Archive for the ‘Buckinghamshire’ Category

Playing with pebbles

October 10, 2013
The Pebble Alcove at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The Pebble Alcove at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

I visited Stowe yesterday with Liv Oustrup and Jan Wulff of the Danish heritage agency Slotte og Kulturejendomme (Castles and Cultural Properties). Apart from touring this wonderful landscape garden we also had tea and talked shop with Stowe head gardener Barry Smith.

The seat and pebble mosaics in the Pebble Alcove at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/John MillarChild in the Pebble Alcove at Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire.

The seat and pebble mosaics in the Pebble Alcove at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/John MillarChild in the Pebble Alcove at Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire.

One of the garden buildings at Stowe that I hadn’t really appreciated before is the Pebble Alcove.

Detail of the mosaics on the Pebble Alcove at Stowe, with the punning Temple-Grenville family motto 'Templa quam dilecta' (How Beautiful are thy Temples). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Detail of the mosaics on the Pebble Alcove at Stowe, with the punning Temple-Grenville family motto ‘Templa quam dilecta’ (How Beautiful are thy Temples). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

It is thought to have been designed by William Kent at some point before 1739. It certainly exudes Kent’s playful theatricality.

Detail of the mosaics in the Pebble Alcove. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Detail of the mosaics in the Pebble Alcove. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

It was meant to be seen from the lake as vision of rustic Palladianism, almost camp in its self-conscious juxtaposition of ‘refined’ and ‘rough’.

Detail of the mosaics in the Pebble Alcove. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Detail of the mosaics in the Pebble Alcove. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

And when you approach the alcove that refined-rough contrast suddenly flips, as you discover how humble pebbles have been used to create delicate rococo patterns and gnomic symbols.

Life in the Chinese country house

August 7, 2012

Chinese gouache showing elegant company making music on a lakeside terrace. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

With apologies to Mark Girouard (who published the well-known social history of the country house, Life in the English Country House, in 1979) I thought it might be interesting to show this small set of Chinese paintings of interiors and gardens.

These pictures in body colour on paper depict elegant company engaged in various leisure activities in a series of interiors and gardens.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in a garden with a board game being played. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

We can see people playing musical instruments, playing a board game, arranging flowers and serving drinks (possibly tea).

Miniature trees can be seen growing in pots placed on balustrades and stands. Some people are sitting on chairs, others on seating platforms with bolsters, little tables and objets d’art close at hand.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in an interior with a view to a lake, one of the women holding a vase with flowers. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

One of the pictures appears to show a courtyard of a high official’s mansion or a palace. The symmetricality of this view seems reminiscent of western pictorial taste. Indeed, the style of these pictures generally is rather ‘western’, with the use of single-point perspective and shading.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company on a terrace with a view to a mansion or palace courtyard. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Paintings such as these were made for export to the west. This particular set is thought to date to about 1800. It would be interesting to learn more about how realistic these images were – whether the painters produced fantasy views of a semi-mythical ‘Cathay’ for foreign consumption, or whether these pictures, in spite of being destined for ignorant foreigners, were nevertheless based on indigenous traditions of realistically depicting upper class life. Do please comment if you know more about this subject.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in an interior with a woman serving drinks and a view to a circular garden doorway. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

These paintings were bequeathed to Claydon House in 1995, where they form an interesting counterpoint to the outrageously fantastical chinoiserie decoration by Luke Lightfoot of the 1760s.

Inn side story

March 13, 2012

The Corinthian Arch at Stowe. ©National Trust/John Millar

The eighteenth- century gardens of Stowe in Buckinghamshire were effectively one of the Britain’s first public theme parks. Visitors flocked from near and far (and even from abroad) to see the temples, monuments and scenery created by Baron Cobham and his successor Earl Temple.

A view of the New Inn by Jean-Claude Nattes, 1809, in Buckinghamshire County Museum

Such were the visitor numbers that Lord Cobham built an inn at the main Bell Gate entrance to the park, called the New Inn, to provide accomodation for some of them.

The New Inn following its restoration. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The building later became a farm and had recently fallen into decay. It was bought by the National Trust in 2005 and has now been restored and turned into a visitor centre.

