Blackwell Arts & Crafts House

 

Blackwell July 2017

We recently visited Blackwell, a Grade 1 listed building close to the shore of Lake Windermere and overlooking the Coniston Fells.  Designed by the architect Baillie Scott, it was built in 1900 as a holiday home for the wealthy Holt family. Imagine – a holiday home of these proportions! As if that wasn’t enough, the family also owned a 45 foot steam yacht.

Many will be familiar with the colourful  designs of William Morris. Along with social reformer John Ruskin he was a leading light in the influential Arts & Crafts movement which, as a backlash against the increasing effect of machines, advocated using local materials and traditional building methods with the aim of creating buildings that were harmonious with the surrounding landscape.  Baillie Scott  was hugely influenced by these two and it was he who was responsible not only for the design of the house but also the furniture, wall coverings and fabrics.

The Main Hall

Main hall

Unfortunately, whilst Blackwell retains many original features like leaf-shaped door handles, carved wooden panels and spectacular stained glass windows,  none of the original furniture or artefacts remains. The house, however, offers a few classic pieces from the period, some designed by Baillie Scott himself.

A beautifully carved frieze runs around the Main Hall

Wall

Four window panels. Unfortunately the day was overcast but imagine the sun streaming through and the colourful reflections on the plain walls opposite.

Window panels

Typical period designs may be seen on chinaware, a rug and a chair back 
Various Blackwell

This canvas stretches the entire length of the dining room wall (and the dining room would house the entire ground floor of my house!)Wall canvas

It was an enjoyable visit in terms of architectural interest but disappointing in that the rooms were very sparsely furnished and gave little idea of how they would have been presented at the time.   If this is a period you like, visit The National Trust’s Coleton Fishacre in Devon for a better representation.

Oh Biba, how I loved you

Biba-logo 2

It was late in 1974. My then boyfriend was to attend a course in London and wondered if I’d like to go along for the ride.  Since I had only ever been to London on a school trip I jumped at the chance to do a bit of sightseeing. Quite early in the day I found myself on Kensington High Street and came across the iconic Biba department store. That was it, I got no further. The spectacular blend of modern, Art Nouveau and Art Deco with a nod to Pre-Raphaelite and shades of the Moroccan souk for good measure, drew me in.  The Hollywood-style surroundings, the like of which I had only ever seen in films, were awesome, lavish, unique; I could go on …and on. It was love at first sight and there I stayed for the rest of the day.

Biba B

The brainchild of Polish born fashion designer Barbara Hulaniki, Biba had already been in existence for some years when the old Derry & Toms seven storey  department store on Kensington High Street became available and, in September 1973, Biba moved in.

‘No-one could fail to be stunned by the sheer scope of the enterprise’ reported the Evening Standard at the time. ‘You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped inside a dream machine.’

‘Like stepping in of the cold reality of the street into fairyland’ said The New Yorker.

Biba 3

Reputed to attract hundreds of thousands of customers a week, the newly located store offered a bewildering choice of clothing, shoes, makeup, house ware, toys, and even groceries which were displayed on the likes of massive baked bean and sardine tins (the latter complete with enormous key), much of the food packaging sporting  the store’s logo. Biba was intended as more than a shop – it was sold as a lifestyle. The true Biba devotee even used its branded washing powder. As Alistair Best in Design Magazine said at the time. ‘shopping is almost a fringe activity’.

BIBA C

Everything was larger than life from the over-sized hat stands used to display all manner of fripperies to the magnificently proportioned black and gold mirrored make up counters artfully displaying thousands of tiny pots and palettes. A giant record player, enormous Snoopy doghouse, huge toadstools in the cafe which also boasted a castle and moat, all added to the feeling of being part of a film set. The fantasy was even more evident as I ventured onto the fifth floor and peeped into the Rainbow Room. Reconstructed as a 1930s palm-court style restaurant, resplendent with mirrored walls, it had a lasting impact and remains steadfastly a style of decor for which I have great affection. Having discovered the sixth floor tea rooms and roof gardens  (rather less intimidating for an unaccompanied teenager) I remember sitting for a while with refreshment, but I have no idea what I chose. I think it was here that I discovered the delight of people watching, something I still enjoy greatly.

