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September 13, 2012

Hardwick Hall

Driving into Derbyshire Was every bit as enchanting as when my husband and I visited on our tenth anniversary, and it was wonderful to find the lovely village of Bakewell just as I remembered it. We checked into our hotel, which is where Jane Austen most likely stayed when she visited Chatsworth in 1811 and revised Pride and Prejudice. Standing in the room identified as Jane’s, you can look out the window and picture “Lambton” exactly as Elizabeth Bennett saw it in the novel, including the village green and the long road leading directly up to the inn.

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The view of Bakewell from our room. If you go back in this blog’s archives to 2006, you’ll see nearly the same view from our room then!

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Flowers in the village green.

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The view over the River Wye, which is filled with geese and ducks.

We had a free morning yesterday, and I think most of us spent it poking around in antiques shops and English bakeries! It was wonderful. I found beautiful hard-bound historical fiction books at giveaway prices (good thing I emptied a suitcase the first night giving away Kanga fabric and tote bags!). I also walked down the main street to see if the bookshop I remembered from six years ago was still there and found it was closed through the 14th for a family holiday. Oh, well….

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Old Hardwick Hall, which Bess built before starting on the larger and grander Hardwick Hall. The old one fell into decay and has had a starring role in many “Jane Eyre” film adaptations as Mr. Rochester’s burnt out “Thornfield Hall.”

At 11:30 we headed to Hardwick Hall for lunch and our tour. I hadn’t visited Hardwick in 2006, opting for Chatsworth instead, but Suzi put a bug in my ear last year by asking me what I knew about Bess of Hardwick. What I knew wouldn’t have filled a matchbook, so I bought a copy of Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder by Mary Lovell and devoured it…twice. Bess was an amazing woman who outlived four husbands and made amazing use of her wealth and position. Some judged her hard and shrewd, but she really managed to take a lot of lemons and make lemonade out of them. She also became the founder of the House of Devonshire, which produced many famous (infamous?) people in British history.

Bess and her fourth husband started off on the right foot with a marriage grounded in love and mutual respect. He called her his “sweet None,” and she wrote adoring letters to him. And then they undertook the keeping of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was under house arrest to prevent her taking the throne from Elizabeth I. At first, the couple felt honored and were ecstatic about keeping Mary. However, Mary had a terrible reputation for charming the socks off any man who came within her circle, and she began to worm her way in between Bess and the Earl of Shrewsbury. Her upkeep was also incredibly expensive, and the crown didn’t reimburse as promised. This ate away at the Shrewsbury fortune and soured the marriage. Bess did her utmost to speak only kind words of her husband, but he became increasingly erratic, moody, and even borderline insane by the end. It was apparent that even Queen Elizabeth realized how incapacitated he had become when they met (he was one of her privy counselors).

Anyway, it’s a fascinating story, and Lovell’s bio of this lady is well worth reading. When Bess built Hardwick, she had her initials (“ES” for “Elizabeth Shrewsbury”) placed upon all the rooftop pavilions, as you see in the photo below:

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Bess specified in her will that her house and belongings had to be preserved in perpetuity, and almost everything in the house can be found on the 1601 inventory list. New things have been added as well, but hardly anything has been lost, and the attic contains what the curator describes as “an Aladdin’s Cave of treasure.” Many of the embroidered tapestries in the house were worked by both Bess and Mary during the latter’s imprisonment. It’s really amazing to stand next to these exquisite works of art and realize the sacrifices they represented to Bess, who lost her own freedom for 15 years while watching out for Mary.

Okay, I promise I’ll quit now! Here are the rest of the photos from our visit:

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Blustery day! We were all glad to get inside.

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As you can see, the house is immense, and the Long Gallery is, I believe, the longest in England. The hunting friezes at the top of the wall in the Great Chamber are amazing, and the woven “Gideon tapestries” that line the walls of the Long Gallery leave you with an aching neck from gawking. It’s truly the most splendid Tudor house I’ve seen.

As a surprise on our way back to Bakewell, our driver took us to Chatsworth for a photo op!

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The great house has been completely cleaned and all the windows regilded since our 2006 visit. It just gleams in the afternoon sunshine!

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Two of our ladies wore their Regency finery and looked right at home!

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Remind you of Lizzie Bennet? “Six inches deep in mud; I am absolutely sure of it!”

All around, it was a wonderful day in Mr Darcy’s Derbyshire. Today we visited the Symington Collection in Leicestershire, and I’ve been given permission to share photos of the marvels we enjoyed, so watch for my next post!

September 13, 2012

Platt Hall Costume Study Day

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The collection at Platt Hall includes over 20,000 items of clothing, a huge array of buttons, and ephemera including fashion plates and magazines. The curator closed the museum in the morning to admit our group, which was lovely. Half of us wandered all over the former great house, enjoying the clothing on display, much of which was collected by the late Dr. C. Willett Cunnington.

Unfortunately, there’s a “no sharing” policy for photos taken in the museum, so I can’t show you any of the beautiful exhibits or the amazing items we were allowed to handle in the study room (imagine one table just covered in Spencer jackets of all colors and shapes!). Suffice it to say, we had costume overload all day and left with our heads spinning. It was wonderful.

Even my little miss enjoyed all the fun!

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Yesterday we enjoyed the jaw-dropping tapestries at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. I’ll share those pictures later tonight.

