When visited: March 2013
When visited: March 2013
That is how people responded to Bess of Hardwick’s house when she first built it.
It’s not hard to see why.
Her family crest involved the stags.
Some rooms are a bit “Victorian” (hiss).
Bess of Hardwick had four husbands and accumulated wealth to rival Elizabeth I. She also oversaw the building of (old) Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall: a fortune-teller once told her that if she ever stopped building, she would die – something she would never forget.
Bess was born at what is now Hardwick Old Hall - a simple country manor house in Derbyshire. Its skeleton is now looked after by English Heritage and stands eerily just outside the garden wall of Hardwick Hall.
At 20, Bess married a local man, Robert Barley, who died leaving her penniless. Sir William Cavendish, who had bought Chatsworth in 1549, became her second husband, but he also died. Sir William St Loe, her third husband, died in 1565, leaving her seriously rich.
Bess moved on to the Earl of Shrewsbury, guardian to Mary Queen of Scots, but when shesought to orchestrate the marriage of her daughter to the brother of Lord Darnley, Mary’s ex-husband and father(?!) of James I of England, the Earl objected to her scheming and left her in protest.
That was the bud that created Hardwick
Bess moved away from Chatsworth to Hardwick Old Hall, which she remodeled. When the Earl died in 1590 the septuagenarian employed Robert Smythson to design Hardwick Hall for her. It was completed in 1597 and Hardwick Old Hall left to rot.
Bess could give Elizabeth I a run for her style!
We talk about double height spaces being impressive – look at the height in here. Bess made her main entertaining space high up. We needed a rest once we got up here!
There is a lot of sea grass carpeting.
While I don’t like kitchens I do like storage rooms and the bespoke estate furniture.
When visited: September 2012
Theme tune: Glass
I’ve only ever been in a couple of other houses anywhere near like The Homewood – 2 Willow Road in North London and Villa Necchi Campiglio near Milan, Italy. Perhaps the interiors of Eltham Palace come close. However, last year I watched an hour-long programme in a series called ‘National Trust: National Treasures‘ and so I couldn’t resist a trip to Surrey at the first opportunity I had to book a place on an elusive tour to this house.
I’m a classicist when it comes to my true tastes. I despise concrete. However, there is something within me that appreciates a curved sofa (I have one) and therefore I don’t always dislike 1930s architecture. I like the multifunctional rooms.
I really liked how at The Homewood storage and functionality was woven into the furniture (all designed by Gwynne), how the rooms were built for purpose (bedrooms facing east to catch the morning sun, the sitting room facing south and the dining room west, to get the midday and evening sun respectively; the staff and kitchen face the north, where the warmth of the sun at any time of the day wasn’t considered necessary).
The house was completed in 1938, at a cost in excess of £10,000 (to put that into perspective, local houses sold for circa £350 at the time and the family had to sell a whole village in Wales to fund the build). Patrick Gwynne’s parents built the house of his design because Mrs Gwynne wanted to move (she was fed up of the noise from the Portsmouth Road outside her current Victorian roadside house rattling her china every time a lorry went past) and Mr Gwynne didn’t want to leave the garden he had spent 20 years creating Patrick was 24 and wanted a commission. He suggested to his parents that he build them a house at the back of the garden, as far away as possible from the road. He promised them the house of their dreams.
The Gwynnes senior had one glorious year of parties before WW2 broke out. They both died during the war but Patrick came back, living as a bachelor and partying his way through a rather glamorous life at The Homewood until he died in 2003.
He built 40 luxury modernist homes.
65 years in one house and still he had some parts of it that he didn’t know how to finish, such as a weird mural at the top of the spiral staircase that he left covered in the crayon doodle of a visiting artist friend’s assistant because he just didn’t know what else to do with it. Reminds me of the very big white wall I have with nothing on it still 10 year later; I think I need to paint a Cezanne one afternoon.
The National Trust spent 10 years working with Patrick towards the end of his life to get the house back into good repair and they chose the custodian, who Patrick specified must a family. The live in the house (with a young child) VERY CAREFULLY.
There are bits of the house I really liked:
But other things I don’t like:
In fact, only the entrance hall, cream concrete spiral stair, study, sitting room-come dining room (separated by a folding screen) and one bedroom are open in this vast house. Entry is only by guided tour and shoes definitely have to be flat (to protect the sprung maple floor in the sitting room) and covered in plastic booties.
