Beating the Barometer in Burghley House Northants

Monday 31 August

As I sit down to write this blog I can’t help feeling overwhelmed being in Europe at this time of moral crisis occurring over the Asian and African refugee crisis. Hundreds of thousands of folk fleeing war and oppression in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Nigeria are pouring into Greece, Macedonia, Hungary, Italy and Malta and making their way by any means possible to northern Europe, preferably Germany, France, Sweden or Britain. The complexities of the source of these problems is massive …political, historical, economic, international, religious and humanitarian. Britain is already a multi-cultural nation and in the motel industry which we now know well fluent English speakers are running at about 50%.  This is a nation of opportunity but it is struggling under the massive burden of dealing with the numbers.

Visiting stately homes also unveils a microcosm of similar historical changes ..vicious religions persecutions, the civil war with atrocities on both sides, destruction of works of art for all sorts of reasons, divisions between social classes and destructive wars between the nation states that make up the British Isles.  I honour William Morris’s socialist goal to remove all  differences of wealth between people…is it possible? It seems Jesus did not think so. Should we strive to care for those who call upon us? Yes of course..what if the numbers are overwhelming as in Rwanda or Viet-Nam who can cope? …We do what we can.  Should we forego the seemingly trivial….art? stately homes? collections? historical artifacts? literature? Buddhist statues in Afghanistan? Palmyra ruins? No I don’t thinks so. Human artistic, philosophical, literary, political, scientific, musical, historical, aesthetic, architectural, economic, religious, social reformation works are what makes us truly human.  So, stately homes with their treasures do not mean anything in themselves…they are pointers to the deep values and the beauty that is possible in every person…if we have enough of these values and enough heart, determination and faith we can and will solve the refugee crisis as well!

And so to Burghley House!

Burghley House exterior from the carpark and then from the front gate
Burghley House exterior (above) from the carpark and (below) from the front gate

Burghley House exterior from the carpark

On the last day of Summer in England it was raining cats, dogs and everything in between so we set off for another warm and dry stately home and found it in Burghley House in the village of Stamford in Northamptonshire on the border with Lincolnshire. Burghley bills itself as the GREATEST Elizabethan house in England but there is so little of the Elizabethan left inside the house that that honour should probably go to Longleat.  Nevertheless if it is just the outside to be considered then Longleat’s severe rather blockish design must yield I think to the exciting towers, domes and spires of Burghley though no doubt many of them are later than Elizabeth 1’s Golden Age also. A claim that is more accurate I think is England’s greatest “treasure house” although here also the upstart  C18th challenger Waddesdon might object.

Burghley House formal garden (one of) with fountain
Burghley House formal garden (one of) with fountain

It doesn’t really matter…Burghley House is a most wonderful place, the home of the Marquesses of Exeter for  eight generations and of the Cecil family of Lords Burghley for over 600 years and built by William Cecil, Lord Burghley and sometime friend and counsellor to Elizabeth 1. Members of the Cecil family still live there. The House is now owned by a charitable trust and only the title Lord Burghley is hereditary not the house and contents so its place is relatively secure providing the trust does its work well. The Cecils have been a key family in English history in many areas and are also responsible for the remarkable Hatfield House closer to London.

Once again we land in the midst of wonderful parklands created by Capability Brown in the C18th but once again also there are formal gardens and fountains, a recreated garden of surprises. Once again there are vast tracts of arboretums, deer forests and in this case remarkable fields and accommodation for horse trials which for three days every year and starting on this coming Thursday,  shuts the Village and surrounding roads for three days. There are three restaurants on the property and for all this week a market food court is operating with many yummy options. In addition there is a substantial museum of ancient Chinese and Japanese porcelain collected by one of the Marquesses and beautifully curated.

Painting of Lord David Burghley, the Sixth Marquess of Exeter, 1928 400m athletics Gold medalist and silver medalist at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics in the 4x100m relay
Painting of Lord David Burghley, the Sixth Marquess of Exeter, 1928 400m athletics Gold medalist and silver medalist at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics in the 4x100m relay

The sixth Marquess Lord David Burghley won the 400 metres at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics and a silver in the relay at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. He was played by Nigel Havers in the film Chariots of Fire running around the quad at Cambridge with full glasses of champagne against Jewish Brit Harold Abrahams.  Apparently the Lord Burghley in 1981 when the film was made refused to participate in the making of the movie because the real Lord David Burghley actually won the quad race within the minute, one of only two men ever to do so and it was with full matchboxes and not champagne glasses and probably about four years later leading up to the 1928 Olympics not the 1924 Olympics in Paris. This is their version of the lack of participation anyway.

Burghley House ceiling painting of Hell by Giordano Burghley House drawing room with Elizabethan portraits Burghley House Luther by (school of) Cranach Burghley House Cyclops paintingThere are over 300 paintings in Burghley House..here we have Verrio’s Hell on the ceiling over the “Hell staircase”; six Elizabethan portraits; A school of Cranach portrait of Luther; and a scary painting of the Cyclops interpreted in human terms.

As with Waddesdon, highlights of Burghley House are too many to list.  Although many of the painting masters were sold in earlier years to pay death duties, there are still over 300 magnificent paintings including a portrait of Luther (school of Cranach), the extraordinary ceiling painting of Hell by Antonio Verrio over the “Hell Staircase” and “The Death of Seneca” by Giordano.

Other highlights include exceptional porcelaine collections (pre 1917 Chinese and Japanese and impressive Maiolica; the extraordinary Royal bedrooms in the State rooms; wonderful cabinet furniture and desks, four fireplaces with silver grates and fittings and the second largest silver wine cooler in the world weighing in at 18 stone (second only to one twice as large at the Hermitage in St Petersburg acquired by Catherine the Great; the humungous kitchen; the servants quarters with a 44 bell system; the baronial hall with gallery including a vast library of books; the stunning views of the gardens from every room and so on.

Burghley House 18 stone solid silver wine cooler Burghley House Baronial hall library From left: 18 stone solid silver wine cooler and Richard enjoying yet another amazing library in the Baronial dining Hall

Ann in the Baronial Dining Hall showing the music gallery and more porcelain and paintings
Ann in the Baronial Dining Hall showing the music gallery and more porcelain and paintings

Burghley House Chinese blue and white porcelain Burghley House early Chinese screen blue and white Chinese porcelain and an early Chinese screen

Burghley House interesting scale model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem Burghley House Italian maiolica vase with table made from different Vesuvius volcanic solidified materials an amazing model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and Italian maiolica on a table composed of polished volcanic materials from the eruption of Vesuvius

Burghley House sculpture room below Hell Staircase with antique pram

Sculptures and an antique pram in the crypt beneath the Hell staircase

The all over painted dining room ..walls and ceiling covered
The all over painted dining room ..walls and ceiling covered
One of four silver fire places with silver fire instruments...silver on steroids!
One of four silver fire places with silver fire instruments…silver on steroids!
Some of the 44 bells in the servants' quarters
Some of the 44 bells in the servants’ quarters

A feature of Burghley is the attention to the beds and bathrooms in the State rooms provided for royal and other guests. There were many such rooms so they clearly had many guests.

Little bathrooms and ante rooms are attached to most bedrooms and the colossal beds and textiles were outstanding as here
Little bathrooms and ante rooms are attached to most bedrooms and the colossal beds and textiles were outstanding as here

Burghley House blue silk bedroom Burghley House one of many royal bedrooms Burghley House yet another bedroom

It was a joy to see in this massive house a very large chapel permanently set up which is used on special occasions by the Village for worship as well as for services for the staff including weddings and funerals. The Cecils were always Protestant from their Elizabethan beginnings and sympathies but had a tough time during the English civil war because Burghley was occupied by a Royalist garrison and attacked and overrun by Cromwell’s men with much damage to the interior. It is good to see the Chapel maintained as a place for worship.

Overflow room for the Chapel
Overflow room for the Chapel
Permanent chapel set up with amazing carved seats.
Permanent chapel set up with amazing carved seats.

Singing with joy in St Albans and Worn out by Waddesdon!

Sunday 30th August 2015

This morning we checked out of our Premier Inn in Highwycombe, north of London and ventured to ancient St Albans Abbey Church for the 9.30am Family eucharist. It was fantastic to see children running into the church with their parents puffing behind and it was difficult to get a carpark in the next door St Albans’ School carpark.

