Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Clandon Park: Part Two

Clandon Park: East Front
The New Neighbour (NN) and the Brimstone Butterfly inadvertently approached Clandon Park from the back. The austerity of its classical red brick façade was in marked contrast to the brightly coloured Maori meeting hut or  whare which stands, somewhat incongruously, in the grounds.



 According to the guidebook it was built by Aporo Wharekaniwha, the head of a Maori sub tribe the Ngati Hinemihi, in New Zealand in 1881. It was meant to be as much a traditional and sacred meeting place for the Ngati Hinemihi as it was a deliberate tourist attraction for European visitors. The carvings, fashioned from native totara wood, conformed to traditional Maori designs. The Maoris believed that the spirits of their ancestors were housed in the meeting hut or whare and would offer them protection. Five years later their belief was put to the test when they sought sanctuary within it as the nearby volcano Mount Tarawera erupted. Over 100 local people and tourists were killed in the disaster and the local Maori homes were all but destroyed. As a result, most of the Maoris moved elsewhere. Six years later William Onslow the 4th Earl returned to Onslow Park, reached the end of his brief and far from distinguished tenure as Governor of New Zealand. He had been accused of trying to rig elections to New Zealand’s Upper House to favour the Conservative Party, of which he was a member. Slinking back to England, he took with him the remains of the Ngati Hinemihi whare, having negotiated its purchase through a third party. The guidebook is at pains to stress that the people who built the whare were properly compensated. The whare was first sited by the lake in Clandon Park. It was later moved to its present position on the East Lawn by Maori soldiers, who were convalescing at Clandon Park during World War One, when the mansion served as a military hospital. Apparently the whare thatched roof dates from the 1970s. Having only Victorian photographs to go by, restorers mistook volcanic ash piled on top of totara shingles for English style thatch. The whare continues to be used by groups of Maoris today when an annual hangi at Clandon Park is held and traditional Maori food cooked in a pit oven heated by hot stones. The link between Maoris and Clandon Park has thrived in other ways too, as the descendants of those who built the whare have contributed their expert skills and knowledge to rebuilding and restoring the meeting hut in the closing years of the 20th century.
Huia birds. The female has the larger bill
One act of Lord Onslow's that would have endeared him to the Maoris was that he agreed to give his second son, who was born in New Zealand, a Maori name. Thus, baby Victor Alexander Herbert Onslow was given the additional Maori name of Huia, a New Zealand bird denoting nobility. Little Huia was first christened in the cathedral and later formally presented to the Ngati Huia people. The Huia bird, after which young Onslow was named, became extinct in the early 20th century as did its  human namesake. Whilst a student at Cambridge, Onslow had suffered a catastrophic accident in the Alps. One day he had dived into a mountain lake and struck his head on a submerged rock. It left him paralysed from the waist down with reduced use of his arms and hands. Showing a great deal of personal fortitude Onslow went on to carve himself a career in bio-chemistry and genetics, According to his obituary he was also a gifted artist and jewellery maker. Onslow left behind a wife, a fellow scientist, when he died at the age of thirty-one in 1922.

Unlike the Maori whare, the 1740s grotto is far more representative of what one might expect to find in a grand English country garden of the period. Its flint, brick and tufa, the latter a form of limestone, structure used to contain five antiques busts set in to niches within the walls and, more latterly, a plaster copy of Canova’s life-sized “The Three Graces. The plaster copy of Canova’s work can now be found at the foot of the Oak Staircase within the house. The busts have been dispersed elsewhere. The guidebook states that there is a plunge pool behind the Grotto. If it is still there I did not see it.

The gardens had fallen into a decline by the time Clandon Park was donated to the National Trust in the 1950s. Unlike at Syon House or Chiswick House, there is no splendid 19th century glass conservatory to be found in its grounds or large scale formal gardens despite the fact that the celebrated landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown designed the parkscape in the 1780s. The charming parterre to the South was only laid out in the 1970s. There is also a secluded sunken Dutch garden, which is so secluded the NN and I failed to realise it was even there until after our visit. One reason why the 4th Earl had gone to New Zealand to be its Governor in the late 19th century was because he was short of funds and the Governorship was a salaried post. Unfortunately New Zealand was also suffering an economic downturn which resulted in a sharp reduction in the Governor's salary and allowances. The Te Ara Encyclopaedia rather amusingly describes Onslow as being New Zealand’s first “cheap Governor.” Subsequent generations of the Onslow family found it hard enough to maintain the mansion at Clandon Park let alone keep up the gardens as well.

