Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Fountain Garden, Formakin

Stockbroker John Augustus Holms and the celebrated Scottish architect Robert Lorimer met as fellow members of the Fine Arts Committee for the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901. This friendship led to the building of the extraordinary and wonderful collection of buildings at Formakin in Renfrewshire near Glasgow. Holms, a passionate gardener started in 1903 by laying out the park and garden, taking advice from Gertrude Jekyll's whose work at Munstead Wood in Surrey was a great influence

The formal Fountain Garden was laid out to the north east of the proposed mansionhouse. The sundial at the center of the Fountain Garden is protected by four stone lion fountains.

Each of the four faces of the plinth supporting the sundial has an apposite motto from Sir Robert Lorimer for all us mortals.

'Today is thine'

'Misuse it not'

'Yesterday Returneth Not'

'Tommorow perchance cometh not'

The delightful garden pavillion in the corner of the Fountain Garden.

A few heart shaped stones laid into the path to the from the policies to the Fountain Garden take the breath away.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Flower Pot Gate, Hampton Court Palace

Of all the landmarks that I passed to and from my late father's house to his care home by the Thames, the Flower Pot Gate always made me smile. Other gates at Hampton Court Palace may be more imposing; with lions and unicorns and many, many more swags, but to me the charming Flower Pot Gate steals the show.

The lead boys and their flowerpots were produced by the workshop of John Nost c1700.

The boys and their flowerpots stand on  the piers of the gate at the road end of the Broad Walk

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Monkey Pagoda, Culzean

Even among the architectural show-stoppers of Culzean in Ayrshire, the Chinese Monkey Pagoda comes as a surprise. Some believe it is by Robert Lugar and was built along with the swan pond, the duck house and the aviary in 1814. Others think,  that it was not built until 1860, by the 2nd Marquis of Ailsa, a man whose great passions were hunting in the winter and sailing in the summer.

At the top of the tiered pagoda the Cassillis family would have taken tea, while various creatures would have lived beneath. At one time it was an aviary, at others it was lived in by swans, but the most exotic inhabitant was a monkey- it is known locally as the Monkey House.

By the 1930's the pagoda was a roofless ruin. In 1997 it was restored to its full glory by the National Trust for Scotland , the balustrades of the staircases decorated with monkey's tails, and a monkey cavorting on top of the weathervane.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Queen Charlotte's Cottage, Kew

Queen Charlotte's Cottage was a favourite rustic retreat for the royal family. The cottage was finished in 1771 in the grounds of Richmond Lodge (which now forms the western half of Kew Gardens).George III had bestowed Richmond Lodge on Queen Charlotte as part of their marriage settlement.

The cottage overlooked an enclosure known as the menagerie. A collection of exotic animals were kept here for the amusement of the royal family. These included pheasants and other exotic birds including a pair of black swans, also buffaloes and a herd of kangaroos which went on to breed successfully at Kew. More poignantly George III had also kept a quagga ( an animal from South Africa closely related to a zebra) which is now extinct.

It seems likely that the Queen was inspired by her gardener at Richmond, 'Capability' Brown who was so influential in introducing the picturesque movement to the land owning classes. The cottage was the perfect location for a royal retreat where the Queen and and the rest of the royal family could enjoy enjoy secluded picnics and take tea during long summer walks through the gardens.

On the ground floor the Print Room is a small salon hung with more than 150 satirical engravings, mostly by William Hogarth. The terracotta tiled floor enhances the rustic appearance of the room.


Originally the cottage was only single storey but in the early 1770's an upper storey was added, reached by an elegant curving staircase.

The first floor Picnic Room has two full-height windows to look out across the tree tops and the menagerie. The room bamboo  motifs door mouldings and pelmets and  trailing convolvulus and nastertium growing up its walls and ceiling to give the impression of a bower painted by Queen Charlotte's third daughter,Princess Elizabeth.

The servants used a separate staircase. A small kitchen was used for the preparation of impromptu picnics. Most of the food would have been prepared in  advance in the kitchens at Kew Palace.

Despite considering it a favourite place George III did not return  to Kew after 1806, and the royal family stopped coming after 1818.

