Day one of the Decorative Antiques & Textile Fair, Battersea Park, Spring, 2018. The Fair runs until Sunday, April 22nd. Please get in touch if you want a free invitation. Admits Two. Look forward to seeing you there.
April 17, 2018
Day one of the Decorative Antiques & Textile Fair, Battersea Park, Spring, 2018. The Fair runs until Sunday, April 22nd. Please get in touch if you want a free invitation. Admits Two. Look forward to seeing you there.
April 10, 2018
Luke features in The Financial Times magazine, How to Spend It, April 7 2018. Emma Crichton-Miller writes about antique chess sets in her regular antiques column, Past Masters.
October 05, 2017
January 25, 2017
Second day of the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair, Battersea Park. Last day, Sunday, January 29th, 2017. Pleased with the stand, looking good...
January 13, 2017
November 30, 2016
Big thank you to Homes & Antiques magazine for featuring my antique glass Witch Ball collection on the front cover of their new January issue. All for sale, so if you’re interested in buying one, give me a ring.
May 13, 2016
Source: Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair/Luke Honey Ltd
Eagle eyed readers of Homes & Antiques will recognise this rather stylish chair, pictured above. It’s a ‘Red Chair’ from the Prince of Wales’s Investiture, held at Caernarvon Castle in 1969. The investiture sounds like a ceremony steeped in arcane antiquity, but in reality it was actually a 20th century re-invention (revived as recently as 1911 at the instigation of David Lloyd George): a heraldic pageant for the television age, and at a time of burgeoning Welsh nationalism (and even terrorist threat), for some, controversial.
The Queen personally invited Anthony Armstrong-Jones (the Earl of Snowdon) to oversee the design of the ceremony. As a Welshman, designer, architect of the London Zoo aviary, and photographer, Snowdon was an inspired choice. Through his marriage to Princess Margaret, he also happened to be the Queen’s brother-in-law.
To help him, Snowdon recruited two other designers to the royal cause: Carl Toms, the great stage designer who had spent his formative years under the influence of Snowdon’s uncle, Oliver Messel, and John Pound, a ‘brutalist’ designer from the Ministry of Works. The investiture took place on a circular raise dais, beneath a lanced Perspex canopy bearing a huge Prince of Wales feather crest, presumably made from a moulded plastic.
Not unlike the Queen Mother’s see-through PVC umbrellas, the transparent canopy was specifically designed to allow the television cameras (mounted on hydraulic cranes in the specially designated ‘television compounds’) a better view, bringing the glamorous six hour spectacle into the homes of millions, rather than as Snowdon put it in a television interview, ‘an elitist few’.
Snowdon, as Constable of Caernarvon Castle wore a uniform to his own design: a natty high collared number in bottle green (with zip) which depending on your point of view, either looked like ‘something from Carnaby Street’ or in Snowdon’s own words ‘a cinema usherette from the 1950’s or the panto character, Buttons’.
Design for the Prince of Wales’s Investiture, 1969 by Carl Toms, from the Investiture programme. Collection: Stephanie Connell Antiques & Art
And the guests needed chairs to sit on. According to Anne de Courcy’s recent biography, the Ministry of Works wanted the ‘riff-raff’ (as they thought fit to call them) to sit on planks mounted on scaffolding, with the VIP’s permitted to sit on chairs. Fortunately, this was over-ruled by the designers, and 4,000 special investiture chairs were made (‘a sea of red’).
Manufactured by disabled workers at the Remploy factory in Bridgend, the chairs are made from a beach-wood frame and the seat and backs are constructed from preformed plywood, veneered in Olive Ash and stained in ‘Vermillion Red’. The backs are embossed with the Prince of Wales’s Feathers in gold leaf and the seats are upholstered in red Welsh tweed, using a stable dye that would not run onto the guest’s clothes during a Welsh shower. The underside of the seat bears a Prince of Wales’s feathers stamp and the date ’69, and, obscured by the upholstery, hand-written numbering.
Prince of Wales’s Investiture Chair Sales Leaflet, 1969. From the collection of Luke Honey Ltd
The chairs were offered for sale after the ceremony and sold flat-packed for £12 each, via a promotional advertising leaflet. Snowdon bought six. And in a more egalitarian age, guests were encouraged to re-assemble the chairs for themselves, IKEA style.
Gold tasselled cushions, upholstered from the same red Welsh tweed and emblazoned with a medallion sporting the Prince of Wales’s feathers, were also made, but are now extremely hard to find, as presumably many were thrown away. An investiture chair is now held in the Frederick Parker chair collection at the Metropolitan University, London.
Prices for the chair are rising as collectors and interior designers begin to appreciate their handsome looks, regal history and practicality. They work especially well in dressing rooms and bathrooms.
Expect to pay in the region of £650-950 (depending on condition) from a specialist dealer. Condition is important, and originality is key. Many chairs on the market are in poor condition or have had the Welsh tweed cloth replaced. The special Investiture cushions remain especially scarce.
Luke Honey is a former auction specialist, dealer in art and antiques, writer, and custodian of the Frederick Parker chair collection.
April 21, 2016
Our stand at the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair, Battersea Park. Ends April 24th.
Luke Honey & Stephanie Connell (Stand 127).
April 08, 2016
Important: Please note that the fair ends on Sunday, 24th April, not the 27th April as I very stupidly managed to state in the newsletter. So if anyone turns up after the 24th, I’m afraid you’re going to find an empty pavilion. Really sorry about that. See you there.
December 16, 2015
You can also read this on my regular blog at the Homes & Antiques magazine website:
Pollock’s “Redington” Toy Theatre, 1960’s reprint from the Victorian original, in the collection of the V & A.
One Christmas- a long, long time ago- I bought a Pollock’s Toy Theatre with the yearly cheque sent by a kind godfather.
Oh, the excitement as the jaunty Harrods delivery van bounced up our rickety gravel drive! I must have been about ten years old. That Christmas my family was forced to watch several creaky performances of Jack the Giant Killer, with my long suffering little sister dragooned into reading the minor parts.
Pollock’s Toy Museum & Shop, Scala Street, London.
Later, as an undergraduate at University College, London, I discovered Pollock’s shop in a dingy back street off the Tottenham Court Road, and drawn, like a moth to candle, it became a regular haunt, as much because of its intoxicatingly archaic, dusty atmosphere- evoking the vanished, gaslit ambience of an Edwardian Never-Never Land.
Toy theatres were popular children’s toys until their decline at the end of the 19th century. Miniature prosceniums, characters, scenery and props were printed onto paper from copper plates and sold by publishers and stationers as individual sheets “a Penny Plain, or a Tuppence Coloured”. These could be cut out, pasted onto card or wood and then painted- if the child decided to plump for the cheaper option.
Children had a wide range of plays to choose from: Victorian melodramas, pantomimes and historical romances. The “actors” were mounted onto little tin slides and pushed onto the stage from the side wings. And sometimes, a play might include exciting stage tricks and effects, as in The Miller and His Men (1835), which included moving water and, disturbingly, realistic explosions (“red fire to burn”).