September 12, 2012

Quarry Bank Mill

Monday we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before journeying to nearby Styal for our tour of Quarry Bank Mill–a beautifully preserved cotton mill from the early 1840s, complete with the workers’ village, apprentice house, and gardens. If you’ve read Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South or watched the BBC film adaptation, you can imagine the setting perfectly.

Getting to the mill proved a bit of a challenge once we arrived at the Manchester Airport train station and bus stand. When Suzi and I did the mill on our recce trip last year, we had quite a time with the bus and realized it was going to be a challenge to manage the route. So, as much as we wanted to add Stockport’s Hat Museum to our itinerary, we deliberately planned to do only the mill and nothing else on Monday. This turned out to be a good idea!

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Waiting for the bus…

When we arrived at Manchester airport, the bus wasn’t at the stand, so we assumed it had already left (two minutes early?). However, after waiting in vain for the bus to loop back around, I checked the information desk and found the 200 bus had never showed up that morning, and the company was sending a mini-bus instead! When that arrived, it only held 14 of our group, so the rest of us dashed up to the taxi stand and hired two cabs. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

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Approaching the mill

Quarry Bank Mill sits down in a river valley surrounded by green hills. Its owners lived on the property and built an entire village to house their workers in a clean and convenient location. During the early days of the Industrial Revolution, child labor was all too common, but the owners of Quarry Bank were considered quite forward-thinking to provide a school for the children and workers’ comp for injured mill laborers.

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Looking back toward the smokestack.

Walking though the mill really provides a window on the time, and you can never again take a simple spool of thread for granted! It was incredibly dangerous work to manage the winding and weaving machines, and many people died or were left crippled for life in the process. The National Trust has done an amazing job of preserving this amazing site so we can all learn from it now.

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Our group enjoyed a delicious luncheon before our tour of the mill and grounds.

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This is one of the winding machines for cotton thread.

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A weaving machine. Cloth is still woven here by hand for demonstrations and sold in the gift shop. It’s beautiful stuff!

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Clothing produced by fabric milled here.

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This is a block-printing table for hand-printing fabrics.

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The entrance to the mill gardens, which are lovely.

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A small bed of flowers.

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My son is a wonderful photographer and captured a lot of shots of flowers (aren’t you proud, Grammie?)

I’ll blog later tonight about our day at Platt Hall if all goes well!

September 23, 2010

Monday in London

We were once again greeted by the sun as we rose to meet the day. Truly, the weather this trip was nothing short of spectacular. The temperature was neither too warm nor too chilly, and we had a lovely breeze all day. After a yummy breakfast at our hotel, we headed to the Gloucester Road underground station for our journey to St. Paul’s and walk to the Museum of London. Just as the tube was pulling into Holborne station where we’d change lines for St. Paul’s, the loudspeaker announced that Holborne had just been closed! So I did some rapid rethinking and decided we’d switch to another line at the next stop to disembark at Barbican. It would be an equal distance to the museum from that point, but we’d be a tad bit later due to the longer tube ride. Ah, the joys of the London Underground! We did manage to arrive just a few minutes past ten a.m. to find Suzi awaiting us in the museum’s main hall with curator Hilary Davidson on her way upstairs. Dividing our group in half, we sent a bunch downstairs with Hilary while the rest of us toured the new ground-floor exhibit hall. It is absolutely incredible–better, I think, than the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History (the MoL’s displays are far more child-friendly and so nicely laid out). Here’s my photo tour:

18th-century court dress on display. A screen next to it showed a video of a woman wearing all the proper underpinnings of the era and moving gracefully about to demonstrate "courtly" movement. It was lovely!

Close-up of the court dress bodice--stunning!

18th- and 19th-century shoes on display in a floor case. There were several floor cases in the exhibit, many showing things that have been dug up during excavations around London.

Close-up of another floor case--this one filled with China that has been dug up at various London sites.

Another gorgeous 18th-century dress on display...

And a close-up of the bodice and sleeves...

18th-century officer's "red coat" uniform. The embroidery work was so intricate.

Off the gallery’s opening display is a room dedicated to fashion. It is a recreation of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a famous place where social climbers and royally connected people once mingled and showed off their taste. The historical clothing is behind glass and rather difficult to photograph due to the low lighting designed to protect the garments. The lighting does cycle up to brighter several times a day, but, unfortunately, we were shoo’ed out to make way for a school group before we got the good lighting. You’ll just have to put up with my attempt at low-light photography here! Later in the morning I saw some photographs in the costume workroom that showed how this exhibit was designed. Live people were put into costume (reproduction–not the real thing) and “blocked” just as though they were in a stage play. After trying out several arrangements of people, the final display model was photographed from several angles so those setting up the final exhibit would know where to place mannequins. It was really fascinating to see how this was done.

1780s gown in the display...

Close-up of the gown...

Amazing embroidered man's suit...

Outside the glass cases were several reproduction outfits for up-close inspection. This girl's dress could easily be reproduced with my new 1780s Girls' Portrait Dress pattern!

Original boy's "skeleton" suit.

1780s gown with unique inverted "V" front lacing.

And a close-up...

1780s court dress with unbelievable amounts of trim...

Lovely 1780s gown with sash. My new womens' pattern (coming soon!) will easily reproduce this one...

Close-up of the gown...

