Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor: Entrance Front

Waddesdon is one of those places we had long intended to visit and we were stimulated into making a trip there by a piece in House and Garden describing a new house built in the park, Flint House. We were lucky to find Waddesdon open at this time of year and this turned out to be because there is a big tradition of celebrating Christmas.

Waddesdon Manor dates mostly from 1877-1883 and was built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the style of a French chateau. The architect was Hippolyte Destailleur who had worked on the restoration of real French chateaux, and so knew what he was doing. It was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957, but at some point the Trust leased it back to the Rothschild Foundation.

A shuttle bus service takes people from the massive car park, but we set out on foot towards the Manor, and having found the location of Flint House on the Waddesdon website, knew we had to turn off to the left after a short way. This gave us a nice initial view of Waddesdon.

We followed a tarmac track and soon admired this beautiful stand of trees.

We passed Windmill Hill, the headquarters of the Rothschild Foundation (Stephen Marshall Architects, 2010) ...

 ... and headed downhill to find the splendid Flint House sitting in the centre of a wide valley. It was commissioned by Jacob de Rothschild from Charlotte Skene Catling in 2015. The house is clad in knapped flints set in black mortar which gradually give way to smooth grey squares towards the top. A small annex sits facing the main house out of shot to the left.

We headed back uphill past Windmill Hill, admiring the hyper-realistic horse and cart statue on the ridge, to re-trace our steps to the main path to the Manor.

We passed a nice grove of trees.

On regaining the main path we headed uphill to pass the Garden facade. This faces south and looked lovely in the early afternoon sunshine. The ground floor is obscured by the slope, but actually this was a great benefit as it was anyway blocked by a whole series of wooden huts used for the Christmas Fair.

Heading round the right side of the Manor to the Entrance Front (which of course faces north, and which explains why the picture at the head of this post is so dark), we found this entertaining installation, one of a pair. These  sculptures in the form of giant candlesticks are called Lafite and are the work of Portugese sculptor Joana Vasconcelos. Closer inspection reveals that they are made from 1000 magnums of Château Lafite Rothschild (Château Lafite was bought by Baron James de R in 1868.) The inspiration for the work was apparently Marcel Duchamp's bottle holders of 1914.

Elsewhere in the grounds was a light installation, Field of Light, by Bruce Monro, which consists of 9,000 glass spheres which light up as darkness falls. It sounds lovely and we regretted not being able to stay until dusk.

Round the corner was the cast iron Aviary of 1889. It put me in mind of Otto Wagner's art nouveau pavilions in Vienna.

We did also make a brief visit inside the Manor. Unfortunately, as we saw it, the interior had been subjected to a Christmas makeover, with seemingly every room containing a monster, fully decorated Christmas tree. It was cluttered, crowded and basically horrific. Of course, everybody else had presumably come to see just this and seemed well pleased.

Finally, we walked back to the car park. On leaving the grounds and heading through the village I spotted these almshouses.

They were originally built in 1642 by Arthur Goodwin but were renovated in 1892 by, guess who? Yes, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. Modernisation was financed in 1972 by Mrs James A de R.

Conditions: quite cold, but clear and sunny.

Distance: we walked about six miles all told.

Rating: four and half stars. A great day out.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Kensington and Holland Park

St Mary Abbots

After a recent visit to Leighton House in Holland Park I realised that I ought to explore the area. I found this walk in the excellent London's Hidden Walks 2 by Stephen Millar. The walk starts at High Street Ken tube and you exit the station bearing right to quickly come face to face with St Mary Abbots. The present church is by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1872), although there was an abbey here until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

After crossing the road to the church I looked back to see the wonderful art deco exterior of the former Barkers department store.

The route now meander uphill to reach Hornton St where there are some magnificent houses of red brick with white stone dressings.

Continuing uphill, the route envisages a let turn to reach Holland. This was closed for some reason and anyway I had decided to detour to the north to see the Sheppard Trust's almshouses in Lansdowne Walk (numbers 3 and 14). This is number 3, surely one of the most upmarket almshouses.

I headed back to Holland Park Avenue and turned left into Abbotsbury Road where I passed this lovely Mews.

Soon after this I entered the park from the other side and reach Holland House where I rejoined the walk route. The house dates back to 1605 and was known as Cope's Castle, having been built by Sir Walter Cope. It was largely destroyed during the Second World War. Nearby is the lovely Orangery, which rather defied photography.

