“Live your own life” – no idea who said that first!
Thank you for taking the time to read this first post of my new blog. My name is Gillian and I am an artist, curator and social history nerd. The above quote, and I assume it is a real quote although I have no idea who may have said it first, sums up what this blog is all about living my own life. The modern world puts us under so much pressure to fill our lives with ‘stuff’, buckets lists of places to go, things to do, food to eat and so on. It has even become a ‘thing’ to have a huge map of the world in your home with flag pins stuck in to show off to your friends how many place you have visited, as if this makes you a better or more superior person in some way.
I am an advocate of the global Slow movement, I think we all need to slow down and put more thought into what we do, and to care more about how our actions affect other people and the world around us. This blog will be a sort of shared ‘personal’ journal of my thoughts and ideas on a variety of mainly art and heritage related subjects and places and from which together we might stumble across something awesome that we didn’t about know before.
The image at the start of this post is the Atlas fountain in the grounds of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. It was commissioned by the 7th Earl in 1850 from the landscape gardener William Andrews Nesfield. The gods surrounding the central figure of Atlas were carved by the sculptor John Thomas of London and were transported to Castle Howard by railway, something that not so many years earlier would have been impossible.
What to do on a warm summer afternoon? Try a visit to Polesden Lacey House near Dorking in Surrey. This impressive mansion looks like a Georgian Palladian house, but was in fact built in the Edwardian period of the early 20th century, remodelling an older, smaller property that stood on the site. This was to be the country home of wealthy socialites, Ronald (Ronnie) and Margaret Greville, but tragically Ronnie died in 1908, so Margaret lived there alone. The couple filled the house with a vast collection of paintings, porcelain, silver and furniture and Margaret took great delight in holding lavish parties at the house to which the crowned heads of Europe and anyone who was ‘anyone’ was delighted to receive an invitation.
Margaret herself was from humble origins, being the illegitimate daughter of William Younger the Scottish brewery magnate. When she was 21 years old, William Younger acknowledged her as his daughter and sole heir, which secured her future financially. All she needed now was a husband of suitable standing to allow her access to London Society, and this she found in Captain Ronald Greville of the 1st Life Guards. They married in 1891 and sadly had no children.
After her husband’s untimely death, Mrs Greville threw herself into the social whirl of the age, becoming great friends with the future King George 6th and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), whom she invited to spend part of their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey. After her death she left her jewels to Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) who said of her “so shrewd, so kind and so amusingly unkind, so sharp, such fun, so naughty; altogether a real person, a character, utterly Mrs Ronald Greville”. (Bradford, S, 1989; King George VI, p11). Mrs G. (as she is often referred to) was a real ‘marmite’ person – love her or loathe her. It seems that the society photographer Cecil Beaton was a loather and is reported to have described her as “a galumphing, greedy, snobbish old toad who watered at her chops at the sight of royalty … and did nothing for anybody except the rich” (Buckle, R (Ed), 1979, Self Portrait with Friends, selected diaries of Cecil Beaton, p.215-16).
Whatever the truth about her may have been, her home was definitely built to impress, she and Ronnie could be described as the Posh and Becks of their day, their home, while having ‘all mod cons’ being very ostentatious to the point of being vulgar.
Today part of the ground floor of the house is open to the public, dressed out as if a weekend party is about to take place. Entry through the front door reveals a symmetrical pair of curved bays, one with windows one without, with the window areas being obscured by trimmed hedges. This second bay housed the kitchens and did not have windows looking out to the front of the house, as Mrs G did not wish for her servants to be able to ‘gawp’ at her important guests arriving. Having the kitchen at the front of the house was very modern indeed as it was close to the dining room which meant that food at the Greville’s parties would always be served hot! (In most other large house the kitchens were in basements or in a separate annexe because of the danger of fire, it also meant that food was invariably cold by the time it reached the dinner table). A guided tour reveals some interesting snippets of information about the Grevilles and life at Polesden, but a free flow visit is also interesting. The upstairs of the house is laid out mainly to offices and is currently not open to the public. A warning to visitors, the lighting at Polesden is particularly low due to fragile nature of some of the furnishings and other display items.
