Getting away for the Weekend

Posted in on site, opinion pages by Editor on September 4, 2009

Editor’s Note

Rather perversely, I typically begin the first class session of a new semester by having students introduce themselves and then share one place they would like to be — anywhere in the world — at that particular moment. Just when I’m supposed to get everyone back on board with the routines of academic life, it’s just much more fun to indulge in a bit of daydreaming. My pedagogical rationale goes something like this: art history may begin with slides in a dark lecture hall, but it ultimately requires a curiosity and fascination about the world that will take students far and wide. And indeed, for the course to work, imagination (maybe even desire) turns out to be vital.

So on this Labor Day Weekend, I thought that I myself might indulge in a game of ‘where would I like to be?’ The UK’s Landmark Trust rents some remarkable historic properties — from three days to three weeks. As noted on the organization’s website, the Trust “is a building preservation charity, founded in 1965 by the late Sir John Smith and Lady Smith. It was established to rescue historic and architecturally interesting buildings and their surroundings from neglect and, when restored, to give them new life by letting them as places to experience for holidays.” Here’s a sampling (photos and descriptions come from the Trust website, though the italicized bits are my additions). I’m not sure I can narrow it down any further, but maybe if I think about it just a bit longer . . .

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The Bath House, near Stratford-upon-Avon

Just right to prepare oneself for the upcoming Delany exhibition

The benefits of a cold bath were held to be almost limitless by medical opinion of the eighteenth century and many country houses were equipped with one. The Bath House here, it is thought, was designed in 1748 by the gentleman-architect Sanderson Miller for his friend Sir Charles Mordaunt. Good historical fun was had by all: the rough masonry of Antiquity, used for the bath chamber, is contrasted with the polished smoothness of the new Augustan age seen in the room above, where the bathers recovered. Even in the upper room there is a hint of the subterranean, with a dome hung with coolly dripping icicles. Here the walls have also been frosted with shells, arranged in festoons as if ‘by some invisible sea-nymph or triton for their private amusement’. This was the idea of Mrs Delany, better known for her flower pictures, who advised the Mordaunt daughters on where to find the shells. Their work was skilfully reproduced by Diana Reynell, after terrible damage by vandals. The Bath House, at the end of a long and gated drive, has one main room to live in, but in its deep woodland setting, so near to the Forest of Arden, ‘you may fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world’.

d9746e67-3857-4dd7-a15e-a61653030a0a Auchinleck House, Ochiltree, Ayrshire

The perfect place to celebrate Johnson’s 300th birthday (September 18th)

Perhaps the finest example of an eighteenth-century country villa to survive in Scotland, Auchinleck House is where the renowned biographer James Boswell indulged his penchant for ‘old laird and family ideas’. Built around 1760 by Boswell’s father Lord Auchinleck, its architect is unknown; it seems likely that Lord Auchinleck himself had a hand in the neo-Classical design, perhaps influenced by the Adam brothers. Boswell’s friend and mentor Dr. Samuel Johnson famously argued over politics with Lord Auchinleck in the library here, when they visited at the end of their tour of the Hebrides in 1773. Once inherited by Boswell, the house was host to much ‘social glee’, which he recorded in his Book of Company and Liquors. Auchinleck House itself expresses the rich spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment, combining Classical purity in the main elevation with a baroque exuberance in the pavilions and the elaborately carved pediment. We have restored not only the house with its magnificent library looking across to Arran, but also the pavilions, the obelisks and the great bridge across the Dippol Burn, on whose picturesque banks are an ice-house and grotto. Visitors to the house pass beneath an extract, chosen from Horace by Lord Auchinleck, carved into the pediment: Quod petis, hic est, Est Ulubris, animus si te non deficit aequus (‘Whatever you seek is here, in this remote place, if only you have a good firm mind’). We are sure this will speak as clearly to those who stay at Auchinleck today as it did to James Boswell himself.

0997fd3c-a9da-4164-95c7-c396362be537Fox Hall, Charlton, West Sussex

A Palladian idyll perhaps?

Charlton is just a small village, but at one time, when the Charlton Hunt was famous and fashionable, its name was familiar and dear to every sportsman in England. Even Goodwood was described as ‘near Charlton’. The hunt was founded in the 1670s by the Duke of Monmouth and was continued after his death by his son-in-law the Duke of Bolton and then by the Duke of Richmond. Apart from the sport, what attracted highspirited noblemen here, surely, was that they could live in lodgings away from the constraints of home. They clubbed together and built a dining-room for themselves, which they christened ‘Fox Hall’, designed by Lord Burlington, no less, and here ‘these votaries of Diana feasted after the chase and recounted the feats of the day’. Not to miss such affairs and to be in good time for the meets, the Duke of Richmond commissioned the small Palladian building that we now possess. The designer of this rich sample of architecture, built in 1730, was most probably Lord Burlington’s assistant Roger Morris. It consists of a plain brick box with a small stylish hall and staircase leading to one magnificent room above, undoubtedly Britain’s premier bedsit. There is a gilded alcove for the Duke’s bed and in the pediment over the fireplace an indicator shows the direction of the wind, important information for the fox hunter. The front door to all this grandeur leads very sensibly straight to the stable yard. In the 1750s the Hunt was moved away from Charlton to Goodwood. The old Fox Hall disappeared and somehow its name was transferred to our building a few yards off, which, grievously altered, for a long time housed the manager of the Duke of Richmond’s sawmill. So far as possible we have given it back its original form.

