Thursday, 31 March 2011

Tribes series - drummer boys

While I wait for supplies to come for my next project, I thought I'd work on this painting which is one of the "Tribes" series.   I have learned a valuable lesson. Never, ever, ever, paint stripey shirts!!

I've blocked in some of the colours and have put a rough outline where the stripes on the front drummer should be but it's a nightmare to make it work.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


I have a list which I'm going through.

One by one I'm visiting the places that I've heard about or perhaps have seen on the TV and they have seemed interesting for some reason. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to think of some of these places as more than they are, and expect so much, and therefore am disappointed with the reality. I really need to realise that the world isn't a theme park!

I'd heard about medieval Chester with it's fascinating buildings and extensive history and when I got there I found  a city much the same as any other city in England that wasn't decimated in WW2. However once I'd got over my preconceived ideas and began to look properly, I was absolutely delighted with the place. One of the nicest cities I've been to.

I have a lot of photos of gorgeous black and white timbered buildings and was hoping to be able to tell you all about them, but the good burghers of Chester seem to want to keep any information they have to themselves. I scoured the place including museums and public records offices to try and get some historical information for you, but without much success. Being such a thriving city, known for its shopping, I think they're more interested in retailing (cracking M &S for example) than in tourists.

However, such as it is, here's Chester in a blog posting for you.

A Very Brief History of Chester.

It's old. 3 million years ago Chester was in the middle of an ice age Reindeer, arctic foxes and mammoth were the early visitors! Humans were around however following herds of animals around Europe.

As the ice retreated, in about 4,000BC the human population began to grow. Forests, vegetation, and animals thrived, and the land around Chester was cleared during the Neolithic period to grow crops and domesticate wild animals. And it continued to grow through the Bronze Age and Iron Age.

During the Iron Age (from about 700 BC to 43AD) humans became a bit more complicated and tribal, and remains of hillforts are scattered about. Trade began to flourish and it's possible that the people of Chester were exporting hunting dogs and slaves to the Roman Empire in return for pottery and jewellery. There is also evidence of Druidical sacrifice from before the Roman invasion.

Chester of course went  on to have a long and interesting history through the Romans, Saxons, Vikings (who raided in 980) Normans, Medieval, Tudor and Stuart, Georgian and Victorian.  I'm only going to take snippets from Roman and Victorian history.

Roman Chester

Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in AD43, and he persisted in trying to subdue the locals. He built a fortress at Chester and they occupied the town until the end of the 3rd century. This was not good news for the Druids who were generally slaughtered.

Although the first fortress around the town was built from turf and timber it began to be reconstructed out of stone, but became run down when the Romans decided to go off for a while and invade Scotland. This is never a good idea; the Scots are not in the front lines of the British Army for nothing you know. Fearsome lot.  Anyhoo, when they abandoned the Scottish holiday home idea, they settled in Chester and the impressive walls you see today were build at the end and 3rd century.

They also built an amphitheatre, which was probably used for military training as well as the occasional entertainment. Though I don't think public executions, gladiators fighting to the death and wholesale slaughter of people and animals is very entertaining myself.I guess you had to be there.

If you look at the photo on the right very carefully, just to the left of the centre you will see a small black lump in front of the beige strip of wall. This is a replica of a block with a chain onto which people and animals were chained for slaughter.

The seating capacity for this ampitheatre was 7,000.

The 2nd photo on the right shows a replica altar in the shrine of Nemesis. It is dedicated to the centurion Sextius Marcianus.

The walls of the arena were plastered and painted a reddish brown, and the base was covered in golden sand which was absorbent and could be cleaned easily. It's so necessary I find to remove bloodstains properly to avoid offence.

Victorian Chester

Victorian Chester had a population of 38,000 in 1901. It wasn't a leading player in the industrial revolution so no heavy industry, and the associated increase in numbers of workers and cheap housing. But the retail trade was important, and shops and hotels grew around the centre of the town near the new General Station.. Much rebuilding was done in both the Victorian Gothic style but also in the earlier 17th century style which is when most of the black and white buildings were built.

Chester's Rows.

So we've found that most, though not all, of these timbered buildings were from the Victorian era not earlier.

There is something quite remarkable and I believe unique about Chester. The Rows.

