Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Claydon, Buckinghamshire

Built in the middle of the C18th, Claydon is now little more than a shadow of its former self. Sir Ralph Verney's intention was that his home should rival that of his neighbour, Sir Richard Temple, who built the internationally renowned Stowe House 
Although never entirely finished Claydon was a very impressive building complete with a domed rotunda, state rooms and a vast ballroom. 
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Model showing all that remains of Claydon
The interior of the house was adorned extravagantly with wooden carved Rococo decorations. However, Sir Ralph ran into severe financial problems and was forced to sell most of Claydons contents. He spent the final years of his life on the continent to escape his creditors. Following his death in 1792 his estate was inherited by his niece Mary Verney (later created Baroness Fermanagh). She was an extremely frugal women and had two-thirds of the house demolished which included the central domed rotunda and the ballroom leaving the house much as it appears today.

Arriving early before the house had opened we took a walk along the Ha Ha to the church
The small chancel has an attractive barrel vaulted ceiling
Later it was possible to photograph the exterior of the chancel through a window inside Claydon House
The south wall of the chancel is completely filled by this large monument which Sir Ralph Verney erected to the memory of his father, Sir Edmund Verney, Standard Bearer to Charles l, who was killed at the battle of Edge Hill in 1642
A small detail from a large brass memorial, dated 1543, showing a knight in armour, Roger Gifford, builder of the barrel-vaulted chancel and first holder of the lease at Claydon - he had 13 sons and 7 daughters 
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Stepping inside Claydon's North Hall reveals just how Sir Ralph set out to create a country house of extraordinary grandeur, one in which he wished to dazzle his wealthy neighbours and outdo his political rivals. Today Claydon's interiors are considered to be amongst the most ambitious and lavish ever created during the C18th - a Georgian masterpiece of Rococo decoration
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Sir Ralph employed the brilliant and talented stonemason and carver Luke Lightfoot who for ten years used his skills to make impressive carvings. However, he was not trustworthy and swindled away a lot of Sir Ralph's money before being eventually dismissed. Above is shown a Hoho bird, a mythical creature, an Asian version of the Phoenix. The Hoho is said to bring both good luck and good fortune, which in Sir Ralph's case proved to be the opposite resulting in loss of fortune and his eventual demise.
Along with the Hoho bird many Swans also feature in Lightfoot's carvings - dating back to the Anglo-saxon period, swans were bred in Buckinghamshire for the King's pleasure. 
Although Lightfoot's work appears to resemble plasterwork, it is all carved from wood then painted white. It is thought that he used pine which comes in many different shades and discolours over time. The paint has, therefore, helped to preserve it so that we can still enjoy Lightfoot's amazing skill and craftsmanship today
When Lightfoot was dismissed Sir Ralph employed Robert Adam's favourite stuccoist, Joseph Rose, whose plasterwork can be seen here in the Saloon. It displays exquisite geometrical detail with a frieze made of papier mâché all done in the neoclassical style.
Claydon's staircase is so precious and rare that nobody is allowed to walk on it. There is no stairway in England its equal - the curator likens it to walking on Chippendale furniture
The steps are mahogany inlaid with box, ebony and ivory. The ironwork balusters are of equal delicacy with swirling vegetation so final wrought that it was said to 'sing' with passing movement when the stairs were in use
Upstairs can be found Lightfoot's masterpiece - the Chinoiserie Room classed as one the most original designs from the C18th anywhere. Elaborate pagodas sit above the doorways, Chinese faces peer from the woodwork, there is a riot of swirling foliage, temples, bells and birds. The focus of the room is the large alcove ornately carved with a golden divan sitting within
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 On the back wall is a relief of a Chinese tea ceremony  with two mandarins apparently inviting one to join them for tea!
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In the C19th Sir Harry Verney married Parthenope the eldest sister of Florence Nightingale. Florence was always made very welcome at Claydon where she was given rooms so that she could work quietly and meet important people whenever she wished to leave her house in London. She became the favourite aunt of the children of Edmund Verney (Sir Harry's eldest son); Edmund had served as a naval officer in the Crimea. When he lost part of his foot in a shooting accident at Claydon House, he looked at the picture of Florence in his bedroom and said it gave him courage to bear the pain.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Stop the clock!

