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.

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.

 

A DAY AT OSTERLEY PARK

Victoria, here, reporting on the day Kristine and I spent at this jewel in Robert Adam’s architectural crown. Osterley Park is managed by the National Trust and a very good job they do! I had visited the estate several years ago, and this time I was excited to learn that we could take pictures INSIDE.  So, prepare yourselves for a set of interior shots of many rooms. All pictures in this post were taken by me or Kristine, unless otherwise noted.
We could not stop snapping!
Kristine leans in for a close-up
But I am getting ahead of myself!  The approach to the house is suitably dramatic, viewed across a pond laced with water lilies in full bloom.  Queen Elizabeth I visited the first manor house here after its completion in 1576. Thomas Gresham, a wealthy banker, built the house, Another wealthy banker, Sir Francis Child, hired Robert Adam to remodel it in 1761, and the current look – both inside and out – is very much that of the Adam period in all its glory. Adam had one section of the square house replaced with handsome Georgian columns, framing an open courtyard. The great house and estate passed down in the line of the Child banking family. Sarah Sophia Fane inherited the house from her grandfather, Robert Child; she married George Villiers (who added Child to his surname) who became the 5th Earl of Jersey. Thus the house for almost 200 years, belonged to the Earls of Jersey. The  9th earl presented it to the National Trust in the 1940’s.

We arrived in time for a curator’s tour, but we had time to take a quick look around before it began.

The Entrance hall has identical alcoves at each end with a fireplace and two classical statues in each.

The Hall was used as a saloon and reception room and occasionally for dining; Adam designed it to replace the original hall demolished for the columned entrance.
The floor of black marble on white reflects the design in the ceiling, a frequent Adam feature.
The large painting between the doors in the dining room is by Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795) entitled Figures Sporting in a ruined Roman Bath, part of a set of paintings he did, including The Four Continents, above the doors. Twelve mahogany chairs with lyre backs and two arm chairs were designed by Robert Adam and probably made by John Linnell (1729-1796) of London; Linnell executed the designs for the rest of the room’s furnishings as well.  The chairs are placed around the perimeter of the room in the 18th C. manner. Tables of several sizes were kept in the servant’s passages; they could be set up when needed.
Pier table topped with antique marble mosaics, one of a pair
both topped by ornate 7-foot tall mirrors
Marble Fireplace, with Doric columns
Painting by Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-85) An offering to Ceres
During our tour of the house, a small group gathered in the Gallery to hear the curators speak about the house, its design and its treasures, its history and the continuing restorations of various rooms both above and below stairs to their appearance when completed by Adam. We found some places to sit, but not, of course, on any of the antique furniture.
The Gallery,  photo ©National Trust
The gallery is 130 feet long and faces the garden. It once housed a billiard table and a fortepiano. Henry James described the room as ‘a cheerful upholstered avenue into another century.’ 
Above is one of six mirrored girandoles (ornamental branched candlesticks),  also made by John Linnell for Robert Adam.
Two pairs of Chinese mandarin jars date from
the reign of the Chinese emperor Qianlong (1736-95)
One of several settees, also part of Linnell’s suite of furniture made for the gallery; the matching chairs can be seen below.
The Marble Fireplace, one of two by Joseph Wilton.
A copy of the NPG painting of Robert Adam, c. 1770-75; attributed to George Willison
The frieze includes marigolds, the symbols of Childs Bank.
The model Chinese Junk is made of Ivory and bone, and comes from Guangzhou, c. 1750
The porcelain pagoda is of a similiar date.
At the conclusion of the curator’s talk, we explored the rest of the house, and what an exploration it was. Our pictures can only give a hint of what it was like, an abundance of magnificent paintings, furniture, rugs…all dazzling to us poor mortals.
Adam’s touch at the doorway of the Drawing room
Ceiling design in the Drawing Room
According to the Guidebook, this ceiling is based on the drawing of the Temple of the Sun in ancient Palmyra, adapted to the rectangular shape of the room.
The Drawing Room   photo ©National Trust
The next two rooms were jaw-dropping in effect. Horace Walpole thought this room ‘the most superb and beautiful that can be imagined.’ We agreed. Adam designed the ceiling first.
Tapestry Room ceiling  photo ©National Trust
The Tapestry Room
Boucher’s Tapestries were delivered to the house in 1776 from the Gobelins factory in Paris, though run by a Scot, Adam’s countryman.The four large medallions in the tapestries (two seen above) represent the elements: earth, fire, air, and water.
The tapestry medallion above the fireplace is Cupid and Psyche.
The furniture was built by Linnell and upholstered to match the deep rose background of the tapestries.  Similiar tapestries in a drawing room designed by Adam can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where the Tapestry Room from Croome Court in Worcestershire now resides. Read more about this room here.  This is the ante-room to the State bedroom, which almost overwhelms the visitor.  Imagine what it would be like to try to sleep in this bed.
The State Bed
Ceiling Medallion by Angelica Kauffman, Aglaia, one of the Three Graces being enslaved by Love
The Fire Board,  in the Etruscan style
Black and Gold Japanned Commode, probably Chippendale
Pier Glass mirror reflecting the State Bed

