A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: BATH

Our Georgian Tour this year was a bit of a departure, as it was the first tour on which I opted for a period property as our lodging, rather than a hotel. Though I knew that the townhouse in Great Pulteney Street was well appointed, I was anxious to see how it would be received by my guests. As it happened, it turned out to be the perfect blend of period detail and modern luxury.

Bath is extremely walk-able and this was the route we strolled each day – past Laura Place and over the historic Pulteney Bridge with its period shops and into the centre of the City.

Our first stop was at the Roman Baths Museum –

Afterwards, we visited the Abbey and Abbey Square.

Walking up Milsom Street, we headed for the Fashion Museum, where I was captivated by Princess Margaret’s truly tiny dresses.

Another short stroll brought us to the Royal Crescent and the No. 1 Royal Crescent Museum for some hands-on research regarding 19th century life.

Afterwards, we walked the back lanes . . . .

And arrived at the Jane Austen Centre for a tour.

By this time, we’d worked up an appetite, so we back tracked to the Pump Room for a proper Afternoon Tea.

Later that evening, we relaxed in our drawing room –

and indulged in some wine and cheese –

while I modeled the mask I’d purchased earlier in the day.

 

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A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: HATFIELD HOUSE

This time over to England, I was determined to visit Hatfield House, as it has many connections to the Duke of Wellington via the Cecil family, second cousins to the Duke on his mother’s side, via Emily (nee Mary Amelia), Lady Salisbury, the first Marchioness.

Emily, 1st Marchioness of Salisbury by Joshua Reynolds

The Duke and Emily were more than cousins, they were good friends. Wellington went often to Hatfield House to dine, to stay, to see the children and to take part in the annual Hatfield Hunt. In fact, it was the light blue Hatfield Hunt coat, gifted to him by Emily herself, that Wellington took to wearing on his various campaigns.

Emily was a fine horsewoman in her own right, the only female regularly welcomed to join hunts at Hatfield and beyond, due in equal part to her riding skills as to her no-nonsense attitude. She rode daily, right up until the day she died. The Duke’s great good friends, Charles and Harriet Arbuthnot, were also frequent guests at Hatfield. In January, 1827, Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote, “We had a large & very pleasant party at Hatfield. Old Lady Salisbury, who is the most wonderful woman that ever was, 78 years old, but riding out on horse back & having apparently none of the infirmaries of age; she tumbled down the stairs the other day, cut herself in various places, but particularly on her leg, which swelled as big as two but to which she wd only apply a lotion used for horses, & went about as if nothing had happened.” Still later, Lady Salisbury’s eyesight began to fail and a groom would accompany her on her daily rides and, it is said, would warn her when approaching a fence by shouting, “Jump, dammit, My Lady, jump!”

In 1834, Harriet Arbuthnot died suddenly of cholera at a farmhouse near the Arbuthnots’ seat, Woodford House, in Northamptonshire. Immediately after her death, her husband, Charles, sent an express message to the Duke at Apsley House. The messenger, however, had to divert to Hatfield House where Wellington was dining with the Dowager Emily and the 2nd Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury. The following year, Emily died tragically at the age of eighty-five in a fire at Hatfield House. It was thought that feathers in her hat caught alight when she was at her writing-desk and caused the blaze. Her loyal servants frantically attempted to open the door to her room when the fire became evident, but to no avail. The fire destroyed the west wing of the house and only a few bones were found in the rubble.

Emily’s death did nothing to deter the Duke from visiting Hatfield; he remained close to the 2nd Marquess and both of his wives, becoming godfather to several of their children. In addition, Wellington championed the 2nd Marquess’s sister, Emily, Lady Westmeath, during her contentious and much publicized divorce.

So, you see why I wanted to visit Hatfield House. Upon mentioning this to Jacqueline Reiter, she offered to accompany me and Sandra Mettler to Hatfield and to bring her family along. Joy! It turns out that Jacqueline had visited Hatfield House several years ago and informed me that there was a “Wellington Cabinet” in the House, filled with family momentos connected to the Duke. More joy!

On the day, Sandra and I took the train out to Hatfield House from London and met Jacqueline, her husband Miklos and their children, Felix and Julia, at the front gates.

Walking up the drive, we were brought up short by the sight of this contemporary sculpture by Henry Moore in front of the house. Inside, we entered into the Marble Hall.