Polesden Lacey has a fantastic Rose garden as Mrs Greville was very fond of roses. The NT have commissioned Peter Beale Roses to create a Mrs Greville rose, and this can be purchased from the garden shop on site. In August however, the rose garden is past its best, which is during June and early July when the property hold an annual Rose Festival. There is a small formal walled garden with flowers for cutting for display in the house, with a long herbaceous border along the outside wall. Behind this is a small kitchen garden, tiny orchard and a new area for chickens, a bug hotel and a wormery, all in tune with the conservation ethos of the National Trust. To the front and side of the property are magnificent lawns where visitors can sit and admire the view across the Surrey Hills, or children can run about in safety.
first sight Uppark House appears to be the perfect Georgian country mansion set
in an open, elevated position commanding superb views across the South
Downs. But all is not as it seems. The original house was built in the 1690’s
and was remodelled in the early 1800’s. It
then stood for 175 years before a fire rampaged through the house in 1989 which
destroyed most of the interior. The house
was painstakingly restored and reopened to the public in 1995 as the property
seen today, which is basically a new-build of an early 19th century house. Fortunately most of the downstairs furniture
and objects were saved from the fire which started in the roof, and this items
such as carpets, wall coverings and textiles which were not saved have been
recreated. Given this, the property keeps
the lighting particularly low and interestingly, does not allow photography in
the main part of the building, even without flash.
honest there is not a great deal to see at Uppark, the garden is very small and
not terribly inspiring and the few ground floor rooms that are open are largely
unremarkable, generally over filled with furniture. Small laminated leaflets are available in
each room to give the visitor some basic information and a ‘fun fact’ about key
objects and some snippets of information about the previous owners, but there
is no real attempt to draw out any particular theme or history, as is often the
case with other NT properties.
One area of interest is the basement which houses the wine/beer cellar, the housekeepers rooms, butlers pantry and a large scullery.
The original kitchens were not housed in the main part of the house and produce from these was transported along underground tunnels. These tunnels are said to have inspired the author H G Wells when he wrote The Time Machine. A claim to fame is that Wells’ mother, Sarah was the housekeeper at Uppark between 1880 and 1893. Another interesting thing about the tunnels is that in one is stored what is probably the longest single section ladder in the world.
It is a shame that Uppark doesn’t really promote itself more vigorously, it was a well known party house in the early 19th century frequented by the Prince George (later King George IV who was a close friend of Harry Fetherstonhaugh, MP for Portsmouth and often described as a ‘witless playboy’. With provenance like this there is so much scope for imaginative and exciting displays and visitor experience programme. Sadly, this is a missed opportunity, not aided by the stewards on duty on the day of my visit who were to a man a miserable and unfriendly bunch.
been several years since I last visited Nymans Gardens, so I didn’t really know
what to expect when I visited recently.
The weather wasn’t great, which was a shame for the middle of August,
but although overcast, the rain did manage to hold off while I was there.
basic layout of the gardens hasn’t changed, but what had changed was the amount
of activities there were available for children. Nymans has lots of lovely wide open space
which is ideal for children to run about in, and it was heartening to see that
the team at Nymans has recognised that fact and come up with various garden
activities including activity trails and games such as giant Jenga, skittles
and croquet. All this child friendly
activity doesn’t detract from the formal garden areas where the interest is
more adult orientated. The Rose Garden
had almost finished, with just a few blooms left, while the long border was
looking suitably spectacular full of late summer flowers such as phlox, rudbeckia
(Black-eyed Susan), dahlias and sunflowers.
had changed since my last visit was the house itself. A charming country house dating back to the
Regency period, the house was remodelled first by Ludvig Messel to reflect his
Germanic roots, and later by his son and daughter-in-law Leonard and Maud. Sadly, on the night of Leonard’s 75th
birthday a fire broke out destroying much of the house, with only a small part
being saved. About half of the original
property still stands a ruins giving the property a romantic, gothic feel . With
only 4 or 5 rooms available to visitors, there was still plenty to see and
helpful room guides were pleased to chat about the past occupants and to show
interested visitors a selection of albums showing the house as it was before
the fire which destroyed most of it and Messel family. The upstairs has now
been turned in to a gallery space showing the work of a Polish artist, Mariusz
Kaldowski depicting views around the
garden and estate.
The main room have been dressed out as the house would have been in the early-mid 20th century when the Messel family were in occupation. One of the ‘funest’ things is the stage curtain surround that has been placed around the television set. The Messel family were very keen on theatre.
There are several portraits of quite scary looking females which sort of reminded me of Rebecca in the eponymous Daphne Du Maurier.
impressed with the small collection of blue and white china displayed in a side
room, and had to laugh when, as I was leaving, a man entering remarked that I
looked like I had escaped from the room – I was wearing a blue and white
Currently the property is trying to raise money to create a special garden in the ruins of the house left behind after the fire. Some work has been carried out to make them safer, but general public access is not permitted. The picture here shows the charred remains of the library of rare and specialist botanical books collected by Leonard Messel. A fitting place to site a brand new garden.
