Thirty years ago this old house, built in the 1740s and set back behind a high wall on a main thoroughfare in London’s East End, was a wreck, sans joinery, window frames or fireplaces, its basement filled with debris and 200 cubic yards of rubble. It was restored as a place of domestic habitation and a fabulous, unique house museum by Tim Knox, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Todd Longstaffe Gowan, garden designer and historian. The house’s front steps, landing and railings were finally reinstated just a few months ago in 2015.
Top floor bedroom; see below.
The Spitalfields Trust had bought both houses to prevent their demolition; the one on the right was then sold on to Tim Knox, and Todd Logstaffe Gowan who took the black and white picture showing the old shopfronts and a tyre and exhaust fitting workshop on the left in 1998, shortly before they were swept away and the long task of restoration began. These crayon portraits of Todd and Tim drawn in his Hockney manner by Glynn Boyd Harte in 1991 hang under a shelf supporting ‘twig ware’ baskets and vases.
I have been lucky enough to know Tim and Todd since about 1989 when we met across a friend’s supper table in Hampstead. I was so smitten by them that soon afterwards I acquired a bear-like taxidermised dog of indeterminate breed from a specialist dealer in Portabello Market at their eager urging. In the intervening years their friends have watched with mingled admiration and incredulity as a collection of taxidermy and religious statuary begun with Tim’s sure and curious eye was gradually enlarged by their all-consuming combing of markets and auction houses all over England and beyond. The first major find was a museum quality bust of Sir Walter Scott by the neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen, Todd has gone on to buy hundreds of Old Master paintings, drawings and objects of Virtu; there are many more stuffed animals particularly dogs, ethnography, an elephant’s skull and a pair of servants livery coats, rare survivals and examples of needlework of the highest order fished from a Portabello stall by Tim. Changing all the time, their collection is arranged as a wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities and a series of aesthetically beautiful and romantic roomscapes. After living here for a few years, Tim and Todd commissioned this ‘biographical’ overmantle to fill a gaping hole in the chimney breast of the ground floor front reception room. Plaster portrait medallions sculpted by Christopher Hobbs in Xmas 2002 ( set designer for the films of Derek Jarman and Ken Russell) are its defining elements. It includes the likenesses of their two dachshunds Tiger and Sponge, garden implements and architectural devices and an ancient human skull (excavated in the early 1970s in the site of the YMCA in Tottenham Court Rd).
Light switches of painted tulip wood in the entrance hall copied from those in an upstairs room were part of the first wave of building work undertaken in 1998. The notice is a postcard reproduction of one at Stratfield Saye, the Duke of Wellington’s Hampshire seat.
Romantic Interior in the manner of Abbotsford. The marble tondo relief on the left is a portrait of the Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria, prototype for one on his funeral monument in Whippingham Church on the Isle of Wight.
Their restoration and fitting up of the house has been both imaginative and conservative. In the basement kitchen, a stoneware sink decorated with Vitruvian scroll pattern was retrieved from a skip.
Although bits of the original kitchen overmantle were discovered amongst rubble and debris excavated from this room, it was only partially reconstructed; a stuffed dogfish sits on top of the kitchen range. It was bought at Lord St Levan’s sale at St Michael’s Mount in West Cornwall.
During the last decade Todd has begun collecting twentieth century British art. Four Modern Movement paintings by Thomas Frederick Stalker Miller (1912-2006) surround Robert Medley’s painting of a woman mourning over a dying Minotaur. Medley (1905-94) was a schoolfriend and sometime lover of W.H. Auden, friend of Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Elizabeth Frink. A plaster death mask of Napoleon sits upon the chair.
This is the Sarcophagus Room. Christopher Hobbs’s fantastic overmantel is bookmarked by giant atlantes of an African and an American Indian, symbolic of the lands in which Tim and Todd spent their respective childhoods.
In the foreground a carved table from northern Europe carries the remains of a 2nd century marble statue excavated by Charles, 8th Lord Kinnaird in Italy in the 1820s. An enormous Dogon ‘spirit’ ladder from Mali leans against the pillar,
In the Nun’s Parlour a marble bust by Scheemakers once in the Temple of Friendship at Stowe and a gilded Viennese porta-busto guard a marble topped table carved with a mask of Hercules draped in the skin of the Nemean Lion, based on an C18th original by Matthias Lock. The presiding bust which stands upon it is an antique Homer from Wilton House, once in Cardinal Mazarin’s Collection.
On the opposite wall of the Nun’s Parlour is a huge painting from a cycle depicting the story of Actaeon, found by Todd in a Melbourne auction house; Actaeon’s muscled torso is modeled from the antique Laocoon group’s central figure. The William IV frame which fits it exactly was bought at the Lacy Gallery in Westbourne Grove. Upon the bombe chest lies the highly realistic sacrificial lamb, carved by Joseph Wilton for the 2nd Earl of Bessborough to adorn a Roman marble altar in a temple at his house in Roehampton.
The Hopton Brothers, attributed to Van Dyck – Sir Arthur Hopton was an ambassador in the reign of Charles I – bought in blackened condition at the Barmingham Rectory sale in Norfolk. Propped against the base of the scagliola pedestal is c15th Pegu glazed terracotta panel from Burma bearing two horned deities.
Propped on the table is the fragment of a painting by Rubens: Herodias with the head of John the Baptist, cut out of the original canvas in c.1647. It first belonged to Rubens’s friend the painter and writer Joachim von Sandrart, and was bought at a sale in Salisbury. Above, the head of a water buffalo from an Irish country house.
The upstairs lavatory, a shrine to all things pontifical, is painted in a colour called ‘anti-fly blue’.
The Cabinet, or Museum in the Museum : A tortoise shell and a brain coral along with many exotic shells, some collected by Dr Knox and Dr Longstaffe Gowan during their far flung childhoods ( Todd’s in Chile, Dominica, Barbados, Panama and Canada, Tim’s in Tanzania, Nigeria and Fiji), fossils, dried and preserved bird specimens, skeletons, lapidary treasures and ethnographic curiosities. On the wall behind, the giant engraving made up of nine plates is, The Mocking of Christ, after Van Dyck.
The ‘Idol Cabinet’ in the Museum Room.
A fire-gilt bronze statuette of John the Baptist found at Portabello Market is attributed to Susini, after a lost original by the early Renaissance Florentine sculptor Michelozzo di Bartolommeo. Acquisitions like these are not ‘lucky finds,’ but the fruits of vast knowledge and meticulous research. The overmantel is a C18th Prussian overdoor carving, flanked by shell sconces made by Belinda Eade.
The devotional painting of a Penitent Magdalene after the original by Guido Reni is the first large oil that Todd bought, found at Christies in c.1988. The largest canvas is a portrait of Miss Markham of Wardour, and was one of a pair of ancestral portraits painted for the house in the 1770s.
A seventeenth century portrait of Cicely Arundel in a frame by James Moore; on her right is Adrien Carpentier’s portrait of Dr. Ruby, who was afflicted with a hare lip. The elaborately carved and gilded table was formerly in the collection of the Getty family in Los Angeles
The taxidermy goat beneath it came from shop window in Kelvedon in Essex, and was found in the Criterion Auction House in Islington.
A garniture of Chinese porcelain on the chimneypiece in Tim’s first floor study, photographed in raking winter sunshine.
Small busts, porcelain, translucent alabaster and obelisks lined up in Tim’s study
Looking from the Green Room into the study, sphinx parked on the floor.
A pair of state liveries encrusted with armourials, made for the 3rd Earl of Ashburnham in 1829, and bought by Tim at Portobello Market, flank a bust by Christopher Moore of Robert Holmes – ‘Father of the Irish Bar’. Tim & Todd have been trawling the market together for almost 30 years.
