Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Celebrating America's Independence at Sulgrave Manor

How far away is this place? Why are they celebrating America’s Independence Day? Will I have any fun? These things were on Eloise’s mind as we headed towards Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington in England which was holding an Independence Day celebration last weekend. As it turned out, we had a wonderful time at this Tudor manor house in rural Northhamptonshire, about 1 ½ hours north of London by car.

Sulgrave Manor, bought by Lawrence Washington from Henry VIII was lived in by four generations of the Washington family from 1539 to 1657. In 1911, as the UK and US were looking for initiatives to celebrate 100 years of peaceful relations, a committee was formed which included President Theodore Roosevelt, Lord Rothschild, Arthur Conan Doyle and Earl Grey, who decided to purchase the house as part of the celebrations to be held in trust for the peoples of the United States and the United Kingdom.

And I’m glad they did because visiting Sulgrave Manor today is a real treat. In part, because this small museum and garden seems to try harder and care more about your experience than many historic sites and in part because the staff and curators seem to understand better than most the connection between entertainment and education. We learned many things about the Tudors, George Washington and Anglo-American relations and had a great time doing it.

The house tour, which Eloise was not looking forward to, was conducted by such an engaging guide that we were instantly hooked. The house, which is relatively small, delivers three centuries of English history in fascinating child sized bites. There were lots of children’s activities and games including Eloise’s favourite, “Beat the Rat” and a small yet excellent exhibition of the life and times of George Washington that would give Mount Vernon a run for its money. For anyone interested in textiles, Sulgrave has a great collection and gardeners will enjoy the lovely grounds which include herbaceous borders, a knot and herb garden, an orchard and topiary.

Because it was their Fourth of July celebration, there were special activities which included getting up close and personal with an American Bald Eagle, Appalachian music and dancers, a Hog Roast and a terrific small circus but even without these attractions, Sulgrave Manor would have been lots of fun.

Today, being July 4th, I have been thinking about the special relationship between the UK and the US and how it was reflected in Eloise, our own little Anglo-American initiative. Sometimes it seems that there is a conspiracy to get her to choose sides. “So what are you, English or American?” “I’m both” she always replies. Thinking back on Sulgrave Manor, the one place that belongs equally to both sovereign nations with the flag of each country flying in the grounds, I can think of no better place for Eloise, or anyone who has a foot firmly planted in both countries, to celebrate America’s Independence Day.


Sulgrave Manor is not the easiest place to get to without a car and while I don’t recommend organised tours very often, it might be most convenient for visitors without cars to join the Evan Evans one day sightseeing tour (May to September) which includes nearby Churchill’s Blenheim Palace and Sulgrave. For committed independent travellers, there is the option of daily train service from London Marylebone to Banbury where one can then catch a taxi which costs approximately £13

Sulgrave Manor
Sulgrave near Banbury
OX17 2SD
Tel: 01295 760205
Fax: 01295 768056

Open weekends April 1 to October 29 from 12:00 to 4:00pm last entry
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday May 1 to October 31 from 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Adult £6.25
Children £3

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