Sunday, 4 December 2016

Grandmother's Birthday

Today is my maternal Grandmother's birthday. I nearly forgot, but for an email reminder from Hotmail. Silly of me to be so wrapped up in Family History to be distracted from remembering a person I actually knew and loved. 

I've written about Grandmother over the years. She was a fairly unique character. I used to think she was the only Democrat in all of Oklahoma. Part of what I've loved about family history has been to learn more about the events that shaped the lives and the thinking of people in my family. Grandmother was born in 1898 and grew up fairly poor in Arkansas, one of a large family abandoned by her father. 

My other Grandma (who adopted my Dad) was born in 1890 and grew up one of many in a fairly middle class family in Minnesota. They couldn't be more different in their personalities.

I have a cousin, John, in Buffalo New York who is a DNA wizard, being a retired professor of some closely related field if not that exact one. He slings around terms like iGP, autosome, mutations, crossover and I simply don't speak the language. But I've been learning a lot since getting my DNA test in May. And he's uncovering information faster than I can fill it in on my family tree!

We still don't know who was the father of Grandmother's grandfather (don't even try to make sense of that). But the DNA findings in a large number of projects, including one about that specific surname, indicate that she was descended from a man John calls George the Surveyor. George is originally from Berkshire, England, and apparently was given large pieces of land for surveying the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland. And in some book it shows the lineage of George the Surveyor and how he is descended from Henry III (why they didn't take it all the way back to William the Conqueror, I don't know).

I doubt Grandmother would give two hoots, but with my love of history I thought that was a marvelous discovery!

And on another line, Grandmother is a direct descendent of Samuel Jordan, who can be found in Wikipedia, as well as many family history websites. I'm suddenly getting more interested in American history than I can ever remember being before. Now I just need more hours in the day!

Happy Birthday, Grandmother - and thank you for your excellent family history!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Handwork at Bateman's

So, I was last talking about our visit to Bateman's, home of Rudyard Kipling. I said I found it quite homespun and that I would explain that remark. 

Countries in Europe

I think it was all the examples of needlework I noticed.

Sorry about the reflection! A map of England's counties.

Embroidered maps of England and Europe first caught my eye. 

Parts of the UK. Interesting that the North Sea is called the German Ocean, among other different names.

The Kiplings' bed had embroidered hangings and bedspread. 

I believe one of the volunteers there said a local embroiderers' guild had done a copy of the original or extensive repairs or something. 

Even the ceiling of the canopy was embroidered. 

I believe a lot of this was the work of Kipling's wife, Caroline. I don't know if she will have done the needlework on the bed curtains, but I'm pretty sure she did the piece for the canopy.

The initials RK and CK under a tree of life.

There were a lot of pillows, a footstool or two and a firescreen which all looked to be the work of a busy needlewoman.

I doubt she did the tapestry in the hallway and probably not the curtains, but there are many textiles that have that sort of look.

It is at least one part of what made me think it would be lovely to live there. 

A quilted bedspread in their son John's room.

We get to see a lot of really grand houses as members of the National Trust. 

They are wonderful to walk around and see the history.

Add caption

 However, there aren't many of them that make me wish I lived there, not like Bateman's.

I get lost too easily!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Happy Halloween

My computer has been in the repair shop and I can't tell you how relieved I am to have it back! I probably need to replace it, but hopefully it will last until after the holidays. Honestly, I felt as though I'd lost one of my arms when it was away. 

I'm not a fan of Halloween in the UK. I think they should stick with Guy Fawkes Night. Bonfires are outlawed now for safety reasons and so it has become Fireworks night. They set off fireworks over here with the least of excuses, and of course have to practice/use surpluses for weeks before and after. I'm just glad I don't have a nervous dog around like some of my neighbours.

Anyhow, I do like to remember some of my frugal / creative successes of the past, even if I'm happy not to remember most of the other stuff back then. This is my first frugal Halloween costume. I started with 'What do I have already' and 'What would Johnny like?'. I had a room full of stuff to consider and the film Captain Hook had just come out. Can't say I ever saw it, but it was the 'thing' just then.

