Friday 28 April 2017

Scandalous Behaviour - The History Of Hanbury Hall

Fire up the camper! With less than a month until the festival season kicks off it was time to give Gilbert his first run of the year and, with the Easter Holidays over & the kids safely back at school, a National Trust visit was well overdue.

Today's destination was Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire.

Hanbury Hall was built in 1710 as a holiday home for millionaire lawyer and Whig MP for Worcestershire, Thomas Vernon (1654 -1721). The architect remains unknown.

The garden, including this splendid parterre, was designed by George London, who served his apprenticeship at the Palace of Versailles (and can't you tell?) However the rigid formality of the Baroque style of gardening soon fell out of fashion and the original parterre was grassed over until its restoration in 2006.

Hanbury Hall's pride and joy is the magnificent art by English painter James Thornhill (1676 - 1734) who was also commissioned to paint the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, Chatsworth House and the Royal Hospital at Greenwich. In 1720 he became the first British artist to be knighted.

Renowned for historical subjects, Thornhill's theme for Hanbury Hall was the life of Achilles.

He wasn't familiar with the cyclops, painting them with three eyes.

Thornhill was a testy character by all accounts and liked using his work to poke fun at people who'd pissed him off. The housekeeper who'd moaned about him making a mess was reduced to a cartoon on a cherub's handkerchief whilst Sarah (one of Winston's lot) Churchill's face was painted on to Achilles' body in the scene below (he's the chap in the red cloak, masquerading as a peddler).

Like all the best stately homes Hanbury Hall has more than its fair share of scandals. When Thomas Vernon died his will was said to have been a bit of a mess (a tad ironic considering his career) and the estate ended up in the hands of his feckless cousin, Bowater Vernon, who squandered his inheritance and died £20,000 in debt (around a quarter of a million in today's money).

 In 1776 Hanbury Hall passed to Emma Vernon (1754 -1818), Bowater's granddaughter and a renowned society beauty. Her parents arranged a marriage between her and Henry Cecil, the Earl of Exeter and together they set about remodeling parts of the house. After 13 years of marriage Emma confessed to a torrid five-year love affair with a close friend of the couple, local curate William Sneyd.

To avoid a scandal Emma agreed to be escorted to an inn in Birmingham by her husband so she could break off the affair with William face to face but, after Henry locked the pair of them in a ground floor room to sort it out, they climbed out of the window and eloped. The couple lived in poverty with William spending time in a debtor's prison. After his release he was blighted by ill heath and the couple moved to Lisbon in Portugal in the hope of a cure from the healthier climate but sadly he died from TB three months later in 1793.

Meanwhile poor old Henry, heavily in debt, sold off the entire contents of Hanbury Hall, locked the house up and moved to Shropshire becoming a farmer under an assumed name. Shortly afterwards he bigamously married Sarah, the 16 year-old daughter of the pig farmer next door. On obtaining a divorce in 1791 his true identity was revealed, he legitimately married Sarah and they moved to Burghley House in Lincolnshire, his family seat. Sarah failed to adapt to the role of mistress of a great estate and is rumoured to have taken to drink and drugs, dying at the age of 22.

On Henry's death in 1804 Emma moved back into Hanbury Hall where she spent the reminder of her days with her third husband. She died in 1818 and is said to haunt the property.

Hanbury Hall remained scandal free until Sir Bowater George Vernon (1865 - 1940) came along. Known as George he was veteran of the Boer War and not keen on the stifling way of life of the British gentry, first settling in Jamaica and eventually owning a ranch in Argentina. On the annual boat journey home he met a woman some 25 years his junior, married her and settled in Worcestershire. Upon his parents' death he moved into Hanbury Hall, sacked all the male staff and replaced them with a team of attractive young women.

George and his now-estranged wife had no children so he adopted 15 year-old Ruth Powick, one of Hanbury Hall's parlour maids who later became estate secretary. In 1940, George was 75 and suffering from advanced throat cancer. One morning he ordered the servants into the garden, went to the bedroom and got out his old service revolver and I'm pretty sure you can guess the rest. He left his fortune to Ruth and bequeathed Hanbury Hall to the National Trust.

