Royal Oak Programs, Spring 2023

Posted in lectures (to attend), online learning by Editor on April 13, 2023

18th-century offerings from the Royal Oak Foundation this spring:

Robert Sackville-West | Knole: A Private View into One of Britain’s Great Houses
Charleston Library Society, Charleston, 21 March 2023, 6pm ET

Set of pastels at Knole by Rosalba Carriera: Charles Sackville, 2nd Duke of Dorset at bottom right and his Italian mistress Lucia Panichi, at bottom left (Photo by Ashley Hicks, from Knole: A Private View of One of Britain’s Great Houses, Rizzoli, 2022).

The Sackvilles have inhabited Knole, one of Britain’s greatest houses, for more than 400 years. In his talk, Robert Sackville-West, the 13th generation of the family to live at Knole, will take Royal Oak members on a personal tour of this ‘calendar house’, with its legendary 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances, and 7 courtyards. Lord Sackville will illustrate the smoldering spirit of Knole, from the state rooms—with the finest collection of 17th-century Royal Stuart furniture in the world and outstanding tapestries—to the private apartments filled with portraits by Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Sir Peter Lely, and Reynolds. He will include a trip behind-the-scenes into the labyrinth of cellars and show attics filled with family mementos.

He will describe his ancestors who inhabited his family home—the grave Elizabethan statesman, the good-for-nothing gadabout at the seedy court of James I, the dashing cavalier, the Restoration rake, the 3rd Duke of the ancien régime—who inhabited his family home and were described by Vita Sackville-West (born at Knole) as “a race too prodigal, too amorous, too weak, too indolent, and too melancholy.” Lord Sackville will talk about the way his family has shaped and furnished the house and describe how Knole itself has shaped the Sackvilles, influencing their lives and their relationships up to the present day. The talk will feature stunning images of the interiors and architectural and decorative features taken by Ashley Hicks for Knole: A Private View of One of Britain’s Great Houses, published by Rizzoli in 2022.

More information available here.

Robert Sackville-West, 7th Baron Sackville, studied history at Oxford University and went on to work in publishing. He now chairs Knole Estates, the property and investment company that, in parallel with the National Trust, runs the Sackville family’s interests at Knole.

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Oliver Gerrish | Distinguished to Eccentric: Norfolk Country Houses
Online, Zoom Webinar, 20 April 2023, 2.00pm ET
Also available as a digital rental from April 21 to May 5

Houghton Hall.

For centuries, Norfolk’s wide-open skies, unspoilt coastline, and rich and beautiful agricultural land have inspired writers and poets, artists, and designers, as well as architects and builders. Join architectural historian Oliver Gerrish on an enchanting visual journey through Norfolk’s rich architectural heritage. From the Jacobean splendors of Blickling Hall, believed to be the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, to the early Palladian elegance of Raynham Hall, possibly influenced by Inigo Jones’ circle, and for 400 years the seat of the Townshend family.

When one thinks of Norfolk, two of the grandest private houses in England immediately come to mind: Houghton and Holkham Hall. More than a country house, Holkham, designed by William Kent and Lord Burlington for the Earls of Leicester, can be described as a symmetrical Palladian palace. The sublime grandeur continues inside in the Marble Hall, which was modelled on a Roman basilica, with steps leading to the impressive State Rooms on the piano nobile.

The other neo-Palladian Norfolk ‘palace’ is Houghton Hall, one of England’s most beautiful stately homes designed by Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, with lavish interiors by William Kent. Both of these stately homes were built to reflect the wealth, taste, collections, and power of its inhabitants. Oliver will also examine private Norfolk houses from the 19th and 20th century. One from the Arts & Crafts movement is E.S. Prior’s 17-bedroomed Voewood in High Kelling, Norfolk, which is now owned by a well-known book dealer.

Finally, we will see the quirky Edwardian Sennowe Park, remodeled by George Skipper in 1900–1907 for the grandson of the founder of Thomas Cook travel. Known for its imaginative design, barrel vaulted library, and Art-Deco style tiling, the house is rarely on view.

More information available here.

Oliver Gerrish has a Master’s degree in architectural history from the University of Cambridge. He is a trustee of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust and helped to found their Architecture Awards. For over 10 years he was actively involved with The Georgian Group, for whom he re-founded and successfully led the Young Georgians from 2002 to 2016. He was one of the youngest feature writers for Country Life, and has written for The Georgian magazine and reviews for House and Garden and others. He has lectured nationally on subjects ranging from the masters of the Arts and Crafts to the role country houses play in the lives of younger people. He regularly organizes tours of historic buildings throughout Britain for private clients and charities.