A seventeenth century Flemish cabinet given by Christopher Hobbs is married up with a sturdy Victorian Pussy Oak table
The Trophy Hall and staircase; some of these specimens come from the collection at Eton College
Tim’s mother’s Sanderson-fabric-covered armchair in the huge bathroom, memorials to the Victorian dead.
Tim’s first stuffed dog, rescued from a skip in his early youth. On the right the wooden case housed a hand pump that once raised water to the top floor of the house.
The fire escape leading to the uncertain safety of the roof, relic of the print workshop and typewriter rental company that operated from the lower floors here in the twentieth century.
A statue of St Aloysius Loyola, garnished by Chinese ceramics.The seventeenth century paneling
behind was reused by the speculative developer Thomas Andrews who built two houses on the site of an older mansion which he demolished.
Behind the paneling was once a night closet or dry closet (not a water closet); a small section of paneling was removed in the C18th for ventilation.
The four poster from the manor house is Buckingham is hung with Spanish and oriental antique fabrics.
Tim’s window sill cactus theatre.
The bust of St James is an eighteenth century devotional object from a pilgrimage church in northern Spain, made of lead over a wooden core, bought in Westbourne Grove.
A nineteenth century plaster bust of Christ and a made-up bird skeleton composed, inter alia, of chicken bones in Todd’s top floor study.
In the top floor back bedroom, a landscape by John Nash, and David Bomberg’s self portrait.
New Zealand tree fern forest by Todd in the garden to the rear.
‘Imagines de vestir’, a pair of religious statues or lay figures, finished with real human hair, originally devotional figures that were dressed in the appropriate robes or vestments according to the liturgical calendar, found at Portobello. Malplaquet House’s role as the most distinguished private house museum in London, second only to Sir John Soane’s Museum (of which Tim was recently Director), is now at an end. The packing cases and boxes here signal its recent dismantling .
Grateful thanks to Tim Knox and Todd Longstaffe Gowan.
All images copyright bibleofbritishtaste/Tim Knox and Todd Longstaffe Gowan. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to bibleofbritishtaste.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Flanking the chimney in Malplaquet House – the home of Tim Knox and Todd Longstaffe Gowan – are shell candle sconces in the Baroque taste made by Belinda Eade almost 20 years ago.
As a pupil at Marlborough School Belinda had helped to restore the tumble down grotto in its grounds. In the 80s she studied jewellery at the Central School of Art and Design, and joined up with Diana Reynell and Simon Verity to restore the very elaborate shell grotto at Hampton Court House (built by the second Earl of Halifax for the Drury Lane actress who was his mistress and designed by the Georgian architect Thomas Wright), and then to build a new one at Leeds Castle. ‘Grottoes are huge jewels,’ she said then. She has been designing and building shell encrusted rooms and grottoes ever since.
Belinda is also a stone carver ans sculptor, designer of gravestones and cutter of monumental letters.
When we first met she was making stark, experimental metal candlesticks from old tractor parts and others cast with a small bronze bird, but to my continual regret I never bought one then.
Belinda carving in a grotto that she designed and built in Spain. Her earliest grottoes were encrusted with limpets, clams, oysters, mussels, and cockles and glittering black anthracite, gathered from the embankments of disused railway lines.
This is a gloriously Brutalist fireplace of slab and shuttered concrete that she built in a former studio about five years ago, modeled on those invented by the sculptor Lynn Chadwick for his manor house Lypiatt Park.
Belinda has lived with her husband and two children in an old stone hilltop house in Somerset for about 10 years now, set amongst fields and the gardens that they have created.
Still life of kitchen sink with array of hanging pot and bottle scourers
Hearth in the long room, once the principle room in the Elizabethan house, now mainly for dogs and ping pong.
Ruby the rescue greyhound drowsing.
Paneled Drawing Room.
Biscuit coloured linen curtains.
Guest bedroom, the most comfortable bed
And hanging next to it her glorious shell pier glass with blue mussel shells and a limpit shell embellished table lamp
Belinda in shell tiara, styled for a Vogue photo shoot in the 90s by the late Isabella Blow, from a tattered magazine cutting.
William Morris Willow pattern in the second guest bedroom.
Telescopic feather duster in the spine corridor.
This is the ‘sister’ urn of another that was one of four garden pieces carved with Virgilian texts, made by Belinda for Christopher Bradley-Hole’s ‘ Best in Show’ Gold Medal winning Chelsea Garden in 1997. The Latin inscription reads Inter peritura vivimus (We live among things which will perish).
The topiary yew hedge sunk garden that Belinda and Patrick designed and laid out below the house. They are both very good gardeners.
The walled kitchen garden designed and built about eight years ago. Totem pole by artist and garden designer Tom Wood of Kalnoky Wood Garden Design. Tom’s other website is here.
Galvanised zinc and corrugated iron corner of the kitchen garden.
Memorial stone carved by Belinda to her family pet killed by a fox, the rabbit ‘Curious Brown,’ d.2002.
The designs for a shell temple on Belinda’s desk.
Belinda in the grotto that she built over a year of Sundays, in the back garden of her west London house in c.1990, from The Sunday Telegraph, April 28, 1991. The materials – fossilised limestone and thousands of shells supported on a wood and metal armature – had taken years to collect, and later the grotto-work was extended into the laundry room at the back of the house. In those days she collected all the shells herself, gleaning along the Devon coast for oysters and the east coast of Scotland for mussels and picking up grey and white flints in the fields of Hertfordshire. We all contributed too, giving her exotic Nautilus and spiky Murex lifted down from dusty bathroom shelves and bags of native specimens that we had picked up while beachcombing. The deep blue of mussels shells and the nacreous insides made some of the most beautiful shell work of all as well as good eating. The fly-speckled moon shells which made up the central arches of this grotto were served up to Belinda for lunch on a bicycle holiday in Normandy, and carried back, reeking of garlic.
The slate stone given to me by Belinda in memoriam for my Battersea dogs home cocker spaniel, buried at the foot of this wall in my back garden.
Above and below, two more of the Virgilian inscriptions carved for Christopher Bradley Hole’s 1997 Chelsea garden.
To contact Belinda about a potential commission please send a message via the bobt – all messages will be promptly passed on.
Thanks to Belinda and Patrick.
Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to bibleofbritishtaste, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
The postcard advertises Bannerman’s Bar in Cowgate, Edinburgh Old Town, Julian Bannerman’s legendary first venture in 1979, the place where he met his wife Isabel Eustace (it is still there). This is a tour of the house and garden which they recently took on in 84 pictures, beginning with the garden, then the house. The pictures are large so that you can see the detail. If you don’t like gardens, fast forward now, but you will be missing the best bit.
In 2012 the Bannermans left Hanham Court (one of my first and favourite posts here) the house they had restored and the garden they had created near Bath, for Trematon Castle on the eastern edge of Cornwall. Here they live in a long low Regency house built by a practical naval man who was also a follower of Sir John Soane.
The entrance front, with olive trees donated from a client’s garden and the Victorian planters that they found in a salvage yard two years ago and rebuilt. Light bounces off the water and shines straight through the house from front to back.
I’ve stayed at Trematon half a dozen times and watched the house transformed with new colour schemes and dozens of their pictures unpacked and hung. This was the front drive at the end of winter in 2014.
There was no garden as such before they came. But by last summer the nine acres of castle grounds in which the house stands had been utterly re-made.
This is the double border planted and designed by Isabel in the curving contour of the bailey wall. It is what the Bannermans are justly famous for as I and J Bannerman, Garden Designers and Builders, gardeners by appointment to the Prince of Wales. They have been working together since 1983.