Eighteenth-century graffiti at the New Inn. ©National Trust/John Millar

The 75-strong building team and over 250 volunteers restored as much of the original building as possible, studying  historic documents and images and using materials and construction methods of the period. Appropriate period furniture was introduced whenever possible.

The Parlour, with a draught-excluding settle next to the fireplace. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The National Trust has created additional visitor facilities on the footprint of the farm and stable block, including a cafe, shop and conference centre, using larch wood sourced from the nearby Ashridge estate.

The Tap Room. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The Heritage Lottery Fund provided a £1.5 million grant towards the £9 million cost of the project, which was also supported by other fundraising initiatives and donations.

The courtyard seen from above, showing the layout of a traditional inn. ©National Trust/John Millar

The reinstatement of the New Inn as the entrance to Stowe also means that visitors can now begin their walk around the gardens from the same spot as their eighteenth-century predecessors did, which should help to make the experience more authentic and enjoyable.  

On the paper trail

November 9, 2011

Fragment of a pomegranate wallpaper found under a tapestry in the Tapestry Room at Erddig. ©NTPL/Barry Hamilton

The National Trust’s wallpaper detective, Andrew Bush (his actual, but far too sensible title is Paper Conservation Adviser), has recently discovered a fragment of an early wallpaper at Stowe, Buckinghamshire that is identical to a rather bold pomegranate or proto-Paisley wallpaper found at Erddig in Wrexham.

View of the New Inn at Stowe in 1809 by J.C. Nattes. ©National Trust

The New Inn at Stowe was built in about 1717 to cater for the increasing numbers of people that were coming to visits its famous gardens. It stayed in use as an inn until about 1850, and after years of dereliction it has now been restored to serve as the National Trust’s visitor centre for Stowe.

Some of the wallpapers discovered at the New Inn. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Andrew was called in for a one-off visit to check if there were any significant wallpapers, but this turned into a more substantial project as more than sixty wallpapers gradually came to light, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

The wallpaper fragment discovered at the New Inn, with the same pattern as the section found at Erddig. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

A tiny scrap of wallpaper found beneath one of the floorboards turned out to be of the same pattern as the Erddig paper, which could be dated through tax stamps to about 1715-20. The wallpaper would seem to be too grand for an inn, so it remains a puzzle as to how it ended up in an estate building at Stowe.

More about this story can be found in the latest edition of Arts, Buildings and Collections Bulletin. In this issue Sarah Kay also summarises the findings about the Regency card racks at Attingham which keen readers of this blog so generously helped us to unearth.

Stowe’s legacy

October 11, 2011

Stowe, with its famous landscape garden, has the longest bibliography of all National Trust properties. It has inspired and challenged visitors, artists and scholars ever since Lord Cobham began transforming it in the 1710s.

View across the Octagon Lake towards the Lake Pavilions and the Corinthian Arch at Stowe. ©NTPL/Rod Edwards

Any new publication about Stowe has to prove itself in that context. But Stowe: The People and the Place, by Michael Bevington and with contributions by George Clarke, Jonathan Marsden and Tim Knox,  is an interesting addition to the literature partly because it descibes Stowe as a phenomenon, as a garden with a national and indeed international reputation.

The Palladian Bridge at Stowe, which inspired the one at Hagley. ©NTPL/Rod Edwards

Although it is notoriously difficult to establish the precise influence of one garden on another, echoes of Stowe can be found in a number of English gardens. At Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, Cobham’s nephew George Lyttleton erected a number of temples, a column and a Palladian bridge inspired by Stowe.

The politically motivated Temple of British Worthies, which includes busts of King Alfred and the Black Prince. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Frederick, Prince of Wales, added politically symbolic busts of King Alfred and the Black Prince to his garden at Carlton House, London, just as his ally Cobham had done at Stowe. The Prince of Wales also built a House of Confucius in his garden at Kew, which again seems to have been a subtly political emblem similar to Cobham’s Chinese House at Stowe. 

