Monday, 18 November 2013

One large slice of Jacobean Heaven!

When we were back in England for our summer holidays, we visited (as one does) various country houses.  
As members of the National Trust, we were eager to see some of the more 'out of the way' houses; ones that were off the beaten (tourist) track.

One such house was Chastleton: a fabulous, drop dead gorgeous, Jacobean manor.
We had tried to visit Chastleton one Christmas a few years ago but it was closed at that time.  This time we made sure it was open before motoring over to see it - only to find that we had arrived half an hour before closing time!
One week later we were back.  Chastleton was open and ready for business - and we were in Jacobean Baroque heaven!

Armed with our guide book and iPad camera we spent a very enjoyable time poking into every nook and cranny the house had to offer; and now it is your turn: So polish your shoe buckles, fix your ruffs, doff your caps and come with me as we go on on a little tour of this wonderful 17th century time capsule.

Chastleton was built between the years 1607 and 1612 by a man named Walter Jones. He had bought the site from the infamous Robert Catesby (of Gunpowder Plot fame), after that man had sold it to help pay a huge fine to the Government after having taken part in the revolt of the Earl of Essex back in 1601.  Walter had plans drawn up which resulted in the existing house being pulled down and a new "modern" house built in its place. The result is Chastleton House as we see it today.

Walter's people had been successful Welsh wool merchants while for his part, he had made a name for himself as a lawyer. The house he built remains little changed since his time and stayed in his family for the next four hundred years before being handed to the National Trust in 1991.  Little changed over the years because the family gradually became impoverished and had not the funds to do anything in the way of modernisation.  To quote from the guide book:

"Barbara Clutton-Brock, the last owner, often said that 'poverty is a great preservative'.  Lack of funds had held her Jacobean house and garden in such a suspended state that its remarkable survival was of national significance." (page 2)

The Trust decided not to renovate the house, but to conserve what was there, and what a fab job they have done!
No flash photography was allowed and so I took photos as best I might, using my iPad, but some rooms were too dark and some photos just didn't come out right at all.

Here is the White Parlour:

The plaster work is wonderful, as is the old 'turkey carpet':

I like the way the ancient tapestries are not hung necessarily for display but rather to serve their original purpose, which was to keep out the cold.  Here a Teniers tapestry hangs similar to a curtain in the great parlour, with a chair and an old wooden writing box nearby:
(Note the ever present teasels to stop anyone attempting to sit on the fragile old chairs)

The Great Chamber has a monumental fireplace emblazoned with the arms of the builder, Walter Jones.

I like the way this portrait is hung so that the light from the lamp illuminates two two porcelain vases while at the same time shining up onto the painting.  It isn't perfectly done and I guess that a proper picture lamp should have been used, however, this is how it was when the family lived there and it 'works'; giving the home a true 'lived in' look rather than a 'museum' feel...

This room is known as the 'Cavalier Room'.  It is called this because unbeknownst to the parliamentary troops were sleeping in there during the English Civil War, the owner of the house - Arthur Jones, who at that time was the local Royalist fugitive for whom they were looking - was hiding in the secret room next door.  After having had their wine drugged with laudanum by his wife, Arthur was able to slip out through this room, past the sleeping soldiers, take one of their horses, and ride swiftly away in to the night!   The bed is of the period as is the linen on the bed:
The reason that the linen remains here is that Anne Jones, wife of the then owner, was a frugal person who was widowed when relatively young.  She managed to lift the family out of debt and made these sets of linen for her daughters once they were married.  They were to receive then once they bore children.  Unfortunately her daughters never did have children and so consequently, the linen was never given away.

This is the secret room, where Arthur Jones hid from the parliamentary soldiers sleeping next door.  I like the simple oak wall panels and the way that the large paintings is set on the floor:

Here is a view down the East staircase.  It is dated 1636 but was rebuilt in 1830.  This was the staircase for important visitors so it is somewhat apt that you can see AGA's feet in the bottom left hand corner...

At the top of the house, it is possible to enjoy one of the wonders of England: the Chastleton House Long Gallery.  Running the entire 22 metres length of the house, this is the 'longest surviving barrel-vaulted ceiling of its date in England':

I couldn't get the entire length into the photograph but you get an idea of what it looks like.  That trunk on the right wall is Spanish and probably dates from around 1500.