What I had:

A not-very-old beautiful red coat that the moths had got to. I couldn't bear to throw it away, but it wasn't really wearable either. Couldn't afford to have it fixed.

Mom's sewing boxes full of gold and silver rick-rack trim

An old white blouse of Mom's with a 'secretary bow'

My workout pants (black lycra)

An old black belt

The hook from a hanging shower gel bottle

Liquid eyeliner

Aluminum foil

Black felt

What I bought: 

A black wig for a witch and I cut out the white streaks and cut it off to a blunt shoulder length cut ($1)

A plastic sword ($1)

A library book showed how to make a tri-corn hat with a wire clothes hanger and black felt and boot covers from black felt. Living in Salt Lake City / Mormon country where they have large families has loads of advantages and this was one.

I heated a large needle and poked holes around the shower gel hook covered with aluminum foil and stitched it to the end of the left sleeve of the red wool jacket.

The jacket was loose and slipped over his head. I covered the front, neckline and sleeve ends with a bunch of rick-rack and other bling. This was also put on the hat and the tops of the 'boots'.

The blouse was silky and I cut it down just so it would act as a liner between him and the jacket. It would also keep him warm when out trick-or-treating.

I painted him  a curly mustache with eyeliner.

He wore my work out pants, black trainers and the shoe-cover boots.

And of course he got to flourish the plastic sword and his 'hook-hand' so he loved it.

I loved that it cost $2 instead of the $60 I spent the previous year for a Mutant Ninja Turtle costume. And feeling that I'd finally used some sort of creative process that I always wished I'd inherited from my Mom. I felt she would have been proud of me.

I have to say that from then on I thought Halloween was probably the most fun about step-parenting I could possibly have.

Thursday, 27 October 2016


The next National Trust property on Bill's list was Bateman's, the home of Rudyard Kipling. It was the 'homeliest' of the houses. [In the States, we use the word 'homely' to describe a plain or unattractive woman; in the UK it is used to describe a house as warm and inviting, or home-ly]. I prefer the latter use, don't you?

Still fairly large by today's standards, it just escaped being a museum, though museum it was. The house is Jacobean, ie built in the 1600s. 

[I    had an American friend once ask me what was meant by 'Victorian' or 'Georgian'. Just in case you don't know, 'Victorian' refers to the time period of Queen Victoria's reign, roughly the 1800s. Before her there were several King Georges in a row. Jacobean refers to King James.]

Anyhow Bateman's is full of dark wood paneling and Kipling aimed to furnish the house in the same period. The darkness made it difficult to take good photos (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).

If   you were paying attention at Knole, you'll recognize this style of couch. 

[There is a whole 'thing' over here about class and language and what you call your couch / sofa / settee / davenport tells a lot about you. If you are interested in such things, I recommend Kate Fox's Watching the English.]

The house is of course very Indian in the furnishings, but I found it quite home-spun and very British as well. I will look for some examples for my next post to explain that view. 

We loved the garden/cafe so much we had lunch there before we toured and tea there afterwards. More about gardens later.

I found it hard to leave Batemans, I loved it so. I could easily imagine living there.

I'm aiming for slightly shorter, more manageable posts as life is quite busy just now. So I shall stop here and pick it up again later.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Knole House - Part II

Continued from here.

[Notes from the tower roof]
Looking East - more town than house"The great house lay more like a town than a house...with all its chimneys smoking busily as if inspired with a life of their own."  Virginia Woolf, describing Knole in her novel Orlando, 1928

Underneath these rooftops lies a labyrinth of apartments, each containing several rooms. These apartments once housed hundreds of people including high status staff, visitors and family members. The Sackville-West family still live in apartments here, over 400 years since the first family member lived at Knole.
Did you know:
  • Knole house stands on five acres of ground, around the size of three and a half football pitches
  • There are over 300 rooms
  • Knole has 51 chimneys. How many can you spot?

