ConradNoel

The Red Priest and the Architect

It might perhaps be guessed that Conrad Noel (1869 - 1942), the 'Red Priest' of Thaxted, whose Socialist views once outraged the Tory faithful of his North Essex parish, would be sympathetic to the Art and Craft movement, whose guru was the Socialist poet and designer William Morris. But an inscription, dated April 1906, in a copy of The Country Cottage, presented to him from its co-author, George Llewellyn Morris, confirms it.

Amazingly, I found this inscribed copy of the little book, a hymn to the virtues of both the humble thatched labourer’s cottage and its much more sophisticated Arts and Crafts imitations in brick, plaster and tile, profusely depicted in photographs, in 2006 among the trashy novels in the ten pence box outside a well known bookshop in Saffron Walden. The book had been given to Noel four years before he became Vicar of Thaxted, and it had somehow found its way from here to that bookshop, just 12 miles away, in the intervening years.

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The Tragedy of Copped Hall

The effects of the First World War were wide and long lasting, not just for those who were directly involved in it, one way or another , but for the architectural heritage of Britain. The deaths of so many sons of the upper class meant that estates that had been run so successfully up to 1914 were plunged into uncertainty. Great mansions were sold off or demolished. A different fate befell one great house and its astonishing gardens in Essex, as some clippings found among the papers of the late Peter Haining, who must have passed the site regularly on his route to and from his Essex home, tell.

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Beware—-Lady Decorators at Work !!

Here is one of four press photographs from the Photopress agency showing the same group of female house decorators performing various tasks. The other photographs depict two decorators limning Georgian panelling in a ‘West End mansion ‘, painting exterior window frames at the rear of another Georgian house by means of a ladder, while a third shows paint being mixed. This particular shot of three painters white washing a plaster ceiling while standing on two very precarious looking duckboards would probably horrify our Health and Safety jonnies. Back in the early 1930s, when these photos were probably taken, Risk Assessment Reports were sixty years into the future.
A slightly  sexist comment typed on the back of the Georgian panelling photo by some agency worker is worth examining:

WOMAN DECORATORS BUSY ON THE JOB
Many of the big houses and mansions in the West End are now in the hands of decorators. At some of the houses woman decorators are busy on the job of working with effecientcy (sic) that expert decorators would find hard to beat.

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Oliver Messel and ‘Bobo’ Sigrist in the famous Suite he created

It’s got a toilet seat shaped like a scallop shell, a grand double bedroom and more rococo swags, flat columns and baroque touches than a wealthy thespian could wish for. It’s where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spent their honeymoon in 1964.No wonder American A listers, like Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise and Michael Jackson, have demanded it. We are talking about the Messel Suite, which is all yours for a mere £2,950 a night.

This photo, retrieved from a pile of press shots issued by the Dorchester itself, shows its creator, Oliver Messel, arguably the greatest stage designer from the thirties to the sixties, sitting alongside the twenty-two year old Frederika ‘Bobo’ Sigrist, heiress to the Hawker-Siddeley fortune. It was taken on 28 June 1962 on the occasion of her mother’s marriage to British public relations chief Sir Berkeley Ormerod.

Messel and Sigrist, in an artfully arranged pose, may first have met through their shared association with the millionaires of Mustique. Messel lived in a Barbabos beach house named Maddox, which he had totally transformed and decorated to his own designs , while Sigrist  was part of the Bahamas jet-set. A year after this photo was taken, she married Irish film producer Kevin McClory, who was responsible for the James Bond films.

Messel went on from creating stage sets and hotel suites to become one of the most sought after house designers in the Caribbean. Between 1960 and his death in 1978 he designed around 30 homes on Mustique, of which at least 18 have been completed. The V & A houses a large collection of his stage and other designs. [R R]

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Fat Mary’s brother, a royal sex scandal and a precedent created

As a follow-up to a very recent Jot on Princess Mary of Teck, whose biography was called The People’s Princess, here is a short letter from her brother, found amongst a pile of old letters acquired a few years ago.

 Prince Francis of Teck seems to have followed the age-old career path of minor royalty—public school, Sandhurst, and action abroad -- only this particular royal seems to have been a philanderer and gambler. He had an affair with the beautiful Ellen Constance, wife of the 3rd Earl of Kilmorey, and this together with his ruinous gambling got him sent to India. In the letter, dated March 20th 1893, written when Francis was a lieutenant in the 1st Royal Dragoons, he thanks someone called Mowbray for sending him an ‘ excellent photograph’ but regrets that due to an ‘ exam’ that he is obliged to take on the 4th May, he cannot accept an invitation to visit him. This exam may have been for the rank of captain, and though he probably failed it on this occasion, he was promoted the following year. After India he served in Egypt, and later saw action in the Boer War, eventually retiring in 1901 with the rank of major.