If you can imagine a growing town within the confines of Roman stone walls, space becomes limited. As Roman buildings collapsed debris built up so eventually there was land higher up than the original shop frontages. These levels make slopes in the side steets and lead down into the town.  After that in the 13th centuary, Chester enjoyed great prosperity and a resulting building boom. It was a military base and important port. Wealthy merchants built great halls of stone and timber above stone undercrofts or cellars. They used these spaces to store the goods they'd imported and that were for sale. Smaller shops and accommodation would have been above.

As the main streets filled with buildings, it would have made good sense for the owners of adjacent properties to make connecting galleries in front of their house so they didn't have to keep going up and down into the street. It's all a bit uncertain, but by the mid 14th century there was a continuous system of elevated Rows.

Below are photos of the rows as they are today. The first one looks out from one row across the street to another one.

This one (left) clearly is a little different to the others and you can just make out the dates painted above the arches; 1224 and 1274.

Tucked behind those verdandhas on the first floor is another complete row of shops. Large ones too!

If you can go to Chester and haven't, it's worth the effort. The shopping is very very good!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Shugborough - Part 4. It's people

This is the final Shugborough posting and is about some of the people of Shugborough and their, sometimes, amusing stories! The photos are random ones you haven't seen yet. Below is the stairwell leading to the private apartments.

Shugborough has two railway lines running through the estate which made it of some strategic importance during the 2nd World War.

Patrick Lichfield's grandfather was in the Home Guard during this time and was responsible for manning a post on the line to protect it. He was there every day, but had his butler serve him with port and cake during the afternoon, followed by an early finish from guard duties at 4pm. He was apparently certain that no Germans would attack at night.

Apparently he would also go to Home Guard meetings in nearby Stafford, but was too lazy to walk from the station on his return, so he simply pulled the Emergency Cord to stop the train in Shugborough, and paid the resulting fine, and got off.

Anecdotes suggest that when Patrick Lichfield tried this himself, he jumped out into a 6 foot snowdrift.

The Walled Garden was also supposedly turned over for food production during the war and staffed by ladies from the Land Army. However the current user had been growing prize sweet peas and saw no reason to stop. He frequently had to get the girls to hide his prized specimens during the Land Commission inspections.  Not quite in the spirit of the thing.

Very rare Chinese painted mirror.

Uncomfortable Chairs

Whizzing back to this photo of the chairs in the dining room. They are, along with those  in the Verandah Room, known as the Ann Margaret Chairs.

This charming lady was said to be "a formidable character," which is just a polite way of saying that she was a bad tempered, bossy, possibly arrogant member of the aristocracy, and that everyone was probably afraid of but couldn't do much about!

She specifically chose these chairs because of the small seats and how the backs made them very uncomfortable to sit in.
This was to ensure her guests didn't outstay their welcome.

Origins of the word Loo?

In the UK we use the euphamism "loo" as a slightly less direct way of saying lavatory/toilet. It's origins are uncertain but Shugborough lays claim to it through Lady Louisa Anson, (eldest daughter of the 1st Earl).

She was also, apparently, yet another surly, unkind, female member of the family.  She married a man with a very large nose, who became very deaf in later life. Because of his deafness, she granted herself a licence to speak on his behalf (unusual in polite society of the day), and she often caused offence.

During a visit to the house by the young Dukes of Abercorn, they apparently drew attention to her "potty mouth" by taking the name plate off her bedroom door, and putting it on the door of the WC instead. Legend says that the bathroom was known as the Lady Lou thereafter.

I'll leave you to decide whether to believe the etymology of that one.

That's all from Shugborough apart from a slight moan from me. Entry to the house and garden is covered by National Trust membership, but if you want entry to the farm, the servants quarters or museum, you had to pay extra, and quite a lot extra I thought. So we didn't. If you're going for a whole day and have travelled a fair distance, then you might think differently about the cost, but I'm afraid I can't tell you if the extras are worth the money.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Shugborough - Part 3. Dissipation and Ruin, followed by a good marriage.

(Posting 1: The new rooms at Shugborough, opened in March 2011)
(Posting 2: How the wealth originally came to Shugborough)


Before we start, a quick photo showing yet another bed heading/pelmet for the collection.
So our pirate, sorry, Admiral of the Fleet, was safely ensconced at Shugborough and started a chain of acquisitions, and generally spending and enjoying his wealth.

The house went through the family and various family members altered things along the way. I'll pick up the story when Thomas Anson became 1st Earl of Lichfield in 1831. His inherited fortune was worth about £70,000 (a fairly large amount at the time) 

I've used various calculations to bring this amount up to date for you. Using Average Earnings, this is just over £58 million.

