Wednesday, 26 November 2014

GIVING THANKS

Myott England's Countryside platter, edge detail
a treasured pattern of mine

As we do not have Thanksgiving in England we are tipped straight from 'back to school' to  Christmas, with a small stop between for Halloween and Guy Fawkes, or Bonfire Night. I love the little Trick or Treaters which visit us on Halloween, and on Bonfire Night our village hold a communal bonfire with fireworks.



But I miss the Thanksgiving holidays I had with family and friends when I lived in California, or the early years after I first moved here when we would all meet up at the family home. I like the way that so many people decorate their homes and yards for Fall with pumpkins, scarecrows, primitive dolls and the multi coloured flags. Windows alight each night with scented candles. As if joining in the show that nature provides for us before the dark and cold of winter.



There is something very special about a house full of people of all ages sharing a meal prepared with love. It's worth the early rising to get the turkey in the oven and prepare the mounds of vegetables which need to be washed, peeled, cooked and often mashed by hand. One Thanksgiving the black Labrador who lived on the top of the hill above our house came down to join us. She was quite old and it was raining but she was determined. We were honoured and suspect that she had a second dinner when her owner took her home.



Showing gratitude for what we receive is something I try to make a permanent part of my life.  Autumn seems the perfect time to take a moment and remember the year before retreating indoors and preparing our homes for the Winter. It's a time to thank those who have helped us and shared our lives through the golden times, and the bad times.



Although from California our family scattered across America, as so many do today so this get together in November was precious to us all. As our family Elders passed on this also became a time to remember them, and to do our best to make a meal as good as they had once done for all of us. Our family were not well off and they made the most of whatever they could afford to buy or grow. We are more fortunate than they were and grateful for the guidance they gave to us to assist us in our lives.

Time has diminished my family numbers, big houses were sold, we downsized and we are now the Elders ourselves. The truth is that we will have no more Thanksgivings together and as the youngest I am left with the memories of those days.



I still like to dress the house for the seasons and have a small collection of what I call winter and summer china and ornaments. Because I moved here when I was a young free spirited girl having a big adventure I traveled light and was unable to bring my china with me. In those days few of us owned a camera and sadly I did not record my surroundings but I  remember fondly some of the transfer ware and patterns. Once it was clear that I was settled here I began my collection again and tried to find some of what I had left behind. For me it is a way of remembering my family.




Funny enough I realised most of the things I cherished as a child had been made in England. I love brown transfer ware for it's simplicity and there is something comforting about the mellow shades and delicate designs.



Many of my pieces have chips or hairline cracks but I still use and enjoy them, carefully!



I am very nosy about china and always like to take a peak when visiting stately homes. I love it when the houses have kept their collections. On a recent visit to the National Trust property Tyntesfield I fell in love with a huge glass mold in the shape of a turkey.



It was used as a jelly mold, or as we called it in America, a 'jello' mold. I would love to borrow it !



One of my favourite  pieces I own is this vintage Wood and Sons Burslem jug, 'Woodland' pattern, hand coloured transfer ware, English Staffordshire. I  love the shape and the detail in the design. The border around the rim is so beautiful and it also has a pattern down the handle. The big house set in the country scene reminds me of the stately homes in the landscapes around England, and in some parts of America.

I wish all of my friends across the water a Happy Thanksgiving from our little cottage here in Wessex where we will take time to remember.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

GHOST STORY - The Haunted Bedroom

It's nearly Halloween. In folklore this is a time when the veils between the worlds grow thinner allowing us to feel the presence of the other side. When the spiritual and material worlds touch and a potential exists for magical events to occur. I like a ghost story at Halloween, and I share one with you now. It is a sad tale, but it happens in such a lovely house.

"What's that in the mirror, and the corner of your eye?
What's the footstep following, but never passing by?"

Dr Who, Series eight, episode 4/12: 'Listen' (Saturday 13th September 2014  BBC1)



Have you ever had that feeling that you are not alone? It's impossible to describe, but once felt rarely forgotten. Like a shadow falling across your path, a cool breeze blowing over your shoulders from behind, when there is no open window. You may shrug it off, especially once back in the sunlight, and yet …. something remains. You feel changed.