I enjoyed my visit to Nymans, the property has undergone some changes which make a real difference to the visitor “experience” and the staff and volunteers I came across were all very friendly and knowledgeable. It’s a lovely place and I would thoroughly recommend it.
a ‘spare’ afternoon is always a luxury but sometimes it seems a shame to waste
it doing nothing, so with this in mind I went to visit the National Trust
property, Oakhurst Cottage in the village of Hambledon in Surrey.
built in the 16th century most likely as a workman’s cottage, this
tiny home saw some remodelling during the 19th century and since
then time has largely stood still. We
met our guide (visits are by pre-booked guided tour only) in the garden of the
cottage and were then treated to an interesting introduction in the adjacent
store barn. One of the most interesting
things about this building, is that it is built in the same way as the main
cottage as a large square timber frame with in filled panels of brick. The original cottage was one large building
with a central fireplace and smokehole in the roof, but during the 19th
century this was altered and a small extension was added, the fireplace was
moved to the side and a chimney built on.
The biggest change was the addition of an upper floor with two distinct
rooms for sleeping.
National Trust acquired the cottage as a legacy from two sisters who owned
several properties in the village in the 1980’s together with its sitting
tenants, who were living in the house without the benefit of mains drainage,
electricity, central heating and hot and cold running water. The Trust have dressed the cottage to look as
it most likely would have done during the 19th century, sparsely
furnished and with many handmade items of furniture, rugs and coverlets.
same time as our visit a young family was visiting also, and I take my hat off
to the two young boys (probably aged 5 and 7) who were for the most part very
well behaved, for what must have been for them,
pretty boring. In the scullery
the guide talked at length about it being the women’s domain as it housed the
bread oven, the washing tub and copper.
The mother of the family group seemed to take quite violent exception to
this idea, which is a bizarre notion, as this is exactly how it would have been
over 150 years ago for women. It was
very funny hearing her protestations about equality and her views on the
subjugation of women in the past! The poor
tour guide (an elderly gentleman) was quite bemused by this “strong independent
interesting how many younger people see the past through a 21st
century lens, constantly calling out perceived injustice and malfeasance. I find this fascinating, it seems to me that
there are many who are only interested in a sanitised version of history that
fits with their own experience and ideals.
This is plainly ridiculous and it is the duty of organisations such as
the NT to present the past as accurately as possible, while being mindful of
current sensibilities. However, no
heritage organisations should be afraid of tackling ‘difficult’ issues from the
past. These cannot be airbrushed from
history, it is so important that younger people know about past problems and
what was done, to avoid them happening again.
Outside Oakhurst Cottage is a small garden filled with flowers and vegetables. There are some interesting architectural features on the building, the oak timber frame beams being the most obvious, while at the back of the property is a nice example on the rear wall of bricks laid in the Rat Trap pattern. This is a method that can save up to 30% on the number of bricks needed to cover a 1m square and up to 50% on the amount of mortar required.
The cottage is tucked away at the far edge of the cricket green in Hambledon village, which in reality is little more than a hamlet (although there is a village shop that also has a small café serving excellent food), it is open for 4 days a week, Wednesdays and Thursday and Saturdays and Sundays between April and October for pre-booked guided tours only. Also available at the cottage are some albums and books showing the cottage at different stages in its life including a book of prints of watercolours by the well-known Victorian painter, Helen Allingham who painted the cottage. It seems that it is this painting on which the Trust have modelled the cottage we see today, and which includes the replacement of the windows from rectangular panes to diamond lattice panes.
Oakhurst Cottage is tiny gem, like an oversized dolls house frozen in time. Definitely worth a visit.
was often the response when I told friends about how excited I was about the
plethora of art exhibitions devoted to the British painter Ivon Hitchens. Now I can forgive those people who have no
real interest in art beyond something colourful for the lounge wall for not
knowing about Ivon, but those friends who are interested in art, many of whom
also have degrees in Fine Art, not knowing who he was, is frankly
I first came across Ivon and his work almost two decades ago when he had been dead for around 30 years. It was one of Hitchens’ earlier works, ‘Curved Barn’ which drew my attention. Painted in 1922, it shows a barn at Bex Mill near to Heyshott in West Sussex as a symphony of dynamic flowing lines and muted colour a kind of ‘abstract realism’ reminiscent of work by the Futurists, and Hitchens himself recalls being influenced by the French painter Andre Lhote. This painting can be seen at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex,
Probably the best show I have seen this year, this small exhibition showed 20 paintings by Hitchens in an intimate space set within the old church that houses the Garden Museum at Lambeth Palace. On the day I visited there were only 2 other visitors in the gallery room and it was possible to get very close to each work and see the individual brushstrokes. It was a magical and I felt, a quite moving experience being in the presence of these wonderful images painted so many years ago, but which still retain their vibrancy and vitality.
