here existed, or hereabouts, the secret escapements, which were a necessity in the days when religious toleration was unknown, and when a price was set on the heads of the Romish priests. The Morning Room was next in order. This apartment is noted for its very fine oak panelling. The Lord Carrington crest is to be noticed cut in the top of the window shutters. Again traversing the Entrance Hall and on through the Arches, the staircase was next ascended. At the top of this was seen the entrance to the Priest's Apartments. The Canopy Room, where was to be noticed the powdering rooms, was next examined. Passing now to the Minstrel Gallery and Private Chapel at the end of the corridor in which Father Bishop is said to have hidden for several years, the party proceeded down the staircase to the Kitchens, which were formerly a chapel, and into the Cellars to see the Subterranean Escape. Near this could be seen the old house Well and the Crypt Cellar. Retracing their steps the archaeologists entered the Kitchens. From this the corridor leading to the Billiard Room was taken, and by this way access was obtained to the Minstrel Gallery, then on to the stairs corridor passing into the Dining Room, which was the last chapel used in the house. Finally the party passed on to the Music Room, until recently used as a Roman Catholic Chapel for the village. The stoup which stood in the private chapel was noticed as the music room was entered. It should be stated that by the generosity of the past and present owners of the hall, the local priest has been provided with a new Church not far away.

Tea was served in the Music Room, a hall of lordly dimensions, effectively decorated, and of excellent acoustic properties.  Before partaking of the good things provided by Mrs Hughes the company listened to a short address by Sir Benjamin Stone. The member for East Birmingham referred to the Hall as one of the most interesting country seats in Warwickshire, and congratulated Mr and Mrs Hughes on the way in which they had restored their historic and beautiful mansion. The history of the Hall was, he said, intimately associated with that of the parish Church, and the ruined Priory that could still be traced on the estate. Probably both buildings grew out of the cell of the anchorite, which in nearly every instance formed the nucleus of ecclesiastical communities. The history of the Priory could be traced back to the year 850, when it received a grant from Ethelbald, King of Mercia. After referring to the civil and religious disturbances that had left their mark on Wootton Wawen, Sir Benjamin spoke of Edward Arden as a connecting link between the family  of Somervile and that of Shakespeare. He suggested that the tragic death of John Somervile, after his mad threat against the life of Queen Elizabeth, might have had something to do with Shakespeare's departure for London, which occurred about the same time. Sir Benjamin, in the course of his remarks, went on the confirm the theory referred to above with regard to Wren. He also dwelt at some little length on the fact that Grinling Gibbons had worked for and with Wren, and expressed the belief that beyond doubt the famous wood carver had done work at Wootton. He referred to the extreme beauty of Gibbons' work – flowers and fruit so delicately formed as to respond to a touch or movement. Specimens of Gibbon' carving adorn Marlborough House, Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, St Paul's and elsewhere. It is noteworthy that not long since an old over-mantle from the library of Wootton Hall was sent to London for sale and realised 175 guineas. Sir Benjamin concluded by a reference to the great pleasure and absorbing interest to be found in archaeological studies. It was easy in visiting churches and buildings of various periods, and knowing the peculiarities of the early styles, and the uses of the several parts, to read the story of the past, to trace out too the ravages of time, noting what had been preserved and what had been destroyed or removed by vandelistic hands. Mr J. A. Cossins (President of the Society) expressed the hearty thanks of the company  to their host and hostess. He also referred to the fact that the excursion was the hundredth in the annals of the Society, and the first of the present season. The attendance was more that twice as large as usual. Mr Hughes, responding, referred to his long connection with the Society, expressed the pleasure which the presence of so large a company had afforded  to himself and Mrs Hughes, and alluded to the historic associations of the house. He also made reference to the evidence of Shakespeare's love for the forest of Arden, recalling to the minds of some of his hearers, Milton's allusion to scenes which influenced the poet and caused him to “Warble his native wood-notes wild”

Ample time was given the company to inspect the exterior of the house, to notice its architectural beauties, and to visit the grounds and attractions. One of the most ancient pieces of masonry is the archway near the stables, which no doubt belonged to a much older building. Over the front of the hall may be noticed the magnificent stone carving of the Carrington arms, which again may be the work of Grinling Gibbons. The Carrington crest may be seen on the old lead work, and the crests of the present owners, Mr and Mrs Hughes, on the new. The party now divided itself into groups, and wandered at sweet will, some to look at the ruins of the old Priory, others to linger in the Italian Pleasantry. Here is now under construction a spot which, when completed, will be an ideal resort. A plaque above one of the benches bears a noteworthy passage from Matthew Arnold:-

Ah friend, let us be true to one another!

For the world which seems to lie before us

Like a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And here we are as on a darkling plain,

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Some proceeded to inspect with curious interest the famous dovecote, one of the largest and oldest in England. The interior of this giant columbarium, with its innumerable nesting niches, seems roomy enough to contain all the pigeons in Warwickshire. If these birds are in the habit of holding annual conferences, no more convenient rendezvous could be desired. Some took a glimpse of the ancient tithe barn, and others strolled in the charming English Garden, with its old-time flowers, its plum and apple trees, and well preserved box borders. The fish-stews, too, were visited, and many delighted visitors loitered in the more secluded spots gay with spring flowers, bluebells, ragged Robin, cowslips, wild garlic, pimpernel and many an herb known to the botanist for its healing virtues. By the way, Sir Benjamin Stone, in the course of his address, mentioned as evidence of the antiquity of Wootton and its surroundings, the presence of plants which were known and prized by the monks for their medicinal properties. The great lake afforded fine views for the camera carrying section of the party. A pretty sight was that of a majestic pair of swans and their three cygnets. The last named beautiful little creatures managed to take up a position at intervals on the back of the mother bird, who gracefully floated with outspread wings, under which nestled the downy trio. Not the least interesting point of inspection was the site of the Wootton new stone bridge. The foundations of the centre pier of the intended structure were laid on Thursday, the 18th inst, when certain papers, together with a copy of a Warwickshire newspaper, with sealed letters from Lady Smythe, of Leamington (the late owner of Wootton Hall), Mr and Mrs Capewell Hughes, Mr W. J. Fieldhouse, Mr H. Smith Carrington, and the Mayor of Stratford, Mr G. M. Bird, were deposited underneath in a glass bottle. A visit was also paid to the cottage of Mr Fieldhouse, who had kindly given permission for the archaeologists to inspect his valuable and splendidly kept and arranged collection of brasses and leather bottles. By this time the moment of leave-taking had come, and the visitors, thanking Mr Hughes for the extremely delightful afternoon, passed on the the conveyances waiting ready for the return journey to Henley Station. The visit to Wootton, it Church, and its Hall, will be long remembered by all who were privileged to share its pleasures.