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Friday, 31 December 2010

Onnellista Uutta Vuotta 2011! Happy New Year 2011!

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ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος
 buon anno
 szczęśliwego nowego roku
 bonne année
 с новым годом
 з новим роком
feliz ano novo
frohes neues Jahr
gelukkig nieuwjaar
gott nytt år
an nou fericit
mutlu yillar
สวัสดีปีใหม่
gullukkig niuw jaar
prosit neujahr
Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
buon capodanno

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die(t)!


The day after the Eagle came around for supper I met up again with Helen at 1901, the upmarket restaurant and wine bar in Liverpool Street that we had frequented earlier in the year. I am not normally keen on modern fine-dining which regards smearing a dinner plate with sauce as being the height of haute cuisine, but the food at 1901 is a delight. We were served complimentary shot glasses of prawn cocktails served with freshly baked bread. I had little balls of goats’ cheese rolled in herbs with a green salad, tomato jam and balsamic vinegar, followed by sea bass. Helen had beef as her main course and insisted it was well done. She ended up sending her dish back three times until it was cooked to her complete satisfaction. I warned her that either she would be presented with a heap of ashes on a plate or else the outraged chef would storm into the restaurant armed with a flame thrower. As it was the waiters were unfailingly polite and acceded to Helen’s demands with a good grace. Being a connoisseur of puddings I felt the dessert was not such a success. It was a play on Eton mess. I felt it did not quite work. The cream was more like a mouse and a sliver of jelly was too gelatinous for my tastes.

I knew I would have to sing for my supper as Helen had invited me along as her guest as she needed help with her latest MBA assignment. She claimed a fellow student had been green with envy that I was prepared to help her. I did offer to pay for my share of the meal but it was politely brushed aside. I felt no qualms about accepting Helen’s generosity as she had recently started an interim assignment. Like me, money is extremely tight at the moment and she and her husband had been forced to re-mortgage their home as I had done earlier in the year to try and keep the wolf from the door. Helen had high hopes that her interim assignment would prove to be permanent. Whether it will or not, she did not regret the cost of the meal. She rang me a few weeks later to say she had scored an extremely high mark in her essay thanks in part to the comprehensive notes I had sent to her after the meal, having spent the best part of an afternoon completing a questionnaire she had devised which drew heavily on my specific work related experience in HR.

Mandip having treated me to a meal at Tate Modern earlier in the year when we went to see the Arshile Gorky retrospective, I returned the compliment in September when we met up at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead. She was keen to see Budrus, Julia Bacha’s film documenting the non-violent protests by the Palestinian residents of the eponymous West Bank town in the Occupied Territories. Israel had decided that its security needs required the construction of a so-called separation barrier, a measure which might have been more palatable had it not involved unilaterally pulling up the town’s olive trees, the chief source of its income. In addition, the proposed security barrier would run close to the neighbourhood school and, even more contentiously, run right through the local graveyard. Julia Bacha’s does not take a political stance but even-handedly seeks the opinions of those directly involved in the struggle from the Palestinian olive-growers and their families to the Israeli soldiers protecting the bulldozers sent in to forcibly raze the olive groves.

I feared that the film might prove to be an earnest but dreary polemic. One reason why I agreed to trudge all the way over to Hampstead to see it was because it afforded me my final opportunity to visit Fenton House before it closed for the winter. In the event, I was pleased I had made the effort to see the film. It was both poignant and heartening in equal measure. At one point I feared the situation would end in tragedy. To my relief the Palestinians achieved their objectives without breaking their commitment not to descend into retaliatory violence. By virtue of the subject matter this film will have a very limited release but I would urge others to seek it out.

When I lived in North London as an adult, I would often visit the Everyman cinema in Hampstead. It was a surprise and a pleasure to find it still going strong. To pay its way and stand out against the cinema chains, the interior has been revamped. The standard seats have been replaced by two-seater sofas covered in plush velvet and waiter service. Mandip had a glass of wine whereas I selected a small tub of ice-cream for myself. After the film, we went to Ping Pong, a Chinese restaurant whose cuisine met Mandip’s special dietary requirements. We both had dim sum. It was truly delicious and very reasonably priced a not inconsequential consideration for me as I insisted on picking up the bill.

