HAPPY 153rd BIRTHDAY TO BEATRIX POTTER

July 28, 2019, is the 153rd birthday of Beatrix Potter, an extraordinary woman we remember with great affection and appreciation.  Victoria here, a lifelong fan of Peter Rabbit and the other familiar characters she wrote about.

Born in 1866, Helen Beatrix Potter (died 1943) lived in London and vacationed in the Lake District and Scotland.  She studied animals and plants, and developed a love of the outdoors as well as an ability to draw plants and fungi. 

This website (click here) will give you all the background you need on the stories, her life, and her legacy.  It also provides information on the recently discovered Tale of Kitty-in-Boots which was published in September 2016, a special treat for all of us.
Perhaps Potter’s most valuable contribution, beyond her stories, is her gift of more than four thousand acres of land in the Lake District of Britain. She left the land to the National Trust which has maintained her Hill Top Farm (click here) open to visitors. Most of the land is incorporated into the Lake District National Park.
 
Hill Top Farm

 

One of my favorite stories is The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.  I suspect it is more because I adore hedgehogs, not because I am a neatness freak about housework and laundry.

 

Fortunately, Potter’s stories and their wonderful illustrations have been preserved.  No disney-fication for them!  My grandchildren have greatly enjoyed the DVDs from the BBC with the original characters.  

In 2006, Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger was filmed. The trailer is here.  

Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter
The Real Thing!

Hooray for you, Beatrix Potter!! And thank you for all your gifts.

The Darker Side of London History

From The Horse-World of London by William John Gordon (1893)