Back on the ground floor I could hardly wait to spend my hard-earned Saturday shop girl wages on those tiny pots of make up and perfumed oils in their distinctive Deco-style glass bottles. They lived on my dressing table long after the contents had been used.

biba perfume pots

I vowed there and then to return with enough money to buy some of the Biba fashions and, most importantly, a pair of the amazing suede boots. I went home and I began to save. I worked extra hours all through the school holidays and watched  my savings grow. Some time late in 1975 I returned to London, so full of excitement, you cannot imagine.  I was seventeen when I first encountered Biba, impressionable, headstrong and determined to develop a style distinct from that of many of my peers. I wanted that ‘Biba lifestyle’. The disappointment was crushing – Biba had closed.  It’s demise is well documented in the book The Biba Experience but in a nutshell, a combination of financial reasons and board disagreements sounded the death-knell and despite attempts to re-launch, it was over.

Biba, in it’s glorious final form, was so short lived and I feel privileged to have experienced it, to have been there at the right time. The brand name was eventually bought by House of Frazer in 2009 and is still trading though Ms.  Hulaniki criticises it for not reflecting the original style of Biba.

Quotes and background information taken from The Biba Experience Alwyn Turner

 

 

 

 

The icing on the cake

Lindeth Howe

Whilst in the Lakes recently we found ourselves near to Lindeth Howe, a country house once owned by Beatrix Potter.  Here follows a piece I wrote following a previous visit and which won me a place as a finalist in the Birmingham Press Association’s Midlands Media Awards in 2015.

The Icing on the Cake

Sitting in the shade of a majestic magnolia, I enjoy the luxury of unseasonably warm April sunshine. A small brown rabbit pokes his head out from behind a lavender bush and hops forward, followed soon after by two even smaller ones. Perhaps not impressed by finding us invading their territory, they dart back behind the bush only to reconsider and reappear sporadically to entertain us for the remainder of the afternoon.

Lindeth Howe Country House is steeped in grandeur and history. Built in 1879 the Queen Anne style house with its wide white painted frontage and black timbered gables stands in 28 acres of abundant woodland.  It was here that a young visitor, Beatrix Potter, drew the  illustrations that she later used for my favourite of her books, Pigling Bland, and so completely did she fall in love with the  house that, in adulthood, she bought it for her mother.

A glimpse between trees of every hue shows the still snow-capped peaks of Claife Heights towering above the western shore of Lake Windermere. The lake shimmers today, silver and ribbon-like in the sunlight, just as Wordsworth must have seen it when he likened it to a ‘vast river, stretching in the sun’. The pretty informality of the garden, where fragrant roses, lavender and buddlia , proving irresistible to butterflies and bees,  invites exploration but I stretch lazily and decide to save this treat until later.

The air is almost still; the faintest of breeze barely cools the sun on my face and I concentrate on the surrounding stillness in hopeful anticipation that I might hear the Crier of Claife. Legend has it that this medieval monk rescued fallen women and was spurned when he fell in love with one of them. He lost his mind and his heart-rending cries may still be heard from time to time. Today is not one of those times for there is no sound but the harmonious song of a pair of tiny goldfinch and that of a lone blackbird taking a rest by the lily pond. Leaning back, I rest my head and close my eyes, and I can’t help feeling more than a little pleased that there are no other guests with whom we must share this idyll.

Our tea is served: sparkling white china cups and saucers with matching tea and coffee pots and a plate of the daintiest sandwiches; the freshest bread, light as air, with fillings so generous that they threaten to spill out – smoked salmon topped by wafer thin slices of cucumber, beef with creamy horseradish, honeyed ham, spread with wholegrain mustard and, reminiscent of the Sunday afternoon teatime of my childhood, chopped egg with a sprinkling of cress.

“Don’t eat too many,” warns my husband. “Leave room for the cakes”.