West face of St Albans Abbey Cathedral north of London. The stonework is under restoration
West face of St Albans Abbey Cathedral north of London. The stonework is under restoration
“newer” Gothic part of the exterior of St Albans Abbey Church
Another view of the St Albans exterior
Another view of the St Albans exterior
St Albans Cathedral exterior of the ancient stone Norman section
St Albans Cathedral exterior view of the ancient stone Norman section

The very large cathedral was basically full and once the children came back from their learning activities for Communion it was decidedly full and delightfully noisy. The hymns were all oldies but goodies and sung enthusiastically eg Dear Lord and Father of Mankind to the traditional tune..one of my favourite hymns…Good to hear it again and we finished with Charles Wesley’s “Ye Servants of God, Your Master proclaim..”

The sermon by the Dean, the Very Revd John Jeffrey was on the Gospel from Mark 7:1-8 ..Jesus’ dispute with the pharisees over external rules and internal values. He spoke about shame and guilt societies. Shame societies care less about what folk do provided the external stuff is well handled. Guilt societies major on personal responsibility for doing good even if no one is watching. Christian societies have traditionally been guilt societies and it gets a bad press today because of course too much guilt can lead to depression and other psychological illness.

Nevertheless the Dean argued that a sense of guilt is a good thing which provokes our conscience and challenges us to the highest standards whether other folk are aware or not. For, as Jesus argued to the Pharisees it is what comes out of a person’s heart in speech and action that matters, not just keeping up appearances, Christian or otherwise.

We came away from St Alban’s with a sense of excitement for the Christian community there. They have a Christian education leader and an advertised program which included a five week course on Abraham,  another in Intermediate Latin and a third study group on the Greek New Testament!

As for the cathedral building, they are about to celebrate their 900th anniversary from their Norman beginnings so there is an old stone Norman abbey section to which a later Gothic flint covered vast extension has been added.  The stone rood screen in front of the crossing remains and new sanctuary furniture sits in front of it for the family service.

Interior of St Albans showing the solid stone rood screen effectively dividing the interior into two halves. The 9.30am service was conducted on this side with modern furniture in the sanctuary and a warm close knit community.
Interior of St Albans showing the solid stone rood screen effectively dividing the interior into two halves. The 9.30am service was conducted on this side with modern furniture in the sanctuary and a warm close knit community.
St Albans close up of colourful figures on the rood screen
St Albans close up of colourful figures on the rood screen

The more traditional 11.00am service meets “on the abbey side” and the organ sits atop both and meets both needs. They have effectively created two separate worship centres and although it could be said that the architectural line from front to back has been permanently interfered with, my view is that it is a triumph of ecclesiology over architectural intention. The ancient Cathedral has adapted to the C21st and is alive and kicking. We came away very encouraged.

St Albans high altar on the
St Albans high altar in the more ‘traditional’ side of the rood screen
view from behind the rood screen showing newer wooden ceiling in the nave  and ancient choir stalls
One of the few side chapels in St Albans Cathedral
One of the few side chapels in St Albans Cathedral
Rose Window in the Crossing of St Albans Cathedral
Rose Window in the Crossing of St Albans Cathedral

After church we journeyed from St Albans across to encounter Waddesdon House the amazing Baroque mansion built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874 and bequeathed by his descendant James de Rothschild to the National Trust in 1957.  On first sight we felt we were back in the Loire Valley looking at a French Chateau with its turrets and towers and formal gardens and this was certainly Baron Ferdinand’s goal. This is once again a massive house with multiple storeys and many rooms.

Baroque Waddesdon House in Aylesbury, built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to house his families vast collections. It is now bequeathed to the National Trust
Baroque Waddesdon House in Aylesbury, built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to house his families vast collections. It is now bequeathed to the National Trust

Inside, however, the house  is deliberately structured more like an art gallery as the Rothschilds have been serious collectors for generations. Making their money from the English banking system they have, over several generations, build up quite outstanding collections of paintings (English portraits, Dutch masters and some more modern material), one of the world’s largest porcelain collections (mainly Sevres but some significant Meissen), substantial collections of C18th and C17th French furniture, clocks, tapestries and carpets, musical instruments, lace, buttons, a full scale working aviary, fountains, and exhibition spaces for modern art events. Phew! No doubt I missed plenty e.g. all the amazing interior wall panelling no longer required in huge aristocratic hotels and homes in Paris.  Currently a major sculpture exhibition of the work of G E Moore is on view.

Ancient silk synagogue hangings origin unknown and languishing in a private collection until bought by Rothschild at significant cost to show to the public. There is a complete room dedicated to these complex fabrics.
Ancient silk synagogue hangings origin unknown and languishing in a private collection until bought by Rothschild at significant cost to show to the public. There is a complete room dedicated to these complex fabrics.
Ann eyeing of the silver service in one of the three dining rooms
Ann eyeing of the silver service in one of the three dining rooms. Ancient and well kept tapestries are everywhere displayed

Waddesdon formal parterre garden Waddesdon Green Dining Room amazing modern light fitting

Just discovered how to add all these at once…now have to work out captions! Above left is the formal parterre garden  visible from all the formal reception rooms in the house; above right is a small “green dining room” for intimate gatherings. The modern light fitting has cutlery sticking out at all angles but iPhone photography is again defeated. Below is just a tiny sample of bits and pieces that appealed to us.

Waddesdon hanging clock Waddesdon hanging clock light eith birdcage

This extraordinary light fitting has a clock beneath (for telling visitors when to leave?) and a birdcage above (if the conversation flags?)

Waddesdon I really must improve my study desk at Berwick! Waddesdon large scale Meissen porcelaine

This elaborate C18th Franch desk makes me think I should update my plywood study desk at Berwick!  The huge Meissen turkey  and the goat to follow are items made to order. We saw six of these at Longleat but unfortunately managed to delete the photos after a rush of blood finding space on the iPhone!

Waddesdon massive Venice paintings by Guardi Waddesdon Meissen goat

The two vast Guardi  paintings of Venice in this entry hall do not look much but they are actually huge  and would barely fit in a standard tfbv lounge room.  The Goat as above is Meissen

Waddesdon one of two humungus urns in the entry garden Waddesdon painting of boy making a house of cards

Everything at Waddesdon is over-sized.  I am still some distance from this garden urn which must have required a crane to place it.  It is huge!  The collection is still growing as the Rothschild Foundation is still behind the collection. This evocative painting of a boy making a house of cards is by C18th French artist Jean-Simon Chardin.

Waddesdon tiny part of a vast Sevres porcelaine collection

These are all Sevres plates and this is a tiny fragment of three large rooms full of Sevres porcelain opened by the Queen in 1993

Waddesdon two of the Bakst Sleeping Beauty paintings

These are two of the Bakst “Sleeping Beauty” panels which are quite wonderful in a specially designed round room. The poor unfortunates sitting below are, like we were we, exhausted patrons trying to look excited by wonder after wonder.

This amazing elephant moves its trunk and it has many moving parts. When the Shah of Persia visited apparently he could not believe it and had to be moved on to the rest of the house
This amazing elephant moves its trunk and it has many moving parts. When the Shah of Persia visited apparently he could not believe it and had to be moved on to the rest of the house

The house sits high on a hill in Aylesbury with a vast forest and cultivate arboretum surrounding it before you come to the manicured lawns and formal gardens.  It would be a week’s work to view carefully everything this magical place has to offer. We gave it three hours and retreated to Cambridge through some heavy rain for a quiet night.  Our conclusion is that although this house is quite majestic, our preference is for the humble, straightforward and more homely atmosphere of the William Morris country retreat by the Thames in Kelmscott. Too much of a good thing may well be too much of a good thing!

Keeping faith with William Morris in Kelmscott Manor

Saturday 29th August 2015

Today we completed our William Morris quest by driving straight back down from Wightwick Manor via the M5 to Gloucestershire to the small village of Kelmscott on the Thames, not far from its source in the Cotswold hills.  Kelmscott Manor was a C17th farm house, outbuildings and gardens which William Morris leased with his wife Jane and his companion/her lover Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1871.

Ann at the entrance of Kelmscott Manor in the village of Kelmscott. Ann's quilting has been deeply influenced by the design work of William Morris so today was special for her
Ann at the entrance of Kelmscott Manor in the village of Kelmscott. Ann’s quilting has been deeply influenced by the design work of William Morris so today was special for her
Kelmscott Manor a C16th manor house in Kelmscott Village in Gloucestershire leased by William Morris and bought by Jane Morris after William's death
Kelmscott Manor a C16th manor house in Kelmscott Village in Gloucestershire leased by William Morris and bought by Jane Morris after William’s death
Kelmscott Manor ..another view of the exterior
Kelmscott Manor ..another view of the exterior

The Morrises were living at their much loved “Red House” in Kent but it was too far from his London business which was taking off.  The scandalous Rossetti/Jane romance was also taking off and it was socially  convenient for Morris to move the whole triangle to Kelmscott. During this difficult period Morris several times spent six months at a time in Iceland. He had learned the language and was interested in the northern sagas as in all mythology. Rossetti eventually left in 1874 never to return.