The problem for me about Knole was that at the beginning of the tour most things were covered with dust sheets, in glass cases. I found it hilarious that there were signs on a lot of pieces (like enormous vases, or ornate chairs) printed with the word 'salvage'. I had to ask what this was about as I wondered if these items had been picked up from a salvage yard, though it seemed unlikely. 

Turns out there is a very particular protocol in the event of a fire or other disaster about what will be saved first and these labels referred to the priority of the items in that protocol. And, by the way, those glass cases were surrounded by scaffolding. Up the stair case there are more, wait for it, dust sheets and scaffolding.  I was beginning to feel like my first/last trip to New York back in 1980, when we drove through at 3 am and the Statue of Liberty was shrouded for repairs.

However, it is a rather large building and there were certain galleries one could tour. I learned during one of my tours of some old house way back when that the word gallery describes a long hall on one side of a house where the ladies and gentlemen would take some exercise, walking up and down. One side was often full of windows, in later years when glass was more available/affordable. 

For the edification and enjoyment of said noble people, one or both walls would be hung with oil paintings for them to enjoy whilst taking their exercise. So I gather this is how we came to have art 'galleries'. The galleries at Knole did not have windows, except at the ends, however, at least not the ones I saw.

I've borrowed this photo from the National Trust website because I remember reading that Vita had written a poem about the waiting arms of those chairs that would never hold another person. So even in her day the place was a museum.

Looking North - a medieval deer partKnole Park is home of a wild deer herd. They are the descendants of those first introduced here over 500 years ago. Thomas Bourchier, Archbishiop of Canterbury, bought the Knole estate in 1456. He enclosed the land and created the deer park, which has been a feature of Knole ever since. It is Kent's last remaining medieval deer park.
"And as for Knole [it] standeth on a sound perfect, wholesome ground. And if I should make mine abode here, as I do surely mind to do now and then, I myself will lie at Knole'  Henry VIII quoted in 1532.
Archbishop Thomas Crammer (! should be Cranmer) surrendered Knole to Henry VIII. The king purchased more land and by 1556 Knole Park covered 446 acres. Did you Know? 
  • Today Knole Park covers 1,000 acres. It is 7.5 times bigger than St James' Park in London
  • There are over 350 wild deer in Knole Park
  • Two types of deer live here: Fallow deer (smooth, spotted coats, darker coats in winter) [and] Sika deer (thick, spiky, dark brown coats, chuncky bodies).

I remember a few other items. One was a black pitcher, like for water or ale or something, made out of leather. Another was an old bed (you know, the kind with curtains) still in pieces, being cleaned by a young man. He was using just water and just rubbing the black pieces of wood; I think he said it was walnut, but I'm not sure. He told us that the attics were so vast they still hadn't been fully explored and all the findings catalogued, even though the National Trust acquired the place in 1946 (70 years ago!). That made me positively itch to grab a flashlight - sorry, 'torch' - and go exploring!

Those things are leopards, added by Thomas Sackville West.

In another room there was a bed covered and curtained with some sort of green fabric, I think - holey green fabric if I recall correctly. The guide there explained that some inexperienced restorers from some workers' cooperative had used modern glue to stick the fabric back onto the wood, rather than the old fashioned fish glue. This modern glue had eaten the fabric and they were painstakingly trying to restore the old cloth. I had two thoughts at the time. One was how quickly they were ready to name and blame outsiders; the other was the enormous expense of restoring such a large amount of fabric. I would just frame a square or two and put up modern fabric, a copy of the original. Probably best that I don't work in restoration, eh?

Knole House is called a Calendar House, that is a house that has architectural features in quantities that mirror the numbers in a year. Knole reportedly has 365 rooms, 52 stair cases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards (give or take). Makes me wonder if we could call this a calendar house with 365 boxes of junk in the loft, 52 wine glasses, 12 doors and 7 potted plants...perhaps not; this is a dangerous concept, when I couldn't sleep last night I found myself thinking about what I could count.

