Victoria here. People often ask me what I recommend for their visits to London. I always answer, if they are in search of the English Regency, Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was a brilliant architect and teacher. The Museum is in his house and classrooms, so you will get a taste of a wealthy (but not aristocratic) residence, in addition to all of Sir John’s collections, used for the instruction of his architecture students.
The bust of Sir John Soane in the center of the picture above was sculpted by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841). The Museum is comprised of a rabbit warren of rooms, each one chock-a-block full of architectural specimens, art and Soane’s various and varied collections.
Sir John began his career working for architects George Dance and, later, Henry Holland. He traveled to Italy to study and came back to London to begin his own practice, in which he prospered, often doing projects to expand, remodel and modernize the country houses of the wealthy. An example, below, is Moggerhanger House in Bedfordshire, finished in 1812 and updated as a conference center in recent years. More information is here.
Sir John Soane’s Museum shows several rooms in which his family lived, and I have always found the Drawing Room amusing. It’s very brilliant shade of yellow that was very popular during the Regency, as evidenced in a number of country houses (such as Goodwood House).
Whether you visit on a sunny or a rainy, gray day, this room will be cheerfully bright. The dining room is an equally vivid crimson, also a popular color for walls in the Regency.
Sir John Soane’s Museum also has gallery space for small, very selective exhibitions related to Soane’s era and interests. I recommend browsing the shop on the website for Museum publications. One of my favorites is The Soanes At Home: Domestic Life at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, from 1997. It’s full of pictures, copies of receipts and invoices and all sorts of fascinating information about life and household management in the early 19th century.
Above, Soane’s drawing of the Bank of England as he rebuilt it in 1814; since then, it has been remodeled and enlarged so that little of his work is evident today, except in portions of the interior. The Museum houses a collection of more than 30,000 architectural drawings by England’s finest architects, as well as Soane’s sketchbooks, business records and other valuable research and archival material.
Above is a drawing by J. M. Gandy of Tivoli Corner, part of Soane’s Bank of England, now remodeled.
Above, a statue of Sir John Soane in the Bank of England, where he is honored even though they changed his designs beyond recognition. Soane left the buildings of his Museum and his home to the nation as a resource for training future architects.
We’ll be visiting the Museum in September, as part of the itinerary of Number One London’s Town and Country House Tour – you’ll find further tour details and the full itinerary here.
The Wallace Collection, located in what was Hertford House in Manchester Square, named after the Duke of Manchester, who built a house (then called Manchester House) on the north side in 1777, attracted by the good duck shooting in the area. In 1797 the 2nd Marquess of Hertford acquired the lease and it became known as Hertford House.
In the 19th century it was home to Sir Richard Wallace (1818–90), illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess, who displayed much of the Hertford family’s fabulous collection of fine and decorative arts here. In 1897 Lady Wallace left it to the nation as the Wallace Collection. You will find a short, introductory video by the Museum’s director here.
Hertford House today is a rare example of a London town house occupying the whole side of a garden square. Inside, the grand staircase, above, features a Louis XV balustrade that was made between 1733-41 for the Bibliotheque du Roi in the Palais Mazarin in Paris, being sold as scrap iron when acquired for Hertford House. Imagine!
Some of the rooms still retain the look of an elegant town house. Above, the Front State Room holds portraits of royals and gentry. On either side of the fireplace, the portraits are by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), on the left is Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway, and right, Frances, Countess of Lincoln.
Also in this room is a portrait of Queen Victoria by Thomas Sully (1783 – 1872), showing Victoria in her coronation robes, looking very young (she was nineteen) and lovely.
In fact, this one room is singular in that it contains so many of the iconic portraits known to Regency aficionados. For instance, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769 – 1830) painted this stunning portrait of Margaret, Countess of Blessington, in 1822. Margaret (1789–1849) led an interesting life, marrying twice. She was an intimate of the Count D’Orsay and a friend of Lord Byron. She herself earned her living by writing for a time, but died in Paris, almost without funds.
John Hoppner (1758-1810) painted the Prince of Wales (later George IV) in 1792. In 1810, the Prince presented the portrait to the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, who held several court appointments and advised George on art. At the same time, the Marchioness of Hertford, mother of the 3rd Marquess, was the Prince’s favorite mistress.
If all this sounds incredibly confusing, welcome to the complicated story of the Seymour-Hertford family, their fantastic town house, their incredible art collection, and their involved relationships! Read more here.
Elsewhere in the Collection are further often seen portraits –
The Laughing Cavalier by Franz Hals, (c. 1580 – 1666) one of the Wallace Collection’s most admired works.
Gainsborough painted Mary Robinson as Perdita, the role she played in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. The Prince of Wales saw her on the stage and fell in love, his first rather public affair. Mary holds a miniature of him in her hand.
The Duke of Wellington with Colonel Gurwood at Apsley House
(working on the Despatches), by Andrew Morton.
However, the Wallace Collection is so much more than paintings.
There are two huge rooms displaying arms and armour from around the world.
And furniture, furnishings, clocks, miniatures and china,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Hooray for you, Beatrix Potter!! And thank you for all your gifts.