Then, to add to the phenomenal variety of decorative motifs, comes the Etruscan Dressing Room, with designs drawn from ancient Etruscan vases discovered in Italy.  These designs were eagerly adopted into architectural decor and into popular patterns manufactured by Josiah Wedgwood and others in the mid 18th Century.

The Etruscan Dressing Room
Ceiling of the Etruscan Dressing Room
Fire Screen designed by Adam and embroidered by Mrs. Child
View towards the windows, Etruscan Dressing Room
The crest of the pier-glass is painted to match the medallions on the walls. The japanned commode is another attributed to Chippendale.
The Great Stair

The north side of the house is less dramatic that the south side, where the State rooms are.  The library looks exactly like the kind of place we need for our most capable work.  What are the chances?

The painting above the mantel is by Antonio Zucchi (1726-95)  Virgil reading his works to Augustus and Octavia
Think of the work you could do at this desk! What a joy.

The last room on the north side, formerly known as the Breakfast Room, was under renovation. We found it fascinating to see a work in progress.

In the room were several beautiful pieces of what appeared to me to be valuable oriental-style furniture. No explanation was given for the state of the room or the random placement of these items. Guess I’ll just have to go back and see what happened!!

Well be revisiting the splendours of Osterley Park on Number One London’s 2020 Town and Country House Tour. Complete itinerary and details will be found here.

Click here to read about Victoria’s previous visit and the history of the house.

Read here about The Two Lady Jerseys.

Click here for the obituary of Lady Jersey, Almack’s patroness, in a Gentleman’s magazine of 1867.

KENWOOD HOUSE – PART TWO

Victoria here, writing about one of my favorite places in London — Kenwood House.  I first visited many years ago and feasted my eyes on the stunning collection of masterworks in the Iveagh Bequest and on the justly famous Adam Library.  But I admit, the rooms used as galleries, were — aside from the paintings — quite bland.  So I was delighted a few years ago to hear that the whole house was to be renovated and restored to the period when the 1st Earl of Mansfield purchased the structure and had Robert Adam remodel it in 1764-1779.
Entrance Hall, 2014
When Lord Iveagh purchased the building to house his art collection, it was primarily to be gallery space, but over the years, English Heritage decided to make changes that complement the architecture and the paintings both. And they did a stunning job!
Entrance Hall
Typical Adam Mantelpiece in the Hall
Great Stairs
 When Lord Iveagh, one of the heirs of the Guinness Brewery fortune, bequeathed Kenwood and his incredible art collection to the nation in 1927, he specified that  his collection should be exhibited free to all.
Lord Mansfield’s portrait above the fireplace in the library
The library ceiling as it appeared when undergoing restoration.
The painting above the fireplace in the Dining Room is by Anthony Van Dyke, Princess Henrietta of Lorraine Attended by a Page.
Elsewhere in the Dining Room are two priceless masterpieces:
Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of the Artist, above, and
Johannes Vermeer, The Guitar Player, below
The furniture is certainly equal to the paintings and the setting: a sidetable
Above,  The Hon. E. S. Russell and His Brother by Landseer.
Above, Angelica Kauffman, RA, The Disarming of Cupid

Kauffman was an  excellent painter and did many Georgian interior medallions and other paintings — and is, in my opinion, quite underrated.

