Monday, 30 May 2011

New pages from altered book/sketchbook

 Well it's a miserable day here in England, with drizzly rain and a decided chill in the air, so I've been pootling around in a sketchbook/altered book.

It's all about lizards and bits about Menorca, and is self explanatory really.

The cover is photocopied information about lizards in different sized text, sewn together and gesso'd. It also has a smudge of ochre paint, but we'll leave that for now!
Lizard poetry, lizard and map from the enormous Times Atlas that I bought for a bargain (unbelievable £4.99) last year.
 Iguana and some torn pages with snippets in them.
 Fairly hasty pen and wash with bits.

 Free machined lizard; stitch on heat dissolvable cloth, strung across a cutaway in the book.

Left. The lizard collagraph on fabric, and acrylic paints with lizard cut-out.





Below: a photocopy of Menorca, stuck in and extended roughly with acrylics.

Don't forget, the secret for me with these books is not to fill them with beautiful finished pieces, but just to put everything in them that comes to mind.


Burghleigh House - The Inside, posting 2

I posted about the outside of Burleigh House briefly yesterday, but include this aerial photograph of the whole house which is taken from the guide book.

Sadly no photos were allowed inside the house, so I've had to use the guide book images to give you a small flavour of the magnificence of Burleigh.

It's the best value and most interesting property I've visited in quite a while and would encourage you to visit if you can, as the following images can't properly convey the overwhelming feeling of grandeur you get in person.

Anyway, I've waxed lyrical enough! 

Burghleigh? Who was Burghleigh? Well, he was Elizabethan and lived from 1520 until 1598. He held office under catholic Mary 1 (Henry VIII's daughter with Catherine of Aragon) but being Protestant was more loyal to Elizabeth, so when she succeeded to the throne in 1558, he bacame her principal Secretary and later Lord Treasurer.

If you believe all the history programmes on TV you'll probably have heard of him and how he supported Elizabeth. I like to think of him more as a swan with a gliding demeanour and unruffled appearance, but underneath paddling away like mad. He certainly was very intelligent; speaking French, Italian and Latin fluently, a patron of architects, musicians and gardners and a student of geneology and heraldry.

So, very wealthy and very influential. With the ear of the Queen and the best interests of himself and fortunately England at heart. So there we are, the founder of a dynasty and the builder of a magnificent house.


Although the house is essentially tudor, the family have had great wealth and have used it to make alterations and acquire a vast array of pictures, porcelain, furniture etc.

The kitchen on the left shows the original tudor rib-vaulted roof, and is the only room which reminds you of the early house. 

The tour takes you after the kitchen, into the chapel.  In the distance behind the arches is the Ante Chapel where household staff waited whilst the family and their guests were at their prayers.
 I'm skipping forward to Queen Elizabeth's bedroom.  (it's only been known as that for the last 150 years however)

She visited William Cecil (Lord Burleigh) frequently at his other houses, but when she came to visit this house in 1566 she couldn't stay as there was an outbeak of smallpox within the staff.  The state bed and suite of chairs that surround it date from the 17th century, and were restored in 1985.

Simply and utterly gorgeous.
 The Blue Silk Bedroom

Now previous readers of the blog will know I'm fascinated by curtain headings, pelmets and bed drapes, which probably explains my leap to this bedroom and another splendid state bed.

Supplied to the 9th Earl by Mayhew and Ince (we've met them before at Shugborough! An important and influencial London furniture manufacturer)

The canopy and headboard are in the 17th century style, covered in velvet applied to a heavily carved wooden frame.

The bedspread and and headboard are decorated with crewel work. Wow.
 And from the bedroom you nip into the Blue Silk Dressing Room. I have a dressing room; it's the fourth bedroom really and measures about 7 foot by 8 foot and is beige. I much prefer this one.

You can just see the 18th century Chinese export lacquer table which had fold over flaps so you could play backgammon, chess, cards, or have tea on it.

The blue and white porcelain arranged on the chimney is mainly Chinese.
Back to beds! The second George Room.

The spectacular state bed and curtain hangings were supplied to the house, at huge expense, by the London firm of Fell and Newton in 1795.

It was reduced in size in 1844 when Queen Victoria came to visit. If you turn back a few postings, you will see the chair at Hughendon which had it's legs reduced in size by Disraeli to make her Maj. more comfortable. Same thing I guess.

The room was used by Victoria and Albert and has many souvenirs of their visit including a child's wooden spade used to plant one of the trees in the formal garden.
 A whizz forward again to The Heaven Room.

"Gods and Goddesses disporting themselves as Gods and Goddesses are wont to do"

It's difficult to get a sense of scale from a photograph, but perspective tricks leave one with a sense of awe. It's truly outstanding.

We visited the Cistene Chapel in Rome during October, and I have to say that this not only compares, but betters it!