Very few horses are allowed to end their days in peace, after long and faithful service, like the Duke of Wellington’s old charger Copenhagen, in the paddocks at Strathfieldsaye. London horses, in particular, rarely die natural deaths. Many of them are sent back into the country in a vain hope that they will ‘come round’; many of them are poleaxed for very shame at their miserable appearance; some of them slip and injure themselves beyond recovery in the streets.
A curious trade is that of the horse-slaughterer, who must not only have a licence, but carry on his operations in accordance with the 26th of George III. and other Acts of Parliament. No horse that enters his yard must come out again alive, or as a horse. The moment it enters those gates it must be disfigured by having its mane cut off so close to the skin as to spoil its value, and though it may be put in a ‘pound’ on the premises, which might better be called a condemned cell or a moribundary, it must not remain there for more than three days.
In Garratt Lane, Wandsworth, is the largest horseslaughtering yard in London. It has existed for about a hundred years. There it stands, practically odourless, by the banks of the winding Wandle, with a wide meadow in front of it and a firework factory next door, the magazine of which is within measurable distance of its boiler-house. One fine morning—it was really a beautiful morning—we found our way down the lane, along the field, armed with Mr. Boss’s permit, to be initiated by Mr. Milestone into the mysteries of a horse’s departure from the London world.
The last scene does not take long. In two seconds a horse is killed; in a little over half an hour his hide is in a heap of dozens, his feet are in another heap, his bones are boiling for oil, his flesh is cooking for cat’s meat. Maneless he stands; a shade is put over his eyes; a swing of the axe, and, with just one tremor, he falls heavy and dead on the flags of a spacious kitchen, which has a line of coppers and boilers steaming against two of its walls.
In a few minutes his feet are hooked up to crossbeams above, and two men pounce upon him to flay him; for the sooner he is ready the quicker he cooks. Slash, slash, go the knives, and the hide is peeled off about as easily as a tablecloth; and so clean and uninjured is the body that it looks like the muscle model we see in the books and in the plaster casts at the corn-chandler’s. Then, with full knowledge gained by almost life-long practice, for the trade is hereditary, the meat is slit off with razor-like knives, and the bones are left white and clean and yet unscraped, even the neck vertebrae being cleared in a few strokes—one of the quickest things in carving imaginable.
If there is any malformation the sweep of the knife is stayed for a moment; that is all. The same sort of thing has always been seen before, and there is no hesitation about the way to deal with it. No matter of what breed or age or condition the horse may be, his ‘boning’ is not delayed by peculiarities. And horses of all sorts, some of them sound and in the prime of life, here meet their doom—the favourite horse killed at his master’s death, to save him from falling into cruel hands: the runaway horse that has injured a daughter; the brute that has begun to kick and bite; the mildest mannered mare that has, perhaps, merely taken a wrong turn and made her mistress angry—all come here to die with the hundreds of the injured and the old. Taking them all round, the old and young and sound and ailing, they average out in the men’s opinion at rather over eleven years when they here meet their doom.
Soon the bare skeleton remains to be broken up and in baskets go aloft to be shot into a huge digester, where it is made to yield about a quarter hundredweight of oil. Following the oil, we see it cleared of its stearin, pressed out between huge sheets of paper, and remaining in white cakes like gauffres ready for the candle-makers; and we see the oil flowing limpid and clear into the tank above, from which it is barrelled off to be used eventually for lubricating and leather-dressing purposes.
Returning to the bones, we find them out on the flags, clean and free from grease, ready to be thrown into a mill, from which they emerge like granite from a stonebreaker, along a sloping cylindrical screen, which sorts the fragments into sizes varying up to half an inch. And stretching away from us are sacks, full to the brim with bones, all in rows like flour-sacks at a miller’s, all ready to go off to the manure merchants. And still further following the bones, we find some of them ground to powder and mixed with sulphuric acid to leave the premises as another form of fertiliser.
Having seen the bones off the premises, we follow the feet, of which we find a huge pile, not a trace of which will be left before the day is out. The skin and hoofs will go to the glue-makers and blue-makers; the bones will go to the button-makers; the old shoes will go to the farrier’s and be used over and over again, welded in the fire and hammered on the streets, so that all that is lost of a horseshoe is what rusts or is rubbed off in powder..-.
With a glance at the tails and manes, which will soon be lost in sofas, chairs, or fishing-lines, we reach the heap of hides, which will probably find its way to Germany to be made into the leather guards on cavalry trousers, or, maybe, stay in this country for carriage roofs and whip-lashes. This distribution of the dead horse may seem to be an odoriferous business, but the odours are reduced to a minimum by an elaborate ventilating system which draws off all the fumes and emanations into a line of pipes, and passes them over a wide furnace to be burnt, so that none of them reach the outer air.
But now for the ‘meat,’ which, cut into such joints as the trade require, has been boiling in the coppers and is now done to a turn, with just the central tint of redness and rawness that suits the harmless, necessary cat, while the ‘tripe ‘ is doing white in another copper to suit the palate of the less fastidious dog.
Harrison Barber, Limited, the successors of the once great Jack Atcheler, dead some thirty years since, kill 26,000 London horses a year. All night and all day the work goes on, this slaying and flaying, and boning and boiling down, and this cooking for feline food. Go to any of their depots between five and six o’clock in the morning, and you will find a long string of the pony traps and hand-carts, barrows and perambulators, used in the wholesale and retail cat’s-meat trade. The horse on an average yields 2 cwt. 3 qrs. of meat; 26,000 horses a year means 500 a week, which in its turn means 70 tons
of meat per week to feed the dogs and cats of London.
This is not all the ‘meat’ that is sold, nor all the London horses that are killed, for the horseflesh trade is large enough to employ thirty wholesale salesmen; but taking even this ten tons a day, we shall find it means 134,400 meals, inasmuch as a pound of meat cuts up into half a dozen ha’porths—the skewers being given in, though it takes half a ton of them to fix up a day’s consumption. Here is another item for the forest conservation people! 182 tons of deal used a year in skewering up the horses made into meat by Harrison Barber!
Sometimes there is a glut of the aged and the maimed, and the supply of meat exceeds the demand. To cope with this difficulty a complete refrigerating plant is at work at Wandsworth, cooling the larders, in which two hundred and fifty horses can be stored; which larders are not only a revelation, but a welcome surprise.
A door is opened and shut, and we stand in the darkness between two doors in an air lock; the inner door is opened and a shiver of cold runs through us as a match is struck and a candle lighted; and there in front is what looks like a deep cave in an arctic drift. Around us are piles of meat, all hard as stone and glittering with ice crystals; overhead, and at the back of all, the beams and walls are thick with pure clinging snow; and from above a few flakes fall as the door closes on the silvery cloak that wraps the last to leave the Horse World of London.