It was a rainy Autumn day a few years back. I had recently moved to a new county in the English countryside and I liked exploring it without plans. Taking unexpected turns from main roads while out on errands. I'd been researching the area and had a raggedy folder stuffed with historical notes, clippings of places of interest, country homes and village pubs and shops. It would take me a very long time to get through my list of visits – but I was in no hurry.  




Especially on that grey afternoon when the rain was coming down so hard that I could hardly see the road let alone follow it. I meant to visit the medieval Littlecote House, but not that day, not in that rain. Instead of taking my normal route home, following the road around the corner by that enchanting thatched cottage on the edge of the woods I found myself going straight on, on a road I had never traveled. I have no idea why.



It was misty with fog and very little light filtered through the trees lining the road. The thought crossed my mind how quiet it was, except for the sound of my windscreen wipers. I realised that I had turned the radio off, as if I needed to hear better, as I could not see well, there in the woods. 



The road meandered down and at the bottom the front of Littlecote  House came into view. It was magnificent, accented by the creeper that adorned it in a rich ruby red. There was no mistaking the antiquity of the house. I barely had time to admire it before the road swept around behind it. There I was, in a car park by the back gate to the gardens of Littlecote House.



I bolted through a tall wrought iron gate up the garden path with my head down to shield from the still falling rain. I found myself there, at the back door, past another gate, and through it into a hall.  

 

The house was eerily quiet, like it had been in my car. I felt I was in a different world, had gone through some threshold either driving, or running. Littlecote House has stood for a very long time. I do not think that the house is evil, but it has seen many lives pass through it in the hundreds of years which it has stood there proudly surrounded by it's woods.

If ever there was a house which was inhabited by ghosts,  watched over by The Fae, Littlecote House with it's Gothic windows and ancient oak and stone - must be just such a place.



Fairies looking through a Gothic arch, in original frame

This painting by the Victorian artist John Anster Fitzgerald is one of my favourites, appropriate for a midsummer night or for Halloween. I think it captures the ethereal quality of Faerie spirits so well. Beautiful free characters, magical but also  mischievous and unpredictable. Littlecote House has this kind of magic about it and you can imagine coming upon a Faerie troupe gazing through one of the Gothic arches there.
ArtMagick describes the painting thus:

"This painting shows a night-time scene where a small troupe of fairies has arrived at the entrance to a Gothic ruin. Through the arch a brilliant light shines, illuminating the fairy group. One of them carries a wreath and a chain of flowers. In its original frame, this is one of Fitzgerald's most haunting and tantalising fairy paintings. The fairies are certainly acting with intent and may, indeed, be up to no good - which would be characteristic of Fitzgerald. If this painting is based upon an actual myth or story, that myth has yet to be unearthed."

Littlecote House is run as a hotel today but much of the house remains as it might have been centuries ago when Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, King James II, William of Orange or Charles II visited. It's said that Henry courted Jane Seymour here after the demise of Queen Jane. One of the owners was a champion of Oliver Cromwell and his campaign to rid England of it's monarchy, then abruptly changed sides and had Charles II and his French Catholic Queen to dinner for which he kept his head and became a Knight of Bath.



A suit of armour beckoned me into the Great Hall.



The history of the house lays across it, like a fog permeating my sight and thoughts. The hotel was full of guests and yet I encountered no one. It was as if they had all just stepped out and would return at any moment. 



There was a half finished jigsaw puzzle upon the enormous heavy oak sideboard. 



Unfinished tea lay on a side table by the high backed raspberry velvet chairs. Light through the ancient stained glass window flickered and danced multi-coloured patterns upon the stone floor.



How long I stood there in the shadows I do not know. The day was near end as something led me through a heavy door and up the stairs. Littlecote House is known to be one of the most haunted houses in England. A sign on the stairs points you towards The Haunted Bedroom and The Long gallery, also haunted according to local tradition. The last light of the day illuminated angels in an  ethereal stained glass window on the stairs. 




The bedroom is through an outer hallway with lush red carpeting and dark wooden panelling. 



The room itself looks out over the gardens otherwise it is in semi darkness. The first thing which you see are two figures, of a man and a woman. You start  - as they look so lifelike that you believe you are not alone in the small room. Or maybe it is just a feeling that you have. The man is dressed as if for travelling, in tall boots, a cloak and gloves. The woman is dressed modestly and she holds a bundle in her arms. You feel as if you have intruded upon some drama which you cannot understand.