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Rufus Bird | St. James Palace: From Leper Hospital to Royal Court
The Union League of Philadelphia, 2 May 2023, 6.30pm (with an option for dinner)

The General Society Library, New York, 4 May 2023, 6pm ET
Also available as a digital rental from May 5 to May 19

Bird’s eye view of St James Palace.

Visitors to London may recognize the red brick building at the bottom of St. James’ Street—St James’ Palace—and its location near many Pall Mall clubs and boutique hotels. St James’s Palace is a remarkable building at the heart of the history of the British monarchy and served as the official residence of the British monarchy from 1698 to 1837. However, despite its pivotal role in British history, St. James’s Palace is the least known of the royal residences.

While King Charles III and the Queen Consort live at Clarence House, their home is actually one of several structures which formed a part of the buildings that emerged from the Tudor palace in 1530s. St. James’s medieval origins were as a leper hospital dedicated to St. James. The palace’s history also includes stories of murder; family arguments between father and son; a lost masterpiece building by William Kent; and lavish royal apartments. Over the centuries, St. James’s Palace survived dilapidation and fire, 19th century reconstruction, and remained the location for important international diplomacy. Rufus Bird—whose office was in the heart of St. James’s Palace for over 10 years—will bring to life the stories of this remarkable palace. He will explore the role of the palace a principal seat of the British monarchy after fire consumed Whitehall Palace, and explain the building’s impact on the development of London and the West End.

More information on Philadelphia available here and for New York available here.

Rufus Bird is an art advisor at Gurr Johns where he is Director of Decorative Arts and Heritage Collections, Europe. After receiving History of Art from Cambridge University, he joined Christie’s as a graduate trainee and joined the Furniture Department in 1999. In 2010, he was appointed by HM Queen Elizabeth II as Deputy Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art, and then in 2018 as Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art. At the Royal Collection, he was responsible for about 500,000 works of decorative art across fifteen residences. He is one of the authors of the official history of St James’s Palace published by Yale University Press and Royal Collection Trust in 2022.

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Jeremy Musson | ‘Still Life Drama’: Dennis Severs’ House Revived
Online, Zoom Webinar, 9 May 2023, 2pm ET
Also available as a digital rental from May 10 to May 24

Drawing Room of the Dennis Severs’ House (Photo by Lucinda Douglas-Menzies).

Step back in time at the Dennis Severs’ House, located at 18 Folgate Street in London. Visitors are invited to participate in what the American founder called “a still life drama.” This extraordinary multi-sensory experience allows guests to walk through each room of the house feeling as if the 18th- and 19th-century inhabitants have only just withdrawn a moment before.

Collector and founder Dennis Severs bought the semi-derelict 18th-century Spitalfields house in the 1970s. With no desire to restore, Severs wanted to honor what he imagined were the echoes of the house’s history. He created the fictional story of a Huguenot silk merchant’s family named Jervis, who lived in the house for generations from 1724 to 1914. Each room tells the triumphs and tragedies of this fictional family through the original objects Severs bought from London’s street markets and sale rooms, atmospherically lit by candlelight. Painstakingly assembled over 20 years, many of the rooms were mocked up in the manner of stage scenery using inexpensive materials—all conveying a haunting sense of London’s past: silk waistcoats are flung on rumpled bed clothes, a card game has just ended, fires crackle, and steam rises from a filled punch bowl.

Jeremy Musson recently featured this unusual house in Country Life Magazine. Jeremy will speak about the house which he says “defies categorization…and is a house of mystery and paradox.” He will illustrate the rooms—recently repaired and conserved by the trustees during COVID lockdown—and show English houses that possibly influenced Severs’ designs. He also will show how the founder used costume and set designers, as well interior designers, to create a remarkable home that captures a moment in time and history.

More information available here.

Jeremy Musson is a leading authority on the English country house. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and sits on a number of boards and trusts including the Country House Foundation. He was awarded an M Phil in Renaissance History at the Warburg Institute, University of London in 1989 and was architectural editor of Country Life from 1995 to 2007. Before joining Country Life in 1995, Jeremy was an assistant regional curator for the National Trust in East Anglia. He has written and edited hundreds of articles on historic country houses, from Garsington Manor to Knebworth House. He also presented 14 programmes on BBC 2, making up two series called The Curious House Guest in 2005–07. He lectures and supervises for academic programmes with Cambridge University, London University, and Buckingham University, as well as the Attingham Summer School. His books include Up and Down Stairs: The History of the English Country House Servant (2009), English Country House Interiors (2011), Robert Adam: Country House Design, Decoration & the Art of Elegance (2017), The Country House: Past, Present, Future: Great Houses of the British Isles (2018), and Romantics and Classics: Style in the English Country House (Rizzoli, 2021).