0f27257d-86ee-48c6-8fde-0f930e84f3c6The Library, Stevenstone, near Great Torrington, Devon

A lovely place to finish that article

The Library, and its smaller companion the Orangery, stand in well-mannered incongruity beside the ruins of Victorian Stevenstone, with the remains of a grand arboretum around them. Stevenstone was rebuilt by the very last of the Rolles in 1870, but these two pavilions survive from an earlier remodelling of 1710–20. The façade of the Library, with its giant order and modillion cornice, looks like the work of a lively, probably local, mason-architect, familiar with the work of such as Talman and Wren. Why a library in the garden? It probably started life as a perfectly ordinary banqueting house and only assumed its more learned character later on. Why it should have done so is a mystery, of a pleasantly unimportant kind. By the time we first saw it, when it came up for sale in 1978, the bookshelves had been dispersed and the Library had been a house for many years, the fine upper room divided and the loggia closed in, while the Orangery was about to collapse altogether. We put new roofs on both buildings and, on the Library, a new eaves cornice carved from 170 feet of yellow pine by a local craftsman, Richard Barnett. The loggia is open again, and the main room has returned to its full size. To stay in this particularly handsome building, even without the books, is an enlightening experience.

82edede9-08bb-4f99-9cee-2d0ea10ae0edThe House of Correction, Folkingham, Lincolnshire

For fantasies of a Sadean bent?

Folkingham is one of those agreeable places that are less important than they used to be. It has a single very wide street, lined on each side by handsome buildings, with a large eighteenth-century inn across the top end. Behind the houses, to the east, lie the moat and earthworks of a big medieval castle. The House of Correction occupies the site of this castle. These minor prisons were originally intended for minor offenders – the idle (regarded as subversive) and the disorderly. Folkingham had a house of correction by 1611, replaced in 1808 by a new one built inside the castle moat and intended to serve the whole of Kesteven. This was enlarged in 1825 and given a grand new entrance. In 1878 the prison was closed and the inner buildings converted into ten dwellings, all demolished in 1955. The grand entrance alone survives. It was designed by Bryan Browning, an original and scholarly Lincolnshire architect also responsible for the Sessions House at Bourne. It is a bold and monumental work, borrowing from the styles of Vanbrugh, Sanmichele and Ledoux. Apart from cowing the malefactor it was intended to house the turnkey, and the Governor’s horses and carriage. Now it gives entrance only to a moated expanse of grass – a noble piece of architecture in a beautiful and interesting place.

163717ac-cb0b-4f95-afea-72d859252b4dPiazza di Spagna, Rome

An ideal base for tracking the footsteps of Keats and Shelley (although most of the properties are in the UK, there are some notable exceptions)

All architects, and many artists, owe a debt to Rome, and we had long wanted a foothold there. So when the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association launched an appeal for funds to maintain 26 Piazza di Spagna, we asked whether there was a part of it that we could occupy in return for helping them. Happily there was, a flat on the third floor, now restored by us to its condition in about 1800 – spacious rooms with tiled floors and high, beamed ceilings painted in soft colours. The house itself was built around 1600, but owes its external appearence today to changes made by Francesco de Sanctis in 1724–5. Our apartment is not the rooms in which Keats died in 1821 – those are on the floor below – but they are identical in form and layout, and are more in a condition he would recognise. Every tall shuttered window has a view unchanged almost since the days of the Grand Tour, and the sitting-room looks up the Spanish Steps – certainly the world’s grandest and most sophisticated outdoor staircase – to the church of S. Trinita dei Monti at the top. At the front door is Bernini’s fountain in the form of a stone boat sinking into the Piazza di Spagna. There is hardly any motor traffic, but instead all the noises of humanity, some of them very unusual – for example when the steps are cleared by water-cannon, or when the horsedrawn cabs, which form a rank at the far end of the Piazza, arrive over the cobbles, seemingly at dawn and at a gallop. The Steps were designed in 1721 by Francesco de Sanctis, who also designed this house to fit in with his plan. It was probably apartments from the first, in a part of the city long frequented by foreign and particularly English visitors. There can be few places in Rome available to their successors so central, so handsome, so famous or so unaltered as this.

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Enjoy the weekend. Enfilade will be back on Tuesday.

-Craig Hanson

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