Page of illustrations from Benton Seeley's 1750 Stowe guidebook. ©National Trust

However, Stowe also became well know abroad. There were so many French visitors that in 1748 a French guidebook entitled Les Charmes de Stow was published. Traces of Stowe can be found in gardens in France, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Italy, and even as far afield as Monticello, Virginia.

The Cooke and Grenville monuments at Stowe, shown in an 1805 view by J.C. Nattes. The rostral column was copied at Tsarskoye Selo. ©National Trust

Stowe’s most direct and striking influence can be found in the pleasure grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, one of Catherine the Great of Russia’s residences. The famous ‘Frog’ dinner service that the Empress commissioned from Josiah Wedgewood in 1773, and which was decorated with British scenery, featured more views of Stowe than of any other place.

Beth Katleman’s Rococo vision

June 6, 2011

Beth Katleman, Folly. ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

I recently spotted these images of an extraordinary porcelain relief entitled Folly, by New York-based artist Beth Katleman. The work is five meters long and consists of 3,500 individual porcelain pieces. It is inspired by the riotous wall decorations of the Rococo period.

Facsimile of a Regency chinoiserie wallpaper in the Bow Room at Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Folly is reminiscent of eighteenth-century Rococo and chinoiserie tapestries, wallpaper and printed cotton, with their floating islands populated with whimsical figures and fantasy structures.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

The work also references the more extreme forms of plaster decoration, and the phenomenon of the porcelain room, with its walls covered with figurines, vases, cups and plates.

Detail of the mantelpiece in the Paper Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

But upon closer inspection Katleman infuses these ‘high culture’ sources with a healthy dose of kitsch. The floating islands are populated by porcelain casts that the artist has taken from flea-market finds, including pencil sharpeners in the shape of famous monuments and cast-off plastic dolls.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Katleman aptly emphasises the surrealist potential of the Rococo style. At the same time she subverts the domestic associations of interior decoration, transforming the elegant into the uncanny. 

Detail of toile de Jouy in the Ante-Room at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Folly will be shown by Todd Merrill at Design Miami/Basel from 13 to 18 June. Subsequently it will be part of the exhibition Flora and Fauna, MAD About Nature, at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, from 28 June until 6 November.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Another edition of the work will travel to London to be shown, again by Todd Merrill, at the Pavilion of Art and Design, from 12 to 16 October. 

Chinoiserie plasterwork and carved wood decoration in the Chinese Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Todd Merrill website features a short video about Folly featuring Beth Katleman.

A new bridge at Stowe

May 30, 2011

The new bridge at Stowe. ©National Trust/Nadja Wendt

A new bridge has recently been completed at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, to reconnect the two-kilometre-long lakeside walk. 

The Nattes view of the original bridge.

The original bridge, which collapsed in 1827, is shown in an early-nineteenth-century view by John Claude Nattes. Seeley’s 1827 guidebook to Stowe records the walk that it was a part of, circling and crossing the Octagon Lake and the Eleven Acre Lake.

The new bridge being constructed. ©National Trust/Nadja Wendt

Surveys revealed the location of the original paths, which were then rebuilt by the gardeners and volunteers at Stowe (and are now suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs). As part of the process, various views across the lakes have also been opened up and improved.

The bridge being fixed in place. ©National Trust/Nadja Wendt

The National Trust built the bridge in partnership with Moulton College, Northampton. Trees felled by Moulton arboriculture students supplied the timber for the bridge.

Queen Victoria’s milk jug stolen

May 20, 2011

The stolen milk jug, which is part of a tea service given to Disraeli by Queen Victoria.

A silver milk jug has recently been stolen from the Drawing Room at Hughenden Manor. It is part of a silver tea set given by Queen Victoria to Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, in 1876.

Bronze statuette of Queen Victoria by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, at Hughenden Manor. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Disraeli had become Prime Minster for the second time in 1874 (his first brief period in office was in 1869) and his relationship with the monarch was extremely cordial. The Queen was charmed by his judicious flattery and approved of his imperialist policies.

Cartoon in Punch magazine entitled 'New crowns for old ones (Aladdin adapted)', 1876, referring to Disraeli's 'oriental' (Jewish) origins and Victoria's crowning as Empress of India. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Disraeli made Victoria Empress of India in 1876, and the following year she visited him at Hughenden, a clear mark of favour.

