To mark April’s Renaissance, the bibleofbritishtaste presents new stories and themes. Some are being commissioned from generous and talented friends. But these are not them. Today’s story is an amuse gueule from its archives of thousands of pictures of things and houses and people that have never yet seen the light of day. Here are a few dozen randomly chosen pictures that pleased me for all sorts of reasons, Proustian, decorative or showing the rooms and houses where I’ve been happiest. First past the post is the guest bathroom at the Old Parsonage in Little Bredy, with Charlie McCormick”s Cheeseplant-sized pelagonium descending from the table and stacks of gardening magazines beneath. Mavis the Labrador headbutts the bedroom door in the morning and all three dogs cascade into the room. Ben Pentreath’s complete collection of copies of The World of Interiors lines the spine corridor outside.
Breakfast in the kitchen, an egg or toast or just a giant ‘moustache-cup’ of tea. There are always flowers.
Where Sussex meets Hampshire there’s a house like an illustration from a Beatrix Potter story, high up under a beech hanger, all made out of old things and marvellous architectural salvage. Sparrow’s Hanger belongs to Alastair Langlands and its insides were put together with panelling and joinery saved from the careless demolitions in the 20s and 30s by his antiquary father in law’s family, as a picturesque weekend bolt-hole.
The kitchen remains utilitarian and unembellished except for a gallery of family photographs and is all the better for that.
Alastair’s sitting-cum-drawing room has a delicious-looking shortbread tin by the wood burner but it probably contains only matches and firelighters. The paint colours were his late father in law’s, ‘but I relish them very much.’ Sparrow’s Hanger was also published in The World of Interiors – I wrote the story and @antonycrolla took superb pictures but I cannot discover exactly when.
Here is Antony Crolla again, photographing the ancient stones of Shulbrede Priory under a light mizzle. Shulbrede is about 10 minutes off from Sparrow’s Hanger as the crow flies and rather in the same line of country, i.e. unmodernised, in this case, for centuries. It is the surviving corner of the rather obscure religious house of Wlenchmere, founded at the end of the twelfth century and suppressed by Henry VIII in the 1530s. It’s one of my very favourites on the bibleobritishtaste
This is the old house in Georgian Spitalfields where architectural historians Will and Eloise Palin’ lived before little Rose and Albert were born. Will impulse-bought this scrap screen one day in Marlborough when we were on works outing to the printer who produced the Soane Museum’s exemplary exhibition catalogues – and Will has restored the missing elements of this old house’s original panelling.
The rather brilliant half-panelling in designer Julia de Pauley’s (Regency) Bridport townhouse looks 1920s and was probably left in dark wood or deal when it was put up. The picture rail is a brilliantly versatile invention, the chandelier one of the best that I know. Julia is a discriminating chooser with beyond-impeccable taste.
White-panelled rooms with unfussy wall treatments : Wolterton Park, the Palladian prodigy house in Norfolk belonging to Peter Sheppard and Keith Day. The walls would once have been stretched with a patterned silk damask fixed up with gilt filets. Everyone really likes the way they look now, revealed in their C18th flat lead paint that was never meant to be seen and the empty nail holes.
For quite a few years landscape gardeners Julian and Isabel Bannerman lived at Trematon Castle on the Devon/Cornwall borders, in a Regency house shaped like a butter pat built inside the castle walls, where they made a paradise garden on an epic scale. I tried to stay there as often as possible, diverting left on my way to Lamorna at the other end of Cornwall. We often went to bed at 9.30. I felt more at home there than I do at home. Isabel took this photo. She knows everything about plants and her new book is Scent Magic, (Pimpernell Press).
I only had a go in this lovely Trematon bedroom one Christmastime, the curtains are vintage Bakers, probably early 90s and one day, Isabel might sell them to me.
This is a throwback to about 9 years ago, the Bannerman’s leaving garden party for their house that came house before Trematon, Hanham Court near Bath. Laura Ashley’s granddaughters wore vintage Laura Ashley and looked best of all.
Here is the downstairs / Gents. lavatory at Trematon, near the front door. Because of this proximity it always housed a lot of outdoor stuff, coats and boots, like the wardrobe of C..S. Lewis fame as well as many china frogs. Writing her book on cold winter mornings, Isabel used to retreat to the ‘Hons.’ -style airing cupboard upstairs to sit near to the hot pipes.
That lavatory green reminds me of this one, an upper floor guest bathroom in the house where Domenica Moore-Gordon and Charlie Fletcher live along with her mother Marianne More Gordon [nee Thompson-McCauseland], another talented maker, near Edinburgh.
And here is the bedroom adjacent to the one where I slept peacefully. The sheets, lace edged pillowslips and everything else were the most exquisitely pressed.
And the Botallack Moor bedroom of dearest Rose Hilton who died last year. I gave her the mosque alarm clock which wakes you up with the piercing call to prayer, the birthday card was painted by her husband Roger Hilton.
This was her Newlyn painting studio – once a Victorian school room – to which she drove cross-country, early every morning. She made some of her best and biggest paintings here.