The waiter laughs. “There’s always room for cake,” he says as he turns back toward the house.  I suspect he senses my penchant for the sweet things in life! A few moments pass and he returns with a three tiered cake stand and accompanying tiny forks with pretty ceramic handles.

The cakes; oh my goodness – the cakes!  More cakes than any sane person could wish to eat but I’ll give it my best! Where to begin? Tiny fresh strawberries topple from one plate to another as I select a scone, take a spoonful of thick clotted cream from one of the miniature ramekins and another from the one filled to the brim with strawberry jam. Jam first or cream? I can never remember. I opt for jam, certain that either way, the taste will be sublime. I’m not disappointed. An exquisitely pretty éclair drizzled with white chocolate calls out to me. This is no six inch finger of dry supermarket choux topped with a machine squirted smear of artificial chocolate. This éclair is the lightest confection imaginable; an inch and a half of melt-in-the-mouth heaven oozing with silky smooth passion fruit cream.  A small glazed pastry case filled with intensely sharp lemon curd; a miniscule square of rich pecan nougatine and a perfectly executed pear and ginger trifle, liberally laced with something that tastes suspiciously like brandy and served in a delicately etched shot glass; an explosion of flavours –  all decadently divine.

Again, I lean back against the cushions – replete, quiescent. The sun has momentarily disappeared behind a cloud and I am able to watch the birds circling overhead and then I see it – a Red Kite.   It lands inches from our table and stays for a moment before soaring, once again, high in to the sky, and for all the deliciousness of our afternoon tea, this truly is the icing on the cake.

What we did on our holidays ~ part 2

Rowan Tree Cafe (1)

The village of Grasmere in the Lake District was described by William Wordsworth (who lived in a nearby hamlet and is buried at St.Oswald’s church in Grasmere) as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. I think that this photograph shows that it is still very lovely.  It was taken by my husband a few years ago and is very much better than any I that I took of the same area last week.   The chairs that you can see on the left of the bridge belong to what used to be called The Rowan Tree Cafe. It is now known as the Grasmere Tea Gardens but we visited many times as the Rowan Tree and still refer to it as such. It’s always first on our list to visit when in the area.  The small terrace is such a lovely spot to sit with a scone and a cup of coffee so, of course, we did just that! I am told that the coffee and walnut cake was not as good as mine! The scone, I have to say, was perfect: slightly warm, crumbly but not so that it falls apart, and plenty of fruit. I do prefer the jam (blackcurrant as a first choice) and cream in little dishes though.

Cake  Rowan Tree.jpg

When in Grasmere we never go home without a packet or two of Sarah Nelson’s gingerbread from the tiny cottage in the centre of the village. Although it can be bought online (and they apparently have regular customers all over the world), since it was first made in 1854, this shop is still the only one that sells it directly. It is quite unlike any other gingerbread – sweet, spicy, crisply biscuit-like to bite and yet chewy in the eating. An extra pack was purchased for my friend Jayne who always returns the favour when she visits the area. Chef Jamie Oliver is apparently a great fan too.

Gingerbread shop

Rydal water is one of the smaller lakes and my favourite. It sits between Ambleside at the north end of Windermere and Grasmere lake.  It is incredibly peaceful to sit beside it. It is not directly accessible by car and access is through a gap in a wall (!). If you are prepared walk around a quarter of a mile, I am happy to give detailed directions.  The stunning view when you walk over the rise and come upon the lake almost as a surprise never fails to awe me.

Rydal Water

We parked by the local church which is opposite Rydal Mount. The gardens here, both formal and wooded,  are well worth a visit and the waterfall is very pretty.

Rydal Mount

The waterfall at Rydal Hall

Whilst most of the places we visited are villages, Ambleside is a small town.  Situated at the northern end of Lake Windermere, it is hugely popular with the serious walkers (one of which I am not). It is an appealing, typical Cumbrian town with lots of local stone buildings and some interesting shops. Over the years we have eaten in many of the restaurants (Lucy’s is fab and highly recommended) and cafes.