One more thing that has come back to me is one of the guides telling me about a Knole couch. If you ever watched/drooled over Downton Abbey you know exactly what one looks like (the big red one to the left of the fireplace in the library). I see them occasionally in windows around Tynemouth and there is one, oddly enough, at The Centurian pub next to the Central Station in Newcastle. 

Looking West - a visiting tradition"From Sevenoaks we went to Knowle. The park is sweet, with much old beech, and an immense sycamore before the great gate." Horace Walpole, writing in 1752.As a visitor to Knole Park you are part of an old tradition. Visitors from the locla area and further afield have enjoyed access to Knole Park since the 17th century. A dispute over public right of way led to Mortimer, 1st Lord Sackville, closing the park in June 1884. Local people were furious and on the night of 18th June 1884, over a thousand people stormed the park. They broke down barricades before marching to the front of the house, below where you are standing. The town's people smashed windows and hurled abuse.   

The Orangerie

You'll notice there are obvious similarities with Sissinghurst, the long structure with an archway in the centre and a tower where photos are allowed. The squares formed by the walls reminded me of the fantastic garden walls at Sissinghurst. On the whole, I found Sissinghurst much more lovable, more livable. Not just because of its more moderate size (well, it's all relative) but things like the vast collection of books (on 6" deep shelves) and the lavish garden made it seem more like a home than a museum.

The only other story I remember was about Edward, Vita's cousin who inherited from her uncle. Edward apparently was also a writer, though not as successful as Vita. He lived in the Tower, I suspect because it was cheaper to heat. The tower had some interesting architecture of course, but the facilities were a bit primitive, particularly the hot water system. Edward entertained guests but was known to warn them that there was only enough hot water for one bath -- after he'd had his bath.

Looking South - a fashionable additionThe long building on the south side of Green Court probably dates from around 1603-1608. It was transformed into an Orangery in 1823. Orangeries were fashionable spaces used to house expensive citrus trees and other exotic plants. It was used for entertaining guests with games such as cards. It is south facing to take advantage of the sunlight, but was also heated by a steam engine so that guests wouldn't catch a chill in the evenings.

Vita didn't care for Edward and I remember reading something to the effect that she didn't mind ... can't recall what word she used for homosexual ... but he was just too ... something like 'limp-wristed'. In fact, writing this I found a quote that she called him as 'floppy as an un-staked delphinium in the wind'. I found that pretty funny considering her sexual inclinations. I think that she really didn't like him because he had Knole. The only other thing I remember about Edward was that he ran away from Knole and set up house with his lover in Ireland. He offered up Knole to the next in line, but kept his title.

I did wonder about the dark coloured deer; should have read the signs on the roof instead of just snapping them. But now I know.

Now I'm not clear about whether or not Edward owned Knole, or just the right to live there. I'm thinking that his father Charles, who inherited instead of Vita, must have handed over Knole to the National Trust, as Charles was living in 1946 when it went to them.

Still, the family seem to have some entitlement besides living there, and I suppose it depends upon one's inclinations and interest. Descendants of Vita and Harold still live at Sissinghurst, I believe, and have written probably dozens of books about the place and the people. I see that Lionel Sackville-West (Vita's father) wrote a visitors' guide to Knole House, published in 1906. I stumbled upon a couple of books that may go on my Christmas wishlist, both by Robert Sackville-West, 7th Baron Sackville. One is called The Inheritance, the other The Disinherited. Writing seems to be in the Sackville blood, doesn't it? Or maybe it's just living in towers. I just know I would be a more elegant and prolific writer if my writing room was in a tower.

I must admit that even though I didn't enjoy Knole as well as other National Trust Properties, I'm not at all sorry we went. And for once, it looks like I've managed to write more than I photographed. One thought that rattled around while walking through Knole was that in spite of being a very large house associated with powerful historical figures, today it seems more famous for who did not inherit it than the ones who did: Sissinghurst is far more famous than Knole. It strikes me that perhaps this is proof of that adage that 'the best revenge is to live well'. 

