Monday, 7 March 2011

Calke Abbey - Part 1 The outsides and the STUNNING bed drapes.

You know the bit in Pride and Prejudice where the hereoine Elizabeth jokes with her sister that she fell in love with Mr Darcy immediately on seeing his lovely house and grounds at Pemberley?? Well you get that same sense of grandeur as you round the path at the top of the hill and come face to face with Calke Abbey.

Another imposing pile owned by the National Trust. But the interest in this property is not a conspicuous wealth invested in china and famous paintings, but rather it's lack of them and the eccentricities that come with reclusiveness and fanatically collecting things...any great quantity!

Calke Abbey is a baroque house built about 1704, on the site of a former priory. The family are known as the Harper Crewes and made their money from marriages and land ownership. I'm not that interested in wealthy families, I'm normally more interested in the social history surrounding how people actually lived. You know, what they ate, how they went to the loo, that kind of thing. But this lot, are just one generation after another of total eccentrics; I'm afraid if they were poor, they'd be called mad.

The National Trust have kept this house in the state it was found in order to show the decline of such places during the early 20th century. It's a house and way of life that beggars belief to be honest.

Because of the number of photos, this is going to be a series of postings, which feature textiles rather heavily. As a starter, I must show you the stunning bed drapes which were found in 3 wooden boxes in an attic.

They are kept in a room behind a huge glass box so that the air and light can be monitored properly. As such it was difficult to photograph them, but I had to try!

They were a royal gift to Caroline on marriage into the Harper Crewes in September 1734. They arrived at the house in the mid 1700's and get this, they stayed in their boxes in the attic until they were discovered in 1980!  As such, they are pristine.  They are hand embroidered chinese silk. None of the rooms in the house had high enough ceilings to accommodate them, so it's thought they remained unpacked.

Sorry about the reflections on the glass here and there, but I wanted to show you the ruffles. You can also just see one of the huge knobs at the top on the corners.

I was in awe. It looks like printed fabric, but just to reiterate, every single mark on the dark blue and the ivory silk was embroidered by hand.


  1. First - sorry about the other comment. My DD leaves herself signed in on my computer! Argh!

    More importantly, WOW thank you so much for sharing these pics. I have a soft spot for noble bedding....sighs....and the idea that a tiny room of women sat around dim lights embroidering lavish linens...that just makes me realise how 'relative' skills are today.

    Love it, thank you! I keep going back to look again...

  2. Hi. Did you ever go back to the miniature painting. I too have been STRUGGLING to learn, with many trial and errors; and no luck on tips or how tos so far. I've managed two good portraits, but continue to bungle ; a steep learning curve indeed. I'd like to hear more about your efforts.