That large silver trough on the carpet is in fact the largest silver wine cooler in the world.

Imagine it filled with trifle!
The Fourth George Room, was used by Queen Victoria as a withdrawing room. It's panelled throughout in oak, the dark colour of which was made by staining the wood with strong dark ale.

On the table is a 17th century casket decorated with tortoiseshell, ivory and silver foil. The cabinet against the wall features pietr-dura inlay and is truly beautiful. I'd love to open just one of those drawers. Imagine being able to store you threads in this?
Now I'm going to end with two more ceilings. The last one is the most spectacular of all, but this one isn't bad!  It's Verrio's painted ceiling in the Third George Room.



























And finally, at the end of the tour, comes the greatest treat of all.  The Hell Staircase. It was painted by Verio.

He worked mainly on his own for this project, as he was heavily in debt and couldn't afford to pay assistants. It took him 11 months. Just imagine, all that work in 11 months. It takes me that long to do 3 or 4 textile pieces.


It shows the mouth of Hell as the enormous gaping mouth of a cat. The Grim Reaper (death) is shown as a skeleton weilding his sickle amongst the unfortunates.

The walls were painted by Thomas Stothard (1775 - 1834) over a century later. After the Heaven Room the contrast is one of darkness and despair.

Magnificent, and worth the entrance fee on it's own.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Burleigh House - The outside, posting 1

The main posting for Burleigh will follow shortly, but this is a random selection of photos of the outside of the property.


























Burleigh House is cracking value for money. It compares very well indeed with most National Trust properties being £13.50 to get in and with much to see and do. It's extremely well kept and looked after by a charitable trust.  If you want to just see the outside; the sculpture garden and the very children friendly Garden of Surprises then it's £7.80. There are all sorts of concessions on these prices.


This posting is a short one with some photos to give you a flavour.

The sculpture garden was good and with many places to sit and enjoy the sunshine if you're lucky enough to have any the day of your visit.

It wasn't especially busy which surprised me, given some of the struggles we have to get in to some of the National Trust properties. I can't think why as I enjoyed my visit enormously.


I was particularly taken with the sculpture.

Above is the stable block (wow!) It's now used as workshops for various conservators, who presumably have low rents and reciprocate with advantageous prices for the massive restorations at Burleigh. 

The Garden of Surprises. A modern development in the spirit of Williams Cecil's beautiful gardens.

Lord Burghley's walks at Theolbalds his Hertfordshire house, were known for avenues and objects of interest including fountains and concealed pipes to spray passers by, a maze, grottoes etc. This modern garden is full of flowing water and fountains which you can control. Children really love it, but there's plenty to amuse the adult too, and getting wet is optional!


A quiet reflective moment by the lake and sculpture garden.
The boat house.
Another random sculpture!  I had camera problems and my other sculpture pictures didn't come out well enough to show you but we counted over 30 exhibits, all of a high standard.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Collagraph results with oil paint.

I've just had a quick try with oil paints and will now stop until I get the proper etching ink.

The lizard on the left got bent in the pasta machine, hence the crease mark across the bottom. It was the first go and I'm a bit better at it now...it's all a question of guiding it through the machine carefully.






The second attempt this time at an apple, involved more than one colour,
and it was applied with a paintbrush, then rubbed with a cloth.

The card is supposed to be the darkest area, but obviously it isn't in this case, so I need to change card or change tactics!

Still, great fun, and the most use my pasta machine has had in years.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Collagraphs and Lizards

I was going to start this posting apologising for not having anything new to show you, as I've been having a few days off contemplating my naval.

However, it seems that even when I'm not doing anything, I apparently am!  Left are the collagraphs I've just made waiting to be printed on a pasta machine.

It's a DMTV programme (no affiliation) that's introduced me to this idea. Its a way of printing images using oil paints - or if you're very wealthy - etching ink.

I made the first one, more or less as described, as I wanted to try and grasp the technique. It's a pear in case you can't identify it yet.  Then I set off making the other five. I will show the results in a few days when I've learned about the printing techniques needed.  The last two are of lizards.


A few postings ago I mentioned that I'd been to a school reunion and I'm planning to make a textile piece for an school chum I haven't seen for years. She's particularly fond of lizards, and of the beautiful colours and geography of Menorca.

I'm not sure that the two connect wholly in my mind at the moment, but by way of getting myself into Lizard Mode, I thought I'd start with and Altered Book. As well as the collographs, I have cut out some paper images (right) for screen printing onto fabric.

So today I shall go in search of a suitable book of some kind. I also need to spend some serious money on paintbrushes so I can finish my portraits. I use the unlikely combination of expensive sable water colour brushes with oil paints, which of course wears them out quite quickly. And at £25 a go....well, I have to pace myself!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Mill Close Gardens, Warwick (with views of the back of Warwick Castle)

I can walk to Warwick quite easily from where I live, and last week we had such a beautiful sunny day, that I decided to walk along the canal towpath to the castle for some exercise.