Min Hogg, founder-editor of The World of Interiors. She commissioned this bedroom scheme of hand painted rose wallpaper from Timner Wollard; ‘She used to do rooms sets and backdrops for us [at WOI], and then she and I concocted it together. That’s the best bit there, [in the right-hand corner next to the bed head], that’s before her boyfriend told her they weren’t going to Paris.’
And her sitting/dining/ room of all usefulness. In a week or two her niece Molly Alexander will be writing about Min, her decorating and her wonderful eye in these pages. Min prized this little needlepoint cushion stitched by her mother…
And here are the swankier Library sofa cushions from the needle of Lady Violet Powell, nee Pakenham, at The Chantry in Somerset-shire. Sitting here she edited the manuscripts of her husband’s epic novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time.
Doddington in Kent where the gardens are usually open to the public, the entrance hall with its Tudorbethan salvaged panelling and Amicia de Moubray, writer, gardener and co-founder of Faversham Life.
Down in the Mile End Road, once upon a time, Tim Knox and Todd Longstaffe Gowan bought a spectacular great house that had languished unloved for a century. There was a moving-in party in the cavernous ground floor, a cement floored car exhaust fitting workshop with discarded exhaust pipes rattling underfoot. This was the upstairs bathroom, Tim’s mother’s Sanderson-fabric-covered armchair in the huge bathroom, memorials to the Victorian dead: cut-paper memento mori.
Back to my place. One of three car boot sale Dolls houses I gave my daughter Georgie when she was little because I had always wanted one myself. This was the most ordinary, a 4 room Surrey mock-broker job, probably made by Chad Valley. I regret selling it tho. I like the way that the dolls look so ‘done in.’
Sitting room at my place with large ashtray. and Habitat lamps
Bedroom and Kenneth Rowntree’s large sub-Cubist nude for which his wife modelled, bought in absentia and in lieu of the one I most wanted at the auction of his studio. I admire this artist very much, most of all for his Pop-inspired landscape paintings with cows and traffic signs. The painting has since moved to a side wall.
Hall. One of my pair of Prince of Wales tomato soup Investiture chairs designed by Lord Snowdon and lightly gnawed by Bunny the lurcher when she was an anxious puppy.
Quite a different thing. The New Club in Edinburgh. Which I long to photograph and publish properly but their charming club secretary is not sure the members would care for it.
More of the New Club. When first rebuilt the wallpaper here was dark Paisley patterned, I’d so like to have seen that.
Corner of the downstairs Sitting Room of neoclassical architect George Saumarez Smith in Winchester, a truly lovely house which is evolving al the time. It’s in this week’s issue of Country Life too.
A Bunny hop to three of the many books illustrated by consummate aesthete and artist Glynn Boyd Harte. One was written by our friends Teresa and Auberon Waugh but these are here because right now, we’re probably all thinking about food much more than we do ordinarily?
Kitchen dresser of Glynn’s great friend and collaborator the painter and author Ian Archie Beck, his copain from les Freres Pervertes. Ian drew the Yellow Brick Road album cover for Elton John and he has written and illustrated dozens of books; these shelves hold Eric Ravilious’s Wedgwood china and little coffee cans printed with motifs from the repertoire of his late father-in-law, the engraver and artist Reynolds Stone.
Alan Dodd has lovely things but this picture is to show the printed linen designed by George Gilbert Scott for the Houses of Parliament, stretched on the walls of this spine corridor. There is also a compartmentalised, oak-grained ceiling that alludes to Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Romantic’ interiors at Abbotsford. His taxidermy collection pre-dates the current vogue by decades.
David Bridgwater invited me to his town house in Bath about a year before he moved on, to a big old place in the country that he’s restoring ( the pictures are on instagram). This was his sort of inner sanctum, a room in which you covet everything, its chimneypiece arrangement reminding me of John Soane’s. A few months later I bought one thing that I’d seen here and couldn’t stop thinking about, a bashed up gesso and papier-mache overmantle frieze panel of game birds, a fox, hare and hound. I haven’t got a fire surround worthy of it yet.
Another inner sanctum, the business room of Capt. Nigel Thimbleby whose impossibly old house of Wolfeton lies in West Dorset, hard on the flanks of the new Duchy of Cornwall town of Poundbury. I found everything about this house and its owner sympathetic and wonderful but could never persuade any magazine editor to feature it in their pages.
A bit more to the east of Dorset above the crumbly shale and fossil-rich cliffs of Kimmeridge is Smedmore House belonging to Philip Mansel, author and historian, one of the cleverest and most sophisticated men that I know. Smedmore has its origins in the C12th and has descended to its present owner by marriage or inheritance, in other words, it has never been sold. Gervase Jackson-Stops helped Philip to decorate this room in the 80s. Philip tolerantly let me rummage the china and linen cupboards to half-set the dining table for our shoot for The World of Interiors. Ever since pictures of this room were published legions of decorators have suddenly ‘rediscovered’ the wonder of plates on walls.
And back to Wolterton in Norfolk, dear to my heart, not least because its generous and tolerant owners have commissioned me to write the book of the house, and I’ll be writing about it here too in the next week or two. This is a snap of the office from which the ongoing work of restoring the house is accomplished, Keith Day has done one of his swift, random, transitory hangs assembling all the small and miscellaneous notices and photographs from about the house and cellars. By the time I get back there again it will probably have vanished and dispersed for ever.
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