Ambleside boasts the smallest of the National Trust properties – the 17th Century Bridge House shown below, was once home to a family of eight. It is truly tiny. I reckon they’d have had to sleep standing up, or perhaps in relays!

Bridge House, Ambleside

Do let me know if you have visited the area and which are your favourite places.

What we did on our holidays

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This is the view from my bedroom window………I wish!  But it was for a few days.  We’ve been on holiday. Being rather fond of the Lake District we decided to spend this past week there. Having always stayed fairly central, we decided to find somewhere a little further south this time and booked a delightful little cottage not far from Cartmel and Grange-over-Sands, which strictly speaking, is not quite in the lake District but is right on the edge.
We found the cottage comfortable, very well maintained and boasting fabulous views. It is the owner’s own holiday cottage and she stays here regularly, which explains the homely touches and the well equipped kitchen; not that I had any great plans to cook very much. The only downside, and one which annoyed me rather more than I would have expected, was that it did not have wi-fi. I missed reading the blogs I follow and I missed being able to post on my own. I did manage one post a couple of days ago but it was difficult as the wi-fi in the cafe we were visiting was very slow and using my ipad for it wasn’t very satisfactory. Lesson learned!
We tend, on a self catering holiday, to eat out at lunchtime and enjoy a snack in the evening. Local cheeses usually feature so a visit to Cartmel Cheese was a must. We were a little disappointed as the young lady who served us did not seem to have very much knowledge of the cheeses she was selling. Her suggestion, in response to our request for a ‘really strong, mature cheddar’, was nice enough but actually fairly mild.  We did better with the Stilton. I know that the so-called artisan cheeses are costly but the prices in this shop were eye-watering so we didn’t indulge in the variety we had intended.
Located on the River Eea, Cartmel is famous for its sticky toffee pudding. Sold in Fortnum and Mason, Waitrose and upmarket delicatessens, the village shop started making it more than twenty years ago and it is still handmade in the village, though now in a larger kitchen.  I can confirm that it is every bit as delicious as expected!
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From Cartmel we drove to nearby Grange-over-Sands which grew from a small fishing village into a town with the advent of the Ulverston and Lancaster railway at the start of the Victorian era which allowed visitors, turning it into a popular holiday destination. Here we walked along the long promenade. Considering we are now in July I had expected to find somewhere a little livelier. It was very quiet. We walked along the very long promenade and through the very pretty public gardens.
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And then we went back to our temporary home and sat in the summerhouse which overlooks the Haverthwaite steam railway.

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‘Ast-cot’ Ladies Day

Ascot

Apologies for the fuzzy picture (but at least you can breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not your eyesight)! It is the only relevant one I have. I’m the one on the left with the black fascinator. If you know me you’ll notice that I’ve had my hair cut, much to the relief of my hairdresser daughter-in-law whose been telling me for ages that my shoulder-length style was a bad advert for her skills!

Yesterday was Ascot Ladies Day. Entry to the real event would have cost somewhat more than the £6.95 that my friends and I paid to attend ‘Ast-cot’, the mock-version held at  The Bell Inn in Astwood Bank (a village near to where I live).  They did us proud, as did the gym manager and her assistant who arranged the day and handled out bets – more of that in a moment. I love my gym – it’s so much more than a place to exercise.

Royal Ascot has been running as the kind of event we recognise since the early 18th century and in 1922 was described by a journalist from The Times as “the best place in England to see beautiful women in beautiful clothes.” Undoubtedly had he been in Astwood Bank yesterday, he’d have said the same!  In the early days hats were obligatory and the tradition seems to have endured with them becoming more elaborate (if not bizarre) year on year. None of our headgear fell into that category but we all looked jolly smart.

Our afternoon began with drinks followed by lunch and for our very reasonable ticket price we were offered five choices of both main course and dessert. Pub food it was, but very nice pub food; we really couldn’t fault it. I chose the breaded plaice and it must have been the largest piece I have ever been served!  The chips, peas and salad were also generous as were all the other options.  My trifle was home made and delicious too. Then we had coffee and mints.