The green oak obelisks are a Bannerman speciality.
This is the border in 2014. This year it will be even bigger, bursting and overflowing from its beds.
Trematon Castle was built to command the mouth of the River Tamar over the water from the naval base of Plymouth. This is its gatehouse with a handsome upper chamber in which the Black Prince spent a night in the fourteenth century.The castle belongs to the Duchy of Cornwall, it fell into the hands of the Duke of Cornwall soon after the Norman Conquest. When Sir Francis Drake sailed back to Plymouth after his circumnavigation of the globe in 1580, he waited at anchor, then came ashore to store the treasure he had gathered up for his monarch Queen Elizabeth – gold, silver and emeralds pirated from Spanish ships around the coasts of South America – in safety at Trematon.
Here is the garden ‘in the green,’ in early spring.
And again, a couple of months further on.
The nineteenth century builder of the new house here hit upon the plan of bashing out sections of the curtain wall at strategic viewpoints, bringing in great gusts of bright effulgent light.
The ancient Motte stands on a steep tump like an upturned pudding basin. Julian sprayed the winter heliotrope that was rampant here choking out all other growth, and now the long dormant seeds of thyme, Valerian, native orchids and wild fennel have burst back into life.
There is a narrow grassy walk along the rampart under the wall that makes a path between Motte and Gatehouse.
Here is the garden front, with little wooden dummy cannons made by the Bannermans, trained on Plymouth.
The house with its castellated garden front stands on the elevated plateau where the original castle dwelling hall and chapel was once.
Young and ancient apple trees and Gunnera in a protected meadow cum orchard between the walls.
The ‘Hindoo’ swimming pool installed by previous tenants, where a few newts were swimming around the steps.
Stables on the back drive.
And at last, the house. The Staircase and Entrance Hall, decorated for the World of Interiors shoot last year (for which the photographer was the excellent Christopher Simon Sykes, who is also David Hockey’s biographer ) and (just) published in March 2015.
Isabel’s garden flowers taken as she was arranging them for the shoot on the kitchen table.
Binoculars for scanning Her Majesty’s fleet or any other shipping anchored in Plymouth Sound.
The Dining Room which often doubles as Isabel’s office.
I like this room so much, I’ve taken its picture six or seven times.
Isabel getting on with it.
Topographical prints and watercolours of antiquarian scenes.
A flotilla of warships.
Beyond the dining room is s Morning Room or parlour with the TV.
All the fireplaces here are original, of the same Regency date as the house.
And I am proud that Isabel has added the two little Cornish Serpentine lighthouses from the Lizard peninsula that I gave her to the mantlepiece.
In 2014 she made stripey covers for the chairs.
But I like the room in deshabille too, here we watched the Downton Abbey Xmas special in 2012 by the roaring fire, the one when Matthew Crawley dies horribly in a car smash.
The huge copper sphere is an ancient finial from Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower in Oxford, taken down during restoration in the 1960s.
View of the long border from the Drawing Room window.
Blissful Drawing Room.
Isabel’s mantlepiece arrangement are matchless, the dynamic opposites of the ‘tablescapes’ contrived by that careful decorator, David Hicks. The shell design sofa cover fabric is by that talented designer Linda Bruce, who lives and works in David Hockney’s old west London studio.
This picture hang which I like hugely includes a poster for Graham Sutherland and a Paul Nash-like gouache by David Vickery.
Master bedroom with the bed made up from lengths of carved Gothick pelmet.
More gouaches from their David Vickery collection.
A profile silhouette of Julian tucked behind the looking glass frame.
These pictures were taken soon after they moved in.
A year later the daybed had been re-webbed and the room was looking a lot swankier.
Early morning. View from my bedroom.
My bed, facing out to sea.
Isabel and Julian’s bathroom is the nicest I have ever seen.
Isabel’s sewing room.
Some of her document textiles.
And one that puzzles her, she has no idea what it was woven for.
That evening we went up onto the rampart walk,
turned left at the gatehouse with its plaque commemorating the Black Prince’s visit,
where the fireplace held a bundle of bunting,
(the recalcitrant pug is their son Bertie’s dog)
then up the steep castle mound,
and via a vertiginous iron ladder, to the precarious ledge fifty feet up, where Isabel hauled up a new Union Jack in place of the old one, shattered by winter storms.
Cannons still trained on Plymouth. This photograph c.Isabel Bannerman. The gardens at Trematon are open to the public, more information here. Isabel’s botanical photographs are with jonathancooper.co.uk . Probably one of the most beautiful places in Britain. Thanks to the Bannermans.
All images except this one, copyright bibleofbritishtaste. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to bibleofbritishtaste, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Tanya Harrod published ‘The Real Thing, essays on making in the modern world,’ this week. Its essays are about art, craft and design, and the shifts and spaces in between them.These are subjects she has been thinking and writing about for 30 years. In this book you can read about the taxonomy of the rubbish dump, Barbara Hepworth’s missing archives, Eric Gill, Folk nationalism and reviving ‘peasant art’ in Britain, and on page 86, ‘Why don’t we hate Etsy?’
Cutting a dash as a research student at Oxford.
She grew up in this Modern Movement house in Surrey, and still describes herself as a Modernist.
The house which she shares with her husband Henry Harrod in west London is a palimpsest, containing the belongings and decorative finishes from three generations. Henry’s paternal grandmother Frances Forbes Robertson made her home here in the 1930s, the portraits that she painted hang together in the staircase and hall. Next came her son the economist Sir Henry Roy Forbes Harrod and his energetic and strong minded wife Wilhelmina Cresswell (always known as Billa), aesthete and historian who was briefly engaged to the poet John Betjeman, complied the Shell Guide to Norfolk for him, founded the Norfolk Churches Trust and made her last home in the Old Rectory, Holt, in that interesting county. She died in 2005. Tanya’s things are C19th Arundel prints and twentieth century paintings and ceramics, almost all of them by artists and makers about whom she has written. On the Biedermier tallboy is a ceramic Madonna and Child by contemporary artist-craftsman Philip Eglin, of whom Tanya writes in The Real Thing, ‘Studying my Madonna and Child reminds me of how learned good artists invariably are.’
The overmantle picture is by the St.Ives School modernist Terry Frost.
‘Beasties’ Wallpaper by Peggy Angus (1904-1983), designer, teacher and painter, of whom Tanya wrote this obituary when she died in 1993. The painted plate is by Philip Eglin. (You can buy Angus’s papers once again now, from Anne Dubbs at the wonderful Blithfield and Company.)
The oil painting on the left is by Tanya’s mother Maria Sax, who painted her own mother on horseback galloping away from her two small, distraught children.
Large jars by Richard Batterham, Dorset artist-potter who trained at Leach’s studio and follows the tradition of Michael Cardew and William Staite Murray. In her essay, ‘Heroes with Feats of Clay,‘ Tanya discusses the vexed question of why avant-garde sculptural ceramics haven’t achieved the same high status as abstract sculpture : ‘There may be yet another sticking point for many people. Western art, despite the hiccup of abstraction, is firmly rooted in literature and narrative. Most pots have no easily understood narrative content. They are, as Herbert Read was aware, marvellous examples of pure form. This self-contained remoteness …has come to seem problematic. There is a famous story about a student talking to the eminent designer David Pye. The student said that ceramics did not excite him at all. ‘Did it ever occur to you,’ asked Pye, ‘that their function might be to calm you down?’
A Zimmerlinde, a large leaved Austrian Linden or Lime tree cultivated as an indoor plant. Lucian Freud had one of these, it appears in his ‘Large Interior, Paddington‘ 1968-9, and several of his drawings.
