Monday, July 15, 2019

Berkshire: A visit to Basildon Park

When the Lord and Lady Iliffe bought Basildon in 1952 it was what you would call a fixer-upper. It had not been occupied except by troops in the 2 World Wars since 1910. It began its life in the 1770's. It is a Paladian House built of Bath stone, designed by John Carr for Sir Francis Sykes. He was from Yorkshire and had made his money in the East India Company.

We began our visit with lunch in their restaurant. Leek, ham and potato pie and vegetable soup followed by cake. I tried the lemonade again, another mistake but the cake with coffee frosting and walnuts was delicious.

Basildon has very much the look of a family home. The Library looks well worn with floral couch covers and red walls. There is a table full of family pictures. I particularly liked the mirror over the fireplace and I took a picture of it. It is gilt in a fan design with gilt swags.

Off the other side of the Entrance Hall is a room with Graham Sutherland's sketches of the tapestry at Coventry Cathedral, in this room also are the chair that Lord and Lady Iliffe sat on at the coronation.

The walls in the Entrance Way and the Grand Staircase look like Wedgewood Jasperware with a medallion and a griffin.

The dining room has a table set for 14 with pale green walls and jasperware panels. It also has a lovely ceiling with gilt and plaster. The original fireplace in this room went to the Waldorf in London.

Not much is original to the house but there is some Chinese porcelain that is original. It took 2 years to make the familial rose with crest. It had been sold but Lady Iliffe and the National Trust together bought it back.

The Octagon Room has 7 of Batoni's Apostles. It has 2 large mirrors that make the room look even larger than it is. The Green Drawing Room has 2 very interesting Imari bowls and 2 etchings of Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV.

We also visited several bedrooms including Lady Iliffe's which has a canopy that hangs from the ceiling making a bed alcove.

The Chintz Room was closed the day we were there because of a lack of volunteers.

The house has an interesting National Trust Gift Shop. I bought my grandson a piece of Fools Gold which he loved.

Basildon Park
Rt A239
Oxfordshire, England

Monday, July 1, 2019

Oxfordshire: The charms of Buscot House

Buscot House is a Neoclassical house designed by Edward Townsend in the 1780's.  Two porphyry scagliola pillars date from that period. The rest of the interior design dates mostly from the time of the second Baron Faringdon. The House came into the Faringdon family in 1889. In 1962 the House passed to the National Trust.

The Dutch Room is of particular note. It has gorgeous green wallpaper and a plaster ceiling and frieze in the Adams style. The room includes a beautiful Rembrandt of a young blond man and a Van Dyke. There is also a Rubens of Marchesa Veronica Spinola Doria. The furniture in the room is a combination of Sheridan and Chippendale, the mantle is early 19th century with marble carved with fans and urns. A Sheridan satinwood fire screen finishes off the fireplace and in that beautiful ceiling, they have introduced recessed lighting without spoiling the look.

The dining room is magnificent with red wallpaper and a mahogany table and leather-covered chairs. There is Imari and Ch'ien Lung porcelain and also some 18th-century Chinese import bearing the arms of Stephen Sullivan, an ancestor of Lord Faringdon. The chimneypiece has a central plaque of Diana which was bought from a demolished London mansion. The leather dining chairs are from Clumber Park, the former seat of the Duke of Newcastle demolished in 1938.


One nice thing about Buscot is that even though they don't have a headphone tour they provide you with wooden tablets to read in each room.

The saloon is all gold, with a hint of pink in the furniture. It is a perfect backdrop for the Legend of Briar Rose Panels that cover the wall. It is really quite extraordinary, the ceiling has a fan design in the corners and a medallion in the center.

The drawing room has a very pretty case with miniatures, boxes, a watch and a bracelet. A collection of majolica adorns a table in the center of the room. A very pretty 18th-century longcase clock with floral marquetry in the hall adds a charming effect.

The Normanton room is mostly made up of paintings by living artists. Three windows look out toward the fountain; it is a light airy room with a carpet with a vine pattern. A spooky 18th-century state bed and an Italian or French Chausible are on display. A room of contrasts.

This is an interesting house with a good variety of items to view. Check opening times before you visit as they are limited. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Oxfordshire: The Ashmolean Museum

If I had to say what kind of museum the Ashmolean is I would reply an art, history, and science museum.  This is a repository of an eclectic collection of items.

In Room 2 the Minster Lovell Jewel is a superb example of 9th-century craftsmanship and a rare example of enameling from this period. Also in the same room, there are some beautiful examples of Anglo Saxon gold work as well as a magnificent Limoges Reliquary of St Thomas Becket.

Among the oddities of this museum are the death mask of Oliver Cromwell and a pair of gloves presented to Queen Elizabeth I which are obviously too big to have ever fit her hands.

As an American, I found Powhatan's mantle of particular interest. He was Pocahontas' father.

One of the treasures of the Ashmolean is the Alfred Jewel. It is in a case by itself. It is made of gold and cloisonne enamel covered in rock crystal. Written on it is "Alfred ordered me to be made".

