Thursday, 18 December 2014

Longleat House

Our Decorative and Fine Arts Society had a private visit and Christmas lunch at Longleat House 
Longleat House is regarded as one of the prime examples of high Elizabeth architecture in England. It was a simple run-down priory when purchased for the princely sum of £53 by John Thynne in 1541. Thynne achieved power and wealth in court politics and warfare and was knighted only six years after purchasing Longleat. The original priory was destroyed by fire in 1567 and rebuilt by Sir John to a design by Robert Smythson. The house took 12 years to build.
The Great Hall retains its Elizabethan character and splendour. The minstrels' gallery was installed at great expense to honour a royal visit when Charles ll and his entire court stayed overnight 
A lovely Christmas lunch with all of the trimmings was much enjoyed 'below stairs' at Longleat
We were taken up to the attic and viewed some of the 7th Marquess of Bath's paintings and murals, but were not shown into the infamous Kama Sutra room!!!
He uses his own unique method and style - a mix of sawdust and oil paint
The 7th Marquess of Bath wears mult-coloured velvet kaftans, colourful waistcoats, tasselled fezes, leotards and capes, and although now in his early 80s the peer is said to have a collection of 75 'wifelets'. In 2010 he handed over stewardship of Longleat to his eldest son, Ceawlin - Viscount Weymouth
The rooms inside Longleat were heavily shuttered to show off the Christmas decorations and lights, not conducive to photographs. Outside the grounds were looking distinctly "Disneyesque" to attract families over the Christmas period
All these things light up in the dark!
even this! resembling memories I have of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing visited many, many, years ago  
Real lions are to be found in Longleat's Safari Park but crazily these things light up too!
A 230 foot dragon made entirely from blue and white china plates, bowls, cups and saucers and hundreds of red chinese lanterns everywhere!
The cautionary moral of this tale is - should your preference be to admire a Capability Brown landscape, some prime Elizabethan architecture, the exquisite paintings and interiors of a fine stately home, then Longleat is best avoided during December!!!
Subsequent to my visit I have discovered that this is the largest light show in Europe - have I been too harsh? The figures have been designed and created, principally in silk, by a team of 50 Chinese men and women from Zigong over the past six months at Longleat. Apparently for 2000 years Zigong has been considered the home of the finest chinese lanterns. Admittedly I didn't see the displays lit up, and I do concede that they look magical at night. You can see them here - I imagine that they will delight many families during the Christmas period. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Greys Court

The de Grey family came over from France with William the Conqueror in 1066. First mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 Greys Court lies at the head of a tranquil Chilterns valley in Oxfordshire.  
The current mansion dates from the 16th century but walking around the grounds reveals a patchwork of history going back to the 11th century
The house was given to the National Trust by Sir Felix and Lady Brunner who bought Greys Court in 1937.  The house is still full of family possessions so no photographs are allowed inside.
However, I discovered this photo on the internet. It shows the interior of the room with the large elegant bow window, image above, which was added to the Tudor wing during the Georgian period - the room has exquisite 18th century plaster work
and this tiny photo of the delightful kitchen with its pretty pink breakfast table and chairs

The remains of the original medieval building built by the de Grey family resembles a romantic folly in the garden
Arbutus andrachnoides "Cinnamon Bark Tree"
A small walled courtyard dominated by the original Norman Great Tower
At the side of the house is an intriguing donkey wheel which dates from the 16th century and was in use right up until 1914
The 19 foot diameter wheel is the largest to survive in England 
The donkey drew water from the well for the house.  The 12th century well is 200 feet deep and would have been laboriously dug by hand.
The platform inside the wheel where the donkey walked
As the donkey walked and the wheel turned a container was pulled up from the well where it then caught on an iron hook before tipping water into the tank overhead
Greys Court is a cross country journey to Reading. The Brunner family kept a herd of Guernsey cows. H's father managed a pedigree herd of Guernsey cows which he would take to auction at Reading Market. Is it possible that some of H's father's cows could have ended up at Greys Court, they are a very rare breed of cattle?
Towers and walls overlooking the valley from the 11th century revealing a habitation and legacy that has lasted for a thousand years  

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Welcome Stranger

Absent for years, a flower finally emerging in the conservatory - seen only twice during the last 15 years.  She was purchased in full bloom at the exotic flower market on the island of Madeira, then dormant for 11 years until she honoured us with a second visit. Many are the times that it has crossed my mind to abandon her altogether, but her little green leaves always get the better of me, and I assume that where there's life there's hope. Now it appears the virtue of patience is about to be rewarded once more.
Two weeks later and she is taking her time
Another two weeks and this beautiful lady is not going to be hurried
The watch word is "patience" but rest assured she will be worth the wait
It is now 2 months since I first noticed her - it is looking very much as if she will finally say 'hello' before Christmas
 5 more days and suddenly she is almost here
Lady's slipper orchid - Paphiopedilum gratrixianum - she is known to flower at Christmas. During December she is a popular orchid on sale in the Funchal flower market Madeira. I have several orchids but this one is special as she reminds me of the island where I purchased her
I love everything about her - the way her exotic flower slowly emerges from such a small unassuming bud, her unusual colour combination, and her curious  bizarre shape - she will now grace us with her presence for several weeks

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Horsley Towers

Having arrived at the hotel in the dark, and following a hearty English breakfast next morning, we set off on foot to explore the surroundings. It looked as if it would be a beautiful late November day once the mist had lifted her veil
For H's birthday we stayed in the grounds of a large Gothic mansion designed by Sir Charles Barry in the early 1820s. Barry eventually went on to design the Palace of Westminster 20 years later. 
The house was built for William Currie, a distiller and banker to replace an earlier building. Currie wanted the house loosely designed in the style of a Bavarian castle complete with turrets and towers. After Currie's death in 1829 the property was then acquired by the lst Earl of Lovelace who was married to Ada, the daughter of Lord Byron, the romantic poet.
Ada was a distinguished mathematician who worked with Charles Babbage on an early mechanical general purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Due to this, she is often described as the world's first computer programmer.
Is this a Folly, a Dovecote or an Ice House?
After having had several distinguished owners the house became a girls' school in the 1920s owned and run by a Miss Isaacson and Miss Maule (a rather forbidding name for a teacher). It stood empty for three years and was then turned into a conference and management centre. The rooms and restaurant are now in what was the conference centre within the walled gardens. The Gothic mansion is used for weddings and special receptions
Amazon local deals are one of the best things that I have discovered during 2014. They have taken us to many different and interesting locations. Here we enjoyed a delicious three course evening meal, a bottle of wine included, and a great breakfast in the morning. Through the 'deal' we enjoyed a 60% reduction off the normal price. I don't know whether other countries do these deals but they are well worth investigating. This is a personal opinion, I am not endorsing any products.
Travelling on over the 'Hog's Back' to our next port of call we caught glimpses of the Surrey landscape - H's land of his forefathers