‘Billa’s table.’ Her country house was anatomised and photographed for Alvilde Lees-Milne’s book,’The Englishwoman’s House’ in 1984.
Small ornaments that she arranged on its hardstone top . ‘We all liked her table so much, so we decided to recreate it.’
Tanya’s first subject was John Ruskin and the Arundel Society, the fons et origo of all her writings since on the arts and the crafts. Ruskin’s ‘cabinet of wonders’ combing visual art, natural history collections and manuscripts made for his ideal society The Guild of St. George, is still on show at the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield. Some of the nineteenth century prints of Italian Renaissance paintings published by the Society and collected by her as a postgraduate student hang in the hall, against crimson ‘Suns’ wallpaper designed by Peggy Angus and hand printed using lino-cut blocks and household emulsion in her Camden Town studio.Tanya’s essays on ‘Peggy Angus and flat pattern’ and ‘William Morris in our time,’ are published in her new book, The Real Thing.
Hanging higher up the stairs beneath Tanya’s ancestors, are portraits of the young Roy Harrod painted by his adoring mother, some of them returned again to London from the Old Rectory in Holt.
The best bedroom with Omega-ish walls hand painted by Joao Penalva.
A painting by Stella Cardew, first wife to the composer Cornelius Cardew. Tanya’s biography of his potter father Michael, is ‘The Last Sane Man,‘ published in 2013. A. S. Byatt described her as ‘the perfect biographer for such a complex and gifted man,’ you can read her review here.
Spare bedroom with Billa Harrod’s Victorian shell flowers under a dome.
Peggy Angus’s original hand-blocked bathroom wallpaper,made in her Camden Town studio. As Tanya has written,
‘The beauty of her handblock papers has been recognised above all by artists; partly because unlike most wallpapers they form the ideal background to paintings. Over the years Angus invented an extraordinary range of patterns. Many were abstract but others convey a vivid pastoral mood, making subtle use of oak leaves, heraldic dogs and birds, grapes and vines, corn stooks, stylised suns and winds. They seem rooted in the natural world and in the visual arts of the British Isles, from Celtic pattern to heraldry to the art of bargees and gypsies.’
Sailor’s tokens and shell souvenirs collected by Billa Harrod hang above the bath.They represent the kind of popular ‘folk’ or ‘people’s’ art beloved of the artist Barbara Jones, of whom I wrote in an earlier post.
Posters advertising Sir Roy Harrod’s lecture tour in Japan.
The kitchen overmantle. Drawing by their little granddaughter, a bird plate made by Seth Cardew at Wenfordbridge Pottery and assorted ceramics amassed by earlier generations of Harrods.
‘The Future is Handmade : the crafts in the new millennium,’ poster advertising Tanya’s lecture in Krakow.
Father and daughter. The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century, her outstanding magnum opus published by Yale in 1999, and its beautiful offspring, The Real Thing now a 5 star read on Amazon. Its essays were written from the 1980s on, charting the period in which we changed from being a nation of producers to become a nation of consumers, as the centres of mass production moved to the far side of the world and the internet created a new virtual world of ‘infinite images.’
Tanya possesses the visual objectivity and academic rigor of the architectural scholar Nicholas Pevsner, but this is overlaid with a sensibility and humanity that makes her writing so much more nuanced, rewarding and pleasurable to read.
All images (3 portrait photographs and Blithfield’s TWIST excepted) c.bibleofbritishtaste.
Lucy, Clea and Richard Turvill have been here now, in the house they built, for about 5 years. While they lived in London their countrified alter-egos had been well disguised. I thought they were truly metropolitan, but now I realise that they were sheep in wolves clothing, they are completely embedded here.
A corner of the Sitting Room. Print by David Hockney, cushion by Rose de Borman.
Bavent House sits on a derelict farmyard plot by the Suffolk coast, and its footprint is minimal. This is the facade that you see on first arrival, its interesting, jumbled silhouette is intentionally picturesque. Its architect is Anthony Hudson, who won an RIBA award for this design.
Its robust, box-like structure has an engineered timber frame and black zinc and Iroko timber cladding that has already weathered grey. Its design was inspired by local vernacular buildings, timber framed barns and the old black tarred fishing shacks on Southwold Beach.
The core of this house wraps around three sides of a shallow, sheltered south-facing courtyard. Light travels straight through the central living space with its huge opposing windows.
The house sits on the top of a slight rise; carefully positioned picture windows of different sizes frame the views. This is the north side, with long sights across open country towards the Hen Reedbeds. The old brick built stables that house their horses belonged to the earlier farmyard here.
Corner of the Sitting Room.
Xmas jigsaw in progress.
The more formal seating area around the fireplace, the Cornish landscape is by Barbara Hepworth’s daughter, Rachel Nicholson.
The maximum of glazing in the centre of this house allows the light and wide landscape to come inside. The sofas were commissioned by Lucy’s interior designer sister Virginia White, whose London House was featured on bibleofbritishtaste here. She also advised on the look and styling of these rooms.
White-ish walls and wide Douglas Fir floorboards emphasise interior geometry. Brown furniture from their last home, a Georgian terraced house in north London, looks even better here.
Decoy ducks under the window. The Georgian armchair is covered in a turquoise Ananas fabric pattern from Raoul.
Outside, live and shattered oaks in the middle ground, a December landscape by Graham Sutherland.
Looking through the centre of the house from the kitchen. Richard getting on with stuff.
Meissen serving dishes and Moomintroll cups, just before Sunday breakfast.
A corner of the small sitting room, equipped with wood burning stove, Labradors and TV.
Stone flagged Entrance Hall.
Staircase risers and two chairs designed by Lord Snowdon for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon Castle in 1969. For another example, see here.
The Master Bedroom has long views over the reed beds. The blind and bolster fabric is Virginia White’s Forest Spring, designed by Rose de Borman.
Lucy very patiently and kindly waiting for me to get on with it.
Wood panelled bathroom leading off Master bedroom. The portrait of Lucy is by her sister Philippa Kunisch, a jewellery designer who features on bibleofbritishtaste here.
One of two guest bedrooms, this one has the best view of the marshes. the cushions on the bed are in Virginia White’s 2014 Whippets fabric.
Camp chair with more de Borman cushions. Table lamps converted from Scandinavian glass vases.
Corner of the best guest bedroom, with a very handsome wing chair. Lucy has a good eye for Georgian carcass furniture, spindly chairs and looking glasses.
The second guest bedroom, with junk shop Uccello lampshade bought by Virginia from Paul’s Emporium in northern Camden Town.
Clea’s bedroom and her bathroom papered with Marthe Armitage’s Chinoserie paper (one of my three favourites). Marthe was the first artist maker to be featured in the bibleofbritishtaste, you can read about her here.
The house’s core is double height, with an office in the angle of the bridge running between its upstairs guest and household wings. The interior spaces here feel large and exhilarating to be in.
Looking down from the bridge. Advent calendars in the course of manufacture, cat n’ dog.
Spotty cat cleaning its paw in the entrance hall..
Wind, birds and meadow grazing for their sheep and horses to the north.
Lucy and Birdie.
All images copyright bibleofbritishtaste. Many thanks to the Turvills.
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‘Nothing much has happened to our house for about 20 years in terms of its look,’ says Christina Moore. ‘It’s not designed although I guess when we first put it together it was. We moved in here in 1984. Now it’s about managing the amount of stuff that we’ve got. I can’t bear taking things to charity shops that I care about, we’ve never successfully had a car boot a sale.I don’t know how to recycle things.
That sofa came from my grandparents, they were living in a block of flats near here after the war, and there was a big bombsite, and various things came from there. We had it reupholstered. I imagine its English, it’s not particularly old.’