Sorry this is so blurry; the lighting was just so low. Gorgeous 1770s gown with long elbow ruffles...

Here's another angle. The underskirt was so ornate with ruffles and embroidery (white on white).

A reproduction costume with an amusing display angle!

And a close-up...

This reproduction is really a fantasy dress when it comes to the fabric, but it was a lot of fun to study up close. The antlered head-dress is one of many outlandish hats designed for this exhibit by the famous milliner, Philip Treacy...

After leaving this exhibit, we went back to the rest of the displays to finish out the hour before our meeting with Hilary. The MoL is extremely child-friendly with hands-on things to do around every corner. My girls had a wonderful time opening secret doors, pressing buttons to turn on lights, trying on hats, and playing with train sets. Well done, MoL!

Peeping into doors and windows in the Georgian London exhibit.

Looking into the London Underground model...

Yet another children's area filled with antique toys and surprises...

An 18th-century bodice on display in another case. Gorgeous fabric!

One entire section of the new gallery is devoted to Victorian storefronts. Here you see my older girls gazing into a London toy shop. They only wished it was open for business!

My 2009 group saw this same lavender dress down in the costume storeroom last year when it was being restored for this display...

A beautiful antique automobile on display in the early 20th-century section...

A selection of Victorian, Edwardian, and 1920s garments on display...

A detail shot of the center dress from that case. The embroidery on the skirt was simply stunning.

A darling 1940s girl's dress on display...

There are several interactive displays like this one in the new gallery. If you touch areas of the table, they come to life with illustrations and descriptions. This table was a map of things near the Thames. My girls loved it!

A lit-up model of St. Paul's on the table...

And the famous London Eye...

We made it through the new gallery in time to enjoy a short refreshment break in the cafe’. Then we traded places with the other half of our group, heading into the treasure room that is the MoL costume storehouse with Hilary. As before, I am not allowed to share any photographs of what we saw, but I can tell you everything was drool-worthy. We enjoyed seeing an unusual 1730s corset, a pair of Queen Victoria’s ball slippers, three 1820s bonnets, a lovely 19-teens evening gown, an 1890s evening gown bodice, and an absolutely breathtaking 1880s evening gown that looked brand new, it was so well-preserved. There were lots of “oohs” and “ahhhs!” as Hilary removed the protective coverings and held things up for our admiration.

After finishing our visit at the MoL, we walked a short distance to the nearby El Vino Alban Gate restaurant for lunch. Joining us was Cathy Hay of Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, who had brought several vintage pieces for hands-on study. We passed opera cloaks and an 1850s dress around the table while waiting for our meals. El Vino did a fantastic job with our food, which was oh-so-delicious and provided in a timely manner (no small feat for a group this large!). Hilary joined us, so we all got in a delightful visit, sharing costume stories and swapping history. It was wonderful fun. Cathy didn’t bring anything for dress-up this time, as we didn’t have room enough for trying anything on. Maybe next time…!

Cathy shows off one of her beautiful opera cloaks...

After lunch, our group divided up once again, some ladies going with Suzi to the Museum of Childhood to meet with Noreen, the curator of the costume collection there. The rest of us had tickets for the special Grace Kelly exhibit at the V&A, so we said good-bye to Suzi and dashed back to the tube at St. Paul’s, glad to find that Holborne station was open once again so we could take a shorter trip to the museum. The Grace Kelly exhibit contained several of her film costumes but focused mainly on her life as Princess of Monaco. I was disappointed that the Philadelphia Museum of Art had not loaned Grace Kelly’s wedding gown to the exhibit, as I’ve always wanted to see it. I also wished there had been a wider representation of her film costumes, but it was still delightful to see what was on display:

An outfit from "To Catch a Thief"

Another beautiful film dress...

I believe this dress is from Grace Kelly's trousseau, but I'll have to double-check my book to be sure...

Low lighting made it very difficult to photograph much in this exhibit–especially the hats and accessories. It was also crowded to the gills with visitors, so I didn’t get a whole lot of good pictures. Oh, well! After finishing up at the V&A, I took my daughters back to the hotel to await the rest of the group. They began to trickle in around 5:30, most of them ready for an evening’s performance of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at Shakespeare’s Globe. Because my mother had never seen the Globe or attended a performance, I got a ticket for her this year. I was sorry to miss out on the performance, which is a yearly highlight, but I am tickled pink Mom got to go. Christopher Benjamin (who played Sir William Lucas in the A&E “Pride & Prejudice”) performed as Falstaff to great critical acclaim. With everyone off to the Globe or out to eat, I took my girls on a little jaunt to Fortnum & Mason, where I knew they’d be astonished at the beauty of the displays (chandeliers in a grocery store?!). We’d hoped to grab supper at the delightful Parlour, but they’d closed up early that night. Instead, we walked down Piccadilly, looking for an interesting place to stop. My middle daughter stopped me suddenly with a “Mommy, look!” so I turned to see what she was pointing at. Next to us was an adorable restaurant called “Cilantro,” just begging us to come in and take a seat:

Colorful and comfy--my kind of eatery!

As we walked through the door, we were immediately greeted by someone at the counter. I asked if they were closing up (it was already 7:30), but he said they didn’t close until 8pm and invited us to come and take a seat. A huge selection of sandwiches and drinks awaited us behind the counter, but the waiter urged us to get comfortable so he could show us menus and take care of us. We were waited upon with such friendly service that we felt right at home and knew this was going to be a real treat. My girls ordered spaghetti bolognese, while I got a chicken and tomato panini.