Fantastically carved faces on the stark plaster mantel over the fireplace glow against dark wood panel of the walls.   




A small Elizabethan oak canopy bed is simply dressed. In the dark corner by the fireplace is a side table, upon it a man's hat with a feather on it.



An explanation of the scene which you witness is well known in these parts but has passed into legend so that details are impossible to confirm and there are many variations on the story. It is supposed to have occurred in 1575 during the reign of Elizabeth I. The man is Lord of the Manor, 'Wild' William Darrell, well known for his dark character.  The woman a midwife known as Mother Barnes, who was brought to the house blindfolded by an agent of the Lord, sworn to secrecy to deliver an unidentified lady of a child she was carrying. A horrific scene ensued in which William Darrel himself snatched the new-born infant and threw it upon the blazing fire, and held it there by a boot until it had died. The true identity of the man, the lady and the poor child remain unconfirmed but many tales abound with various substantiation available. He was never tried for this crime although it was investigated after the midwife told authorities.  But his story did not end happily. William Darrell made many enemies and accrued great debt. There must not be many who mourned him when he broke his neck in a fatal fall from his horse in 1589 while riding on the estate. We will never know for sure what spooked the horse, but locals like to believe that the ghost of a lady carrying a baby crossed his path. It is said that he haunts this room, the spot on the grounds where he died and the church at Ramsbury, two miles away.

Sir Walter Scott heard tell of this tale and used it for his poem 'Rokeby'

Although this manor is now a hotel, no one ever sleeps in this bedroom. 
 
~  ~  ~
 
I had been taking photographs of the house throughout my visit there and had found that I was having trouble focussing the camera. I put this down to the hour of the day and the lack of light causing difficulty. I quickly recorded this room. As the day grew darker yet I realised how late it was and I hurried through the house and out into the gardens towards my car. Outside Littlecote House seemed different. Had it shared a secret with me?




Months passed with little thought of that afternoon. One day I came upon the photographs from my first visit there and The Haunted Bedroom. All the images from that day are clear, throughout the house. But in the corner of the bedroom where the hat of the man lay on the old table there is a strange blue light, in every photo that I took.


I often visit Littlecote House. I  have  noticed that there are strange lights and shadows throughout the house, and in the gardens. Especially at this time of year, and particularly at twilight.





You never really feel alone at Littlecote, as if ancestors cling to a place they once loved.  


There are faces everywhere, wax figures of past inhabitants, in paintings, tooled into the paneling, in the over mantels and on the furniture. The eyes of angels watch from stained glass windows, and darker beasts from carved oak.


The house itself has a melancholy air yet parts of the gardens are joyous even in winter, and in the mornings you may glimpse a Deer and hear the birds singing in the woods. But there are dark places and spirits here too.

I would not like to wander too far in the woods after nightfall. You may well meet with spirits there. It is said that should you stray close to  "Wild Darrell's Leap," you might encounter him riding a half wild black stallion.

Arthur Rackham, master illustrator
 


NOTES:

In another twist to this tale, the Popham family who owned Littlecote House after William Darrell owned a Derby winner who they named Wild Dayrell. Wild Dayrell was retired to their stud at  Littlecote, and according to the site Thoroughbred Heritage, " he remained "an especial pet" for the rest of his life. He died, "of apoplexy," probably a heart attack, in his stall at Littlecote a few hours after finishing a hearty breakfast on November 27, 1870, age eighteen."


Thank you to Haunted Wiltshire, please see their website for wonderful images and information on Littlecote House.    Read more HERE:

Littlecote House has a Wiki page, HERE:

The page on 'Fairies looking through a Gothic Arch' on ArtMagick, a most useful source for research can be found HERE:



 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

IN A SEASONAL HOME - Autumn Magic

Nothing like an Autumn Bonfire

We've had a busy summer visiting new and old places and friends and gathering bright and shiny treasures along the way. Some will need a gentle hand to mend them before they can be sold and find new homes.  And some will stay with us as we cannot bear to part with them!


