Posts Tagged ‘Hampshire’

I expect you’re wondering whether the SSF and I have been on any outings lately, it being school holiday time and all. The short answer is yes, we have, and quite honestly two more contrasting excursions would be difficult to arrange intentionally.

The first involved a gentle drive through the countryside into deepest Hampshire. (Well, actually, just west of Basingstoke but I don’t want to spoil the illusion). SSF elected to drive on the basis that, as my passenger, she’d likely experience motion sickness and also that she knew roughly where we were heading whereas Basingstoke and its environs are undiscovered territory for me. All I’ve known about the place to this point is that we have frequently by-passed it on the M3 on route to the West Country and the fact that it commandeers several exits along the motorway suggests that the town has evolved into a large, urban sprawl. So I was pleasantly surprised as we passed through Old Basing to discover a small, quintessentially English village with very old cottages surrounded by much greenery. There is even an historically important ruin in the form of Basing House, once the largest private house in Tudor England. Sadly closed the day we ambled by, but worth a return visit, I’m sure.

Driving on through glorious farm land and speeding by the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery (crikey – it all happens in Hampshire, doesn’t it), we were headed for Whitchurch, a sleepy little village (and not quite as picturesque as Old Basing, it has to be said), to have a look at their Silk Mill.

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Whitchurch Silk Mill is the oldest silk mill in Britain still in its original building. It was built in 1815 and production there, which included weaving for Burberry and Ede and Ravenscroft London’s oldest tailor and robes-maker, continued right up until 1985 when the mill was weaving fabric for legal and academic gowns.

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After this time, work at the mill slowed and there were plans for buildings on the front lawn which caused a bit of local unrest. The charity, Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust stepped in, injected some cash and set about restoring it.

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The Winding Room

Now, with added Heritage Lottery Funding, the Mill continues to weave fabulous silks still using the original 19th century machinery and is open for all to view. The admission is only £4.50 and for this you watch a short video on the history of silk before being allowed to wander at your will around this magnificent building.

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And herein lays the weakest link. We wandered through the workshops and the winding room before looking through glass to see the silk being woven but weren’t really sure how the process actually worked because there were no volunteers or otherwise to tell us. The place was virtually deserted which was astonishing as in the winding room there were items that could have been easily slipped into a handbag and flogged as authentic at a Surrey antiques fair.

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Beautiful old reels

There is a quirky little cafe on the first floor with wonderful views over the gardens and the River Test but the counter service was laboured to put it mildly and a bit of confusion ensued over a black coffee and a cappuccino. We patiently waited for this to be sorted, ignored the delicious looking home-made cakes and opted for fruit scones instead. We couldn’t help thinking that a concession (I do not mean Starbucks) might help bring in the punters.

So although we felt that more could be made of the Silk Mill Experience – the Gift Shop was selling silk items but on closer inspection, these were all made in China – we had a good day out wending our way around the by-ways of Hampshire while we planned our next outing.

If we needed to prove that our tastes are nothing if not eclectic then our second trip provides testament. We went to the Saatchi Gallery in West London to view the Rolling Stones Exhibition, aptly entitled Exhibitionism.

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For anyone who has grown up with The Stones – and that’s probably everyone on the planet – this show is a fun way to spend an hour or so, waltzing through the band’s fifty year career from the early days of obscurity to the stadium tours. There are nine themed galleries at the Saatchi combining over 500 original Stones’ artefacts peppered with cinematic archive and contributions from an array of contemporary artists (Warhol, for instance), musicians, designers and writers.

I particularly enjoyed the reconstruction of their first flat. They lived together in Edith Grove, Chelsea, when they were barely out of their teens and this reconstruction apparently has been created with careful reference to each of the remaining Stones. It was worthy of a Tracey Emin installation and depicts the abject squalor Mick and the boys lived in and where they began writing the songs that have since passed into popular culture.

There is also a room full of mannequins sporting the stage clothes worn on their various tours and what is most striking is how tiny these garments are. SSF observed darkly that the drugs were probably responsible. Close inspection of the clothes reveal the exquisite tailoring, the like of which I remember seeing several years ago at the Valentino retrospective.

Other rooms are filled with instruments from various decades as well as the art work for all the album covers, video footage of concerts and an interview with Martin Scorsese.

The exhibition culminates in another reconstruction – this time a generic example of the band’s dressing room and backstage space after which we are ushered through the ‘stage door’ to watch a video of their last London Hyde Park Gig. We all had to don 3D specs to watch the finale of ‘Satisfaction.’ It was possibly the next best thing to being there.

After all that excitement we stepped, blinking, into the sunshine, crossed the King’s Road and hurried into Peter Jones for a cup of tea.

Back in the real world.

Exhibitionism runs until 4th September at the Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s Square, Chelsea.

 

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Since reading Gwen’s post on aging last week, something has occurred to me.  I am now doing things that two or three decades ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of: visiting stately homes for instance.  Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by stately home. First of all, I don’t mean houses that have belonged to someone famous, such as Winston Churchill, Henry Moore or Agatha Christie. These places have meaning and are a delight to visit because they provide us with a glimpse into the worlds and therefore minds of their owners. No, I mean the ones that have been bequeathed to the nation by the families of the once very rich but now unknown socialites who think the rest of us will be interested in the history of their dysfunctional families, but in truth are trying in some way to recoup the enormous bill left by the death duties of their forbears.