We can trace the early days of the English toy theatre to the first days of the Regency, when William West set up shop in Exeter Street, Covent Garden. By the 1880’s only two toy theatre publishers remained in London, Pollock in Hoxton, and Webb in Finsbury; and Benjamin Pollock’s shop, alone, struggled on as a quaint anachronism until his death in the 1930’s.
Urania Toy Theatre, Carl Bayer, Germany, circa 1885.
And with the decline of English toy theatre came the arrival of imported theatres from Germany and Denmark. If the populist charm of English toy theatre- “The Juvenile Drama”- had been enjoyed by children from a wider background, European theatres were more the preserve of children of the upper and upper middle classes: altogether grander and more sophisticated affairs, with magnificent prosceniums, sumptuous chromolithographic colour printing and operatic productions such as The Magic Flute.
Pollock’s “Hamlet, presented by Sir Laurence Olivier”, from the 1948 film, set and costume design by Roger Furse.
In 1944, Alan Keen, a raffish advertising man turned rare book dealer, bought up the entire stock of Pollock’s shop (including the original copper printing plates) and began republishing the plays and theatres. An interesting play from this period is Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet, “reproduced from the J. Arthur Rank Enterprise” and published for the miniature stage in 1948. It featured colour-tinted photographic cutouts of a swashbuckling Sir Lawrence, and scenery and costumes taken directly from the film’s original set designs by Roger Furse.
Six years later, facing bankruptcy, the business was saved by the remarkable Marguerite Fawdry, who re-established Pollock’s in the attic of an old house in Monmouth Street, Covent Garden (later to move to Scala Street), but with the additional lure of a fascinating Toy Museum, which soon became a mecca for trendy parents searching for quirky presents for their ‘with it’ children in the Swinging London of the 1960’s.
November 24, 2015
Here’s my first blog post for Barneby’s.
You can also read it on the Barneby’s website:
Image via royalhats.wordpress.com
British coronation furniture is becoming increasingly collectable. If you enjoy visiting English country houses you may have noticed coronation chairs tucked away in corridors, halls and even bathrooms. These were made specifically for guests to sit in at the coronation of English- later British monarchs, held at Westminster Abbey since 1066.
In 1902, at the coronation of Edward VII, guests were invited to buy the chairs to keep as souvenirs, and this charming practice has continued to the present day.
George VI (1937) chairs are of a simple modern design, constructed from limed oak, with chamfered legs and upholstered in green velveteen emblazoned with the royal cipher in gilt thread. Elizabeth II (1953) chairs are of similar design but feature legs in silvered oak with upholstery in Royal Blue. Both chairs are stamped with the royal monogram.
Chairs were for the use of peers and their consorts and were numbered, so, after a bit of research, it’s possible to discover who sat on them.
Stools were also made for the pages. Peers who carried regalia were expected to have their own pages in attendance- these were often their friends’ teenage sons who wore the peer’s own specific (and splendid) livery.
Specialist dealer, Stephanie Connell, who recently sold an Elizabeth II chair and a George VI stool at the Autumn Battersea Decorative Antiques Fair, says that demand for coronation furniture “is on the rise, as collectors appreciate their historical associations as well as their practicality. They also make talking points for bathrooms, studies and halls.”
Chairs were also manufactured for the coronations of Edward VII (1902) and George V (1911). Both are easy to miss, as the Edward VII chair is easily mistaken for a simple country side chair with rustic rush seat, and the George V chair resembles a mahogany dining room chair in reproduction Chippendale. Both chairs are stamped CORONATION FURNITURE.
Image: Luke Honey Ltd
More recently, Lord Snowdon designed a fascinating modernist chair for the Prince of Wales’s Investiture at Caernarvon Castle in 1969. These stylish chairs are made with a beech-wood frame, and the seat and back is constructed from preformed plywood, veneered in Olive Ash and stained “Vermillion Red”. The backs are embossed with the Prince of Wales’s feathers in gold leaf and the seats are upholstered in red Welsh cloth, using a stable dye that would not run onto the guests’ clothes in the likely event of a rain. The chairs were manufactured in Wales at the Remploy factory and sold flat-packed for the princely sum of £12, which included delivery “complete with instructions”: in a more egalitarian age, guests were encouraged to re-assemble the chairs for themselves.
Image: Luke Honey Ltd
Prices are on the up. If you buy from a specialist dealer, expect to pay in the region of £450 for a coronation stool, £900 or so for a good George VI or Elizabeth II chair and £850 for a Prince of Wales chair. As always, condition is key and will affect the value. Chairs associated with famous individuals can fetch considerably more: In 2010, a George VI chair, Elizabeth II chair and George VI stool fetched £6,875 at Christie’s. They came from Althorp, the seat of the Spencer family and ancestral home of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Luke Honey spent many years as an auction specialist (Phillips, Bonhams and Bloomsbury) and is now a leading dealer in decorative mantiques, exhibiting at the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair twice a year. He is a custodian of the Frederick Parker Chair Collection and sells coronation furniture on a regular basis.
November 02, 2015
Now and again an inspirational auction comes along which really grabs you. Step forward last year’s Bunny Mellon sale at Sotheby’s. Oak Spring was her understated- and relatively modest- Virginian 50’s farmhouse. Wonderful collections of eighteenth century English porcelain, country furniture, equestrian mezzotints, antique silver, and a stunning museum of historic antiquarian gardening books in the grounds.
Considering the Mellons are one of the richest families in America, Oak Spring seems to be the antithesis of modernist bling (yawn) and the horror of today’s celebrity culture. Until you remember that within the estate there was, I gather, a private airport, with a jet sitting on the runway, on stand-by. Not that I disapprove, God forbid; four cheers for Marie Antoinette and the Petit Trianon.
Have a close look at the top of this Louis XV fruitwood table, circa 1745 (Lot 367). Looks like Bunny left the window open, doesn’t it? It’s faded, splattered, stained and patterned with acidic rain-water.
But how many of us would be tempted to have this restored, re-varnished and otherwise re-juvenated? I hope that whoever bought it left it exactly ‘as is’. Antiques often have a story to tell. It’s what makes them so fascinating- and human. There’s also a beauty in imperfection. And above all, antiques should be used.
October 29, 2015
Lady Cynthia Asquith’s The Third Ghost Book, mass-market paperback, Pan, 1965
It’s that time of year again. With Hallowe’en just around the corner, here’s a selection of collectable English ghost stories and spooky supernatural tales guaranteed to get you in the appropriate mood for Fright Night.
It’s said that England is the most haunted country in the world, so if you love collecting old books, why not while away the dark hours with a classic ghost story? Alternatively, a pile of scary vintage paperbacks left on the spare-room bedside table should amuse and entertain your houseguests.
This first edition second state copy of Dracula (“an unusually good example” but with “some restoration to the spine”) sold for £1,500 (hammer price) at Bloomsbury Auctions in 2013. Bram Stoker, the Irish manager of the Lyceum Theatre and author of Dracula, is said to have dreamt up the legendary vampire following an indigestible supper of dressed crab.
Dracula was first published in 1897. Stoker had never been to Transylvania, but lengthy research at the British Museum Reading Room (combined with the benefit of a nightmarish imagination) gave birth to an enduring myth, later popularised by the old black and white horror movies of Universal Studios.