Nevertheless, money was found to fund the construction of a porte cochere, or covered portico, in the 1870s. This allowed visitors to the house to step out of their carriages and into the mansion without being at the mercy of the elements. The addition of the Victorian portico to the 18th century façade is a matter of deep regret for architectural purists as they believe it seriously undermines the original architect’s vision. When viewed from the side, I find myself in agreement. The portico does rather look as if it was simply stuck on to the Georgian façade. 

As we stepped into the pink walled portico, with its small display of metal breast plates, antique guns, animal horns and an ornate lantern, we discovered that the NN needed to walk around the back of the house and buy her ticket from the shop. With my season ticket in hand I, by contrast, could sweep majestically in. At first, I waited for the NN in the portico. One wall had a small plaque dedicated to the memory of Gwendolyn, Countess of Iveagh, who had saved Clandon Park and most of its contents for the nation. Her father-law, the first Earl of Iveagh had used his money to similarly save my beloved Kenwood House, an act of philanthropy for which I shall be forever grateful. Whilst I dallied I noticed the singular door knocker. I did not have a chance to ask about its provenance as visitors were streaming into the house, forcing me to beat a hasty retreat into the magnificent double height Marble Hall, more of which anon.  

Monday, 22 August 2011

Clandon Park: Part One

When my new neighbour (the NN) asked to accompany the Brimstone Butterfly on one of her jaunts around a stately home, I was hard pressed to decide where to go. I finally settled upon the idea of Clandon Park as it was but a simple train journey from Wimbledon, with the prospect of a not too taxing walk to the house at the other end of the line. Moreover, it was somewhere I knew very little about. Unlike the torrential showers which had greeted my earlier forays to Syon House, the English weather was on its best behaviour when we set out for Clandon Park, allowing me to sport my venerable straw hat.

We arrived at Clandon station and decided to seek directions from the local hostelry, the Onslow Arms. This public house was built in the 1620s. Despite its exterior, which appears at first glance to date from the 20th century, inside there is a wealth of period details such as low beamed ceilings, myriad fireplaces and intriguing nooks and crannies to attest to its great age. However, the pub is graced with one distinctive modern facility that we were not able to avail ourselves of; namely the helipad in the grounds. Rather than just have a drink or two we indulged in a full Sunday roast at the bar, the restaurant being so popular it was fully booked even though we were the first to arrive. Suitably refreshed, we walked the mile or so to Clandon Park, despite an initial fear that my leg might seize up again as it had to our mutual alarm when we had walked the short distance from the rail station to the Onslow Arms.

The Onslow family first bought the then  hunting lodge and an accompanying 1,000 acres of land at Clandon Park in the 1640s. The hunting lodge was at least 100 years old by the time the Onslows acquired it and had already being significantly enlarged and altered, a practice the Onslows embraced with relish. Daniel Defoe in his “Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain” published between 1724 and 1727 wrote:
“Near to Guilford, at the village of Clendon, at the west end of this line of fine seats, is the antient mansion of the Onslow's. The seat is old, and the estate is old too (but the latter is much the better for its age) for it has been many years in the family, and has gone on, encreasing from hand to hand. The late Lord Onslow improved and beautify'd both the house and the estate too very much. The house has several times been honoured with the presence of both King William and King George; the former erected an annual race for a royal plate of 100 guineas, call'd the King's Gold Plate, to be run for every year, and the latter has been so good, as twice at least to honour the diversion with his presence”.