In November, Michael, a former colleague, invited me to join him and his wife on the Lotus, a floating Chinese restaurant in Docklands. We had all been there together for a meal before. Given that Michael and his wife are Chinese I always leave the choice of food in their capable hands. When my Chinese friends talk in Mandarin to the waiters I often toy with the idea that what they are really saying is: “I only know a few words of Mandarin but I am trying to impress my guest with my fluency. Humour me and pretend you understand exactly what I am saying”. It used to be something of a bugbear bear of mine that I would sometimes order a dish in French in a Parisian restaurant and the waiter would repeat back to me my order in English.

Michael insisted in advance on picking up the tab, something I did not refuse. I know I have always been quick to do the same whenever I have been able to afford to do so in the past and should my personal fortunes ever revive would do so again. The Aviatrix told me recently that she wished people would show more consideration where such delicate matters were concerned. She complained of a colleague who expected her to pay for both their snacks at an upmarket hotel after a day course held there. My friend had already driven him to the seminar and he had made no attempt to offer to pay for his share of the petrol bill. The Aviatrix also spoke of her boyfriend who is more than happy to knock back bottles of spirits in her flat but has never reciprocated in kind. He might be much younger than her but he has been part of a highly successful film franchise and could therefore certainly afford to be more generous. His name means nothing to me as I have no interest in either the films or the series of books that inspired them. But apparently for fans of the series his name, or at least that of his character, would be instantly recognisable.

Michael and his wife are committed Christians and they were telling me about the power of prayer. His spouse gave examples of how she had been able to turn around other people’s lives through prayer alone. I was left bemused by the case of the senior policeman who had made a friend’s life hell. After prayers were said on her behalf the policeman had been caught in a house fire in which his small child had been killed. I was appalled. How exactly did the policeman’s bad behaviour warrant the death of his son? Having been in a house fire myself I know first hand some of the horror that poor boy must have endured. Michael’s wife said the life of the policeman had been spared so that he could repent.
“Small comfort to his child, “I replied. “Why should he be robbed of his life?”
Michael’s wife muttered about the sins of the father. I pointed out that was in the Old Testament and that I should never want to inflict such pain on an innocent child however badly the parents behaved.

Later, whilst travelling on the tube, we were informed over the tannoy that the Central Line was down because of a passenger under a train. Michael’s spouse was shocked at the general lack of reaction to the news and thought it symptomatic of an uncaring society. I explained that it was more likely because we had not been informed as to whether the passenger was male or female. In addition, anyone likely to be using the line later would not wish to dwell too much on the incident. I felt it would be a very different matter if the story were ever published in the newspaper. To my surprise it made the national dailies a week but only because of the passenger’s apparent friendship with Prince Charles. Serious money and health issues had caused him to take his life. I hope he has found peace.

Today I am baking some Finnish rye bread loaves using a fail-safe Nigella recipe from her Domestic Goddess book. I am going around to the Eagle’s flat tomorrow for tea and promised to bake some loaves. I shall bake some lemon cupcakes and also an apricot cheesecake if I can buy the ingredients tonight. I might as well enjoy myself whilst I can. Knowing my luck the light at the end of the tunnel will turn out to be an on-coming express train. 

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Hampton Court: Chapel Court Garden (revised March 2011)



One of my favourite parts of the palace is Chapel Court. Now enclosed on all four sides, in Henry VIII’s time it was originally bounded only by the wall of the Chapel Royal and a range on the west side housing Henry’s Council Chamber.

After the birth of his heir, Prince Edward, Henry had apartments built on the north side of the courtyard to accommodate his son’s household. 
 The east side was the last to be enclosed when Henry built accommodation for his Master of Tennis. The east façade was altered again in the 17th century by Charles II to provide lodgings for his brother James, the then Duke of York and he of  the extravagant state bed at Knole fame.

In “A history of Middlesex Volume 2” published in 1911, I came across a small engraving of Chapel Court viewed from the south-west corner. It is very much as I always knew it: part of the cobbled courtyard turned into a small garden belonging to grace and favour tenants. There was a wooden park bench where I could sit with a book or newspaper and while away many an agreeable hour or two before recommencing my perambulations of the palace. Sometimes, I would be fortunate enough to hear sacred music waft over from the Chapel Royal itself. I do recall reading something to the effect that it had once been the graveyard of the Knights Hospitaller before they had leased the site to Cardinal Wolsey. Consequently, visitors were politely asked to treat the place with due respect. I wonder now whether it was mere tradition that the Knights had buried their dead there as I have been unable to establish any recent reference to the former graveyard.
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What first drew me to the Chapel Court was its sense of peace and solitude. Alas, for those very same reasons, the Hampton Court authorities determined that the courtyard was underused. They therefore decided, as yet another tribute to the 500th anniversary of Henry’s coronation, to transform the courtyard into the kind of privy gardens Henry VIII would have been familiar with. As a result, the grace and favour garden with its mature trees that are shown in my two clips (taken in different years)  above have been swept away. Great care has been taken to ensure that all subsequent planting should conform to the type found in a Tudor privy garden. The white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster, together forming the Tudor rose, take pride of place. The flower beds are enclosed within low lying railing decorated with green and white chevrons.  