One of the places I visited was Mill Close Gardens which is at the end of one of the most delightful little roads, full of black and white timbered houses,  nestling under the lee of Warwick Castle.

I don't visit Warwick Castle these days, as though delightful fun if you're in the area, it's £33.60 a ticket which is an unbelievable amount and I'm certainly not paying it. By contrast Mill Close Gardens is £1.50!

The view down the river from a seat in the garden.



























 The photos were taken with my phone so might not be the best, but give you a flavour of this tiny oasis in the middle of town.

I understand the garden has featured on the TV many times in programmes such as Gardener's World.




This little shelter made me want to come home and knock down the garden shed and do some rebuilding.

Scroll down a couple of photos to see it's backdrop!  
 The back view of Warwick Castle from the garden gate.



More Castle view from inside the garden.  Imagine being quite so close to a Castle in centuries past.



This is the backdrop to that little shed I wanted to build in my garden.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Mary Anne Disraeli's Account Book - a comparison of worths.

Before we leave Hughendon, I thought you might like to see this. Its a record kept by Disraeli's wife, Mary Anne. It's a very interesting snippet of social history, and is self explantory.

I've also worked out the equivalent values for today but this can be confusing as the results vary according to whether you use the Retail Price Index or Average Earnings.  I have given both, so you can make up your own minds.

The differences between the two figures are sometimes interesting in their own rights, and make me challenge some of my long held beliefs about values and worth.




































A present for the coachman of £1 for his new baby equates to £70.20 today, using the Retail Price Index and £652 using Average Earnings.


Below. A 10lb piece of beef at 6 shillings and 10 pence (20 shilling to a £). I've checked Tesco for the price of sirloin beef and the same weight today would cost £15.97 per kilo or approximately £45 for the 10lb piece. Average earnings in 1860 show this to be a lot of money, and it's equivalent would be £223.00 (BUT the RPI would only be £24)



Below. Don't employ Mrs Glenheim should she come your way;  she sounds a total waste of space.


























And they really should have waited a bit with Brown before giving him his snuff box.

In 1847 3 maids and 2 men cost in total £129 - 12 - 6p for a year, but they spent £258 on their own wine consumpton.

Again the calculations that might give this worth vary largely on whether you compare what that amount would buy (£6,680 today) or whether you compare the actual earnings equivalent (Average Earnings Index £93,600) If you use the latter and make the wrong assumption that men and woman earned equally, it gives a rough idea of what a servant would have been paid today which is £18,720. I checked with Butlers salaries via google and they can expect to earn between £50,000 to £100,000. We found a record of a Butler at Burleigh earning £300 a year, whilst the lowly maid was getting £9)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Saw this sculpture yesterday. Brilliant.

I will be posting about Burleigh House on WestcountryBuddha shortly, but thought I'd show this wonderful piece of sculpture from the gardens here first.

In search of Jane Austen at Stoneleigh Abbey







Readers may know that I'm a bit of a Jane Austen fan.



There are two previous postings about her 1) About searching for Jane Austen in Lyme Regis, here. and the slightly odd story of her aunt here. Her aunt features in the Stoneleigh story below.







Above is Stoneleigh Abbey. The biographical books about Jane Austen and her family refer to Stoneleigh and how she and her immediate family rushed here by carriage to lay claim to an inheritance. The Abbey is on my doorstep but I've never visited it before, which is an oversight as I was able to glean much information, as well as see and touch some of the things that Jane Austen saw and which inspired some of her writings.





Entrance is £7, and you will need to go on either a history tour or a 1 hour Jane Austen tour, as there is no other way to see the house. However, it's truly truly worth the experience if you're the least bit of a fan.



(right -  the 14th century gatehouse, now the ticket office.)











There are extensive grounds which you can wander around, but if you're coming a long way, you might like to combine your day with a visit to nearby Kenilworth Castle, which is also a half day visit. There's a small restaurant and shop in the Orangery. (left)





In August 1806, Jane Austen, her mother and sister Cassandra, came to the Abbey for a few weeks. Although they only visited once, many of their memories have surfaced in Jane's books.



Why they came to Stoneleigh



When Jane's parents retired, they went to live in Bath on a pension of nearly £600 per year. When her parents told Jane they were moving to Bath, the shock made her faint. She was very happy where she was and she was known to have disliked Bath.



In 1805, her father came down to breakfast one morning, claiming that he felt a bit ill. He went upstairs and shortly afterwards died, leaving a widow and two unmarried daughters without the £600 pension.



Jane's mother had £120 a year from various investments, and Cassandra had £50 a year inherited from her fiance who had died from Yellow Fever. Jane had nothing. She was then unpublished and had no income. Mrs Austen's sons (except Charles) banded together to give the ladies an extra £50 each per year, but even so, they were forced to move from lodging house to lodging house in Bath, moving steadily down the social scale.



