After a busy and work-filled start to the year, we managed to escape for a well-deserved weekend away from London just before lockdown started. Given that we haven’t been able to leave London since, this was a lovely opportunity to explore the gorgeous town of Stow-on-the-Wold, which was new to us. The market cross was at the centre of the little town, and has a slightly gory history dating back to 1646 and the English Civil War. The Royalist Army marched through the Cotswolds on their way to Oxford, but were intercepted by the Parliamentarians, and the battle which ensued in the market square was so gory that it was said ducks could bathe in the pools of blood left behind [maybe it’s good that we didn’t know this beforehand?]. This apparently led to the street’s name, Digbeth, from ‘Duck’s Bath’. However, we can confirm that it is now much more peaceful and full of interesting antiques shops [well done if you can leave without buying anything!] and gorgeous cafés. This is a place to come prepared for scones, tea and cake!
You might recognise this famous little door! The 13th century north door of St Edward’s Church, the town’s church, which itself dates back to the 11th century, is said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to create the “Doors of Durin” in The Lord of the Rings.
Mottisfont Abbey started life as an Augustinian priory dating back to 1201. From this, it was transformed by Lord Sandys into a large house; this family also owned The Vyne, also in Hampshire, and divided their time between the two properties.
Highclere Castle in Berkshire, home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, was largely built by Sir Charles Barry while he worked on the Houses of Parliament. With grounds laid out by Capability Brown (of course), the house and family also have links with the history of planes through Sir Geoffrey de Havilland and with Tutankhamun’s Tomb, which was discovered by the 5th Earl. The name is also familiar to those who are fans of horseracing, with the current Earl’s father, the 7th Earl, the Queen’s racing manager until his death in 2001.
This particular angle of the house is instantly recognisable from Downton Abbey, the well-loved TV series and film made here. While the fictional Downton Abbey is in Yorkshire, the blue skies and sunshine make it obvious that we are in fact in Berkshire [less of that, thank you].
The gardens around the house are extensive, with some pretty wonderful tulip varieties in bloom in the spring.
Now that the sun is (sporadically) here, the days are getting longer and flowers are starting to appear, we’ve decided it’s officially springtime and time for us to start exploring again! And where else to start but Standen House, a National Trust property near East Grinstead in Surrey.
An Arts and Crafts property, the house was designed by Philip Webb, a friend of William Morris. It was designed in keeping with the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, where the everyday domestic object was exalted through thoughtful and pleasing design, and thus William Morris’s Golden Rule: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. This stunning coffee table showed this perfectly [I love the geometric patterns].
Often, we like to bring you beautiful hidden gems, quirky finds or recommend places you might never have thought of to experience. Today, though, we found some photos from a late summer outing which made us so happy, we wanted to share them – it was a lovely Sunday day out, but probably somewhere you already recognise!
As you know by now, we love nothing more than a saunter around Hampstead Heath. It’s green, it’s walkable, and most importantly [for some] has a large collection of dogs to swoon over. We love Kenwood House and have a few favourite routes we explore. However, lately we made an exciting new discovery, thanks to a tip off from a podcasting friend (check out her brilliantly-engaging podcast, Uncatalogued, if you love museums and want to know more about the fascinating people who bring them to life). This discovery was Hampstead Pergola, described as “essentially, a raised walkway” near the Golders Hill Park part of the Heath. But what a raised walkway it is…
In 1904, Lord Leverhulme bought a large house in this area, named ‘The Hill’. With an interest in landscape gardening, he bought up the surrounding land and aimed to built his Pergola, for parties, summer evenings, and as a vantage point for enjoyment of the stunning gardens surrounding it. The architect he enlisted was the renowned Thomas Mawson, and he cleverly utilised the leftover materials from the nearby building of the Hampstead extension of the Northern line to cut transport costs. The Pergola was completed in 1906, after just a year in construction, and Lord Leverhulme expanded it twice more, in 1911 and 1925.
The house, visible to a degree through the Pergola’s framing, is still privately owned and now split into a number of apartments.