   
A series of painted and gilded oak heraldic creatures perched on posts and bound by golden chains, was also commissioned for the privy garden. The so-called ‘Kyngs beestes’ depict various animals which all have a particular relevance to Henry’s family. In keeping with the Tudor ambience, my park bench with its back rest has been replaced with a simple bench that requires me to sit upright at all times lest I topple over. I can readily accept the exchange of a rather nondescript grace and favour garden with the more colourful Tudor privy garden, but removing the original seating was not a change for the better. Going back in time is one thing. Forgetting about people’s backs at the same time is quite another.Like Queen Victoria, we are not amused.
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Monday, 20 December 2010

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Hampton Court: Fossils (Revised January 2011)

On the ground floor of the King William II’s apartments at Hampton Court is a gallery containing the usual suspects of Roman and Grecian sculptures including a statue of a naked Cleopatra being bitten by a snake.



But neither the statutes nor the view over William’s recreated privy gardens intrigue me as much as the red and white marble flooring.

For a number of years I was fascinated at the thought that they contained fossils which would have been seen by William and his entourage if they had bothered to look down. Had they done so, what would they have made of fossils in a pre-Darwinian era when the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, James Ussher, could confidently assert that the Earth had been created on eve of Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC. I have included a portrait of the Archbishop by the court painter Sir Peter Lely. The latter was also commissioned by the Duchess of York to produce a series of paintings commemorating the celebrated beauties of Charles II’s court. A portrait of the archbishop was not included in this collection.

My original enthusiasm has alas been dampened by the sober realisation that the gallery floor is probably not original to William’s time. On Easter Monday, 1986, that part of the palace, namely the wing added by Sir Christopher Wren, was subject to a major fire. It later transpired that an elderly resident of one of the grace and favour apartments had inadvertently set the place alight with her naked candle. Sadly the woman died in the fire. It took four years and a major project of renovation before William’s apartments could be restored to their former splendour. Consequently, I now sorrowfully believe that William’s marble floor might not have survived the conflagration. When I visit the palace again over the next few weeks, I shall be sure to ask the warders whether or not the current marble floor was laid down in the 17th century. I shall be greatly disappointed if the answer is a resounding no.

Postscript
On the 2nd January 2011 I returned to Hampton Court. To my great delight one of the warders assured me that the red and white marble flooring in King William’s private apartments had escaped the effects of the conflagration of the 1980s unscathed and consequently were not replaced. Thus, I reiterate my point: what impression did the fossilised remains of sea creatures beneath their feet make on those people of the late 17th and early 18th century. Did they not wonder how a substance as hard as marble could have impressed upon it so many perfect images of shells? The warder said that there are even more impressive examples of fossils to be seen in the Mantegna Gallery. I had not time to see them on Sunday, but you can be sure I will be eagerly searching them out the next time I pop over to Hampton Court.

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Hampton Court: The Kitchens Part One


Like the Queen’s House at Greenwich, Hampton Court palace used to be filled with grace and favour apartments doled out to the great and the good (and the not so good when it came to royal mistresses) by the reigning monarch.

The celebrated Regency dandy, Beau Brummell, spent his childhood at Hampton Court in grace and favour lodgings within Fountain Court. In recent years the grace and favour apartments have reverted back to the palace upon their occupant’s death as will all in the fullness of time. I was told by a warder that only 4 such apartments now remain tenanted by residents, who have the added benefit of being able to live in such august surroundings rent free. Their loss is our gain. It means more and more of Hampton Court can be opened up to the general public. One of the chief beneficiaries has been the Tudor kitchens.

In the 18th century, the kitchens had been divided up both vertically and horizontally (the latter by the addition of a new floor level) to increase the number of grace and favour apartments available. Fortunately, it was possible in the latter half of the 20th century to remove the 18th century renovations and begin the process of restoring the kitchens into how they might have looked in Henry VIII’s time, when legend has it he once popped downstairs for a game of cards with the cooks. Legend does not relate whether or not the king won, but the pragmatic would have reasoned better to lose at a hand of cards than lose your head in every sense of the word.