Perhaps the most famous of the many portraits of Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Morris suffered their affair at Kelmscott and travelled often to Iceland in this period. Eventually alcohol and drugs drove Rossetti away ..(perhaps guilt caused by his wife's earlier suicide??)
Perhaps the most famous of the many portraits of Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Morris suffered their affair at Kelmscott and travelled often to Iceland in this period. Eventually alcohol and drugs drove Rossetti away ..(perhaps guilt caused by his wife’s earlier suicide??)

William Morris never owned the house but after his death and burial in the graveyard at St George’s Jane bought the house and lived there with her daughter May. The house was bequeathed by May Morris to Oxford University with very severe restrictions re change which led to the house and garden falling into serious disrepair. The Society of Antiquaries to whom Oxford passed on the Manor were able to overturn the will and have spent millions restoring the Manor to its original dignity. It is now a place of wonder and delight set in one of the most engaging villages in England.

Simple grave of William, Jane, May and Jenny Morris in the graveyard of St George's Church in Kelmscott Village
Simple grave of William, Jane, May and Jenny Morris in the graveyard of St George’s Church in Kelmscott Village; designed by Phillip Webb old friend and partner to William Morris casting him in the style of Old Norse mythological heroes of Valhalla
St George's Church C14th Romanesque in the Village of Kelmscott
St George’s Church C14th Romanesque with significant C17th additions in the Village of Kelmscott
Interior of St George's church in Kelmscott Village
Interior of St George’s church in Kelmscott Village
Romanesque columns in St George's Church in Kelmscott Village
Romanesque columns in St George’s Church in Kelmscott Village

The area is agricultural and fairly flat (Rossetti complained about how boring a place it was) rather than hugely romantically beautiful like say Stourhead gardens but it is quiet, picturesque and just 2 minutes from the Thames where Morris liked to fish. In 2003 the river flooded and fast work was needed to save the contents of the Manor House.  In the village there are a number of other early village homes and some newer very impressive additions together with the Memorial hall and three cottages all commissioned for the village by Jane and their two daughters. It was quiet, well away from London and a place for lots ot thinking. The memorial hall was officially opened by George Bernard Shaw a century after William Morris’s birth in 1834.

The Thames River flowing through the Village of Kelmscott just two minutes from the Manor House
The Thames River flowing through the Village of Kelmscott just two minutes from the Manor House
Memorial cottage commissioned by Jane Morris after William's death with a wall carving of William Morris
Memorial cottage commissioned by Jane Morris after William’s death with a wall carving of William Morris by George Jack

The rambling house has three floors and many outbuildings and the gardens have been beautifully restored after falling into disrepair after the death of May Morris who lived there after William and Jane had passed away.  All of the original furniture  from both the Red House and Kelmscott Manor was sold at the time  but the Society of Antiquaries has managed to find and repurchase many items of furniture as well as a complete collection of William Morris’s writings and the bookcases are filled with books by Ruskin, Scott, Dickens and many others that Morris read voraciously from.

Kelmscott Manor restored attic bedroom
Kelmscott Manor restored attic bedroom
Arts and Crafts wooden cabinet in Kelmscott Manor
Arts and Crafts wooden cabinet in Kelmscott Manor
And a second Arts and Crafts cabinet
And a second Arts and Crafts cabinet
Original settle designed by Morris for the Red House now in Kelmscott Manor
Original settle designed by Philip Webb for  Morris for the Red House, and now in Kelmscott Manor

A number of original prints from Burne-Jones are there as well as some very famous Rosetti portraits of Jane Morris. In addition Morris’s large collection of Durer prints is there, a number of significant quilts and tapestries, the original kitchen, paintings including a wonderful Brueghel of a garden, silk hangings and works of Morris from his various sojourns in Iceland.

The White Room in Kelmscott Manor
The White Room in Kelmscott Manor
Textile wall hanging of St Catherine worked by Jane Morris in Kelmscott Manor
Textile wall hanging of St Catherine worked by Jane Morris in Kelmscott Manor
Jewel casket belonging to Jane Morris in Kelmscott Manor
Jewel casket belonging to Jane Morris in Kelmscott Manor
Beautiful Rossetti painting of Jenny and May Morris in Kelmscott Manor
Beautiful Rossetti painting of Jenny and May Morris in Kelmscott Manor
Cot quilt with animal designs currently on loan to Kelmscott Manor
Cot quilt with animal designs currently on loan to Kelmscott Manor
Another section of the Cot quilt at Kelmscott Manor
Another section of the Cot quilt at Kelmscott Manor

It is impossible to acknowledge the depth and  complexity of the gifts of William Morris…a craftsman expert in design of every sort, wood, furniture, textiles and fabrics, tiles, painting and tapestries. His writing varies from learned works of ethnography and linguistics to theology and ethics, translations of the Odyssey, Icelandic sagas, the legends of the Nibelungs and accounts of Greek mythology such as Jason and the Argonauts as well as his own mythologies. He wrote poetry, sagas, literary criticism, art theory and history and these are only the areas I am familiar with. Although a child of wealth and well educated he was passionately committed to Christian ethics and the idealistic goal of abolishing the differences between rich and poor in society and these passions led him to join the Socialist Party in England at a time when the gentry were not supposed to be involved in such thing. All of this while maintaining a highly successful London design business.

Morris’s  Kelmscott Press set new standards for quality publishing and even facsimilies now fetch huge prices. This is a work of some genius, illustrated by Morris and containing Chaucer, The Romance of the Rose, Boethius and much more besides. Morris was also passionate about authentic arts and crafts, and, like Ruskin, was horrified by the mediocrity of mass produced and repetitive designs compared with unique and crafted art and workmanship produced by those who love their work and were not just compelled to be there. To have his skill in languages, poetic gifts, moral strength and to hold together his workaholic writing, designing, business, political, intellectual and public responsibilities at the same time managing to keep a tempestuous loving marriage and home together in the face of outrageous pressure from Rossetti is an achievement unlikely ever to be repeated.  For me William Morris is a true Renaissance man who elevates everything he touches and who puts his learning to both artistic, practical and moral intent.

For Ann it is William Morris’s skill in textile design, weaving and understanding of materials that has inspired her now fifteen year passion for the time and design intensive art of quilting. She has produced over thirty quilts of varying sizes but her magnum opus to date is the heirloom quilt she made for her niece Sarah Lang, also an artist and a teacher of Art as well as a talented musician and event entrepreneur. The particular challenge of this quilt is that each square of flowers was hand appliquéd and indeed, all of Ann’s quilts have been worked by hand. The design for Sarah’s quilt is based on Jane Morris’s handworked quilt which can be found in Kelmscott Manor (currently for some reason on William Morris’s bed!)  The similarities between the quilts can be clearly seen in the attached photos.

Jane Morris bedroom quilt currently on William Morris's bed at Kelmscott Manor
Jane Morris bedroom quilt currently on William Morris’s bed at Kelmscott Manor
Ann's quilt made for Sarah Lang based on the Jane Morris design
Ann’s quilt made for Sarah Lang based on the Jane Morris design
Close up of Jane Morris's quilt design
Close up of Jane Morris’s quilt design in Kelmscott Manor

Clearly yesterday’s visit to Wightwick Manor and today’s journey to Kelmscott meant a great deal to both of us.  May and Jane Morris embroidered the following poem around William Morris’s bed canopy as can be seen in the photo above. I think the poem speaks for the man.

Kelmscott poem on embroidery on bed

Tweaking about in Tewkesbury and Whittling time away in Wightwick Manor

Friday 28th August 2015

This morning we left our Premier Inn home in  Chippenham in the southern Cotswolds to drive north to the Midlands to our one night Premier Inn home in Wolverhampton North near Birmingham. Along the way we stopped off at the very ancient Church of the Virgin Mary in Tewkesbury which was a Saxon site in the C9th and  Dominican Abbey prior to the Reformation with the church consecrated in 1121.  The Abbey survived Henry V111’s predations because the town of  Tewksbury paid him off for the sum of 453 pounds  (the cost of the lead and the bells!).

Tewksbury Abbey exterior ...
Tewkesbury Abbey exterior …”you are here to kneel where prayer has been valid” (Eliot)
Tewksbury Abbey West face
Tewkesbury Abbey West face

T S Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets,   

You are not here to verify,

instruct yourself,

or inform curiosity

ore carry report.