August proclaims
 a poignant reminder, 
that I am one year older,
age like summer marches relentlessly on

Travelling to northern India and Kashmir during April diverted attention from the garden

No seed trays prepared
or young plants nurtured 
nothing to plant out in the garden
Would there be regrets?

no runner beans, 

Blue Ensign Convolvulus

or Morning Glories
Not to be defeated
A dash around the garden during May
scattering seeds hither and thither,
in pots and on the ground
all was not lost, most seeds appear to have flourished
The success of this experience will most likely
herald a different routine henceforth in the garden - after all I am one year older!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A Country House at War - Part 2

Walter Horace Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted, owned the merchant bank, M. Samuel & Company and was Chairman of Shell Oil. He was a generous philanthropist, and a prominent art collector. His home, Upton House, housed an art collection to rival many national collections.
As mentioned in Part 1 he and his wife moved out of their home, Upton House, at the outbreak of war, and the staff working for his merchant bank moved in. To mark the 70th anniversary of the ending of WWll, the National Trust have recreated the atmosphere in the house that existed when the bank staff lived and worked there.
The 'Typing Pool' was housed in the Long Gallery
where nostalgic music and songs from the war years added to the atmosphere
May be this was Joe's Air Raid Warden outfit!
These bronze medallions, which are the size of dinner plates, were created by Austrian born Jewish sculptor Professor Arthur Immanuel Loewental. He fled to England in 1934 from Berlin, and Lord Bearsted was one of those who helped him to establish himself and obtain British nationality in 1941
On the home front knitting socks for the 'boys' began in ernest
Bedroom used by the male bank staff
Female bank staff bedroom

Lord Bearsted served in the WWl with the West Kent Yeomanry. He was decorated with the Military Cross, Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal showing oak leaf spray on the ribbon meaning he was mentioned in despatches. In WWll he had a secret role using the code named K; he never divulged his mission.
As war progressed Lord Bearsted became increasingly concerned for the safety of his valuable painting collection; the building of an RAF station at nearby Shenington was a great worry to him. He wrote a letter to Kenneth Clark, the then Director of the National Gallery, asking if his paintings could be placed alongside the national collection in a secret disused slate quarry. In the light of his service to the gallery and the importance of his collection the request was accepted. The location in Wales was top secret, but his paintings remained safe for the duration of the war in a chamber alongside paintings belonging to the King.
Off into the secret location they go
to be kept safe until the end of the war
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Three paintings from Lord Bearsted's collection

El Greco - 'El espollo' - the Disrobing of Christ  - showing the drama of the poignant moment when Christ stands on Cavalry whilst his cross is being prepared for his Crucifixion; his scarlet robe is about to be ripped off. In the bottom lefthand corner stand the three Marys
This is a smaller version of the same painting seen in Toledo Cathedral, Spain, where it hangs in the Sacristy above a marble altar
Follower of Fra Filippo Lippi - Three Acts of Charity
On the Day of Judgement, people would be judged according to the acts of charity they had carried out in their lifetime. In the first scene on the left, Christ, as the unknown stranger, is handed drink; in the second he is handed food; and in the third he is offered shelter
Puccio di Simone also known as Master of the Fabriano Altarpiece - The Last Supper
Christ is sitting at the left hand end of the table and St. John rests his head on his lap. He has just spoken the words 'But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table'. Judas (shown without a halo) raises his hands in protest.
To finish this is Lady Bearsted's glamorous red and silver Art Deco bathroom 
The bathroom walls are covered in a fine layer of aluminium leaf