I spent an enjoyable day on Saturday visiting Seaton Delaval Hall near Newcastle, at an event held by the National trust involved local and national supporters. The sun shone as if we were in Italy, and there was music and dancing. Prince Charles was obviuosly captivated by the building and during the formal line ups I was presented by Sir Angus Stirling to HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, who asked very charmingly about the book I had written. Their visit was a great boost to all those who have put their support behind the project.
The architecture looked at its most beguiling, and I spent some time exploring the cavernous and empty servants quarters. Back in the main hall, all cavernous and open to the roof, with scarred stucco sculptures damaged in the 1820s fire, I met lots of interesting folk, including a representative from the Royal Oak Foundation, Ronald Lee Fleming.
I was fascinated by the way people moved around the building, how it absorbed a surprising number of people, how the children gathered on the balcony and looked down like figures in a renaissance mural, watching the masque unfold below; but also how people naturally used the steps on both sides as informal amphitheatre, to stand and watch or to sit and listen. I certainly think Seaton Delaval Hall calls out for entertainments and events, music and circuses, while the house itself is a jewel that should be preserved just as it is.
Indeed, the day reminded me very much of Piper’s remark written in the 1940s about Seaton, “Vanbrugh the man of the theatre was as least as operative here as Vanbrugh the architect. In his last work he created a rich stage which, when he footlights were turned down and the smart audiences gone, would adapt itself to any kind of acting and if necessary would carry on with the play itself.”
Appropriately enough I had spent the night before in Newcastle staying with an old University friend, Antony, whose passion was acting, and whose grew up in Newcastle, his wife Lisa is involved in an exciting arts centre project in the city – and they have two small lively and bright children, Louis and Bobby. We had a great supper and a good laugh remembering the plays we had been in together at college although Antony was rather a star and had gone on to be professional for many years and acted all around Europe. We also remembered the silly habit we had of sending each other recipes in the style of different famous novelists and authors. There must be be a book in that somewhere. I feel Vanbrugh the great roister doister would have liked that.
Sunday was spent more soberly, visiting my grandfather, 95 years of age, and ebbing away fast after a slow decline and a recent stroke, days at the most; a wartime naval officer and farmer, whose passion was riding in point to points and breeding and training horses for point to points, he has had a very healthy life and is showing great tenacity.
I sat with him for some hours, but he could not communicate, but I hope he appreciated the company, & I had lunch with my father, and reminded him of what my grandfather said when I said where did the interest in racing come from: “Well, when we were sitting on ships in the cold north altlantic during the war, thinking every day might be your last, we used to discuss what one thing we wanted to achieve if we got through. I wanted to ride a winner of a race.” He did – several times over, and so did three of his four children, including my father who still owns racehorses and my uncle, who is a trainer in Newmarket. My grandfather also bred a winner of the Hennesy and Whitbread Gold Cups, one of my cousins still rides in point to points and team chases. So a lot flowed from his dream of getting home. A long life full of dreamed of achievements.