Rooms are filled with a wonderful collection of clocks, some shaped like a cross, one made of shells. Cases of rings done in sections by purpose, betrothal, ecclesiastic, etc. dazzle the eye.

I loved the collection of Italian ceramic plates from the 15th century. Lots of blues and yellows with religious and mythological scenes. Among the art on display are 2 Van Dykes, one of Queen Henrietta Maria and an Allan Ramsey of Flora McDonald. Also on display were some exquisite Raphael drawings.

For lovers of Egyptology, there are wall fragments from El Amarna the home of Tuttenkhaman's father Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, it shows 2 daughters Neferure and Nefernefeuaten.

The Ashmolean is open Tuesday-Sunday. They have a great cafe and a wonderful and extensive gift shop. Parking in Oxford can be a problem which is why we came in on Sunday. Another option is the commuter parking lots outside the city. There is no entrance fee.

Beaumont Street
Oxfordshire, England

Monday, June 3, 2019

Oxfordshire: Minster Lovell Hall

The original name of the village was Minster which is taken from the Latin word for church. The Lovell was attached late in the 13th century to distinguish it from the adjacent manor of Little Minister which belonged to the Earl of Pembroke. When the Lovell family came into possession of the Hall is not certain but it was in the possession of the family in 1184. Minster was not the Lovell family's principal seat until the middle of the 14th century when it became a regular residence.

The mansion was most likely built between 1431 and 1442. There are licenses granted during this period to Sir William Lovell to impark a parcel of land called Minsterwoods adjacent to his manor at Minster Lovell. The fact that he was making a park may indicate that he was enlarging his home.

The last and most famous of the Lovells was Francis, Viscount Lovell a close friend of King Richard III. He fought with him at Bosworth Field and after Richard's defeat, he escaped to Flanders. He returned 2 years later to take part in Lambert Simnel's Rebellion. 


He is generally thought to have died at the Battle of Stoke but there is a story from the 1700s when the Duke of Rutland is quoted as saying Minster Lovell Hall was having a repair done to a chimney when they came across a hidden room in which sat the entire skeleton of a man dressed in the period of Richard III. 

Did Lord Francis come to a sad end? No one will ever know. I looked at the chimney area over quite carefully and could see no evidence of a room.

Today Minster Lovell Hall is a beautiful and romantic ruin set in the Oxfordshire countryside. No entrance is charged to walk among the remains. It is sad that it was let go and yet it is much more interesting in its own way than just another country home.

As we walked through the walls we could hear the doves cooing from the round dovecote on the property. It was a haunting sound.

The property was purchased by Edward Coke and there is reason to believe he resided there. Thomas Coke even spent his honeymoon here. After Holkham was completed parts of it were demolished and the stones quarried, the rest was just abandoned. Today it belongs to English Heritage. Entrance is free and parking is at the beginning of the road beyond the church.

The Church or Minster is dedicated to St Kenelm and quite interesting in its own right. It is over 500 years old and has a very interesting effigy of a Knight on a grave which I assume is one of the Lovells. There is also a 15th-century baptismal font. I spent some time in the churchyard reading the tombstones, always an interesting pastime.


When it comes to ruins, this is a lovely one and I highly recommend a visit. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Northamptonshire: Eleanor Cross Geddington

Eleanor Cross

One of the great love stories of medieval England is that of Eleanor of Castile and King Edward I (known as the hammer of the Scots). Though their's was an arranged marriage they grew to love each other dearly, had 12 children together, and she followed him on his crusade to the Holy Land. A story states that she saved his life by sucking the poison from a wound he received on the Crusade.

In 1290 she was stricken ill in Harby, near Lincoln and died before her husband could reach her from Scotland. He was inconsolable and ordered her body to be embalmed and her entrails buried at Lincoln Cathedral. He then began the sad trip to bring her home to London for her final rest at Westminster Abbey.

At every place where her body rested along the route he built a cross in her honor, thus there were originally 12 crosses built. The most famous was Charing Cross in London. The original no longer exists, but 3 originals do. The one in Geddington, Northamptonshire was on our route between Lincolnshire and Oxfordshire and I was delighted to be able to stop and see it.

As it turns out this is the finest of the crosses still in existence. It is a beautiful stone monument decorated with carving and statues and it sits right down the hill from the Church of St Mary Magdalene where her body spent the night. 
This cross is a tribute to the love between a husband and a wife and a national treasure. That it ever existed is amazing enough but that it still exists is truly astounding.

Monday, May 13, 2019

One of my favorite "Treasure Houses" Woburn Abbey

Woburn Abbey has been the home of the Dukes of Bedford for nearly 400 years. The current Duke does not live here, he lives in France. However, his son, the Marquis of Tavistock, and his family do make Woburn their home. We were interested in seeing 2 Gainsborough landscapes that are in the private family rooms so we emailed ahead and were granted permission to see them. Lavinia was very gracious in taking us in and talking extensively about them and the on-going preservation and display of the Duke's magnificent art collection.

