My recent travels have been enhanced by a visit to Chatsworth to work on research for a feature in Country Life and the opportunity to see the new exhibition space, just off the service room off the Great Dining Room, and to see the delightful exhibition curated by Hannah Obee, devoted to the character and the collecting of the 6th Duke, the son of the famous Georgiana and the Regency connoisseur who transforms the character and most importantly the comfort of the great house at Chatsworth. I am also lucky to spend some time looking at other aspects of the early nineteenth century Wyattville work to the house with director of collections, Matthew Hirst. At Chatsworth, there is always more to discover and more to understand. The exhibition includes a number of captivating portraits of the 6th Duke’s pet dogs, one of which used to travel in his coach when he visited Italy, and a collection of the menus he collected at famous banquets to show to his own cooks, as well as letters, paintings, jewels and bills – its well worth a detour between the Great Dining Room and the superlative Statue Gallery.
The following week I am in York, lecturing to the York Consortium of Craftsmen and women and Conservators, on “English Ruins” and am very well looked after by Peter Brown, who arranges for a tour to see, among other things, the new carved stone work on York minster, and also the conservation of the stained glass in the adjoining workshop, both of which are breathtaking in different ways – we are blessed that such skills exist in the modern age. My talk is at ‘The Merchant Adventurers Hall’ and I am given a very jolly dinner by the organisers and meet old friends including, Michael Stannicliffe, architect for York and St Pauls, and Dick Reid the carver, whose York workshop set such a high standard in carving for so many years. They also put me up for the night in Middlethorpe Hall, one of the HHH group, now owned by the National Trust – a really delightful place, I sink into an armchair and read about Elizabethan literature before going to bed, and feel as if I am in a well appointed private house.
Otherwise my researches for various projects have embraced eighteenth century lady gardeners, the abolition of the slave trade, the Boer war and the tastes of the Indian princes between the wars and much much more – I still find it difficult to believe some of the stories about the Maharajah of Alwar, deposed in 1933. Never, I am pleased to report, a dull moment.