He was a man who loved to spend, wanted political advantage and needed to spend lots to achieve that, and he was a notorious gambler. Despite the enormity of his wealth, he was soon in debt. Imagine getting through £58 million like that - truly staggeringly awful.  His gambling expenses forced him to mortgage Shugborough, but it wasn't enough and he had to sell the contents of this and his other London homes.

The sale catalogue includes things such as Rembrandt paintings, 10,000 bottles of wine, sculptures, books, and even the tools from the walled garden.

His son the 2nd Earl must have had a bit more about him. He married Harriet the eldest daughter of the Duke of Abercorn, and between them they started to put back what they could, and buying new where they couldn't. They achieved all this by selling one of their London homes.

The 3rd Earl was even better. He started to use his brains and energy to run the estate himself, sacking the land agent and saving heaps of money. He was able to pay off the enormous mortage by borrowing smaller amounts from friends, and invested "in the colonies". I don't know what the latter means exactly, but most of what is there today is as a result of the 3rd Earl. Lets hope it wasn't slavery, sugar plantations, tobacco etc, but something outdoorsy and invigorating and more or less harmless; sheep farming in Australia perhaps?

 You enter the house through it's central section which was built in 1694.

The Hall has 8 marble columns and is filled with classical sculptures.
 And into the State Dining Room.

 I'm told the "cappricios were bought back by Thomas Anson, on his Grand Tour"

I suspect they mean the paintings, and I hope it wasn't more of a Grand Sneer.
 The elaborate plasterwork done by Vasselli.

There are 3 horses bodies and four heads (oops?)
 This I believe to be Sevre porcelain. Love the knife and forks which sort of match.

I wonder if you can buy matching cutlery and china these days?

One of two very elaborate vases. There is a bird on the front, one on the handle and a couple at the bottom.

The red drawing room

 This room used to be a bedroom but was converted to look like this in 1794.

The walls are covered in Eckhardt and Co in a shade of salmon etched with silver.

It contains 14 chairs and two sofas. They were supplied by London upholsterers Charles Smith and Co and cost £296. (about £245,000 by the Retail Price Index) They had leather stockings to protect the legs from cleaners, and the backs are not decoraed as they were designed to sit against the walls.

French clock which is pure baroque!
 To the left and below, the Saloon with a view from the front of the house to the back.
 Scagiola columns in the Saloon. Designed to give a false perspective and make the room look longer.
 This is a model of the ship the Centurion. This was the one that captured the Spanish treasure ship and bought the original wealth to Shugborough.
 Amorial service. This was given by merchants in Canton, in thanks for the Admiral's help after the fires which destroyed the town.

The Library

I love a library, and they don't get much more comfortable or delightful than this one. Left is the false door, that looks like shelves of books and hides the entrance. If you look at the hinges you can see how thin it is.

I have a few photos of this space as it was probably the best one I've come across recently.

Again the perspective has been played with by adding mirrors at the sides of the columns and appearing to show lines of bookcases. The far end of the room is also apparently narrower.

The bookcases at the end are thought to be the Admirals original ones, but sadly his books went in the sale.

The family used to toast muffins at the fireplace. It was an exceptionally good muffin toaster apparently.

 Library table beautifully arranged with small bits and pieces.

 The Anson Room included the sword surrendered to Admiral Anson from the Captain of the Spanish treasure ship.

Chippendale desk of vast proportions.
 I love a good table top display, and have a passion for glass topped tables and boxes which contain beautiful or interesting bits and bobs.

The items in the Anson Room include his repeating watch, his snuff boxes, his seal box, wood from his cabin on the Centurion and some coins minted from the captured Spanish silver.

The final posting on Shugborough coming soon, with some of the more bizarre and amusing family tales.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Postings about Shugborough beginning on the westcountrybuddha.

Shugborough - posting 2. Where the money came from.

History of Shugborough (potted version with Piracy)

The house and about 80 acres of land were acquired in 1624 by William Anson, a very successful lawyer. There's always been money in the law. The house dates further back than that though, and in the middle ages was part of the estate of the Bishop of Lichfield.

No one quite knows where the name Shugborough comes from; there isn't a local village etc nearby with this name, and it's thought that it comes from the amalgamation of 2 Anglo Saxon words "Beorg" meaning hill and "Scucca" meaning evil spirit. The National Trust think a bronze age burial mound might have been on the site, hence the translations of Devils Mound and Haunted Hill.