THE SALE YARD

From The Horse-World of London by William John Gordon (1893)

Tattersall’s is usually looked upon as the headquarters of horsey London. It is certainly the headquarters of the horse of pleasure, but, as has been made clear enough in these pages, that sort of horse is simply lost in the thousands that throng our streets. Tattersall’s is practically the great betting exchange, but the visitor to any of the Monday or Thursday sales will be puzzled to find the least sign of a betting atmosphere at Knightsbridge. The two things are as distinct on those days as, say, the Bank of England and Capel Court. The yard is under cover, a lofty glass-roofed hall, which cost 30,000L to build, and which is as big as many a railway station. It is surrounded by a handsome gallery, behind the arched and columned screen of which every type of pleasure vehicle seems to be ‘on view,’ duly numbered in ‘lots’ for the hammer. In the centre of the gravel area is a drinking fountain, surmounted by the quaint old Georgian bust of the founder, with its eyes fixed on the entrance doors, and its thoughts apparently as far away from water as are those of the crowd around.

It is a different variety of crowd from that which gathers in any other sale yard. London has several ‘repositories.’ There is Aldridge’s in St. Martin’s Lane; there is Kymill’s in the Barbican—these two being the chief; and there are Stapleton’s out in the East, and Ward’s in the West, and the Elephant and Castle in the South, and others which many a horse knows well. There is a sort of horse that ‘knows the lot’; the sort that ‘does the round,’ and brings more money to the auctioneers than to the unfortunate buyers, who ‘find him out’ in a fortnight, and ‘get rid of him sharp’ to an unwary successor; a wonderful animal this horse, ‘quiet in harness, a good worker,’ who has only two faults, one that ‘it takes a long time to catch him in a field,’ the other that ‘he is not worth a rap when caught.’ But this kind of horse does not put in many appearances at Knightsbridge. Tattersall’s has a character to keep up, and it has kept it up for over a hundred years now. It is eminently respectable, from the unused drinking fountain and the auctioneers’ hammer, one of the good old pattern, with a rounded knob instead of a double head, down to the humblest hanger-on.

Entering one of the stables which open on to the yard, and have a dozen or more roomy stalls apiece, we find a horse being measured, to make sure he is correctly described. One would think he was a recruit, from the careful way in which the long wooden arm is brought down so gingerly as not even to press in his skin. Soon his turn will come. Up in the gallery will go his number, and the young auctioneer in the rostrum below —which has a sounding-board, as if it were a cathedral pulpit—will read out his short title.

Out comes the horse at last—tittuppy-trot, tittuppytrot. ‘Ten,’ says one of the crowd. ‘Ten guineas,’ echoes the auctioneer. ‘Twelve,’ comes from the crowd; ‘twelve guineas,’ echoes the Varsity man in the pulpit. And so the game goes on with nods and shouts, each nod or look being worth a guinea, so that the solo runs, ‘Thirteen—thirteen guineas—fourteen guineas—fifteen guineas—sixteen—sixteen guineas— seventeen—eighteen—twenty guineas’—quite a singsong up to—’ twenty-eight guineas’—and so gradually slowing, with a spurt or two to ‘forty guineas’—and then a grand noisy rally till ‘fifty-five’ is reached. ‘Fifty-five?—Fifty-five?—Fifty-five? Last time, Fiftyfive!’—knock—and away goes Captain Carbine’s hunter, to make room for a ‘match pair’ that will change hands at 165 guineas, or perhaps fifty more if the season has begun—the bidding always in guineas, in order that the auctioneer may live on the shillings, as Sir John Gilbert used to do in the old days when the guineas flowed to him for his drawings on the wood.

