Thursday 29 December 2016

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

It's the middle of winter, there's two inches of ice underfoot and it's zero degrees centigrade. I know, let's go and visit a garden.

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Don't worry, I haven't taken leave of my senses. This is Biddulph Grange and no ordinary suburban garden. To be honest, who wouldn't be intrigued after reading Behind a gloomy Victorian shrubbery there's a gloomy Victorian mansion, but behind that lurks one of the most extraordinary gardens in contains whole continents, including China and Ancient Egypt – not to mention Italian terraces and a Scottish glen

Biddulph Grange was home to James Bateman (1811 - 1897), the son of a rich industrialist. Bateman moved into the once modest rectory with his wife, Maria, in 1840 and used his wealth to enlarge the house and to purchase specimens bought back from the great Victorian plant-hunters. Assisted by his friend, Edward Cook, an artist, keen designer and son to the owner of one of the largest plant nurseries of the day, together they set about creating a garden worthy of his collection.

The house was rebuilt after the original burned down in 1896. From 1923 until 1991 it was used as a hospital, originally called the North Staffordshire Cripple's Hospital (not very PC), renamed The Biddulph Grange Orthopaedic Hospital in later years. Over time the gardens fell into disrepair and were taken over by the National Trust in 1988. The house remains privately owned.

For larger images click on the photo

Midwinter it might be but there's nothing bleak about Biddulph Grange. Even on a day like today,  blighted by freezing fog and biting cold, it's still bloody gorgeous.

Colour, texture and interest wherever you look.

 Hidden away down well-worn stone steps and secret tunnels lurk a world of secret gardens.

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Travel to Italy to meander down neat avenues, admire the topiary and the marvelously ornate planters.

Visit China where gaudy pagodas and golden icons are reflected in the frozen lake,

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Climb tiny steps cut into the rockery, ring the brass temple bells and watch the sunlight streaming through the trees.
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Wonder at the weirdness of Britain's first stumpery - an almost lunar landscape created from felled oaks.

Explore an Egyptian pyramid, cut from privet and flanked by a pair of handsome sphinxes.

In summer, with its famed Dahlia walk, banks of Rhododendrons and Wellingtonias (whatever they might be) and, apparently, the oldest golden larch in Britain, Biddulph Grange must be beautiful but there's something hauntingly lovely about it in winter (and having the place almost to ourselves was pretty special.)

Get your coat, love, you've pulled.
Biddulph Grange Garden, Grange Road, Biddulph, Staffordshire ST8 7SD

I turned my PC off on Xmas Eve and, not owning a Smartphone, I've been off-line for almost a week. The only TV we've watched has been films we've downloaded & DVDs and our news has been via Radio 6Music. We've caught up with friends, tidied the garden and tackled some DIY. I've sewed like a demon & cleared the pond and Jon's mended the van & reupholstered the bed. Thank goodness we're going on holiday soon, we need a rest! 

See you soon.

Linking to Judith's Hat Attack & Natalia, Beate and Tina's Russian Winter Fairy Tale

Friday 23 December 2016

'Tis The Season To.... Go Chazzing!

What's the best thing about this time of year?

An excuse to dress up? Nah, don't need one of those, as you can see from this week's outfits, I do it on a daily basis. 

The food? Don't think so. This is the contents of our fridge. We're off for an Indian with the rest of the Dead Relatives Society on Xmas Day. No big shop needed (I'll nip into News 'n' Booze on the way to the curry house for the wine). We won't be eating any more than usual just 'cos it's the Baby Jesus's birthday.   

The decorations? You're mistaken, there's no festive decor to see here, you're looking at my art installation. Inspired by Frank, it's called Balls To The Lot Of It. 

The best thing about this time of year is that, while the rest of the population take on the appearance of the undead, traipsing around shopping centres like zombies, buying mass produced shite they can't really afford and swearing at anyone who dares get in their way, the chazzas are deserted.

Here's just a bit of what we've bought recently.

As sales are slow many chazzas have got sales on - my favourite had reduced everything to £1 and even though it's modern I couldn't resist this fringed suedette waistcoat which went with what I was already wearing.
Clockwise from top left: 1960s corduroy shift dress; Alpine trilby; 1980s diamond hand knit; 3 x Indian block printed silk scarves; 1980s Canadian made quilted jacket; Hugo Boss wool blazer; Velvet bow tie; 1970s Berketex Lurex jacket; Cacharel voile blouse; Nylon negligee; 1970s quilted velvet Chinese-style jacket.