Mmmmm!

Baby Girl is obviously enjoying her supper!

The whole atmosphere of Cilantro is cheerful and restful with lots of books around that customers are free to browse while they wait. We dove into our food, which was delicious and inexpensive (another plus!). After finishing up, an obliging waiter told us about the dessert selections, leaving our mouths watering in anticipation.

Can she eat the entire fudge cake alone? Oh, yes, she can!

A splendid hazelnut chocolate mini-cake for me. Heavenly!

Looking back toward the front of the cafe' with its cases full of tempting food.

It is always a delight to find a new favorite place in London. I thanked my daughter for pointing this one out. If you’re anywhere near 193 Piccadilly, be sure to stop by. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. The food is fantastic, the prices are right, and the staff is incomparable. We left satisfied and happy with our special evening out. After returning to our hotel, I put the girls to bed and waited up for the group from the Globe. They came back bubbling over with excitement at the evening’s performance, leaving me quite envious. It is something not to be missed if you ever have the chance.

And so the 2010 England Tour officially ended. We couldn’t believe how quickly our week had gone by. I said good-byes to several ladies Monday night, as they had early flights. We departed friends, and I know we’ll all stay in touch. I’ll finish up later with one last post to tie everything together. So many good memories!

September 17, 2010

Friday in Bath

Our faithful driver, Jon, waits for us as we make a quick stop on a street in Bath. We have come to love our blue coach!

We didn’t have to get such an early start today, as Bath is only 30-40 minutes away from us, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and sauntered down the drive to meet our coach. To our surprise, our driver and everyone else from Lacock were already there. They beat us this morning and seemed very proud of having done so (they have to get going 15 minutes earlier than the rest of us!). We made it to Bath in record time and were a tad early for our appointment at the Jane Austen Centre. We listened to the introductory talk about Jane in Bath, then browsed through the exhibit downstairs. Here are some highlights:

Lovely silhouettes like these grace the walls of the waiting room outside the exhibition and contain witty sayings about Jane Austen.

A jaunty naval officer on display with some military paraphernalia.

My daughter admires the doll in the "Dressing Elizabeth Bennet" display, which you can enjoy at http://www.janeausten.co.uk/magazine/page.ihtml?pid=170&step=4!

Our ladies begin to settle in for the delightful "Tea with Mr. Darcy" in the Jane Austen Centre's Tea Rooms.

A happy quartet of ladies awaits the delicious repast...

Here I am with my younger daughter, who was very excited about "high" tea--three storeys up!

Beautiful Claverton Hall...

After tea, we boarded our coach for the short drive to Claverton Hall, which is home to the American Museum in Britain. This museum was designed by two American businessmen in the 1950s who wanted to provide a true history of the Colonies for Brits. ;) The museum is made up of rooms set up to replicate American homes from the 1690s through 1860s and has thousands of artifacts, including furniture, silverware, historical clothing, and one of the premier collections of American quilts in the world. Many of the quilts are displayed in the rooms as they would have been used during the time. There is also a second building with quilts hanging on all the walls (art gallery style!), plus a quilted 18th-century petticoat and quilted 19th-century stays. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph anything inside the museum buildings, but I took a lot of pictures outside, as the grounds are simply breathtaking. Our ladies enjoyed wandering through the perfectly manicured “Mount Vernon” garden, exploring the walking trail, and just sitting on the terrace to take in the incredible view:

My girls especially appreciated the children’s play area and all the wonderful overhanging trees and secret nooks just begging to be explored. This is an ideal outing for families, and I have to say the museum displays were just as authentic as anything I’ve seen in Massachusetts, Colonial Williamsburg, or the Smithsonian. The docents very obviously enjoy talking about American history and showing off what each room holds. It was such fun to walk through. I wish I could have photographed an 18th-century gown on display, as it was nearly identical to my new Ladies’ 1780s’ Portrait Dress pattern (coming soon!), down to the armholes, seam lines and neckline. I was tickled pink to see it!

Here is a little visual tour of our afternoon:

Plenty of space for little folks to run!

Another view of the mansion, this one from the side facing the garden...

Miss Elisabeth takes in the gorgeous scenery...

The "Mount Vernon" Garden

The adorable summer house. If you look hard, you can see an English robin perched on the top corner of the left door. He sang his heart out to us!

My oldest daughter enjoyed the allee of trees above the garden...

Roses climbed the wall next to the Orangery...

Herbs and flowers for sale at the Claverton Herb shop...

We had such a lovely, leisurely afternoon at Claverton–a nice break from the pace we’ve been keeping all week! We made our way back to our B&Bs around 4:30, and lots of us spent our afternoon trying to finish up trimming bonnets or ironing things for tomorrow’s Regency Promenade to kick off the Jane Austen Festival. I couldn’t resist taking a few more shots of our lovely inn, Rudloe Hall:

This is the back of the inn, covered in ivy....

Looking out from beneath the grape arbor next to the dining room...

Peeking in at the dining room window -- looks like everything's laid out for supper!

I can't resist hydrangeas! These are massed beneath the dining room windows. Ahhh!