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Sophie Chessum | Clandon Park: Uncovering the Secrets of the Past
Online, Zoom Webinar, 23 May 2023, 2pm ET
Also available as a digital rental from May 24 to June 9

Recovered items following the fire at Clandon Park.

National Trust Curator Sophie Chessum witnessed the devastating fire at Clandon Park, Surrey on the night of April 29, 2015. The Palladian style house, a NT property, had been built in the early 1730s by Thomas Onslow and his wife to impress and entertain their friends, and included a Marble Hall with richly carved marble fireplaces by John Michael Rysbrack. Everyone was safely evacuated, but the 2015 fire raged through the house, leaving Clandon literally open to the skies.

Firefighters and NT staff tried to salvage some of the remarkable artifacts and objects, but the inside was gutted. Planning for the house’s future started almost before the cinders had cooled. Within weeks cranes removed the dangerous timbers and bricks, and a self-supporting scaffold was designed to wrap and roof the four-story structure. Everyone hoped for restoration, but after years of forensic investigation and consultation with experts, it was not deemed possible apart from the Speaker’s Parlour. The NT and teams of experts developed a new approach that celebrates what survives of the 18th-century building and seeks to tell the stories about how this masterpiece was built. The fire may have destroyed much of Clandon’s interior, but it also revealed how the house was constructed and crafted. Hidden secrets from Clandon’s history now revealed include: construction dating from timbers, stones reused from the previous Jacobean structure, hidden doorways and alcoves, and paneling in the State Bedroom.

Sophie will talk about that fateful night, show some of the salvaged fragments and objects under conservation—including the State Bed—and explain what curators and specialists have learned about the house. She will describe the current project which gives access to spaces conserved, offering visitors a unique ‘X-ray view’ and celebrating the craft skills of the people who created some of England’s greatest country houses.

More information available here.

Sophie Chessum is Clandon Park’s Senior Project Curator. Chessum has been with the National Trust since 1998, when she started as a Curatorial Researcher. Since 2002 she has been a curator for a number of internationally important houses, collections, gardens, and landscapes including Clandon Park, Claremont, Hatchlands Park, Hinton Ampner, Petworth House, Polesden Lacey, The Homewood, Uppark, and Woolbeding. She has been a consultancy manager at the National Trust since 2013, where she provides specific consultancy support to Ham House, Sutton House and 575 Wandsworth Road, Osterley Park, Morden Hall Park, Rainham Hall, Carlye’s House, Fenton House, Red House, and 2 Willow Road. In addition she is the curator for Ham House, Richmond Surrey. Since the fire at Clandon Park in April 2015, she has been seconded to lead the salvage elements of this project, providing curatorial expertise on the house and its collection and working closely with archaeologist and conservator.

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Justin Scully | Saving Fountains Abbey: Project Update
Online, Zoom Webinar, 1 June 2023, 2pm ET
Also available as a digital rental from June 2 to June 16

Flooding at Studley Royal Water Garden.

In 2020, Royal Oak donated $250,000 to preserve one of England’s most magnificent sites which was one of the first places in the UK to become a World Heritage Site in 1986. Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden is an awe-inspiring landscape, owned by the National Trust since 1983. Cistercian monks established the Abbey in 1132, manipulating the River Skell to harness its power for grinding grain into flour. Over time, the Abbey became one of the largest, richest, and most influential Cistercian sites in Britain—until the Dissolution in the 1530s by Henry VIII.

In the early 18th century, John Aislabie began transforming his nearby landscape garden of Studley Royal into a picturesque design that incorporated the entire wooded valley and featured a huge water garden with lakes, grottos, canals, and cascades. Paths were created with viewpoints that centered on classical statues and follies. In 1767, his son William bought the neighboring Abbey ruins to incorporate them into the landscape and to create the ultimate vista or ‘Surprise View.’ Centuries later, the garden design is much the same, but this important landscape is often flooded from the River Skell. To save the site, the National Trust has partnered with conservation organizations, local farmers, and landowners to implement a natural flood management program.

Justin Scully, the site’s General Manager, will update Royal Oak members on the on-going progress of these efforts, including the planting of woodland and hedgerows and the creation of ponds and meadows to slow the water flow. He will illustrate the changes and explain the challenges faced by the preservation team. Additionally, he will talk about the surviving relics of the Chinese Garden and the wider 18th-century and monastic landscape, as well as exciting discoveries in the historic archives.

More information available here.

Justin Scully is General Manager at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Gardens, National Trust. The site is one of the busiest properties in the National Trust welcoming in excess of 600,000 visitors per year. Justin has worked for the National Trust for 14 years and in his 6 years at Fountains has overseen multi-million pound investment in visitor infrastructure and conservation, as well as the Skell Valley project, a £2.5m landscape scale conservation project.

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