Sunday 23 January 2011

Antique Feast

Three times a year an antiques and textiles fair is held in Battersea Park, London. Dealers from all over England display furniture, textiles, art and collectors' items from all periods to mid 20th century. I moseyed along to the winter fair this week, my third visit over the last couple of years. 

Hanging chairs from Christopher Walker's Antique French Chair & Sofa Company. I bought a pair of slipper chairs from Christopher at a fair two years ago for a bargain price and love the tattered, raw calico upholstery so much that I've never covered them.

Gustavian style from Augustus Brandt antiques in Sussex

French style: pink toile on purple velvet at Josephine Ryan

The Battersea fair is somewhat more affordable (though this is relative!) and definitely less hectic in scale compared to some of its rival antique fairs. Free shuttle buses whisk you there and back from Sloane Square; it's uncrowded and, despite the cut-glass accents all around from well-heeled Chelsea types (many with yappy handbag dogs in tow), has a congenial atmosphere in which to wander round, admire, and chat with dealers who are friendly and decidedly un-snooty.

Lorfords Antiques from Tetbury

The foyer theme was lighting and mirrors

Stand detail of Gallery 1930, in Marylebone (above) and Appley Hoare (below)

In my mind's eye I've furnished an entire London, or even better Paris, apartment by the time I'm ready to leave, so it doesn't seem right to be empty-handed. Just one or two bits of lovely old French table linen from Jane Sacchi (below) and I'm good to go, until the next time ...

Wednesday 19 January 2011

An English winter

The snow disappeared a few weeks ago, at least here down south, and we have reverted to the more usual drab, damp English winter chill. But since nobody, least of all me, wants to look at depressing grey scenes more than they absolutely have to, and inspired by a recent glut of new period dramas on telly - Downton Abbey and the remake of Upstairs Downstairs - I revisited some photos I took mid-winter last year of a visit in the snow to Cliveden ... 

Cliveden, in nearby Berkshire, has been rocking it since 1666 with a lively history of fires, parties and sex scandals. London’s 17th century gossip columnist, Samuel Pepys, records how its first owner, the Duke of Buckingham, installed his mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury, there after killing off her husband in a duel to which the cuckolded Earl had challenged him. Over the next couple of centuries the house burned down twice in the course of occupation by successive aristocrats and minor royalty, including a Duke of Westminster and a Prince of Wales. The present house was designed by Charles Barry (architect of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster) in grand Italianate style.

(source for above photo:

Bought finally by the American billionaire Astor family at the turn of the 20th century, Cliveden became the site of legendary house parties thrown by Nancy and Waldorf Astor between the wars, with an extraordinary line-up of guests including the likes of Gandhi, Churchill, Roosevelt, the Kennedys, T.E. Lawrence, Henry James, G.B. Shaw and Rudyard Kipling. 

It was all too much for Harold Nicholson, evidently, who complained after a visit in 1936, “There is a ghastly unreality about it all … to live here would be like living on the stage of the Scala theatre in Milan”

Portrait of Lady Nancy Astor by John Singer Sargeant in the entrance room at Cliveden House

Later, in the sixties, it was at an Astor house party around the pool at Cliveden that Britain’s War Secretary John Profumo began his affair with call-girl and ex-mistress of a Russian spy, Christine Keeler. Perhaps this was one scandal too many for the Astors, who handed over the estate to the National Trust soon after. 

The Beatles filmed scenes for 'Help!' at the Cliveden pool in 1965.
(Photo source: Google images)

Harold Nicholson might feel the same way about the unreality of the place if he could see Cliveden now. Today the house has been reinvented as a five-star von Essen hotel and remains, as A.A. Gill (see here) points out, an American vision of a grand English country house (I don't think he meant that kindly, but then  the English wouldn't be English without the odd kvetch about Americans) ...

Since lunch at Cliveden will set one back a bit, it was time, after a quick ogle, to jog on cross-county to the Lord Nelson pub in Oxfordshire, a 300 year old inn in the tiny village of Brightwell Baldwin. 

The Lord Nelson fits every anglophile's fantasy of the English country pub, from its setting opposite this stone church ...

to its cosy fireplaced interior ...

And while I'm reminding myself of the small pleasures of winter, lets not forget the days when school's out and all this becomes possible ...

Snowman-envy, brought on by the emergence of some dandy-looking chaps in neighbouring front gardens ...

... produced some determined shovelling on the part of younger daughter and her friend

'Andrew' had frozen blueberries for a mouth (which bled somewhat macabre-ly), shiny baubles for eyes, and sported oupa's bowler hat from dapper diplomatic days in the 60s. He even acquired a small family to keep him company ...

But English snow is a fickle thing and doesn't linger too long ...
RIP Andrew

Saturday 1 January 2011

Happy New Year

May 2011 be a year to 'cultiver notre jardin' as per Voltaire

to take care of ourselves 

and the ones we love

a year in which our selves and our ideas grow 

And at times when life has us frazzled and stressed ...

may we be transformed by our good thoughts to such visions of serenity ...

(Photos taken at Chelsea Flower Show 2009)

May 2011 be a year in which your garden grows

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