The painting is of an ancestor of Roger’s, who who is descended from distinguished soldiers on his father’s side and the Pre Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais via his mother’s family, He bought the gothic tabernacle on the right with an inheritance.
But their house was last photographed in the 80s for the World of Interiors, and then featured in Min Hogg’s ‘A Decoration Book’ in 1988. Min used this picture in the chapter entitled, ‘Simple,’ and wrote there, ‘the chintz on the seats of the three matching chairs (found for £1 each) has been dyed black, but its original pattern still shows through, giving an effect of expensive damask.’ ‘That was the front room when we first moved in,’ says Christina.
This is the Drawing Room, painted in Farrow and Ball’s Saxon Green. Or perhaps it is Cooking Apple Green? The Italian sofa came from Christina’s grandparents and they gave her the damask covered chair for her eighteenth birthday. The standard lamp comes from Roger’s family. Christina took the gold thread embroidery from another lamp shade and stuck it on this one.
Beyond is the modern extension, added 11 years ago. A friend who was an architect designed the kitchen.
On a high shelf are dozens of china models of cenotaphs collected by Roger. Many of these are currently on loan to an exhibition in London’s Wellington Arch Quadriga Gallery, We Will Remember Them: London’s Great War Memorials. As Dr. Roger Bowdler of English Heritage, historian and Director of Designation, he is the curator of this exhibition, which runs until the end of November and is highly recommended. Below is a shelf full of French apothecary jars.
The Wedgwood black basalt ware was bought thirty years ago. Did you always collect stuff, I asked? ‘Yes, my parents were always going to auctions,’ said Christina. ‘I used to go to jumble sales all the time, mainly clothes, fantastic fancy dress stuff. In the 1970s we lived in a road that had the Plymouth Brethren, Jehovahs Witnesses and a church hall, all in the same street.’
The plaster on the kitchen wall is an effect known as faux Elephant skin.’It’s really easy. You colour the plaster, you stipple it when its wet, and when its almost going off, you smooth it over and put linseed oil on it.’
The print above the lamp commemorates the ‘Loyal Order of Free Mechanics,’ fellows of a Masonic lodge.
Christina is an Art Director and Production Designer. For the last few years she has worked on the series Game of Thrones, but she is also an architect and graphic artist who teaches Film Studies. She redesigned the front of their eighteenth century terraced house, a former butcher’s shop that had been badly converted in the 1960s. ‘It was based on the shops in Flask Walk in Hampstead, and an old shop front that I was going to buy, but its timbers turned out to be rotten. But the front door is old and once I got that, it it gave me the detail from which to copy and construct the rest.’
Christina bought the painting from a junk stall in Flask Walk. Top shelf, Wedgwood commemorative mugs.
Roger is a former president of the Mausolea and Monuments Trust, with an ‘ongoing interest in ossuaries, skeletons and death’s heads on tombs, monuments, outdoor tombs and the inexhaustible pleasures of British churchyards.’ He framed up and hung this series of prints, a ‘Dance of Death’ by ?George Cruikshank, garnished with poppies for Remembrance Day.
Roger’s upstairs study, and his son’s electric guitar.
When their son was a baby this became his night nursery, and Christina slipped the illustrated pages from a ‘Babar the Elephant’ book into these frames. Now George Vertue’s prints of the Kings and Queens of England, around which this whole room was designed, are back on show.
This print of a London square is by Alan Sorell and was cut from a London Transport poster.
Some of the house’s most familiar landmarks have migrated to the basement, things that I have been looking at on my visits there for over twenty years.
This vitrine was made for displaying chocolates, now it holds Christina’s Cabinet of Curiosities, ‘ old architectural models that I made, beach finds, wax ex votos, plaster casts of members of the family’s teeth.’ The little deer hoof pegs are French and the model of a house is by their daughter Iris.’ The memorial picture is one of the first things I bought in Brick lane. It’s beautifully hand made but says, ‘In Lovnig Memory,’ rather than ‘Loving.’
Min Hogg used this stupendous picture of their 1980s bedroom in her chapter called ‘Eccentric.’ She described Christina as ‘the owner of this domestic mausoleum … a robustly cheerful student of architecture who is amused by her own taste for the macabre.’
Roger and Christina, 1990s. ‘She had furs, it was very very rare to see a student wearing furs in Cambridge in the early 1980s,’ says Roger. ‘Double red fox, several layers of very long skirts and a big Sam Brown belt. Crucifixes.’ You were north of Pre Raphaelite? ‘South of Chateaubriand’, says Roger. All images: copyright Conran/World of Interiors/ bibleofbritishtaste.
[François-René de Chateaubriand, Memoirs from beyond the Tomb, (1849/50), a book worth reading.]
Richard and Patricia Hewlings live in the Fens, the district known as the Holy land of England. Their house is a flat-fronted, red brick farmhouse with a pretty Georgian doorcase, and an older wing jettying out into what was once the farmyard at the rear. It’s known locally as ‘Big Old House.’ There’s a dairy and some barns at one corner, and a Quaker meeting house terraced onto the other, with its burial yard behind; the bones of some more honest Quakers lie under its floor. Richard (who is a former Inspector of Ancient Monuments, and works for English Heritage), discovered and then reburied them there, in the course of repairing these dilapidated and derelict buildings. Tricia has planted a rare and imaginative series of garden compartments and painstakingly restored old floorboards and interior paintwork. Richard has hauled back joinery and furniture, the by-product of a lifetime’s curiosity for old things and buildings. Here, in the 1980s and 90s, their six children grew up.
When Richard and Tricia bought the Old House it was empty and derelict, divided into flats for the workers who ran a tractor-tyre retreading factory from its yards. The house had been empty for six years and most of its chimney pieces and joinery had been stripped out. Now it is the portrait of a marriage, and a family. Here is the hall, with Easter palm crosses.
The staircase hall, hung with prints, edge to edge.
Richard designed this handsome, immodest fireplace, the largest in the house, around the two end pilasters that he found in a Bury St. Edmunds antique shop for £25.
This cushion stitched with badges from military uniforms was made by their daughter.
The Wedgwood teapot with a crocodile finial celebrates the Egyptomania that marked Nelson’s victory in Egypt at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 . ‘When I met Trish, she was the only person I knew who liked porcelain, and I was the only person she knew who liked porcelain,’ Richard says.’ She had a collection of little cups.’
The dining chairs belonged to Oxford aesthete Dadie Rylands, a fellow of Kings College, Cambridge : Richard found them in a local country auction. His college rooms were decorated by the Bloomsbury artist Dora Carrington, and immortalised by Virginia Wolf in A Room of One’s Own.
Propped on an easel is the finest portrait in the house of the powerfully built John Davenport, Tricia’s first father-in-law, writer, fund-raiser for Dylan Thomas, boxer, pianist and poet.
The wallpaper was deigned by Edward Bawden in 1935, and supplied by Coles of London. The floors were exactingly hand sanded by Tricia and bleached with lye. The chimneypiece was created from salvage, bought at a local country house sale. When I last visited in the late 1980s, the room was decommissioned, with a gaping hole in the ceiling; I could not have imagined how beautiful this room would look when it was finished.
The art pottery and glass is Tricia’s, and the big pottery jug was fished out of the River Ouse when a lock was being drained there.
Tricia found the hand painted hound place-card holders that run along the chimmneypiece moulding, and she is waiting for her daughter Maud to paint some huntsmen and horses to run with them. You can see them a bit more clearly in the picture below.
The small, enigmatic oil painting was a student work by their son, Arthur Hewlings.
The bedroom, with poltergeist curtain activity.
A sweet disorder. Shoes and shells lie distributed over the carpet, and wind-blown billets-doux flutter to the floor.