Walking back into the Lounge, I found my mother playing marbles with my daughter. Fun!

My other daughter decided to cut out paper dolls Suzi gave her today....

A drowsy corner of the lounge, just begging for someone to come and sit...

It’s now bedtime, so I’ll sign off. We start for Bath around 9:15 in the morning, all dressed up for the Grand Costumed Promenade and hoping there’s no morning frost! I’ll report back tomorrow evening if all goes well. Cheers!

September 16, 2010

Thursday in Exeter

We wended our way southward today to Devon, enjoying beautiful scenery all the way there and cheering the warming temperature. Arriving at Killerton House was like entering an enchanting dream. I’ve seen many fine manor houses in England, but I have to say that Killerton now ranks as my absolute favorite. The exterior slightly resembles Luckington Court, which was used as “Longbourne” in the 1995 version of “Pride and Prejudice.” But Killerton is much larger and has what has to be the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen. We went there for the costume exhibit, but I have to say the house was every bit as satisfying to me. It also had one special highlight guaranteed to thrill me, but I’ll share that in a moment. For now, here is a photo tour!

The elegant dining room with portraits all over and table laid out for company...

Looking into the library from the dining room...

The library fireplace. Have a seat and read a while!

Late 1780s portrait in the drawing room

A beautiful portrait of a Regency Era mother and son...

The stunning drawing room (looking toward the fireplace)...

The marble columns in the drawing room are absolutely gorgeous...

Looking into the music room -- the thrill is over the fireplace!

This is my favorite Regency portrait of all time--Lady Lydia Acland and her sons. Lady Lydia lived at Killerton, and the son at right inherited the estate.

Here's a detail shot. I just absolutely love this portrait. I have tried to find a print for years without success. Someone snagged me a postcard today in the Killerton shop! And, yes, those are boys in the dresses. The short hair is the giveaway.

This organ at the far end of the music room was built by Lord Acland for Lady Lydia after their honeymoon. The docents allow anyone to play it who wishes to. It's quite an amazing sight.

Miss Emily got to try her hand at playing Beethoven on the beautiful grand piano!

I love the stairway hall at the back of the house--doesn't that couch look like a cozy spot? I could really live here!

This is the opening of the upstairs gallery, which houses the current display of costumes. There are over 17,000 objects (10,000 garments; 7,000 accessories) in the Killerton collection, but they can only display 30-40 at a time! I'm sorry I can't show you any of the displays, but the National Trust doesn't allow it. :(

This I can share! They had a lot of hands-on displays for children, including a dress-up area, which my daughter thoroughly enjoyed!

Here was the best surprise of this trip: Killerton's costume department uses my patterns to create the try-on clothes! This is a Spencer made from my pattern. Curators Shelley and Charlotte both told me how much they enjoy my patterns. What a complete thrill!

A fashion plate on the wall -- I love how you can see the back of the lady's gown in the mirror.

We enjoyed luncheon in Killerton's Tea Room after finishing in the house. Delicious, and the service was amazing.

This is the view out the side of the house. My girls are enjoying space to run!

The garden with the cows beyond the wall...

And now for the garden! This is a real treat...

I can never get enough hydrangeas, and they had masses of 'em!

The view from the top of the garden out to the fields beyond...

And looking back at the house (tea room is below that arched window)...

Let me take a moment here to just strongly recommend that you get to Killerton if you ever have the chance. It isn’t just that the house and grounds are so very wonderful and the costume collection delightful–it is that every single staff member and volunteer who works here so obviously loves the estate and enjoys entertaining visitors. We were made to feel so welcome by every person we met, from the ticket seller in the welcome center to the manager of the tea room and everyone in between. I have never had such a feeling of good cheer and warmth and delight in any place I’ve toured. National Trust, you are doing a fabulous job with Killerton House! And all the hands-on things for children are simply icing on the cake. This is a great family outing if you can manage it. And we didn’t even get to try the children’s trail and play area!

After our lovely luncheon, we made our way back to the coach (through the shop, which was a complete trap, let me tell you!). We drove back to Exeter for our appointment with Shelley Tobin at Rougemont House, who was set to show us items from the collection stored there. The collection is used for displays at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. The museum is undergoing a massive renovation and will reopen in December 2012. Until then, the costume stores are rather crammed into corners at Rougemont House. Conservation is done in tiny rooms by a dedicated group of volunteers who are obviously in love with what they do. We enjoyed seeing a mid-Victorian paisley shawl being meticulously patched and reinforced with tiny (tiny) surgical needle and thread. Shelley obviously regretted being unable to take out more things for our inspection, but the space was just too limited. She looks forward to having all new spaces with plenty of room to spare when the museum is complete. But we enjoyed what we were able to ogle! Included was a Worth opera wrap (silk, lace, gilt–ah!), a 1670s shoe, a dear pair of 1795 striped leather shoes with very pointy toes, and a stunner of an 1830s dinner bonnet with ostrich plume and plump bows. Then we climbed upstairs to see rare lace and racks upon racks of garments being readied for the move to the new, improved conservation center. Bliss!

Listening to Shelley describe the pieces (sorry I have to cut off the table -- can't show anything!)...

Rougemont Castle is directly opposite Rougemont House. 1068 next door!

This fascsimile portrait of lady archers by Frith stood next to the castle. Beautiful!