You are here to kneel where prayer has been been valid

                                     As soon as I walked into Tewkesbury Abbey this is how I felt. In many of the churches we have visited I have found myself “reporting” on this or that or seeking to “instruct myself” about this or that bit of history, art or architecture. Here in Tewkesbury Abbey with its massive round Romanesque columns and simple, stately architecture I felt strongly that people had been praying in this place for a very long time indeed. So here I did pray ..for peace in our troubled world and for peace in my own heart.

Romanesque Tewksbury Abbey with its massive round columns and beautiful ceiling bosses
Romanesque Tewkesbury Abbey with its massive round columns and beautiful ceiling bosses
Close up of the painted ceiling in the quire of Tewksbury Abbey
Close up of the painted ceiling in the quire of Tewkesbury Abbey
Vibrant new stained glass in Tewksbury Abbey
Vibrant new stained glass in Tewkesbury Abbey
Raphael painting
Raphael painting ” Madonna del Passaggio” in Lady Chapel of Tewkesbury Abbey

The C17th organ in this Abbey today was allegedly played by John Milton. He was someone else who loved beauty and peace and I felt a kindred spirit with him today as yesterday at Stourhead House where Milton was twice honoured in the library.  This church has everything, remarkable painted ceilings, naughty misericords, wonderful roof bosses, a tiny Dominican prayer place, a Raphael painting in the Lady Chapel (Madonna del Posseggio) and some wonderful new stained glass windows. It is indeed a place of prayer and peace.

Travelling on up the M5 we turned off at Wolverhampton to find our place of rest and to explore Wightwick Manor House, the newest house ever bought by the National Trust in 1947 (at which time the house was only fifty years old. ) There has been a house on the site since at least the Doomsday book as it is noted there.  In the 1600s a wooden manor house was built and remains still exist in the Malthouse today.

The current house was built in 1887 by Theodore Mander and his wife Flora and they doubled its size in 1893. Mander was an industry king (industrial paints for vehicles), a politician, Lord Mayor and highly decorated public figure. He was also an aesthete and together with his wife they set to recreate the perfect “Tudor House” (architect Edward Ould) and formal garden down to the last detail complete with tiny set windows in odd places, a secret staircase from the front reception room to an upstairs bedroom if Flora didn’t like the person who came to the front door, a huge baronial hall with a balcony, two large staircases, room after rambling room with large fireplaces and much more besides.

Wightwick Manor built in1894 and enlarged in 1892 A
Wightwick Manor built in1894 and enlarged in 1892 A “Tudor” house with all mod cons, central heating and electricity included.
Ann at the entrance to Wightwick Manor
Ann at the entrance to Wightwick Manor
Wightwick Manor Baronial hall, paintings, ancient carpets, furniture, books
Wightwick Manor Baronial hall, paintings, ancient carpets, furniture, books
Wightwick Manor view from the balcony down to the Baronial Hall
Wightwick Manor view from the balcony down to the Baronial Hall
Wightwick Manor breakfast/morning room
Wightwick Manor breakfast/morning room with Willam Morris wallpaper
Wightwick Manor Dining Room
Wightwick Manor Dining Room
Wightwick Manor parlour with C19th Grand piano
Wightwick Manor parlour with C19th Grand piano
Wightwick Manor library full of books of poetry, lit cit and art history
Wightwick Manor library full of books of poetry, lit cit and art history
Wightwick Manor parlour fireplace
Wightwick Manor parlour fireplace
Wightwick Manor garden with bridge over the main road to the forest
Wightwick Manor garden with bridge over the main road to the forest
Nursery in Wightwick Manor
Nursery in Wightwick Manor

Both the Manders and their son Geoffrey and his wife Rosalie were also strongly influenced by the Arts and Craft movement, and Victorian art in general and were avid collectors of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian artwork. Each room with one exception is wall papered with William Morris designs and significant artworks are found on every wall (probably the largest Pre-Raphaelite collection in one place in England). Works by Burne-Jones (including Love Among the Ruins), Millais (including the scandalous portrait of Mrs Effie Ruskin painted at the time they fell in love when Millais was staying with the Ruskins in Scotland),  Ford Madox Brown,  and many paintings by Pre-Raphaelite women including Lucy Madox Brown, Evelyn de Morgan (the amazing Flora), Lizzie Saddal, May Morris,  and Marie Spatali Stillman.

Edward Burne-Jones
Edward Burne-Jones “Love Amongst the Ruins” in Wightwick Manor
Evelyn de Morgan 1894
Evelyn de Morgan 1894 “Flora” in Wightwich Manor
Canadian sleigh in Wightwich Manor
Canadian sleigh in Wightwich Manor ” Malthouse”

In addition the house contains two early and rare copies of the Kelmscote printed Chaucer and there are many fine examples of William De Morgan tiles.  It would take a whole day to explore this house and garden. We gave it three hours and found it to be another very restorative experience, not unlike Stourhead the previous day. The National Trust in Britain has done a brilliant job with both properties.

Cavilling about cars, breezing past Bath and savouring sensational Stourhead House and gardens.

Thursday 27th August 2015

We had a half lay day today first of all finding and using a laundromat in Chippingham and secondly negotiating with Europcar over the health of our Vauxhall Estate Car which had quite a high mileage for a rental (not that much due to us!).  In recent days when the poor old Vauxhall was started up in the morning we had been receiving dire orange warnings on the desktop such as “oil pressure low”  “do not drive” , “service car immediately” etc   With my normal vast expertise in car mechanics I have been ignoring these warnings and still driving to Wales etc. because the signs seemed to disappear after a few seconds.

This morning as well as dire orange warnings we had all sorts of bells and whistles when we started it up. At first I thought it was the local bell ringers but eventually even I realised we shouldn’t keep driving the poor old thing so after some phone argybargy we drove to the nearest Europcar  centre in Bath, the home of the Georgian circle and the perpendicular Bath Abbey not to mention the hugely chlorinated and very expensive Roman baths!  After even more argy bargy (because of course no signs dared appear when a real mechanic was watching)  I was reduced to threats of being marooned in the wilds of Scotland (we are going to Edinburgh!)

They agreed to change vehicles after seeing the look on Ann’s face and we are now the proud drivers of a pretty well brand new white Kia SUV! This is a huge embarrassment to me because I have been a long time critic of SUVs and their drivers’ arrogance predicated on size. Apart from anything else all the lanes in England our satnav keeps sending us down will have to be immediately widened as the Kia is a seriously wide vehicle!

New Kia to replace the struggling Vauxhall
New Kia to replace the struggling Vauxhall

By the time we sat in the vehicle to drive off it was teeming rain, the vehicle was parked on a seriously steep gradient with a brand new  company van about a foot away in front, and a returning customer having parked a vehicle not far behind us.  In addition I was back with an old fashioned pull up hand break instead of the flash automatic button on the Vauxhall which simply released when we took off.  Pride would not allow me to take Ann’s sensible suggestion to ask them to move their vehicle so my first reverse wet handbrake start was not the greatest but did do the job and we emerged with all vehicles intact (phew!)

We tootled off through the glorious southern Cotswold hills and valleys over the amazing canal and boat systems and found the wonderful Red Lion pub in the hamlet of Wolverton where we felt we had deserved a baguette or two.

Ann looking good at the Red Lion in the hamlet of Wolverton in the Cotswolds
Ann looking good at the Red Lion in the hamlet of Wolverton in the Cotswolds

So it was 3.30pm when we arrived at our destination for the day, the wonderful National Trust property of Stourhead House and gardens in the tiny village of Stourton in Wiltshire. Aussie National Trust earned half its cost today saving us thirty one pounds entry fee which is over $60 Aussie in real money!

This property was built in the Palladian style by the Hoare family in  the early C18th and is much newer than the other stately homes we have been visiting except of course for the neo-Gothic house at Cardiff Castle. The Hoares have accrued four generations of banking leadership and the Hoare Bank is the only bank still in private hands in London.

Stour head House on a grey day in Wiltshire
Stour head House on a grey day in Wiltshire
Stourhead House, the view from the garden
Stourhead House, the view from the garden
Stourhead House Palladian entry of the C18 house
Stourhead House Palladian entry of the C18 house

In 1902 the House was badly damaged by fire but much of its contents were saved. It was rebuilt in identical style from photographs.  It is in some ways a sad story. The final heir Henry Hoare and his wife had their own property when they inherited  Stourhead and reluctantly moved there to set it up for their son Harry who was heavily involved in helping to develop the property and loved living there. Unfortunately Harry was killed in action in World War 1 and the couple had to decide whether to keep living there which they did and ended up further developing the property for over 30 years, dying within six hours of each other on the same day in 1947. The House was donated to the National Trust with an allowance for an extended family member to continue living there.