Some reminders of the kitchens 18th century past have been retained in the Tudor kitchens. Thus an iron range has been incorporated into a Tudor fireplace. Nearby is the cavernous brick oven used for roasting meats on spits, indicating how the other oven would have looked without the 18th century additions.In this same part of the kitchens can be seen the remnants of the joists used to allow another to be built in the 18th century between the Tudor ceiling and original floor.
Tudor kitchen staff were predominantly male although Henry did have one woman on his payroll that made “subtleties.” These exotic edible creations, fashioned out of marzipan and often gilded with gold and silver leaf, would form dramatic centrepieces for the table. They were sculptured into a variety of forms including animals and ships. I saw an example of a part-gilded galleon made out of marzipan in the kitchens when I visited the palace a few weeks ago.


In the flesh larder the meat was prepared so it could be used in the kitchens. An actual whole deer and a brace of equally lifeless birds ready to be butchered used to be on display. Perhaps to appease the more squeamish, it has been altered to show animal joints and part of a wild boar’s carcass hanging from the wall instead. Given the (stage) blood stains on the wall, the floors looked suspiciously clean. I wonder if the butchers would have placed straw on the floor to mop up the blood just as contemporary executioners resorted to at beheadings.

Another room had a display of various graters and other kitchen utensils along with a table full of pies. Whether they had been cooked or were standing ready to be baked I cannot say as they, like most of the foodstuffs were, of necessity, made of plastic.

Off from the room containing the pies and the graters was a huge vat, which was being used to boil what looked to be cubes of meat to form a broth. The vat would be heated from fires lit below. By the vat and hanging from the wall were traditional wooden candle boxes. The Partridge gave me a similar box one birthday and it is now takes pride of place on the walls of the Grand Salon at Brimstone Butterfly Towers.

Unless they were close to rivers or the sea the average Tudor would only have eaten salted fish. By contrast, I imagine the barrels of plaice in the wet larder at Hampton Court would have been fresh rather than salted. In Catholic England, when eating flesh was banned by the Church on Fridays, the masses were obliged to consume fish instead. As is often the case, those of a religious bent proved to be quite ingenious when it came to interpreting the rules as they applied to themselves. Thus, in the medieval period it was decided that beaver was a fish and therefore could be eaten with a clear conscience on Fridays.

In a side room flagons of ale, baked fish and pies were set out on pewter plates waiting to be sent up the stairs to the Great Hall, which served as a glorified staff canteen for most of the time. Another chamber had three dressed peacocks on platters ready waiting to be carried to a feast.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Hampton Court: Base Court

Last year when I passed through the main gatehouse of Hampton Court into the first courtyard known as Base Court, it immediately struck me that something was amiss. I then realised with a start that the verdant lawns I had only ever known there had been ripped up and replaced by granite cobbles.  My initial thought was one of displeasure, preferring the lawns to the dusty cobbles which were none too forgiving on my weary feet. One of the warders agreed and said the palace authorities had spent a fortune restoring the surface of Base Court to how it looked in Henry’s time. as part of the celebrations to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his accession to the throne.
“If they wanted authenticity they ought to have spent the money on restoring the main gatehouse to how it looked in Henry VIII’s time,” I grumbled to my fellow conspirator.

One of the most iconic images of the palace today must be the Gatehouse on the west front. Yet is had been significantly altered since Henry’s time. In the 1911 edition of “A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2” the authors explain that Henry’s gateway:
“was largely rebuilt in 1773, losing greatly in dignity and interest thereby. The old gatehouse, of which several drawings exist, the most accurate being some measured drawings by Kent made about forty years before its rebuilding, was of five stories, and much taller than the present building. Instead of a single arch in the middle it had two arches, a large one for carriages and a small one for foot passengers, opening into the gate hall, and the large arch was in consequence not on the centre line of the gatehouse.”

By contrast to the 18th century vandals “A History” notes with satisfaction the more pleasing changes made in the early 20th century: 
“In the past two years the appearance of the entrance front of the palace has been immensely improved by the clearing out of the wide moat between the wings at either end of the front, which had been filled in about 1690, and the  uncovering and repair of the stone bridge crossing it. This bridge was built in 1536 by Henry VIII, replacing a bridge probably of wood, built by Wolsey, and from the full details remaining in the building accounts it has been possible to reproduce the lost portions, that is, the parapets, pinnacles, and shield-bearing beasts set thereon, with a high degree of certainty.”

