Wolveton ( or Wolfeton) House stands in its little plot of green verdant land bordered by water meadows to the north-west of Dorchester, where trees and docks grow tall and small creeping flowers with medieval names  push up through the turf

Lazy sheep dung the old rutted carriage drive and slow everything down

remains of a moat?
The gatehouse towers incorporate gun-loops covering the entrance and large dovecots in the upper sections. The Trenchard family inherited Wolfeton in 1480 and there was a substantial late medieval house here

Archduke Philip of Austria and Joanna of Castile slept at Wolfeton in 1506 after a storm blew them in en voyage to lay claim to the throne of the Netherlands.
Now the gatehouse’s upper guest-chambers can be rented for holidays via the architectural charity, the Landmark Trust. Wolfeton belongs to Captain Captain Nigel Trwhitt Lumley Luttrell Thimbleby and his wife Katherine, nee Weld, of Lulworth Castle.

The house that stands now is Elizabethan, with truly superlative decorated plaster ceilings, overmantels and carved woodwork . What had begun as a compact courtyard house was enlarged in a flamboyant style by Sir George Trenchard  – probably to celebrate his knighthood received from Elizabeth I in 1588 – but in the 1820s large parts of his house were demolished. The manuscript under this antiquarian drawing says,  ‘… the house where Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain, were received when shipwrecked on the coast of Dorset-shire in Henry 7th reign.’

An arched doorway on the right leads up the ancient spiral stair to the gatehouse apartment available to rent through the Landmark Trust. The door on the left opens onto the chapel.

The courtyard looking back towards the gatehouse. I was last here in 2010 and had wanted to photograph and write about this extraordinary house properly ever since then.
But now this story has become a more urgent one:  developers are planting the fields around the village of Charminster  with new houses that will march all the way up to Wolfeton’s treeline a field or two away. The pictures that follow will show you the spirit of this place and make the argument to drive the developers a little further back.

The chapel, seventeenth century altar rail

Ancient oak boiseries, a  late C15th mythological sea monster

Poat-reformation altar table

chapel pavement of Dorset-shire Blue Lias stone

ancient turret stair in the gatehouse

detail of gatehouse chimneypiece in what was built as a fifteenth century guest chamber

gatehouse bedroom for the Landmark Trust, tapestry fragment with sleeping cupid. When Nigel Thimbleby married Katherine Weld in 1972, they lived at first in the gatehouse which was only starkly furnished, since most of Nigel’s family furniture had been sold.

gatehouse attic, ancient leather-bound chest and the bell

The entrance passage with extremely good stone vaulting and rustication around the doorway. Captain Thimbleby’s family bought Wolfeton in 1961.
‘We had a nice little property up in Oxfordshire which my father gambled away. It was actually a marvelous little estate, two settlements  – both had a church and there are gated roads there. So, when my father flogged everything up in Oxfordshire my mother came down here. My family had a holiday house on the promenard in Weymouth and my mother was always extremely attached to that. She was ahead of her time in the 50s, buying houses and doing them up.’

‘I was in the army in Germany and she sent a telegram and said I think we ought to buy this house. The house had been converted by Priscilla Zamoiska, she’d married a Pole but she was a Stukeley from Devon and she’d divided it up into flats. We undivided the whole thing.’

 ‘We had four people helping,’ he says. ‘We still had a full-time butler, Herbert, and a full-time gardener, Harry. I had Mrs Kent and Mrs Norton. Mrs Kent’s sole job was scrubbing the stairs. ‘

‘We were building when the children were little –  when Emma was born the house was full of dust –  and when we moved here we started collecting furniture.’

Looking into the Great Hall. The late sixteenth century doorway is carved with a figure of a Roman soldier, or possibly David holding the head of Goliath.

The Great Hall, redecorated and re-paneled in the late nineteenth century. 
‘When we first got married we took the flats back bit by bit.
And the first thing we got was this end ground floor and the top flat, there were still people living in the middle – the other half of the great chamber, – an elderly couple,’ says Nigel. ‘We bought a box of chocolates because we’d been bribing the people in the middle flat to leave – I think they must have agreed…  On no! It was for the dining room chairs, that was it, they were using them’

‘We used to have a village carol party in here every year with candles in the chandelier. We tried to get a long table for this room ,and then we had the idea of getting all these gate-leg tables that could join up, so we could take them all out and use it for parties. But it’s certainly not warm in winter. We retreat to the other end of the house,’

‘This room was a flat in itself, there was a bathroom in that corner.
You can see the replacement paneling in the corner –  it’s two different colours. I had the most wonderful man called John, a brilliant craftsman he did that.’

Glass bowl engraved with a view of nearby Lulworth Castle and presented to Col. Sir Joseph Weld, Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, father of Katherine Thimbleby

Carving of  Woodwose fighting a Centaur, c.1500.
After National Service Nigel stayed on in the army, serving in Germany, Aden and Cyprus. ‘Those were the happiest days to be a soldier, because we didn’t have many enemies and those we did have didn’t have anything to shoot at us with.’ 
His regiment was 11th Hussars. ‘Little, light cavalry regiments don’t really have a base. Our only connection with the mainland as it were, was that light cavalry regiments used to help territorial regiments. Our territorial regiment was the Gloucester Hussars, so we used to have one officer with them in Cirencester. Which was very convenient! So whoever it was did a couple of years with the Gloucester Hussars, hunting foxes. Even 30 years ago one led a very decent life as a junior officer in the cavalry. It still potters on a bit but the world has changed. When I was in the army you couldn’t get into the 11th Hussars unless your father had been, but that’s all changed now . It was like being put up for a club then.’

Detail of an embroidered hanging, and the story of how Nigel got his job as the local representative for Christies’ Fine Art auctioneers:
Nigel had an old friend, Martin Drury, they used to share a flat years ago, ‘When you come to think of it, he is entirely responsible for my whole career and life!  I was in a hospital in London where I used to go for a rest quite a lot, and they told me I could go out to lunch one day.’

‘So I told old Martin and he said, ‘I’m taking somebody else out to lunch, you can join us. It was Paul Whitfield of Christies. He was looking for someone to be their regional representative down here, Martin said, Oh Nigel would be fine! Jo Floyd was the boss man, a smashing chap! He rang up and said, I understand you’d like a job, I suppose we’d better meet. Tell you what, come up to lunch next week. I thought, I’ve only got two days, I can’t learn everything about antiques. I had my hair cut and polished my shoes and off I went. His secretary apologised because he was busy and said, Would you like a drink? So, on my fourth gin and tonic or something, he finally came rushing out and said, I’m desperately sorry! So would you like a job? And I said, Well, yes please. Oh that’s settled then. That was my interview!

‘After that we went to have lunch.
And he said, Whatever you do, Nigel, you must always think about the client first and do the right thing for them. I don’t mind how much business you bring in. Never be tempted to exaggerate anything. I like to think that in a hundred years time we are dealing with that persons great-great-grandchildren.
My hunting ground was south Hampshire. I was quite interested in furniture. I never made a major mistake, put it that way. I absolutely loved it because I had to look at everything from tribal art to Picasso  – well that is tribal art isn’t it?’

‘When our son Richard was born – that was ‘79  – you’d been without a job for a few years and we’d trudged around looking at antiques and auctions and buying furniture, so you knew what you were looking at. Sometimes he tried to persuade people not to sell things, it was wonderful,’ says Katherine.

Looking into the Parlour, the carving around the doorway includes a Roman in armour with a hand behind his back

Knole sofa

Parlour. Late fifteenth century doorcase carved with a king and queen to commemorate the visit of Philip of Austria and Joanna of Castile in 1506.

‘Priscilla Zamoiska [their predecessor at Wolveton] divided all he house up –  her son, Sigismund Zamoiski was an extraordinary, delightful chap. He was about to take all the door handles off and sell them in Dorchester, Pricilla was a battle axe you didn’t argue with her, she stopped him.
Sig’s first job after leaving school was as a warder in Dorchester prison, then he disappeared off the map. I met a chap who been in the far east, in the jungle or something, he met Sig teaching all the little children there –  he said he was splendid. Years later somebody met him in America, married to the richest woman in the United States, hob-nobbing with the Kennedys!

The Parlour ceiling is decorated with figures of sheep, horses, oxen, stags and unicorns.

Above the door is Sir Peter Lely’s portrait of a favourite whippet

The dining room, refurbished c.1570

The dining room fireplace has a plaster scene of the Judgment of Paris, the silver-mounted wooden cup over the fireplace is carved from a Mulberry tree reputedly plated by William Shakespeare which fell in the late eighteenth century.

the Countess of Suffolk (sister of Lady Elizabeth Thimbleby) by Van Dyck.

on the Great Staircase…

the Great Staircase, built c.1570 by Allen Maynard

the Great Chamber – divided into 5 smaller room c.1820  – which was probably when it lost its barrel-vaulted ceiling; these partitions were removed in 1973.

the monumental fireplace is by Allen Maynard, decorated with the figure of native American Indians  – Sir Walter Raleigh was a country neighbour who visited Wolfeton and may have suggested this conceit.

‘I’m delighted by this painting in the great chamber of two sisters, one of whom is Lady Elizabeth Thimbleby. With a name like Thimbleby we come from Lincolnshire, but what put me off was the weather and I don’t like the north sea.
There’s another version in the National Gallery, it’s the only picture that Van Dyck painted of two women.’

‘I sit up there in that corner to look at this picture, or I go up there to write a letter. But of course, I look at the picture and out of the window and don’t write a letter.
It’s an agreeable house to live in.’

Wolfeton’s south front: looking back at the top floor Great Chamber.
‘When the local council accepted the new development at Poundbury they said it would protect the site – it hasn’t of course. You can see just the tops of the high buildings at Poundbury from the estate. But it has opened people’s eyes architecturally, I think there’s a lot of good in Poundbury.
Architecturally Poundbury has helped.’

Tanks on the Lawn –  the proposed new housing development:
Grade I Wolveton House is the diminutive grey building shaped like a backwards ‘L’ to the left of the purple demarcation line

‘But now the developers – Land Value Alliances and the Pegasus Group – have applied for outline planning permission to build 120 houses on a field between us and Charminster. That was turned down; the latest is that it’s now down to 80 houses and it’s going back to the council. The village calls that field Westleaz, the Strawberry Field, because there used to be a pick-your-own there. Years ago, Nigel tried to buy that field from the local farmer but it was withdrawn before the sale. But there isn’t the infrastructure for this – the places in the village school, the roads are narrow… ‘

These new houses will mass behind the thin treeline on the edge of these fields bordering Wolveton’s ancient drive. ‘The developer’s statement describes this as ‘ co-visibility between the asset and the development, principally from the driveway to the south,’ and claim that the scheme would bring economic benefits – more than a third of the homes are classed as ‘affordable,’ (which is defined as mortgaged at 20 percent below the market rate).

Green bedroom , formerly part of the Long Gallery

bedtime reading

The Long Gallery bedroom

‘Some friends of ours had a big party because they were leaving Dorset, and said – Would you have a couple to stay? It was Victoria Mather who did those cartoons in The Telegraph colour supplement, she arrived with her husband in the most wonderful Mercedes two-seater.

She had Pekineses. I was very, very firm, because the dogs would piddle on these stone floors, having been piddled on for 500 years. But she wouldn’t even put them down in the yard or let them walk with their poor little feet – and all this sort of business; 

We drove in convoy, and after we got there, she said she wanted to go home – You must come, because we have to follow you. So we went to a wonderful party, came back, and I said to myself, I don’t trust her. So I sat at the bottom of the stairs and she realised she wasn’t going to be able to bring her dogs upstairs. She put the dogs in the car.

What was funny was, the next day I got up and went out to see if they were there. Sitting in the car was her husband with the dogs.
She didn’t like us very much.

We didn’t get the weekend papers. On Saturday morning three mates of mine rang up and said, This must be you! She hadn’t missed a trick, she’d remembered everything I said.’

‘Sue Macartney Snape did the drawings. I was very cross that she drew screw-top bottles of wine –  nowadays we quite often drink screw-top wine, but I those days it was an insult. And Nigel was quite skinny in those days – and putting me in pearls!


Captain Thimbleby’s study, photographed c.2010 with kind permission, for the bibleofbritishtaste.com

This desk belonged to Admiral Hardy, it was the first thing we bought together in the 60s, at a sale, and it cost £200. Which was quite a lot of money then, and Nigel said, I don’t think I can afford it. (Vice- Admiral Hardy served with Nelson at Trafalgar: Nelson’s famous remark of “Kiss me, Hardy” was directed at him.)

and again in 2021… ‘It’s going to be a horrid photograph, if I’d known I would have tidied up. Now would you like to sit in this chair and I’ll take a photograph of you’

armorial glass

‘The curtains? I was throwing them out – Nigel saved them. The wallpaper predates them, this was my kitchen when we were first married. Priscilla Zamoiska had covered the walls with asbestos, I took it down and found this rather nice wallpaper.’

‘I like having the sheep here but they’re not mine. Like everything else, farming is ghastly now, it’s not being out in the field, its being in an office.’

‘Will you put on your blog we’re open to the public?
For tours of the house. Katherine is the tour guide – my wife does it.’

Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, 2-5. no pre-booking required.
Tally Ho!

To rent Wolfeton’s ancient gatehouse : go to the Landmark Trust

‘Once our countryside is gone, it’s gone and no amount of money can bring it back. What will we have of beauty then to inspire us and feed our souls?’

Very grateful thanks to Captain and Mrs Nigel Thimbleby
All photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste. Excerpts may be used as long as clear links are supplied back to the original authors and content.

Jonathan Wilmot and Robert Tucker have lived in Rochester at Restoration House since 1994.

Growing up in Australia, Robert Tucker had set his sights on seeing the world and becoming a writer. ‘In those days I was teaching myself how to describe visual phenomena in words – it made me look more closely at things. I found that everything I looked at in England accumulated into this love for it and desire to participate in some sort of constructive way.’

‘When I met Jonathan, the first house we bought was in Italy. It was falling down. It had a huge amount of surviving fabric, no one had redecorated it since the nineteenth century. By this stage I’d read about English architecture and traditional buildings. So I learnt how to use and fix limewash distemper and oil linseed paint, which turned out to be so much easier and you get the right result every time. That became my bible of restoration.’

The entrance porch, separate and conjoined heraldic devices of Stephen Aveling, nineteenth century occupant of the house, and his wife Mary Clifford .’We were living in Myatts Fields between Brixton and Camberwell – the strawberry fields of London –  and this was the next move. We were looking for a Georgian house in Spitalfields, Greenwich or Camberwell. We found this house through Spitalfields Trust and bought it in 1990.’  Their predecessor here was the comedian Rod Hull, his fitted kitchen cabinets are still in situ and in daily use..

During the nineteenth century this house was owned by one Scottish family, the Mackeys, who were quite tight and didn’t spend any money. From 1932 – 1978 their son took over –  and then Rod Hull owned it. It was Grade 1 listed, but ‘tho the council gave him lots of grants and he was well meaning, he went bankrupt in the process of trying to restore it. So Restoration House  was repossessed by Citibank and sold with a £250,000 guide price.’ 