In the world of rare books condition, provenance, originality and association all play an important role when it comes to the tricky business of valuation: in 2010 a first edition first issue copy of Dracula, personally inscribed by Stoker to Mrs W. S. Gilbert (the wife of operetta librettist, Sir William Gilbert), fetched a staggering £44,000 at auction (Bloomsbury).
Or how about an early edition of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? Robert Louis Stevenson’s infamous yarn was first published in 1886, with the American edition beating the British edition to the press by four days.
Auction prices vary, depending on condition, but expect to pay a few hundred pounds or so for the first English edition. The book was published in paper wrappers, with a smaller hardback print run bound in cloth.
More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by Montague Rhodes James, mass-market paperback, Pan, 1955.
Those of you on a tight budget might enjoy vintage paperbacks from the 50’s and 60’s, especially if you’re interested in period graphics. They’re highly collectable. It would be quite possible to build a fascinating collection for very little money, but as ever, only try to buy books in the best condition you can find them in.
M.R. James has been called the “Master of the English Ghost Story” and for good reason. Connoisseurs of the genre consider his short stories to be among the most terrifying supernatural tales ever to be written. This sensationalist mass-market edition of More Ghost Stories from an Antiquary (see above) can be bought online for a few pounds.
Take a look, too, if you dare, at the unsettling short stories of Lady Cynthia Asquith (daughter in law of Prime Minister H. H. Asquith). Lady Cynthia became well known for her ghost anthologies; her last anthology, The Third Ghost Book, was published in 1956, later to be re-published by Pan with an especially lurid paperback cover (see above). And if the Stately Ghosts of England are your thing, don’t forget Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, first published in 1936. Halifax spent several years collecting a true ghost stories as told to him by the owners of some of England’s finest country houses.
And finally, perhaps, the creepiest of them all: the books of real-life ghost hunter, Harry Price. Price is best known for the investigation at Borley Rectory, a sinister Victorian pile hidden away in a remote corner of Essex and described by the popular press of the day as the ‘Most Haunted House in England’.
The rectory burnt down under mysterious circumstances in 1939. Some say that the resident ghosts could be seen “dancing in the flames”. Price’s books are avidly collected, and can be quite hard to find, especially with that all-important original dust-wrapper.
September 19, 2015
I’m getting ready for my stand at the next Decorative Antiques Fair, held in Battersea Park, London. It opens on Tuesday, September 29th and runs for a week, ending on Sunday, October 4th. Please feel free to drop by for a drink (Stand 117). Click this link to my latest newsletter and you will be able to download free tickets. Print them out and the paper ticket will admit two people. If you want to sign up for my next newsletter, please go to the home page, scroll down and you’ll find the sign up box at the bottom.
Lots of interesting new stock for this one, including a pair of Prince of Wales’s Investiture Chairs in immaculate condition. I’ve photographed one of them in our London bathroom, and very handsome it looks. Lord Snowdon designed them for the event, held at Caernarvon Castle in 1969.
I’ll also be unveiling a Qing Dynasty Chinese Ancestor Portrait, an early Terence Conran coffee table in the manner of John Piper, a French Art Deco gentleman’s desk in Indian Rosewood, a set of late 17th century portrait engravings of the House of Orange, a Victorian red leather governmental despatch box, an original Herbert Terry 1227 Anglepoise Lamp, a Festival of Britain Gordon Russell Double Helix sideboard and a large collection of fascinating photographs from the days of the British Raj in India (as below). They’re all framed and will be available individually.
September 03, 2015
Lovely television programme from Andrew Martin last night about the famous ‘named’ trains of the 1930’s and 50’s: The Flying Scotsman, The Coronation Scot, The Silver Jubilee, The Golden Arrow, The Cheltenham Flyer, The Cornish Riviera Express, The Brighton Belle. Andrew Martin wrote a splendid book about it, which you can buy on amazon. I gave it to my father for Christmas and it went down well judging by the sporadic little knowing chuckles I kept on hearing from the other room.
The Brighton Belle was especially stylish, and amazingly survived until 1972. Oh for a more leisured, civilised age! This glamorous all-electric train was popular with theatrical luvvies, Larry Oliver was a fan. We’re thinking waiters in white mess jackets with brass buttons serving breakfast kedgeree on porcelain plates. The Southern Railway was good at this sort of thing.
This photograph made me laugh. It looks like a pub, but unbelievably it’s actually a Mock Tudor Southern Railway Tavern Car, circa 1947. They called it "At the Sign of the White Hart"; here you could enjoy a pewter tankard of bitter, (or presumably a slice of gammon with pineapple?) as you steamed through the Surrey countryside towards Waterloo or Victoria.
The gel at the front looks a bit like Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. She's got her foot foward like a Harrod's model. I bet my bottom dollar the chap at the back (missing only a manly pipe clenched between his teeth) is a bogus Wing Commander and drives an MG. We’re in Patrick Hamilton territory.
I would love to know what the waiter is serving up through the hatch. Steak and Kidney pie? A grapefruit half, garnished with a glacé cherry? Dover Sole?
April 22, 2015
Day two of the Battersea Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair and all is well with the world. One of my favourite goodies on the stand is this splendid Cecil Beaton 1953 coronation photograph of Her Majesty The Queen, presented in the official dark blue leather Buckingham Palace frame with the monarch’s cipher tooled in gilt.
Double whammy too, as it’s signed by both Cecil Beaton and Her Majesty.
Big fan of Beaton. The style reminds me of those wonderful Powell & Pressburger films; in a way we’re in Red Shoes territory: the theatrical Neo-Romanticsm of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Beaton was harking back to the formal court portraiture of William Beachey, Joshua Reynolds and Franz Xaver Winterhalter. I try to avoid using the word ‘iconic’ (overused, I fear), but if there was ever a genuine time to use it, this would be the moment.
April 20, 2015
We’ve just finished setting up our stand for the Battersea Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair, which opens tomorrow. Stand 115. Please drop by for a drink.
Highlights include this splendid scarlet coloured wool smoking jacket which belonged to Peter Cushing, the star of both stage and screen. My assistant, Mrs Grantham, certainly thinks so.
We think it came from the actor’s personal wardrobe (rather than a studio costume department) and is tailored by Simpson’s of Piccadilly, He most certainly wore it in the 1960’s BBC television adapation of Sherlock Holmes, and latterly, the 1971 Amicus horror flick, “The House that Dripped Blood”.
We’re selling it with full provenance, certificate of authenticity and a BBC press still showing Peter Cushing wearing it on camera. Here’s the very same jacket, as worn by Peter Cushing in “The House that Dripped Blood”:
April 09, 2015
I’m getting ready for my new stand at the Spring Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair, which runs from April 21-26, 2015. It’s in the middle of lovely Battersea Park, London, and you can park directly outside the pavilion. It’s a fantastically friendly and relaxed fair, one of the best in London (and I’m not just saying that because I happen to be an exhibitor) and features a large number of leading dealers with a wide-ranging selection of stylish and decorative antiques, often unusual, sometimes quirky. It’s dog friendly too.
This time round, I’ve upgraded to a larger stand, so please do feel free to drop round for a drink.
