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April 19th, 2020

It’s four weeks now since we’ve been here, down in Dorset. I’d say a couple of weeks ago the house got very tidy indeed. Everyone in the country, housebound and feeling helpless, went on a massive spring clean. We were no exception. It was a distraction to fear and sadness; in the world of an invisible killer it felt like a sensible defence.

But I’m glad to say that two weeks on, we’ve calmed down a bit, and are realising that our cleaning lady Anne’s view of dust (that if you carry on dusting the dust carries on coming back) has pretty powerful logic to it. So now the house has that nice gentle relaxed feeling to it of it being lived in for weeks and weeks in a row for the first time, literally, in nearly two decades. My predecessors at the Old Parsonage were hardly ever here except in the holidays; we’re here almost every week, but in normally in London for some of that time too. A house takes on a different feel when it is permanently occupied. A couple of years ago we came down here for a month in the summer, a record that will be overtaken this week. And how strange our flat in London must feel, shut up, curtains drawn, deserted, empty; at the top of an empty building in an empty Square…

So there is something idyllic in the lockdown situation, yet which makes one feel a bit guilty too… guilty for being surrounded by wide green open spaces where we walk every day, guilty for not really being touched by the sense of chaos, or indeed, hell on earth, that we know that some people and some families are going through. Guilty at being in a tiny backwater in a quiet part of Dorset in what must feel like the most beautiful warm spring in years.

Curiously too the days have been hurtling by; we start with a long walk, early; breakfast, then I start work – a half-hour lunch and then sometimes I’ve been emerging at 7 or 8 in the evening, before starting again. So Easter – four days off, with nothing happening – has been strangely needed and yet almost listless, empty, senseless by comparison. Charlie has been working incredibly hard in the garden, and getting his chickens in, and incubating a dozen runner duck and chicken eggs which are due to hatch in ten days. We’ve been going to bed strangely early, sleeping either incredibly soundly or having fretful, fitful nights depending on the pull of the moon and night fears and worries. Either way, the dawn chorus and our early walk has been a huge restorer.

Today, I’ve taken a few photographs of the Parsonage on an astonishingly bright afternoon – the air is clear, the sun is brilliant, the wind is cold – to just show a few of the rooms here.  I’ve lived here now since 2008; five years ago, Charlie and I were married, and the house became ours not mine. So much nicer that way. Twelve years is a long time in one building, in a way; long enough for walls to get faded where you haven’t had pictures hanging; for rugs and furniture to bleach to paleness if they are too close to the huge south-facing windows where the sun streams in all day long. I like that.

And slowly, ever so slowly, the house has filled up and up with our stuff. It’s more than stuff really, it’s collections, it’s all sorts of things. Last October, when we moved to Scotland, to a tiny bothy on the far West Coast (the first house I’ve ever bought in my life) there was a massive clear our and a whole huge truckload of stuff moved up there. The Parsonage breathed a little sigh of relief, and stretched its limbs… but filled up again; with some of my parents’ bits and pieces, with more treasures discovered on our early morning rounds of the Saturday morning market in Bridport, or bought, every now and again, at auction. 

In no particular order; kitchen stuff; including Charlie’s latest collection – daffodils – which are completely beautiful and extraordinary this year.  Next to the Fridge is our annual ‘men in kilts’ Christmas calendar.  We’ve collected Staffordshire pottery for years. It’s all over the house. Charlie’s china cupboards – well, some of the china was mine already, but it’s on another whole level now.

I’ve moved my office into the dining room for the time being. It’s proved to be a beautiful, peaceful room to work. The walls are lined with one half of my collection of Piranesi engravings (the other half is in London); the trestle table in the window has part of Charlie’s collection of geraniums.

The drawing room hasn’t changed very much over the years; the walls used to be pale grey, and about 8 years ago now I decided to paint it a pale pink specially mixed for me by Patrick Baty and now sold as ‘Parsonage Pink’.  I’ll be honest – I have been contemplating a change in here now, but let’s see.  

Piles of books are everywhere. My favourite piles are on the bookshelf behind the yellow sofa (by my friend Max Rollitt), most of which we’ve bought over many years at the brilliant Bridport Old Books, run by Rose and Caroline. 

One half of a collection of Fern prints is above the piano (the other half is in London).

The bedroom is filled with stuff, but collections-wise, the bookcase has part of my collection of King Penguins and old Batsfords.

The guest room next door has a Staffordshire dogs without their pairs, and a pair of Staffordshire Rabbits that we bought in Bridport last year. And part of the collection of Peter Hones (the rest you’ll see in a bit).

The landings have my collections of old geological maps and piles and piles of worlds of interiors, and a pair of cased fish that are destined for Scotland but have no home there, and a collection of coloured glass in the windowsill of the old oval window that overlooks the steps to the front door…

The guest bedroom I painted this sludgy dark green at the same time as the room downstairs went pink. It faces west and in the evening the sun glows here. 

There are two paintings by my Cornish ancestor, Richard Thomas Pentreath – the one above the fireplace Charlie and I found at Portobello.

The dark green Staffordshire dogs in this room are rather special finds. And part of Charlie’s geranium collection has gone wild in the bathroom.

In our bathroom is our collection of harvest mugs.

Well, I’ve gone a bit mad really with harvest mugs. I think we’ll redecorate this bathroom soon, it needs to be a bit more fun, like the gloss yellow walls that we decided to paint the kitchen a couple of years ago.

From the landing is a little passage, top lit, that leads to what used to be called the Village Room.

Years and years ago, when I was about 8, my best friend lived in the old Parsonage. It’s a house I’ve literally known since the 70s. This room was his playroom. We spent hours in here.  For a while I had it set up as an office. It was a beautiful room but the internet and phone line didn’t work there at all so I gave it up. It became a store and then a few years ago Charlie turned it into his flower room.