Our eyes popped out! We thought we’d better have a look at it. At first I thought it was too big, too unwieldy, but that night, the idea of it grew in my mind when I was writing my diary, and I couldn’t see the faults in the plan any more.’The

‘This is the Oak Saloon, it’s a French term, we think this room was run up to look in the fashionable French taste for the visit of Charles II.’

Under the boarding and under the emulsion paint, were these French doors and this faux marbling

‘The late sixteenth century paneling has been dry-scraped to reveal this French Grey paint colour

‘The house was built on a sloping site and had been falling down the hill for three centuries, held up with buttresses that doubled up as garde robes. One mullion above a window had cracked and water penetration meant the brick work below was hanging like unraveling knitting. There are 0ne hundred and twenty windows, original and eighteenth or nineteenth century  replacements, set into the holes where mullions had been.
A survey said it needed 2 million quid spent on it, but we didn’t want to do most of the things it recommended.’

‘These oil sketches over the door are early works by Gainsborough. They were advertised with a not very strong attribution to Gainsborough, and they were very dirty. We thought they were charming, we decided to buy them and got them at our limit. In the eighteenth century they were nailed to the door of Gainsborough’s house. When we bought them, they were framed as two landscapes. Then my restorer said, ‘Do you realise, they are one painting?”

Fireplace and chimney curtain, Oak Saloon.

Salvator Mundi, Flornetine panel painting, attributed to Perugino or Raphael

The Tapestry Room, an Aubusson tapestry c.1700, showing a scene from the story of the Athenian hero Theseus, after Plutarch.

faux marbling inside a corner cupboard

Yhe Great Hall, dais end.”When I came out of university I bought and sold antiques to help pay my way. We opened the first Art Deco shop in Sydney and I made enough money to leave Australia. A huge collection of Clarice Cliff pottery financed me for the first month in England.’

The secondary entrance hall dates from when the house was divided, c.1710. ‘I’ve been dealing for years, but I buy much more than I sell. Taste does evolve. I recently bought six Hepplewhite chairs from Mike Ottery antiques in Wallingford. Some idiot had covered them in a really offensive thick woolen fabric, which had split the frames out slightly. Underneath was this beautiful watered silk!’

The Great Hall, with paneling from c.1630, the stone fireplace is probably a nineteenth century insertion. ‘See how reflective these floors are? Of course they’ve been waxed but they were never meant to be darkened. They’re made of deal, oak, pine or elm boards, they’re just scrubbed now, with Marine soap or eco-soap.’




‘This is the Eccentric Room – it’s like a morning room’  – it has an 1730s chimneypiece with a garniture of Wedgwood creamware, pine paneling and sash windows

Mica wallpaper found under a modern paper with a Regency revival blocked design of c.1900

puss painting

Lampshade made of old maps, Robert’s find in the Rochester flea market

Regency china cupboard, the door to this room was made up of salvage and scrap  by Stephen Aveling

Specimen table, early nineteenth century, Wedgwood c. 1911, duplicating a design of the 1790s

Japanned worktable c.1800, carved shell from the Andoman Islands in the Indian Ocean.

passage and a weather-house

The Kings Stair, created retrospectively in 1674

‘This is my room,’ says Robert. ‘I do these drawings. Everything that we build, I draw first, architects never do exactly what I want so I’ve learned to do it myself.’

The paneling and tiling  around the fireplace were instated in the late nineteenth century by Stephen Aveling, a painter and illustrator  who lived here for nearly twenty years.

‘I bought the needlework from Angela Page, a dealer who always used to win the best-dressed stand in Olympia, she had the smallest stand, too.’ The cut paperwork picture is from Claude Bornoff who used to operate in Westbourne Grove

Delft tiles around the fireplace and drawing board on the right

Developers were clearing and excavating a site around an old brewery to the south of the gardens of restoration House and next door Vine House, in order to build 38 new houses , involving the demolition of surviving Tudor walls. English Heritage listed the walls, the proposal was thrown out and Robert and Jonathan were able to buy the whole plot in 2009. ‘We‘ve got planning permission, so this is what were going to build instead –  3 new houses! We want to build eco-Georgian, we’ve got our own joiners and we try to make everything ourselves.’

Robert’s 1770s lacquered kneehole desk in use. “I love the thinness of the drawers.’

Robert’s bathroom, archaeology-architecture

shaving mirror

bathroom door, seventeenth century paint and wallpaper fragment above

‘When Charles II stayed here, this was the ante room to his chamber. The turning on the balusters dates them as seventeenth century but then the banisters were plastered over and this was made into a servants stair.’

pink bathroom

top floor, bedroom corridor


‘In the seventeenth century the owners of this house had a lease on that park opposite,  so it was laid out to make a vista running down from the house.’ Crow Lane, the old Maidenhead Road, runs between

This is the King’s Bedchamber, reserved for spacial guests, the walnut daybed is c.1680, and a William and Mary lacquered cabinet on a stand, remade from an older Chinese screen, provenance the Duke of Westminster.

The trophy frame made for this high status portrait of Charles II’s mistress, carved with a dolphin, symbol of Venus, goddess of love, a ribbon rosette (top left)  and a pair of English roses for fecundity.  ‘Taste? We spend a lot of time over dinner discussing whether we really want to buy something or not,’ says Robert.
‘Robert is the mastermind, but when we make a serious purchase he brings out a catalogue photo and it sits on the table while we drink a bottle of wine,’ says Jonathan.

The seventeenth century dado paneling was altered in the nineteenth century; the wall paintings with an Arthurian spin  – by the Victorian painter-illustrator Stephen Aveling  – tell the story of Geraint and Enid, from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. ‘Enid has been unjustly accused of infidelity… Geraint is taking her back to his Welsh Castle in deep disgrace. She is told to ride ahead of him and not to try to speak to him, she tries, in vain, to warn him of three bandit knights who are approaching to attack him….’

Robert found these embroidered slippers in a Faversham antiques shop, he thinks that they are French and date from the 1820s

And moving out they found the stately horse,
Who now no more a vassal to the thief,
But free to stretch his limbs in lawful fight,
Neighed with all gladness as they came, and stooped
With a low whinny toward the pair: and she
Kissed the white star upon his noble front,
Glad also; then Geraint upon the horse
Mounted, and reached a hand, and on his foot
She set her own and climbed; he turned his face
And kissed her climbing, and she cast her arms
About him, and at once they rode away.

This bed is a historical reproduction and we’ve covered everything in upholstery to disguise it, Clare Southern expertly did the work for us. Walls hung with silk damask by Claremont Furnishing

backstair to attics

‘That’s a favourite’ –  landscape by Gainsborough, acquired from the estate of Sir Alec Guinness, below is Mr Mangles by Joshua Reynolds

The Great Chamber or Miss Havisham’s Room, redecorated in stone white and off-black.Narrow pine floorboards probably indicate that this once served as a ballroom, now the room is used for music recitals and furnished with a c.1658 Italian harpsichord .  ‘The Miss Havisham story? It’s an important part of the story about the house and I think we care, both ways – this house has 120 windows,  it was designed to have a lot of light, its not dark and gloomy…’

Great Chamber chimneypiece, detail of the portrait of  Miss Bacon by Enoch Seeman, c. 1745

Another unfinished Gainsborough, of an unidentified sitter, possibly Edward Stratford, later 2nd Earl of Aldborough

‘I think the house has become Robert’s work of art,’ says Jonathan. There’s a consistency and a kind of quality of insight that arises over many years now, that’s what you see.’

A master bedroom with a Verdure tapestry backdrop and original wide Elm floorboards

Herculaneum vase, a nineteenth century copy

The carving on this chest is designed to catch the light; above hang the portraits of George Tuke and his wife Eleanor Toke, painted c.1640.

‘The painting of cows and sheep was very dirty when we bought it, and then attributed to Barker of Bath and I bought it with the canvas falling off the stretcher from the back of a van!-  it’s actually by Gainsborough’

The chimneypiece’s original painted decoration was revealed by painstaking dry-scraping

The stoneware Lion is a north country piece from about 1800

The long enfilade that gives a view down the entire length of the house

Great Hall stairs

This Victorian stained glass window on the half-landing shows Charles II knighting Sir Francis Clerke, his host when he stayed at Restoration House on his return from exile in France into England


Jonathan’s study

 “Restoring this house has been such an education. It makes you look and it makes you learn.’ –  Jonathan.  ‘I can’t say its been a hardship.’

stairs descending to the basement

‘We have a tea shop  for visitors that benefits the Wisdom Hospice, a local charity.’

Corner of the tea shop-cafe awaiting summer visitors

tea shop-cafe in the old kitchen with built-in dressers


dresser and Wedgwood creamware plates

Housekeeper going home, Friday


Greenhouse – ‘I found the iron roof trusses when Rochester still had a Saturday market about 25 years ago. It took about 10 years to work out how they were deployed and recreate it.’

gardener Sarah Pollard, potting



more topiary, the lush garden, acid-trip green

much more topiary – parterre

views into Rochester

Vine House


House puss, ‘Indy,’ born at Restoration House, named by a former gardener to whom he used to belong.

more topiary

the exit

Kitchen, Rod Hull’s fitted cupboards and…

Robert’s postcard collection art gallery


Restoration House is open for visitors on Thursdays and Fridays, for the times and tickets see here: https://www.restorationhouse.co.uk/open-hours

Very many thanks to Robert Tucker and Jonathan Wilmot.
All photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste. Excerpts may be used as long as clear links are supplied back to the original authors and content.


In 2019, artist-designers Luke Edward Hall and Duncan Campbell were looking for a place in the country, somewhere to plant a garden and have friends for the weekend. They found it here, at the Gloucestershire end of the Cotswolds where the Chelsea tractors give way to real combine harvesters. Luke was very much enthused:   ‘I’d never lived in the country before, so when we came here. I said, I want china dogs, I want chintz! Naivete and super-sophistication together. We all love china dogs – all our friends bought us china dogs!’

Working from home, Friday.
‘I learned my taste by myself. I had a really nice provincial upbringing, I wasn’t taken to galleries or anything like that but I was always making things and drawing and  my parents were very supportive of that and then that’s what I did at school: I went to art club on Thursdays. The only access I had to the outside creative world at that point was going to W.H. Smith and buying magazines – not really VogueDazed and Confused, The Face.’  Was there a nightclub? ‘Yes, it was called Liquid and I used to go and I didn’t really enjoy it. I was desperate to get away to art college at the very first opportunity. I knew that I was going to go there from when I was maybe 14 or 15…. ‘

Their Cotswolds farmhouse. As Duncan wrote  – in House and Garden last year : ‘we felt ready for a new set of experiences that we hadn’t found time for in London. A dog! A vegetable garden! Space for guests to stay! But mostly we wanted somewhere to retreat to at the weekends, that wasn’t an expensive pub with rooms upholstered in a million shades of beige…’

On the sofa? It’s by Christopher Moore, ‘the toileman’ @moore.christopher

‘I’d always had an interest in antiques and old houses. When I was at school, I and all my friends used to work at The Vyne, that National Trust house, in the café.’

‘We moved in over the summer and we sort of didn’t think about it, we painted it very quickly, the green is from Leyland. We put up all our favourite colours, pink and yellow, combining objects of different periods.’

‘My friend Lucy  [@lucycwilks ] who I used to work with at Ben Pentreath Ltd. said, ‘Oh there’s an amazing spotty chair with Colefax [Malabar] loose covers coming up in Criterion auctions –  I really want it but I don’t need it’. ‘ I got it for about £200.’

Chimney garniture and home-grown tulips

‘When we moved in, we literally threw up everything we could. And now I’m replacing things – those are just Picasso prints, pages from a book. Our friend Mark, who runs an online shop on Battersea Ebury Trading, , he gave us those.’

‘We wanted the place to feel cosy and inviting, a bit cottagey but never twee. We were keen to entertain in a way we didn’t have space for in London, and to create something that would allow us to mix styles, periods and our own designs, as well as trying out things for fun that our clients probably wouldn’t agree to’  – Duncan Campbell

and with Merlin, faun-like beloved young whippet.

‘I applied to St. Martins {School of Art] , I knew it was the smartest place to go to and I wanted to come to London, so that was the only university I applied to, and I moved to London when I was 18. Christopher Brown (@christopherbrownlino) was my tutor – and Judith Watt  (@fashion.bibliophile)  – who teaches Fashion History at St Martins  – taught me for one or two projects.’

‘Then when I moved to London it was actually a really exciting time  – because I lived in Bethnel Green –  Shoreditch, Hoxton, that whole area –  there were really exciting things going on there. In 2006, 7 , 8 ,when everyone was dressing up, I was in denim shorts and Dr. Martens and bleached blonde hair at that point. And I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do, I was at St Martins and going out and having a great time.’

“So I started a fashion communications degree which was kind of styling and painting. I thought I wanted to go and work on a magazine. I realised quite quickly I wanted to do design instead. So I changed to menswear and did a menswear degree . After I’d finished my degree I’d interned with Toast for 6 months, I used to go and stay with the couple who founded it in their house in Wales, tho the company had already been bought by Nicole Farhi then.’
‘I think the tablecloth on the little round table is old Schumacher bought from eBay’


What d’you drink on Friday night? ‘Loads of gin, vodka, Campari…’

‘My favourite things in the house currently are the  the new gothick chairs, this  gold chair  – we got it from Lorfords in Tetbury. I love a bit of grotto furniture. Dolphin legs and shell-shaped!’

‘A big poster we bought in Rome’

coats and jasmine

design for a state bed

‘That’s something  – Matedor paintings  – I did when we needed 2 big things to go either side of the chimney, so I wacked them up’

more dogs, and Luke’s candlesticks – ‘I work with this ceramicist  – we design the shapes together and then I hand paint them. And we make platters and vases too’

A plaster urn designed by Rex Whistler for his house, Ashcombe,  and cast in the 30s. ‘A few years ago someone emailed me and said, do you want one?
And then last year in lockdown when I didn’t buy anything, I got back and said have you still got it? Oliver Messel made them, there were nine made, its falling apart but I love it!’

‘I’d heard of Roy Strong, he was one of the talking heads who popped up in that ‘Love Cecil’ [Cecil Beaton] documentary that we were talking about. And then when the sale [of the contents of his house, The Laskett] came up, I just loved it all, I loved how kind of fun it was….’  Pair of Strawberry Hill-style gothick chairs, from The Laskett sale

‘I like the Sitwells a lot and Stephen Tennant. I just love the cover of that book, it’s so great.’

work in progress, chairs are by the Italian designer Vico Magistretti, made by Cassina and retailed by Habitat in the 1960’s.

Sweet peas and King Arthur

Fonthill watercolour from Sir Roy Strong’s recent sale

‘I get interested by scraps of fabric on ebay. In the dining room its an old Sandersons fabric I found on ebay. The sketch of costume designs for a male ballet dancer  – probably for Swan Lake – is by Cecil Beaton, sold by Harry Moore-Gwyn from an exhibition of his sketches last year. One of my projects at Central St Martins was based on the ‘Bright Young Things.”

dining-table-desk:’I met Duncan [the designer @jduncancampbell, @campbellrey] when I was 19. I’m 31 now.’



