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.

 

Osterley Park, An Adam Jewel

by Victoria Hinshaw
Osterley Park was once a rural retreat but today it is in Greater London, reachable by  the tube (look for the Osterley stop on the Piccadilly line).  The original Tudor mansion was built in 1575 by Sir Thomas Gresham, banker and founder of the Royal Exchange.  The old house was built of red brick around a square courtyard.  After considerable alterations in the 17th century, it was acquired by Francis Child, the immensely wealthy London banker, in 1713. His grandson Francis hired Robert Adam to transform the house in 1761 but he died before the house was finished, leaving the house to his brother Robert Child.

 

Adam’s work was completed in 1780. The center of the west section of the building was removed by Adam and replaced with a giant white Ionic portico.

 

 

 

The elegant portico opens up the courtyard.

 

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey

 

The 5th Earl of Jersey (1773-1859) became the owner of Osterley Park by way of his marriage to Robert Child’s granddaughter, Sarah Sophia Fane, the Lady Jersey who was a patroness of Almack’s. The story of the young heiress is well known, the second elopement of a Child female.

Robert Child’s daughter (Sarah Anne Child) had eloped with John Fane, later 10th Earl of Westmorland, in 1782. Robert Child (1739-82), proud of being a prince of the merchant class and not an aristocrat, did not want his property and fortune to go to the Westmorland family. He wrote a will which left his money and property to the second child of his daughter. Sarah Sophia Fane inherited everything at age eight. In 1804, she married George Villiers, who changed his name (a necessity under Child’s will) to Child-Villiers and in time became the 5th Earl of Jersey. He was the son of that Countess of Jersey who was a mistress of the Prince Regent.

The Osterley house was rarely used by the Jerseys, who had a country estate, Middleton, in Oxfordshire in addition to a large townhouse in Berkeley Square. For decades Osterley was maintained but empty of life. The Jerseys entertained there only occassionally. Eventually it was let to Sarah’s cousin, Grace Caroline, dowager Duchess of Cleveland, a daughter of the 9th Earl of Westmorland. When she died, the 7th Earl of Jersey and his wife Margaret (1849-1945) lived and entertained there. The Lesson of the Master, a novella by Henry James, is set at Osterley.

 


In 1885, the famous library was sold for thirteen thousand pounds. After the 7th earl died in 1915, the tenancy of the house foundered again. For many years, it was rarely used until the 9th Earl opened it to the public on weekends. He gave it to the National Trust in 1949 and considerable restoration has taken place. It was recently used for some scenes in the film Gulliver’s Travels and has been in numerous other movies and television productions.

The rooms are arranged in a horseshoe, with the entrance hall at the top. After walking through the exterior portico, one crosses the courtyard and enters the magnificent hall, designed by Adam in 1767. The color scheme is neutral, greys and whites with stucco panels of ancient military scenes on the walls. The floor has a black pattern on white marble, a reflection of the plasterwork ceiling design.

The Breakfast Room at Osterley Park, Middlesex. The harpsichord was made for Sarah Anne Child in 1781 by Jacob Kirckman and his nephew Abraham. The lyre-back chairs are attributed to John Linnell.

The Breakfast Room has a lovely view of the park and was used as a sitting room, graced by Adam’s arched pier glasses. This room was redone in the 19th century, but the colors and some furniture is to Adam’s design. The drawing for this design is in Sir John Soane’s museum, London, as are many Adam designs. It is dated 24 April 1777. The room also contains a harpsichord of 1781, made by Jacob Kirckman and his nephew Abraham, who were well known for their instruments. It belonged to Sarah Sophia’s mother, the countess of Westmorland. After her death in 1793, her husband asked to have it sent to him as a memento of his wife; it was returned to Osterley in 1805.

The Tapestry Room was designed to hold a set of magnificent Gobelins tapestries designed by Francois Boucher depicting the Loves of the Gods. Several Adam rooms for other clients were decorated similarly, with the tapestries ordered from the Gobelins factory in Paris, which was run in the 1770’s by a Scot. The sofa and eight matching armchairs were specially created and upholstered to match the tapestries.

The magnificent ceiling is another Adam masterpiece. The central medallion shows Minerva accepting the dedication of a child. The four smaller medallions show female representations of the liberal arts. As was the usual practice, these paintings were done on paper, affixed to canvas backing and placed in stucco frames after the ceiling was painted.

Kristine, admiring and photographing the Osterley Park ceilings.

 

A self portrait by Angelica Kauffman. She did many paintings for Adam, often in her well-known allegorical style. In an era when most of the artists were men, Kauffman (1741-1807) excelled at portraiture and even huge historical and allegorical paintings. Born in Switzerland, she found great success in England. In 1781, she married her colleague Antonio Zucchi (1726-95) and the couple went to live in Rome. Adam had met Zucchi in Rome and persuaded him to come to England in 1766. Zucchi also executed many paintings for Adam rooms, often in ceiling medallions or above doors and fireplaces.

 

In the State Bedchamber stands a huge bed, made to the Adam’s design in 1776. The drawing is also in the Soane museum. Not only did Adam design the bed, he designed the hangings and embroidered silk counterpane and the interior of the dome. Included in the design are many allegorical symbols, including marigolds, the emblem of Child’s Bank. In this room is another of the exquisite ceilings by Kauffman.