It was a feat of some political dexterity for the Onslows to be shown such marked preference by both a Stuart and a Hanoverian king. I wonder if King William would have been quite so keen to encourage horse racing had he known he would meet his own demise from injuries sustained when he was flung off his horse at Hampton Court Palace. It was King George I who created Richard Onslow the 1st Baron Onslow in 1716. Again, a surprising feat given that Richard’s father, Sir Arthur, had been implicated in the Rye House Plot. Unlike poor Lord Russell, the one-time denizen of CheniesManor House, who literally lost his head in the affair which centred on a conspiracy to assassinate Charles II and his Catholic brother James I, Arthur Onslow suffered nothing more onerous than a heavy fine. Deeming it prudent to get out whilst he was ahead and still had a head, Arthur retired from public life. He whiled away the time engaging in his favourite hobby of fishing. Given that Sir Arthur had been accused of conspiring to assassinate both him and his brother, King James II was less than pleased by the huge throngs who turned out to mourn Arthur’s death in 1688. Few openly mourned in the streets when King James was forced into a second and final exile abroad a few months later.

Sir Arthur’s son, Sir Richard, attained high political office under Queen Anne and the Hanoverian George I who conferred a baronetcy on him. Sir Richard was the first baronet but the second Onslow to be appointed Speaker of the House of Commons. The first had been nicknamed the Black Speaker by Elizabeth I on account of his swarthy complexion. Elizabeth later gave the epithet of her “little black husband” to the equally swarthy Archbishop Whitgift, whose almshouses can be seen today near the Old Palace at Croydon. The third and last member of the Onslow family to attain the position of Speaker of the House of Commons was another Arthur. He wrote glowing about his relative and the second family Speaker, Sir Richard Onslow, describing him as being:
Sir Richard Onslow
 " Tall and very thin, not well shaped, and with a face exceeding plain, yet there was a certain sweetness with  a dignity in his countenance, and so much of life and  spirit in it, that no one who saw him ever thought him of a disagreeable aspect. His carriage was universally obliging, and he was of the most winning behaviour that ever I saw. There was an ease and openness in his address, that even at first sight gave him the heart of every man he spoke to. He had always something to say that was agreeable to everybody, and used to take as much pleasure in telling a story to a man's advantage, as others generally do to the contrary. It was this temper that made him so fit for reconciling differences between angry people, an office he frequently and readily undertook and seldom failed of succeeding in."

Arthur Irwin  Dasent in his 1911 tome “The Speakers of the House of Commons from the earliest times to the present day”  draws a less than flattering picture of Sir Richard  declaring that “Stiff Dick," as the Tories called him had “an unfortunate propensity to quarrelsomeness which led him on more than one occasion to challenge a fellow-member to a duel. He fought Mr. Oglethorpe, a young man of twenty-two, for something he had said in the course of a debate, and he was only restrained by an order of the House from prosecuting another affair of honour with Sir E. Seymour.” Dasent goes on to add that “Whatever his shortcomings, Richard Onslow ingratiated himself at Court. King William shortly before his death called him into his closet and " bade him continue the honest man he had always found him." Anne made him a Privy Councillor.  George I made him Chancellor of the Exchequer and a peer, and on his resigning the Chancellorship he succeeded in getting himself made Teller of the Exchequer for life, the first instance of that appointment being conferred for that period. His manner in the Chair was somewhat imperious.”

By contrast to his opinion of Speaker Richard Onslow, Dasent raves over his namesake Arthur Onslow. “The Chair was filled, in five successive Parliaments, by the great Arthur Onslow, the third of his family to be so honoured, and unquestionably one of the most distinguished Speakers the House has ever known.”

A peculiar postscript to the life of Speaker Richard “Stiff Dick” Onslow is that his widow, Elizabeth Tulse, was said to have been so distraught at his death a year earlier in 1717 that in a fit of melancholy she flung herself in the pond at the Archbishop’s Palace at Croydon and so drowned. I shall refrain from ribald comment.

Elizabeth and Sir Richard’s son Thomas, the second Lord Onslow, married an heiress whose family fortunes derived from owning slaves and plantations in the West Indies. With her money, Thomas was able to have the Tudor Clandon Park demolished in its entirety and in its place  have a new mansion, square redbrick with stone ornamentation in the Dutch style and designed by the Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni, erected in or around 1731. The most spectacular feature of this house is the double height marble hall, more of which anon. 
Successive generations of the Onslows lived at Clandon Park until 1951 when they were obliged to move to another smaller house in the grounds and throw open the main house to the paying public. But even this was not sufficient to secure Clandon Park’s long term fortunes. Gwendolyn, Countess of Iveagh and daughter of the 4th Earl of Onslow (the Earldom had been created in 1801) was wealthy enough and of a sufficiently philanthropic disposition to purchase both Clandon Park and a large part of the contents from off her nephew. With the addition of a generous endowment for its upkeep, Gwendolyn presented the Clandon Park to the National Trust in 1956. The latter have been running it ever since.

