Sunday, 24 July 2016

Country House Tour

Approaching Littlecote House
Somehow a house tour takes on an extra dimension when it’s a Grade I listed building and you’re staying there! The Littlecote House of today began life around 1250 as a Medieval manor owned by the de Calstone family, though the Roman mosaic in the grounds and iron-age artefacts are proof of much earlier settlement. The Pophams acquired the house in 1589 and the Elizabethan manor was added.

The Great Hall
Our tour began in the Great Hall of the Tudor mansion which was constructed by Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Popham. It was at Littlecote that Henry VIII courted Jane Seymour, though the Hall had not yet been built. Sir John commemorated their courtship in one of the stained glass windows in the hall, setting it with four roundels, the Tudor Rose; Henry VIII’s coat of arms; Jane Seymour’s coat of arms and a love knot for Henry and Jane, though Jane's initial appears as a Latin I. A long banqueting table, referred to as a board, lines one wall. It was on this that the popular game of shove ha’penny was played. The game was overseen by a ‘chairman’, thus the term Chairman of the Board! Some armoury still graces the walls though much was purchased in the 1990s and is now displayed in Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

The Chinese Room
Medieval House on right viewed from
Chinese Room - and what a view!
From the Great Hall we moved to the Chinese Room, named because the incumbent in 1810 considered the oak of the Tudor house too dark and transformed the room into Regency style. The panels are papered with handpainted Chinese wallpaper - there is a faint pencil drawing of a bird where the artist failed to paint it in - and valued today at £55k each. The wooden chandelier, valued at £35k, has been known to move when addressed: Good morning, Elizabeth. Yes, of course the house has a ghost. In fact there are said to be three. At the time this room was refurbished a wall was knocked through to create an Orangery. In the 1920s it was converted into the first ever indoor heated swimming pool to be installed in a private house. The pool, which is listed and cannot be demolished, is today boarded over. A new pool was added in the Stables Leisure Block when Warner Leisure built the hotel.

The Library
Mahogany doors lead from the Chinese Room to the Library. Many of Judge Popham’s law books were purchased by Oxford's Bodleian Library. During WWII the room was used as the headquarters of American Colonel Bob Sink, Commander in Chief of the 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne.

The Dutch Parlour
Don Quixote

The Dutch Parlour was a gentlemen’s smoking room and its walls are covered in satirical paintings executed by Dutch prisoners of war in the 1660s. Most of one wall is occupied by scenes from Don Quixote. Small areas have been cleaned and restored, the rest much smoke-stained.

We moved through the Brick Hall and Diamond Hall to the Chapel which would in its day have been the Great Hall of the Medieval manor. On completion of the Tudor Great Hall it was converted into a chapel. The pews were so high we found ourselves reaching for the floor with our feet and trying not to slide off. They were designed that way to keep the congregation awake and today we still use the expressions ‘keeping you on your toes’ and ‘dropping off’. Amazing the things you find out isn’t it. I had no idea!

The Long Gallery
View from oriel window
From the haunted landing we peeped into the haunted bedroom from where
we made our way to the Long Gallery. Though the original ceiling frieze remains the panelled walls are more modern. It was in this room that ladies would take their exercise without dirtying their hems or harming their complexions. From the oriel window they could watch the men hunting. The view today is far different from the one they would have seen when forest still covered the land. The River Kennet runs along the back of the land though it is inaccessible to today’s visitors.

Entrepreneur Peter de Savary bought Littlecote House in 1986 and lived there for some years. Forced by bankruptcy to sell, it was acquired in 1996 by Warner Holidays who built the present hotel in 1997. The new buildings are sympathetically constructed. I can’t tell you how many bedrooms there are but the faux Tudor dining room holds four hundred people! Somehow the vast room seems very intimate and the floor to ceiling windows look out onto the beautiful gardens.

Littlecote House from the gardens
Part of the walled garden
I've left out as much as I've put in. If you want to see you'll have to visit yourselves. Littlecote House is set in beautiful grounds in a lovely part of the country and we were lucky enough to begin our stay the day summer arrived! Boy was it hot!!!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

My Hero

It is rare for me to post on a subject that doesn’t in some way involve writing but this time I’m hanging it on my hero – my real hero; my husband. He has for many years been one of that quiet band of self-effacing people who give of their time and energy, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, for the welfare of others. At The Mansion House on 4th July, along with twenty-eight others, he was recognised for his contribution at the annual ceremony of The League of Mercy.

Louis with Ellen Tumelty
It all started several years ago when Louis began volunteering at the Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice. It may be that I am biased but the people who work at the Hospice are most certainly not. On many occasions at fund-raising quizzes or summer fetes I have been told what a wonderful man he is (as if I didn’t already know). At the ceremony I was lucky enough to meet Ellen Tumelty, Modern Matron, who worked with my husband for many years and who speaks of him with great affection.

I had never before met Lord Lingfield, President of the League and a truly charming man. As each recipient was called to receive his or her Badge, he spent several moments chatting, with no diminishing of enthusiasm even by the time he had reached the last. 

The ceremony was held in the Egyptian Room at Mansion House and took place with all the pomp one could wish in those beautiful surroundings. If you would like further information about the League you will find it here.
The Egyptian Room
The Egyptian Room

At the close of the ceremony the recipients were held back in the Egyptian Room 
for the taking of formal photos, a copy of which they will receive in due course.

The Salon

Insignia from the Past
The rest of the assembled company, a personal guest and a representative of the nominating organisation, were all invited to take tea in the salon, a magnificent room where we were joined by the participants after the photo shoot. The trustees somehow managed to talk to everyone present.

It was for me a day filled with pride and humility. We all have our heroes, don’t we. They may appear in books, in films, on our television screens or in the news. I have my own at home. Congratulations, Louis Kleinman, on the public recognition of work undertaken so discreetly but with such far-reaching effect.

The Badge of
The Order of Mercy