Once outside I played a “spot the white elephant” game from amongst the acer trees.
Monsieur Le Corbusier has a lot to answer for…
When visited: May 2013
House * out of 5: ***
Garden * out of 5: **
Theme tune: Something French
Further reading: http://www.c20society.org.uk/botm/the-homewood/
My Art Fund card opens my eyes to many council-run historic houses that I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, offering a single site from which I can look-up places I’d like to visit. I often find councils’ own websites a little difficult to navigate when it comes to finding their historic houses.
One of the benefits of council-run museums-come-historic houses is that entry is usually free. You just have to look beyond the copious amounts of white gloss paint and linoleum.
On a trip to Crewes Hill I had once seen an historic house on the side of a mini roundabout. I intended to find out its name but never did.
After my 20 minute train journey from London Liverpool Railway Station to “Bruce Grove” station and a 5 minute cycle ride up Bruce Grove itself (past quite a few nice, large, once-grand Georgian houses (now flats) and rows of Victorian side streets), I arrived at the same place.
This is Bruce Castle.
I went because one of Henry VIII’s courtiers lived here, Henry having granted him the land. He might have built the turret in the garden, which might have been a mews for hawks – the wild birds that were caught for use in hunting would have been housed here. That guesswork is based on a painting that has been discovered of a similar building in Edward Tudor’s court. The house is mainly Georgian in appearance, the 16th century house having been pulled down. Inside are the local council’s community museum pieces, ranging from a stuffed turtle to an exhibition on local inventors to a display a about how the Queen’s coronation was watched in the local community.
I headed back down Bruce Grove, cycled through some ringroads, past B&Q and over a reservoir to the previously unvisited wilds of Walthamstow. At one point there was a fabulously flamboyant Turkishesque mosque amidst the shops but I didn’t fancy stopping to get my camera out (note to self: you need to get a small, cheap, light point and push camera for when you go off cycling and only want to take a couple of snaps).
Eventually (but it was only about 20 minutes; just felt like a long time) I arrived at my destination: The William Morris Gallery.
During 2012, when the William Morris Gallery had been closed for a multi-million-pound revamp thanks to Lottery Funding, I had visited 2 Temple Place on The Embankment in Central London, primarily to look at the architecture but also to look at the William Morris exhibits that had been moved there temporarily.
The house in which the William Morris Gallery is based, called Water House, dates from the 1740s and has a chestnut staircase at the back of the hall. The house is now a museum but there are some fireplaces. The restoration is sympathetic and to their credit the museum hasn’t completely ignored the house: in each room there is a small plaque dedicated to the architecture of the room.
William Morris lived in the house from 1848-1856.
I didn’t take any pictures inside, not because I don’t rate Morris (I do, particularly because he valued hand-made crafts, clean lines and because he helped establish the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (he also disliked cluttered Victorian interiors)), but because I think arts and crafts work of his period deserves being seen. It doesn’t photograph amazingly well.
I enjoyed looking at tiles, wallpapers, cloth, art and furniture (both by Morris and his contemporaries). There is a café and a small shop in the foyer. I really liked playing a game where one has to decide how to build the brand of William Morris, starting off with £200, over 4 years. The people before me ended up with £1,300. I couldn’t make more than £900…
I enjoyed watching the video about Morris, the SPAB and his socialism. Because I have a habit of people-spotting my spare time I noticed there were a lot of 20-something girls here with flowery skirts, mist in their eyes and a general sense of Victoriana about them (there were also a couple of groups of 50 something women with Morris print tops on!).
There is another local council museum nearby, Vestry House, but I didn’t make it there.
When visited: April 2013
Theme tune: E17′s House of Love
Last month I visited RHS Wisley when the plants were suffering from the very cold start to spring.
Even some of the daffodils weren’t giving a full show until this visit.
I returned on a very different day, just under a month later, to capture the blossom and magnolias.
I plan to return in July to see the prairie meadow in full bloom.
When visited: 4 May 2013
I saw some wonderful bluebells.