A large-screen TV was set up on the bar and bets cost £1 per race. I got an insight into how people become hooked – it was so exciting! Which was a bit of a surprise because I’d really gone only for the lunch and a chat with friends. I’ve only been once to the races before and that was for a corporate event at Stratford race course – heavens, it was boring! Anyhow, our horses were picked for each race very unscientifically by drawing a number from a bucket. I don’t suppose this mattered since we all admitted that we had no idea about ‘form’ and ‘going’ (I’m wondering here how on earth I even know the terminology)! My horses won a second and a third place so my total winnings came to £9. Given that I spent £4.50 on drinks (I’m a very cheap date as I don’t drink alcohol), and £5 on bets, the net cost of my very enjoyable afternoon out was £7.45 – how about that for a bargain? Already looking forward to next year’s Ladies Day.

We also raised £40 for Cancer Research which is the gyms main charity. By the way, the recent quiz night which I mentioned in an earlier post raised a staggering £850!!

 

A busy week

I am a very sociable sort of person. I love to meet up with friends and going out for lunch is one of my favourite things to do. However, going out in the evening comes a lot further down the list so to have been out on three evenings within eight days is almost unprecedented.

Firstly husband and I attended an evening wedding reception. It was nice to meet up with people whom, in some cases, we hadn’t seen in a few years, and we had an enjoyable evening. When we got married, evening receptions were unheard of but today they are the norm and I can understand why. Even low-key weddings are costly with a hotel reception costing from around £50 a head for the day which, for most people, severely curtails the guest list. Being able to extend the celebrations into the evening  and include more people to share this happy time seems a good compromise. Most people actually want their friends present rather than a great aunt who is never seen from one year to the next, but wedding guest lists can be a complex nightmare and I have seen friends get really upset by their children’s refusal to invite certain people.  To my own children I said that their guest list was absolutely their choice and not once did we have any disagreements over what, after all, was their day and not mine. My daughter invited some criticism for excluding children other than nieces and nephews but when you marry in your thirties lots of friends have children and the number would have run to more than thirty little ones. I was fully behind the decision.  Of course people could do what my husband and I did – a handful of guests at the local register office followed by drinks at home. I have to admit though, I’d really like to be able to look back on something a bit more glamorous.

Anyhow, I digress …so back to my busy week.The second evening event was a surprise birthday gathering at a local pub for a friend arranged by her husband.   Knowing that she’s not a great fan of surprises, I wasn’t sure how it would go down but it was a pleasant evening with lots of chatter and putting the world to rights. It was the evening before the election so there was plenty to talk about!

The following day was the afternoon tepee party (regular readers will remember that I mentioned this as a forthcoming event a while ago). With comfortable seating for around twenty guests and a central log fire, it’s a place I would definitely consider for a celebratory get-together. One of my friends from the gym was 65 and ten of us had a great day re-living our youth with a selection of sixties music in a large hired  tepee in a pub garden. The company was great, the food was good, the drinks flowed and we wore feathers in our hair! The latter were provided by the birthday girl as she thought they would fit well with the tepee theme but then we noticed that it was described as a ‘Nordic Tepee’. Unfortunately we couldn’t make use of the adjacent garden as it rained heavily.  No matter – we still had a lovely time.

tepee 2

The following evening I was with some of the same friends at a charity quiz organised by the gym. We raise money for Cancer Research as our primary charity but also for several others. The quiz night supported Cancer Research and MacMillan nurses. My last blog post included information on Sir Edward Elgar and by coincidence, the first answer in round one was…Sir Edward Elgar! Out of sixteen teams we came second, losing out to the winners by only three points.

During this eight day period I also worked 26 hours, entertained visiting grandchildren, invited my brother to dinner, met an ex-fellow student for coffee, went to the dentist, got my hair done twice  and attended the gym three times. Last night I was in bed at 8.30pm – exhausted.  Age might be just a number but sometimes there’s just no denying it!