Lots of exciting new stock, too: A Battle of Britain era Air Ministry desk, a large William IV convex mirror, a huge poster from the 1963 film, Strip-Tease, a signed Cecil Beaton coronation photograph of H.M. The Queen, an original Phrenology Head by L.N. Fowler (illustrated above), a fabulous 1930’s French aeronautical poster, an original stool from the Coronation of King George VI, a colourful Regency board game, now in a box frame; a pair of Hatherley patent library steps, an original American stage ventriloquist’s poster from the 1920’s, several globes, a funky 50’s Heal’s satinwood coffee table, plus the usual choice array of rare backgammon boards, antique chess sets, games boards, pinball and bagatelle machines.
And last, but most certainly not least, we’re delighted to announce that we can now offer Peter Cushing’s original scarlet smoking jacket by Simpson’s of Piccadilly, as worn in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and the 1971 Amicus horror flick, The House that Dripped Blood. Perfect for a modern-day dandy. Dare you try it on?
Please do feel free to get in touch with me if you would like complimentary tickets. See you there!
January 19, 2015
Chartwell, the former home of Sir Winston Churchill, (now under the ownership of the National Trust) is a joy to visit. There has been a house on the spot since the sixteenth century. When Churchill discovered it in the early 1920’s the house had been Victorianised with spooky gables, ivy-clad Kentish tiling and oriel windows in the Tudor style. So the architect, Philip Tilden, was employed to ‘modernise’, ‘re-construct’ and extend the house. The finished result created something entirely different.
Architectural historians can be a bit sniffy about Tilden’s work; certainly, he was no Lutyens, and it is one of the great ‘ifs’ of history to think what might have been if Churchill had employed Lutyens as architect, or for that matter Gertrude Jekyll as garden designer. But that, perhaps, is part of Chartwell’s charm. It’s like a splendid Churchillian galleon, sailing defiantly over the expansive views of the splendid Kent Weald, ‘The Garden of England’ as Winston’s nanny, Mrs Everest, called it.
The finished result is marveollusly nineteen twenties, the fag-end of the Arts & Crafts movement, a twentieth century re-interpretation of the Elizabethan with its creaky oak staircases and weighted doors (the browny-pink brickwork reminiscent of The Wharf, the Asquiths’ weekend place at Sutton Courtenay), and the Jekyll influenced rose gardens, loggia and croquet lawn.
And yet, the dining room is suprisingly modern and steams off on a completely different tack. Tilden designed a low-ceiling room, with five arched French windows in the neo-classical style, welcoming in the light and those marvellous views across Southern England. As we discovered in the last post, the chairs were not designed by Heal’s, but the circular table in weathered oak most certainly was, and became a standard feature of in the Heal’s catalogue.
The room has been restored by the National Trust to how it would have looked in the 1930’s: the whole effect is not unlike a stylish state room on some transatlantic ocean liner. The chairs are covered in a glazed chintz, Arum Lily, the curtains are green. There is simple rush matting and standard lamps.
During Churchill’s ‘Wilderness Years’ this room, in so many ways, was a witness to history. It has here that Winston entertained his guests- in politics, arts and business, and ‘argued out his lonely stand against appeasement’.
January 16, 2015
This little number came up for sale yesterday at Lawrence’s of Crewkerne, and did rather well- selling way beyond its modest estimate of £100-200. It’s a walnut armchair from a dining room set, very similar to the one designed by the architect, Philip Tilden, in collaboration with Sir Ambrose Heal for Chartwell: Winston Churchill’s country house in the Kent Weald, the ‘Garden of England’. Heal & Son gave one to the V & A and you can read all about it here. Funnily enough it’s not mentioned in Olive Heal’s definitive (and brilliant) new book on Heal’s- which I would urge you to add to your reference library. I like the way the chair synthesizes 18th century ‘Chippendale’ taste with Arts & Crafts; it’s very English and very 1920’s. Would work brilliantly with a writing desk.
I must confess to being a bit of a fan of all things Churchillan, and the world seems to agree looking at the results of the recent Mary Soames auction at Sotheby’s, when Winston’s Goldfish Pool at Chartwell fetched a phenomenal- but not unsurprising- £1.8 million, against a sensible estimate of £400,000-600,000.
And here’s a close-up:
As you know, Winston was an amateur painter of charm, and his paintings are full of character. One of his many endearing traits, I think. He’s caught his beloved Golden Orfe well; the way the fish skim the surface, and the play of light on the green pond water. You will remember that famous- and beautifully written- passage in Painting as a Pastime. Churchill had been suffering from depression after the failure of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. To distract him, his sister-in-law Goonie persuades him to take up painting:
"Some experiments one Sunday in the country with the children’s paint-box led me to procure the next morning a complete outfit for painting in oils. Having bought the colours, an easel, and a canvas, the next step was to begin. But what step to take!...So very gingerly I mixed a little blue paint on the palette with a very small brush, and then with infinite precaution made a mark about as big as a bean upon the affronted snow-white shield....At that moment the loud approaching sound of a motor-car was heard in the drive. From this chariot there stepped swiftly and lightly none other than the gifted wife of Sir John Lavery. ‘Painting! But what are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush- the big one.’ Splash into the turpentine, wallop into the blue and the white, frantic flourish on the palette- clean no longer- and then several large, fierce strokes and slashes of blue on the absolutely cowering canvas...The canvas grinned in helplessness before me. The spell was broken. The sickly inhibitions rolled away. I seized the largest brush and fell upon my victim with beserk fury. I have never felt in awe of a canvas since."
Another friend was Sir William Nicholson, the father of Ben, and, incidentally, one of my all-time favourite artists. In the watercolour below Winston and Clemmie sit in their stylish dining room at Chartwell with their beloved little marmalade cat, Tango. I adore this painting, and covered it a few years ago in a post on my sister blog, The Greasy Spoon. The Tilden designed chairs don’t seem to be included in the painting, although I'm pretty sure the oak table is by Heal's. I’m not sure exactly which room at Chartwell the chairs were designed for. I need to find out more.
Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949), Study for Breakfast at Chartwell II, Sir Winston Churchill and Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, Lady Churchill, in the Dining Room at Chartwell, with their cat, Tango, The National Trust.
STOP PRESS: Just had an illuminating chat with none other than Oliver Heal on the telephone. He tells me that the chair was not designed for Chartwell, and had nothing to do with Philip Tilden, being an earlier model. However, the table (as above) was. Apparently the table was initially photographed with the chair, and everbody assumes that the two are connected. They’re not. So it shows you that, sometimes, you can’t trust academic cataloguing- even if they’re written within the hallowed portals of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
December 08, 2014
Massive thank you to the excellent Homes & Antiques magazine for featuring us in their Christmas issue. On sale now.
July 24, 2014
I've just started blogging for Homes & Antiques Magazine. The first post is on Chinese garden stools.
Here's the link: The Charm of Chinese Garden Stools.
April 27, 2014
We're almost there with our stand at the Battersea Decorative Antiques Fair, which opens this Tuesday (29th April, 2014). It's taken three days of hard work to get this far (up at four in the morning yesterday, to sort out stock and load stuff for delivery). But it's been worth it. We've re-created a Gentleman's Retreat. The Victorian Rectory Meets The English Castle Library Look.