Although one of us is currently incapacitated, having [very annoyingly] broken his foot slipping in a tube station (don’t worry, our love for public transport hasn’t abated too much), we wanted to see what we could catch of the first Lumiere festival to come to London, as I remember them being such a success up in Durham a few years ago. We headed out for the evening, but our first stop was the Benjamin Franklin House near Trafalgar Square, the only house still standing that Franklin lived in. He came to London intending to lodge here for a few short months but stayed for 16 years, even remaining while his wife died at home. The house remains in a fairly faithful state, although it was since used by Charing Cross station as a small hotel, but it has no original furniture. Rather than fill the house with replicas, the team have decided to approach this in an unconventional way, using image projection, recorded speech and an actress to take us through the story. Ultimately, we thought this was very successful (although rarely have I read more divisive opinions on Trip Advisor!). The actress herself was completely engaged and spoke clearly – had she been anything less than perfect the tour would have suffered (on which note, she did rather need a new costume…). The tour was informative, and we learned a great deal about the man himself and his rich and varied life. In the face of presumably limited resource, we thought this was an ingenious way to bring the house to life.
We then wandered up to Trafalgar Square itself, to see the Lumiere installations everyone has heard so much about. On which note, first of all, out heartfelt congratulations to the Lumiere PR and marketing team – with so much going on in London, this was the thing everyone was talking about. Unfortunately, though, this did mean that a) we couldn’t see anything, really and b) so popular were some of the installations that they had to be turned off to deal with the crowds. Our first stop was the National Gallery, which itself was looking beautiful as always…
We decided [somewhat foolishly] to drive from Leeds to Wales to Lincoln over the course of two days, to spend New Year’s Eve with friends in Cardiff and then visit other relatives on New Year’s Day – we covered a fair few miles, but of course found time to stop off at a National Trust house in Worcestershire on the way. Excited for this one, we got out of the car and showed our cards, only to be told that the house was closed. Slightly disappointed, we decided to go to the café anyway (obviously) and maybe to walk around the gardens. So, we wandered up the drive of Hanbury Hall, and as we approached a lovely tour guide called out of the front door to ask us if we wanted to join a tour. Naturally, we did – when he said that we couldn’t, as it was full. Somehow, though, we ended up in the hallway of this beautiful house, and on a tour. We weren’t complaining, if slightly confused…
Built in 1701, the house has a colourful history with many family stories and much scandal. We were taken through a number of the rooms on the ground floor and talked through the family history. The Christmas decorations were also pretty wonderful, with garlanding on the stunning stairs, which were painted by Sir John Thornhill, of St Paul’s Cathedral dome, the Painted Hall at Greenwich and Chatsworth fame. The legend has it that he and his painting team made a fair bit of mess, which resulted in him painting in the housekeeper’s face to one of the cherubs…
After leaving Clandon Park, we headed to Polesden Lacey nearby for a restoring burst of National Trust normality. An Edwardian country retreat, it was home to famous society hostess Mrs Margaret Greville, and is presented as it would have been in her time, with her collection of furniture, paintings, porcelain and silver.
The house was completely rebuilt by Thomas Cubitt in 1824, and remodelled for the Grevilles by the architects responsible for the Ritz – hence the luxurious bathrooms!
OK, so we’ve been to Kenwood Housebefore. But with such a beautiful place nearby, it’s difficult not to… While last time was a fleeting visit on the blog, this trip we decided to look at things a little more closely.
Remodelled by Robert Adam in 1770 (you know by now how much we love goodoldAdam!), Kenwood sits in 74 acres next to Hampstead Heath, with views across to the City of London. The house is run by English Heritage but remains free entry to the public, thanks to the Iveagh Bequest. This was a gift of art from the 1st Earl of Iveagh in 1920, and comprises internationally-significant Old Master and British paintings by artists including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Reynolds. Indeed, it is the finest collection of Old Master paintings given to the British nation in the 20th century.
There is also a fine collection of furniture in the house, either designed by Adam or brought in sympathetically. We liked this tiny lion: