Having lived in or near to Banbury for a number of years I’ve been familiar with the name of Upton House for some time. The National Trust property can be found just on the outskirts of the Oxfordshire town and has a rather interesting history to share. I went along to find out what was happening at the end of last month and enjoyed the launch of Banking for Victory at Upton House.
As I arrived at Upton House I walked back in time and emerged in the midst of wartime Britain in the kitchens, as some wonderful Glory buns and Scones were being prepared and served.
I obviously had to conduct a taste test for research purposes. Now what was this all about? At the time of the Second World War Upton House was owned by the Bearsted family who also owned a merchant bank in London called M.Samuel & Co. During the war the banking staff were uprooted from the big city and moved to the relative safety of leafy Oxfordshire. The National Trust have recreated life at Upton House at that time with their Banking for Victory theme.
To open the newly transformed rooms we were in for a real treat. I was not the only Mary there that morning. We were lucky enough to be greeted by the queen of baking herself, Mary Berry, who shared her childhood memories of wartime in Bath.
I’ve watched Mary talking about her childhood on television before, but it was fascinating to hear her talk more specifically about the war and rationing.
We had ration cards and my mother said at the beginning of the war ‘if you don’t have sugar in your teas and coffees I will be able to make a cake or pudding from time to time’, so we all instantly gave it up.
I can’t imagine living through bombing raids and discovering houses destroyed and lives lost. After Mary had finished sharing her memories with us, we were shown into the Long Gallery, now transformed into the Banking Hall, where Mary officially launched the new theme by untying a bow in parachute silk.
It was then time to explore the various Banking for Victory rooms that are set in 1939. The Bearsted family moved out of a large part of their country residence so that the merchant bank could function from the Oxfordshire base. I can only imagine what the relocated staff must have felt like when they arrived, wellies had to be purchased for them all as most had never visited the countryside!
As we walked through the rooms we were encouraged to pull drawers out, sit on sofas and really immerse ourselves in the period. This will be a feature of any visit you might make to Upton House – you can touch! It makes the whole experience more enjoyable, especially with children, and I also feel that you get so much more out of a visit.
The typing pool is a must – I just know my Monkey 5 year old son will be memorised by the typewriters. He certainly was when we visited Lanhydrock recently. You can see copies of correspondence from the various members of staff. It’s very interesting.
Of the Upton House project, Mary said: “I am just enthralled by it all. I remember playing on typewriters like this after school. The one difference here is that visitors will be able to take part. You can imagine how children who have their computer in their back pocket will be thrilled to bits. It’s all about taking part if you want to.
There are so many authentic details in every room, from the sewing room with darning mushrooms and a sewing box very similar to one I remember Mum having, through to the bedroom dormitories.
I’m not sure I’d fancy Rook pie though?
But I love the recycling!
One area that caught my eye was the ARP display on one of the stairwells. My grandfather was an ARP in the war and it was fascinating to get a little more insight into what that entailed.
I was really impressed by everything I saw during my visit and can thoroughly recommend the Banking for Victory at Upton House for young and old alike. It’s thoroughly educational, provokes memories for the older generation and I’ll certainly be revisiting with Monkey and Daddy P soon.
For more information on Upton House, opening times etc then it’s worth visiting the National Trust website.
disclaimer: I was provided with lunch and a goody bag as part of my invitation, I’m already a National Trust member and my thoughts remain my own honest opinions