‘I remember the day I met Ben [Pentreath]. It was the day Amy Winehouse died. We were living in the same London square as her. When I was at university with Duncan and his best friend Haeni Kin – he did Law at Kings – we wanted to do something outside that where we could just have fun with our friend.’  So they created Fox and Flyte – ‘to find new homes for objects that might otherwise be considered old-fashioned or fussy.’  “It is our belief that beautiful things can improve the quality of your life. But then again, perhaps you just need some teaspoons.”

Ben Pentreath took them up and gave them a pop-up space in his shop. Remodelista wrote them up. ‘After that I went and worked for Ben in the decorating studio upstairs over the shop for a bit, with Lucy Wilks who is now one of my great friends, which was great. I did that for 2 years.’

master bedroom

‘Behind the tulips there’s one of  the photographs of Stephen Tennant’s house, Wilsford Manor, from the Sotheby’s country house sale in 1987, bought from Diana Parkin of the Michael Parkin Gallery.  I go for anything Tennant – y or Beaton – y. And Peter Watson.’

Three line drawings by Peter Samuelson. Bedcover from Saved NY. ‘The Endymion cushion I designed for Svenskt Tenn. My final collection at St Martins was inspired by Endymion, it was all kind of handmade linen shirts and crowns made out of Willow. I sold all the crowns .I’ve still got some bits…’

From Luke’s instagram account, for his 2012 menswear collection, photographed by @kimjaconsento, styling by @anthonystephinson

Three line drawings by Peter Samuelson

Two Beaton photographic prints, one of Stephen Tennant and Siegfried Sassoon, one of Gervase Griffiths


‘Merlin  – he loves to go to bed inside that bed’

‘Bedroom sketches  – done for me for fun’

Master bathroom.Lavender.

That’s the gothic cabinet I bought from Sir Roy Strong’s sale. I might paint it inside.’

Blinds:  ‘When we moved in we just used stuff we already had and bought a few bits. I had left over silks so we just thought, Let’s use these up  – they’re made by this lady we work with –  We said, lets make them really 80s, really frilly like knickers.’

The green bathroom – homage to Clive Bell’s bachelor-bathroom at Charleston Farmhouse

‘All this lap boarding was already there. Duncan’s not a fan of the decoration at Charleston, he things its childish, but we have a lot of similar tastes in things.’

more lovely blinds

‘This is the Boy’s Bathroom so we’re filling it with boys. This is by my friend Fee Greening, she does pen and ink drawings, that’s Byron. That’s by Christopher Brown my old tutor – A Minotaur – and then that’s one I did for Lanvin – an invitation – and then Mapplethorpe –  we’re big fans – it’s a mixture of everything.’

a spare room

Spare bedroom. What’s the next best colour after green?  ‘I’m having a lilac moment, its dusty pink in this bedroom, peach too….’
 – This is the corner of the spare bedroom chosen by Miguel Flores-Vianna for a shoot he did for @archdigest last summer. He added in a giant lyre   – or maybe it was there already… ‘



‘as a final pre-Christmas offering to the garden gods, we planted a thousand tulip bulbs, some narcissi and a sprinkling of snowdrops,…’  – Duncan Campbell. The garden early in May

Plan for the garden : ‘We resolved to begin with the things we understood and had two L-shaped flower beds dug at the front of the house. These would be tall, exuberant English borders in the cottage garden style, bursting (if all goes to plan) with tulips, hollyhocks, roses, peonies and dahlias when the season comes around. Next to that we put in a series of raised beds in a simple geometric motif for vegetables and cut flowers, divided by gravel paths lined with fruit trees, and a couple of additional beds on the side of the house.’  – Duncan Campbell

the May spring garden

a cool, late, spring, 2021

‘The pink and yellow builders buckets? Nicky Haslam said, ‘You have to go to this shop, Stowagricultural  – it’s the most ravishing shop you’ve ever been to!”

meadow behind

Lavatory. A tomato soup coloured Coronation Chair designed by Lord Snowdon for guests attending the Investiture of the Prince of Wales. ‘That’s perfect, the design is perfect –  that I got in a local auction, it was in Wales or somewhere on thesaleroom.com ‘

‘The plaster bust after Michelangelo’s David? Duncan’s mum gave it to me for my 30th birthday.’

‘Duncan’s mum drove it down from Edinburgh in the back seat of the car with her poodle sitting on the front seat, I’d seen it in a junk shop there.’

Framed magazine shoot photo on the lavatory wall. ‘Our London flat’s completely different now, we’re having work done…’

‘Ive done one book of my work and things to date – Disco Greco –  but I’m working on one at the moment about the cottage and inspiration for Vendome. And I’m starting up a brand, its starting with jumpers. With the backing of a company. I’m quite excited!’

Thanks so much!  to Luke Edward Hall and Duncan Campbell
All photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste. Excerpts may be used as long as clear links are supplied back to the original authors and content.


A.Prin Art Studio: ‘Framing is a language…’

Benedict Foley and Daniel Slowik began renting Pink Cottage soon after they met, because their London place is in Hackney and East Anglia is a ‘good trajectory’ out from there. Benedict is a a dealer in fine and decorative art and antiques, with an online gallery – A.Prin art – specialising in paintings by forgotten or less considered twentieth century artists and picture frames. Daniel has been with Sybil Colefax and John Fowler for 23 years, at first running their antique department and now as one of the interior design team.

Daniel and Benedict have quite firm ideas about taste and decoration, which have been continually resolving themselves at Pink Cottage. ‘It’s not a forum for finished decoration because it’s rented and it’s got lots of things in it. When we moved in we both had rather a lot of stuff,’ says Benedict. ‘We took everything out of storage and put it all into a charming, rather small house. And then, after that necessity really took over… It was a question of rotation.’ ‘It’s not static and it’s all used,’ says Daniel. ‘You know, a tidal estuary where things go in and out,’ adds Benedict. The cottage was let unfurnished, with its pretty old fitted kitchen, a silver safe, a couple of carcass pieces in the dining room and its ivy-patterned chintz curtains. 

Nineteenth century English porcelain lamp employing seemingly every decorative effect available, seventeenth century English alabaster carving of Christ in the Tomb, Ming Shipwreck porcelain box and cover and a  Sibyl Colefax bud vase designed by John Fowler.

The sitting room was recently recently repainted in Wet Sand from Farrow and Ball, the large oil painting  –  a nocturne  – is nineteenth century French, the sofas are covered in vintage Bennison & Liberty fabrics, cushions are from Sibyl Colefax or antique textiles. ‘My friend Emma Burns of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler painted her hall in the same colour .,,, I rang her asking for a picture, and she said: “Just do it, you won’t regret it”. She was totally right!’ says Benedict.

‘Hang things where you see them, and not just in the middle of a wall. If you have a big wall and only one picture, it’s better to put it near a lamp, for instance, where the picture will be well lit, and add more to the wall later. Don’t leave a lonely picture marooned far out in a sea of plaster.’ –  A.Prin Art

Green Regency japanned tray on a stand, sourced by Foley & Prin

outside in

Qajar tiles, a legless statue of Byron, Squiggle shades from Sibyl Colefax, and a two-tier vase. The worst copies of the Marly horses ever produced, sometime in the 30s. Victorian blue trumpet vases in the form of trumpet mushrooms…

Eighteenth century Scottish chairs, a tablecloth of Colefax’s Seaweed fabric, a nineteenth century Italian sanctuary lamp, a sixteenth century Maltese Madonna, and vintage chintz curtains that were already in situ here

‘People have come in here and told us how they’d demolish all the walls and make it open plan, but that isn’t what we took the house for! We took it for its little rooms. We both quite like the idea of finding a story in a place and going with the story. We like it being in Essex! ‘  – A.Prin Art


A George III linen press refashioned as a drinks cabinet that was also in the cottage, now filled with an assortment of well-used glasses

Georgian, Baccarat, Whitefriars, 70s Czech, Garage Sundae glasses

Majolica of various periods, with a variety of Wedgwood models, the hideous Putto centrepiece probably Capodimonte, the small Fo dogs are provincial Ming. The wall lights were a job lot from a pub installed sometime in the 70s and welded to the wall by river damp – Benedict Foley


Frame as pinboard, one of the new ‘readymades’ from A.Prin Art

brick floor : ‘I’ve been reading more about cottagecore. Very funny! Did’nt realise we lived in a social media trend.’ Benedict Foley

Worcester & Staffordshire ceramics, Blackforest work – surrounding a photo of Cecil Beaton in one of the Serpentine frames made by Benedict


‘The larder, which really stole the show when viewing the house, many shelves asking to be filled, and duly so with a magpie collection of ceramics and glass…

recently augmented by some excellent finds at last years online Interiors Boot. Two Wedgwood pie dishes and a teapot! ‘ – Benedict Foley

A nineteenth century Virgin & Child after Della Robbia, vrs ceramics, a print of an ottoman courtier recently reframed by Benedict in one of his Zigzag frames. The wall colour is Pimlico Green from Sibyl Colefax


Overwintering cuttings, and constantly peeling paint, which gets stuck back on when it’s reaching total disassociation with the wall. The plates are a broken-beyond-use extraction from a very large set found in a house in Scotland, half of the remaining useful plates also reside in Essex, the other half in Tangier

Lunch preparations – Jerusalem artichokes

Barely fitted kitchen, the small cabinets are Victorian – modernised with white paint and lucite handles in the 1960s


Swan butter pat mould

‘A perennial favourite – Cookery in Colour, hardly any of it printed in colour and most of the recipes involving quantities of leaf gelatine used to contort food into novelty shapes. Glorious post war optimism!’  – Benedict Foley

Upstairs – spine corridor

guest bedroom

A.Prin art  – a collection of ready-made wooden frames, produced and hand painted in the UK

Nineteenth century patchwork made into a bedspread in the 1920s with the addition of the stripe fabric and then re-crafted into curtains

Almost everything at Pink Cottage was inherited or bought from auctions or junk shops or has been given to them second hand. Crammed with its fine and outsized furniture, it reminds Daniel of the last home of a dowager who has decanted from a great house into a little one. ‘It’s my big thing, trying to reignite the idea of antiques in interiors,’ he says, ‘the layers make it interesting.’

Looking glass formerly at Hasley Court and belonging to Nancy Lancaster


Colefax archive chintzes on a chair from the philanthropist and art patron Drue Heinz’s  house in Hays Mews, Mayfair – originally supplied by John Fowler to Joan Dennis

framing studio


The Mill and the Stour, their local view painted by John Nash in 1962

The hamlet edge where mill house and cottage stand either side the narrow lane seems to belong to a lost world. There are cows over one hedge, an abundant kitchen garden behind the other and the millstream rushing ever onwards, a lively landscape, bucolic and beautiful. ‘I love it here,’ says Daniel, 

Many many thanks to Benedict Foley and Daniel Slowik.
All photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste. Many captions supplied by Benedict Foley. Excerpts may be used as long as clear links are supplied back to the original authors and content.

A.Prin art  – for Benedict Foley’s collection of ready-made wooden frames, produced and hand painted in the UK

Read Benedict Foley on framing pictures for Inigo Home here
Read Benedict Foley on colour for Farrow and Ball here
Read Daniel Slowik’s story for the bibleofbritishtaste here

The story of how an old house in East London was saved from demolition and revived

I have spent most of my adult life fighting developers – their destructive avarice, their desire to clear and make a clean slate of building plots  – and their race for profits.

During my nineteen years running the Spitalfields Trust for its Trustees, this was a constant threat that we faced.

In 2007 I was campaigning to save two short terraces of late Georgian houses on Turner and Varden Streets in Whitechapel, East London.

Originally part of the Royal London Hospital Estate, they were built between 1807 and 1812.

Sculpture pantheon at the rear of the house

At first we were taking on Queen Mary University, the owners, and the university’s chosen developers, the ‘London Development Agency’ or LDA.

Front room, ground floor, taken during the move to a much older house in  Cumbria

Queen Mary was less than helpful, they wanted to replace these Georgian houses with new university buildings, getting the LDA to do their dirty work. But in the end an alternative site was found and the LDA came around to our point of view and began working in tandem with the Spitalfields Trust to save the houses.

The buildings were not considered worthy of listing by English Heritage, who weren’t prepared to inspect their empty interiors, citing the fact that they were infested by colonies of pigeons. But the houses on nearby Walden Street – built some 5 years later than the terraces in Turner and Varden Streets and with fewer original internal fittings –  were already listed!

Back room, ground floor

In the end this poor show by English Heritage’s listing team would prove to be a godsend, enabling the Spitalfields Trust to repair and extend these houses without the narrow restrictions imposed by listing.

Rear extension, ground floor

 We were now free to give these houses a much greater charm with the addition of mansard roofs and weatherboarded rear extensions. Since they sat in a Conservation Area, building regulations permitted traditional single glazing as long as we insulated their new roofs and rear wings to death. The Trust got going on 9 of the houses with the professional services of the architect Paul Latham.

Two houses were set aside to be sold at private auction a couple of years later and that is when my partner Harvey Cabaniss and I bought ours, which dated from 1809. Using my own architectural template we replaced the 1970’s roof with a mansard and built a much larger rear wing helping to hide the 1980s eyesore building on an adjacent 2nd World War bombsite.
This was going to be fun – for now I had the room to build a back staircase in a London house. I had always wanted a backstairs!

The 80s eyesore

Basement kitchen, back of house

Basement kitchen, back of house

Basement kitchen, back of house

Basement front room

basement front room

The house still had paneling to ground and first floors –  but all the fireplaces were missing.

basement front room

Ebay supplied us with reasonably priced early 19th century hob grates and numerous other fittings. 

Rear extension, first floor

Rear extension, first floor

Rear extension, first floor

Once the building works were finished, decoration and furnishing could proceed.

First floor bedroom, quarters for Tim’s mother

Put-together fireplace

First floor bathroom

First floor bathroom


Attics under new mansard roof


Top floor bedroom

top floor bedroom, invented fireplace

top floor bedroom, teddies, waiting

Top floor bathroom

Laundry drying

head of attic stairs

A lean-to conservatory cum glasshouse became my own little sculpture gallery, housing my collection of plaster casts.

My odd assortment of casts includes:
In one corner of the window, a 19th century Dutch cast of Socrates from Leiden University sits on top of a 19th century French museum architectural cast of the Ionic Order.

Amongst other things on the rear wall are an 18th century bulcrania (ram’s skull), an architectural oddment from James Paine’s Belford Hall in Northumberland, beneath it is a fragment of plaster frieze from John Dobson’s early nineteenth century alterations at Belford.

On the table are a pair of 19th century plaster busts: seen on the left, Sir Walter Scott, after Sir Francis Chantrey.

The table is a composite reusing an old French marble top, made by me and painted with a Greek key frieze beneath the top. A collection of 19th century toleware tin storage canisters sits on top of the glazed Gothic bookcase –  in the eighteenth century these would have adorned a tea and coffee merchant’s Shop. 