Bronzed plaster statue of Benjamin Disraeli at the time of the 1878 Congress of Berlin by Lord Ronald Gower, at Hughenden Manor. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The jug has a London hallmark and has the Beaconsfield arms engraved on its base. We urge anyone with any knowledge of its whereabouts to contact the Hughenden Estate Office on 01494 755573 or email (all calls and messages will be treated in confidence).

Carl Laubin, capriccio painter

May 18, 2011

Carl Laubin, Vanbrugh Fields ©Carl Laubin/Plus One Gallery

Carl Laubin is an artist who is passionate about architecture. Many of his works are in the tradition of the capriccio, or imaginary landscape. Laubin combines an element of fantasy with a meticulous attention to detail, using historical sources to document the buildings he is painting.

Laubin will be having an exhibition at the Plus One Gallery in London from 8 June until 2 July 2011. Among the works on show will be Vanbrugh Fields, a painting celebrating the buildings of Sir John Vanbrugh. The capriccio format allows Laubin to depict the architecture as it was designed rather than as it was eventually built (or not built), in its ideal state.

Carl Laubin, National Trust capriccio. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Castle Howard (top right, on the hill), for instance, is shown with its now demolished entrance gate. The bridge at Blenheim (lower right) has its intended grand superstructure, which was never completed after the Duchess of Marlborough fell out with the architect.

As a tribute to Vanburgh’s conservation efforts at Blenheim, Laubin shows a whisp of smoke coming out one of the chimneys at Woodstock Manor (far right, just below the brow of the hill) – Vanburgh admired the picturesque building, lived in it for a while and wanted to preserve it, but the Duchess had it swept away. And can you spot Seaton Delaval Hall, which the National Trust acquired last year?

Carl Laubin, Fallen beech with prospect of Cliveden. ©NTPL

The National Trust commissioned a few paintings from Laubin some years ago, including National Trust capriccio, showing the buildings of architectural significance owned by the NT. Fallen beech with prospect of Cliveden commemorates the damage done by the great storm of 1987.

I will follow this up next week with a post showing the successive stages of development of another recent painting by Laubin, Vanbrugh’s castles.

Tracing Capability

May 11, 2011

The Boycott Pavilions at Stowe. Lancelot Brown lived in the westernmost of these in the 1740s with his wife and burgeoning family. ©The National Trust

Garden writer Jane Brown has just published a new biography of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, entitled The Omnipotent Magician. Brown, of course, was responsible more than anyone else for the creation of the ‘English landscape’ style of garden. The biography is thorough and attempts to trace and disentangle Brown’s life and astonishing career, from his youth in rural Northumberland, his training as a gardener and surveyor, his move south and the gradual building up of a network of patrons.

View down the Grecian Valley at Stowe, created by Brown between 1747 and 1749, from the Temple of Concord and Victory. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The secret to Brown’s success seems to have been a combination of sound technical and management skills with a talent to see how a given landscape could be made into a three-dimensional landscape painting à la Claude or Poussin.  This is where his nickname ‘Capability’ originates – he was supposedly in the habit of telling propspective patrons that their grounds had ‘great capabilities’. However, as Jane Brown has found, there is no evidence that this slightly derogatory monniker was used during his lifetime.

Lord Cobham's Pillar, constructed under Brown's supervision between 1747 and 1749. ©The National Trust

The gardens at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, played an important role in Brown’s early career. He was Head Gardener there from 1741 to 1750, which allowed him to develop his skills in a setting that already contained a number of astonishing garden features. Brown married Bridget Wayet at the church of St Mary’s at Stowe in 1744 and they lived in one of the two Boycott Pavilions.

View from the Temple of Concord and Victory towards Lord Cobham's Pillar. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Brown was in charge of creating the Grecian Valley, which required huge earthworks and the replanting of mature trees. It is the first example of the kind of landscape garden for which he would become famous. He also supervised the building of Lord Cobham’s pillar, possibly after a design by James Gibbs, which he had to modify because ‘the Wind has a very great effect on Buildings that stand on so small a Base.’


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 777 other followers