Hanbury Hall is described as an intriguing example of the English-Baroque and considered to be fairly modest and restrained compared to many houses built around this time. Whilst it was still very grand we both thought it felt wonderfully welcoming and cosy.

This beautiful painting and the photograph below are of George's mother, Lady Georgina Vernon (1840 - 1928). She set up the local Red Cross, won awards for bee keeping and loved art. The photograph below was taken on her fiftieth wedding anniversary.

The ladies' lounge. There was once a James Thornhill painting on the ceiling but some rich idiot had it painted over during a refurb! 

What a reception area!

After a guided tour of the ground floor and an hour or so of wandering around Hanbury Hall we popped back to Gilbert to eat our packed lunch (we're cheapskates, no fancy National Trust tea rooms for us!) then we braved the chilly weather and the April showers to explore the grounds.

We saw sheep and ducks (exciting for urbanites like us!)

Although I'm not a fan of the rigid formality so fashionable in the early 18th Century the gardens were still pretty impressive, although the inky sky looked very ominous.

The orchard was in full bloom.

I've no idea why this is called Snob's Tunnel. The roof was so low even short-arsed me had to crouch.

It was the first time we'd seen a mushroom house.

The orangery was closed for maintenance work but we managed a sneaky peep through the windows. Those oranges and lemons smelt gorgeous.

We loved Hanbury Hall, hope you did, too!

Hanbury Hall, School Road, Hanbury, Worcestershire, WR9 7EA

I was glad of the crazy yeti coat I found in a charity shop for £4 on Wednesday!

If you've got one, enjoy your long weekend.

See you soon!

Linking to Patti & the gang for Visible Monday.

Monday 24 April 2017

Something Old, Something New - A Week In Charity Shopping

Charity shops are always rubbish during the school holidays I said to my friend Lyndsey Boomerang when we bumped into each other in the British Heart Foundation last week with not a purchase between us. 

Minutes later I was forced to eat my words when I spotted a sleeve with a groovy print peeking out from a sale rail. When I pulled the out the hanger I discovered the coat of my dreams, a fake fur trimmed 1960s maxi coat in pristine condition with an added bonus, a huge, snuggly hood. I couldn't hand over my £5 note over fast enough.

I haven't started the great winter to summer wardrobe reshuffle yet which is just as well as, like last year, the weather's taken a turn for the worst with a viciously cold wind and snow forecast for later. This coat couldn't have arrived at a better time. The cats have taken to our bed and Jacob the tortoise is refusing the budge from behind the curtain in the lounge. Animals know best.

I've never set foot in a branch of Zara but I often like their stuff  when I see it in chazzas. I couldn't resist snapping up this bright coral maxi skirt with the £25 label still attached. I didn't think an elasticated waist would be very flattering but at £2 I took a gamble and I'm glad I did. Unlike many of my vintage maxi skirts the waist stays put and I'm not twizzling it round every time I try to take a step.

Clockwise from top left: 1980s red leather jacket; Pair of velvet bow ties; West German-made midi dress; 1980s hibiscus print sun dress; vintage Norfolk jacket; 1970s crushed velvet jacket; 1970s Windsmoor "Designer" linen dress; 1970s leather trench coat; Silk slip dress; Moleskin waistcoat; 1970s day dress; 1970s wool waistcoat; Bambi House psychedelic wraparound maxi skirt, 1980s mohair & wool cropped jacket;Ridiculous crochet poodle to add to my collection
What with last Monday's Bank Holiday and some grown-up paperwork and appointments to deal with we've only managed to go shopping twice in the last week but I think my theory of school holidays making for rubbish charity shop finds got blown out of the water. 

