Monthly Archives: March 2012

Hampshire days and a nod to Austen


A Hampshire theme emerged recently on my research travels, with more than one visit to one of the areas of my youth, including a trip to Chawton near Alton to see the Jane Austen House Museum and Chawton House, the manor house owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight; I was lucky enough to be there on a glorious sunny afternoon and enjoyed a tour of the house Jane Austen shared with her sister, mother and friend Martha Lloyd, the security of which allowed her to resume her writing (thronged with visitors from the US). We used to glimpse Chawton on the drive back to school when I was a teenager.

The pale, stone manor house and the church form a very English picture and are only a few minutes walk away from the cottage museum. This is open less to the public, although there are regular tours and I enjoyed a detailed personal tour of the house which is owned by a trust and the home of a centre devoted to early women’s writing, which has carried out an exemplary restoration.

I was back to the same county a week later giving a talk to the National Trust Winchester Association on the interior decoration of great country houses from Hatfield onwards; there was a very enthusiastic audience and also a chance to meet up with some old friends who live nearby, and who provided wonderful hospitality, also as it happened in a romantic old rectory.

This month, I was also honoured to be asked to be President of the Friends of Croome Park in Worcestershire, the Capability Brown landscape which is now owned by the National Trust. The trust has also recently taken on a long lease of the mansion house too, designed by Brown around an older house, Adam added some fine ceilings and the Tapestry Room long in the Metropolitan Museum in new York. My visit last week was also blessed with glorious fine weather, although it had the effect of blurring the outline of the Malvern Hills, thus spoiling the effect for which Mr Brown so earnestly strove.

Recent Highlights:

Most inspiring charity work encountered: fundraising and welfare work for “the Rifles, Care for Casualties”:,
supporting British Army riflemen and their families, especially those who have suffered casualties, injuries or stress in the Afghanistan campaign.

Best Lecture Heard: Lord Edward Manners on Haddon Hall Derbyshire, part of the John Cornforth Memorial Lecture series held at Christies; a through and amusing account of this wonderful and complex country house.

Best TV documentary: BBC Four on Ashile Gorky, very beautiful and thoughtful programme made by his grand-daughter Cosima, who I knew when she was 12 in Tuscany in 1984.

Best Book Read: Jose Saramago, Blindness, recommended by a Fellow of Queens, a riveting Dantesque and Orwellian story.

Look out for:

After dinner speech on “Travels Round Country Houses” at the AGM, evensong, reception and dinner for the Order of St Etheldreda, the Friends of Ely Cathedral; Friday March 30, from 5.30.

my forthcoming feature on Loseley Park in Country Life in the May 20 issue.

My lecture on Ruins, June 20 at the Little Shop of Horrors in Hoxton, see link for Hendrick’s lecture series

Cumbria, Freud and a night on the Cam

February 2012

A ‘heads-down-with-books’ sort of month, but a few delicious excursions, too. At the beginning of the month, I went up to Whitehaven to lecture on Oliver Messel, a long train journey in the company of Sarah Woodcock the theatre expert; Messel designed the charming Rosehill Theatre, for Sir Nicholas Sekers, the silk manufacturer – it opened in 1959 and the current enterprising director of the theatre, Richard Elder has organised a splendid exhibition of designs by Oliver on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

There was a very jolly launch party with a good number present, including a number who could remember the glamorous performances at Rosehill in the 1960s. Local design students had come dressed in costumes inspired by his drawings. The lectures on the following day, went very well, and I enjoyed the long slow train journey home down the coastline to Lancaster, snow on the fields and storms out to sea.

After a morning’s research at the National Gallery, a couple of weeks back, I enjoyed a visit to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Lucian Freud exhibition, an excellent show curated by Sarah Howgate – who also curated the excellent Hockney portraits exhibition I reviewed some years ago. I became rather interested in Freud’s depiction of space, the rooms are shown as timeless, raw, and stripped back just as the people are.

On a more outdoor note, I was also very privileged to have my first chance to do some rowing with a more experienced rowing eight this month, it was one evening and in fact, after dark, which on a still spring night seemed entirely surreal. It was quite a challenge as I am still learning technique and especially endurance, (not sure if I will be asked to sub again!) but an unforgettable experience, quite difficult to describe in words.

Best Book Read this month: Arnold Bennett, Buried Alive

Best Exhibition: Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery

Best Lectures heard: Paul Crossley, Slade Lectures on the Gothic Cathedral

Recent articles to note:

“Bricks and Mortar Link to Immortal Link”, a feature on Dickens and the English Country House, Country Life, February 22, 2012, pp.48-43

& an interview with Dr Michael Darby, beetle collector, in The Field March issue, last of my column in that magazine.