It's all slightly bonkers, but it's been enormous fun. I'm examining a delightful bakelite kidney section, while my trusty assistant, Miss Caroline Watson, reads a John Buchan thriller. Look forward to seeing you there. Cocktails and Canapés on Tuesday evening. Stand 59.
April 03, 2014
"Welcome to the wonderful world of Mah Jong, an ancient and mysterious game, played for many thousands of years, its origins hidden by the mists of time…"
Don't believe a word of it. Mah Jong (in its modern form) was actually the creation of Joseph Park Babcock (1893-1949), an executive of the Standard Oil Company. In 1912 Babcock was sent to Soochow, China, where he learnt to play a version of a Chinese tile game. Inspired by this, he created a new, simplified game, took out a trade-mark "Mah-Jongg", and exported it back home to America.
The first Mah Jong sets were sold at Abercrombie & Fitch in 1920. The game took off and soon became a massive craze across America, Britain and Europe. In a sense, Babcock was lucky- his new game co-incided with the craze for Chinoiserie (a Western interpretation of all things Oriental) which flourished in the years after the First World War. Have a look at the extraordinary Grauman's Chinese Theatre, built in 1926 on Hollywood Boulevard:
Mah Jong was especially popular with fashionable young women. Here are three bathing beauties playing Mah Jong on Venice Beach, California in 1924:
But if you're interested in buying a vintage Mah Jong set, where to start? First, don't believe anybody who tries to sell you a 19th century Mah Jong set. The genuinely old sets will date to the 1920's and are most likely to have been made in Shanghai for export to the West. With the huge popularity of the game, many new Mah Jong factories were set up in the environs of Shanghai (then an international city more-or-less under control of the Western Powers), and local children were employed to paint the tiles.
Secondly, don't believe anybody who tries to tell you that the tiles are made from ivory. They're not. 99% of Mah Jong tiles are made from either cow bone or 'ivorine' (an early form of plastic) which is then mounted on bamboo. I have never (yet) seen an ivory mahjong set. Jade, yes. But not ivory. The American Mid-West exported huge quantities of cow-bone to China, which was used in the manufacture of Mah Jong sets and then re-exported back to the United States. That Mah Jong tile you're holding in your hand travelled half-way across the world and back again.
So you now want a genuine 1920's mah jong set with bone and bamboo tiles. Which to go for? As an antique dealer, I'm more interested in the finer sets with nicely carved boxes, often featuring dragons, plants and Chinese characters. Box sets with the sliding front panels tend to be better quality. Here's a stylish Mah Jong set I sold to a lucky client last year:
I've posted a close-up of another good example at the top of the page. Here's a further shot of it, below. It's currently in stock, so if you're interested in buying it please get in touch. You can read all about it here.
January 16, 2014
Or "American Ice-Cream Parlor" chairs, to be more accurate. Ice-Cream parlours and Soda Fountains were very much part of the American Way of Life. During the 19th century attempts were made to replicate- and bottle- the natural mineral waters found at fashionable spas. Coca-Cola is a good example. Originally invented by John Pemberton as a patent medicine cure, it was subsequently rebranded as a enjoyable drink in its own right. Coca-Cola was good for you! Soda Fountains became popular in chemists, pharmacies and ice-cream parlours throughout the United States, and especially so when, with Prohibition, the sale of alcohol was banned in 1919.
Have a look at the rather blurry photograph below of an American Ice-Cream parlour, which, I think, dates to about 1910. The chairs are similar to the rather stylish chairs we bought recently from a shop in the Lillie Road, and which I've just photographed in our tiny, rain-drenched, grey-skied London Garden (above). These are often referred to as "Ice-Cream" chairs, and I can see why. I think, however, it much more likely that our examples are French café chairs from the 1950's or 60's. They evoke fantasies of Paris in the Spring. I'm going to re-paint them an off-white (I'm keen to avoid the F & B sludge green at all costs), but one half of me actually rather likes they way they are rusting elegantly away.
The photograph of the soda fountain below, dates from the 1920's:
On a similar theme is the Antelope Chair, designed by Ernest Race for the Festival of Britain café in 1951. Until recently, the V & A were selling a reproduction, with a vivid yellow seat (below). An example can be seen at the Frederick Parker Chair Collection in the East End of London.
November 22, 2013
October 14, 2013
Before we carry on with Strawberry Hill, I wanted to give The Great Diary Project a quick mention. This noble cause has just been set up by my old chum, the splendid Dr Irving Finkel, archaeologist, crytopgrapher, ancient board game expert, assistant keeper at the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum and All Round Good Egg. The Great Diary Project has been set up to provide a permanent home for unwanted diaries of any date or kind. If you're concerned about Great Aunt Dot's secrets becoming public knowledge, you can hand over diaries with a proviso that any information in them won't become public knowledge for however long you want.
Irving's been into old diaries for years, rescuing them when he sees them languishing on some stall somewhere, forlorn. As he so rightly says, diaries are a wonderfully rich historical source for furture generations, telling us so much about ordinary people's lives. Often poignant and moving, personal diaries are a different thing from the published diaries of say, well-known politicians or theatre directors. They tell the truth.
And now, with the sinister Kindle and all its Works amongst us, the battle to preserve everyday diaries as historical documents has become even more important than ever.
If you've got time, please do listen to this touching radio documentary. Marvellous stuff.
October 03, 2013
Rummaging around on the internet, I came across an old friend: The Strawberry Hill Chair, in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. I am sure you know all about Strawberry Hill, the extraordinary Gothick house sited on the banks of the River Thames, near Twickenham, to the West of London. Originally a cottage (or small-ish villa) it was re-built by Horace Walpole (the son of the Prime Minister, Robert) at various stages during the eighteenth century: reimagined as a Gothick fantasy in the manner of an abbey, monastary or castle, or at least how, in the 18th century, they thought one should look like. It has recently re-opened to the general public, and if you have the time and inclination, I urge you to go. I love the place.
Horace Walpole was a connoisseur of the exotic, a dilattante, collector, antiquarian and aesthete; an admirer of Medieval architecture. Strawberry Hill has a playful atmosphere: this is a house intended for fun and frolics; an antiquarian fantasy, a make-believe haunted abbey of the imagination, an amusing weekend pastiche for Horace and his friends- away from the hubbub and bustle of London. I have no doubt that in his own mind, Horace was building his own "Castle of Otranto".
The Castle of Otranto was first published in 1764, considered by critics to be the first "Gothic Novel". This strange melodrama, if I remember correctly, features an ancient Italian fortress and a giant ghost helmet which crushes the hero to death in the first chapter. Horace claimed to have discovered the manuscript in the library of "an ancient Catholic family in the North of England". The truth was, of course, that he wrote it himself.
By the mid 18th century, a preference for "All Things Spooky" had become very much the rage, with fashionable society obsessed with macabre yarns involving werewolves, vampyres, lonely hermits, lavicious monks, and all manner of creepy crawlies, nasties, long legg-ed beasties and things that go bump in the night. Gothic Fiction has never really gone out of fashion (think of the success of Bram Stoker's Dracula or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, both re-invented by Universal Studios in the 1930's) but the Gothick craze had reached such a height that by 1798, Jane Austen was able to lampoon the genre in her amusing- and very readable- satire, Northanger Abbey.