On the road again! The sun was out again as we headed toward our evening meal in Lacock Village. I snapped this church out the window as we flew past. Devon is so lovely and reminds me of my childhood haunts in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia....

The George Inn, Lacock Village. It is a charming spot and so cozy and inviting. Delicious food, too!

Here's the room where we ate. Low ceilings, rock walls...the quintessential country pub!

These will be a bit blurry because of the low light, but a pub just doesn't look right with a flash!

Waiting for our meals at table...

So that was our day! I’ve rounded it out by sneaking a late-night dessert in the lounge of Rudloe Hall while looking through photos and blogging. Having realized I’ve killed the third camera battery, I’m Googling to see if I can find one in Bath tomorrow (wish me luck!). Tomorrow morning we head to the Jane Austen Centre for a tour and luncheon. After that, we motor over to The American Museum in Britain at Claverton Hall. Should be a fun day!

September 15, 2010

Wednesday at Berrington Hall and Hereford Museum

Well, dear readers, it has been a red-letter day for anyone in love with historical fashion. I’ve never heard so many grown women squeal like schoolgirls! From start to finish, it was an amazing treat. So let me walk you through it!

First off, we boarded our coach for the two-plus-hour drive north, winding through absolutely gorgeous countryside (including a short nip through Wales):

We passed through Hereford on up to Leominster (which we learned is pronounced “Lemster” by the natives and not “LEE-oh-minster” as we’d thought!). After winding down the country lanes, we arrived at the entrance gate to Berrington Hall, which looked far too narrow for our coach. Yet our driver managed to get us through three gates and over a cattleguard before one of the docents came frowning out to tell us we’d gone the wrong way in, as the coach park was in back and accessed by a different gate! Never mind that no one told the driver this when he called or that the first gate was not marked “NO Coaches!” Oh, well. We still managed to get to the proper place to park and headed in for our appointment with costume curator Althea Mackenzie, who is caretaker to the famous Snowshill collection (now at Berrington) and the Hereford Museum collection (more on that later!).

Berrington is a wonderful estate. Famous landscaper Capability Brown’s son-in-law built it in the 1780s, and it was the last landscape job Capability did. The outside of the house is rather austere, but that was done on purpose by the architect, who wanted to lead the visitor into a surprise jewelbox of perfectly symmetrical rooms with Wedgewood-style moldings and fittings. Here’s a short tour of a few of the rooms:

The opening hall is exactly as it looked in 1783, with the addition of two French tapestries added by the next generation of owners.

Detail of the Greek-inspired door trimming

One of the French machine-made tapestries (sorry it's a bit blurry; I am still getting the hang of the low light setting, since flash wasn't allowed!)

Next we entered the drawing room, another perfectly proportioned room, down to the matching mirrors, picture arrangements, curtains, and even symmetrical furniture. Jane Austen would have been right at home in this room:

The stunning ceiling of the drawing room

The back hallway is even more magnificent than the front entrance! This staircase leads up to the family rooms.

Here is what lights the staircase--a glorious glass dome!

A view under the dome from the balcony overlooking the hall below...

This is the back of the main house inside the courtyard.

One half of our group toured the house while the other half enjoyed the delights of the private study table with Althea. Then we switched off. I cannot show you any of the things we looked at from the stores, as they are all copyrighted by the National Trust, but when I am able to look up call numbers, I will post them so you can Google them for yourselves. Suffice it to say that you would short out your keyboards drooling if I was able to share pictures!

After we all finished at the study table, we gathered for luncheon in our own private Edwardian Tea Room below stairs:

Lunch was absolutely delicious with an assortment of sandwiches, soup, and scones with jam and Devonshire cream, and, of course, tea. Yum! We finished up and walked back through the grounds toward the coach:

Looking into the walled orchard/garden...

Beautiful allium!

Looking past the fountain towards the house...

A lone water lily in the fountain...

View across the velvety lawn in front...

This is called "The Triumphal Arch" and serves as side entrance to the grounds...

A peep through the courtyard archways to the view beyond...

After boarding the coach, we buckled in for the short ride back to Hereford, where we were to meet up with Althea at the museum for still more up-close study. We were told to go to the main museum building, so we toured it for a bit and enjoyed its exhibits (lots of hands-on things for the children–hurrah!).

My girls trying out the play kitchen.

Too much fun!

This case contains original fabrics from the 1740s-1780s.

Detail view of the fabric. We saw such bright colors today--lots of pinks and greens especially from this period.

A purse "embroidered" with (are you ready for this?) beetle wings! Thanks to Stephanie for pointing this out!

After waiting a good 20 minutes and seeing no Althea, we asked again at the desk if she was expecting us and knew we were there. They decided to ring her up and found she was actually at another museum building several blocks away and expecting us there! Oy! So we packed ourselves off in a hurry to get to the museum’s resource center, which contains a simply mind-boggling number of storage bins, drawers, shelves, racks–you name it. Once again, I can’t show you anything we looked at, but you can see our ladies walking down the long corridor next to the storage cases:

What treasures lie in store?

These run on a neat trolley-type system that pulls the shelves apart along tracks so you can walk in between and get to all the drawers and bins. Althea gave us much more of her time than we deserved, and we oohed and ahhed for a good hour and a half. We could have stayed a week and not seen everything. This was absolutely the highlight of the day, with all our ladies getting to see things from different time periods and areas of interest. Never to be forgotten!