Clockwise from top left: 1960s German clip-on earrings (now mine!); 1980s tapestry waistcoat;  Vintage snakeskin shoes (made in the Canary Islands); Crazy German-made golfing trousers; Contemporary kimono-type top; Vintage Peter Bettley bridal hat; Alligator print backpack; 1990s Monsoon embroidered gingham shift dress; Laura Ashley British wool dress (originally retailed at £125); Vintage suede shoes; 1960s veiled hat; 1960s bridal hat; 1960s John Collier tonic suit; Liberty of London cashmere blazer

Vintage maxi coat worn with Zara maxi skirt, me-made ruffled blouse (seen HERE), Stuart Weizmann suede boots (£2, charity shop, details HERE)

Snow, sleet or whatever the weather gods chuck at us we're off to Walsall's new town centre cinema to catch tomorrow's matinee performance (it's half price before midday!) The place has been open for almost a year but we haven't been as the films on offer are largely of the populist, big budget super hero, shoot 'em up, kids' nonsense or rom-com variety but tomorrow, for one day only, they're screening Lion which a lady I met in a charity shop (where else?) recommended- I hope it doesn't make me blub.

See you soon!  

Linking to Patti and the gang for Visible Monday.

Thursday 20 April 2017

How The Waist Was Won - Reclaiming My Figure After 50

Eighteen months ago I started to notice that my clothes were getting tighter. Maxi skirts that had previously fastened with ease I now found myself struggling to zip up whilst form-fitting dresses strained at the seams and showed bulges I'd never noticed before. With sadness I relegated the offending garments to the Kinky Melon rails, where customers would occasionally pull them out and exclaim how modern day women just didn't have waists that small. I nodded in agreement, not daring to admit that those clothes had fitted me not so long ago.

Although I was still within the ideal weight range for my height (I'm just over 5 foot 3") I felt bloated and lumpy and had started to dislike many of the outfit photos Jon took for my blog. Several bloggers I follow had written of their changing body shape and of piling on the pounds once they'd hit middle age. At first I read on and accepted this as an inevitability until, with a big birthday approaching and far too many wardrobe crises where I felt horrible in everything I tried on, I decided enough was enough. I wasn't going to be a flabby fifty year old.  

They say that to successfully lose weight you have to eat less and move more but the moving bit wasn't the problem. Ever since Jon bought me my Wii Fit 9 years ago I've exercised for thirty minutes a day at least five days a week, more if I'm not doing a fair. When I had my left hip replaced in 2006 I was told that my other hip would need replacing in five years time. Eleven years on, I've successfully managed to dodge the knife (although I underwent a vile intravenous steroid injection back in 2014). The X-rays show that my hip is in a pretty poor state but I walk fairly well, sleep soundly and deal with the pain from occasional flare-up. The orthopaedic surgeon says that it's all down to my positive mental attitude but I say it's taking regular exercise. I never use a twinge of pain as an excuse for not exercising, that's just giving in.

I'm an active person. I don't drive and living a mile from the town centre suits me just fine. If I break my last sewing machine needle, run out of hair dye or realise that I need a crucial ingredient for dinner I simply pull on my boots, grab my purse and walk into Walsall and I'm back home in forty minutes (unless I get distracted by a charity shop or bump into someone I know).  Although I don't class working at fairs as exercise, carrying huge bags loaded with clothes up and down stairs and spending a minimum of 8 hours on my feet more than makes up for not using the Wii Fit on a working weekend.

Nipping into to town via The Hill of Doom last Summer.

No, the problem wasn't exercise, it was food. Whilst I hate ice cream and cream, I'm not a fan of chocolate, biscuits or cake and I only drink fizzy drinks as a mixer in rum, on reflexion, my 48 year vegetarian lifestyle wasn't as healthy as it could have been. Over the last couple of years I'd slipped into bad habits, demolishing huge portions, not always opting for the healthiest option and eating between meals (something I'd never used to do.) It was time to reign in the bad habits, make some subtle changes and to use being 50 as a springboard for a healthy middle age.