The embroidered banners hanging from the Gallery feature bees and imperial eagles, symbols of Napoleon. They have recently been copied from originals which were made just before the Battle of Waterloo and meant for Napoleon’s various Departments. After Waterloo, they were instead given to the 2nd Marquess by the Duke of Wellington.

The ceiling’s woodwork and plasterwork are original but colour was added by the 3rd Marquess in 1878, when Jacobean reliefs of the Caesars were replaced with panels featuring classical themes painted by the Italian artist, Giulio Taldini.

The Grand Staircase

The ceiling was decorated for Queen Victoria’s visit to Hatfield in 1846 and has recently been restored so that visitors will be now able to see it in all its glory. At the top, a carving on a newel post shows the figure of a gardener holding a rake. This is said to be John Tradescant, who was sent abroad by Robert Cecil to collect rare and exotic plants for his new garden at Hatfield.

 

The ceiling of the Long Gallery, originally white, was covered with gold leaf by the 2nd Marquess who had been impressed by a gold ceiling he had seen in Venice.

Nearly at the end of our route through the house, we finally came upon the cabinet containing items related to the Duke of Wellington. I’ve been to several other houses that have Wellington items passed down through the family, including Levens Hall in the Lake District, home to Wellington’s niece, Mary Wellesley, who married Sir Charles Bagot. Impressive. In fact, Levens Hall has a dedicated Wellington Trail, directing visitors to all the items associated with the Duke throughout the house. I’ve seen large Wellington collections and I’ve seen small Wellington collections, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a collection more charming than that at Hatfield House. One can assume that the Cecil family would have some “wow factor” Wellington items, as evidenced by the Napoleonic flags in the Marble Hall, but what they chose to save and display in this cabinet are items of a far more personal nature.

At the end of our house tour, we stopped for a lunch break and my spirits soared upon seeing this –

and they were dashed when we learned that it was a dog grooming salon.

After lunch, we took Felix and Julia to the farm yard, which they seemed to enjoy. In truth, no one enjoyed it more than me. Baby animals!

Bidding a reluctant goodbye to the Reiters, Sandra and I headed to the rail station, where we discovered that we had enough time for a pint before the next train. The perfect ending to a perfect day.

 

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A WELLINGTON KIND OF DAY

 

In my last post, I left off at the point where Sandra Mettler and I stopped by my old stomping ground, the Duke of Wellington pub off Sloane Square. We were supposed to meet Ian Fletcher there the following evening and you can imagine my shock when Sandra and I found the pub deserted – the place was empty, locked up tight and even the signboard, above, was gone.

What the Hell? I thought. “What the Hell?” I asked Sandra. As soon as we got back to the hotel, I got on to the pub website and found that the old Duke of Boots was undergoing a renovation. And that it would be re-opening . . . . tomorrow night. Really, what were the odds?

Everything was falling nicely into place and, as it turned out, the entire next day turned out to be filled with all things Wellington. First, Sandra and I stopped in at Horse Guards

 

 

Wellington’s entrance at Horse Guards

We timed our visit perfectly and so were on hand to watch the changing of the Guards in the entrance gates and to also see the Guards muster for the 11 o’clock inspection.

Exhausted by all the military hoopla, Sandra and I crossed over the road to The Clarence for a refreshing pause at a sidewalk table.

Afterwards, we headed up to Trafalgar Square and on to see my antique dealer, who had quite a nice little something for my collection.

 

Shopping was followed by lunch at Boulestin, in St. James’s Street.

Around the corner, we found the Beau surrounded by construction barriers on our way to Fortnum and Mason and Hatchard’s.

Some time later, we hopped into a cab and headed to the Duke of Wellington pub to meet Ian Fletcher – fingers crossed.

And . . . . it had re-opened! The sign board had been re-hung, the furniture was back in place and the Duke of Boots, as usual, was packed.

 

It wasn’t long before Ian arrived – introductions were made, drinks were ordered and from that point on, the conversation was pretty much non-stop. A goodly amount of time passed before I realized we’d better go on to dinner, and I suggested that we cab it over to that other Wellington stalwart, the Grenadier Pub, once the officer’s mess for Wellington’s regiment and just a stone’s throw from Apsley House.

 

 

The Grenadier was also packed, but thankfully most of the punters here were content to stand outside and enjoy apres work cocktails, while we went inside and were seated for dinner immediately. Sandra quipped that I must feel right at home in these surroundings, and it was nice to have old friends around me, both in print and in person, but to be honest, the Grenadier does a much better cheese plate than I do at home.