The bobt writes: The Spitalfields Trust was founded in 1977 by Mark Girouard, Dan Cruickshank, Raphael Samuel and a group of archtectural historians and preservationists who determined to stop the demolition of the few remaining streets of outstanding early Georgian houses in the Spitalfields Market area of East London. What began as a maverick gang of enthusiasts using direct action to halt the approaching bulldozers has metamorphosed into an established architectural charity taking grants from various heritage bodies to support its continuing work in England and Wales. earlier projects included Malplaquet House in Stepney, whose pioneering first owners were Tim Knox of the Royal Collections Trust and the landscape and garden designer Todd Longstaffe Gowan, and its next door neighbour on the Stepney Road, home to the arts historian and blogger Charles Saumerez Smith and jewellery designer Romilly Savage ( both on the bibleofbritishtaste.com ).

Sir Walter

Huge thanks to Tim Whittaker and Harvey Cabaniss, now happily removed to Newbiggin in Cumbria. Older pictures of this Whitechapel house with its full complement of furniture and of their new old house, a work in progress,  are @timjohnwhittaker

All photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste.com

Bridie Hall, artist-designer and co-founder of the amazing shop and homestore, Pentreath and Hall,  was born in New Zealand and ran away to seek her fortune in London twenty years ago, on finishing art school. She bought this terraced stucco-fronted north London  house in 2017 and her friend and business partner the architectural designer Ben Pentreath helped her with its renovation.

In one back corner of the ‘sitting’ room is the little ‘drawing’ room, a new dedicated space for working and messing around with ideas: some ‘Egyptomania’ and a drawing made from an enlarged photograph of Bridie’s classical intaglios are pinned to the back of its door

Bridie’s cut paper collage of oak leaves, for inspiration.

Bridie was sent to England by a family friend, the pop musician Alanna Currie who had made the same journey of discovery herself in 1977. Bridie’s first job was in the tiny branch of the parfumier Penhaligon in Brook Street – ‘I never got sick of the smells.’ Alanna had told her to keep open-minded – don’t second guess anyone, you never know who’s going to walk through the door. Next she apprenticed herself to Roberta Gordon-Smith and by 2001-2 she was doing decorative finishes, ‘drag-rolling Kensington houses from basement to attic in oatmeal colour.’ She set up on her own by 2003, and got a job with Maisie Rowe and Thomas Heatherwick, hand-brush-painting the Georgian house they were restoring in Kings Cross from top to bottom. For Thomas’s 35th birthday party she had cast him a little waxed ebonised plinth. And someone came in and said, ‘Who made this!?’  I said, ‘I did!’ And we went outside for a cigarette. [This was the Heatherwick’s friend Ben Pentreath, newly arrived back from a stint working in New York.] And we kept in touch, he called in at my house in Columbia Road and always wanted to see what I was making there. One day I was painting Will Smalley’s Rugby Street bathroom silver – which it still is – and Ben came in and said – ‘I’ve got this SHOP! Do you want to run it?”

Most of the drawing room’s cubby-hole space is taken up by this birch-ply drawing table, designed by her old friend the architect William Smalley, his calculated tribute to Modernist designer Donald Judd.

Reams of virgin drawing paper sit waiting in the purpose-designed space beneath its table-top

table-top view of another pile of drawings and pictorial sources

Some of the brush pots designed by Bridie and sold through Pentreath and Hall and throughout the western world …

and some more

‘My grandmother Janet was English, from Sunderland, one of seven siblings, her five brothers were riveters working at the docks. Then the war cane and my grandmother joined the W.A.F. She spent 18 months living under canvas in Grovsenor Square in London, the staff at Selfridges would donate them gloves and they were given the use of the washrooms at Claridge’s  Hotel… she dated lots of soldiers and then she met my grandfather Atholl who was serving in the R.N.Z.A.F.

There’s a saying in New Zealand – because we’re so far away from the world but wanting to be at the centre of it  – ‘You can make anything out of a piece of 4 by 2 wood and a bit of no. 8 wire.’ There were no imports, you had to engineer it yourself. My father built our house and made all our furniture. he was a glazier, so he figured out how to make mirror balls – and he died installing the mirror ball at our local skating rink. My dad had a copy of the ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency, The Classic Guide for Realists and Dreamers, by John Seymour, published in 1976. I’ve got a copy  too.’

Experimental decoupage rope designs on the wall. Gio Ponti is another inspiration and she acknowledges some ‘Fornasetti rip-offs,’ too. Atop the pillar made by Stevensons of Norwich is the fake-Wedgwood planter by Dialene Better-Maid, Bridie’s new discovery made while hunting for genuine Wedgwood pieces –  ‘practical and beautiful.’

The sculptural oak-leaf candle sconce was made by Swedish designer Malin Appelgren. The smiley face ‘riot-shield’ is no 2 in an edition of 20 by artist-musician Jimmy Cauty of the pop band the KLF – whose wife Alanna Currie (singer in the 80s band the Thompson Twins) was the family friend who’d bought Bridie her running-away ticket to London when she was 23.

Bridie’s newly-covered Victorian button-back chair used to belong to Maisie Rowe; she decided to start collecting these gouache Volcano paintings made for Neapolitan tourists in the C19th that hang behind it some years ago after seeing a similar set belonging to Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

Pediment mirror in a brown Spanish lacquer finish, designed by Bridie

Wing chair

And those cushions! A scrap of antique Aubusson from a Petworth antiques shop and a faux-malachite woolwork lavender-stuffed pillow, the gift of her friend the Mayfair gallery owner Lyndsey Ingram, her new hobby, stitched during the beastly 2020 lockdown.

Bridie’s yellow display shelves are painted in ‘Chinese Emperor’  a library colour from the legendary Papers and Paints

This the ‘New Zealand’ shelf, with a pair of early C20th tourist souvenir Maori figures made from Kauri gum, and on the shelf below, Bridie’s ‘10,000 Love Letters’ stamp-collection-on-a-string, minerals, shells and keepsakes.

Saddle leather sling chair after a design by Ecuadorian Angel Pazmino, Rainbow cushion made by, and sold for, the UK prisoners charity set up for male lifers, Fine Cell Work, to a design by Pentreath and Hall, who have been working in partnership with the charity for fourteen years now

The dolly face was an impulse souvenir bought in New York’s Chinatown. Bridie fashions her coral branches from pear tree twigs and follows a recipe invented by Nicky Haslam for the red lacquer coat.

Modernist Dunlop tyre poster found in a Beaminster antique shop on Bridie’s birthday. The yellow decoupage gemstone planter is a unique prototype trial piece by Bridie


The  homemade ‘Egyptomania’ textile hanging was bought at her local Criterion auction house in Essex Road, it dates from around the 1920s and Howard Carter’s  opening of the almost-intact Tomb of the Pharaoh King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings, an event that electrified the Western world and inspired hundreds of amateur craft works like these.

The Victorian Welsh slate chimneypiece was marblised by Ian Harper the specialist decorative painter who also supplies Pentreath and Hall with marble papers. Painting by Michael Stubbs  (who also teaches at the Glasgow School of Art)

Framed 1960s screen prints by Robin Denny from Cross Street Gallery in N1 down the other end of the sitting room

Peter Hone’s plaster casts and friezes in the entrance hall, also for sale at Pentreath and Hall

Bridie’s deerskin-effect stair carpet

Back bedroom view over her two year old roof garden

Dressing room cum spare room

Dressing room basin inserted into the little French commode that Bridie found in Criterion auctions, an antique sample print for a French lace design hangs above

Bedroom. Ebonised four poster from Marianna Kennedy, oil painting by Mary Fedden

Applique Egyptian frieze from Criterion auctions, the bedspread is an embroidered Suzani from Pentreath and Hall

Bridie’s prototype obelisks and polyhedrons made from card, gesso and wax

The hot water bottle cover made from an old blanket embroidered with a map of Bridie’s homeland in NZ was a present from her mother, the Malachite-effect tapestry lavender cushion is another gift made by Lyndsey Ingram. Ben Pentreath designed the red bedside table as a possible prototype for the eponymous shop he founded with Bridie, (although it never went into production).

The Shop in a Box was the gift of a young artist who showed in the exhibition Bridie curated for Spitalfields Life in 2012, the ebonized c19th chair with a Chinese yellow seat came from Maisie Rowe

Top floor attic tongue and groove bathroom, the bath was here when Bridie arrived, she put down a cork floor and painted the whole room in shiny ship’s gloss paint. Rupert Cunningham, architectural designer and director at Ben Pentreath, came up with the  clever idea of a doweling bead running around the ceiling to finish the whole thing off properly.

Red lacquer pediment mirror by Bridie for Pentreath and Hall

Staircase leading to the basement kitchen and eating room, the 2 elongated-portrait-shaped Orientalist prints are by Bridie, dating from her art school days as a student at Unitec in NZ, c.1997-2000.

Basement front room

Bridie and her faithful curly poodle Max

The hanging lamp withits scarlet rim is a 1950s Murano glass antique from Tarquin Bilgen

the full length tablecloth was recently made for Bride by Gemma Drain of East London Cloth, the framed print is by Robin Denny and the overmantle print is by Eric Ravilious,

Bridie painted the floor fire-engine red, the green cupboard is a prototype designed for Pentreath and Hall, to the left of the fireplace are 2 of Bridie’s Roman Emperor profile intaglio cases.

‘Colour – in any shape or form – is my absolute joy and love. All the wall of my house are white and I almost feel like a minimalist.  But I always get such a RUSH –  when I come into this house! I want to stop people in their tracks and show them something they’ve never seen before, make them dive in. You look at one thing and it leads you on to another thing and tells you a story. When my brother first visited me here from NZ,  he stepped into my sitting room and said, I feel as if my eyes are swimming!

In the shop, I want the people who come in to look from object to object, eyes constantly in motion, like a butterfly alighting on flower after flower, never at rest.’

Her jolly green glass Duck decanter is by Gio Ponti

Bridie grew these chrysanthemums on her roof terrace

the Soaneian chest of drawers came from Criterion auctions ‘ages ago.’

the ethnographic print is of indigenous people of New Zealand

The Kitchen! Bridie is a skilled and generous cook and baker.

The tile pattern flooring is by Marmoleum. The Aga is 40 years old and came with the house. At the far left end of the mantelpiece are the Grecian urn faux-Wedgwood salt and pepper shakers made by Dialene that I gave her for a modest birthday present; I am proud that they’ve made the cut!

Bridie’s ‘overflow’ pantry with its new under-shelf gingham skirt by East London Cloth; Max’s dog bowl

Chutney made from the apples grown on her roof terrace.

John Rocque’s 1746 giant map of London reprinted from ’70s litho plates hangs above a Bloomsbury sofa covered in simple striped ticking and scratched by Bridie’s cat, both from Pentreath and Hall.

Very grateful thanks and tons of love to the talented Bridie Hall.

Bridie’s designs are for sale at Pentreath and Hall, Goods and Furnishings


& Bridie Hall At Home

All photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste. Excerpts may be used as long as clear links are supplied back to the original authors and content.

I have always been an inveterate collector of stuff. I reckon it started when I was a small child with a trip to the white elephant stall at our local fete. I’d won the prize for the ‘Best Miniature Flower Arrangement’ and with the prize money burning a hole in my pocket I promptly spent it on a glass sausage dog ornament and a box with shells on top.

Fast forward a few years and I went on to found a business from car boot finds and scouring junk shops. By the time we moved to our house in the Cotswolds a few years ago I had literally a mountain of boxes to sift through. The strange thing is, as much as I’ve loved buying all these things, I actually like a house that is not too cluttered. I even kid myself that one day I will have the discipline to have a minimalist house. {Below, an old postcard of the house taken in 1910.]


The reality is I am far too weak willed and continue to gather and shed things as I go along and, in the meantime, try and make them fit into the house in the best way possible. There are certain things I can’t resist looking out for so here in no particular order are some of my collections:

Spot the Dog

I realise the house is full of ‘dog’ things, but hopefully in a surreptitious way, snuck in here, there and everywhere. When you come in the front door the first thing that greets you is this painting of a terrier and a water bowl. It’s to say dogs are welcome.

Billie, our Sealyham, is very at home in the kitchen


I now have a back room called ‘The Dog Room’ which is filled with various dog portraits. It’s good to have a place to hang them together.


This is Billie hanging amongst the washing.

I’m very fond of these Cecil Aldwyn pictures as they hung in my childhood playroom. Before that they were in my father’s nursery.


Stanley, my Lakeland terrier became a celebrity in Japan. This portrait was made for me for a birthday at work. The woman who made it was an octogenarian whose name I sadly can’t remember.


A lurcher cushion by Rose de Borman sits on a chair in the telly room.


I sent Stanley’s photograph to a wooden toy manufacturer in Poland and they made him into a pull along toy now tucked in a bookshelf.

A tiny bronze dog on the sitting room mantlepiece.


My latest commission waiting to be hung – Billie and his twin in Staffordshire style.

I have an ever-expanding collection of cache pots. One of my first jobs when I came to London was working in a present shop that sold Casa Pupo pots and I reckon my collection started way back then. I now have them all stored in our old greenhouse.

To go with the pots I have become obsessed with geraniums and have been collecting all sorts these last few years. I can spend hours bringing them in and out of the house. I never feel at home until I’ve brought plants and flowers inside.

More pots. I love the little Ikea wicker ones and bought piles of them.

Tall geraniums in the sitting room.


A scented pelargonium in a spare room.


White pots on the windowsill with Amaryllis starting to shoot.


A recent job lot from a local auction.


I spent so much time at car boot sales in the 90’s stocking my first shop and invariably came away with vases. My favourites are plain white china.


A bedside table with flowers for a guest staying last weekend.


Dahlias from the garden. My aim is to have something to pick all year round.


The verbena on the terrace is still good for picking.


The border on November 1st.


A Polly Fern vase with my 2 favourites – flowers and a dog!


I have gradually been collecting tulip vases. Recent additions came from Charlie Bordewich Antiques.


A favourite combo.


Another obsession is linen. I still love white sheets (preferably linen), good pillows, including a baby pillow, blankets and a blanket cover. I would far rather spend on having a comfy bed than say a car. Along with the white sheets I have been collecting Porthault for years when, every now and then, they have a sale.


My collection of baby pillow cases.


I like the odd printed pillow amongst the white.


My favourite pattern – Matisse for Porthault!

I did have a huge collection of archive prints when I had my old business but, when I left, I have had to start collecting again. This piece came from Afia Fabrics which was a favourite place to go and rummage. They had a basement full of treasures including old Oliver Messel fabrics. I’ve used this in an attic room.


I had some old rolls of Cath Kidston furnishing linen tucked away which is in this other attic room.


I also had a stash old rose wallpaper I designed years ago. I like it varnished in a bathroom.


This paper was called Paris Rose. I like the old surface print papers that have the paint showing which you can’t really achieve with digital.

Some of my collections have been very much based around certain colours and they are often what catch my eye when I go antiquing. I am invariably drawn like a magnet to anything scarlet. Whether it’s a wall colour, a chair or the perfect red book, I find it very hard to resist. I had so much red in our last house so I am trying to wean myself off it. My bathroom has recently become a shine to blues and my latest craze is to look out for all things yellow.