The chair itself was designed in 1755 by Richard Bentley (a member of a sort of 'taste committee' that Horace had set-up to oversee the redevelopment of Strawberry Hill) and made by the trendy London cabinet maker, William Hallett. The back of the chair was inspired by the window of a Gothic church, and the chair was made from beechwood (a cheap, light-weight and readily available wood) painted to look like the more expensive and exotic wood, ebony. Eight chairs were made to furnish the Great Parlour, and we can clearly see them illustrated in the print below, arranged around the edges of the room- as was the fashion of the day.
In my next post, we'll have a closer look at Strawberry Hill, and I'll put up some of my own photographs I took there on a recent visit.
September 23, 2013
A great deal of the fun in selling antiques is in the hunt, the chase. For you never know what's going to turn up next. I recently acquired these charming- and stylish- fox hunting figures, which I would date to just before The First World War, around 1910. They come from an unusual game, The Hunt by Cotswold Toys, originally sold at Hamleys, the famous toy shop in Regent's Street.
I'm asssuming these were originally tokens, and the child would push them along a board or cloth (now lost) to the finish. But they're unusually large for a board game, the largest figures coming in at around 13.5cm high.
And each figure has a name typed out on the bottom. The rather 'fast' looking girl on the left is "Diana Goodsort on Margot', the dashing chap in Hunting Pink is 'Captain Thruster RN on Turpin'. There's also hounds and a fox. I think they would look fantastic arranged across a chimneypiece, or on a table. £300.
August 30, 2013
Another strong contender for the 'most beautiful room in England'. This time it's 'The Red Library' at Longleat. The portrait drawing on the easel is by John Singer Sargent.
August 28, 2013
Herbert James Gunn (1893-1964) Conversation Piece at Royal Lodge, Windsor, 1950
Following yesterday's post, I thought it might be fun to have a quick look at Royal Lodge, the official 'country' residence of the late Queen Mother, and now the home of Prince Andrew, and if gossip is to be believed, Fergie. Of course, it's actually a stone's throw from London: some of you may know Windsor Great Park well. I've always loved the place, with it's wide open space, herds of deer, and blasted oaks; and its association with various fascinating myths and legends. The ghost of Herne the Hunter is supposed to roam the park, and over the years, various oaks have claimed the title of "Herne's Oak" (I think, regrettably, that the last one fell to the axe in 1906).
There's a terrific photograph of the Gothick drawing room in Derry Moore's The English Room, (published 1985), one of my all-time favourite books. As in Clarence House, the Queen Mother shows us that she had The Eye. It's hard to put your finger on, but it just has that 'something' about it, which for many people, is difficult to re-create.
Above the chimneypiece hangs an evocative portrait of the Prince Regent, which I assume is by Thomas Lawrence. Royal Lodge was the Prince Regent's favourite retreat.
Royal Lodge has been built, re-built, part-demolished, reconstructed, altered and re-furbished many times over the years. As Derry Moore says "although this house has only existed in its present form for a little more than fifty years, it has the atmosphere of age and a strange beauty that is essentially English".
If you're interested in discovering more, I've dug up a long out-of-print book by Helen Cathcart, published back in 1966. I've got no idea what it's like, but the front cover looks promising:
August 27, 2013
Edward Halliday (1902-1984) Maundy Thursday, 1952
We were lucky enough to join a small tour of Clarence House, last week. The house is open to the public during the month of August. If you happen to be in London, I would urge you to go- there are only a few days left. Many, of course, will remember Clarence House as the official London residence of the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. It's now the London house of TRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Clarence House was built between 1825 and 1827, for William, Duke of Clarence and his wife, Adelaide. Clarence was later crowned King William IV. The architect was John Nash. Nash, of course, is also known for the Brighton Pavilion, Regent's Park, the Garden Front of Buckingham Palace and Carlton House Terrace. If the exterior is all wedding-cake and stucco, the interior resembles a relaxed English Country House (albeit with antiques and paintings of the very highest quality; the Queen Mother had an excellent eye for Modern British painting), and has recently been renovated by Robert Kime in a successful and most sympathetic fashion. (Talking of Robert Kime, I've also just reviewed The Gunton Arms on my sister blog. This is a marvellously quirky inn, or pub- with rooms, and comes highly recommended).
It's probably going to be best if we go on our own tour, room by room:
The Entrance Hall
The Lancaster Room
A stunning room, despite its use as an unofficial 'waiting room'. Paintings include portraits of King Edward VIII, a series of watercolours by John Piper (more about those later) and a terrific Winterhalter (The Presentation of King Louis-Phillipe's Grandsons to Queen Victoria at the Château d'Eu). The chimneypiece originally came from a house in Dublin. The bronze on the table is a charming study of Winston Churchill and his wife, Clemmie, by Oscar Nemon.
The Morning Room
The Morning Room as re-arranged by Robert Kime (photograph taken from The World of Interiors)
The Morning Room (as rearranged by Robert Kime)
The Morning Room is currently on my 'top ten most beautiful rooms' list. Many of the Modern British paintings were collected by The Queen Mother. The painting of King George V in his racing bowler is by Walter Sickert (recently accused, in that silly book, of being Jack the Ripper), the bearded chap on the right (actually with his eyes closed) is George Bernard Shaw, as painted by Augustus John. The painting above the chimneypiece is A Lady in a Pink Ballgown, again by Sickert. To the left (and out of camera) hangs a charming Jamaican study, by none other than our old friend, Noel Coward. The alcoves contain the Queen Mother's collection of eighteenth century Cheslea porcelain. To modern eyes, this room seems timeless, but compare it with the photograph below:
Believe it or not, this is the very same room- but as it appeared at the end of the nineteenth century. The aesthetic taste on display is a very different beast from the current arrangement, which is very twentieth century- and mid-twentieth century, at that.
Another charming room. The Queen Mother knocked the Morning Room through, so that it opens up onto this room. Robert Kime reinstated the fabulous bookcases on either side of the door. The bookcase on the right holds the Queen Mother's favourite books, which included P. G. Wodehouse, Dick Francis, Alain-Fournier's Le Grande Meaulnes, and Siegfried Sassoon. At Christmas, the Duchess of Cornwall holds a party for disabled children in this room; a tall sergeant major from the Brigade of Guards helps them to decorate the tree.
HRH The Duchess of York (Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) by Savey Sorine (1887-1953)
This portrait of the Queen Mother was painted in 1936, the same year as the Abdication Crisis. It hangs in the Library.
The Dining Room (photograph from The World of Interiors)
The portrait of the Queen Mother was painted by Augustus John. He was never happy with it, and it remains unfinished. The smaller painting to the left is a stunning watercolour by John Piper. During the Second World War, Kenneth Clark recommended that Windsor Castle should be painted- in a series of studies- by John Piper. There was a very real fear that, in the event of a German invasion, the castle could be destroyed. Piper's work is superb, and the castle is depicted against menacing and brooding English skies:
The Garden Room
It's a great photograph, but funnily enough, I found that this room was the least successful. The red japanned secretaire bureau is German, and belonged to Queen Mary, a terrific collector of antiques. The musical score on the piano (out of camera) is signed by Noel Coward.