I was drawn to this fast moving water, and later heard from the tour guide, that it was one of Jane's favourite places whilst she visited.

Looking back from above to the Abbey

In the end, Frank, one of Jane's favourite brothers, asked them to live with him and his wife Mary in Southampton.



In July 1806 they closed the door on their Bath residence , which was an odd coincidence, as it's the same day that Mary Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey died. The Will of Mary's brother who orginally inherited the property but who was declared insane, took precedent and it stated that the property should go .............





"unto the first and nearest of his kindred being male and of his blood and name, that should be alive at the time."



There were 3 contenders, and one of them, the Rev Thomas Leigh, bustled himself and Jane's family in great haste by carriage and horseback to the house to lay claim to it. There ensued a legal battle for ownership with the Rev Thomas Leigh trying to ensure that provision be made for the hard-up ladies.



Although £2,000 was agreed to be at their disposal it never materialised from that side of the family. Hence, we all think, leading to the awful Mrs John Dashwood at the start of Sense and Sensibility, keeping her money to herself and seeing her family go off to live with the help of distant relations elsewhere. Family history shows this to be a caricature of Mrs Jane Leigh Perrot, the same lady as the one who spent time in gaol (link at beginning of this posting) No wonder Jane didn't like her.



(right - tour guide in costume, who was very informative)





No photos are allowed inside the Abbey, but I was able to get some views from postcards on sale in the shop.

This view on the left, is similar to the one Jane had from the window where she wrote her letters and ate breakfast of tea, chocolate coffee, pound cake, fruit cake, and in her mothers' case, dry toast. Her mother was a hypochondriac, and I wonder if elements of the valitudinarian father in Emma were based on her.



This sunny side of the property faced south over the River Avon, to parkland landscaped by Humphrey Repton in 1809.



There are many references to Repton in Mansfield Park, including proposed improvements to Mr Rushworth's estate (Maria's husband) Many of the descriptions of the Rushworth Estate, and of travelling to it, are mirrored in Stoneleigh Abbey and it's surrounding grounds.



Right, is a small bridge/pier that we found in the grounds. It looks back along the River Avon towards the house.



The Interior



This bedroom was done up in this fashion for a visit by Queen Victoria, but when Jane visited, it was the breakfast room. The windows overlook the Severn which flows through the parkland, although I understand that at the time, there was a large wall enclosing a farmyard right next to the house.



The Austen ladies used this room for writing their many letters.





This is the private chapel.  In Mansfield Park the description given by Mrs Rushworth to her visitors, describes this room exactly, The photo is taken from the family balcony looking down to where the servants etc would have sat.



The pews are very low so that the wood surround is almost at chin height; apparently very Georgian. Unfortunately they are quite rare and at the time of Colin Firth's interpretation of Mr Darcy, these were undergoing restoration, or they would probably have been part of the film set.













Here's the balcony which looks down onto the pews.  The ceiling is a rather magnificent example of plasterwork.

















































 Right. The Library, although at the time of Jane's visit this was a large bedroom with dressing chamber behind the clock.









Main staircase, showing more plasterwork. All the portraits on show are Jane's distant relatives.





Three tour guides in costume.This is the room that Jane's mother said they all disliked because it was gloomy. The dark wood panelling and red velvet upholstery are very dark, but with a dark wooden floor as well, minus the cream carpet, and with just candles for light, it would be very forbidding.





However, below is the Entrance Hall. This is at the top of a large flight of stone stairs. Imagine how delighted they must have been to have seen this on first entering the house. You'd be a bit excited I think!





Finally I'd like to leave you with a small story. Most of the portraits we were shown were of Jane's family going back several generations. It gave you a feel for family features and a glimpse of what life was like for her.



She certainly knew all the history of the characters, and many of them surfaced, disguised, in Jane's books. For example, there was a portrait of a formidable woman in the dining room. She was seated, but looked tall. She was slender, dark haired, and with a large nose.



She had two daughters, but like to hold the purse strings very firmly. She wanted her daughters to marry well, but was a bit of a snob and prejudiced against many of their admirers. Her first daughter married well, but the second fell in love with a Captain Wentworth who was deemed unsuitable, as he was poor. However the daughter married him in secret, and immediately went back home so that no one knew except her sister. Captain Wentworth went to sea and made his fortune. They didn't see each other again until his return.



The mother sent various suiters to her daughter but couldn't understand why she didn't want to marry any of them.



On Captain Wentworth's return to England he was invited to dine as he had made a name for himself and had become a hero, and made such an impression on the old lady, that she declared that had her daughter been able to catch such a man she would be very well satisfied. The truth then came out, and all was well in the end.  Shades of Persuasion?