My blue ‘Greek’ bathroom was originally inspired by the colours of a bath mat I’d picked up in a charity shop. I love going to Greece and admire the way they mix different blues together there. I set about gathering bits that I had around the house that would go together and since then have been keeping my eye out for any blue things for the room.


The bargain bathmat


I already had this Braque print with its pale blue mount.


This wall is a real mix of blue things from a picture given me by my god daughter, the talented Rose Electra Harris to a Paule Vezelay cut out, my cousin painted in the bath by my great Aunt Cor and various Greek treasures.


Each year I bring more beads back from my travels.


The striped flannel came from a market in Cairo.


Grace watching me in the bath. She’s perched on Molly Mahon covered laundry basket.


Nail polish red chairs in the dining room. It’s a dark room so the colour seemed to make sense in here, although it felt a bit rash when I was ordering them.


Guardsmen red wool curtain in the hall from A W Hainsworth. Again, it’s a north facing room so needed brightening up.


This cracker hat started red but has faded now. I bought this painting as I loved the red curtain but the man looks better with his hat on.


This is the first house I have owned that doesn’t have a red sitting room wall. This is the office so I felt I could get away with it here with the large white cupboards and bookshelves to lighten it.


Red rugs on the hall floor.


A table and rug on the half landing.


A red and white bedroom


And of course, there are usually red geraniums all around the house.


My new craze is yellow.


A black and yellow Rosi de Ruig shade on the drinks table next to a yellow chair.

Dishes in the siting room.


A flash of bright yellow in my bedroom.


More yellow at the end of the bed


A favourite yellow chair in a bathroom.

The thing I love collecting most is pictures. I remember buying my first when I was 18 when I came across two Laura Knight drawings that I couldn’t afford but also couldn’t resist. Over the years my taste has changed considerably so I now have a very disparate collection. The challenge has been how to hang them in the house and work out what sits well together. I find I can sell furniture when it doesn’t fit but it’s harder to get rid of pictures as they have much more of an emotional connection. I also have a number of paintings that I have been left by my family which makes the collection even more of a puzzle.


The stairway is a riot of colour and home to my more abstract pictures.


My favourite is this William Crozier.

A mix in the telly room. The big painting is by Barbara McFarlane.


Orange abstract in the kitchen.


The two Chris Ofili in the kitchen are tea towels from the Tate framed in Perspex.


More Ofili over the fireplace in the hall. I like the way they hang next to more traditional portraits. .


The Dutch panels either side of the fireplace were from my parents.


In the rest of the room I have hung all sorts of abstract pictures as I didn’t want all of it to be too traditional.


Pictures are propped up in the bedroom as it’s not yet finished. The Picasso scarf over the fireplace was a bargain at auction but I now need to sort out the rest of the hanging.


Over the bed is a Rob Ryan cut out that I commissioned for my husband Hugh when we moved to the house.


My challenge now is not to cram the walls of the house too full. Across the way there is room we use in the summer that looks quite out of character from rest of the house. It’s pretty calm and tranquil by my standards with just one picture over the sofa. I have kept myself from filling it up. I imagine that one day I will have the discipline to have that minimalist home I can picture, a sort of version of Kettle’s Yard.


But for now, I’ll have to dream on as my collection keeps on growing. This latest lockdown arrival is from Nicky Haslam, a magical picture of our sitting room in moonlight that just needs to find a perfect spot…

BOBT: Earlier this summer, Cath answered my questions about her current doings thus : ‘ I have been running a small print studio called Joy of Print which designs prints for other business’s. We have just done 2 years of print for Uniqlo.  I have also created a few of my own designs and have done a small collaboration with Rosi de Ruig of some lampshades with my patterns.’

‘There are all sorts of other things always on my radar; napkins, plates, books to name a few. It might be time to have another shop soon to channel my shopping habits… ‘

  ‘I also have a book out [ ‘A Place Called Home’ ] with Christopher Sykes (Crykes!) which came out earlier this year … here are some quick snaps from the book … I have signed book plates if anyone wants them but am not sure they would….they could be sent out …. only to readers of the BOBT of course…!?” [ This one shows the entrance hall of the Cotswolds manor house at the head of a valley where she lives with her husband Hugh and three beloved dogs.]

‘Photos of the house as it was when we arrived… ‘

‘And a snap of the dining room.’ Cath Kidston, November 2020.


All photographs copyright Cath Kidston.

Joy of Print.

Millions of thanks to Cath Kidston for writing and photographing this.

‘Have you lifted your leg on the place?’ The question erupts from my portly and moustachioed neighbour at a dinner given for members of the Historic Houses Association. I have barely been introduced to Sir James Cayzer and am somewhat surprised by his opening gambit, but I do not tell him I am not a dog because I am in my thirties, he is in his sixties and this is the 1990s. He had avoided the risk of anyone but himself lifting a leg on his place by never getting married, but this was an era when husbands with handsome old houses were in grave danger of finding them ‘done up’ up in flounces and frills, and their wallets much depleted by the exercise.

Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise to find a strict hierarchy amongst members of the HHA – the lobbying group of the over housed and underfunded – and when I married in 1982, Eastnor Castle was somewhere near the bottom. Just as my mother would shudder whenever we passed St Pancras in a taxi, so those who aspired to taste knew for certain that Eastnor was a Victorian horror – except that it wasn’t.

Eastnor was a Regency gothic revival castle in the Norman style (believed to be patriotic) built in stern repudiation of the revolutionary forces sweeping the continent in the early 19th century. True, like many big houses (97 rooms) it needed to find its late 20th Century purpose, but that was no reason to condemn it, and my seat next to Sir James at the dinner was a measure of the revival in Eastnor’s fortunes that had taken place.

James Valentine, Great Hall, C19th, copyright National Galleries of Scotland

Sir James’ was near the top in the HHA hierarchy, not because his house was old or celebrated or attracted large numbers of visitors but because his wealth ensured that his pre-war lifestyle remained unchanged when inheritance tax had decimated everyone else’s, or almost everyone else’s. The dukes had no need of the HHA, and Sir James, too, could afford not to be bothered, but the fact that he did bother was a boost to the morale of those who were recreating the best of the past not for their own enjoyment, but for that of the public whose support was essential to maintain it.  Sir James’ was right to suppose a leg had been lifted at Eastnor but the leg belonged to Bernard Nevill; I only followed on.

We moved in to Eastnor with our two year old daughter Imo in 1989, after the untimely death of my mother-in-law, Shib, to whom it belonged. The contents of the castle had been stored away for the war and most were never unpacked. What was the point when the old way of life had ceased to exist? Of the twelve guest bedrooms, only four were brought back into use.

Before and after – the Red Bedroom before its redecoration in 1991

Post war, my father-in-law reinvented himself as a farmer and it was not unusual to find Shib scrambling over the four acres of roof, replacing slipped slates. Demolition was considered but dismissed as unaffordable and truth to say ‘the Castle’, as it was always referred to by the family, was like a grand old relation; demanding but always worthy of respect and no less loved for being low priority when estate cottages needed to be modernised.

The attics

Times had changed, but restoration was still a big gamble; how far would people travel to visit, the nearest big cities, Birmingham and Bristol, were an hour away? Most people thought we were insane to try, others were convinced we’d fail: their attitude served only as incentive. The low opinion of those with received taste was a blessing; there were no wing chair experts waiting to pounce on every move. We had a limited budget and needed advice, but who to ask? Imogen Taylor, doyenne of Colefax and Fowler, may not have seemed the obvious choice but she was a safe pair of hands and she came to look. She sighed when she saw my father in law’s old dressing room, the single bed in the corner, the air of worn austerity; she had seen so many others just the same.

Lord Somers’ Dressing Room, before

Nothing about the monstrous place appealed to her but she felt sorry for me and offered to help.  She meant to be kind, but I did not want her pity. Brought up on Grimm and ghost stories in the Yorkshire moors, the castle held no terrors for me.  I felt sure it would appeal to the child in others too, but not if traduced by chintz. And then a friend, Lucy Astor, suggested Bernard.

Professor Bernard Nevill photographed in Glebe Place (below) , his Chelsea ‘country’ house

We were invited to tea at Glebe Place, the country house Bernard had created in Chelsea, and were instantly seduced by the atmosphere; relaxed, generous, welcoming and comfortable; in the grand style but not smart, the ravishing rooms glowed like the log fire at which he warmed the coats of his departing guests. Bernard was Roman Catholic and the theatre of the divine in dimly lit and ornately decorated chapels was a rich seam mined to secular effect. Everything looked old, but was often not as old as it appeared; huge sofas, for example, were made to his own scale by Howard and Sons, after an Edwardian design.

Bernard’s official job was Professor of Textiles at the Royal College of Art, appointed by his friend Jocelyn Stevens, the Rector. He had started his career in the late 50s lecturing on the history of fashion to students who would go on to become the celebrated designers of the 60s. He had been something of a dandy back then and it was a source of regret, he told us in his wheezy voice,  that he could no longer fit into his sharply cut suits. Luckily his interests had expanded commensurately and his knowledge of country house interiors of the Edwardian and Victorian periods, gained from poring over photographs in his archive collection of Country Life magazine and attending country house sales, was exhaustive.

Entrance Hall with armour and taxidermy, prior to redecoration

Bernard’s background was wreathed in mystery; his lonely childhood was spent in Devon with two great aunts after his young parents moved to South Africa. This was of no great significance, he assured us, as he believed himself to be the re-incarnation of William Beckford, and had even secured a fragment of the stables of the ill-fated Fonthill Abbey as his Wiltshire base. As Beckford, born in 1760, dying in 1840, spanned the Romantic period between the 18th and 19th centuries, so Bernard moved unusually easily between the Edwardian and Victorian eras.

Entrance Hall rehung with portraits and suits of armour by Bernard Nevill

Everything about Eastnor appealed to him, not least its masculinity and scale – nothing was ever too big for Bernard. The front door, perhaps twenty feet tall, was just like the one at Fonthill Abbey, he told us, where Beckford employed a dwarf to greet guests and make it appear even taller; our small daughter could be deployed to the same effect, he suggested with a wry laugh.

The deal was that Bernard would be paid a flat fee for a number of consultations, most on site but others to include visits to workshops and auctions. In the State Rooms at Eastnor, lack of money and opportunity for use ensured nothing had stirred for decades; even the cold had turned gelid with gloom.  Bernard arrived and blew through them like a hurricane, throwing everything in to the air and stirring everyone up. The Works Department, long used to suiting itself, tutted and grumbled as they reluctantly moved furniture out of storage to be offered up not in one location but in three or four, until Bernard, covering one eye with his hand to picture the effect, matched a piece to its setting.

The Chinese Bedroom with its hand-painted wallpapers , then a carpet store.

To them it looked no different here or there and the fact that Bernard did not appear to know what he wanted, hadn’t a clue in other words, was grist to their mill and made him an object of resentment and ridicule. Not only the Works Department, the ancien regime in all its aspects was appalled as the Castle was dismantled before their eyes. Scorn was one of Bernard’s strengths; he didn’t give a hoot. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and Eastnor was one enormous omelette. Heedless, he padded about in his black leather trainers, deaf to the sound of crunching eggshells.

Great Hall before…

and after…. (sofas have since been reupholstered)

Those unacquainted with the creative process do not understand that what looks from the outside like destruction and chaos is vital to the outcome, but gradually the rooms began to take shape. The Great Hall is the first room the visitor encounters. Lofty, empty but for armour, cold and draughty, it became Bernard’s triumph. He transformed it into an Edwardian Living Hall, with giant sofas like his own covered in a pair of old velvet curtains and scattered with fur travelling rugs and big cushions, filled with 100% down.

The flagged floor was strewn with Turkey carpets from Magda, his friend in Bond St; her rugs were good value, but you had to check the colours hadn’t been painted in by her workshop.

A circular table of suitable scale was made out of plywood by the Works Department and covered with an Ottoman rug in the manner of a Dutch painting.

Another corner was filled by a Dutch cabinet topped with Delft vases, above which a mirror with a deep ebony frame was tipped to reflect the intimate scene. This was achieved by ecclesiastical candlesticks of all sizes, wired up by the late Mr Sitch of Soho and then shaded with either vellum coloured card or soft silk pleats to create pools of warm light.  On either side of the two fireplaces giant brass candlesticks gilded the firelight.

I saw tough men, invited to Eastnor by Land Rover to drive the latest mud busting model, enter this room braced against the wealth, elitism and class they expected to find there and then, believing themselves to be alone, I watched them melt.

To imbue masculine style, more usually formal, clubby and inexpressive, with warmth, style and delight was rare. It was also essential to the project. The room was not just for show, it was an experience for all the senses. Enjoyment did not depend on knowing it was good, as in art or taste, though it was that. It succeeded because grandeur yielded irresistibly to pleasure. Bernard infused the weight and richness of the Victorian style with the levity of the Edwardian to Romantic effect.

The single fireplace in the Octagon Room was replaced by the original pair, found hiding in the cellars, and Bernard discovered matching overmantel mirrors, framed in Carrera marble, in Lots Rd antique market. Mirrors were used to reflect and maximise light. In the dining room, natural light was enhanced by a huge mirror bought at auction from a Salvation Army hostel. The Staircase Hall was doubled in size when mirrors from Chelsea Glass were cut to a template and fitted in otherwise redundant arches.

Octagon Room, before

Octagon Room, remarbled by Laura Jeffreys

and hung with a collection of portraits including Ellen Terry, Alfred Tennyson, the 3rd Earl Somers and members of his family painted by G.F. Watts.

I went with Bernard to Watts of Westminster, ecclesiastical outfitters, to look at the archive. Bernard loved nothing better than to chance upon a fragment he could then work up. The wall covering and curtains in the Little Library were the result of such a discovery at Watts. We explored the wallpaper archive at Cole and Son and found a 19th Century fleur de lis on alizarin crimson which was block printed up for a bedroom.

Modern British and gothic: the Red dressing room, aka Lord Somers’ dressing room, with a portrait of stern Dorothy Mulloch  by Spencer Watson and two works by Susannah Fiennes: Coles’ C19th fleur de lis pattern woven into wool worsted.

The Red Bedroom, Coles’ document hand-blocked wallpaper and the same pattern woven for a bed cover, bed remade from the elements of an Italian baldachin.

Context Weavers in Lancashire spun the same design into worsted for curtains and hangings. The bed itself was created from what Bernard recognised as a made up piece of furniture; pieces of 17th Italian century carving taken from a baldachin in the 19th Century and fashioned into a show case. The master craftsman Dieter Weber, a German prisoner of war who had returned and lived in a tower of the castle, took it apart and turned it into a four poster bed.  The success of this dramatic room was proved when film star Harvey Keitel, and his girlfriend spent an entire weekend ensconced there, blaming it on the good karma. They were our first paying guests.

Bernard’s eye for decorative detail was exact.  He knew the correct pleat of a curtain, the right height of a curtain pole above a window. I felt liberated when he told me skirtings and cornices did not have to be white, and coloured the ceilings too. My way of disinterring the spirit of the castle was to dig a bit deeper, first with the help of Edith Wharton’s anatomy of rooms and their purpose, ‘The Decoration of Houses’, and then by getting to know the people who had lived at Eastnor before me through the possessions and letters they had left behind.  Bernard was also good at getting my former husband James to spend money, but not everything that he persuaded James to buy fitted this history. The first Earl Somers who built the Castle and was so overbearing that both his wives fled from him, would never have had Marie Antoinette’s bust at his elbow.