Still life with upright vacuum cleaner.
The children’s toys and books make a museum in the bedroom corridor
Bedroom picture, an early C20th fairground scene by Clodagh Sparrow.
The much-admired kitchen, hand built, partly by Richard, with a new (in 2014) lead splash-back designed by Tricia. Better than Plain English.
Saturday lunch in preparation. Not a museum, everything is for use, and in use.
Probably the nicest kitchen in East Anglia
‘This is our ‘dirt’ room, its the scullery, it has a sink.’
The lower garden, where food is grown. The land was reclaimed from beneath rafts of concrete which covered the farmyards here for fifty years.
More food in bountiful profusion
Arcadia. Compost heap and nature rampant.
All images : copyright bibleofbritishtaste
I stayed at lovely Smedmore House in Dorset, settled in its green declivity between ridge-backed Purbeck hills, in May. The first day was grey, with scudding wind and rain, but then the sun came out. This is a room in the old kitchen range, not much used now except for the occasional shooting lunch, a place where the guns can eat with their boots on. The wooden boards mounted on the wall are stall dividers from the eighteenth century stable block ( where a local carpenter now plies his trade), on which generations of grooms and stable boys who worked and slept there have carved their autographs in copperplate.
The cooking apple-green entrance hall, part of a new front added to the house in the 1760s.
This ebonised chair was made by the celebrated George Bullock for the Emperor Napoleon during his lonely exile on St. Helena, an inherited souvenir or perquisite, brought back to Smedmore by the Colonel John Mansel, gallant peninsula officer, who was garrisoned there.
This is the side wall of the same room – same chairs – rather more austere – as it was last photographed by Country Life, in 1935
The principal front. Behind it, the older parts of the house date from the seventeenth century, but the de Smedemores were living in a house on these lands in the 1300s. The estate has passed down by inheritance through seven centuries.
My host and Smedmore’s owner, Dr. Philip Mansel, distinguished author and historian, founder of the Court Studies Society, Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, seen here with a small, ancient cannon.
The old kitchen is lit by a tall,tripartite Vitruvian window,
but from the outside you can see that this window has probably been inserted into an even older building range.
The garden front, early 1700s, in the manner of Christopher Wren.
Where you would expect to find dogs’ graves there is the tombstone of a long-dead tiger in the grass under the trees.
Lunch, grilled sea trout, white wine, at the table in the dining room window bay.
The long table behind seats twenty comfortably. The plasterwork is by the Bastard brothers of Blandford.
This Tinteretto-pink on the walls was mixed by Philip’s friend, the late, great Gervase Jackson-Stops, taste maker and scholar. The colour becomes lighter as it rises up the walls to the ceiling.
The china cupboard
A guest here in 1878, J.B.B., left this little album of sketches entitled,’ Reminiscences of my visit to Smedmore.’
Philip is the creator and curator of this family museum in a corridor leading to the Butler’s Pantry. The head of a long, long-dead rhino is a grisly thing, sans horn.
The drawing room.
Yellow water iris in the blue and white vases were picked from the margins of the pond outside. Philip has brought colour back to the house with oriental ceramics and Ottoman carpets from Istanbul.
The Turkish room, Philip’s work in progress
The Cedar Room with some of the cargo of furniture and paintings inherited from Lady Elizabeth Villiers, who left everything to her Mansel niece..
Souvenirs of the past, pince-nez, spectacles, reticules, reels of embroidery silk, notebooks and diaries crammed into every drawer.
Shagreen reticule cases, miniatures, pill-boxes, eye-glasses …
one evening I went out for a pint of beer and found Corfe Castle, looking like a poster for the Dorset tourist board.
that night the moon was full and close
Working breakfast in the kitchen
where School Prints by Julian Trevelyan and John Nash hang next to the fire extinguisher
and after, ship-shape from the ministrations of the housekeeper.
Off-limits, a pantry in the old kitchen range
painted a hygienic light arsenic green
The bedroom corridor, miscellaneous furniture washed up, waiting its turn. Note the crossed sabres, last seen in the entrance hall in Country Life’s photograph of 1935
a pink bedroom
My pink bedroom, with the most exquisite rococo fireplace
the paneled bathroom corridor, in the older, rear of the house
a blue bedroom with traditional English backup heating, although the central heating at Smedmore is fiercely powerful
Behind the stable block, a small craft beached amongst nettles
the stable arch and nature rampant
work yard off the back drive
A long allée or ride leads away from the house, cut through woods to give a view of the sweep of Kimmeridge bay (part of the Smedmore estate along with the village of that name), and beyond, towards France.
On the left is the Clavell Tower, a folly pr perhaps an outpost for smuggling, built by an ancestor, the Rev. John Richard Clavell. Thomas Hardy took his first love Eliza Nicholl there, and the building inspired P. D; James’s thriller, The Black Tower (1975). Twenty years ago it was derelict and poised to topple as the soft, shaley cliffs beneath were eroded by the sea. Philip’s friends advised him,’Let it go,’ but instead he worked to have it transplanted 25 metres inland.Now you can stay there, courtesy of the Landmark Trust.
Verdure, cow parsley and cuckoo flowers (Red Campion) grow in wild abundance. Smedmore House can be rented for holidays, weekends, house parties or weddings when Philip is not in residence. The house and gardens are open to the public on certain days, which you can find on the website. Read more about Smedmore in the September issue of World of Interiors. All images copyright bibleofbritishtaste.com
This is the London dwelling of John Martin Robinson, aesthete, architectural historian and controversialist. He holds the offices of Maltravers Herald Extraordinary, Librarian to the Duke of Norfolk and Vice Chairman of the Georgian Group ( tho he has just resigned on a point of principle). He is also a regular contributor to Country Life and a Lancashire landowner. His friends call him ‘Mentmore,’ after the huge Victorian country house built for the art collector and banker Baron Mayer de Rothschild, and sold up in the 1970s.
JMR is the author of a lot of outstanding books about country houses and architecture, many of them published by Yale. But in 2006 he produced a memoir of his childhood and early youth, Grass Seed in June, that was very different from anything he had written before. The quotations below are drawn from this interesting work of autobiography.
‘As a family we were Tories and Catholics. I still am – in a not entirely straightforward way. …The Robinsons had married into old Catholic families on their return to Lancashire. The Elizabethan martyrs were close to us. I knew the fields at Brindle where St John Arrowsmith had been captured and taken away to be tried and executed. It was all very near and very exciting. One could not have enough of the gory details of barbarous executions. We were proud of these brave Elizabethan friends, neighbours and relations who had died for the Faith… In general I was useless at anything practical. A farmer told my father: ‘The trouble with that theer lad is he doan’t shape.’ I have never shaped. I don’t drive, I hate all games, I don’t type, I don’t take photographs. I can hardly dial a telephone. … A surprising number of architectural historians do not drive. They are too busy looking at buildings to concentrate at the wheel. I tried to learn but whenever I saw something interesting I tended to turn the car inadvertently towards it across the oncoming traffic…anyway, I loathe cars and the ghastly, selfish, atomised society they represent. Walking, buses and trains are morally better.’ As a car-hater, it came naturally to him to convert the former stable-cum-garage space in his mews cottage near Lambs Conduit Street into something less horrible. This is what he made, a kitchen and dining room, partitioned with a salvaged Gothic screen that he spotted being thrown out of a Curzon Street shop in the early 80s, when he was the GLC’s historic buildings Inspector for Westminster. Note the cunning use of mirror paneling in the door to maximise light and create a greater illusion of space, and the adorable seersucker tablecloth. The jumble sale plates on the kitchen wall were one of his first childhood purchases, costing him sixpence. The painting of the four-towered church of St. John, Smiths Square, designed by Thomas Archer, is by the late Julian Barrow. To the right is a corner of a watercolour of Croome D’Abbot Church in Worcestershire, by Capability Brown and Robert Adam, painted by the talented Alan Dodd, who specialises in architecture; above is Brocklesby Mausoleum, painted by Royston Jones.