If you want riding horses or carriage horses you go to Tattersall’s; if you want draught horses for trade, you go to Bymill’s or Aldridge’s, where you not only get the new-comers, but also the second-hand, and many-another-hand, from London’s stables. With those second-hand horses we need not overburden ourselves; our task has been to bring the first-hand horses into London, and sort them out. We have brought in the ‘bus horses, the tram horses, the cab horses, the railway horses, the cart and many other horses. Of the cart horses we could, if it were worth while, say a good deal more. We have said nothing of the distillers, the millers, the soap merchants, the timber merchants, the better class contractors, and half a dozen other firsthand horse-owning trades. Some of the distillers’ horses are said, by those who know, to be as good as any in the brewers’ drays, and by ‘as good’ is meant that they are of the same breeding, and can be compared with them, owing to their being at somewhat similar work.

If you think you know anything of horseflesh and want the conceit taken out of you, by all means attend a repository sale. You will see a horse—it may be a likely mare—led from her stall and stood ready for her turn, and you will probably value her at, to be reasonable, 20L; and she looks worth not a penny less. When her number goes up at the window you will see her shown at her best at a run, and, for a moment, you will be inclined to add hi. to your estimate, But soon a chill will run down your back as you hear the bidding. ‘Three! Three and a half! Four!’ a long pause. ‘Four and a half! Five!’ jerks the auctioneer in the corner, with about as much expression as if a penny had been put in his mouth to work him automatically. ‘For the last time! Five!’ Knock. Five guineas! And as the mare is led back to her stall she seems to Change before your very eyes, and you are ready to admit that she doesn’t look worth a penny more!

SYON HOUSE

by Victoria Hinshaw
The Percy family, now dukes of Northumberland have lived at Syon House for many years. To follow the fortunes of the Percy family is to travel the twists and turns of British history.  From their arrival with William the Conqueror in the 11th century, they held a stronghold at Alnwick Castle in far Northumberland and frequently ran into conflicts with the English kings.  Because of their support for Mary Queen of Scots, they were commanded to live in the south, at their property at Petworth in Sussex.  There were many periods of imprisonment in the Tower for various earls over the centuries.

In its first few centuries, Syon seemed to exist under a dark cloud. Lord Somerset died on the scaffold before it was finished; Lady Jane Grey resided here; it served as a prison for the children of Charles I for a time. 

Syon came to the Percy family through the marriage of Henry Percy (1564- 1632) to Lady Dorothy Devereux (d. 1619), a sister of Robert, Earl of Essex, a favorite of Elizabeth I.  From a previous marriage, Lady Dorothy owned the lease to the valuable Syon estate.  When James I came to the throne, he gave Syon outright to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland.  In 1605 the 9th earl himself landed in the Tower, where he lived for sixteen years, improving his estates and studying scientific topics from his prison.  He was known as the Wizard Earl for his many interests in science and the occult.  His wife Dorothy regularly sent him baskets of fruits from the Syon orchards.
Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland

By 1764, Syon was still basically a Tudor mansion, looking much as it had when first built in 1547, a courtyard house that offered many challenges to bring up to  current taste. The 3rd duke, who succeeded in 1817, rebuilt the walls of the house in Bath stone, and built the conservatory. He entertained “lavishly” at Syon during the reign of William IV and was succeeded by his brother Algernon in 1847. Their descendants today still live at Syon, the family of the 11th Duke, Henry Alan Walter Richard Percy.

From the website: Robert Adam and ‘Capability’ Brown

“The 7th Duke of Somerset died in 1750, and Hugh and Elizabeth, who were to become the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, inherited the estates.  They were leading figures in contemporary society, and would have inherited a house with dated interiors, surrounded by an unfashionable formal landscape.  Gardens and House were both in a poor condition.

“The solution was a complete redesign of Syon.  In one of his first major commissions, the landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown swept away the formal landscape to the south and west of the House, replacing it with the open views characteristic of the English Landscape movement.  Over the course of twenty years he extended this to the north and west, incorporating farmland to the west into the new park, and creating Pleasure Grounds to the north, both centred on large new ornamental lakes.  In the House the Scottish architect Robert Adam was commissioned to create a series of striking classical interiors, filled with antiquities shipped from Italy.  Adam was not able to change the interior layout of the House, and so used a number of architectural devices to create a suitable impression.”

Following  a carefully designed route through Capability Brown’s Park, then through a monumental portico, one enters the Great Hall. 

The visitor experiences a  dramatic contrast when stepping into the Ante-Room after the subdued serenity of the Hall.