After a quick stop to get some water and other odds and ends, we headed back to Lacock Village for our evening meal at The Red Lion Inn, which is an absolutely charming spot (its exterior was used as the Meryton Assembly Room in the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice”).

Cozy!

Charming!

Ladies awaiting their suppers...

A happy (and delicious) ending to our wonderful day...

The Chicken and Stilton is not to be missed!

Great conversation and lots of laughter...

Nothing better than candlelight...

So we’ve finished out our day tired but happy. Tomorrow we travel southward to Exeter for still more historical costume at Killerton House and Rougemont House. If all goes well, I’ll be telling you about it tomorrow night! Sweet dreams!

October 12, 2009

Sunday in Bath

chapelSeveral of us headed to Bradford-on-Avon to attend the Old Baptist Chapel there, where we know the pastor’s family and have visited before. It was a beautiful morning. Unfortunately, the train line was down, so we had to hop the bus, which took a while wending its way through the tiny streets of this adorable village. However, we made it on time and enjoyed a lovely service. At the end, a man from the congregation offered to find out when the return bus headed back to Bath, as our driver hadn’t been able to tell us. He came rushing back to say the bus was leaving in five minutes! We said hurried farewells, then dashed back across the street, only to see the bus pulling out. There wouldn’t be another for several hours. A family from the church was kind enough to immediately offer us transportation back to Bath–much faster by car than by bus! We arrived in time to make a couple of stops before our group was scheduled to meet at the Pump Room and Roman Baths.

img_2386Several street performers were in the Abbey yard next to the Pump Room, including a one-man band, two “living statues,” and a gent doing stunts with a unicycle and juggling flaming torches! We watched for a while as we waited for our group to gather. At the last minute, my husband realized he’d left his hat in a vintage clothing shop several blocks away, so I offered to go back for it while everyone else went through the Roman Baths (I got to see them in March). Here you see our group gathered in the upper hall next to the Pump Room, which affords a bird’s-eye view of the Baths. Several opted to take the audio tour, which is fascinating to listen to. Below are Lindsay’s shots from the tour:

Looking down into the main Bath (the water is bubbling and warm).

Looking down into the main Bath (the water is bubbling and warm).

Ana is enjoying herself!

Ana is enjoying herself!

Looking up at the Abbey from inside the Roman Baths

Looking up at the Abbey from inside the Roman Baths

Two of the historical interpreters wanted my mother-in-law, who is a Latin tutor, to teach them some useful Roman phrases to use on the job!

Two of the historical interpreters wanted my mother-in-law, who is a Latin tutor, to teach them some useful Roman phrases to use on the job!

img_2430

What a glorious day!

What a glorious day!

Someone managed to snap our photographer in front of the main bath.

Someone managed to snap our photographer in front of the main bath.

Beautiful Miss Cassie...

Beautiful Miss Cassie...

After retrieving the hat, I treated myself to tea and scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves in the elegant Pump Room. Ah, bliss!

After retrieving the hat, I treated myself to tea and scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves in the elegant Pump Room. Ah, bliss!

Lovely Miss Molly joins me at my table to drink in the trio's music.

Lovely Miss Molly joins me at my table to drink in the trio's music.

Master Chancey decides to "take the waters" in the Pump Room. (Hint: the water tastes like sulfur and iron and comes out of the fountain warm. Not my cup of tea, thanks!)

Master Chancey decides to "take the waters" in the Pump Room. (Hint: the water tastes like sulfur and iron and comes out of the fountain warm. Not my cup of tea, thanks!)

We had time after the Baths to stroll around some more and get some last shots of beautiful places:

Looking into the River Avon from above. That's Pultney Bridge on the far left.

Looking into the River Avon from above. That's Pultney Bridge on the far left.

A flower stall on Pultney Bridge. Heavenly!

A flower stall on Pultney Bridge. Heavenly!

Several ladies decided to attend the Baroque Dance demonstration at the Pavilion later that night, and I’ll share photos from that next time!

October 11, 2009

At the Fashion Museum in Bath

18th-century gown of silk with silver trimmings.

18th-century gown of silk with silver trimmings.

Now, at the outset, I have to apologize for how dark most of these photos are. It’s not Lindsay’s fault at all. The Bath Fashion Museum has a fabulous collection, but, unfortunately, its displays are just about the worst when it comes to overall layout and, most especially, good lighting. You spend most of your time squinting into glass cases that reflect your own image back better than they showcase what’s inside. Yet some displays have lighting so bright that you have problems with overexposure. Suzi has refused on principle to visit the museum for years–LOL! But, all griping aside, the collection is lovely, and I hope in future they improve the layout and design. There’s such amazing potential in the Assembly Rooms for gorgeous display; it’s bound to happen one of these days. In the meantime, here’s a peek at what Lindsay captured.

A selection of ladies' underthings through the centuries. The ornate slips (teddies) are from the 1920s.

A selection of ladies' underthings through the centuries. The ornate slips (teddies) are from the 1920s.

These incredibly ornate men's gauntlets are from the 1600s.

These incredibly detailed men's gauntlets are from the 1600s.

Gorgeous 18th-century saque-back gown, surrounded, oddly enough, by wine glasses. Go figure...