Carlton House Desk – the original was supposedly designed for the Prince of Wales by George Hepplewhite.
Portrait of Elizabeth Murray and Dido Bell, cousins, once attributed to Johann Zoffany, but currently unattributed; the version hanging at Kenwood is a copy of the original, which can be seen in Scone Palace, Perthshire, Scotland. This painting of Lord Mansfield’s wards has long fascinated art experts and social commentators.  Dido Bell was the subject of a 2013 film exploring her life and times.
In the Music Room
Sir Thomas Lawrence, Miss Murray, 1824-26
Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mrs. Musters as “Hebe”, 1782
Another version of this work can be seen in the staircase of Highclere Castle, sometimes in evidence in scenes from Downton Abbey
John Hoppner, Mrs. Jordan as Viola from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, c.1785-92
Sir Joshua Reynolds,  Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl, 1759
Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Brummell Children, 1782
Magnificent Chimney piece by Adam, completed in 1773,
a fantasy with mermen, flying griffins and cherubs, and panels of Chinese painted marble tiles.
Marguerite Hyde, 19th Countess of Suffolk
by John Singer Sargent, 1898
Also known as Daisy, she was the daughter of Levi Leiter of Chicago, a partner in the Marshall Field. and Co. Department Store. She presented her family’s collection of portraits to the nation. They are displayed on the upper level.  Here are a few examples, taken from the website.
Maria Constantina Trevor, Countess of Suffolk, attributed to Catherine Read
Elizabeth Home, Countess of Suffolk, artist unknown
Charles II by Sir Godfrey Kneller
You can see the fabulous collection of paintings and furniture at Kenwood House during Number One London’s Town and Country House Tour in September.
To visit the Kenwood House website, click here.
For more details on the Iveagh Bequest paintings, click here.

 

ALBERT COTTAGE – ISLE OF WIGHT

Leaving the Castle Hotel, Ryde, Victoria and I headed to East Cowes and our next hotel, Albert Cottage,  once home to Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s younger daughter. The hotel is set in two acres of beautiful gardens backing onto Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s favourite holiday residence. Directly next to the hotel stands the entrance gate to Osborne House, above, still reserved for the use of the current Royals. The public entrance to Osborne House is further on down the street.

The Albert Cottage Hotel

From the hotel website – “Built  in the 1840s, probably by Thomas Cubitt – the then leading master builder in London – ‘Albert Cottage’ was bought in 1852 by Prince Albert to be part of a Botanic Garden development of the Osborne House Estate, and was used together with the adjacent Osborne Cottage by Royal guests. In 1899 a covered corridor was constructed to link the two properties and allow easy movement between them without guests having to brave any inclement weather.”

Princess Beatrice

“This corridor now links the main Hotel and Consort Restaurant & Bar area. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, her successor Edward VII kept both cottages for the use of Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice. In 1913 the Princess moved to Carisbrooke Castle and Albert Cottage was sold to Sir Richard Burbidge, philanthropist Managing Director of Harrods. It was again sold in 1924 to The Hon. Elizabeth Storr, widow of Major L.P. Storr DSO, a war hero killed in action in France in 1918. After later neglect it was turned into a hotel in 1999 and now further developed by current owners HTP Apprenticeship College.”

Upon check-in, Vicky and I were given a two bedroom suite. Vicky’s bedroom looked lovely from the doorway . . . .

And enormous from within. It even offered a sitting area with balcony.

My bedroom was just as lovely, and afforded me views of the Gate. A nice touch – our bathroom shower included instructions.

We had the cozy drawing room to ourselves and enjoyed the expansive garden views.

Some of the other guests were a bit stand-offish, below, but the staff were lovely.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Osborne House for the first of our two day visit to the property. Returning to the hotel that evening, we dined in the Prince Consort Restaurant.

Vicky chose the lamb.

I opted for mussels.

And we split the cheese board for dessert.

Once we had completed our tour of Osborne House, the gardens, beach and Swiss Cottage, Vicky and I headed to the historic town of Cowes and began our sightseeing in Shooters Hill.

Shooters Hill, PicClick UK

As the postcard above illustrates, Shooters Hill has been attracting visitors for quite some time, although today it has mostly been pedestrianized.

Shooters Hill today © Copyright Gillian Thomas

Once more, we were blessed with blue skies and fine weather.

We spent a leisurely few hours admiring the seafront and nosing around in the wide selection of shops. Eventually, we made our way to the Union Inn, which had been recommended to us by our cab driver as the place to eat in Cowes.

From the Island Eye website: “The Union Inn was possibly built after the act of union between England and Scotland, which took place in the year 1707. The pub was a firm favourite of the navy press gang, who used the pub to enlist many young men into their services when the fleet was at Portsmouth.”

As luck would have it, it was a Sunday. And by now, you should know what that means.

More delicious adventures coming soon!

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