A beautiful Moss Agate bracelet we found
which reminds us of the season.
Burleigh ware Harvest jug from the 1930s

Carved oak Dragon panel

The gardens around us and our small community have needed a lot of work and we have become the 'Godparents' to the ancient churchyard where we trim and nurture the hedges and trees and take a few moments to linger over the old headstones. Many churchyards near us have become nature reserves and we hope that ours can also be a little less manicured and more wild. There is something reassuring about living things dwelling amongst the spirits of the departed.



This is my favourite time of year. I never think of Autumn and Winter as being dark seasons. I see a different colour palette to Spring and Summer, but still fiercely bright. It's a time for richly coloured velvets and tapestry, calico cats and glass vases in jewel like hues. 

Isabella

I love the feel of the change in the air and the light, and relish the cooler weather. I was California born but I never fitted into the sun and sand lifestyle and it was one Autumn day a long time ago that I moved to England. It is a special season for me, with some happy and some sad anniversaries bringing out the nesting instinct as the days shorten and the nights become chill. I love the thought of stacks of blankets, hot chocolate with marshmallows,  and the cats curled up by the fire. Grab a good book and relax after the activity of the warmer months. Or, like me, borrow a neighbour's dog and go for a long walk in the woods letting it channel it's inner Wolf. 





We are going on one last trip before we settle in for the year, this time to France. When we return we will be decorating for the harvest and Halloween. And we will be sharing a sad but interesting ghost story we have with you. 


 




* The luscious brights and darks shown in two of our photographs are from a magical visit we had with Hannah and Rachel of Velvet Eccentrics. Read about them HERE:

Thursday, 19 June 2014

FOLKLORIC - A Midsummer Night's Dream

The program from Her Majesty's Theatre London January 10, 1900

When William Shakespear's Midsummer Night's Dream was printed in 1600 there were many enchanting forests in England. Sadly much of them have vanished now and England is the least forested place in Europe. Yet if you look you can still find remnants of a few places where it is not hard to imagine the Queen of the Fae frolicking on this longest day of the year.

A lesser known painting of Titania and Bottom, by Edwin Landseer.

I admit that it was Shakespeare who introduced to me to the folklore of the longest day.  Later I looked deeper into the subject and discovered a wealth of art and text about it and despite the ensuing years it retains all of the old magic which bewitched me as a child. Midsummer evokes modern and historic imagery, scents and sounds.

Beautiful table setting from HERE:

 Long evenings alfresco, Rose wine, music festivals in the park, the heady scent of incense and roses. Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market, The Secret Garden, Mermaids, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Pirates and those Faery rings we accidentally come across which seem to appear overnight.




J.M. Barrie and one of the Davies boys
 playing 'Neverland' in Kensington Gardens
Arthur Rackham illustration for Undine, 1919
Midsummer Eve by Charlotte Bird 

Detail from Midsummer Eve by Charlotte Bird 

But it is Shakespeare's depiction of the night which is the best known and beloved.

Henry Meynell Rheam (1859-1920) - Titania welcoming her fairy bretheren

When we lived near London I watched many sunsets on this night from Richmond Terraces overlooking The Thames. In younger days I did dare to wander in the forest and enjoyed being spooked by the animals that lived there, imagining them to be one of the Faery Folk. Maybe they were.



A special place to be on this night is the Open Air Theatre in London's Regents Park and I had the pleasure of seeing The Royal Shakespeare Company perform A Midsummer Night's Dream there. There have been many illustrious actors grace the stage and the setting is always intimate and enchanting.

Diana Rigg and Helen Mirren in 1968
, and I remember when Toyah Wilcox played Puck. 
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Demetrius in 2001.
I'm very partial to Puck, especially when drawn by Arthur Rackham. 


But I probably love Bottom best of all. There is something 'Beauty and The Beast' about him. Awhile back I found a copy illustrated by Arthur Rackham at a charity book sale to aid a crumbling church. This is my favourite illustration of Bottom. 




I hope everyone is having a lovely summer and that some enchantment sneaks into your dreams on the longest day. Just remember that all is not what it seems on Midsummer Night!

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck delivers this epilogue:


If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.

And Robin shall restore amends.” (V, i. 440-455)


The Marriage of Titania and Oberon by John Anster Fitzgerald 


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