The Smaller Drawing Room (as decorated by The Queen Mother)
The Duchess of Kent's Drawing Room
The Duchess of Kent's Sitting Room
Fitted carpets were all the rage.
The Russian Orthodox Chapel
Designed by C. B. Waller, this private chapel was installed on the first floor for the Russian born Duchess of Edinburgh. The Chapel was demolished in 1900.
July 11, 2013
Early 18th century Dummy Board from Christopher Gibbs' The Manor House, Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire, Christie's House Sale, 2000
If you enjoy visiting Country Houses, now and again you'll have probably come across the odd Dummy Board. "Dummy Boards" are flat, oil painted figures in trompe l'oeil- often life-sized (sometimes smaller), which were placed around the house: in halls, corridors, by fireplaces and on staircases. According to the Victoria & Albert Museum they originated in the early 17th century and were popular until the 19th century, when they fell out of fashion. "The figures were painted and shaped in outline to resemble figures of servants, soldiers, children and animals."
The edges of the boards were chamfered to increase the illusion. Reading up on dummy boards, I get the impression that today, we really don't have a full understanding of what they were used for. One theory is that they were an amusing form of practical joke. Another, which I think a bit silly, is that they were used as an early form of burglar alarm, to give the impression that a house was occupied when it wasn't. I'm taking that one with a pinch of salt. Getting inside the seventeenth or eighteenth century mind can be difficult. Sometimes, I think that in the modern age, we desperately need a 'reason' for anything or anything. I suspect that dummy boards were really no more than fashionable, whimsical diversions in an age very different to our own.
Dummy boards come up at auction from time to time, and I suspect that many of them are actually nineteenth century, or even later. I liked this splendid 'eighteenth century' chevalier (above) which came up for sale at Bonhams relatively recently. Very sensibly they catalogued it as Edwardian- which I am sure it is; it has a chocolate box quality about it, doesn't it? And I suspect that many so-called "dummy boards" are actually some form of shop sign. In the way that tobacconists used to place three-dimensonal figures of American Indians and Scottish footsoliders- in kilts- outside their shops.
If you're interested in finding out more, I've had a quick scout on the net, and sadly, there are hardly any books available on the subject. Claire Graham's Dummy Boards and Chimney Boards looks helpful, and Amoret and Christopher Scott's "Dummy Board Figures", first published in 1966, would be an essential addition to your antiques reference library- if you can find a copy.
Street Guitar Player, circa 1780 (V & A Museum, London)
Street Barrel-Organist, circa 1780 (V & A Museum, London)
Eighteenth Century Gentleman (V & A Museum, London)
Greedy Pig Feeding From a Bowl, 1750-1800 (V & A Museum, London)
June 27, 2013
This splendid artifact has just arrived at the Honey Residence. It's an original antique Phrenologist's bust by the Victorian quack, Lorenzo Niles Fowler. Phrenologists believed that you could discover a person's true identity by feeling the bumps on his or her skull. If you look carefully at the bust you will see that the cranium is divided up into various sections which represent all manner of things: foresight, blandness, hope, integrity, dignity, self-love, friendship, independence; that sort of thing. Think of a virtue- or a fault, and I bet you it's there somewhere. Not that I want to denigrate the noble art (or science?) of phrenology. It's a lovely idea, and who knows, it might just, possibly, on a sunny day, be true. Up to a point Lord Copper.
These busts were desperately fashionable during the Swinging Sixties, and I seem to remember that David Hicks had one at his Oxfordshire house, Britwell. And they often graced the sets of television programmes such as The Avengers and The Prisoner. It was almost the case of "Let's Spot the Phrenologist's Head".
Don't confuse this head with all those reproductions out there, the ones that you can pick up in the market for a song. This head is the genuine thing, and relatively scarce at that, especially as it dates from the pre-1860's, when Lorenzo Fowler was working out of his publisher's office at no. 337, Strand, London. It's of a much better quality than the repros, too, with a finer detailing.
June 25, 2013
June 14, 2013
And I wonder who won?
June 13, 2013
My clever friend, Alexandra Llewellyn, makes (and sells) beautiful backgammon boards. She often uses stylish Victorian graphics which are then digitally printed directly onto the wood. I like one of her latest designs ("Carnival"), based on old fairground or burlesque prints (as above).
Alexandra launched her business in 2010, and since then has been selling her boards to a select international clientele. You can also order a bespoke board from her as an individual commission, and the backgammon counters can be made up from a selection of decorative marbles, minerals and semi-precious stones. The reds, yellows and whites of her "Africa Table" (as below) work brilliantly, and are enormous fun. They remind me, in a way, of a 50's French pinball machine. You can watch Alexandra talking about her backgammon boards on this video.
You can also get in touch with Alexandra at: email@example.com
May 31, 2013
To a rain soaked Glyndebourne yesterday to see a slightly 'iffy' production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. Really wasn't sure about the second act which featured mental breakdown, sex addiction, maniac depression, straight-jackets, suicide attempts and enamelled hospital beds; but I did get another chance to inspect Henry Moore's magnificent Draped Reclining Woman, on permanant loan from The Tate Gallery. This is one of a series of six castings, made between 1957 and 1958.
May 17, 2013
We're driving back to London from Oxfordshire one Sunday evening, and suddenly we're playing tic-tac with a dark blue Rolls-Royce Camargue. On the M40. There's an interesting looking blonde dolly-bird in the back, shielded by half-drawn sun curtains; propped up on silk cushons, reading The Sunday Telegraph, and her chauffeur looks like a swarthy Italian gigilo: unshaven, 80's sun-glasses, unbuttoned shirt.
The Camargue is one of those cars. Marmite Cars, I call them. You either love the design, or loathe it. Personally, I happen to like it. If there ever was going to be a Lady Penelope car, this one has to be it. The Camargue was first introduced in 1975; designed for Rolls-Royce by Pininfarina, with coachwork by the famous old firm of Mulliner Park Ward. In its day it was the most expensive car in the world. It was produced in a very limited edition. Only 530 cars were made.
In 2010 it was voted one of the "ten worst cars in the world" by the readers of the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. There's no accounting for taste, is there?
If the front is, perhaps, to the modern eye, a trifle clumsy, the side profile and rear is all sweeping elegance and svelte lines: this is a seriously grown-up machine. They're also still relatively affordable. But how long is that going to last? I'm currently saving up for one.
May 09, 2013
If you start thinking about the great design classics over history, which one immediately springs to mind? The Coca-Cola Bottle? The Paper-Clip? The Citroen 2CV? The Supermarine Spitfire? There's also another, lesser-known, one to add to the list. The Staunton Chess Set. The design was first patented on the 1st March 1849 by one Nathaniel Cook- for manufacture by the old firm of John Jaques of London (founded by Thomas Jaques in 1795). Jaques hit upon the brilliant idea of using the famous chess player, Howard Staunton, to endorse the new set; an early example of celebrity marketing, similar, say, in the way today that a famous television chef might lend his name to a range of saucepans.