We installed an old Belfast sink with a single cold tap (we couldn’t get a hot water feed to that wall). 

And now, it too has shifted in emphasis, or mood – when a year or two ago, we bought three huge Edwardian museum cases for a song at a junk auction in London. They just fitted.

 And are now crammed with Charlie’s and my ever-growing collection of bits of china. 

And other things.   The cabinet of rosettes, dating back to the 50s and 60s, was my Christmas present to Charlie two years ago, bought from Drew Pritchard.

Long Live the Queen is the banner that hangs in the window of the flower room. It’s been there for a long time, but has never, ever felt more vital a message in the strange, desolate, sad, happy, unsettling yet strangely peaceful moment that we find ourselves in.

[All photographs copyright Ben Pentreath/bibleofbritishtaste. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.]

24 responses to “By Ben Pentreath: A Month in the Country and the Story of Parsonage Pink”

  1. Mary says:

    Thank you for the lovely visit!

  2. Carole says:

    How refreshing to see avhkmecfilled with personal and meaningful items that are treasured and not decorated for fashion. I am an Anglophile at heart and the English countryside that Ben describes and photographs give me deep pleasure in being able to vicariously enjoy his bit of heaven. Thank you so much for sharing real people with real lives.

  3. Debra Moore says:

    Wonderful article and photographs the parsonage is a very special home in a beautiful location.

  4. Damaris Wilson says:

    Exquisite – lovely collections, beautifully housed … I have cherished collections but nowhere like this to display them!

  5. Barbara Henry says:

    Nothing could be more cheerful than getting a tour of your home! Thank you so much for sharing !!

  6. Pamela Bush says:

    Excellent reading and so much beauty … follow Ben and Charlie on Instagram as well. They both are so very talented!

    together. So much beauty to behold. I’ve stayed in London and in Edinburgh and would love to go back someday. Meanwhile I can live vicariously through Ben and Charlie and their lives. ♥️

  7. Pamela Bush says:

    Excellent reading and so much beauty … follow Ben and Charlie on Instagram as well. They both are so very talented.

    So much beauty to behold. I’ve stayed in London and in Edinburgh and would love to go back someday. Meanwhile I can live vicariously through Ben and Charlie and their lives. ♥️

  8. Clare says:

    What a beautiful home and a beautifully narrated story. I feel quite cheerful having read it. Thank you from New Zealand.

  9. Diane Keane says:

    Thank you, Ben, for the lovely, lively brief history of the Parsonage, and to Ruth for adding it to her collection of very special places. Both of your blogs are required reading, never more so than now. Bless you both.

  10. Phil says:

    Hear hear Diane. Thankyou Ruth for an update on the Parsonage – all that china, and cabinets to put it all in!

  11. Janine says:

    Such a beautiful piece – thank you, just reading it has brought a sense of calm ….

  12. Aaron says:

    Adore the memories reflecting through your artistic – interior- placements. The additions; modern and archaic blend phenomenally. Such houses have an inviting, yet novel feel, smell and aesthetic. A good read during such uncertain times.

  13. Stephen Dunk says:

    Wow — that’s a lot of “stuff” and a lot of dusting! I love it!

  14. Bridget says:

    Wonderful, such therapy and what a great collection of ‘uterus’ vases!

  15. Whit says:

    Wow! All that china. I am dying from envy. Especially Those harvest mugs.

  16. Clay McCleery says:

    What a treat! A tour of your home!
    It’s truly one of the most comfortable places that I’ve seen. Thank you for sharing.
    (Glad to see someone else, besides myself, that has freestanding columns in their house! And thousands of books, periodicals and bits of China. People find me a tad strange, though.)

  17. Gerry Allen says:

    I love your posts..we are locked down in France ..waiting for builders to finish our apartment in UK …Rosé at 2 Euros a litre is some sort of compensation.

  18. Gorgeous… thank you for your hospitality!

  19. Deborah Wagner says:

    A great post, Ben. It’s nice to see rooms in The Parsonage I have never seen or that have changed since I did.

    Our house is similarly full, and we are buying even more in the downturn. Of course, I love your Hone plasters. I just ordered a bust of Ariadne from the Caproni Collection, the superb plaster casting workshop we are lucky enough to have here in the US. If we don’t support such places, especially now, they will disappear.

    Anyway, seeing The Parsonage is always inspiring, and I can also feel a shake-up coming on. The first thing is to procure some geraniums. Where I’ll put them, I’ve no idea, but that’s a good problem to have. Thanks to Charlie for that.

    Deborah

  20. Jamie says:

    What a wonderful visit when we are all cooped up at home, some of us in cities. Thank you so much for the pictures and stories!

  21. Dean Nichols says:

    Hi my husband Joe and I love your site. The photos are awesome as the kids say. We live in New York city but have a getaway home in rural Pensylvania. we are heading up there this week for some spring air and to check on the progress of our Daffs. Lots of them . If i may be so bold may I send you Some photos of our home and old farm buildings ? We are lucky to have old orchards and a lovely stream running through the property. We garden quite a bit as well. Your Dahlias are remarkable. Thanks for sharing your lovely home with us. I is an inspiration.

  22. Ellen says:

    What a treat to wake up to, and on the Queen’s birthday no less. Thank you, Ben and Ruth for such a beautiful post. Wishing you and your families all the best.

  23. Deborah Hodges says:

    I have been lost for a hour reading this lovely piece and reviewing the photos. You can feel the love in a house that is truly lived in. This home is exquisite. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your and Charlie’s home. A truly special place for sure.

  24. Elena sañudo says:

    I love this house!! Could you tell me what is the name of the yellow of the kitchen? Regards from Spain

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