Everywhere one looks, one see treasures.
Look at these wonderful carvings and plasterwork:

There are paintings:

Cabinets and curiosities such as this old hearing trumpet

The play of light and shadow in unexpected corners:

And more decorative plasterwork than you can poke a stick at:

(This is also in the Long Gallery)

Just look at this old long-case clock in the hall.  It has a lenticle so that one can see the pendulum swinging without opening the door:
(The clock is somewhat dusty but such things sits well in this old house)

Down in the kitchens, the original range sits just as it was when the last owners were in residence:

For some reason I don't have many photos of the gardens.  They were more of the green and bushy type rather than the colourful, floral variety:

And in the adjoining field stands the family dovecote (an important source of foods for the Jacobean household):

I hope you enjoyed this little visit to Chastleton House.  If ever you get the opportunity to visit then I would thoroughly recommend it!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

What a difference a couple of weeks make.

We have been living in a whirl of activity over the past few weeks - most of which were spent in Melbourne.
During that time we were able to see our garden in flower.  This does not happen often as we are usually there in Winter when all is asleep.  This time however we were there and I was able to see one of my favourite roses in bloom: Papa Meilland:

We were also able to visit our other harpsichord, a single-manual, Flemish instrument that AGA built from a kit back in the mid 1980s.  Like some wines, it has improved with time and now has a wonderfully silvery, harpsichord voice - perfect for the music of François Couperin.  AGA and I had a lovely time re-aquainting ourselves with our old Flemish friend!
For those of you who are interested in clocks, the long-case beauty you can see next to the harpsichord is an English 30-hour silvered-dial antique, made by Samuel Holbin in around 1750.

We also took a few hours to motor up to the Dandenong ranges to see the rhododendrons and azaleas in flower.  Mount Dandenong is famous for these beautiful trees and shrubs, and people journey just to visit the famed Rhododendron Gardens.  We had not time to visit but we saw quite a few in flower in the various villages we passed through:

Despite the fact that it is mid Spring, the weather in Melbourne was somewhat cool and damp.  On a couple of days it was warmer in autumnal Germany!  On our last day however, it was a lovely mid 20s day and we were able to take breakfast on the terrace.  It was cool but pleasant and the sky was clear with not a hint of cloud:
I love days like that.  It is rare to have blue skies here in this part of Germany with its endemic air pollution.
* * * *

The purpose of our visit to Melbourne, was to be with AGA's father (ACA), who is gravely ill.  He is suffering from cancer in both his lungs and his spine.  It causes his a lot of pain, but he is a strong man - both physically and mentally - and I think that this is helping him despite the fact that he endures so much.
I admire him in his adversity. 
He is not letting his illness get him down and is living as normal a life as he can.  We were able to spend a lot of time with him and it was difficult to say goodbye, especially for AGA.  I do not think we will see ACA again, despite the fact that his doctor gives him a year at the most.
When we left, ACA said to me: "There's nothing I can do about this (the cancer).  My name is in the hat, and I'm just waiting for it to be pulled out."
And so he remains living at home, on his own, as is his wish (although AGA's siblings hover protectively on the sidelines) pottering about and trying to carry on as he has always done.
And he is sensible about his condition.  When he was unable to sleep because of the pain, he called the ambulance to take him to the hospital.  His medication was altered and he returned home.
I do hope that if I am in a similar position, that I too can be as philosophical about it all.

* * * *

We have been back here for just over one week now and the jetlag was horrible for a couple of days.
When we left Kaiserswerth it was green and pleasant with just a hint of autumn in the air.  
What a difference a couple of weeks makes!
We have returned to grey skies and Autumn in full swing.  The storms that took place before we got home contributed to blowing many leaves from the trees before they turned yellow.  Combined with the change in daylight saving we now leave for work in the dark, experience grey days, and return home in the dark.  I took this view from our sitting room window to show you what things are now like:

With Autumn ruling our lives we know that Christmas is not too far away.
They are forecasting snow for every day this coming week (but I don't believe it will happen), and the Christmas markets will soon be open for business.  This has spurred me into activity and so this weekend I have made the mincemeat for our Christmas pies:

It is an enjoyable task and scents the very air itself with a foretaste of Christmas soon to come!

(Meanwhile, in a dark subdued corner (and covered in a tea cloth) the bowl of fruit for the Christmas cake sits silently sousing in a brandy bath)

* * * *

One last thing.
When we returned home there was a package waiting for me.  Opening it carefully, I soon unwrapped this beauty:

It is a 19th century, Japanese cloisonné ware vase showing bullfinches flying amongst Chrysanthemums.  The sky is blue with fluffy white clouds and the flowers look as if they are waving gently in the autumn breezes.  It is beautiful and I am so glad I purchased it.  One of these days it will sit in pride of place on some table or other, but for the moment it stands quite sedately next to a clock, a lamp and a statue of St Florian.