Exiting by Ilchester Place, the route leads to Melbury Road, where in the right is Tower House, built by William Burges in 1877. A wonderful surprise as I have always admired Burges! It was bought by the actor Richard Harris in the 1960s and later sold to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (who allegedly outbid David Bowie for it).

I departed from the route again here to photograph a house with wonderful windows - obviously an artist's studio - we saw on the visit to Leighton House. A blue plaque reveals that the artist in this case was Marcus Stone RA, who painted illustration for books by Dickens and Trollope. This area was an important artists' quarter in Victorian times.

Further along Melbury Road on the right was a house with wonderful terracotta panels.

I turned right and right again to reach Holland Park Road and Leighton House, looking resplendent in the sun. It was built by the painter Frederick, Lord Leighton for his own occupation and is now a museum.

The current exhibition is absolutely wonderful, as it the interior of the building. It reunites a group of painting submitted to the Royal Academy by Leighton not long before his death. The most famous of these is Flaming June which is noiw seen as Leighton's masterpiece.

It has a wonderful story. It was on loan to the Ashmolean in Oxford in the early 1900s (leightion died in 1896), but vanished for decades before being rediscovered in the early 1960s, boxed in over a chimney in a house in Battersea. The composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose own collecting helped revive serious interest in the art of the period, never forgave his grandmother for refusing to lend him £50 to buy it when he saw it soon afterwards in a shop on the Kings Road. “I will not have Victorian junk in my flat,” she told him. It was bought by a collector in Puerto Rico and now graces the art gallery there. It was something of a coup for Leighton House to secure it on loan for this exhibition.

I headed back towards Kensington, pausing to explore the new Design Museum, which has just opened and is not of course mentioned in the walk book. It occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building on the south east corner of Holland Park.

The redevelopment of the site included a couple of blocks of flats by the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. They are not especially memorable.

The real glory of the Design Museum is inside where the architect and designer John Pawson who has created a wonderfully spacious interior ...

... and made the concrete tiled roof an dramatic component of the design.

I continued along the walk route which heads towards High Street Kenthen diverts off to the south past Edwardes Sq and a number of, to be honest, not very interesting streets, before returning to the main road. I did rather like the gable of St Mary Abbots Mission Hall and Infants School with its bas belief brickwork and plate of grapes.

Kensington Square contained several houses where famous people had lived, notably John Stuart Mill, and led to Derry Street with the former Derry and Toms store with more art deco decoration on the left.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day.

Distance: officially 3.2, but I probably walked about 5 miles.

Rating: five stars if you visit Leighton House and the Design Museum. The final section of the route was disappointing.

Friday, 25 November 2016


The Saxon church of St Lawrence

We had driven through the pretty town of Bradford-on-Avon, built on a hillside, and today offered an opportunity to have a full exploration. We initially followed the Town Walk, which can be downloaded here. It starts, very conveniently, at the large car park by the railway station. You turn right out of the car park into Frome Road and are immediately confronted by the Men's Almshouses of 1700. The former Women's Almshouses are on the right, seemingly now a pub.

We carry on past a playing field and turn right at the canal which brings us to the impressive 168 foot long Tithe Barn which dates from the 14th century.

We pass by the front of the Barn and cross the River Avon over Barton Bridge to climb up to Barton Orchard. This is an ancient packhorse way and many of the houses were later used by weavers. The handsome building at number 3 is an 18th century clothier's house.

the Saxon church of St Laurence lies a short way from the end of Barton Orchard, opposite Holy Trinity. The story of the church is quite interesting. It was rediscovered in 1856, having been converted to a school and cottage. It was restored twenty or so years later. It is noticeably small, but high. The narrow opening between the nave and the chancel is especially striking.

We continued along Church St and followed it to the left on meeting the river again. On teh left is the fine 18th century Abbey House.

And further long is the early 16th century Old Church House, now the Masonic Hall.

Church Street ends at the junction with Market St, where on the corner is the Catholic Church.

This looks like no church, Catholic or otherwise, that I have ever seen. I was reassured to discover from Pevsner that the building was once the Town Hall. It was designed in 1855 by Thomas Fuller of Bath, on, as Pevsner says, a scale excessive for Bradford. It became the Catholic church in 1955.