I shall leave you with a copy of the entrance ticket, a piece of art by Vita as a child, depicting a leopard. Leopards are a symbol of the Sackville-West family, decorating their home and their coat of arms. 

I've stacked up a pile of internet links, which I'll list below, in case you are interested. I would have scattered them in the text, but don't have time to argue with Blogger about formatting. I'm sure my computer will be greatly relieved to have them closed at last.

The National Trust about Knole

The National Trust about Vita and Knole

Photos inside Knole House

Article about present Baron's books / photo of Colonnade room

Blog of the Knole Conservation Team (added to my bloglist!)

Wikipedia entry about Knole (more history than National Trust)

From the Manor Torn: article about woman who didn't inherit Knole

Charles Sackville 6th Earl of Dorset who bagged the W&M hand-me-downs

More about Knole House, including Shelley's Tower

Review of Knole House on Trip Advisor

Knole couches

Friday, 14 October 2016

Knole House - Part I

Today (and for several more) we will be visiting Knole. Of all the places we visited last summer, this was my least favourite. Except for the shop; there were a lot of temptations in the shop. 

The first glimpse of Knole - and that's just one side of it.

I have learned in my old age that I'm quite susceptible to the shops in museums, National Trust properties and garden centres; they just seem to have more attractive junk. You know, stuff with decidedly middle-class and slightly more artistic aspirations than at Everything a Pound.

This tower is called Bourchier Tower, after the man who had it built.

One reason I didn't like Knole as well is that photos were not allowed indoors. I've gotten quite spoiled to being able to take non-flash photos, even at a price. 

Loads of wonky pics in this lot, must have been off-kilter that day. day.

Bill and I both are struggling to remember much about Knole. But never mind, I'll report what I can, and I'm finding bits surface as I research this. 

This is the other side of the green from the first picture with a statue.
The scale of the place is unbelievable.

It is actually a bit backwards, writing about Sissinghurst and then writing about Knole House, as Knole is where Vita Sackville-West grew up, the only child of Lionel Edward, 3rd Baron Sackville and his cousin Victoria Sackville-West, the illegitimate daughter (one of five children) of a Spanish dancer and the 2nd Baron Sackville. 

Although Vita was the only child, as a female she could not inherit and with her father's death her uncle Charles became the 4th Baron Sackville and owner of Knole House, followed by her cousin, Edward.

Shabby chic, or naturally bleached? Only the gamekeeper knows for sure.

I gather there is a very long history (it was built by an Archbishop of Canterbury in the mid 1400's) of making people unhappy, mainly the ones who didn't manage to inherit it. 

On the other hand, there was at least one owner who felt oppressed by the responsibility of so many priceless artifacts in one of England's largest houses, the above mentioned cousin Edward.  I'm not clear about whether Edward actually owned Knole or just was entitled to live there and perhaps had a role in managing it. More about him later.

The house is history itself, no doubt about it. The west face was built by Henry VIII who took it off Thomas  Cranmer in 1538. The first of Vita Sackville-West's family to own it was Thomas Sackville, a cousin of Elizabeth I through Anne Boleyn. A very long chain of other Sackville / Sackville-West / Earls De La Warr / Earls and Dukes of Dorset / Barons Sackville-West descendants fortunate enough to be a) male and b) legitimate have not only inherited Knole House but been something or other at Court, at least up until the past 100 years or so.  

The present day (7th) Baron Sackville-West lives in a 9 bedroom apartment at Knole. There was possibly one female who managed to inherit back in the 1800s, but I'm guessing this was at least in part because she married her cousin, another Sackville-West. One does begin to worry about all that inbreeding...

Anyhow, speaking of Court, Charles, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638-1706), was Lord Chamberlain to William (as in William and Mary). They took over from James II, who had the nerve to be Catholic, and apparently during the period of transition (the Glorious Revolution, it was called) they got rid of a lot of stuff, which Charles was happy to take. (Though Bill seems to think he just helped himself and they didn't necessarily have a clear out, but I'm sure they did). In any case the place is full of very important, very rare pieces.