The third Earl, my favourite, would have preferred to be an artist. When visiting his friend GF Watts’ studio he fell in love with the striking beauty in the portrait he saw there and asked for an introduction. Virginia Pattle, sister of Julia Margaret Cameron, later great aunt of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, was so traffic-stoppingly lovely she could have married anyone, the 3rd Earl was ‘dwarfish – ugly too,’ but when he proposed, she accepted. They travelled extensively, to paint and also to collect Venetian art  and 17th Century Italian furniture for Eastnor, having seen how well it looked in castelli. I was never sure he would have liked a row of plaster Caesars on scaglioli columns looking down on him – Eastnor is gothic! –

but to Bernard’s eye they were handsome – always a term of approval when an object caught his attention – especially young Marcus Aurelius.

Not all Bernard’s suggestions were successful; hanging a portrait over a perfectly good Flemish tapestry in the library because he had seen it done in an old Country Life photograph of Hardwick Hall was batty, and it quickly came down.

James Valentine, the tapestry-hung Long Library, C19th, National Galleries of Scotland

One of the advantages of the dimly lit and cold castle Eastnor had been was that tapestries were remarkably unfaded and the thousands of books in the library perfectly preserved, but this foible was as nothing when put in the balance with the benefits Bernard brought. When asked by James which of a set of three fabulous Bruges tapestries he should bid for at auction, Bernard said, ‘Buy them all!’, and James did.

The Long Library before redecoration

Long Library, after

Bernard and I shared a love of taxidermy. Eastnor was full of creatures from the African veld and Bernard recognised their gothic quality in his re-arrangement.

My own interest was more personal. As a child I had wanted to be a taxidermist, a wish springing from a love of animals and the paradox that by this means they might live forever. So when the tufted silhouette of an eagle owl appeared on the battlements at dusk, only to disappear just as mysteriously, before being brought to the back door, dead – it had flown into a pylon, we were told – we immediately asked local taxidermist Roger Brookes to bring it back to life. The great owl has cloaked its prey from the gaze of the visitors as they walk through the Great Hall ever since. Restoring a similitude of life in this way is not so different, it seemed to me, from breathing life into a house, or as Edith Wharton went on to do, bring people to life on the page.

Imari vases turned into lamps were particular favourites of Bernard and he taught me how a frame, tortoiseshell or carved ebony ideally, could be as decoratively important as the art it contained. He loved to dress a room, and I was surprised to learn that you cannot be too rough with flowers; he taught me how to pull apart a big bunch – nothing formal, an armful of cow parsley, viburnum or guelder rose would do– to create a sense of generosity and exuberance. When we arrived, the bathrooms were chilly with linoleum floors in the school cloakroom style.

Modern bathrooms were either marble tombs or extensions of the bedroom, but carpet and wallpaper quickly lose their looks when exposed to steam and stains. Bernard suggested setting the baths and basins into Forest of Dean sandstone and panelling the walls around them, reserving wallpaper for the architrave and laying rush matting on the floor; a solution at once handsome and practical.

We were very lucky to have the supremely talented Laura Jeffreys as specialist painter, introduced by Cath Kidston. Parts of Eastnor had always remained oddly unfinished and incomplete. Perhaps the third Earl, responsible for the historic decorative decisions, ran out of inspiration in the Staircase Hall: perhaps being an aristocrat in the 19th Century sometimes made it harder, not easier to get things done. Whatever the reason, the massive stone staircase dominated the empty, putty coloured space. Laura painted in the missing stone walls which were then hung with the Bruges tapestries and hatchments.

The Octagon Room, too, had a diffident air, painted plain eau de nil in striking contrast to the glories of the Pugin Room and the Italianate Long Library with which it formed an enfilade.  Here Bernard found it hard to decide what to do, a predicament he shared with Laura who despite her skill and experience found taking a decision torture. This was due, she explained, to the divorce of her parents and the situation this created; if she chose what one wanted, she would inevitably disappoint the other.

Bernard wondered about painting each pilaster a different marble. I felt this would be overdoing it – far from a crime in his opinion – but in the end he agreed and Laura’s virtuosity was reserved for the ceiling panels.

The State Dining Room

Colour was the beginning of my collaboration with Bernard. The certainty that characterised his attitude seemed to abandon him when confronted with a blank wall, while colour in the right context was like oxygen in an airless room to me.

Pugin-esque curtains and dining room chairs designed by Eastnor’s architect, Robert Smirke

We chose the deep, rich blue of the Dining Room walls and the muted terracotta of the Great Hall together. The vast, vibrant crimson curtains in the Staircase Hall, made by curtain maestro Ian Block, possessed the vital quality that needed reviving at Eastnor. Bernard was primarily a textile designer so his hesitant attitude to colour surprised me. I put it down to the fact that he sourced his designs in rare and antique fragments that he then worked up. He always preferred a provenance, but his work was not derivative, he insisted, and to consider it so was ignorant. Instead those sensitive and culturally aware like himself picked up ideas and trends in the zeitgeist and interpreted them.

In between Bernard’s visits, perhaps six weeks apart, I was not idle. Ignoring current trends, I took my cue instead from the character of the rooms themselves. I sourced second hand (pre-‘vintage’) curtains and antique fabrics from Costume and Textiles sales at Christie’s South Kensington which were reconfigured to fit by Ian Block. By this means we hung the windows in a way that was individual to Eastnor and avoided the bad habit wives had at that time of feeling up the curtains and pricing the fabrics in each others houses (leg lifting was competitive).

Chinese Bedroom, decorated by Sarah Hervey-Bathurst 

Pre-decoration, the Chinese Bedroom as a carpet store.

Being on the spot gave me an obvious advantage and I discovered that the body will keep going long after the mind has had enough (I was young).

The cellars

With James working in London and Birmingham and the children – Isabella was born in 1990 – in bed, I could plod about the castle into the night, taking objects from the cellars or pictures and old textiles from the attics to offer up in different locations. The familiarity I gained with both rooms and objects enabled me, over time, to realise instinctively where an object belonged, what a room needed, without having to offer it up. The Works Department was no easier – I was a woman after all – but I developed ways to deal with them; telling them that James had asked me to ask them to carry out a task, or taking a corner of the chest of drawers or table that needed to be moved to shame them into action as they stood thinking about it.

The Italian Bedroom, before

and after

Artists have a professional eye for colour and I deferred to the 3rd Earl in the Italian Room and Dressing Room. The sepia of the walls was taken from his moonlit Italian landscapes, and Laura mixed the woody blue of his Italian daytime skies for the walls of the dressing room.

Laura was even able to create colours that only existed in my mind until she realised them so exactly I recognised them instantly.

Smoking Room decorated by Sarah Hervey-Bathurst with Laura Jeffreys

I had always thought the richness of oil as an artistic medium diminished when a painting was hung on an expanse of chalky wall, and asked Laura to mix a deep yellow glaze to give the walls of the Smoking Room the timbre of oil.

The Family Dining Room, decorated by Sarah Sarah Hervey-Bathurst and Laura Jeffreys

Her exceptional talent also enabled her to recreate Philip Webb’s bough of cherries, embossed onto gilded leather for the William Morris café at the Victoria & Albert Museum, as a stencil.  In the small (family) dining room she stencilled the leafy cherry boughs against their golden background onto the architrave above the dark panelling to make the east facing room lustrous and welcoming. Bernard was not involved in any of these decisions; he had many other commitments which meant he could not spend enough time at Eastnor to gain the familiarity I experienced or enjoy the serendipity that occurred when things start to fall into place of their own accord, a phenomenon I would not have believed had I not experienced it. I could have done none of this without Bernard’s bold example and instruction never to compromise, but my taste was not identical to his. Not so keen on the more feminine Edwardian, I enjoyed the natural affinity between the 17th and 19th century, the former adding the flourish of sensuality the latter lacked. I always preferred the painting to the frame and liked the way 20th century art added a dynamic dimension to the occasionally complacent past. I prefer things underdone to overdone, so it was perhaps to be expected that when Bernard saw what I done, he loathed it all. Luckily he was the exception, but the upshot was that after he left I never saw him again.

the Gothic Drawing Room, before

The purpose Bernard, James and I shared was to create, perhaps for the first time at Eastnor, an experience that everyone could enjoy. I was not brought up in a castle, I was brought up in a shooting lodge but if I could feel at home at Eastnor, I was sure others would too. The ‘at home’ feeling, the atmosphere, depends on much more than appearance, and the experience of Eastnor, whether guests were paying to stay or not, depended on Rosemary. 

James Valentine, The Gothic Drawing Room, C19th, National Galleries of Scotland, decorated in the High Gothic Revival style by A.W.N. Pugin in 1849 for the 2nd Earl Somers.

Rosemary was thirteen and the eldest of three siblings when her mother gave birth to twins. Overnight she became responsible for the family cooking, cleaning and washing. After marrying and bringing up four children of her own, Rosemary was looking for a challenge. Lucky for the castle it was on her doorstep. Back to back house parties of twenty? No problem.

The Gothic Drawing Room (redecorated by Bernard Nevill in the 90s) is hung with six tapestries, four of them from Wimpole Hall, former home of the Earls of Hardwicke, one of whose daughters married the Second Earl Somers and brought the tapestries with her.

Three thousand visitors through the house over the weekend? Cleaning restored the karma. Climbing scaffolding to polish a regiment of arms and armour? She was up there. Nothing phased her. Rosemary and her team made the restored castle tick. She was the heart beat.

A perfect host, Bernard was an exacting guest. Was it five or six tiny leaves in the cup of vaguely tinted water he called tea? I could never remember, but Bernard could, and always told me when I got it wrong. He was a vegetarian before it was usual to be so and when my minestrone met with his approval he was as surprised as I was, but it could not quite make up for the half-day spent preparing it. He never hesitated to say when something failed to meet his expectations; ‘Disgusting!’ was an epithet liberally applied to anything. ‘Marvellous!’ – it’s opposite – only rarely bestowed.

The Little Library, before

He was something of a snob and enjoyed talking of ‘Tally’ this and ‘Tally’ that, when Tally to me was just a nice, sporty girl in the year below at school, not a duchess. Perhaps his attitude was due to the psychological foible he recognised in himself but to his regret could do nothing about; he could only enjoy an experience retrospectively, never in the moment itself.

The Little Library, after:  fabric for wall hangings, curtains, and upholstery chosen by Bernard Nevill from document designs in the archive of Watts of Westminster. The billiard table, put into store in 1939, was brought back and reassembled in 1990

Despite this, he appeared to enjoy playing a game with our daughter Imo when it was still acceptable for an adult to be bored by small children.  ‘Where’s Imo?’ he would say, ‘Where’s Imo?’ pretending not to see her hiding behind a chair, catching our eye as he laughed at himself for playing the game, ‘Where’s Imo?’ Imo would giggle and he would feign deafness and blindness, casting about for her in his capacious coat until she burst out, unable to contain either her excitement or his inability to discover her. For her fourth birthday, Bernard gave Imo a princess costume. Naturally Bernard’s princess was not any old Cinderella, Imo was to be an Indian princess. Thrilled, she flew about the great rooms of the castle like a dart of shocking pink fire.

State Bedroom, original hangings on the walls and bed, bed cover made up from a pair of old curtains

The State Dressing Room, redesigned by Sarah Hervey-Bathurst as a bathroom.

The Places like Eastnor are much bigger than the individuals briefly attached to them who come and go. Both Bernard and I are part of the castle’s history now but the narrative continues with the skills and hard work of others.

In memory of Laura Jeffreys, whose life was cut short, but whose talent to transform lives on at Eastnor.

All photographs by kind permission of James Hervey-Bathurst, archive photographs copyright National Galleries of Scotland. Grateful thanks, and especially to Sarah Hervey-Bathurst for writing this memorial and Isabella Hervey-Bathurst for additional photography.


The French call the little, personal and inconsequential anecdotes that are most revealing of life, les petites histoires. Charleston Farmhouse is full of them, signposts and memoranda of the lives of the illustrious, clever Bloomsbury Group who painted in circles, loved in triangles and lived in squares in that unfashionable London quartier. Except that they didn’t –  for as two world wars made metropolitan life more and more unattractive they gradually rusticated and settled down into this peaceful corner of Sussex. Virginia Woolf would die near here by suicide, drowning herself in the River Ouse during a depressive episode in 1941. Her sister Vanessa Bell lived on at Charleston for another twenty years in picture-filled rooms that were palimpsests of Bloomsbury’s shared decorative language; she was survived by her husband, Duncan Grant, and two of her three children.

Back in April Charleston’s director Nathaniel Hepworth invited me to make this photographic record of the farmhouse’s rooms and contents. Charleston has been shut up all this year, he told me, it receives no government grants and relies on the annual income generated by its visitors to keep going. Descendants and supporters of those who created this place are rallying round to fund this deficit: Vanessa Bell’s granddaughters have taken the cause to the USA with a piece in this week’s New Yorker magazine. ‘Charleston still smells the same to me. It smells like turpentine and old books,’ Virginia Nicholson reminds her sister. ‘You can feel the ghosts.’ The words and pictures that follow are to keep it alive in our collective memory and to rattle the collecting tin for this quietly beautiful and compelling place once again.

Below Firle Beacon, Charleston Farmhouse looks over the Sussex Weald

‘The house wants doing up and the wallpapers are awful.’ This was the verdict when the two sisters – the painter Vanessa Bell and the writer Virginia Woolf – first saw it. The farmhouse belonged to the Firle Estate and had been home to a succession of tenant farmers. Vanessa Bell was looking for a wartime refuge for her unconventional household of two little sons, Julian and Quentin, her lover Duncan Grant and his boyfriend, David ‘Bunny’ Garnett. Both men had determined against military service and needed to find ‘work of national importance’ to avoid conscription; hereabouts there was the opportunity to labour on the local farms instead.

They moved in in 1916, Vanessa, Julian, Quentin, Duncan and three indoor servants, a housemaid, cook and nurse, Bunny Garnett and a lurcher, Henry.  Quentin would later say that parts of the house dated back to Elizabethan times, but its rooms had the character of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: low ceilings, pretty shutters and fireplaces, smallish rooms and narrow stone flagged passages.

This is the dining room, just within the front door. The round table came in 1934 and was painted and later repainted by Vanessa Bell when the pattern became worn.

In 1913 Grant and and Bell had joined with Roger Fry to found the Omega Workshops. Omega was a co-operative, controlled by the troika of Fry, Bell and Grant, bringing Post Impressionist colour and design to the applied arts. Their designs represented a fantastic bid for modernity back then. Fry was aiming for the spontaneous freshness of peasant or primitive work, so Omega’s productions were sold anonymously. Their premises at 33 Fitzroy Square attracted society people – Lady Cunard, Lady Ottoline Morrell  – who bought Omega screens, chairs, pottery , textiles, necklaces, hats, fans, parasols, and opera bags, thrilled by  their gaudy colours and elemental style.