The cottage remained hidden from public view until Queen Victoria ceded it and 15 acres surrounding it to Kew in 1898, to commemorate her diamond jubilee. At that time the furniture and fittings were removed to Windsor Castle. They have since been returned.

The last member of the royal family to use the cottage was in 1996, when the  late Princess Margaret used it as the venue for a party.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Spye Arch

Spye Arch stands in splendid isolation at the top of Bowden Hill in Wiltshire, where it forms the main entrance to Spye Park. This extraordinary, beautiful building  is a palimpsest of stones. This is the Arch's third location and it has been the entrance to not one, not two, not three but four great buildings. It started out as the gatehouse to Stanley Abbey near Chippenham, a Royal foundation of Henry II and the Empress Maud, dating back to 1151.

At he Dissolution Sir Edward Bayntun (1480-1544) obtained a grant from Henry VIII and bought the demesne of Stanley Abbey. The Abbey was demolished soon after he bought it  but the gatehouse was carefully dismantled and re-erected as the entrance to his new home Bromham House. The Arch was rebuilt as a gift from Sir Edward's friend, Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII. The Arch bears the arms of Henry VIII below the oriel window on the first floor and in the spandrels of the arch those of Sir Edward Bayntun and his first wife Elizabeth Sulliard. Bromham House was to be destroyed by Roundhead troops from the Devizes garrison during the Civil War. They set fire to the house on 5th May 1645. The gatehouse was the only part to survive.

Sir Edward Bayntun (1593-1657) built a replacement for Bromham House nearby at Spye Park. The house was finished in 1645. The gatehouse was dismantled once again and re-erected at its third location as the entrance to the Spye Park estate.The Bayntuns certainly knew how to move in style,  taking their Arch with them.

In 1860 the Bayntun family were forced by debt into selling all their estates including Spye Park. Derry Hill was sold to Lord Landsdowne and the Spye Park estate was bought for £100 000 by Major John Spicer. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) had tried previously to buy both estates for £300 000 but the offer was refused. So he bought Sandringham instead. Major Spicer decided to demolish the existing house and  replace it with an enormous Neo-Jacobean mansion designed by Scottish architect William Burn (1795-1860). Completed in 1869 the house was visible for miles around.

Captain Frank Spicer was a keen fox hunter and master of the Avon Vale Hunt whose hounds were kenneled at Spye Park. (As they still are) Captain Spicer and his wife Lady Avice were great friends of the Queen Mother who used to stay with them every spring while attending the Cheltenham Festival. Lady Avice , daughter of the Earl De La Warr was the younger sister of Lady Indina Sackville(1893-1955). Lady Indina was an infamous  member of the Happy Valley set in the White Highlands of Kenya  whose promiscuous lifestyle scandalized British society.. Her parties were the stuff of legend, sex and drugs available in copious quantities. On her visits to England f Lady Idina visited her sister and her husband in Wiltshire. Married five times her second husband was the Hon. Jocelyn Hay, later the 22nd Earl of Errol whose unsolved murder continues to fascinate to this day. Frances Osbourne wrote a best selling  account of her great- grandmothers life entitled 'The Bolter.'

I have a childhood memory of a meet of the Avon Vale Hunt at Spye Park in 1968. Hacking up Bowden Hill and turning through Spye Arch on my beloved pony "Smudge". Riding along the magnificent drive to the house, full of expectation for the fun that lay ahead. I caught a glimpse of Lady Avice watching proceedings from her wheelchair positioned in front of a ground floor window.Captain Spicer continued to hunt into old age, like his great friend the 10th Duke of Beaufort. Wearing a top hat, his red coat faded to a shade of pink that no amount of money could afford. He died in 1973, the end of an era.

Spye Park was gutted by fire on the 8th August 1974, on the day following  the house-warming party of the fifth generation of the Spicer family toe take up residence. The ruins were razed and nothing remains of the house. In 2005 the Spicers decided to sell 'the most beautiful estate in England' for £8 000 000 to the Enthoven family from South Africa, the Nando Chicken kings. Perhaps Spye Arch will become the entrance to a fifth great house?