Piracy?? Well it's probably a matter of opinion as strictly speaking all was legal. But you should know that an unimaginable amount of money came to the family via the high seas, and the controvertial system of "prize money". Here's an extract from the NT handbook about the rewards of capturing ships.

"In 1739 Admiral George Anson, younger brother to Thomas, was commissioned to lead a naval expedition to the Pacific to capture a renowned Spanish treasure galleon. The rewards for such a prize would firmly place Britain as a contender to take Spain's crown as an international superpower.

But when the fleet left a year later, the navy's purse failed to stretch to it's promises of large crews and grand sea vessels. A ramshackle fleet of eight ships was mustered and crew numbers were bolstered to 1,000 by 170 sick from hospitals, 259 Chelsea pensioners with an average age of almost seventy and 210 new recruits without any combat training.

Ill winds hampered the mission from the start of the voyage. By the time the fleet reached Maderira most of the Chelsea pensioners had died or were feverishly ill. Dysentery wreaked havoc amonst the crews on the journey across the Atlantic and one ship lost her mast."

The ships dispersed and couldn't get together again for several days, when the Spanish convoy was sighted. Anson went after the Spaniards but when he got close enough to fire, he noticed the treasure ship was surrounded by warships not merchantmen. (a "doh" moment I think) He ran away but the Spaniards followed him. Nightmare.

Picture if you will, weeks of ill winds and storms, a huge death toll from disease and illness, including scurvey, and being blown off course and getting lost around Cape Horn.  A year had passed since they had set sail and they'd lost two thirds of their men. Eventually due to illness, low supplies, and the literal disintegration of one ship through rotten woodwork, the last ship with it's starving crew limped into the island of Tinion.

So, he's down to 200 men, and one ship, when lo, around the corner stumbles the Spanish treasure ship the La Nestra Senora de Covadonga. It was heavily armed but our stout and industrious admiral chose to attack.

The Spanish crew surrendered after having holes blown into her hull.

This is a famous painting of the battle between HMS Centurion and La Neuestra Senora de Covadonga by John Cleveley in 1756
A staggering 4 years after he set off, (troubles bringing the money back...another long and arduous chapter in the story involving port Canton being on fire and the crew helping to rebuild the town) Anson returned to Plymouth bearing 32 wagon loads of Spanish gold and silver.

Anson was rewarded by becoming First Lord of the Admiralty and received a huge bounty (prize money) on the amount of gold brought back. He got a very large share of £1.25 million. He also introduced the naval officers' uniform.

Oh, and for your edification, £1 million turns into the following 2010 values.

£164,000,000.00 using the retail price index
£1,460,000,000.00 using average earnings

So that's about £2 billion using average earnings as your calculations.

Lord Lichfield's Private Parts!

Shurgborough is in Stafford; the middlish part of England. It's been owned by the National Trust for a while, but they have recently acquired the apartments which were in the private ownership of the family and which were finally vacated by them in February.

When the Lichfield family left, they took all the fixtures and fittings with them, and it will take time to refurnish appropriately. The National Trust staff didn't sound particularly happy about this, so perhaps there were some "goings on or ill feeling"

Some of the private rooms are not open to the public yet, but many are, and we visited on the grand opening. Here are some pictures for you.

Listen, I know I have an odd sense of humour, but I wonder if your mind can put words into the mouth of this chap? Think of the title of the post, and where the damage to the statue is!

The Boudoir. Completely empty apart from the curtains and wallpaper.

A very pretty room indeed.

The wallpaper mentioned above. Think of the work in doing rolls and rolls of this.

Curtain headings. I seem to be getting quite a collection of photos of curtains from various stately homes. I'm glad I don't have to dust them, but aren't they pretty?

Such a lovely ceiling too. All painstakingly hand painted.

On the left: the last photo of The Boudoir showing the mirror surround and fireplace with it's folding screens attached at the sides.

Above is the round room at the end of the corridor where the family had breakfast. The window sills have been laid out with different things. Above is the marmalade and jam window, and below is the tea and cereal window. (The wooden box is for Twinings tea bags)

The rather old fashioned bath, with an astonishing array of perfumes around the outside.

And finally for today. Lord Lichfield's studio equipment.

The corridors are dotted with photographs of the family and portraits he took of famous people like Jean Shrimpton, Joanna Lumley, Mick Jagger etc. They all look very posed and a bit uptight to me. I suppose we've got used to a very different, relaxed, realistic way of photographing today, but I know in his time he was very well thought of.