The Etruscan Room Dressing Room shows Adam utilizing ancient designs discovered in Italy. At that time, the term Etruscan referred to the types of designs found on Greek vases. Horace Walpole in 1778 said the room was “painted all over like Wedgwood’s ware, with black and yellow small grotesques.” The furniture is attributed to Chippendale.
The Childs had spent a great deal of time developing the gardens and the park with lakes, wildernesses and open space.  Fortunately, these  also survive and have been restored. Under the supervision of the National Trust, the park is open to the public and is well used by hikers, strollers, bicyclists and bird watchers.
A visit to Osterley Park is on the itinerary of Number One London’s Town and Country House Tour in September. Itinerary and full details can be found at the link.

A DAY AT MOTTISFONT ABBEY

by Victoria Hinshaw

Mottisfont Abbey

Tucked away in Hampshire is a stately home I have long wanted to visit for several reasons.  The estate encompasses the ruins of an Augustinian priory  (the title Abbey was added later — and incorrectly, according to the NT); the gardens are renowned; and Rex Whistler painted some famous trompe d’oeil decorations in the drawing room.

Kristine Hughes Patrone, Alicia Rasley, Nonnie St. George, Victoria Hinshaw in the morning room

During the course of my research with Kristine at the various Wellington archives, we were able to steal off for the day to meet with fellow authors Alicia Rasley and Nonnie St. George. Of course the best reason for the visit was the opportunity to connect with friends from many a meeting of The Beau Monde…and fellow writers one and all. If we missed any of the relevant treasures of the estate, it was because we were so full of conversation catching up on our latest activities.

First stop was the cellarium, a remnant of the original priory building, dating from the 13th century.

 

The morning room was the perfect place to enjoy reading and conversing. It was a favorite spot for Maud Russell, the lady responsible for the current appearance of the estate.

In this handsome bedchamber, several remnants of the old priory building have been left uncovered.

The painting over the fireplace is Johanna Warner, Mrs. Robert of Bedhampton and her daughter, Kitty, later Mrs. Jervoise Clarke, 1736; by Joseph Highmore.

To the Right of the fireplace is another of the secret doors which show the old structure behind the walls of the current house.

The charming picture above (and below) is The Challoner Daughters by John Roger Herbert, RA (1810-1890), described as “three little girls in a woodland scene with a pony and dogs.”

The dining room was a popular venue for gatherings of the Russells’ artistic and intellectual friends in the 1930’s.

Maud Russell of Montisfont Abbey

 

Georgian desk.

The piece d’resistance of the Montisont House: The Whistler Room. Maud Russell commissioned artist Rex Whistler to decorate her drawing room in the late 1930’s.

Rex Whistler self-portrait

Whistler (1905-1944) painted many murals and trompe d’oeil works in England, including the famous murals in the restaurant of the Tate Britain, ad the fantasy landscape at Plas Newydd, from which the self-portrait below is a detail.

In addition to his renown as an artist, Whistler was a member of the set known as the “bright young things” between the wars, a friend not only of Mrs. Russell, but of Lady Caroline Paget, Cecil Beaton, and many others. Whistler died fighting in Normandy in 1944.

Above three pictures ©National Trust. All others in this post were taken by me.

In May, we were a little early for the roses in the NT Rose Collection of pre-20th Century species. But we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful font (spring) and stream which feeds into the River Test, as well as the many families enjoying picnics and games on the lawns.

 

Would you like to experience travel in England first-hand?

Visit our website for a list of upcoming Number One London Tours.

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: CHATSWORTH – THE PORTRAITS

A few years ago, Diane Gaston (Perkins) and I spent two entire days at Chatsworth House and we honestly could have gone back for a third. It’s that sort of House – you can’t help but to want more helpings of it. One of the many draws to Chatsworth is the vast collection of portraits on show. In this post, we concentrate on the ladies, more specifically, on the Duchesses of Devonshire. It was stunning to see many of the most iconic portraits of the Duchesses on show. All in one place. At the same time.
Above, Diane is admiring the portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire as Cynthia, from Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queene,’ painted by artist Maria Cosway in 1783. Further down the same wall, in the same room, we found the arrangement of portraits below.
The portrait at the centre of this grouping is Gainesborough’s famous depiction of Georgiana. It is the most identifiable and not only because it is a masterly work of art – the portrait itself has a twisting, criminal history. You can read all about it in a past post here.
Above, Georgiana as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds circa 1780
Above is Reynold’s portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster, Georgiana’s friend and confidante, who went on to herself become the Duchess of Devonshire after Georgiana’s death. You can read the entire story in a post on Catherine Curzon’s blog here.
Which brings us to another group of portraits at Chatsworth House, executed in an entirely, some might say startlingly, different style.
Painted by artist Lucian Freud, a family friend, this collection includes more recent members of the Cavendish family, including Deborah (nee Mitford), Duchess of Devonshire.
If her willingness to sit for an artist with such a raw, frank and unflattering way of approaching his subjects is anything to go by, Debo hadn’t a narcissistic bone in her body.
As you may or may not already know, I have a special place in my heart for Deborah Mitford. I have to be honest and say that I much prefer to see her depicted in a more conventional style.
This gorgeous portrait of Deborah by Pietro Annigoni (1954)
can also be seen at Chatsworth House.
Diane and I were fortunate to be able to also view an exhibition of 65 of Cecil Beaton’s portraits of Deborah and her family and friends at Chatsworth. The exhibition is aptly titled Never a Bore: The Duchess of Devonshire and Her Set and runs through 3 January, 2017. Included are both candid and posed photographs, such as this portrait, a personal favourite. In fact, I like it so well that I’ve made it my Facebook photo.
You can read The Telegraph’s story on the entire Beaton exhibition here.
We will again be visiting Chatsworth House during Number One London’s Country House Tour in 2021.  Please click here for details and complete itinerary. Do consider joining us – we’d love to share our love of Chatsworth House with you!