The House includes an impressive art and library collection although key items from both were sold over the years to raise funds. There is also some significant furniture and the house itself stands impressively on a hill surrounded by a village, forest and beautiful pasture land.

Stour head House drawing room
Stourhead House drawing room
Stourhead House Library
Stourhead House Library
Stourhead House library with Wilton carpet made by the Wiltons of Wilton House fame!
Stourhead House library with Wilton carpet made by the Wiltons of Wilton House fame!
Stourhead House library shelf staircase and one of two busts of Milton
Stourhead House library shelf staircase and one of two busts of Milton
Stourhead House painted glass window based on Raphael's
Stourhead House painted glass window based on Raphael’s “School of Athens” in the Vatican. Various philosophers have been well copied and placed in new positions in the window to highlight learning and thinking
Stourhead House with Palladian columns even in the Drawing Room
Stourhead House with Palladian columns even in the Drawing Room
Unusual cabinet of curiosities which used to hold an organ and which once belonged to Pope Sixtus V now in Stourhead House
Unusual cabinet of curiosities which used to hold an organ and which once belonged to Pope Sixtus V now in Stourhead House

The real gem of Stourhead however is the garden.  Landscaped around a large man-made lake achieved by damming a small stream it is a vast forest of deciduous and evergreen trees of every shape, size and origin alongside vast areas of lawn and  glorious herbaceous borders, a very effective green house, and wonderful tracks with vistas to the lake, to various temples and follies and to the hills beyond.

Stourhead House view of manmade lake
Stourhead House view of manmade lake
Stourhead House gardens with bridge over the lake
Stourhead House gardens with bridge over the lake
Stourhead House treelined driveway
Stourhead House treelined driveway
Stourhead House garden view from house
Stourhead House garden view from house
Stourhead House herbaceous borders
Stourhead House herbaceous borders
Stourhead House hydrangeas
Stourhead House hydrangeas
Stourhead House view of temple and lake
Stourhead House view of temple and lake
Stourhead House gardens another view of the Temple
Stourhead House gardens another view of the Temple

It is certainly a place to lose yourself in and in some ways it is reminiscent  of the great Victorian gardens in Mt Macedon and the Dandenongs. There are literally forests of rhododendrons, maples, ash and liliodendron trees and all open to the village (which is a little remote) to walk in till dusk with their dogs.

The village also contains a more than useful pub, a wonderful small art gallery, St Peter’s 700 year old early Gothic parish church of Stoughton and many fine old village homes. This is a placee to seriously lose yourself for a day or a year! We loved it!

St Peter's parish church of Stourton, a 700 year old small Gothic church , part of the estate and village of Stourton and effectively part of the surrounds of Stourhead House
St Peter’s parish church of Stourton, a 700 year old small Gothic church , part of the estate and village of Stourton and effectively part of the surrounds of Stourhead House
Interior of St Peter's parish church of Stourton on the Stourhead House Estate
Interior of St Peter’s parish church of Stourton on the Stourhead House Estate
Another view of the Gothic interior of St Peter's Parish church in Stourton
Another view of the Gothic interior of St Peter’s Parish church in Stourton

Beetling around in brilliant Bristol, living it up in Llandaff and captivated by Cardiff Castle

Wednesday 26th August

Today with the rain moving East to London we took off West to the sunshine of South Wales but first detoured to the beautiful harbour city of Bristol to find Bristol Cathedral. The church historian and architectural scholar Pevsner describes this Cathedral whose nave was not completed until the 1860’s as superior to anything else built in England and indeed in Europe at the same time. This is high praise but the Cathedral does make an impact.  The reason for this is that the nave, choir and aisles are all at the same height creating effectively a mediaeval “hall church” …a lofty and elegant space with a series of elegant arches.” With the technology then available, flying buttresses were no longer required and the result is a very “clean” building with flowing lines.

C18th addition of the Nave at same height as the Choir to produce the effect of a Mediaeval
C18th addition of the Nave at same height as the Choir to produce the effect of a Mediaeval “Hall” church all at one height
Bristol Cathedral West front with the statue of Indian Renaissance philosopher, reformer, scholar and patriot Rajah Rammihun Roy (1772-1883) in the foreground.
Bristol Cathedral West front with the statue of Indian Renaissance philosopher, reformer, scholar and patriot Rajah Rammihun Roy (1772-1883) in the foreground (and me)
Richard in sight of another cathedral in Bristol
Richard in sight of another cathedral in Bristol
Exterior of Bristol Cathedral Gothic Revival with no flying buttresses
Exterior of Bristol Cathedral Gothic Revival with no flying buttresses

Originally a Norman  “hall church”  was built within the abbey in 1298 but  Henry V111 ordered the dissolution of the abbey in 1539 and only the choir remained until the nave and west front was added in Gothic Revival style in the 1860s.

Striking Millenium Communion Table ..a radical move in the centre of Bristol Cathedral
Striking Millenium Communion Table ..a radical move in the centre of Bristol Cathedral
1298 choir stalls in Bristol Cathedral
1298 choir stalls in Bristol Cathedral
1298 Eastern Lady Chapel in Bristol Cathedral ..originally a memorial for the Berkeley family
1298 Eastern Lady Chapel in Bristol Cathedral ..originally a memorial for the Berkeley family
Ann in the memorial garden of Bristol Cathedral
Ann in the memorial garden of Bristol Cathedral
1298 ceiling bosses in the 1298 Berkeley Chapel
1298 ceiling bosses in the 1298 Berkeley Chapel
Original 1298 Gothic Choir of Bristol Cathedral
Original 1298 Gothic Choir of Bristol Cathedral
Early Henry V111 stained glass window in Bristol Cathedral
Early Henry V111 stained glass window in Bristol Cathedral
Early 1220 Elder Lady Chapel in Bristol Cathedral
Early 1220 Elder Lady Chapel in Bristol Cathedral
Ancient Saxon stone carving of the Harrowing of Hell, Christ saving Adam and Eve representing all humanity in Bristol Cathedral
Ancient Saxon stone carving of the Harrowing of Hell, Christ saving Adam and Eve representing all humanity in Bristol Cathedral

It’s latest claim to fame is as the site for the filming of Hilary Mantel’s impressive Reformation novel  Wolf Hall detailing the contribution of Thomas Cromwell to Henry V111’s  court and to the Reformation.  The chapter house and church were both substantially used in this BBC production and the church was turned into Westminster Abbey for Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn

Hilary Mantel's
Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” was filmed at Bristol Cathedral for the new BBC production..both church and chapter house were used in 2014

Moving on from Bristol we crossed over into Wales via the amazing suspension technology of the bridge over the Severn River.

Amazing suspension bridge over the Severn river linking Wales and England filmed through the car window (not by me!)
Amazing suspension bridge over the Severn river linking Wales and England filmed through the car window (not by me!)
and again!
and again!

Our first goal was Llandaff Cathedral in the city of Cardiff. It is approached from a carpark high above the building by a series of steps …”The Dean’s steps” and one then arrives at a quite small front door which opens to four or five steps down to the floor of the cathedral so that you enter with a total overview of the whole interior from above.

Ancient tiny carved front door at the base of the
Ancient tiny carved front door at the base of the “Dean’s steps” which opens to five more steps making you almost “dive” into the Cathedral ..quite wonderful
Landed Cathedral Cardiff, exterior view
Landed Cathedral Cardiff, exterior view

A church has stood on this site since 546. The C12th early Romanesque/early Gothic building fell into decline during the Reformation and Puritan era and was severely damaged by wild storms.  In the mid C18th restoration began but the building was again severely damaged by a German landmine in World War 11. Architect George Pace lead the reconstruction after the war which included a brand new chapel (The Welch Regiment Memorial), strengthening of the C19th tower and the extraordinary introduction of a concrete chancel arch which holds the former organ case on which was suspended the figure of Christ in Majesty  by Sir Jacob Epstein.

Jacob Epstein's
Jacob Epstein’s “Christ in Majesty” suspended on the former organ collar..a massive introduction to Llandaff cathedral in 1958
Reverse view seen from the Choir
Reverse view seen from the Choir
1280 Lady Chapel with unusual painted ceiling
1280 Lady Chapel with unusual painted ceiling
The old mediaeval stone reredos that used to stand behind the high altar now part of the wall of the side aisle
The old mediaeval stone reredos that used to stand behind the high altar now part of the wall of the side aisle

Artistically there are many treasures here including a set of porcelain panels by C19th Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones  showing the six days of creation above the communion tabel in the Dyfrig Chapel, and “The Seed of David” triptych in the Euddogwy Chapel by another Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti. In addition there is the very modern “Annunciation” by Clive HIcks-Jenkins completed in 2010 and a memorial of St Francis of Assisi in bronze. This is a cathedral of surprises and it is completed by the installation in 2010 of a huge new organ  (the largest wholly-new British built organ to be commissioned in a UK cathedral for 50 years).

Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones triptych
Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti  triptych “The Seed of David” showing David the Shepherd, (Edward Burne-Jones head), David the King (William Morris head) and the birth of Jesus (between 1856 and 1864)
Porcelain panels showing the six days of Creation by Pre-Raphaelite C19th artist Edward Burne-Jones.
Porcelain panels showing the six days of Creation by Pre-Raphaelite C19th artist Edward Burne-Jones.
“The Virgin of the Goldfinches ” by Clive Hicks-Jensen 2010
Memorial bronze of Francis of Assisi in Llandaff Cathedral Cardiff
Memorial bronze of Francis of Assisi in Llandaff Cathedral Cardiff

After lunch we ventured back into Cardiff Central, past the beautiful homes in Cathedral Place and the sensational Millennium Stadium and found a lucky park near to the C12th Norman Cardiff Castle and keep.

Impressive homes on both sides of Cathedral Place Cardiff
Impressive homes on both sides of Cathedral Place Cardiff
View of Cardiff from the top of the Norman Castle Keep
View of Cardiff from the top of the Norman Castle Keep
another view from the top with a glimpse of the sensational millennium stadium
another view from the top with a glimpse of the sensational millennium stadium
View of the city from the lawns of Cardiff Castle on a beautiful summer's day
View of the city from the lawns of Cardiff Castle on a beautiful summer’s day
Another view of the Castle house and Millennium stadium
Another view of the Castle house and Millennium stadium

This huge walled site has also had a chequered history through all the wars and ups and downs of Welsh and British history too complex to describe here. Eventually it came into the hands of the Marquesses of Bute and one John Stuart who employed Capability Brown and Henry Holland to create a Georgian mansion on the site alongside the fortified castle keep. With wealth from the coal industry this family continued to expand the buildings, destroying most of the mediaeval components in the process.

Ann at the Cardiff Castle fortified keep
Ann at the Cardiff Castle fortified keep
Ann outside the walls of the whole Cardiff Castle complex
Ann outside the walls of the whole Cardiff Castle complex
Arrow wall at the second level of the fortified keep
Arrow wall at the second level of the fortified keep
Close up of the Cardiff Castle fortified Keep
Close up of the Cardiff Castle fortified Keep
Inside view of the middle level of the Cardiff Castle fortified keep
Inside view of the middle level of the Cardiff Castle fortified keep
Vertigo view from the top of the fortified keep of Cardiff Castle
Vertigo view from the top of the fortified keep of Cardiff Castle
The wall!
The wall!

In the first half of the C19th John Crighton -Stuart employed archtect William Burgess to create a bizarre Neo-Gothic Revival house superimposed on the existing mansion and this is now what the National Trust cares for today. It has a romantic, almost Disneyland happy feel and on a beautiful summer’s day it was a nice place to be.

External view of the Gothic Revival home of the Marquesses of Bute
External view of the Gothic Revival home of the Marquesses of Bute
Detail of the Gothic Revival mid 18th house created by William Burgess for the Bute family
Detail of the Gothic Revival mid 18th house created by William Burgess for the Bute family
Ceiling of the Banqueting Hall
Ceiling of the Banqueting Hall
Another Gothic revival ceiling
Another Gothic revival ceiling
Fireplace detail in the Gothic revival House of Cardiff Castle
Fireplace detail in the Gothic revival House of Cardiff Castle
Richard once again in a wonderful library
Richard once again in a wonderful library
and again!
and again!
and another fireplace
and another fireplace (actually now I look at it is the same one!)
Base of the staircase in the Gothic revival house at Cardiff Castle
Base of the staircase in the Gothic revival house at Cardiff Castle
Ann is the person in the mid-centre left on the lawn from the top of the Keep
Ann is the person in the mid-centre left on the lawn from the top of the Keep!

Wandering around wondrous Wilton House near Salisbury

Tuesday 25th August

Today we headed south east from Chippenham past the thatched rooftops of the homes of ancient Laycock and its even older abbey and later on past the even more ancient stones of Stonehenge to the relatively “new” C16th house of the Herberts, the Earls of Pembroke.

Wilton House external view
Wilton House external view
Wilton House Front gate with Marcus Aurelius on top (original statue in the Capitoline Museum in Rome
Wilton House Front gate with Marcus Aurelius on top (original statue in the Capitoline Museum in Rome
Wilton House, the Pemberley Estate with flag flying from the front
Wilton House, the Pembroke Estate with flag flying from the front
Wilton House the old (and preferred in my view, front aspect.
Wilton House the old (and preferred in my view,)front aspect.
Wilton House, the Tudor (and private) wing
Wilton House, the Tudor (and private) wing

Once again it is the homes of families who have somehow been able to maintain hereditary continuity who have most been able to cope with the vagaries of political religious upheaval and C20th Government taxation/death duties policy. The Herberts have hung on in Wilton House, very near Salisbury although they have had their moments as did many other royalist sympathisers during Cromwell’s Commonwealth.

Ann in the front formal garden at Wilton House
Ann in the front formal garden at Wilton House
Ann not concentrating
Ann not concentrating

The current Earl and Countess of Pembroke are a young couple with young children and a youthful approach to “Stately home leadership”.  They open the house and gardens regularly for charity and hold many functions of various types on the property. They also refuse to “rope off” sections of the State and other rooms so when paying visitors come they don’t feel “kept out” of the rooms but are able to freely walk around. Indeed all of the house is still used by the family and apparently the family can often be seen mingling with the visitors. We were not sure if that was the case while we were there. I think it may have been possible. Another impressive feature was that special exhibitions were not charged at an additional rate.

On our visit two exhibitions were open as well as a professionally made film of the history of the house which was quite outstanding. The exhibitions were firstly, the current Earl of Pembroke’s fast car collection and secondly an exhibition of Cecil Beaton’s photographic works. Cecil Beaton was an English fashion, portrait and war photographer, diarist, painter, interior designer and academy award winning stage and costume designer for films and theatre. He also often photographed the Royal Family for official publications. The cars were to die for and some have been successful in races.

Bugatti 2008 handbuilt Veyroon 16.4 No 141 from Pemberley collection
Bugatti 2008 handbuilt Veyroon 16.4 No 141 from Pembroke collection
Jaguar 1964 4.2 E-type
Jaguar 1964 4.2 E-type
Two Ferraris
Two Ferraris
1972 Datsun 240Z
1972 Datsun 240Z
Lamborghini
Lamborghini
Mercedes Benz 300SL coupe
Mercedes Benz 300SL coupe
Early C20th electric invalid car
Early C20th electric invalid car
Russian sleigh Pemberley collection (a former Countess was Russian)
Russian sleigh Pembroke collection (a former Countess was Russian)
Ann studying the Cecil Beaton photographic collection
Ann studying the Cecil Beaton photographic collection

Cecil Beaton loved Wilton House, visited often, and his view of Wilton bears repeating:

Wilton House is perhaps the most wonderful piece in all Wiltshire’s heritage of domestic architecture. Formerly an abbey and later designed at various stages by Holbein the Younger, Inigo Jones, Watt and Wyatt, with its cube rooms and the crimson velvet curtains, with its fantastic Palladian bridge and the lawns flanked with cedars of Lebanon, its gardens where Shakespeare acted and Philip Sydney wrote “The Arcadia”, Wilton is at every time of the year , in all weathers , unfailing in its beauty.

I can’t add to this except the impressive collection of paintings (Rembrandt painting of his aged mother, the largest collection of van Dyke portraits in England, Brueghel the younger and older, Titian, many Italian Renaissance paintings, over 100 classical busts and so on), the pair of Fred Astaire shoes, the wonderful Japanese inspired water garden and the wonderful front gate with a sculpture of Marcus Aurelius atop the gate!  Shakespeare did have a special connection with Wilton House and the house has a history of dramatic performance. Like many British stately homes Wilton was used as a hospital during World wars.

Once again photography was not permitted inside the house so no serious pics inside. The gardens and cedar lined lawns are to die for and the quality of the internal presentation of the house  has few peers.