I’ll come back to both visits in more detail separately, but the warm air made me think summer is definitely on its way and that every weekend between now and October is there to be made the most of.
RHS Wisley (Surrey)
Riverhill Himalayan Gardens (Kent)
An Englishman’s home is his castle. Or so they say.
If you don’t have a castle, seems some decide to call their houses castles anyway. Remember Cliffe Castle in Yorkshire (a millowner’s house)? That wasn’t a castle.
Do you think Sissinghurst Castle in Kent is a castle? It is not. It is the remnants of an Elizabethan double courtyarded manor house.
Chiddingstone Castle is also a pretender. It is a medieval manor house with a Regency front.
Reason to visit: a good Japanese collection worthy of being the key reason to visit here.
Originally home to the Streatfeild family and called High Street House, they pulled down the Tudor timber house and built a manor house in the 1670s.
In the early 1800s a portion of the manor house, the front door of which the main street for the village of Chiddingstone passed, was pulled down and a gothic revival bank of rooms added – one room deep. As we sat in the car park we played a guessing game as to age. I went for 1840s (it looks like it should be very early Victorian: the quality of workmanship isn’t high enough for the 18th century or even the early 1900s). D guessed 1870. We were surprised then to be told the façade we could see from the courtyard (I have spotted an early creamy stone piece peeping out from behind) was built in about 1800. After a bit of “post-visit research” I now know that the work was started in the early 1800s but there wasn’t enough money to complete the design and so work wasn’t completed until 1830s.
When landscaped gardens were added the village street was moved, so that the ‘big house’ could have a lake. The village can now be reached by a 2 minute walk, over a sweet bridge and the ‘lake’ (more like a big pond). The National Trust own the row of ancient half-timbered houses in the village. The village shop was for sale when we visited, claiming to be ‘The Oldest Shop in England’.
The Streatfeilds moved out in 1900, Lord Astor bought it in 1938, the armed forces occupied the house during the war and for a brief stint a school moved in.
In the 1955 a collector, Denys Bowers, then aged 50, bought the house for £6,000. He had a 100% loan. Who knows how he persuaded the bank. He had started out as a bank clerk (so maybe he had a friend at the bank) and was particularly interested in Japanese lacquerware and the Stuarts (he said he was ‘the Great Pretender Reincarnated’!). His plan was to open the house as a museum exhibiting his collections (the Japanese collection is very good, including swords, lacquer boxes, an inro and Samurai armour and masks) and repay the mortgage using entrance fees.
Bowers was in jail for a while having been convicted of attempted murder when he accidentally shot his girlfriend (his defence was that he took a loaded antique pistol with him to visit his girlfriend, who was about to leave him, to prove that without her in his life he would kill himself; he then accidentally shot her. She didn’t die. I wouldn’t have been able to keep my face straight if I were doing the summing up as his defence counsel). Apparently he was more committed to his collections than his relationships and he therefore had little luck with women. He did 9 years in jail but had been sentenced to life. Bower’s study remains in situ with an exhibition about his life. It is at the back of the property, face south and west. The early 1800s frontage faces due north and is very cold: only 6 degrees Celsius inside when we were there!
The reception rooms house exhibitions: the Japanese ware, a sitting room with reproduction of oils depicting the Royals of the 17th century (this room is also used for weddings), a medieval-come-Victorian great hall, an exhibition of Buddhist items (Bowers was a buddhist), a bedroom (no doubt used by the brides), a second-rate Egyptian collection (but to be fair we were told the main collection has gone to America on loan during 2013: we visited on the first open day of the season so the new temporary exhibition hadn’t been fully installed) and then the earlier kitchen block, which apart from the Japanese items is the best bit, if not generic in the sense that I’ve seen many other kitchens of this ilk.
The house rambles a bit: there is a rose garden in a courtyard, a warm kitchen around another corner, another internal courtyard with tables and chairs, and a humour sign (if you know who Bansky is) saying “Please exit via the Gift Shop”, leading to a turret where if I were the shopkeeper I would have fallen asleep. I bought some ‘Kent Pear Juice’.
There are plans to add a Japanese stroll garden into the landscaped gardens. Hence the sweet bridge we walked over into the village and a very new winding path, which D liked.
When visited: March 2013
House * out of 5: **
Garden * out of 5: **