 

 

 

I suppose it’s at this point that I should make the obligatory mention of the Grenadier pub ghost. Rumour has it that an officer, caught cheating at cards, was beaten to death outside the pub and that his ghost can be seen standing in the sentry box, above. And it is nothing but rumour. The ghosts never appear anywhere near the sentry box.

 

After dinner, Sandra, Ian and I took advantage of the balmy evening and strolled the streets of Belgravia. It had been a good day. I’d spent it with good friends and I’d found a really nice Artie-fact to add to my collection. As we parted from Ian, Sandra and I turned into Eaton Square and headed home.

“Mista Hudson!” I called quietly.  “Are you there, Mista Hudson?”

“Aye, I’m here, Mrs. Bridges, but that scamp Sarah is no where to be found. Go and ask our Rose if she’s seen her,” replied Sandra.

A grand day was had by all.

A TOUR GUIDE AT BLENHEIM PALACE

You may recall that in my last post about my recent trip to England, Sandra Mettler and I spent my first day in London touring the City on the Hop On, Hop Off bus. It was a glorious day, and the summer weather continued, as you’ll see by the headline above. Having spent the past thirty years living in Southwest Florida, 27c (or 80 fahrenheit) was a nice cool down for me and Sandra was just happy to be out from beneath the snow piles she’d left back home in Wisconsin.

So next day, we decided to take the train out to Blenheim Palace, as I hadn’t been there before, believe it or not. In addition, they were holding an antiques fair on the grounds that weekend.

Blenheim Palace, above, was gifted to John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, as a reward from a grateful nation after his victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Of course, there’s a lot more to the story, which you can read here. Likewise, the grateful nation wanted to gift the Duke of Wellington with a similar “Waterloo Palace” after his victory at that battlefield two hundred years on. The government said they’d like to give him something along the lines of Blenheim and, upon hearing that Wellington had never seen Blenheim, a contingent of ministers took him out to Oxfordshire to rectify that oversight. As I looked at Blenheim for the first time, I could only imagine Wellington’s face as he took it all in. Ever practical, his answer to their offer of a similar pile was, “Oh. Hell. No.” Or words to that effect. Instead, he chose Stratfield Saye, already built and much more in the style of a family home.

Here are some bits of the Blenheim facade in photos I took on the day. I couldn’t fit it all into a single frame . . . .

 

 

 

 

The ceiling of the entry portico is decorated with six eyes: three blue and three brown and all of them left eyes. They were painted in 1928 by artist Colin Gill based on strict instructions from Gladys, the beautiful, American, eccentric 2nd wife of the Ninth Duke of Marlborough.

And the dining room is set up in what should naturally be the entry foyer . . . .

The rest of the Palace is a bit less eccentric –

Consuelo Vanderbilt, 9th Duchess of Marlborough
The First State Room
The Long Library
The Green Writing Room
Winston Churchill’s boots
The Chapel

After touring the Palace, Sandra and I took a turn around a portion of the gardens –

And then carried on through the grounds to the nearby market town of Woodstock.

The gate leading off the estate and into Woodstock

Woodstock was established in 1179, when King Henry gave the town a Royal Charter. From the 16th century, the town was known for glove making, but the town changed substantially once the 1st Duke of Marlborough took up residency at Blenheim and by 1720, the primary business of the town was fine steel work, evolving shortly thereafter into the manufacture of cut steel jewelry.

 

Except for the cars and modern day street signs, Woodstock retains most of its historic charm, the streets lined with period buildings.

 

The Bear Hotel has stood in Park Street since the 13th century and continues to draw in customers today – Sandra and I were unable to pass it up, choosing instead to stop in for a refreshing afternoon pick-me-up.

As we sipped our drinks, I mentioned to Sandra that, once we’d returned to London, I’d like to swing by the Duke of Wellington pub, near our hotel in Sloane Square and where we’d be meeting my friend, Ian Fletcher, the following night.

This we did and you can no doubt imagine my shock when I found the place locked up tight, the furniture cleared out and the sign board gone . . . until the next installment!