 The floor is scagliola (composition of ground marble, plaster and glue often seen on tabletops) in brilliant colors, perfectly preserved and highly polished.  Some of the marble columns were found in the Tiber River in Rome and brought to Syon.  Others are copies, also made of scagliola.  The columns serve to square off the room size and to provide bases for the gilded statues, all reproductions of ancient figures.  It is difficult to underestimate the dazzling effect of standing in this room, which I am tempted to describe as gaudy, though it also has a unity of color and beauty that actually give it a different but equally impressive dignity as the Great Hall.

After the brilliant colors of the ante room, the dining room is almost restrained in its gilded elegance. From the Ante-Room, on the corner of the house, one steps into the ivory and gold magnificence of the Dining Room, a perfect example of classic Adam style.  Columns, apses, antique statues, and gilt combine with the rich wooden flooring in a pleasing pattern.  Adam rarely used soft materials in his eating rooms because carpets, curtains, tapestries and other hangings could absorb food odors.  Cleverly concealed in the doorways are compartments holding the dining tables, which were set up for meals and removed for dancing or other activities, while some of the statue bases conceal chamberpots. 

 The Red Drawing Room was described by Adam as a buffer to the real Withdrawing Room for the ladies, which was in the next chamber, the Gallery,  now the Library.  The walls are of red Spitalfields silk, while diamonds and octagons on the ceiling contrast with the painted medallions with gilded banding.

The Long Gallery was intended by Adam for the use of the ladies.  The Tudor room is 136 feet long with a width and height of only 14 feet. Adam solved the size and shape problem by softening the colors to pastel mauves and greens, installing shallow bookcases and clustering the tapestry-upholstered furniture in what we would call conversation groups.  There is a unity of design elements as well, with decorative swags on the walls, flat pilasters separating the bookshelves, and a pleasing pattern of geometric shapes, as in the ceiling.   When I visited this room, I found it astonishingly beautiful, yet comfortable.  As I gazed at the titles on the shelves, the Duke himself came by, showing the collection to a visitor. 

At the far end of the library, there is a little closet, once the site of the corner spiral staircase, now long gone.  In this little room, decorated in delicate pinks and grays, hangs a birdcage holding a mechanical bird which spreads his wings and warbles on the hour.  The bottom of the cage is the clock’s face, not a particularly practical place to put it, if you ask me.   It is known as one of Adam’s conceits.  Nevertheless, the “closet” serves the role of early closets for kings and dukes — a private room holding favorite collections and offering the closest thing to privacy a great personage could experience.  Ah, the trials and tribulations of fame and fortune!
 

Syon Park and House are on the itinerary of Number One London’s Town and Country House Tour in September – details and complete itinerary can be found here.

 

THE PASSING OF THE DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE

Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
From The Letters of Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians.
Buckingham Palace, 9th July 1850.
My Dearest Uncle,—We live in the midst of sorrow and death! My poor good Uncle Cambridge breathed his last, without a struggle, at a few minutes before ten last night. I still saw him yesterday morning at one, but he did not see me, and to-day I saw him lifeless and cold. The poor Duchess and the poor children are very touching in their grief, and poor Augusta,1 who arrived just five hours too late, is quite heart-broken. The end was most peaceful; there was no disease; only a gastric fever, which came on four weeks ago, from over-exertion and cold, and which he neglected for the first week, carried him off.
The good Prince of Prussia you will have been pleased to talk to and see. Having lived with him for a fortnight on a very intimate footing, we have been able to appreciate his real worth fully; he is so honest and frank, and so steady of purpose and courageous. Poor dear Peel is to be buried to-day. The sorrow and grief at his death are most touching, and the country mourns over him as over a father. Every one seems to have lost a personal friend.
As I have much to write, you will forgive my ending here. You will be glad to hear that poor Aunt Gloucester is wonderfully calm and resigned. My poor dear Albert, who had been so fresh and well when we came back, looks so pale and fagged again. He has felt, and feels, Sir Robert’s loss dreadfully. He feels he has lost a second father.
May God bless and protect you all, you dear ones! Ever your devoted Niece, Victoria R.