The Wylye River running through the gardens of Wilton House
The Wylye River running through the gardens of Wilton House
Wilton House garden urns earned after a long walk
Wilton House garden urns earned after a long walk
Wilton House gardens herbaceous border
Wilton House gardens herbaceous border
Wilton House garden seed planted by the future Tsar of Russia , now a giant oak
Wilton House garden seed planted by the future Tsar of Russia , now a giant oak
Palladian bridge over the Wylie River (nicer on a sunny day)
Palladian bridge over the Wylie River (nicer on a sunny day)
Summer house at Wilton on the Wylye River
Summer house at Wilton on the Wylye River
swan and cygnets on the Wylye River at Wilton House
swan and cygnets on the Wylye River at Wilton House
Water garden at Wilton House
Water garden at Wilton House
Water garden again at Wilton
Water garden again at Wilton

A small highlight for me is that in one bookcase in a drawing room Ann spotted  two beautifully bound volumes of the Revd Humphrey Prideaux’s Prideaux’s Connections. Humphrey Prideaux was a distant ancestor of mine and became the Dean of Norwich. I have a copy of Prideaux’s Connections, found for me by the late Bishop John Wilson, much less grand than the two volumes in Wilton House. The work is a scholarly attempt to relate the the Old and New Testaments theologically and historically. It was good to see them there.

Humphrey Prideaux the C17th Dean of Norwich and a relative of mine wrote a 2 volume scholarly work on the
Humphrey Prideaux the C17th Dean of Norwich and a relative of mine wrote a 2 volume scholarly work on the “Connections” between the Old and New Testaments and here they are beaufituflly bound at Wilton House
found in this bookcase, well spotted by Ann
found in this bookcase, well spotted by Ann

Lounging around in Longleat and bedazzled by history in Bradford On Avon

Monday 24th August

Today we experienced our first seriously rainy day of touring and it certainly makes a contrast to the high thirties we experienced for a month in Italy.  We drove from Chippingham 35 minutes south to the C15th mansion of Longleat, ancestral home of the Thynne family who survived Tudor politics, serious Cromwellian warfare and the ups and downs of aristocratic life and who still own their house today.

View of the front of Longleat, England's finest Elizabethan house with 1000 acres of parkland landscaped by Capability Brown
View of the front of Longleat, England’s finest Elizabethan house with 1000 acres of parkland landscaped by Capability Brown

The present Marquess is an artist and patron of artists who has added to the over 1000 paintings and portraits in Longleat his own quite impressive political and social comment art as well as two mazes and many other garden additions. In 2010 he handed over the running of the estate to his son Viscount Seymour.

Ceiling in one of the three extraordinary State rooms. One of the marquesses was deeply influenced by travelling to Italy and the ceilings were modelled after the Doge's Palace ceilings in Venice
Ceiling in one of the three extraordinary State rooms. One of the marquesses was deeply influenced by travelling to Italy and the ceilings were modelled after the Doge’s Palace ceilings in Venice
Longleat's C16th clock in the Elixabethan Baronial Hall . We were there at midday and the chime lasted over a minute with various antics of the figures
Longleat’s C16th clock in the Elizabethan Baronial Hall . We were there at midday and the chime lasted over a minute with various antics of the figures
Massive solid silver candelabra on the State Room Dining Table commemorating a Thynne victory over Cromwell's ar,my
Massive solid silver candelabra on the State Room Dining Table commemorating a Thynne victory over Cromwell’s army

The estate is vast although not as big as in Elizabethan days.  It still measures 1000 acres of immaculately kept parklands initially established by famous English landscape designer Capability Brown. In addition there are 4000 acres of farmland which includes a running farm and another 4000 acres of woodland.

Ann in one of the seven library rooms of Longleat. The House holds over 44000 books, the largest private library in England
Ann in one of the seven library rooms of Longleat. The House holds over 44000 books, the largest private library in England

It was Henry Thynne (1905 -1992) who saved Longleat from the English death duties  taxation system (and in the process many other stately homes).  Against significant ridicule he opened the house to the public on a regular paying basis thereby setting a standard for many eventually to follow. In addition as an amazing entrepreneur he created an impressive wildlife safari park and a holiday campsite. Many major public events are held at Longleat and many films have been made there. Longleat is generally regarded as the most impressive still standing Elizabethan house in England.

The House itself contains just one space, the baronial  hall  remaining from Elizabethan times but that itself is an impressive space. Many ot the changes that have been made were completed in the C19th by architect Sir Jeffrey Wyatville  but what made an impact on us were the rich furnishings throughout the house and the high standard with which the interior and furnishings have been maintained. In addition the very committed and enthusiastic staff made an impact by their passion for the house. What made an impact on me was the library of over 44 000 books in seven extraordinary rooms! Hmm…

Baronial hall at Longleat, the only Elixabethan remnant in the house but an impressive room nevertheless
Baronial hall at Longleat, the only Elixabethan remnant in the house but an impressive room nevertheless. The  huge television screen is not Elizabethan!
Front staircase at Longleaf. The house contains over 1000 paintings many of them portraits of the family over 600 years and also a number of royal portraits. Elizabeth 1 visited this house
Front staircase at Longleaf. The house contains over 1000 paintings many of them portraits of the family over 600 years and also a number of royal portraits. Elizabeth 1 visited this house
This is the
This is the “ordinary” dining room with just the Sevres service!

Leaving Longleat after a very pleasant lunch in the crypt of the mansion, we journeyed back to Chippenham via the beautiful small Cotswolds town of Bradford on Avon which contains three very historic churches.  We were able to visit two of them. The most ancient is a small and simple Saxon Church, the Church of St Laurence whose existence is noted by William of Malmesbury in the 1120’s but thought by him to date back to the time of St Aldheim (died 709) although this date is contested and the original Saxon site may have been on the site of the present Holy Trinity Anglican Church. This is an ancient church indeed and reminds me of the simple chapel we saw in Glendalough Monastery in southern Ireland some years ago.

Entry to tiny Bradford on Avon Saxon church
Entry to tiny Bradford on Avon Saxon church
Bradford on Avon Saxon church C12th or earlier ..view of the simple sanctuary
Bradford on Avon Saxon church C12th or earlier ..view of the simple sanctuary
Tiny Saxon church of St Laurence in Bradford on Avon dating back to at least the C12th where it is noted by William of Malmesbury
Tiny Saxon church of St Laurence in Bradford on Avon dating back to at least the C12th where it is noted by William of Malmesbury
View of the Avon River at Bradford On Avon on a fairly grey day for an English summer
View of the Avon River at Bradford On Avon on a fairly grey day for an English summer
Ann on the bridge over the Avon River in Bradford on Avon with Holy Trinity Anglican church in background
Ann on the bridge over the Avon River in Bradford on Avon with Holy Trinity Anglican church in background
Another view of Holy Trinity church in Bradford on Avon
Another view of Holy Trinity church in Bradford on Avon
Exterior of Holy Trinity Bradford on Avon dating from C12th with many gravestones, most unreadable
Exterior of Holy Trinity Bradford on Avon dating from C12th with many gravestones, most unreadable

Holy Trinity is also an ancient church in Bradford on Avon although substantially rebuilt in the 1860’s. It certainly dates from the C12th on this site and ancient features include a faded wall painting in the sanctuary dating from c1300, the C15th tower, a funeral tomb for Anne Yew dating to 1601, the memorial to Charles Steward who fell off his horse in 1698 and the amazing “squint” or “hagiograph”…a long small corridor with a window into the sanctuary to enable leprosy sufferers to see the priest and hear what was happening in the sanctuary. In the former monastery in which the chapel was built there was a leprosy hospital. The Church will soon celebrate its millennium and is a lively and spiritually active community.

Anne Yew's 1601 tomb in Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Bradford on Avon
Anne Yew’s 1601 tomb in Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Bradford on Avon
View of Holy Trinity Anglican church in Bradford on Avon from the Sanctuary
View of Holy Trinity Anglican church in Bradford on Avon from the Sanctuary
The
The “Squint” window in the sanctuary of Holy Trinity Bradford on Avon which enables leprosy sufferers to stand in a separate room but to see and hear the service
Interior of Holy Trinity Bradford on Avon dating from C12th
Interior of Holy Trinity Bradford on Avon dating from C12th
Norman
Norman “beggar’s door” at Holy Trinity Bradford on Avon
View of the
View of the “Squint” corridor from the room outside the body of the church
Unusual pillars in Holy Trinity Anglican church in Bradford on Avon containing well known Bible verses scrolled around
Unusual pillars in Holy Trinity Anglican church in Bradford on Avon containing well known Bible verses scrolled around

Chilling out in Chippenham in the Cotswolds

Saturday 22nd  and Sunday 23rd August

Saturday was a total chill out day for us in magnificent 28 degree Kentish sun.  We commenced a lengthy search for a prescription for Voltaren for Ann which is  not available off the shelf in Europe or the UK. We managed to find an online medical service to help but the prescription was sent to a pharmacy which was closed by the time we got there and re-routing of the prescription was not completed until 5.00pm in the delightful village of Faversham.  I managed to find a second-hand bookshop with titles in English at last!