We also were lucky to be visiting on a day when the breakfast room was open to the public. It has eight portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds including a self-portrait. You will notice that I have no interior pictures as photography was not allowed (I did sneak a few in the vault) but I didn't want to jeopardize our visit to the private apartment.

This is a very large house but it retains the feeling of a family home with the inclusion of family pictures on tables and mantles.

The Canaletto Room is unbelievable. It is a magnificent blend of red, white and gold. The 21 pictures are spotlighted in a way that shows them to perfection. The long windows in this room overlook the private gardens on one side and the lake on the other.

A delightful portrait of Lady Georgina (Byng) Russell is in the Hall.  She was too lively to fit the mold of the usual Duchess of Bedford and received criticism for her lack of decorum. It didn't seem to bother her a bit.

In the long Tudor gallery, you can get a history lesson in portraits of the Tudor dynasty. A famous painting of Queen Elizabeth I by George Gower shows her with her hand on a globe, to her left is Jane Seymour and above Jane, Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor (his wife). Also above Elizabeth are Edward VI and a young Queen Mary.

In the vaults, are cases of Meissen, Japanese porcelein and a magnifient Sevres set with the Vincennes Blue color also rooms of silver which are mind boggeling and gold plate dinner serving pieces.

By now a case of lovely minatures seems to be a lovely relief from all the oppulence. The minatures include a beatiful portrait of Lady Georgina as a child, Napoleon, Elizabeth Keppel and Rachel Wroithesy.

The tour takes you up and down stairs several times. If you are not able to do this then you will be unable to visit here.

Plan to visit the es room here as well as a very upscale Antique Center and two gift shops.

Cost of entry to Woburn Abbey is 
£18.00 which includes the house and the gardens.  The house opens for the season in April, be sure to check to make sure it will be open when you want to visit. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Stoberry House B&B Wells, England

What first attracted us to Stoberry House was their lovely website which highlights the stunning views of the Cathedral in Wells and if I am totally honest the platter of fresh fruit that is part of the signature breakfast was a big attraction as well.



Stoberry House is one accommodation that not only lives up to the hype it far surpasses it. This is so much more than we ever expected. Frances and Tim were available when we called to get directions. We got turned around and really we were very close when we got going. The entrance gate is narrow so leave your caravan at home.

You know as soon as you enter the park that this is not your average bed and breakfast. You don’t have to worry about finding a place to be alone, there are small cozy rooms everywhere and a lounge with stunning views of the Cathedral. Breakfast is also served in the lounge. We were welcomed with tea and cakes and plenty of good solid information about what we might want to see. We were given a good number of brochures and books to help us make our decision.



We had two rooms,  Lady Hamilton which is the best room in the house and the Silk Room. This was actually a fortuitous choice of rooms. They were right across the hall from each other and both were lovely. Lady Hamilton has a canopy bed with a large bathroom with a huge tub. A dressing table is located in the closet and of course a bathrobe and slippers. The bathroom has lovely views of the garden.


The Silk Room has a king bed with a half tester. It is a stunning room and the bed has to be one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in. You are just surrounded by luxury and your every comfort has been thought of. Coffee and tea making is provided in the room and also in the small guest kitchen as well as a flat-screen TV, WiFi,
and very luxurious amenities. I felt very much like a princess. On the nightstand is a bottle of Cheddar water on a crystal tray with two crystal glasses. Even the coffee cups in the tea making set up are Wedgwood.



Breakfast is beyond anything I have ever seen. You can add a cooked breakfast for a small fee and we did have the pancakes with bacon and real maple syrup which were phenomenal. The Continental that comes with the rate is so extensive that you could easily survive on just that. Another morning we had the cooked breakfast for two and it was enough to feed the three of us. We opted for scrambled eggs along with the fried mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, local sausage, and bacon. It is served on a platter allowing you to help yourself to what you like.

The fruit platter is to die for, all fresh fruits with honey. The continental buffet includes yogurt, juices, muesli and cereal, cheeses and when I say cheeses I don’t mean a few slices, this is pieces of local Somerset cheese that you cut off a slice for yourself. Frances bakes fresh muffins and scones every day and with bread and croissants as well. Along with the homemade jam and marmalade are local jams and Frances’ own sauces. You will be assured of not leaving the table with an empty stomach.

Stoberry House is an easy walk into Wells where there are a variety of restaurants to choose from.

If you are looking to be pampered in a house of outstanding beauty, Stoberry House is certainly the place to come in Somerset. You will get 5-star service at a price that even the average tourist can afford. A stay at Stoberry House is all about making sure that you enjoy yourself, Frances will adjust the time of your breakfast or your room cleaning service to fit you and your schedule, it is amazing.

All other bed and breakfasts pale in comparison and I highly recommend this as an amazing place to stay. As part of your stay here, a visit to historic Wells Cathedral is a must.