The first thing to go was the enormous bowl of Lidl fruit and fibre I usually ate for breakfast (despite it's size I was always starving by 11am). This was substituted for a quarter of a tub of low fat natural yogurt whizzed up in the mixer with whatever berries* were going cheap on the market and a banana**. This is spooned over oranges, apples and grapes (or whatever other fruit is available that week) and I'll sprinkle Poundland's linseed and seed mix over the top. My new breakfast takes longer to eat and I enjoy every mouthful of its differing textures and tastes. Despite it being lighter I'm no longer hungry when it gets to mid-morning.

*Blueberries and raspberries are £1 for two punnets at the moment so I've stocked up, washed them, frozen them in zip locked bags and use them straight from the freezer. **I buy reduced to clear bananas when they're starting to turn freckly. I peel them, slice them thinly, lay them on a baking sheet lined with grease-proof paper, cover them in clingfilm and stick them in the freezer for two hours. When they're frozen  I transfer them into a zip lock bag and chuck a handful in my yogurt.

The endless teas and coffees I'd make and usually end up chucking half down the sink were replaced with a single mug of tea (made with skimmed milk) with my breakfast and either tap water or organic Pukka Tea for the rest of the day. I always used to drink Pukka but when I became self-employed I ditched it in a bid to save money. Yes, at £2.49 a box it's not cheap (but it's sometimes on offer in Holland and Barrett) but it's hydrating, tastes good and has made a surprising difference to my circulation as my feet aren't continuously cold any more. I'm not that bothered by coffee, I sometimes have a mug (white, instant & fair trade) after breakfast but I'm not fussed if I don't and I wouldn't dream of buying an expensive cardboard cup of it when I'm out.

Lunch used to be a big, freshly-baked ciabatta roll, which Jon could never resist the smell of when he walked past the bakery counter in Lidl. This was deep filled with a slab of cheese and salad. Now it's a wholemeal bread sandwich , usually with some salad and low fat coleslaw, and occasionally a slither of vegetarian cheese. I always used to have a bag of crisps on the side, now if I do it's the lower fat, baked alternative (but usually I don't). Lidl's 17p curry flavoured noodles are a spicy lunchtime alternative if we're pushed for time or running late.

One from the archives back in 2012! Our kitchen hasn't changed, we're still using those 1970s saucepans. 

Dinner hasn't really changed, I just eat smaller portions of it. If there's any left over we'll eat it the next day rather than finishing it just for the sake of it. After all, I'm not a bin. We try to eat our main meal before 6pm but when we're doing fairs that's pretty much impossible - that's when the healthy eating goes out of the window and we'll invariably stop off for a bag of chips on the way home (which we share) with vegetarian curry sauce. Not that the occasional lapse is a problem, half a bag of chips isn't going to kill me.

We never have a meal plan, we buy whatever fruit and veg is cheap on our local market (or the corner shop) and either Google ideas for the ingredients we've bought or leaf through our book of fail safe recipes collected over the years. This week we've had root vegetables (beetroot, parsnips, carrots and onions) roasted in olive oil with whole cloves of garlic and fresh rosemary from our garden; Roast onions, red & green peppers and Haloumi over potato wedges; Wholewheat penne (we used to buy white pasta to save a few pennies, not any more) with grated vegetarian Cheddar, broccoli, leeks and cherry tomatoes in a homemade pesto made using wild garlic foraged from our garden (there was loads so we had this two days on the run); Gobi Not Aloo (I used this recipe but substituted the potatoes for parsnips), slow cooker dhal (the recipe makes loads so I batch freeze it) and basmati rice. Tonight we're having broccoli sabzi (recipe HERE) and tomorrow it'll be Jon's homemade spicy vegetarian pizza - we used to have one each, now we share one!

The recipe book

Jon's a fiend for snacking and rarely an evening goes by without him cracking open a bag of crisps, Bombay Mix or nuts. Although I wasn't hungry I had started to get into the habit of having some too, just to be sociable. Now I just say no (and we're still friends.)

Fruit and veg shopping at our local corner shop (back in 2014!)