The rest of the day was spent doing Richter genealogies in the garden at Forge House. We have now traced Ann’s father Murray Richter’s father Robert back two further generations to his first generation Australian father Adolphus  and his German grandfather Carl from a village near Hamburg.

Joyce and Brian, Ann and Richard celebrate a significant birthday for Joyce at the Red Lion, near Frinsted in Kent
Joyce and Brian, Ann and Richard celebrate a significant birthday for Joyce at the Red Lion, near Frinsted in Kent

We had an early start on Sunday with an emotional farewell to Ann’s cousin Joyce and husband Brian, Jack Russells Badger and Harvey and much loved Forge House and the tiny village of Frinsted. It is a long way from Berwick to Frinsted and we have come to love them very much over the last twenty years.  The beautiful Kentish sun which has been with us for the whole of our stay began to fade as we drove westwards into an Atlantic rainstorm.

We drove the 90kms to Guildford Cathedral and shared in the 9.45am Holy Communion Service led by the Dean the Very Revd. Dianna  Gwilliams.  Guildford is one of England’s newest cathedrals having been consecrated in 1961.  Begun much earlier,  its completion was seriously delayed during the Second World War.

Guildford Cathedral West Front
Guildford Cathedral West Front
Commanding view over Guildford from the sides steps of the Guildford Cathedral
Commanding view over Guildford from the side steps of the Guildford Cathedral
View of Guildford Cathedral from the start of the hill climb path!
View of Guildford Cathedral from the start of the hill climb path!

The Cathedral holds a commanding position on a high hill overlooking the university city of Guildford and looks the more austere in its position for the lack of surroundng gardens or trees.  The interior of the cathedral is Gothic in style and again very austere with subdued and small stained glass on the narrow windows and a beautiful Rose window in the sanctuary.

Guildford Cathedral interior
Guildford Cathedral interior

The Dean preached on Ephesians 6, the Christian’s defence described by Paul in terms of the armour surrounding a Roman soldier.  It was a spiritually helpful and clear address. and we were warmly wlecomed by members of the congregation and clergy.

We drove on through England’s gorgeous South West and Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen country  in the rain to Wiltshire and our home for the next five days Chippenham in the Cotswolds, one of the prettiest regions of England and very close to the Welsh border.

Chippenham is at the southern end of the Cotswolds and is quite a large town built around the wide and free flowing Avon River of Stratford fame. It has many fine streetscapes and fine old homes. The rain cleared in the afternoon and we were able to wander around the town, fairly quiet on a late Sunday afternoon.

Ann on the bridge over the Avon River in Chippenham in Wiltshire.
Ann on the bridge over the Avon River in Chippenham in Wiltshire.
The peaceful flowing waters of the Avon River in Chippenham, Wiltshire, England
The peaceful flowing waters of the Avon River in Chippenham, Wiltshire, England
The duck army on the Avon River in Chippenham Wiltshire
The duck army on the Avon River in Chippenham Wiltshire
St Andrew's Anglican Church in Chippenham Wiltshire England
St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Chippenham Wiltshire England
Streetscape in Chippenham Wiltshire England
Streetscape in Chippenham Wiltshire England

Perambulating peacefully picturesque Penshurst Place

Friday 21st  August

Today we drove with Ann’s cousin Joyce and her husband Brian from Frinstead to the extraordinarily well preserved C14th Gothic stately home Penshurst in its own village of Penshurst high up in the Weald of Kent. This vast house was commenced in 1341 by Sir John de Pulteney and survived the Black Death, the peasant’s revolt and the hundred years war all in the hands of various Dukes of Bedford, Gloucester and Buckingham, the third of whom Edward Stafford fell out with Henry V111 and was hanged for treason leaving the Estate in the hands of the crown. Henry V111 used it as a hunting lodge and a place from which to woo Anne Boleyn.

Ann, Brian and Joyce at the entrance to the Gothic Baronial hall at Penshurst Place in Penshurst Kent
Ann, Brian and Joyce at the entrance to the Gothic Baronial hall at Penshurst Place in Penshurst Kent
External view of part of Penshurst Place ..too large for iPhone photography
External view of part of Penshurst Place ..too large for iPhone photography
Part of the exterior of Penshurst Place taken from the formal parterre gardens.
Part of the exterior of Penshurst Place taken from the formal parterre gardens.
Early Gothic windows at C14th Penshurst Place in Kent
Early Gothic windows at C14th Penshurst Place in Kent
Another view of the exterior of Penhurst Place in Kent
Another view of the exterior of Penhurst Place in Kent

Eventually the Estate came to Edward VI after Henry’s death and he rewarded his tutor and Steward of his household by handing it over to Sir William Sidney. The House has been in the Sidney household ever since…remarkable continuity for such a stately home and its Tudor apartments are still used by the 2nd Viscount De L’Isle  Phillip Sidney and his wife Isobel. Phillip is the son of William Sidney , the first  Viscount De L’Isle and the former Governor General of Australia.

The Capital of New South Wales is named after this family of whom perhaps the most famous is the Renaissance scholar, poet, soldier and courtier Sir Philip Sidney, of whom C S Lewis in his role as Renaissance historian and literary critic writes: Even at this great distance Sidney is dazzling. He is that rare thing, the aristocrat in whom the aristocratic ideal is really embodied.

This remarkable estate sits in 2.5 thousand acres of pasture and forest high up in the Kent weald and the family own effectively the whole village of Penshurst, St John the Baptist’s Church and the vast house and garden. Once again no photography inside the house is allowed so no pics of the interior which is a pity because the house is entered through a front door leading to a Baronial hall of monumental proportions…timbered ceiling trusses and original huge roughly hewn C14th banqueting tables.  A small crypt contains the costumes used for the filming of the BBC production of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which was created at Penshurst in 2014.

View from the top of the parterre garden over the surrounding countryside around Penhurst Place. The view from the battlements and upper storey would be superb.
View from the top of the parterre garden over the surrounding countryside around Penhurst Place. The view from the battlements and upper storey would be superb.
Porcupine statue in the Penshurst Gardens. The Porcupine is part of the Sydney family crest and identification.
Porcupine statue in the Penshurst Gardens. The Porcupine is part of the Sidney family crest and identification.

The State rooms begin with a vast dining room set with an unknown but early service, family  and royal portraits including James !, Anne of Austria and a copy of Van Dyke’s portrait of a mounted Charles 1, the original being in Buckingham Palace.

Several drawing rooms follow with early and magnificent furniture, a substantial Chinese porcelain collection, early tapestries; complex early embroidery, unusual European cabinets and tables of all  shape and sizes, and paintings from a range of periods but all rare and unusual, nothing can be taken for granted. The Long Room again has many family portraits and leads down a narrow stairway to a small panelled bedroom with again significant paintings and furniture. The Nether Gallery includes a substantial collection of arms and armour.

A feature is two exhibition rooms with a photographic gallery of the last 150 years of the Sidney family including many significant historic events and the damage to the house in World War 11. The photos are kept up to date and help viewers to understand that Penhurst Place is still a living and lived in home.

The gardens are quite remarkable and beautifully tended by a team of gardeners. There is the formal lime tree entrance drive,  a formal parterre garden with a beautiful oval pond well stocked with golden fish.  Terraced down the hill the gardens include wonderfully productive fruit trees of all kinds, large topiary gardens, a substantial rose garden, the heraldic garden, the nut garden, the magnolia garden, many paths with impressive herbaceous borders, Union Flag garden, Diana’s bath and the Porcupine statue.

View of the terraced gardens at Penhsurst
View of the terraced gardens at Penhsurst
One of hundreds of floral displays at Penshurst Place
One of hundreds of floral displays at Penshurst Place
Penshurst Place oval pond well stocked with fish in the centre of the formal parterre garden
Penshurst Place oval pond well stocked with fish in the centre of the formal parterre garden
St John the Baptist Church from the formal parterre garden
St John the Baptist Church from the formal parterre garden
Penshurst St John the Baptist Church
Penshurst St John the Baptist Church
Penshurst Place, the Heraldic Garden
Penshurst Place, the Heraldic Garden
Penshurst Place, another view of the Heraldic Garden
Penshurst Place, another view of the Heraldic Garden
Penshurst Place ..watchers at the oval pond
Penshurst Place ..watchers at the oval pond

Penshurst Place is a personalised dwelling of peace and tranquility in a beautiful weald setting with wonderful views all around. It is an exceptional achievement to have house and gardens lasting 600 years through largely one family and a fine tradition of expert gardiners.