Mottisfont

Mottisfont

So when my friend (the sea-sick one who valiantly accompanied me on my boat trip down the river Thames to view the Barrier), suggested a day out at Mottisfont in Hampshire, I wasn’t immediately jumping with excitement, until she went on to explain that it was also the venue for an exhibition of the photography of the late Patrick Lichfield. Famous for the official royal wedding pictures of Charles and Diana, as well as many celebrity portraits, this is the first large scale exhibition to document Lichfield’s work from the 1960’s right up to 2004, the year before his death.

Lichfield himself is no stranger to hereditary wealth and title. He inherited an earldom and huge estate in Staffordshire – Shugborough – from his father. During his life time he turned its ownership over to the National Trust (who cannily leased it for 99 years to the County Council), while he maintained an apartment in the house and kept a keen eye on the running of the estate.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of our National Trust (I may have mentioned this several times before. I make no apology), but I have to concede that this is a clever way to get the punters in. A series of rooms on the top floor at Mottisfont have been converted into a spacious art gallery where a series of exhibitions can be viewed throughout the year.

The Lichfield show comprises over fifty portraits of celebrities, ranging from Pele to the Queen, some in colour, others monochrome. Visitor photography is prohibited in the galleries, but you can see a sample of Lichfield’s work here. Some of his photographs are so well known that they come as no surprise – like the informal snap of Mick Jagger and Bianca in the back of their wedding car – but others, such as the Queen leaning over the railings of the royal yacht or Princess Margaret surrounded by adoring young things on her holiday island gives the visitor a glimpse into not only Lichfield’s world, but also to his mastery behind the lens.

Part of the River Test runs through the grounds

Part of the River Test runs through the grounds

 Mottisfont is situated in Hampshire alongside the River Test, a beautiful meandering chalk stream famous for some of the finest fly fishing in the country as well as featuring in Richard Adam’s novel, Watership Down. As we drove along the lanes, through the Somborne villages approaching Mottisfont, there were still signs of the recent flooding: sandbags piled high, diversions in place – fairly deep extended puddles to navigate – I glanced sideways at SSF (Sea Sick Friend) to make sure she was coping with all this unexpected water.

Our first priority on a day out like this, on arrival, is to locate the coffee shop, which in the case of Mottisfont, is round the back by the tradesman’s entrance, in the old kitchen.  The coffee is good and the selection of homemade cakes and scones are tempting. We reined in gluttony by sharing a substantial teacake before starting our tour of the house.

Back view of Mottisfont, coffee shop is bottom left of building

Back view of Mottisfont, coffee shop is bottom left of building

The National Trust has looked after Mottisfont since 1957 when the owner, Mrs Maud Russell passed it to them. She, like Lichfield at Shugborough, continued to live in a section of the house until 1972, when she moved to smaller premises in the village. She and her husband Gilbert bought Mottisfont in the early 1930’s, beginning a program of restoration on the house which had fallen into disrepair. The house became an oasis for artists, writers and philosophers; Maud’s weekend parties were apparently legendary.

As we toured the house it became evident that Maud Russell, while being incredibly wealthy, was an avid art collector. She owned pictures by Picasso, Degas and Modigliani. We spied works by Lowry, Ben Nicholson, Matisse and Pasmore. The art works are jumbled up along the dark hallway, in the reception rooms and the bedrooms. It is necessary to pay close attention in case you miss the Piper and the Hepworth. Maud Russell’s collection is revelatory.

So what, you may wonder, is my beef with the National Trust? It is that the houses of which they are custodians become institutionalised; there is a common theme threading through nearly all of the properties I have visited.  Although Maud’s paintings were there for all to see, there was no feeling in the house of Maud, the woman, her family or of the social whirl in which she lived. The Trust takes these houses on and yes, they preserve them but the essence of their former owners is gone. Original fixtures and fittings go and in their place the Trust put in ‘furniture of the period;’ they create libraries with fake book spines glued to the walls to create the illusion that the last incumbent was intellectual and they put down fitted contract carpeting. I am well aware that my gripes probably put me somewhere on the A spectrum, but I do like things to be correct – and this so patently isn’t.

The pleached lime walk

The pleached lime walk

After returning to the cafe for a spot of lunch – very good, wholesome food – we took a wander around the grounds. The gardens here were created by several landscape artists, all friends of Maud, including Geoffrey Jellicoe who designed the pleached lime walk and Norah Lindsay, the Tudor parterre.

Cornus and hellebores in the winter garden

Cornus and hellebores in the winter garden

My favourite part of the grounds however, was the little winter garden, where soft heads of hellebores were out in full bloom contrasting with the stark, flaming stems of Cornus sericea and miniature daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

The winter garden

The winter garden

Hellebores

Hellebores

So there we are. Stately homes grow on you (me) with age. But it’s a slippery slope. What next, I wonder? Buying fridge magnets from the gift shop?

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