By Debra Jane Tucked away in a quiet corner of Aston, and just a stone's throw from Aston Villa Football Stadium, sits the stunning Jacobean property of Aston Hall. Now part of Birmingham Museums Trust, it's land once covered many acres of rolling countryside and farmland. As the city grew, what remains is now a beautiful area of parkland, with large open spaces and shaded tree lined paths.
Perhaps you've noticed it's stately towers, or the spire of the neighbouring church, whilst driving up or down the A38(M)? Maybe, like me, you went as a child and experienced the spooky, candle flickering 'Aston Hall by Candlelight' tour, and the memory has stayed with you.
In the heat we've been having recently, Aston Hall is certainly the place to be. Enjoy an hour or more of cool and shade as it's thick stone walls provide the perfect protection from the throbbing summer heat. You can also enjoy the Victorian gardens, or partake of some lunch or cake from the Aston Hall Cafe in the Stables Range. The filter coffee is rather good too!
For the moderate fee of £4.00 (£3 concessions and free entry for all on the first Sunday of each month), you can take your time browsing through it's beautiful rooms; explore the intricacy of the Jacobean ceilings upstairs, browse through the long gallery, come face to face with a huge tiger in one of the side rooms downstairs, and get to know the founding Holt family, via their portraits and family tree.
On the 13th July, I took part in a free poetry workshop as part of Art in the Heart and though I've visited the hall numerous times, it was fascinating to learn more about its previous inhabitants, and especially of the woman whose portrait has stuck in my memory since my eleventh Birthday.
Built between 1618-1635 by Sir Thomas Holt, Aston Hall remained in the family until the late 18th century when it passed out of the family due to the lack of a male heir, prior to being sold off. Exploring the rooms, you can learn more about the Holt family and their many stories; from disinherited sons to suddenly inherited impoverished older brothers, and bickering wives and mother-in-laws.
The portrait that entranced me as a child is of Lady Barbara Holt, the extravagant and despised wife of the fourth Baronet, Sir Clobery. We may never know the full extent of what caused Sir Clobery to hand his two sons (Sir Lister and Sir Charles) over to the care of his mother upon his death, but today, Lady Barbara's portrait remains defiant as it dominates the great staircase, her dark eyes ever watchful over her beloved Aston Hall, whilst his mother, cast in shadow, looks on.
Find out more about how to visit Aston Hall here.