Drinking isn't a problem - at least I don't think so. We abstain for at least 48 consecutive hours each week. At home we'll drink either white rum and diet cola or vodka with slimline tonic. When we're out it's beer and lager. Pear cider is for Summer festivals. We usually have a drink on a Wednesday night. If we're not working we'll drink on a Friday and a Saturday night but if we're doing a fair we never booze the night before (and we're usually too tired to enjoy alcohol when we get home so we don't bother). No booze at the weekend means an all-dayer in Wetherspoons on a Monday. Of course this doesn't happen when we're in India and we'll drink every day for a month and when the festival season kicks off - in less than six weeks time - it gets messy.

Now all the Kinky Melon stock fits me (and it's not on the rails just because it doesn't) and I'm happy to model it for the website.

Since I started eating more healthily my BMI has gone from 22.26 to 20.56, my waist is back to the size it was in my 30s, I've lost a stone in weight (and maintained it for four months) and a lot of the clothes I'd unwillingly sacrificed to the Kinky Melon rails are now back in my wardrobe and that's all from making a few small changes - no starving or faddy diets or silly meal replacements or those dubious pills and potions people on Facebook are always trying to flog you. Next time somebody tells you that gaining pounds and losing your waist is part and parcel of the ageing process take no notice. It's a big a lie as telling you that you have to dress down, wear muted colours or cut your long hair off just because of a sequence of numbers on your birth certificate.

See you soon!

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Paint It Black - Introducing The Kinky Shed

Izzy, our postman, looked on aghast when he handed over our mail on Saturday morning and caught us slapping paint on the Kinky shed. You're painting it black! He exclaimed in horror. Trust us, I replied, It's going to look great when we're finished.

And it does (or least least we think so). A vast improvement on what looked like a dodgy 1970s sauna.

Black matches the house (and the cats!) and, as we live in a conservation area, shouldn't piss the neighbours off too much.

Jon came up with an use for the pallets some skanky fly tipper dumped over our fence last year (don't get me started on the filthy bastards) by up-cycling one of them into window boxes. A couple of coats of masonry paint, some brackets from Poundland and a few pots filled with Forget-Me-Nots rescued from between the cracks in the pavers and for £2* the shed's gone from being a basic outbuilding to a home worthy of housing the Kinky stock.

*We also spent £40 on 10 litres on masonry paint, using just over a third of it on the Kinky shed.

So what's inside?

Vintage galore. 

Seven rails crammed with menswear and womenswear, hats, bags, footwear, suitcases & vanity cases stuffed with scarves, ties, cowboy boots and costume jewellery.

We keep four sets of rails in the van so when we trade at fairs it's a simple matter of selecting the stock, bagging it up and hanging it on the rails when we get there. When we return home we hang the remaining stock back on the rails, examine each piece for damage incurred from being tried on (bust zips, make-up stains) and for missing price labels and size cubes. 

Is this all our stock? Not quite! There's still a rail of menswear over the road at the old family home, a six foot rail of coats in our dining room, an ottoman stuffed with vintage lingerie, a growing mending pile in the spare bedroom and 8 sacks of festival gear in the cupboard of doom under the stairs in the hall. Minimalists take note, vintage trading ain't the career for you, your stock will take over everything.

Black really shows off the greenery in a garden. I love how verdant the bamboo looks against the shed.

Of course our freshly painted shed doesn't half show off how scruffy the rest of the garden is. I ended up spending the entire holiday weekend pruning, weeding, shifting slabs, planting, re-potting and re-organising. I had no problem with 18 hours of manual labour but three whole days imprisoned in practical clothing, that's not good for the soul. This morning we needed to pop to the market to stock up on fruit and veg and I was beyond excited. Finally I could to discard the crazy 1980s leggings, vintage bobble hat and Jon's old jumper and wear something decent.

WEARING: Vintage Alexander Clare Crimplene psychedelic halterneck maxi (eBay, last seen HERE) with mustard lace-up body (Modern, retail sale buy), Leopard print ankle boots (Taken in part exchange for a Kinky Melon festival purchase)
Our bespoke shed was designed, built and installed by GE Collis, a business owned & run by the same local family since 1957. They're ace. (And no, we didn't get paid or asked to advertise. Great service deserves to be shared.)

See you soon.