Gorgeous 18th-century saque-back gown, surrounded, oddly enough, by wine glasses. Go figure...

Sleeve detail from another 18th-century gown...

Sleeve detail from another 18th-century gown...

This Regency gown is absolutely covered in silvery beads.

This Regency gown is absolutely covered in silvery beads.

Early 1830s gown with sheer sleeves over the trademark wide, puffed sleeves of the Romantic era.

Early 1830s gown with sheer sleeves over the trademark wide, puffed sleeves of the Romantic era.

Mourning dress that belonged to Queen Victoria. She was incredibly short-statured.

Mourning dress that belonged to Queen Victoria. She was incredibly short-statured.

Ornate bustle gown from the 1880s.

Ornate bustle gown from the 1880s.

Stunning ballgown from the 1890s.

Stunning ballgown from the 1890s.

And a close-up of the luscious bodice!

And a close-up of the luscious bodice!

Wish I could show you more, but the lighting just didn’t give Lindsay enough help. :P Next time I’ll share pictures from our gorgeous Sunday in Bath!

October 2, 2009

Friday Trip to Bath – Part I

Getting settled in our coach...

Getting settled in our coach...

Friday morning we all gathered bright and early in the hotel lobby with our luggage in tow, ready to board our private coach. Unfortunately, our driver got hung up in West London traffic and didn’t make it to the hotel until nearly an hour later, so, after loading all the bags and settling in, we were already an hour and a half behind schedule. I called Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton as we drove away to let them know we’d be running late, and we bade a fond farewell to South Kensington and London. It had been a marvelous week, and we all looked forward to the delights of the English Countryside, traveling through beautiful Surrey, Hampshire, and Wiltshire on our way to Bath in Somerset.

The day was overcast and rather gloomy looking, and when we pulled into Chawton, the temperature was decidedly chilly. Most everyone pulled on sweaters and jackets, and I hoped this wasn’t a prediction of the weather for our weekend in Bath! But the grey skies couldn’t dampen our spirits, and we eagerly made our way to the lovely little cottage Jane Austen called home for eight years.

We're here! Calling on Miss Austen...

We're here! Calling on Miss Austen...

My sweet mother-in-law, overseas for the first time, is thrilled to visit Jane Austen's house!

My sweet mother-in-law, overseas for the first time, is thrilled to visit Jane Austen's house!

A glimpse of the garden behind the house with its ivy-covered wall...

A glimpse of the garden behind the house with its ivy-covered wall...

Miss Molly stands in the gateway of the garden wall...

Miss Molly stands in the gateway of the garden wall...

img_2002Since the last time my husband and I visited Chawton in 2007, some amazing improvements have been made. The museum foundation has built a beautiful new visitor’s center in the back garden, using period architecture to make it blend in to the whole. The stables have been remodeled to house the new and vastly improved gift shop, which overflows with all things Austen. And the house itself has undergone some very tasteful renovations, using period wallpapers and paint colors to brighten the rooms and make them more like they would have looked in Jane’s day. The only unfortunate “update” is the addition of several inauthentic costumes sprinkled throughout the house. Our dear Suzi walked through the house grimacing and pointing out errors — such as the Tudor lace over modern chiffon on the “1820s” ballgown reproduction you see at right. Another mannequin boasted an empire-waist “work dress” with a modern kitchen apron tied around its natural waistline, a full foot below the waist of the gown itself! Much muttering and shaking of heads…. Happily, there were several authentic pieces on display as well, plus a couple of movie costumes, which I’ll share below.

The kitchen, which is at the back of the house.

The kitchen, which is at the back of the house.

The reception room, which includes a secretary filled with books from Rev. Austen's library and many first-edition volumes of Jane's.

The reception room, which includes a secretary filled with books from Rev. Austen's library and many first-edition volumes of Jane's.

The dining room/front room, which has the china set used by the Austen family. Jane's writing desk is tiny and tucked over in the corner next to the window, where she could observe village life.

The dining room/front room, which has the china set used by the Austen family. Jane's writing desk is tiny and tucked over in the corner next to the window, where she could observe village life.

One of the upstairs bedrooms with a costume from "Becoming Jane" (a film I do NOT recommend, by the way!)

One of the upstairs bedrooms with a costume from "Becoming Jane" (a film I do NOT recommend, by the way!)

Detail of Tom LeFroy's costume from "Becoming Jane"

Detail of Tom LeFroy's costume from "Becoming Jane"

The quilt hand-stitched by Jane, her sister Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen.

The quilt hand-stitched by Jane, her sister Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen.

A very pretty dotted Swiss bib-front gown in the back hallway upstairs.

A very pretty dotted Swiss bib-front gown in the back hallway upstairs.

Okay, and now for some garden shots for all of you who love English gardens as much as I do!

Okay, and now for some garden shots for all of you who love English gardens as much as I do!

Beautiful blooms even in September!

Beautiful blooms, even in September!

Still more blooms...

Still more blooms...

Stopping to smell the roses climbing next to the back door...

Stopping to smell the roses climbing next to the back door...

And, finally, Lindsay had to capture a shot of Cassandra across the street at the tea room named after Jane’s sister. It’s an absolutely wonderful place to eat, but they don’t do large groups (sigh), so we had to push on to Winchester…

She's right at home!

She's right at home!

Next time: Winchester Cathedral and Bath!

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