On Friday to Moggerhanger, where the long postponed official opening was taking place. I meet the shadow minister for the arts Hugo Swire and others from trusts who have supported the project including the Heritage Lottery Fund. Many of the craftsmen were present, and the Countess of Erroll, one of the trustees, who asked if Country Life could help solicit donations of appropriate furniture and paintings. The house certainly looked stunning, and the interiors have an architectural force that hardly needs furnishings but the odd portrait and Regency chair does help bring the right elegant tone to bear. Lady Erroll is particularly keen to find people to donate good quality Turkey carpets. The next great challenge, but highly important, is to wrestle with the much degraded Repton landscape: without which the pristine house will seem to many passers by (on what is gamely called the scenic route) strangely as if it has landed from outer space. The landscape setting is so important and as I am learning on trips being made for the Genius of the Place award, there is so much that can be done.
This weekend, my stepsister was married at a humanist ceremony at my father’s house. It was all very charming and personal with a ceremony in a marquee before dinner. The sloping lawns of their house make for a rather ship-board like experience when dining and even more so when dancing. Which is perhaps rather appropriate for my new brother-in-law is from Gibraltar. This also brought a Mediterranean atmosphere to an English country wedding party, even though his family all tended to have rather old fashioned first names, such as Ronald and Albert. My wife kept on going to saying hello to tall, dark Spanish-looking young men, only to find they are now working in places like Worthing.
I always enjoy weddings for the way they bring you across the paths of people you have some connection with but never see, distant cousins from all over England, and Scotland (my stepmother’s family all present in kilt or trews) or friends of the bride and groom, and you find yourself taking about such surprising things: from dogs to dinosaurs.
We have just been down to our annual bucket and spade at Ringstead Bay in Dorset; we had the best weather we have had there in a decade and swam in the sea. We always have an annual craft theme with the children and this year was creating fine looking battleships out of drift wood, only wood glue used and only driftwood found on the beach; they are then ceremoniously put out to sea and bombarded with stones until they fall to bits or sink; it keeps some of us busy in the evenings anyway.
Actually, this year was uncommonly social as well, with a kind friend inviting us to a lunch and drinks, where we talked about Iran, Tuscany, Thomas Hardy and the brilliant bookshop in Sherborne (the lunch as held at a house where smugglers used to store contraband behind the genteel Georgian front, a story referred to by Hardy himself) . I called in for a quick drink in one nearby manor house which I had long promised to see on account of their new works, only to have my leg rubbed by the chatelaine: “just so the dog knows we are friends!”, it seemed to work the dog stopped barking and looking fearsome.
I visited quite a number of Thomas Hardy connected sites, including the ruins of Bindon Abbey, in a private garden, which provided the fictional setting for the burial of the Tess of the Durbevilles, and Max gate the rather modest neo Queen Anne he built for himself, in the manner of a modest rectory.
Back from Dorset and straight into the glamorous new offices on Southwark Street which certainly has “presence” to the street and an amazing roof terrace (pity I get vertigo or I would be up there every day spotting church towers). The Genius of the Place award for the best restored landscape is in full swing and I have started on the judging visits, including one moated manor houses of unbelievable loveliness, surrounded by new woodlands, handsome gardens and parkland with wildflower meadows; every window in the house showed something that had been lovingly planted and cultivated over the past two decades, it must be so satisfying to look out on your own creation in this way. It is also the perfect time to inspect landscape with everything just bursting into green.
This week we were very busy with the final touches to the National Trust issue which I have been masterminding, but I think is a good meaty recipe for publication April 5, covering a large number of properties, with a delightful piece by Lucinda Lambton on curiosities and opinion pieces by Simon Jenkins and John Gummer. We are tremendously lucky to have the National Trust in this country, and it should be celebrated and also examined on a regular basis.
Have lunch with Roy Strong at the Garrick Club to discuss his new idea for raising the profile of remote churches that have adapted themselves to serving their communities as more than just parish churches. He is hot foot from the Abbey where they have been having the service of thanksgiving for the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.
On Friday I attend an evening wedding of academic friends being married in the glorious setting of King’s College Chapel. As I approached the chapel I was struck by the beauty of the space in between the chapel and the Gibbs’ building, which looks out across the Backs in the late spring sunshine, matched too by the beauty of looking down the nave and out the West Door opened at the end of the service for the couple to leave by. The couple were one half Italian, and the Dean mentioned that he couldn’t speak Italian but then read some of the service in Italian rather well, I later discovered he had trained as an opera singer.
A soloist sang from the organ gallery and the sensation was so electric in the fine vaulted interior, it felt as if we were in outer space. The reception was in some Kings’ Rooms hung with Bloomsbury group paintings, by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry, the latter have just the sort of greens that I had noted in the hazy view over the Backs.