It’s been a while since I featured a National Trust property on here, so I hope you’re ready for one again. This week brings us to The Vyne, so named because this is allegedly where the first grape vines in Britain were planted, by the Emperor Probus (though if that’s true, I have no idea why it’s spelt with a “y”). The house was built in Tudor times by Lord Sandys, who wanted to make something impressive enough that Henry VIII would pay him a visit…it must have worked as Henry was here at least three times, and Elizabeth I may have possibly been conceived on one of those visits. It eventually was sold to the Chute family, which is how a certain John Chute, friend of Horace Walpole (of Strawberry Hill fame) came to own it and make some fabulous “Gothick” improvements (unlike Horace Walpole, Chute does not appear to have any obvious ass-hat descendents, which is probably why the Gothic features are still there today).
The National Trust membership allows me a certain degree of impunity when flashing that card around, so I genuinely did not even check to see how much visiting this property costs until now, when writing it up, and I am more than a little shocked to discover it will set you back 13 English pounds (if I had to hazard a guess at how it was priced, I would have put it more in the realm of a tenner, even considering that National Trust prices are always deliberately too high, to try to encourage membership). So I can’t help but bear that in mind whilst writing the rest of this review. Anyway, admission to the house on weekends appears to be by timed ticket (or at least it was when I was there); however, that shouldn’t be a problem as they seem to have plenty of tickets available for each time slot. The man at the “desk” (picnic table) asked when we wanted to see the house – I said, “as soon as available,” imagining something perhaps half an hour hence. Instead, he handed us tickets good until 2 o’clock. As it was then 1:52, this meant a sprint straight to the house, which is down a fairly long wooded path (ten minutes is probably a more reasonable time to walk there in, but if you don’t want to rush, probably better to request tickets for the next time slot rather than the one currently in operation. There’s other stuff to see whilst you wait).
Anyway, we made it to the house in time (though I don’t think they were probably all that strict about it, at least, the volunteer collecting tickets was very friendly) to be greeted with a plaque dedicated to Probus, that aforementioned emperor who introduced wine to Britain. Perhaps because it is a more expensive property, the Vyne is one of those that actually has a fact sheet in every room, rather than just one for the whole house (and battered indeed they were, they looked like they’ve seen a lot of use), and some additional signage that proved more interesting in some cases than the laminated fact sheets (this is how I learned that Elizabeth I may have been conceived here, and also about some Plantagenet descendent who was married in the house’s chapel after Henry VIII gave her the choice between marrying beneath her or lifetime imprisonment, in an attempt to neutralise her as a threat to the throne. Obviously, she opted for the marriage).
We were there at the tail-end of Tudor month, so I’m not sure if all the Tudor information is normally there, or if some of it was added specifically for the event. But I think the Tudor ladies leading dances outside, and the Henry VIII sat inside the house’s entrance hall were only there for Tudor month (missing out on them may or may not be a loss, depending on how you feel about people in costume. I usually steer clear of them, especially Henry who seemed to really take being in character seriously, and was busy yelling the whole time).
But yeah, the house has a chapel with some fabulous stained glass in it (there’s a green dragon and a goat. And a few dogs), and the tomb of Chaloner Chute, MP. The Chute family seemed into ridiculous names (at least until they got to John), as there were a couple Chaloners, and a girl with a name so stupid I can’t even remember exactly what it was. Something in the vein of Chrysogea. Definitely started with a “ch” to keep with that whole alliteration thing. You may also note the Strawberry Hill influenced ceilings in some of the rooms, one of John’s Gothic touches.
The ground floor also housed a number of unusual large maps (they didn’t photograph well, being very brown and faded) of London and England, and a small exhibition room going into more detail about the stained glass. The Vyne was also bursting with books for some reason, there being a secondhand bookshop within the house, as well as another within the shop, and a shed right by the parking lot. Unfortunately, none of them looked very interesting, or I would have scooped some up, as 50p is a good price (that’s like a library book sale price right there!).
There was a Great Hall and some bedrooms upstairs, and everything was perfectly nice, but as usual, I enjoyed the touches of quirk more than anything else, like this bust with a half-missing nose and a really bizarre expression. By the time we got back to the entrance hall, I was slightly relieved to see that Henry had disappeared (presumably off on a meal break) and his throne was empty. We must have seemed slightly hesitant to sit on it (I was kind of afraid he would suddenly return and yell at me), because a volunteer encouraged us to pose for pictures, and we duly obliged (but I looked terrible, so you’re not going to see said pictures). She also encouraged us to head up to the tea room for the cakes; being extremely hungry, we followed that suggestion too.
The queue in the tea room was insane, but after ascertaining that everyone else was waiting to buy hot drinks, we edged to the front (I still think some of the people in front of us may have been wanting to form a lynch mob because of that (or British equivalent; I don’t think you’re meant to come between a Brit and their tea, if the Boston Tea Party is anything to go by), but it was my boyfriend’s idea, and we did ask) and took our slices out with us to explore the gardens (and escape the mob). I ate an epic amount of millionaire’s shortbread, and promptly got a stomachache, but that was probably my own fault for greedily choosing the largest piece (it was so tasty though). Anyway, the Vyne abuts a river, so there are riparian entertainments to be had if you’re so inclined (this is where the Tudor ladies were leading dances on the lawn).
After checking out the famous “Hundred Guinea Oak,” (one of the owners of the house was offered 100 guineas for the tree’s wood (I think during the Napoleonic Wars, when ship-quality wood was in high demand), but he refused. The tree’s about 600 years old), we headed for the walled garden, which had a small glasshouse with exotic citruses. The property also has a number of trails if you’re inclined to go for a walk (and some kind of large children’s play area accessed via a “hidden” entrance in the Summer House, but I was too distracted by my shortbread-induced stomachache, and also chickens)!
I don’t know what it is with the National Trust and chickens, but I’m not complaining, as these ones even had names. (Lady Featherington von Cluckson is exactly the sort of thing I would name a chicken. I mean, I did name my chocolate Easter chicken Mrs. Cluckley (which means I couldn’t bring myself to eat her; she’s still sitting atop a bookcase).) I think once you’ve seen chickens (or any kind of farm animal), that’s pretty much going to be the highlight of the day, so we left soon afterwards, as there wasn’t really much else to do. Now, before I knew the Vyne cost 13 quid, I thought it was really pretty alright, but it was nowhere near 13 quid’s worth of alright. Again, this was one of the many places that is well worth visiting if you have membership, as the house was pretty nice and the cakes were indeed tasty, but I’d skip it otherwise, as there simply wasn’t enough to do to justify an admission fee that high. 3/5.