We crossed the road and walked through the Shambles, enjoying a nice cake and a drink at one of the several cafes. We emerged back on the main road through the town and walked across the Town Bridge. Midway along the bridge there was a nice view of the Avon with the imposing Abbey Mill on the right bank. It was built as a cloth factory in 1857. In the early 19th century Bradford had no less than 32 cloth factories (Pevsner).

On the far side of the bridge stands a curious small building known variously as the Chapel, the Blind House and the Lockup - the last naming its true role. We saw a simpler version of the sane thing in Heytesbury, Wiltshire, only a few weeks ago.

We turned right on the far side and could now see the bridge itself. It is essentially 17th century, although there are two 13th century arches.

This is effectively the end of the Town Walk (you just follow the river back to the car park). We decided instead to explore the Kennet and Avon Canal and headed initially south east towards Widbrook. At the start we were thrilled to see a late Red Admiral. We were struck by the large number of narrow boats moored by the canal side, many of them lived in.  This was a particularly pleasing view.

We doubled back and followed the canal east from Bradford to Avoncliff, along a narrow valley. It was rather extraordinary: the river followed the foot of the valley, as you would expect, while to canal followed the same line but along the side of the slope. You could look down on the river from the towpath.

This was a really lovely section to walk along and at Avoncliff the canal suddenly took a sharp right turn and crossed over the river valley on an impressive, but not very high, aqueduct built by John Rennie before 1804.

There was a lovely view back up the river from the far corner of the aqueduct, showing the water mill, which is clearly undergoing restoration of redevelopment.

We retraced our steps, and then took a path to the left down to the river whose banks we followed back into Bradford.

Conditions: a wonderful sunny day.

Map: Explorer 156 (Chippenham & Bradford-on-Avon).

Distance: all told we walked about 7 miles.

Rating: four stars. Delightful and full of interest.

Saturday, 19 November 2016


Romsey Abbey

We did this circular walk starting from Romsey on our way to Poole. We started on the edge of the Market Square and our first sight of note was the Corn Exchange of 1864, "surprisingly classical" says Pevsner.

We headed east along The Hundred, passing this rather handsome Georgian house on the left.

At the point where The Hundred becomes Winchester Road, there was a wonderful Dutch style house on the right called English Court, dated 1846.

Further on, at the junction with Southampton Road, stands the wonderful art deco Plaza Theatre.

Here we turned left and followed the bank of the defunct Romsey Barge Canal which ran from Andover to Redbridge (Southampton). It dates from 1794 but was never commercially viable. The initial section was shallow and weed-choked but it became more picturesque further long.

After a mile or so we turned left and headed across a marshy area to merge on the A3057 where we turned right to soon cross the River Test, wide, shallow and fast-flowing.

We followed the bank for a short while and turned west passing the inviting Duke's Head ...

... pub to walk along the busy B3084 to the entrance to Roke Manor, now a company HQ. What we could see of the Manor was not very inspiring, but the trees in the car park were a pleasing autumnal shade.

Level with the Manor we headed west and then south to walk through Squabb Wood, now along the Test Way. The wood contained a mixture of trees, with the beeches being the most attractive.

We emerged into fields and continued along the same line to reach Sadler's Mill on the outskirts of Romsey. A blue plaque explained that the present building was rebuilt by Lord Palmerston in 1748. There is a salmon ladder over to the right.

Heading now towards the Abbey, we passed John Bartlett's Almshouses of 1807, a pleasant, curving terrace.

Now finally to the celebrated Abbey (see the picture at the head of this post). It was originally founded as a convent in 907 and re-founded in 974, and was then rebuilt between about 1120 and 1230 in the Norman style and was bought by the town at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which ensured its continued existence, although the conventual buildings were all torn down.

The west end however dates only from 1908 and is by W D Caröe - Pevsner describes it as beautifully simple, a very fair assessment.

The Abbey is 256 ft long and inside there is an impression of great length and height, albeit with quite a variety of columns and arches.

We now headed back to the car park, taking in the so-called King John's House - which no doubt like those in Axbridge and near Odiham has no proven connection with the unpopular king.

Finally, I couldn't resist a photo of Pinchpenny House - which a blue says was so called because a tax collector once lived here. The narrow gothic windows are more interesting than the name.

Conditions: clear, then a bit grey, then rain suddenly at the very end.

Distance: 5.75 miles.

From: 50 walks in Hampshire and Isle of Wight (AA).

Map: Explorere 131 (Romsey, Andover and Test Valley).

Rating: four stars.