LOST COUNTRY HOUSES

Warter Hall/Priory
If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll know that I spend an inordinate amount of time researching anything and everything to do with the Duke of Wellington. Often, this research leads me down unexpected paths, as happened when I found myself stumbling upon Lady Nunburnholme and her home, Warter Hall, on the Lost Heritage website:  The Victorian and Edwardian owners of Warter Hall (or Priory).
Florence Jane Helen Wellesley (1853-1932), Lady Nunburnholme, OBE by Edward Hughes, National Trust, Beningbrough Hall

The Formidable Lady Nunburnholme

“From the purchase of the Warter Estate by her husband in 1878 until its sale over 50 years later, the village of Warter and the lives of the villagers were dominated by Lady Nunburnholme.

“Born in London in 1854 Florence Jane Helen Wellesley was the eldest daughter of Colonel William Henry Charles Wellesley, a nephew of the great Duke of Wellington. She married Charles Wilson in 1871 and they lived at Cottingham, near Hull before moving to Warter Priory in 1878.

“(Local man) George Noble had many stories of Lady Nunburnholme: She was a Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s family. Warter Priory was full of Duke of Wellington’s busts and oil paintings. She used to say “I’ve got the blood and Mr Wilson has the money.” Which he had. … By jove she was a rum un, I’ll tell you that, yes, but when she was alright, she was alright, but by jove she was a goer on as we say… She liked entertaining and she was the boss, and it was no good anybody what worked there telling her off, for she would get his notice just after, you know, pack-up … she would nearly clear him off the place straightaway and pay him up… The butler used to say to me dad, and he was there a long time, and knew ’em all. “Bill”, he used to say “Devil’s abroad, she’s on the warpath … she’s playing devil with me and everybody else she’s come across – if you can find another job, getaway, out of road.”

“The Dowager Lady Nunburnholme died in 1932. The Warter estate had by then been sold by her grandson Charles John, 3rd Baron Nunburnholme. It was bought in 1929 by George Vestey who made Warter Priory his home until his death in 1968. Warter was then sold to the 4th Marquis of Normanby and the Guiness Trust.

“The Marquis bought Warter as a subsidiary shooting lodge and did not intend to live there as his principal family seat was at Musgrave Castle. The contents were auctioned in March 1969, the garden statuary the following September. Attempts were made to find a tenant but when one could not be found it was decided to demolish the house and a final auction of all the remaining furniture and fittings, down the last loo seat, was held in May 1972. Shortly afterwards the house was demolished, the splendid gardens bulldozed and the rubble used to fill in the nearby lake. The 5th Marquis of Normanby sold the Warter estate covering 11,910 acres (4,820 hectares) with 63 houses and cottages to a Hull-born businessman Malcolm Healey in 1998.”

Meeting Lady Nunburnholme thus was pleasantly surprising, but sadly Warter Priory’s fate was all too familiar. Since WWII, nearly 1,000 of Britain’s stately homes have vanished, either fallen to ruin or demolished when changes in social climate and the industrial landscape combined with diminished fortunes and death duties to sound the final bell on a way of life that had become unsustainable.

As we were going to be Derbyshire, I built a stop at Sutton Scarsdale into Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour, as I wanted to show our guests the state that some of the houses were in when acquired by the National Trust or English Heritage. Sutton Scarsdale is a prime example of the condition so many important houses were allowed to fall in to after the second World War.

In 1724, Nicholas Leke, 4th Earl of Scarsdale commissioned the building of a design by architect Francis Smith, to develop a Georgian mansion with gardens, using parts of an existing structure. The estate was sold to the Arkwright family in 1824 and remained in their possession until 1919, when Major William Arkwright sold the house and grounds at auction. The estate was bought by a group of local businessmen who asset-stripped the house, with some parts of the building being shipped to the United States, where one room’s oak panelling was bought by  William Randolph Hearst, who planned to use it at Hearst Castle. After many years in storage in New York City, Pall Mall films bought the panelling for use as a set in their various 1950s productions. Another set of panels are now resident in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1946, the estate was bought by Sir Osbert Sitwell of Renishaw Hall, with the intention of preserving the remaining shell as a ruin. Scarsdale Hall is now in the care of English Heritage, who are in the process of restoring the structure.

Interior of Sutton Scarsdale, circa 1920

While the efforts of organizations such as English Heritage, the National Trust, the Landmark Trust and myriad local councils and organizations have helped to preserve so much historic property for us to enjoy, it remains heartbreaking to consider all the houses that have gone forever.

You can read the entire Wikipedia entry for Sutton Scarsdale here, and watch a YouTube video that captures the majesty of the property here. Do visit the Lost Heritage website at the link above and take some time to explore their extensive archives. Additionally, there’s a very good Daily Mail article on vanished country houses here.