Clockwise from top left: 1970s Crimplene day dress; 1980s Snakeskin envelope bag; 1980s does the 1940s Country Casuals leopard trim jacket; 1960s simulated sheepskin jacket; 1970s Gor-Ray maxi skirt; 1950s Duggie wool & Acetate scarf; 1960s vinyl bag; 1960s Gordon Scott leather pumps; Acetate scarf; Suede jerkin; 1960s handbag; 1950s silk duster coat
Tooled leather bag featuring Indian dancers,  vintage framed print of Chacun Son Tour by Boris O'Klein (my brother's getting this for Xmas); Indian Rabari tribal skirt; 1960s Ban-Lon knit; Peter England shirt ; 1950s Scottish wool scarf; Paperbacks galore (beats Xmas tripe on the telly); 1950s souvenir scarf from Yemen (which makes me very sad); 1970s John Weitz for Burton shooting jacket; 1930s cape made in Chicago.

Hooray for non-retail shopping in December - no queues, no argy bargy, no credit card debt and best of all, no bastard awful Xmas songs on the PA system. As we've given the mainstream shops a wide berth I've only been subjected to Stop The Calvary once this year, thank f*ck.

Massive sleeved maxi (from Curtise, sleeves added by me); Indian waistcoat (Colaba Causeway, Mumbai, 2016); Hmong necklace (from Krista); Silver boots (Retail)

As atheist orphans our Xmas is simply a bank holiday devoid of tradition and without family commitments, god-bothering or over indulgence but, however you spend it, I hope yours is everything you want it to be.

See you soon!

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Sunnycroft - The Sound Of The Suburbs

We hadn't planned on another National Trust trip until later this week but on discovering that Sunnycroft, the next place on our agenda, was due to close for the season we had to act fast. After yesterday's exploits, a 12.30 Wetherspoons lunch date that resulted in us staggering home at 10pm, getting up bright and early wasn't as easy as it should have been. 

Hard to think that the enchanting approach to Sunnycroft is bang in the middle of a housing estate on the outskirts of bustling town centre, isn't it?

So what is Sunnycroft? It's a rare Victorian suburban villa and mini-estate, small in stature but big on impression, built by the aspiring middle classes of the day to emulate the grandeur of Shropshire's country houses. The rarity is that most houses of this size have long since been carved up by developers or flattened entirely. Sunnycroft is a survivor, bequeathed to the National Trust in 1997 by the last family to live there, The Landers, who bought the house in 1910.

It may seem a bit odd for us to visit a home built in 1879, when our own house is over a hundred and thirty years older, but it wasn't just the architecture we were interested in, it was the stuff inside.

The Landers threw nothing away and so Sunnycroft is home to some eight thousand items, too many to have on display but enough to allow a tantalising peek into how they lived their lives.

Vintage coats and battered leather bags, left from the last time the owners had worn them.

The pantry was roped off as the original linoleum floor was in a very delicate state. I took a fancy to the green glass bowl on the top shelf.

The Landers weren't the first owners of Sunnycroft. It was built for JG Wrackrill, a wealthy local brewer. On his death in 1880 the house was put up for auction and purchased by Mary Jane Slaney, the widow of a wine and spirit merchant, a year later. Its said that she married well, outlived two (much older) husbands and inherited a large amount of money from both them and her well-to-do family. She extended the house in 1899 and became famous for hosting parties, up to three times a week for between 25 to 30 guests at a time. Apparently you were nobody in Shropshire's high society unless you'd been invited to one of Mrs Slaney's parties.

Designed to impress, these Maws & Co. tiles were said to have cost almost £2000 at the time. A staggering amount of money.

 In accordance with the etiquette of the day, Sunnycroft was divided into male and female areas. This was the billiard room, when the gentlemen guests would play with their balls over a glass of something alcoholic and a smoke (nothing changes, does it?)

 The Leg 'o' mutton sleeve belongs to Mrs Slaney (a fabulous guide who dressed and acted the part of the lady of the house brilliantly). Oh, how marvellous! She exclaimed when she saw me, Finally a guest who knows how to dress to impress. One simply must give me the name of ones seamstress when one departs, my dear.

I loved this almost psychedelic Victorian runner on both  the landing and the stairs.  

A gentleman's guest bedroom. 

The cook's bedroom.

The volunteers decided they should keep me in the house as a permanent exhibit. I'd be quite happy to oblige, there's some bostin' charity shops down the road.

The mannequin in the master bedroom gets changed several times a year. This is one of Mrs Slaney's mourning dresses, designed for evening wear. The curtains had to kept drawn to prevent it being damaged by sunlight. The room guide, after admiring my outfit, opened the wardrobe behind me to reveal the contents, it was crammed with Victorian dresses to die for.