independent gallery exhibitions the first I saw was at Petworth based gallery
Kevis House, a small and pretty building located close to the historic market
square along a cobbled lane. This
fascinating show featured four generations of the Hitchens family, his father
Alfred, Ivon himself and then work by his son John and grandson Simon. Walking round the gallery the work flowing
between artists, it was clear that each artist from the Hitchens family,while
having some vestige of influence from their respective fathers, had developed a
personal style which was fresh and contemporary to the period in which they
worked. Alongside the Hitchens family
work hung a selection of work by other contemporary artists who had been
influenced by Hitchens including Emma Jamison, Tuema Pattie and the late Peter
short drive from Petworth is the stunning and tranquil rural location of
Moncrieff-Bray Gallery who were also having a ‘Hitchens moment’. This time the main focus was on John
Hitchens, Ivon’s son. It drew together a
selection of work made between the 1960’s and the 1980’s through which it was
possible to see a clear development of his landscape style from something akin
to that of his father, to a much more economical, yet compelling style as seen
in the 1977 painting “Earth, Air and Rain, Duncton Hill”. Again, a selection of artists influenced by
the Hitchens family were hung alongside work by John Hitchens, including Lucy
Powell, Jemma Powell and Sarah Warley-Cummings.
trio is completed by the Candida Stevens Gallery in Chichester. This very ‘trendy’ looking white cube space
was showing work by Ivon Hitchens and John Hitchens, with a couple of works by other
notable 20th century artists Patrick Heron, Howard Hodgkin and
Winifred Nicholson were also represented together with contemporary painter
seen the ‘satellite’ exhibitions, I have yet to see the Main Event at Pallant
House Gallery. I will be doing this over
the next few weeks and will share my thoughts here.
Sadly, all of the work by Hitchens and the other artists I saw today is heavily copyrighted so I have no images to post here. Because I like to see images with posts such as this, I have created two small paintings influenced by Ivon Hitchens, I hope you like them. They are for sale if anyone is interested, contact me at email@example.com for details
Tucked away behind the cricket ground in Guildford are the Wey Navigations. Opened in 1653, the site was dominated by two boat building families the Stevens and the Edwards but is now owned by the National Trust. This compact property offers an interesting snapshot of a what traditional barge building yard was like. It has been over a decade since I last visited and much has changed including the addition of the Wey barge Reliance, built at Dapdune between 1931-2 and which sank in the Thames after striking a bridge. It was acquired by the NT it is now moored at the Wharf for visitors to board and sample cramped, dark conditions that made up everyday life for watermen. Various outbuildings and old stores provide an array of information panels and interactive exhibitions including model navigation system and the block and tackle weight lifting exhibit, where three 56lbs weights are attached to different lifting methods to demonstrate how difficult and easy it can be to lift the same weight. The complex is very child friendly and would make an excellent schools visit, with plenty of activities available for families.
day I visited was the final day of an exhibition by 4 graduate students at UCA
Farnham, titled ‘Tumblehome’ it is the result of how these four artists reacted
to the surroundings, history and traditions of the wharf. I found out about this exhibition by
accident, and being a huge fan of site specific artwork, was curious to see
their ideas. There was disappointment
from the start as there was no information available at the entry kiosk, now it
may be because it was the last day of a month long exhibition, but the
reception staff didn’t make any mention of it when they spoke about what there
was to see on site.
couple of inconspicuous ‘A’ frame poster boards signalled where artworks were sited, but I
almost missed the largest exhibition area completely as it was so
inconspicuous! A quick check on the NT
website revealed a short section about the project and the inevitable self-important
verbose statements by each artist. Of
all the work on show, the digitally printed papers and fabric of Noelle
Genevier, I felt were the most engaged and relevant pieces on display. I have to confess that the large piece of
canvas and rope suspended from a makeshift wood frame did little to provoke any
questions, while the slideshow running in the background opposite was pretty
standard stuff, modern photographs interspersed with archive images presumably
drawing comparisons to how the use of the wharf has changed from industry to
pleasure. The quirkiest piece was the
installation of cottage shaped teapots on show in the Smithy and the giant
papier mache teapot in the main exhibition area and which apparently draws
attention to our relationship with tea and comfort, a comment I am assuming, on
the changing nature in use of the site from industrial workplace to leisure
most of the labelling of the artworks had disappeared and in the absence of any
other information I think that most visitors would have found it all very hard
to engage with. This is hugely
disappointing and a massive missed opportunity.
Art is a fantastic way to draw attention to an historical collection or
site and to engage a more diverse audience than may usually be expected. Overall I suspect that the students were not
given enough time to work on this project alongside their degree show work
which is a shame, although I feel that some of the work missed the mark in
terms of thinking and display. Still,
there is always next time.