19 August 2017
The final outdoor visit of the summer was to Donington Le Heath Manor House near Coalville. We were shown around by a very enthusiastic volunteer called Liz dressed in costume of a housekeeper of the Manor in the 1620s.
The House was originally built in the 1290s but was updated by the Digby family in the 1620s and has been restored and refurnished to that period by Leicestershire County Council.
On the lower floor the servants would have worked, whilst the upper floor was used by the family and for entertainment. From the outside you can see that the roof and the mullion windows are from the 1620s whereas the older windows are much smaller and originally would have had no glazing. It was a family house until the 1930s but by the 1960s was used as a pigsty, when the farmer wanted to upgrade it the Council realized how important the building was and bought it.
The guide led us through the various rooms that are furnished as they would have been in the 1620s.
The first was the scullery with its original stone floor, 13th century doorways and lintels, and rustic furniture and kitchen equipment. She showed us marks on the doorways and the chimney-breast, designed to deter witches (during this time it was very important to try to rid the land of witches). The spoons on the table had their bowls turned downwards which was also to prevent witches from causing mischief.
In the kitchen/parlour we were shown a spice chest to which the lady of the house would have had the key and inside which rare spices such as cinnamon and sugar, and medicinal herbs were kept.
Off the parlour was the buttery (which is named after butts of wine and beer which would have been stored here). In the dairy we were shown more witch detection and protection: for detection a feather which you could wave about in the air to tickle the witch - if you heard it laugh you knew there was one; for protection a bellarmine jar, a pottery jar which could be used to counteract and expose harmful magic and spells.
Upstairs were Mr Digby’s study, the receiving lobby, the great chamber and two bedrooms all of which would've been used by the family.
The bed in the second bedroom was a splendid four-poster, the base of which may have been slept on by Richard III on his last night because it came from The Blue Boar Inn. In the great chamber we were lucky enough to hear live lute music being played, the lutenist then explained the Renaissance lute and other related instruments and some of the music they played which made a pleasant end to a very enjoyable and informative tour.
Outside we were able to explore the gardens at our leisure, which have also been planted to recreate the same period.
For more information about the house: www.doningtonleheath.org.uk.