In one of the many outbuildings we saw the Lander family's Daimler, purchased at the Earl's Court  Motor Show in 1955 and recently valued at over a million quid. Testament to how cluttered the outbuildings were, the National Trust had owned Sunnycroft for over a year before they discovered it. 

I've had to borrow this image as the car was wrapped up in plastic and didn't photograph very well. SOURCE

WEARING: 1970s Collier Campbell wool maxi dress & matching Marabou feather trim cape (Birthday present from Babouskha Vintage, 2014), Vintage Pakistani velvet & bullion work tote bag (Jumble sale, years ago), Felt hat (Car boot sale)

Sunnycroft, 200 Holyhead Road, Wellington, Near Telford, Shropshire TF1 2DR

That's it for culture this week, I promise. Normal service will be resumed shortly with a return to the usual charity shop tat, drunken exploits and tales of bad behaviour.

See you soon!

Friday 16 December 2016

Packwood - A House To Dream Of, A Garden To Dream In

When asked why in 1904, Alfred Ash, a Birmingham businessman and confirmed city dweller had, somewhat impulsively, bought the 134 acre Packwood Estate in rural Warwickshire at auction he replied, I bought it because the boy wanted it.

The boy was his beloved 16-year-old only son, Graham Baron Ash. Baron, as he preferred to be called, was said to be both reserved & courageous with a party-loving generosity. His work with the family firm, which he never much cared for, came to a halt at the outbreak of the First World War when he volunteered for the medical corps. Before joining up he travelled to, amongst other places, Burma, India and Egypt, where he recorded his encounters with the people he met. In his diary he writes of bribing a priest in China to order to acquire an ancient roof tile. This, it is said, was when a lifetime of haggling over antiques begun.

Graham Baron Ash

Determined never to go back into the family business after leaving the army, Baron dedicated the rest of his life to restoring Packwood House, stripping back the lavish Victorian interior, considered at that time to be hopelessly outdated, and restoring the house to reflect its original Tudor heritage.

Years ahead of his time, Baron set about acquiring architectural salvage from demolished historical buildings and hunting down antique textiles, furniture and artifacts from around the world to furnish his dream country house. There were some modern comforts included, this was, after all, a young man's party pad and so en-suite bathrooms and a sprung dance floor were added to make 16th Century Packwood House the ultimate in Jazz Age party venues.

Each window, updated by the Victorian residents, were replaced by salvaged, period perfect Tudor originals, some from as far afield as Belgium.

Sadly the render, applied in Georgian times when the original Tudor brickwork was considered to be old fashioned, could not be removed without damaging the exterior.

As you can see we took advantage of our National Trust membership by visiting Packwood today. I seriously fell for the glorious antique textiles (Jacobean tapestries, Turkish rugs, Tudor wall hangings and decadent woven curtains resplendent with unicorns and all manner of mythical beasts) Baron had spent decades hunting down.

In keeping with his love of textiles, rather than quotes on Baron Ash presented on the usual paper labels, they were cleverly embroidered on napkins and cushions instead.

Despite it being the depths of winter the gardens remain gorgeous with all manner of interesting artifacts scattered about.

Like Powis Castle, Packwood also had some deliciously clipped yews.

In the spring this area becomes a bluebell wood so I think we'll have to come back and see in all its glory.

These contemporary follies, created by Manchester artist Hilary Jack, are a nod to Baron's series of follies where he hosted entertainment and plays in structures scattered throughout the garden. Jon is standing by one inspired by a note left in the 1930's visitors book  A house to dream of, a garden to dream in a giant, grass lined four poster bed carved from a felled oak.

I'm sitting in the Inside Out House, made from old doors and no doubt inspired by Baron's love of recycled materials.

WEARING: 1970s Courtelle maxi dress (Present from Lyndsey of Boomerang Vintage) worn with a Devore & fake fur coat (Janne's Vintage) and a contemporary Italian cross-body leather bag (Charity shop, £1.99)

This dinky little garden shelter, complete with blankets to keep party-goers cosy is lined with photographs & extracts from a 1922 edition of Country Life, back when Packwood House was featured in the magazine.

Packwood House, Packwood Lane, Lapworth, Warwickshire, B94 6AT

Where to next? There's so many fabulous heritage houses & gardens nearby that we're almost spoilt for choice. At £8.70 a month for the pair of us we're already getting our money's worth.

Have a fabulous weekend!

Linking to Patti & the gang for Visible Monday.