Here is the other end of the dining room, photographed in the wintry light of December 2013. The jolly nice 1790s mahogany chairs by Gillow came from an antique shop in Kirby Stephen in Cumbria.
Some of the pretty plates are made of tin. In the centre of the bottom row is the Wedgwood commemorative plate that I gave to him, not because it was lovely (it isn’t very), but because it is decorated with the devices of the heralds who officiate at the College of Arms. John is rather good at buying nice things and decorating the houses in which he lives. When he was wondering what career to take up, this seemed to represent a distinct possibility. Had he followed this through, he could have had secured a reputation as the shortest-tempered interior decorator in England, for he is red-headed and as he freely admits, ‘Redheads have one layer of skin less than normal people.‘ When JMR went up to Oxford he discovered that, ‘ many of the finest Georgian interiors had been redecorated by John Fowler or under his influence. His sort of approach is now frowned on, but it had much to recommend it, combining historical knowledge wit artistic flair and a good sense of colour and tone, too often lacking in later, over-researched restoration of historic interiors. At the the time Fowler was one of my heroes and I thought of working for him. He was encouraging, but sensibly advised me to stick to academe at least for the time being. He had a reputation for being difficult and overbearing but I found him kindness itself. He invited me to lunch in March 1970 and I spent the day with him at King John’s Hunting Lodge, a small, eighteenth century Gothick folly in north Hampshire which he had restored and used as his country retreat…. the whole place with its garden topiary, painted furniture and understated elegance struck me as the acme of civilised perfection.’ The Hunting Lodge is now the home of Nicholas Haslam, who has preserved the best of Fowler’s arrangements while making it yet more vivid and comfortable. ‘My real education came sideways through the three Ls – the liturgy, landscape and libraries. … now I discovered ‘Architecture’ and the Georgians in particular. Apart for Country Life, I can attribute it solely to one book, Ralph Dutton’s pioneering The English Country House (1934), in the Batsford series. The photograph of Wentworth Woodhouse, intriguingly described as ‘the largest of the genus,’ did it. As soon as I was able I was determined to go and see the place.’ How the plaque arrived here from its original setting outside the Kensington front door of the Euthanasia Society’s offices is not clear. JMR”S latest book, Requisitioned, features Wentworth Woodhouse on its cover.
John Robinson habitually wears pullovers and tweed jackets or pin striped double-breasted suits, Here he is at ease on his sofa. His sartorial preferences are still markedly similar to those of his circle as a postgradute student at Oriel College, Oxford, where he studied medieval history. His friend Bruce Wannell, aesthete and Persian scholar, hosted a fête champêtre with a real sheep, and a ‘Decadence’ party. ‘It was for that occasion that I emphasised my passing resemblance to the young Swinburne by growing a little red beard and wearing black velvet jacket, both of which I adopted as my permanent uniform for a time. … Bruce himself was once arrested by the police for murder after he sent his port-stained dress shirt to the laundry and was mistaken for the Oxford Ripper. Generally we wore old tweed coats, pullovers, or – a strange sartorial combination – the top half of a pinstripe suit with jeans, and black brogues or Gucci shoes with horse snaffles across the front.’
The upstairs sitting room, the still life in the manner of William Nicholson is by the portrait painter Diccon Swan.
[caption id="attachment_5969" align="alignleft" width="779"] The upstairs sitting room.
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To the left of the fireplace is ‘Tea at Faringdon,’ a stunning watercolour by Glynn Boyde Hart painted relatively early on in his career.
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JMR met the late Glynn Boyde Hart and his wife Carrie for the first time on being asked to supper at their new house in Cloudesley Square, soon after they had met his friend Colin McMordie while staying in Venice. After meeting for drinks in the pub the four set off together, and arrived at an, ‘uninhabitable Georgian wreck where the builders has just started the long slow job of repair. We removed a bit of rusty corrugated iron from a broken window, climbed in and ate a picnic off the floor. The room was to be their drawing room, decorated by Glynn with painted oak graining, a technique he revived using combs, brushes and tins of Mander’s Matzine acquired by the gallon from closing down sales in old fashioned paint shops. Cloudesley Square was the first of three beautiful house which the GBH’s were to revive and inhabit over the years…’ ‘Tea at Faringdon’ represents the occasion when Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners invited his friend and neighbour Penelope Betjeman to bring her Arab mare Moti into the drawing room at his country house to pose for an indoor equestrian portrait. Lord Berners was a composer, artist, writer and quasi-surrealist, who dyed the pigeons at Faringdon in exotic colours and was depicted as Lord Merlin in Nancy Mitford’s novel, The Pursuit of Love.
One night at supper in our house, Glynn Boyde Hart dashed off this sketch of JMR on a scrap of paper. ‘It’s too absolutely ghastly’ is a characteristic expostulation, usually delivered after eight o’clock in the evening and the first few drinks of the day in a drawn-out-drawl through the long ‘a’ in ‘ghaaastly’. The quotation which follows is by way of an explaination, describing JMR’s sense of disaffiliation in the modern world.. ‘My memories of school, and indeed my feelings at the time, were that I was witnessing the collapse of not just an institution but a wider culture. My generation was the last. The last to be able to martial a shield of quartered arms, compose a Latin epitaph, read old books for pleasure, value formal manners, or tell the difference between Dec. and Perp. Nobody brought up and educated in this country after the end of the 1960s is the same as us. The unassuming cultural link, which made me feel at home in the 1890s or 1850s as much as in the present, has been broken.’
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This is JMR”s pretty farmhouse at the foot of a Lancashire fell, with cows in the stone-paved yard at the back and a swift beck running at the bottom of the garden. The painting is by naive artist Caroline Bullock aka Carrie Boyde Hart. Glynn designed the two symmetrical wings which look as if they have always been there. Inside the house has elaborate eighteenth century joinery by a local craftsman working from one of the pattern books of Batty Langley. John bought the house unseen in 1986, after seeing it (unillustrated) in a local agent’s particulars.
[caption id="attachment_5974" align="alignleft" width="788"] The upstairs sitting room in London.
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Here is a tomato soup-coloured chair (which I sold him) designed by Lord Snowdon and made for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. Propped above it is a painting of the west Sussex town of Arundel with its castle, found for him by the Fitzwilliam Museum’s director Tim Knox at Portabello market. Every week on a Wednesday JMR catches the train to Arundel, where the towers and turrets of the castle hang over the town. Arundel Castle is one of the longest inhabited buildings in England and has been in the possession of the Howard family since 1138. A few years ago Julian and Isabel Bannerman designed a new garden full of curious 17th century conceits, in memory of the ‘Collector-earl’ of Arundel. JMR’s occupations there are essentially peaceable, usually taking place in the muniment room in one of the towers stuffed with documents going back to the 12th century, but his vision of England is of a country where martial tendencies are still latent :
‘In the course of the last three centuries of generally advancing tameness, the British deliberately and calculatedly kept alive and nurtured a primeval, male, barbarous streak in all classes as being best suited in the armed services, buccaneering and industrial-imperial life in general. ..This explains why the young British male, even today, is so much more of a violent, medieval, throw-back than his European, homogenized, social-democratic opposite numbers. Whenever I witness rampaging louts, glass-smashing yobs, vomiting football crowds, my heart swells with native British pride. We are not militarist, but we are warlike.’