In 1910 Francis died suddenly at Balmoral of pneumonia, aged 39.When his will was read it was discovered to his family’s horror that he had bequeathed to his mistress Ellen the famous Cambridge emeralds, which were part of the family jewels. It was then left to his sister, now Queen Mary, to have this will sealed, thus creating a legal precedent. Previously, royal wills could be publicly examined. The Queen also  negotiated to buy back the emeralds, reportedly paying £10,000 ( around £600,000 today ) for them. Mary then wore them at the coronation of her husband in 1911.

A few years ago actress Sarah Miles claimed that not long after this letter was written, Francis fathered an illegitimate son called Francis Remnant, who became her maternal grandfather. This makes the beautiful Sarah second cousin of the present Queen.

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The People’s Princess

The phrase 'the people's princess'  was not made up by Alastair Campbell for the famous Blair soundbite on the day Diana died but, rather, recycled… This 1984 book found in a box of slow-selling royalty books shows the original 'People's Princess' - Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck (1833- 1897). She was not quite as good-looking as Diana (indeed she was also known as 'Fat Mary') but like Diana she had a knack for popularity. She was also one of the first Royals to patronise a wide range of charities. She is the current Queen's great grandmother. Elizabeth II seems to have thrown off the Hanoverian look…(although Lucian Freud's small portrait has some suggestions of it.)

An interesting piece of tiara trivia… the lavish two tiered tiara that was created for Princess Mary has made its way down the family via the Queen Mother to the Duchess of Cornwall (i.e. Camilla). It has been modified but  was originally a 'diamond diadem' featuring three wild roses separated by 20 crescent shapes and was assembled from various jewels Princess Mary inherited from her aunt, Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester.

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Boozing with the Victorian Society in Crouch End, Hornsey and Harringay

Found in a box of books is this photocopy of a typewritten guide to a ‘pub crawl’ (walk no 41) of various late Victorian ‘gin palaces’ in North London arranged by the Victorian Society on 16th September 1966. The guides were two architects-- Roderick Gradidge and Ben Davis—both of whom had designed interiors for Ind Coope. Judging by their descriptions of the pubs they planned to visit, both were also passionate and knowledgeable fans of late Victorian architecture and design. The grand plasterwork of the ceiling cornices and Art Nouveau stained glass is pointed out as being of special interest. But the two men also emphasised the ways in which Victorian pub architects tried to make   their interiors both glamorous and homely as a way of getting their (mainly) lower middle class drinkers (mention is made of Mr Pooter’s ‘raffish’ friends) to spend hours away from their more humble abodes, much (we might add) in the way that the designers of Music Halls and northern shopping arcades  (one thinks of Frank Matcham ), and grand hotels, were doing in the same era. Here are the guides admiring the combination of grandeur and intimacy found in the Queen’s Hotel, Crouch End (below):

All the way round there were through views, glimpses of the other bars, and as a result one was able to feel that one was standing in one part of a single large space, large enough to tolerate the considerable height without become vertical. Since the space was so well subdivided…one could feel secluded in a sufficiently small and enclosed space, but since the proportion of the greater space was horizontal a feeling of repose was retained which could not have belonged to tall, restricted vertical rooms. This method of subdividing an area into small bars by means of partitions, which were half-glazed  with semi-obscured glass, and were not much above six feet high, was peculiar to Victorian pubs, and goes a long way to explaining the incomparable drinking atmosphere they provide...

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Eleanour Sinclair Rohde & Aromatic Plants etc.,

Found -- this pamphlet from the 1930s put out by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde (1881 -1950.) As Wikipedia notes, she had a fairly standard house but an enormous garden where it appears she sold plants (mostly aromatic -with ESR it was all about scent) by mail order and possibly to visitors. She was the author of several now sought after works on gardening, especially The Scented Garden (1937) and A Garden of Herbs (1920). In World War 2 she published a useful work that was reprinted several times The War-Time Vegetable Garden (1941).

AROMATIC PLANTS, BEE PLANTS AND HERBS.




The finely shredded leaves of all plants marked * are a wholesome addition to salads and turn a dull salad into an interesting one.


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Laurence Ambrose Waldron

Found in a collection of other examples, this is rather dull little bookplate, considering it came from the library of Laurence Ambrose Waldron (1858 – 1923), one of Ireland’s great and good in the first two decades of the twentieth century-- a patron of the Arts, a Nationalist politician, public benefactor, and ardent book collector with a library of several thousand volumes.

The conventional design of the bookplate is even more bewildering when we consider that Waldron was such an Arts and Crafts enthusiast, that in the early 1900s he built a mansion, which he christened ‘Marino’ in this style at Ballybrack, just outside Dublin. He later commissioned the Beardsley-influenced cult illustrator Harry Clarke to create nine exquisite stained glass illustration of Synge’s Queens (below) for his new library there. In 1998, after having not been seen since 1928, these were sold by Christies for over £300,000.