There were paraffin lamps and they went to bed by candlelight. the chairs came from the Omega Workshop, designed by Fry in 1913. Quentin Bell made the pierced ceramic lampshade – which throws dotted patterns on the walls – later on, in his pottery here.

The stencilled wallpaper was Duncan Grant’s idea, in 1939, helped by Quentin Bell. The ‘polite’ ebonised cabinet was a relic from Vanessa’s childhood home.

Duncan Grant’s 1932 cat painting ‘Opussyquinusque’ was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in the same year.

From 1919-39 Charleston would mostly lie fallow as a holiday house. Six months after the war ended, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were still living here with one servant, a cook named Jenny, Bell’s two sons and their new baby Angelica. In March Virginia Woolf bicycled over from her rented house at Ashham and found, ‘the baby asleep in its cot and Nessa and Duncan sitting over the fire… Duncan went to make my bed…By extreme method and unselfishness and routine on Nessa & Duncan’s parts chiefly the dinner is cooked, & innumerable refills of hot water bottles and baths supplied. One has the feeling of living on the brink of a move. In one of the little islands of comparative order Duncan set up his canvas, and Bunny wrote a novel in a set of copy books. Nessa scarcely leaves the baby’s room… The atmosphere seems full of catastrophes which upset no one…’

Marvellous curtains in contrasting strips of chintz, sewn by Vanessa Bell, shown by the hand of Kathy Crisp who is the Conservation Housekeeper here.

As they grew up, Quentin remembered laughter at the centre of their ‘odd family life … We laughed at and with Vanessa, she laughed at and with us, we all laughed at Duncan.’  Vanessa Bell is the genius of this place and her hand is everywhere.

The fireplace was enlarged and opened up in 1925.

Venetian side table

A few surviving plates from a dinner service designed by Duncan Grant for Clarice Cliffe. The covered soup bowls were made here by Quentin Bell. The tea caddy was decorated by Vanessa’s daughter with Duncan Grant, Angelica, in the 30s.

Curtain fabric  – ‘Clouds’ – designed by Duncan Grant and printed by Allan Walton Ltd. hanging over a lobby giving onto the kitchen ( and for sale in the Charleston shop!)

In May 1919 Virginia Woolf was here for an overnight stay, alone with her sister – ‘as far as she can ever be alone,’ she told her diary. ‘There was Pincher the new gardener; Angelica; Julian and Quentin of course; the new nurse; & a fire which wouldn’t burn. They have bread by the yard…indeed, all the necessities; but not an ornament. …But they all looked as vigorous as possible… a good deal of domestic talk. Sleep in the ground floor room at night, where this time last year about I heard the nightingales, & the fishes splashing in the pond; white roses tapped at the window that night.’  But when the first world war ended everything was scarce, there was no coal, little wood, no butter, no meat and so Vanessa moved her household back to London, Charleston became their second, summer home.

In the autumn of 1924 Virginia called at the house, bringing her aristocratic friend Vita Sackville-West, ‘and how one’s world spins round  – it looked all very grey and shabby and loosely cut in the light of her presence.’

But where did their very particular decorative taste come from ? Roger Fry had a significant role as their taste-maker. Brought up in  a strict Quaker household, Fry’s austere preference was for uncarpeted rooms with bare polished wood floors decorated in pale greys and dull greens – an Arts and Crafts aesthetic but without what he dubbed its moral earnestness –  because, ‘We have suffered too long from the stupidly serious.’ Bell and Grant embellished this pared back domestic style with the lavishly applied surface decoration that had characterised Omega’s furniture and ceramics. Vanessa Bell decorated this fire surround in 1925-6. Chair upholstered in Duncan Grant’s ‘West Wind‘ fabric ( which you can still buy in the shop).

During the 30s Grant and Bell had began to be spoken of as among the most prominent artists working in England, the founders of a new school of applied art. Fry hoped their enterprise would make a radical difference and even influence ‘the man on the bus.’

This is Clive Bell’s ground floor study but it began as the family’s living room, its big fireplace designed by the practical polymath Roger Fry to heat this ‘horribly cold’ house. Here during the years of WWI they eked out their meagre butter rations with marrow and ginger jam at teatime. A kind, placatory and distant father, Bell was only an occasional visitor during those years his children remembered, usually accompanied by his mistress Mary Hutchinson and bringing chocolates ! despite wartime shortages. (Clive was then living at Garsington, the guest of Lady Ottoline Morrell.) His son Quentin described him as having had several personae: the libertine, the hedonist, the sporting squire, the highbrow aesthete. This room became Clive’s study when he moved to Charleston in 1939, his arrival suddenly lending the unconventional household a new kind of ‘respectability.’  Quentin described his parents as ‘models of conjugal infidelity…. ours was an elastic home.’  Vanessa said that when she married Clive Bell, while he was not particularly attractive he was very amusing; later, during his bachelor life he became rather worldly and sometimes ridiculous in his pursuit of girlfriends.

‘Clive is writing a letter to the N. S. [New Statesman] against war. War’s so awful it can’t be right anyhow.’ Virginia Woolf’s diary, 20 September 1935. Clive’s fear of war ‘led him to try and find arguments for Fascism,’ causing a temporary rift with his son Quentin.

They did not much care if painted surfaces were not properly prepared or there was damp. If the table top’s decoration wore out they could paint some more on top. Door with panels of two dats.

On Xmas eve in 1918 the young Bell boys had fatally damaged the lower panel during a game of  “The Sack of Rome.’ Their baby sister Angelica was born that night, the damaged door panel was eventually repainted in 1958 by Duncan Grant in this very different idiom.

door detail

The kitchen. Although Vanessa occasionally cooked, she preferred to employ a cook. The willow pattern platters came from Vanessa and Virginia’s childhood home, the Aga replaced an older solid-fuel range.

Grace Higgins joined this household in 1920 aged 16, and stayed for 50 years as maid,  nurse, and eventually, resident cook and housekeeper. She married in 1934 and only retired in the 60s. Tiles made by Quentin Bell: ‘She was a good friend to all Charlestonians.’

Vanessa Bell’s painting of their long-serving cook, Grace Higgins, 1943.

lovely teapot by Quentin Bell

mug hooks and the servants attic staircase known as ‘High Holborn’

the cook’s books

‘Dined at Charleston. All seemed to agree that a country life is best. … Shall we not all provide ourselves with single rooms in London and live here?’ Virginia Woolf’s diary, 16 September 1938, on the eve of war. Vanessa decorated this kitchen cupboard in the 50s.

‘Human voices wake us and we drown – quotation on hearing the telephone yesterday asking us to Charleston. Bunny there; Angelica moody; conversation however well beaten up – Duncan’s 480 canvases; new studio: N’s bedroom on the garden; Q’s potting shed…Today they’ve chipped off the pink brick and removed the greenhouse shed….Now for the mantelpiece question. Then lunch.’ Virginia Woolf’s diary, 31 July 1939. Later her great niece Virginia Nicholson would describe the household as having a childlike quality, perhaps because Charleston was ‘hardly affected by the war,’ its kitchen being supplied from local farms and gardens.

As the oldest sibling Vanessa Bell embarked on her long stint of mothering and housekeeping fro the early death of her own mother, caring for her father, brothers and sister Virginia, then for Clive Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant as well as her own three children.

Part of the very austere white dinner service designed by Roger Fry.

At the beginning of World War II Clive Bell decamped to live full-time at Charleston, bringing his library and furniture from Gordon Square in London with him.  Vanessa, Duncan and their children were back here full time again too, and Vanessa now chose to refurbish the whole north end of the upstairs house for his accommodation, bedroom, new bathroom and library. 

But not everything that went on here was idyllic. Quentin Bell remembers his mother being tediously and repeatedly teased by her husband at a supper when Picasso and Diaghilev were guests, until she lobbed a jam tart at his solar plexus, hard. Ruling over this tangled communal household could made her dictatorial and assertive, her sister Virginia called her ‘terribly monolithic and imperious – a terrifying woman in her way…’ Diary 8th April 1935.

The chair is upholstered in the ‘Grapes’ fabric designed by Duncan Grant in 1952 .

In 1917, when this had just become Vanessa Bell’s bedroom, Duncan Grant painted their lurcher Henry under the window and a cockerel on the pelmet above, ‘to guard her at night and wake her up in the morning.’ But Henry terrorized the servants and was soon got rid of. Grant based his own moral philosophy on G E Moore’s Principia Ethica published in 1903: ‘The best ideal we can construct will be that state of things which contains the greatest number of things having positive values and which contains nothing evil or indifferent.’ Judgement belonged with the individual and he accepted people just as they were; this made him very attractive to friends and lovers but as Quentin Bell also remembered, ‘he was rather a cold-hearted bugger.’

With this increase of the household came the improvement of mains water and new bathrooms. Quentin Bell said : ‘there was the bathless period,1916-1919, the bath period 1919-1939, and the multi-bath period from 1939.’ First of all there had been cold water only and a hip bath. This room was formerly a picture store; Clive Bell claimed this bath for himself and the rest of the household used the one in Virginia’s new bedroom, where the cook Grace was also allowed to bathe on Tuesday afternoons.

The 1970 painted bath panel is by Grant’s friend Richard Shone, a former editor of the Burlington Magazine.

Lotions and potions. Angelica Garnett described Clive Bell emerging from this room ‘pink as a peach, perfumed and manicured but in old darned clothes of once superlative quality; he would enter the room and tap the barometer, the real function of which was to recall his well-ordered Victorian childhood.’

The bathroom and Clive Bell’s bedroom

Clive Bell’s bedroom , initially his wife Vanessa’s studio

Bell’s French provincial bed  – painted by Vanessa in the 50s – ended up in the possession of his last mistress, Barbara Bagenal, who eventually returned it to Charleston

Mild erotica, drawing by Andre Dunoyer de Segonzac over the bed

Bedside table probably decorated by Vanessa Bell in 1920

Duncan Grant decorated this corner cupboard in 1925

Vanessa Bell designed the fabric on this armchair for Omega in 1913 ( still for sale in the Charleston shop).

Bell’s French novels and the paintings given to him by French painters

Books versus pictures: Virginia Woolf’s diaries record bouts of insecurity as she compared her own creative life with her sister’s: the life of a writer in semi-retreat as opposed to the rough and tumble of a large household, painting, children. In the spring of 1930 she was in London, exulting over her own writing yet brooding on her sister’s life here: ‘ they will have the windows open; perhaps even sit by the pond. She will think: This is what I have made by years of unknown work – my sons, my daughter, she will be perfectly content (as I suppose) Quentin fetching bottles; Clive immensely good tempered.’ Her 1934 essay on Walter Sickert concludes that :’Words are an impure medium…  Better far to have been born into the silent kingdom of paint’.

Maynard Keynes, – Duncan Grant’s ex lover who worked at the Treasury and their most frequent visitor in the 20s, – was eventually given his own bedroom next door to Clive Bell’s; post-WWI having worked on the Versailles Treaty, he resigned and lived here more or less permanently until his marriage in 1925. Then when this became Quentin Bell’s bedroom his mother purged its decoration and painted it white and pale grey.

The firescreen was decorated by Duncan Grant in the 1930s, above is Vanessa Bell’s view of the house

Decorated box files hold documents for a life of Virginia Woolf collected by Quentin Bell.

Virginia Woolf kept herself divorced from domesticity, her husband Leonard managing all their affairs. She was alternately envious and exasperated by the fluctuating household at Charleston and its high levels of domestic labour, she told her sister, ‘How much I admire this handling of life, as if it were a thing one could throw about; this handling of circumstance!’
But she was a devotee of the Bloomsbury-Fry aesthetic creed. She was frequently teased for her love of the green distemper paint that she used extensively at Monks House and she shopped for  Omega’s  yellow, pink and terracotta furniture too. In ’39 she wrote to her sister,  ‘ Have you got one of those tile tables? If so, what price? Or could you make me one?’
Lily pond table by Duncan Grant, c.1913, the rush-seated ebonised settle was a gift from Mary Hutchinson to her lover Clive Bell.

Superb linen chest painted with a bather by Duncan Grant c.1917.

Inside the lid is a mythological scene, ‘Leda and the Duck.’

Morpheus, god of sleep, on the bedhead painted by Grant for Vanessa Bell.

Mattress ticking,

Corner of Duncan Grant’s bedroom, he bought the prie dieu in Brighton in 1918

Quentin Bell remembered that Grant was ‘certainly not a father-figure to me – more of an elder brother. As Angelica’s father he was non-committal and really rather limited. Although he cared for her I don’t think he cared for the whole situation very much.’ Charming and unselfconscious, Duncan Grant seemed selfish in his pursuit of male lovers. Vanessa Bell suffered anguished jealousy but resigned herself to this,  justifying her situation, ‘ he likes being with me enough for me to be quite happy.’

In February 1918 Vanessa Bell had painted marbled circles and flowers on the doors either side of the fireplace in what later became Duncan Grant’s bedroom

Vanessa Bell kept a sisterly accord with Virginia but did not always read the books that she designed for her. Bell’s book jackets used the same motifs of flowers, curtains, circles and hoops as she painted onto her furniture, symbols of plenitude and nourishment.

Between the Acts was written at Monk’s House, Rodmell, completed in 1941, the year of Woolf’s death and published posthumously later that year. These Hogarth Press books were meant for the common reader and not intended to be lasting objects of beauty – this battered copy, my father’s, bought when he was captain of an army field hospital during WWII, retailed at seven shillings and sixpence.  Vanessa Bell was designing for her contemporaries, making lively abstract patterns that translated fluently into  line block printing  on cheap paper, much as she would paint quickly onto a cupboard door or table top at Charleston. Virginia told her sister, ‘Your style is unique: because so truthful: and therefore it upsets one completely.’

Painted window surround

Chintz upholstery designed by Duncan Grant in 1951

Duncan Grant’s dressing room, his painted silhouette portraits of his ancestors, fabulous V. Bell lampshade

Painted table top by Duncan Grant

Amongst Duncan Grant’s library, intrepid travel journals kept by his aunt

The garden room or drawing room:

One visitor observed that here, ‘arguing was regarded as a delightful sport;’ above the sofa is Vanessa Bell’s copy of  Poissy-le-Pont by Vlaminck, a painting that they were obliged to sell in a period of penury.

Vanessa Bell designed the paisley pattern stencilled onto the walls in the 40s at the end of the war; Duncan Grant designed the curtain textile in 1951 for Alan Walton Ltd.

‘It is a very shabby house which we have been in for twenty years now and gradually got more or less furnished – only as soon as one room gets in order another seems to fall to pieces.I have painted lots of walls myself and made all the curtains, covers, and everyone has had a hand in it. So it’s pleasant for artists if for no one else, as it has at least very little mechanical quality.'[Vanessa Bell]

But herein lies the fascinating, apparently effortless ‘simple life’ aesthetic  that makes artists houses so attractive to us.  The Charleston Bloomsburys sustained the lifestyle of stylish peasants with three servants, a plain white dinner service designed by Roger Fry,  idiosyncratic bespoke furniture and pottery thrown in the garden studio. Duncan Grant’s mother Ethel translated their designs into needlework rugs and cushions. All life here was homogeneous and happened on their own terms. Everything in the house passed this process of moral and aesthetic filtering: so that, as one critic has tellingly put it, ‘a visitor entering was made immediately aware that nothing had been chosen to display social standing or material wealth,’ a carefully achieved distinction.