So, this has gotten rather long and I'm going to chop it into several posts. To be continued...

Thursday, 6 October 2016

More of Sissinghurst

As I said in the previous post, it was the details I saw that so inspired me, more than the overall grandeur of the place.

Before we begin, as an aside: Ian Hislop and wife Victoria live in Sissinghurst village. I can recommend her book The Island, which I enjoyed reading after we had visited the place about which it is written (a leper colony off of Malta). I hadn't realised until now she was married to him. (I originally had links to these people and the book, but decided I didn't want to spend my life fighting with Blogger's formatting).

What with bees being in danger of extinction (and we will surely follow soon after), wild flower meadows are a popular thing here. They look dead simple to create, but according to one of the gardeners, they require quite a bit of work, as least to begin with. 

I just thought this was a perfect stack of arched doorway and wonderful windows.

What's so great about some plain old flower vases, an old brick wall and some gardener's notes on a big piece of slate? I don't know, I just liked it.

Archways often get to me.

I cheated and took a couple of photos inside the tower, mostly out the window. I couldn't believe how laser sharp those hedges were cut.

And these flowers were just too exuberant not to snap.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have an archway dividing your house? It's lovely to look at, but what if you were downstairs and wanted to be across the way? It would be good exercise, mind.

There were several examples of some sort of square or rectangular vessel propped up on legs of some kind that struck me as copy-able at home somehow.

I always hate to see the back of people's furniture (dressing tables are the worst culprit) in their windows, but somehow I don't mind books so much. And there is nothing so romantic as leaded pane windows...

well, unless it's leaded pane windows and with climbing roses. Can you see the very simple door handle on that weathered wood door?

Doorways and wrought iron are both terribly picturesque in my book.

A beckoning gate...with another of those primitive handles.

Like I said I'm no gardener and I've no idea what these plants are, other than they are some of my favourite colours.

These dark purple poppies(?) would look great in my tiny garden...

I think this sort of room formed by hedges is a relatively common feature at a number of National Trust properties.

And not just rooms, but corridors - always with a focal point at each end.

These trees weren't only espaliered, but the limbs had been grafted together so that they formed a continuous line of branches. This was really effective, but for some reason I also found it a tad creepy, as though the trees had been robbed of their independence. Silly of me, I know.

The small pots don't look nearly as haphazard as they do in my yard, probably because I don't have a five foot statue or those two enormous pots to give them a proper setting.

Sorry this is a bit crooked...I just loved the ornate bench.

This 'window in the wall' might be my favourite of these photos. As I mentioned, Bill and I thought the extensive walls might have once formed rooms in the former castle, though a window this size wouldn't have been in a castle that served as a fortress. It often struck me that much of the charm of the Sissinghurst garden is not in the plants themselves, but in the amazing architectural structures that provide the backdrop.

I think Sissinghurst may be most famous for Vita and Harold's white garden. It is quite striking. I don't think they would have had the discipline (nor would I) to stick to all white, had they not had so many other 'rooms' in which to splash around some colours.

The rose pergola got to me, like they always do. If you Google images of pergola you get some clumsy looking wooden structures, but this one is light and airy.

We visited a rose garden somewhere a few years ago and neither of us can remember where. One day I will spend some time looking through photos - I took a LOT - to find the enormous pergola covered with roses. Roses are pretty easy to grow here in England, even I can do it, amazingly.  The trick seems to be to keep deadheading them. 

More white flowers, set off with grey foliage.

I loved the mix of large stones, small stones and the occasional arrangement of a few bricks. It looks almost as though it could have occurred naturally.

Another inviting doorway.

An abundance of pink!

From the other side...

There is some decorating 'rule' that anything looks good in multiples. I was thinking these two watering cans looked cozy together, tucked up against this wall and surrounded by plants. 

I think for much of this visit to Sissinghurst I felt as though I'd fallen down a rabbit hole.