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Hampton Court: Further secrets of the palace

The last time the Brimstone Butterfly set out from Kingston-Upon-Thames to Hampton Court Palace a semi-naked couple rolled across the towpath in the throes of passion. Thankfully on Wednesday the passer-bys showed a little less flesh and a great deal more decorum. 

As I strolled pass the privy gardens a couple of sturdy shire horses were pulling visitors along behind them in two open carriages.

Further along, a young man was engaged in carefully cleaning the magnificent gilded wrought iron gates made by the French Huguenot Jean Tijou for William and Mary. Tijou also made elaborate ironwork balustrade for the King's Staircase within the palace.. One gate lacked any gilding whatsoever. I ought to have asked the young man if he knew why but as it was starting to rain I decided to hurry into the palace instead. As I did so I passed by the early 17th century Little Banqueting House. In all my years of going to Hampton Court I have never had the chance to venture inside the latter as it is now more often than not hired out for private events.

When I finally arrived at the palace I was a little out of breath and resolved to make my way to the members’ room. I had never availed myself of this singular perk of membership before and I was curious to see what the room looked like, having frequently passed by its locked door. I prevailed upon a guide called Susan to let me in. I had fondly imagined that she would be opening the door into a small room furnished with a few chairs, a table and a kettle. To my surprise and delight, I was shown into a former grace and favour apartment. The hallway had a small sofa under the stairs, which led to what would have been the bedrooms on the upper floor. Susan later told me they were now used for meetings. I heroically resisted the temptation to slip upstairs as I did not wish to suffer the ignominy of being drummed out of the palace and told never to darken its doors again. So I meekly stepped into the drawing room instead

 The panelling dates from the 18th century or later. The original Tudor casement windows had been replaced with sash windows by the Georgians. In their turn, the Victorians reinstated casement windows. Looking through them I could see across Clock Court to Henry VIII’s great astronomical clock, which twice struck the hour as I lay on the sofa. Henry had commissioned the Bavarian Nicolas Kratzer to design the clock and it was installed around 1540. He has worked alongside the French Huguenot clockmaker Nicholas Oursian to create their joint masterpiece. According to the official guide, the clock was intended to show “the time, month, day of the month, position of the sun in the zodiac, the phase and age of the moon”. It also enabled the high tide to be calculated for courtiers wishing to be rowed along the Thames to Westminster and beyond.

The set of large windows beneath the astronomical clock are thought to have once belonged to Anne Boleyn’s bedchamber. The gatehouse is now named after this tragic Tudor queen. I had been green with envy when the Historia cooks had told me about a New Year’s Eve they had spent in these apartments. From their description it seems little trace remains of the Tudor interior as Anne might have known it. 

Beneath Anne’s windows is a terracotta plaque bearing Cardinal Wolsey’s coat of arms. He had given Hampton Court Palace to Henry and his implacable enemy Anne Boleyn in a desperate bid to cling on to the king’s favour. His extravagant gesture did not prevent his political fall. Were it not for his sudden death from natural causes at Leicester en-route to the Tower of London, he would doubtless have faced a traitor’s death.  

Also set into the walls of Anne Boleyn’s gatehouse are two 16th century busts of the Emperors’ Vitellius and Augustus. These form part of a set of eight terracotta roundels of Roman emperors created for Cardinal Wolsey by the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Di Maiano. On the day I was at Hampton Court scaffolding had been erected around other roundels to determine the level of conservation work required.

The panelled Dining Room is furnished with a dining table, wooden chairs and armchairs. A needlework sampler on one wall depicted Henry VIII and his wives.The Dining Room also overlooks Clock Court and the pump, used by former residents of the Grace and Favour apartments to obtain fresh water. Immediately adjacent to the Dining Room is one wall of the Great Hall. The different perspective made me realise that I must be looking at the lighted windows of the Undercroft. Later, I went to explore the Undercroft, thinking it must be somewhere I had never been before. It quickly dawned on me that it used to house an elaborate and highly informative model showing the full extent of the kitchens in Henry VIII’s time. I asked Maggie, the guide on duty, what had happened to it and she explained that it had been dismantled, which I declared to be a great shame. But the Undercroft, like the Little Banqueting House, is often hired out for events making it impractical to dismantle and then reassemble such a large scale model on a regular basis.

