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!