T.S.Eliot prized Bloomsbury’s uniquely high standards of conversation that had raised his own game too, the deployment of silences, pauses and theatricality, ‘opportunities for the other person to show his wit.’ At her best Virginia Woolf offered ‘gossip, sparkling gaiety and delicate malice,’ the same gifts she used as a critic, Vanessa remembered that, from her childhood ‘speech became the deadliest weapon as used by her.’ There was also mockery, wounding contempt and a degree of insularity. Virginia and Leonard referred to themselves as ‘the Woolves.’  ‘Tenuousness and purity were in her baptismal name and a hint of the fang in the other,’ wrote her friend and sometime lover, Vita Sackville-West.

The painted overmantle replaces a mirror cracked by an Aladdin lamp.

NB ceramic lion on the chimneypiece

A room in which Vanessa and Duncan used to fall asleep and company gathered for a drink and smoke before supper. The long French windows give onto the garden. The wireless was kept here too.

In 1937 Vanessa Bell’s elder Julian was killed in the Spanish Civil War at the age of 29, while driving an ambulance. During the years afterwards ‘Charleston seemed the saddest place in the world.’ His brother Quentin always associated this room with the tragedy of that time.

In this little fireside table drawer, packages of Julian Bell Cash’s school name tapes are housed in memoriam.

But why Virginia Woolf chose the period immediately  after her nephew Julian’s death to tell her niece Angelica that Duncan Grant was her real father , and not as she had always supposed,  Clive Bell, is ‘hard to fathom,’ her half-brother Quentin has suggested. This was where she did so.

downstairs lavatory

Vanessa’s Bell’s ground floor bedroom was originally the household larder. She painted the tall cupboard in 1917. It’s full of portraits of her children, her mother’s photograph and a sultry self-portrait of Duncan Grant taken when he was about 25.. Her son Quentin has described her very acutely as –  ‘ the firm pillar of our existence. She was sensible, practical, imperturbable… she didn’t talk much but she controlled everything’ – and an extraordinarily good painter with a  kind of nobility and austerity to her work. ‘Yet she always thought Duncan was a better painter than she. Perhaps in old age that was true, for she had a tendency to go off into a kind of sentimental world of flowers and children. She loved her grandchildren too much and it wasn’t good for her painting.’

This Omega Workshop screen in Vanessa Bell’s bedroom was painted by Duncan Grant in 1913 and exhibited in their Fitzrovia opening exhibition; it divides bathroom and bedroom. The bath was installed in 1939 when the household expanded in wartime and painted by Duncan Grant in 1945. But with the end of the war Bloomsbury’s short lived artistic ascendancy ended too. Evelyn Waugh was quick to reference this in his debut novel, Brideshead Revisited, (1945) with an Oxford undergraduate, Charles Ryder, for its protagonist:
On my first afternoon I proudly hung a reproduction of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers over the fire and set up a screen, painted by Roger Fry with a Provencal landscape, which I had bought inexpensively when the Omega workshops were sold up….My books were meagre and commonplace  – Roger Fry’s Vision and Design, …
When the drunken aristocrat Sebastian Flyte puts his head through Charles Ryder’s open study window and vomits after drinking wines that were ‘too various,’ Charles is invited  – by way of an apology – to a luncheon party in Sebastian’s student rooms at Christ Church, high up in Meadow Buildings.
When at length I returned to my rooms and found them exactly as I had left them that morning, I detected a jejeune air that had not irked me before. What was wrong? Nothing except the golden daffodils seemed to be real. Was it the screen? I turned it to the wall. That was better.
It was the end of the screen. Lunt had never liked it, and after a few days he took it away, to an obscure refuge he had under the stairs, full of mops and buckets.

Washstand, 1917, by Vanessa Bell.

Staying in this room in May 1919, Virginia Woolf had written: ‘Sleep in the ground floor room at night, where this time last year about I heard the nightingales, & the fishes splashing in the pond; white roses tapped at the window …’ 

When Vanessa Bell died here in 1961,  Duncan Grant wept, repenting of his cruel treatment of her: ‘I could have been kinder to her,’ he said. Clive Bell outlived his wife by 3 years.

In 1925  a longer lease on the house was  negotiated and the L-shaped studio was constructed, planned by Roger Fry to whom Bloomsbury deferred in these matters. Fry said ‘the great object is to have as much room and spend as little money as possible.’ Quentin Bell called these years from 1925-1937 the Golden Years.

‘it ought to please the feminists,’ said Duncan Grant of the dinner plate designs by Bell and Grant, part of the Famous Women Dinner Service commissioned by Kenneth Clark in ’33 when he was director of the National Gallery and in order to revive Grant’s interest in the decorative arts. Grant and Bell went to stay with Josiah Wedgwood and experimented on Wedgwood blanks; the Dutch walnut cabinet belonged to their kinsman the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, inherited by Vanessa Bell from her father Sir Leslie Stephens.

The fireplace surround was painted on hardboard by Duncan Grant in c.1932, he painted the decoration above the mantleshelf between 1925-30

The Pither stove that kept them all warm in winter

At first, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant shared this space, working here together ‘like two sturdy animals side by side in a manger…’

The far corner of the room doubled as a useful dressing room for models or a backstage for family theatricals.

Duncan Grant’s easel, his male nude of 1934. Their own pictures were out of fashion and stopped selling so they sold a Poussin and the Vlaminck.

figures of Adam and Eve painted inside the cupboard doors by Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant’s painting kit still covers the table top.

In winter the warmest room in the house, the studio doubled as a sitting room.

Bust of Virginia Woolf on an eighteenth century chest of drawers

Duncan Grant died in 1978  and the Charleston Trust was established in that year; by the 80s his painting was beginning to be venerated again.

Duncan Grant’s cast of the ear of Michelangelo’s David obtained from Lewes art school 

On her childhood holidays here, Virginia Nicholson remembered the lovely smell of new cake, books and turpentine, dahlias, and sweet lavender drying in the spare rooms.

‘The house is now closed indefinitely with a half a million pound loss that we need to fund to be able to survive the autumn and winter. This time next year, we will need places like Charleston to visit …we will need museums and galleries which hold our national stories and protect our cultural treasures. Charleston is an internationally important part of England’s cultural heritage. Please help us to save this special place. ‘ Nathaniel Hepburn, Director of the Charleston Trust.

broken crockery mosaic work contrived by Duncan Grant, here being cleaned by a team of volunteer garden workers.

Garden volunteer’s cool home-tailored jacket.

Part of a torso which once stood by the pond, broken and knocked in by Quentin Bell’s son Julian, retrieved and converted into this planter by Quentin. Casts are for sale in the Charleston shop


Charleston gardener Harry, @harry.saxatalis and Charleston lettuce

sweet peas. Before Bloomsbury the garden consisted of this kitchen garden housing a scrappy wild orchard and the garden proper and pond in front of the house. Roger Fry laid it out afresh with new beds and paths at the end of WWI, there were roses, the abundant globe artichokes, fruit trees, hollyhocks, poppies, marigolds and dahlias and butterflies – a colour filled painter’s-cottage-garden.


cast of Antinous topping the brick and flint garden wall

Globe artichokes

Concrete urn on the gatepost

more herbage and July florals

flaming July

‘Ours was an elastic home , it never broke,’ Quentin Bell

Grateful thanks to Charleston’s resourceful director Nathaniel Hepburn and Kathy Crisp, my guide for the morning. (art school trained, she also has a cottage industry making very desirable ‘Bloomsbury’ lampshades at chapelhousestudio.bigcartel.com

NB Read Vanessa Bell’s granddaughters Virginia Nicholson and Cressida Bell in the print edition of the New Yorker August 17, 2020, issue, “Rooms with a View.”


AND PLEASE DONATE GENEROUSLY to the Charleston Emergency Appeal: https://www.charleston.org.uk/charleston-emergency-appeal/

Ever since I wrote Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, I’ve been brooding. On the face of it the Ottomans had precious little to shout about, though they ruled from the castle at Buda to the deserts of Arabia.

 They never embraced democracy or rights for women, nor invented steam power or the internal combustion engine. They made no strides in maths or natural science. They didn’t even print books until 1729, and then only a few commentaries and a Turkish grammar.

By the 19th century the empire was infested by bandits, inflation was rife, trade was lax and there were at least half a dozen rival versions of the calendar, and even of the clock. Shortly after the end of the First World War it all collapsed, and not with a bang, but a whimper.

All the same, the Ottomans knew how to live. For centuries they kept the peace. They loved gardens, and picnics. In 1492, they welcomed the Jews expelled from catholic Spain, and cities like Thessalonica became centres of Jewish life. Talent, mixed with a little luck, was allowed to shine, so a poor shepherd boy could rise to run the empire. The law was based on general Islamic principles, but it was contingent on place, faith, and custom, too. For six centuries the Ottomans allowed people to live quietly, eat well, and follow their own gods, rituals and traditions.

If they were slow to print books, it was only because they illustrated them so beautifully by hand.
During lockdown I’ve thought about the Ottomans a lot. Here is the original hardback. It was Kate’s idea to put the little men on the cover- courtesans and Sufis and Viziers.

The quiet grace of Ottoman civilisation was best summed up by Edward Lear, who travelled all over Albania and the Holy Land in the 1840s. In Constantinople he apologised for treading clumsily on a pasha’s water pipe. ‘The breaking of a pipe-stem would, in ordinary circumstances, be disagreeable,’ the pasha observed; ‘but in a friend, every action has its charm.’

The Ottomans were descended from nomads; we’ve always been a little nomadic, too. We have lived together in thirteen different houses.

One of our first kitchens was in a trim artisan’s cottage in Bethnal Green which provided my mother Jocasta Innes with a neat shot for her book, The Thrifty Decorator.

We soon moved out to the country.

This is in Dorset.

Ben Pentreath put this house – our last but one –  in his book, English Decoration, pointing out Kate’s ability to make it look as though we’ve lived there forever.

The blue lamp is a tea caddy, one of two I once bought from a loose tea shop in Nanjing.

Ottoman architecture can be terribly grand – all those domes and baths and mosques – but the detail is sometimes fabulously domestic, too. This is a little birdhouse, built on the wall of a mosque in Uskudar.

And another here, in a house on Tinos where we went a year or so back:

I wish all architects would pin a picture of those pigeon holes to the top of their computer: every building should be made fit for animals to live in, whether eaves for swallows, or wainscots for mice.
The world’s first animal hospital was a refuge for migrating storks in Bursa. It is still there. Its terribly important to look after your animals

This is our sitting room.

When the Victorians threw out the windows, they re-used the old Georgian shutters to make the surrounds, and you can just see the ceiling. Repurposing stuff was an Ottoman thing, too, hence Hagia Sophia, and any number of Byzantine churches that were adapted as mosques.

The table in our dining room is a billiard table. Nobody seems to want them any more – I think Kate got this one for a fiver.

There isn’t anything very Ottoman going on here, except the witches’ ball. The Ottomans were quite as superstitious as the rest of us. Superstition is, I think, an expression of sensitivity.

Everyone knows that Voltaire’s Candide ends with the injunction to cultivate your garden, but you might not remember that this solution is provided by an Ottoman gentleman farmer who greets the travellers on their way out of Istanbul. I think of gardening not as a retreat, but as a form of attack. It’s an attack on those internationally traded, air-freighted, seasonless commodity foods and ho! for local and organic, like the Ottomans. Most of their great men started life as simple peasant boys, tending goats on a Balkan hillside somewhere. They knew the basics, and why they mattered.They took things more slowly, as we should learn to do.

More and more I think that’s the only way forward. We have to take charge of what we eat, and reject all that supermarket pap. Write immediately to your MP and ask them to vote against the amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would allow the import of food produced to lower standards than ours.

I’ve joined the Landworker’s Alliance, which runs Farmstart to help people without capital or connections get a start in farming on a small scale. So many industrially farmed acres of land could be broken up and worked by enthusiastic horticulturalists. We need a peasantry again, as wise people have always suggested. One of them was HJ Massingham. I wrote about him recently in my column on Country Life

My mother described herself as a peasant, by nature; and a greedy one – that was why she was such a good cook. She wrote several cookbooks after The Pauper’s Cookbook, and the one she loved best was The Country Kitchen: we re-published it last year. Isaac did the layout and we did the pictures together and we used a drawing by Kate for the cover

It’s a book about making things, getting stuck in. On the back, a painting of Jocasta in her surly twenties, by Caroline Hill.

Kitchen battery

Here are our Argentinian chorizo sausages, made to my grandmother’s recipe (Eileen was an excellent cook, raised on the pampas)

Back kitchen

The recipe for making beer in that book inspired Isaac to start brewing; he and Harry have a real knack for it. They set up St Bride’s Brewery, and instantly won Gold in the Taste of the West awards for their Bridport Stout, @stbridesbrewery on Instagram.

In the Ottoman spirit of self-sufficiency, making things, and keeping it all simple, we have been busy this Spring making hens, for instance:

while building a clay oven

and even making charcoal (on an Ottoman brazier)

and cold frames

But my secret passion are the compost heaps. I have a row of five, all now elegantly roofed. In go waste peelings, paper, magazines, flyers, and cardboard boxes, tea bags and coffee grounds.Everyone is encouraged to pee on the heaps.

Compost is Buck-U-Uppo for the soil, and the bins themselves are made of bits of rubbish held together by a few nails. Shown here is a good fork for it, too. Old tools are best. The long wooden handle of an iron-headed hoe, which I keep razor sharp, very subtly bells out towards the end, so it doesn’t slip. Not a tool you can find in the garden centre.

In Ottoman times, if anyone saw a scrap of paper on the street they’d pick it up and put it into a chink in the wall, in case the name of God was written on it.

 We are a bit the same with books, which are piled up the stairs and in every nook and cranny of the house.

One visitor was pleased we had carpets on the tables and books on the floor.


And of course, there’s china.

Kate’s eye for the stuff, tinkling across cupboards and dressers in the kitchen…

…has inspired a tease in which the children get up on each others’ backs and rush about the kitchen, legs flailing and roaring ‘China!!!’

while she puts her hands up in horror and alarm.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who lived in Constantinople in the 1720s as the ambassador’s wife, thought the city was an ‘agreeable mixture of gardens, pine and cypress trees, palaces, mosques, and public buildings, raised one above the other’, reminding her, she wrote, of ‘a cabinet adorned by the most skilful hands, jars showing themselves above jars, mixed with canisters, babies [ie little cups] and candlesticks.’ 

Back kitchen

Izzy has been making me a boat….

The Otts weren’t so sure about the sea, but I think Englishmen should go out. We are an island….

Books can be found at http://www.argonautbooks.com/the-country-kitchen/
Kate can be contacted on katelshgoodwin@gmail.com
For more: bibleobritishtaste/Buck the Trend

Very many thanks to Kate and Jason, all phtographs copyright bibleofbritishtatse.com / Jason Goodwin