Of the kitchen, only the tap and sink and a coffee machine were available to be used by members. Fittingly, the kitchen in the members’ room overlooks Round Kitchen Court and the circular 17th century kitchen, which was turned into a urinal in the 18th century by the celebrated architect William Kent. The latter’s more salubrious commissions at Hampton Court included refurbishing the Queen’s Staircase and the Cumberland Suite. He also worked with the third Earl of Burlington to create Chiswick House.

Delightful as it was to while away an hour or two reclining on the sofa in the Drawing Room listening to the Astronomical Clock striking the hours and the quarters, I eventually roused myself. I was about to open the front door just as a new acolyte was being ushered in.

I met up with Susan, my original guide, in Clock Court. She it was who explained that the floor above the members’ room had once formed part of Henry VIII’s Privy Chambers. His queens had had their apartments on the second floor. This meant that Henry VIII would have passed through the Great Watching Chamber and along the floor directly above the Members’ rooms. In short, he would have passed along what was once the bedroom floor of the former Grace and Favour apartment. It explained why the doorway to the Privy Chambers had since been bricked up: to enable a self contained apartment to be built.

Susan suggested I ask the guide in the Cumberland Suite to show me the secret Tudor staircase used by Henry’s pages to fetch him his clothes from the royal wardrobe on the ground floor. The flight of stairs to the Georgian Rooms also leads to the Silver Stick Gallery. Jane Seymour’s ghost is said to ascend the stairs to what would have been her apartments on the second floor where she died as well as making its way across Clock Court in search of her son. Perhaps her spirit is troubled by the fact that she stepped into a dead queen’s shoes, becoming betrothed to Henry VIII the day after Anne Boleyn was beheaded on Tower Green. If so, serves the whey faced little Miss right.     

The guide in the Georgian Rooms obligingly opened up the small door behind which was the spiral Tudor staircase. I was allowed to take some photographs but because I didn’t want to take up too much of the guide’s time I quickly snapped away with no thought as to composition.

I then popped into the Wolsey Closet, a Tudor room which retains its ornate ceiling, linenfold panelling and 16th century paintings on panels depicting the Passions of Christ. From here I passed through to the Communication Gallery, with its bevy of Restoration court beauties painted by Sir Peter Lely and then onto the Cartoon gallery where I spoke to Laura and another guide. They were intrigued to discover that I had seen other copies of Raphael’s sequence of Cartoons at Knole and at Trinity House, within the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich.

For my last secret of the day I discovered that the Privy Kitchens restaurant, in which I had partook of coffee and cake on many an occasion, was built for Queen Elizabeth I in the 1560s. Like her father, she had her own private chefs and kitchens away from the Great Kitchens, which serviced the court in general. Unlike her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth disliked the fact that her kitchens were located below her lodgings, believing that the smell permeated her own apartments. Hence, the construction of new kitchens.

Having been told that two sets of windows by the Colonnade in Clock Court were thought to have been part of Anne Boleyn’s apartments when she was the King’s mistress as opposed to his wife, I dashed into the Young Henry Exhibition so I could view them from within, or at least the lower storey. The exhibition itself passes through a number of rooms possessed of  extant Tudor fireplaces, linenfold panelling and ceilings. There are two blocked off doorways, which would once have led to Cardinal Wolsey’s long demolished private gallery.

With only minutes to spare before the palace closed for the day, I took more photos of the wine fountain in Clock Court, noting for the first time that its pinnacle depicted a drunken naked man swigging from a flagon of ale whilst sitting astride a barrel. I also photographed the life size wooden sculpture of a Tudor man in Base Court, which like the other wooden images and the wine fountain itself, had been inspired by the painting “The Field of the Cloth of Gold”. The latter can be seen on display in the Young Henry exhibition. Thought not quite disposed to shed all my garments and mount the nearest barrel of wine in celebration, I felt more than a little happy with the various discoveries I had made in a single and on a singular afternoon.