[caption id="attachment_5986" align="alignleft" width="819"] Last year, John Robinson published the research on which he has been working since he was an Oxford postgraduate, James Wyatt, 1746-1813, Architect to George III, and organised an exhibition ( with the Georgian Group) on the same theme in the famous Yellow Room at Colefax and Fowler. The colour on the walls of the Yellow Room was the inspiration of Nancy Lancaster, who bought out Sibyl Colefax when she retired, and John Fowler, paint wizard, who stippled many coats of paint on the walls and then glazed them, giving this electrifying sheen.
[caption id="attachment_5987" align="alignleft" width="560"] Also on show was this scale model of Wyatt’s Gothick masterpiece, Fonthill Abbey, made for James Wyatt, now belonging to the Bath Preservation Trust and usually on display in the Lansdowne Tower.
[caption id="attachment_5990" align="alignleft" width="747"] These pistachio green, Wyatt baby blue and sugar pink tea towels have now sold out.
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English Heritage lent chairs, tripod flower stands, demi-lune tables, a torchère and looking glasses from Heveningham Hall. They had been in store since the 1970s when the hall and its furniture were acquired from the Vanneck family by the government. Michael Heseltine, the Secretary of State for the Environment at the time, oversaw the transaction. The Department of the Environment failed to find a solution for the house, and it was sold again in 1981.
[caption id="attachment_5992" align="alignleft" width="584"] Also for sale were these watercolours of the plasterwork ceilings at Heveinngham by Georgian fanatic and artist Royston Jones.
Long ago as a junior curator at English Heritage I spent three claustrophobic days immured in the attics at Audley End House, where hundreds of pieces of Hevengham’s furniture had been taken into storage while everyone wondered what to do with it. Royston Jones and his partner Fiona Gray were taking measurement of every spindle, strut, arm, leg and moulding in order to fabricate a series of scale models of them all, and I had been left in charge of them. I don’t know if they ever finished this exacting task.
The photograph of Wyatt’s hall at Heveningham was taken by by Alfred E. Henson for Country Life in 1926. His clever trick was to throw a bucket of water over the marble floor, bringing its colours and patterns into gleaming high relief. All images : copyright bibleofbritishtaste
From a temporary gallery arranged in the downstairs rooms of her house in Stepney, Romilly Saumarez Smith has just sold her latest jewellery collection. ‘That collection is done now, we’ll make up the orders but then we’ll go on to the next one, and I’ve got another idea for after that – my thinking is onto the next thing, now,’ she said when I saw her there a couple of weeks ago.
This house is another of her works of art. The calm order of the rooms here belies the fact that in the year 2000, it was a no more than a brick carcass. Joinery, staircase, windows, chimneys and even the attic storey were gone.
‘When we first got here you could drive through the middle of the house to the space where they fitted the exhaust pipes, and there were shops on the front,’ she says. The exhaust and tyre-fitting garage inside was accessed through hoardings advertised with this Michelin-man made out of old tyres. Both her house and its neighbour had been bought by the Spitalfields Trust to save them from demolition, from whom my friends Todd Longstaffe Gowan and Tim Knox had already acquired the slightly more intact house to the right in this photograph. At the party which they gave to celebrate we kicked old exhaust pipes and carburetters about the wide expanses of concrete inside. Todd took this photograph in 1998. Two years later Romilly took on the house on the left, where she lives with her husband Charles Saumarez-Smith and their two sons, now grown up.
The dining room at the front of the house, with reinstated fire surround and new joinery, but the chimney breast paneling left as found.
Paint colours were chosen from Emerie and Cie in Brussels. One of a series of John Goto’s photographs of carved saints and angels from East Anglian rood screens hangs on the walls.
At her last house in Limehouse, Romilly’s workspace was a bindery. ‘I got to the end of the line with bookbinding. I’d started using metal on the books – I just loved it – I remember the first time I soldered anything – its this amazing orgasmic moment when everything heats up and starts flowing – and I really enjoyed that, so I started making jewellery, and by the time we moved in here I no longer needed a big bindery, I just needed a small room at the back,’ she says.
‘I suppose I worked for about another four years, but by the end I was struggling to make my own work and then I couldn’t do it any more, so then I had another four or five years without making, which was hellish,’ she says, alluding briefly to the illness which paralysed her. ‘But then I was given a wonderful retrospective binding exhibition at the Yale Centre for British Art, and they showed the house, and they showed some of the jewellery, and it really helped me. Being brought up as a crafts person, I was always thinking that you must make it yourself, but I understand now, that the idea is the absolute crux of the whole piece.
I started looking for someone who would help me make the work, my assistants. What has been extraordinary is that their own work is very different, but when they make for me they are being my hands, with great generosity, and I have no absolutely difficulty that these are my pieces. The difficulty is for me to try and explain what I want, but when you work with people over a couple of years you develop a language so that I can shortcut through a lot of stuff.’
Front garden from the dining room.
‘My collection hasn’t got a name, but it is all based on things to do with the sea.’ The earrings here are inspired by drawings of seaweeds and sea wrack in a nineteenth century German compendium of natural history.
The relevant page with the earring design-prototype illustrated in the bottom right corner. The pod-like specimen above it became the necklace seen on the chimney piece in the photograph below.
‘Anna, who makes for me, draws each hole with a burr on the end of the drill – they are not cast,’ Romilly says, describing how it has been carefully hand made. Of the nacreous pendant, ‘ I wanted the feeling of a shell with water pouring out of it. Because I wasn’t trained as a jeweller, I am much freer with what I can do.’
‘These earrings fitted very well with my theme of being by by the beach. I wanted them to feel like, you know, you have a rock with mussels on it. The top bit is like mussel shells, they re very crushed together on the rock and underneath the garnets became like sea anemones, exactly that consistency of dark rather thick jelly.’
The staircase is carpeted with lead fixed with copper nails.
The master bedroom, with Grayson Perry’s Map of an Englishman over the bed.
The polychrome Victorian encaustic tiles in the bathroom.
Books are escaping and creeping up and down the stairs
On the front landing a little closet that would have served as a wig-powdering room in the eighteenth century now houses a jeweller’s workbench.
The precious stones that she used in her latest collection were bought on ebay, they came from a manor house in the Midlands. ‘They date from about 1750 and the cuts are quite eccentric, they’re cut by hand. The seller said that they were found in a little leather bag, hidden away at the back of a cupboard.’ Only a few garnets remain unset.
Drawing room, ceramics by Andrew Wicks and Edmund de Waal with a plate by Hylton Nel above.
Arts and Crafts chairs designed by Romilly’s cabinetmaker grandfather.
‘The little diamonds I’ve used in the Reef rings and cut quite randomly, I wanted that feeling that they were growing,’ says Romilly. ‘For the big ring, you need to look through a magnifying glass, those are pearls and rough diamonds. I think it would be a nice ring for a boring dinner, you could sit and look at it and think of all those lovely tropical fish floating about. They’re not so much to do with English seas, they’re more like something you’d see with David Attenborough, with a coral reef.’
‘I bought quite a lot of garnets and then I got three or four rubies. I set them upside down, not all of them – the garnets are the right way up.’
This is an octagon cut ruby. That one, it was a dark blue sapphire and ‘tho I ‘ve worked with stones before, I was unaware of how the settings affect the stones so much, it is blue but since I set it with the other diamonds it almost becomes a dark green.’
The pinkish gold setting around this ruby ring was achieved by heating – ‘normally you would always clean up to take all that oxydisation off, but I just saw it and liked it.’
Romilly and her work partner and friend, Lucie Gledhill have a diffusion line of jewellery using their maiden names, Savage and Chong
All other photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste.com