Archive for the ‘Cumbria’ Category

Fair seed-time

September 27, 2012

The best parlour at Wordsworth House, Cockermouth. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

‘Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up

Foster’d alike by beauty and by fear;

Much favour’d in my birthplace…’

Costumed interpreter dressed as Ann Wordsworth at Wordsworth House. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The poet William Wordsworth, who wrote these lines (from The Prelude, 1805), was born in a fairly substantial house in Cockermouth, in what is now Cumbria, in 1770.

The back office at Wordsworth House, where John Wordsworth would have worked in his role as agent to the Lowther estate. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

William was the second child of John and Ann Wordsworth. John was the agent for Sir James Lowther’s Cumberland estates. The house was owned by the estate and was ‘tied’ to the agent’s position. For a number of years it must have been filled with the sounds of the growing brood of Wordsworth children, five in all.

Costumed interpreters dressed as servants in the kitchen at Wordsworth House. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Tragedy struck in 1778 when Ann Wordsworth died, and John died five years later, with the children having to be sent into the care of relatives elsewhere. But the period in Cockermouth seems to have been a particularly formative experience for William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, as it imbued them with a sense of the beauty of the Cumbrian landscape.

The dining room at Wordsworth House. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The house was given to the National Trust by the Wordsworth Memorial Fund in 1938. By that time there had been a number of subsequent owners, and no furniture or other objects remained from the Wordsworths’ time. In 2004 the National Trust instigated a restoration project to bring the house’s appearance back to what it may have looked like in the 1760s and 1770s.

Tending to the books at Townend

September 15, 2011

Conservators at work in the Townend library. ©National Trust

I recently spotted this image of a trio of book conservators seemingly completely absorbed in their work at Townend, in Cumbria (via the National Trust Libraries and NTTownend Facebook pages).

A selection of improving books from the Townend library. ©NTPL/Graham Edwards Photography 2004

Caroline Bendix is compiling a database recording details of existing damage to the books, Helen Golding Miller is carrying out small repairs in situ and Nicholas Pickwoad is looking at the volumes that need to go away for studio conservation.

Townend's vernacular Lake District architecture. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

This project has been made possible by a £40,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation, with match funding from the National Trust.

Title page of an anti-slavery tract published in 1817, in the library at Townend. ©NTPL/Graham Edwards Photography 2004

Townend is a rare survival of a Cumbrian yeoman farmhouse dating from the seventeenth century.

The kitchen at Townend. ©NTPL/Rob Talbot

The house was inhabited by the Browne family for over four hundred years. They were sheep farmers who prospered through careful management and advantageous marriages.

Pages from 'The Merry Musician; or a Cure for the Spleen', published in 1716, in the Townend library. ©NTPL/Graham Edwards Photography 2004

The house contains the gradual, evocative accretion of posessions. The small library is a fascinating record of the interests and preoccupations of successive generations of the family.

The secret life of objects

March 28, 2011

I have been awared the Stylish Blogger Award by Colette of NH Design Blog. Isn’t that a pip?!

Set of samurai armour, at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I would like to hand the award on to Barbara Sarudy of It’s About Time and Janet Blyberg of ~ JCB ~, two of my blog gurus, leading by example.

Figure of Japanese wind god, at Snowshill Manor. ©NTPL/Stuart Cox

As part of this award one is supposed to share some stylish things. I would like to use this opportunity to show a few more images (which I hope are reasonably stylish) relating to ‘Japaneseness’ and ‘Britishness’, in response to the throughtful comments on a recent post on the subject of preconceptions.

The Japanese Garden, Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©NTPL/Mark Bolton

The images in this and the earlier post are all of artefacts that have been taken out of their original context and appropriated by someone for whom they were not originally intended. In all these cases this was done lovingly and with admiration, but inevitably the meaning of the objects changed along the way, although that might not be obvious at first glance. One might call this elusive pattern of change the secret life of objects.

Granite temple lantern in the Japanese Garden at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Mark Bolton

The Japanese artefacts at Snowshill were originally made either for the Japanese market or for the export trade. They must have been bought by a British visitor or entrepreneur, probably sold again in Britain at some point and then picked up by Charles Wade, who was continuously adding to his Aladdin’s cave at Snowshill in the 1920s and 1930s.

Wade admired Japanese objects as examples of fine craftsmanship, which he saw as being in decline in Britain. That response drove his collecting mania, which has made Snowshill what it is today. But the previous lives of these objects are interesting as well. Was the suit of armour sold by an impoverished samurai family after the abolition of the military class in 1871? Was the wind god part of the decoration of a temple, and if so why was it disposed of?

Corner cuboard at Hill Top with ceramics including an Edward VII coronation teapot which found its way into one of Beatrix Potter's illustrations for 'The Pie and the Patty Pan.' ©NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh

The Japanese garden at Kingston Lacy was created for Henrietta Bankes around 1910. Even though she clearly wanted a ‘genuine’ Japanese garden it was inevitably influenced by its time and place.

Furthermore, its current appearance is a recent restoration, after it had become overgrown and almost lost. It was recreated as faithfully as possibly, but inevitably the result is slightly different from the ‘original’ – which itself was a recreation on foreign soil of a Japanese original. Nevertheless these echoes, and echoes of echoes, are now part of the genius loci, the spirit of place, of Kingston Lacy.

Vignette in the Hill Top garden reminiscent of Mr McGregor's garden implements in Beatrix Potter's 'Peter Rabbit'. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

At Hill Top Beatrix Potter preserved the old Lake District farmhouse and collected local furniture and furnishings. She played an important role in preserving parts of the Lake District, but at the same time her view was inevitably that of a well-off, philanthropically-minded outsider. Originally cottage gardens and interiors like this would not have been quite as pretty as she made them, with her artist’s eye.

We owe Beatrix Potter a great debt of gratitude, but at the same time we should not forget that her vision of the place is a particular one, coloured by her Edwardian aestheticism. Today, of course, Hill Top receives many visitors from far and wide (including from places like Japan), who know it through the illustrations in Potter’s famous children’s books, and of course they see it through a slightly different lens again. And so the secret life of objects continues.


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