The new design also simplified and stylised the chess men, making them more suitable for tournament play. Kings are topped with regal crowns, bishops have simple mitres, rooks are solid turrets which can be pushed decisively across a board (the chessmen just feel right in the hand). There's also a theory that the pawns were inspired by the Freemason's ball and compass. This may or may not be the case. But the knights are clearly inspired by the fashionable Neo-Classical Grecian styles of the nineteenth century, with the carved horse's heads of the knights showing a intriguing similarity to the beautiful Selene horses from the Elgin Marbles. The Elgin Marbles are fragments taken from the Athenian Parthenon, and first brought back to the British Museum in 1801 to 1812 by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin. Selene is the Greek moon goddess; she drives a horse-drawn chariot across the Night Sky.
The proportions of the Jaques knight were to change here-and-there over the years (I often think that you can date Jaques chess sets along the lines of fine vintage clarets) but the basic horse head design remained more-or-less the same. The Staunton knights are just itching to jump across the board, and indeed they have been doing so since 1849. However, how many players are aware that they hold a little piece of Ancient Greece in their hands?
May 01, 2013
Here's Juergen Teller's recent photograph of Ms Moss about to make a winning move. I couldn't resist it.
April 25, 2013
April 23, 2013
I've had a thing about Nashdom Abbey for as long as I can remember. One my earliest memories- I must have been about five years old- is being taken there by my father to have tea with the monks (it was an Anglo-Catholic Benedictine monastary until 1987) and pulling up in the family Renault outside the rather grand (but austere) porticoed entrance which framed, in turn, a Tuscan style loggia.
Nashdom House lies just outside Burnham Beeches, Buckinghamshire; about twenty five miles to the West of London. It was built by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1905-9 for the Russian aristocrat, HH Prince Alexis Dolgorouki and his wife, Francis Fleetwood Wilson, an English heiress from Northamptonshire. They married at the tender age of 50; touchingly it seems to have been a genuine love match. "Nashdom" means "Our Home" in Russian. Like its better known neighbour, Cliveden, Nashdom was really more of a glorified villa- created for fashionable house parties and languid river excursions up The Thames: a retreat from the smoke and chaos of London, rather than as a genuine country house and estate in the old tradition.
Despite its size, it was supposed to have been relatively economical to run. I assume the house would have been crammed with all the latest Edwardian gadgets. And what a splendid house it is! If anyone is looking for a house that illustrates Edwardian confidence and bravado, this, surely is going to be it. It's got more than a whiff of The Great Gatsby about it, hasn't it?
After Alexis's death in 1915, Francis decamped to her Mediterranean villa, where she continued her career as a generous and gregarious hostess. After the First World War, the monks moved in to Nashdom. From 1986, the house was left empty- the interior derelict; a place no doubt haunted by the memory of those Edwardian house parties past. In 1997, the house, inevitably, became luxury flats and apartments for the BMW set.
A big thank you to all those readers who have bothered to leave comments and send me more information about Nashdom and its fascinating past. I have been amazed by the response. And in the early summer of 2018, I received the following email from a reader, Lawrence, which, I am sure, will be of interest to anybody intrigued by the history of Nashdom Abbey. In his own words:
"Here are a few snippets of some very secret history on Nashdom, not revealed until now as only I knew…until now.
Nashdom’s Rev. Dom Robert Petit Pierre became my unlikely friend and travelling companion from the hot summer of 1976. He’d walk to Taplow station many weekday mornings, catch a train to Slough then wait for the fast one to London’s West End.
I’d be on Platform 5 too, just in from Windsor. Me 26, undergraduate on way to Uni doing a BA, he (in 60’s maybe) as Britain’s Master Exorcist, on way to Robert Hale publishers in West End, for editorial sessions on his forthcoming book ‘Exorcising Devils’.
We were an unlikely pair, he in long black cloak and cassock, barefoot, battered brown sandals and brief case to match, no hair, pebble glasses and bit of stoop; me hippyish looking, long hair with cut down Levi’s and flip flops.
The first time we spoke, he got on the train behind me and said ‘Are you OK now?’ I guess he sensed that I was troubled. I was, having just been parted from a girl who was caught up in all sort of rubbish to do with Tarot Cards. Anyway, we struck up the first of many conversation that always took place from Slough’s Platform 5, through to Oxford Circus.
One morning, standing together, on the same platform at Oxford Circus but waiting for separate trains, I noticed ‘The Exorcist’ film poster had been put on the wall behind us. I asked Dom Robert what he thought and he scoffed that such movies served the purpose of stimulating sexual instincts and won’t forget his main words; ‘The real thing is more frightening’ .
Funnily enough though (and he did have great sense of humour) he added that whenever he was called to do an exorcism, he usually deduced the problem was more one of mental illness, mostly psychosis, but ‘I perform an exorcism anyway because it won’t do them any harm and usually helps’.
I’ve never by the way bothered to see the film. Ho hum. Dom Robert also used the term ‘little devils’. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but don’t think it was to describe troublesome spiritual entities, but more as a neat term to describe so called poltergeists, especially when objects moved around without explanation through psycho kinesis.
He said the Astors called him up to Cliveden frequently via a shady walk along Parliament Lane. Apparently, they reckoned Cliveden was troubled by poltergeists. (probably when Nancy Astor had put plenty gin down her neck).
We lost contact but not before he’d agreed to write an article entitled ‘Do ghosts really exist’, for a youth community magazine I was editing at the time. I still have the letter from Dom Robert to this day, committing to do the article.
Years passed, the monks left, Nashdom became derelict and as I was living nearby, found out. The place had been ravaged by local oiks of its many fixtures and even a witches' coven were meeting in the 17 acres of ground and disturbed Dom Roberts grave. I told the remaining monks who by then had moved to Speen and I think they tidied things up.
Later, in the middle of the property crash aftermath and contrary to any other speculation, Nashdom was sold for a mere £450,000 in an auction. We all know that since then it has become a valuable financial investment.
BUT, before all that, with a blessing from the senior monk at Speen, I went into Nashdom and recovered some valuable items from the very deep basement, plus hidden parts of the grounds. One such item I acquired was a wood carving of a figure that I placed in the garden of a local Taplow pub, the Oak and Saw. I agreed with the pub that I’ll retain ownership , even though the figure is with them. There is small plaque I put on the front entitled ‘Mystery Monk’, but in truth, it was early stage carving of a new Christ figure to go in the graveyard at Nashdom. I haven’t been to the pub for a while, but guess they still have the item in the garden. I also recovered and safely stored a large plaster moulding of the so called Dolgorouki coat of arms that is at the centre of the top of the building.
Another curious piece I retained from the dusty basement is a beautifully handwritten wine stock list, entitled BINO (Russian for wine). Probably written by Alex. Anyway, this is just the thin end of the wedge when it comes to Nashdom’s secret history.
The one thing I haven’t revealed here is that when Fairbriar homes who bought, renovated and sold off all the Nashdom apartments, I called in just out of curiosity to see what they had done in all their stud walled apartments and was astounded to hear that one of the sales agents had just been spooked when going into one of the show apartments to discover that all the furnishings had been trashed, despite there supposedly being nobody who could have got in there.
I nearly passed comment that maybe it was the drunken dissatisfied ghost of Nancy Astor, but thought no, don’t bother, they’d never believe it even if it was true.”
Lawrence ⓒ 2018