The only possible explanation seems to be that Waldron had the bookplate printed some time before his enthusiasm for Arts and Crafts and Clarke took off. As he succeeded his much more conservative father (also called Laurence) at the age of 17  in 1875, the design was probably made between this date and the building of ‘Marino’. [RH]

Bookplate of Waldron's father *
*Many thanks Mullen Books
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Sir John Betjeman’s last poem

Found - a broadside poem poem of twenty lines in honour of the famous old central London church St.Mary-le-Strand. It dates from about 1980 and is signed by John Betjeman in what one cataloguer calls his 'frail hand of old age'. It was published from his address at 29 Radnor Walk, SW3 and was part of the campaign to raise funds for the restoration of this masterpiece of baroque.

This copy came with a letter from the church to a professor at Ilorin University, Nigeria. The secretary of the trust, a Ms Anne Butters, thanks him for his £20 donation and informs him  that JB's publisher, John Murray, says that this was the last poem he ever wrote. So far unknown to 'go ogle' (as he may have called it) and not in any major UK library, it is decidedly scarce...
A single sheet of imitation parchment paper, printed in black on recto only. 296 x 206mm.

St.Mary-Le-Strand

Shall we give Gibbs the go by
Great Gibbs of Aberdeen,
Who gave the town of Cambridge
The Senate House Serene;
Every son of Oxford
Can recognise he's home
When he sees upon the skyline
The Radcliffe's mothering dome.
Placid about the chimney pots
His sculptured steeples soar,
Windowless he designs his walls
Above the traffic's roar.

When ever you put stone on stone
You edified the scene,
Your chaste baroque was on its own,
Great Gibbs of Aberdeen.
A Tory and a Catholic
There's nothing quite so grand
As the baroque of your chapel
Of St Mary in the Strand.

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London Night and Day 1951

London Night and Day, illustrated by Osbert Lancaster, edited by Sam Lambert (Architectural Press, 1951)

Surely one of the most entertaining of the plethora of books brought out in the wake of the Festival of Britain. The coloured cover illustrations and the vignettes in black and white were by Osbert Lancaster, a friend of John Piper—the same John Piper who is named in a section devoted to the Festival, to which he contributed, among other things, a superb semi-abstract panorama. If you hadn’t been informed that Lancaster had designed the cover, you would have attributed it to Piper, whose style of portraying shop fronts is showcased in Buildings and Prospects, which had appeared just a few years earlier. Lancaster’s style is identical. Was Piper concerned that he was being flagrantly copied by Lancaster? Probably, but according to his biographer Frances Spalding, the two men were friends.

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Duleep Singh—Prince of Suffolk

A rare find—a letter written in English from the last Sikh Maharajah of India. Duleep Singh (1838 – 93), came to power at the age of 5, with his mother as regent. When she was deposed and jailed, he was made a ward and finally was exiled to England in 1853 at the age of 15, having been converted to Christianity. On his arrival, he was lionised in the London salons and became a particular favourite of Queen Victoria. He lived in Roehampton and Wimbledon for a while and then bought estates in Yorkshire and Scotland, where he was known locally as the Black Prince of Perth. His mother having joined him in 1861, he was now firmly established as a country gentleman, with the reputation as the fourth best shot in the land. His final purchase was of a 17,000 acre estate at Elveden, near Thetford, where he proved to be an excellent landlord and a generous local benefactor. Though he later died in Paris, he chose to be buried here.

Elveden was an ideal purchase for Dukleep. Just eighty miles from London, its open situation in the heart of Breckland enabled him to pursue the life of a hunting and shooting squire while remaining in touch with metropolitan life. The deep forest may even have reminded him of the jungle he had left behind.

He continued to visit his Scottish estates at and it is from Loch Kennard Lodge that he wrote this letter, which is dated in pencil July 27th 1868 by its recipient, John Norton, the celebrated Gothic architect, who had just completed the astonishing Tyntesfield, near Bristol. It is characteristic of the ostentatious Duleep, then aged just 30, that he should engage one of the most trendy architects in the land to remodel the rather old fashioned Elveden Hall. In the letter Duleep acknowledges receipt of the latest plans of the proposed alterations to the Hall and asks Norton to send the earlier ones so that he can 'compare the accommodation and their costs '.

According to Pevsner, Duleep enlarged a Georgian building of moderate size into 'an Oriental extravaganza unparalleled in England'. Though the external style was Italianate, the interior incorporated  'a central domed hall with a glass lantern, with the walls, pillars and arches  covered with the closest Indian oriental detail, all made of white Carrara marble and carved in situ by Indian craftsmen'. Work was completed in 1870. In 1899 – 1903, following Duleeps’s death, Lord Iveagh of Guinness fame, enlarge the Hall still further. Today, Elveden Hall remains in the Guinness family, and though empty and a shadow of its former glory, it remains  a popular location for filming. Among the movies shot here was Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.  [RMH]