When I visited Hampton Court this December they had recently put on display one of the actual shield bearing beasts fashioned from stone that had graced Henry’s bridge. It had been found languishing in the grounds of an unnamed pub and was on loan from that same hostelry.

On a dusty June day in 2009 I did not appreciate the cobbles of Base Court. However, when I plonked myself down on a wooden bench at 9.30 pm, the better to watch the commemorative fireworks being let off in the Privy Gardens, I had to admit that the cobbles did look more evocative at night than the lawn. The latter it transpired was a Victorian conceit anyway. I was even more intrigued to discover than in the course of resurfacing Base Court, archaeologists had found the foundations of a massive building dating to the 1350s, when the land was owned by the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem. They were an order of military monks set up in the 11th century to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. They were substantial landowners in their own right and owned a farm and agricultural land on what is now the site of Hampton Court Palace. In 1353 King Edward III came a-calling with his court and ended up burning the place down. Edward had the grace to pay for the resulting reconstruction work and send along his own master carpenter to help out.  It was the Knights Hospitaller who leased the land to Cardinal Wolsey, allowing him to demolish their buildings and build a completely new palace for himself. 100 years ago in the “A history of Middlesex Volume 2” the authors were lamenting that  the Knights’  “hall with a parlour, kitchen, buttery, and stable, and a chapel which had a tower containing two bells….. have long ceased to exist, leaving no trace behind them.” Thanks to the fortuitous decision to dig up the lawn in Base Court that is no longer the case.


Digging up Base Court also revealed the brick foundation for Wolsey’s drinking fountain with the 500 year old lead pipe which fed spring water into it still extant.  In April this year, again as part of the Henrican celebrations, a Tudor wine fountain was installed in Base Court. It is a replica of the wine fountain depicted in front of Henry’s temporary palace at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In Henry’s time such a fountain would have run with free wine on special occasions. Nowadays, in the warmer months, visitors are able, in exchange for a modest sum, to drink glasses of red or white wine from the fountain. The fact that the drinkers in the Tudor oil painting are shown totally inebriated, brawling, being sick and urinating in public shows that some things have changed very little in the English psyche even after the passage of 500 years.



During an era when even children were given weak beer to drink, ordinary water being regarded as unhealthy, Henry needed a suitably regal wine cellar to accommodate the needs of his entourage. Consequently, the vaulted wine cellars at Hampton Court are on a suitably majestic scale and once held 300 casks of wine. Ale was held in a separate cellar elsewhere. It seems Henry's retinue could get through 600,000 gallons of ale  every year. I am sure today's publicans, who own the stone beast, would happily raise their glasses to cheer that extraordinary feat.




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Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Queen’s House Greenwich Part Two (Revised March 2011)





Prior to my recent visit I can only recall ever going to the Queen’s House, Greenwich on a bright sunny day. Indeed, there is a photograph of a very young me smiling broadly at the camera in front of the original 17th century entrance to the house, wearing little more than a light blue frock, silk neckerchief and a brimless straw hat. The day was so warm I did not need so much as a cardigan.

It was all so very different in November. The day was distinctly bleak and overcast as evidenced by the view to the river Thames between the respective cupolas of the Painted Hall and Painted Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College. When work was begun on what King Charles II had hoped would be a magnificent Stuart palace at Greenwich but became the Royal Naval Hospital instead, he insisted that the view from the Queen’s House be unimpeded. If he had realised that the same view in the 21st century would also encompass some dreary office blocks on the other side of the river, he might not have been so proscriptive.

The view towards the Queen’s House is more inviting. The mansion itself is set within Greenwich Park. Behind it, perched on the top of the hill is the Royal Observatory, established by King Charles II and later to become the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the World. Thus, it is the official starting point for each new day and year.  The Royal Observatory, the Queen’s House and the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College all form Maritime Greenwich an as such an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
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When Inigio Jones built the palace, he had been obliged to accommodate a public right of way, which meant the building straddled a highway. How odd to think that even despotic Stuart kings felt obliged to observe the law in such matters. My footage of the thoroughfare passing under the house culminates in a partial view  of the Great Hall.

Nowadays, the main road runs between the Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College, meaning that the back entrance with its terraced steps has effectively become the main entrance. Although sash windows were added and the terrace steps remodelled by the Georgians, the exterior of the house would still be recognisable to Henrietta-Maria today.  She, however, would not have entered the house as I did through the basement for the very good reason that there was no staircase linking it to the floors above until after the Restoration of her son, King Charles II, in 1660. The stone flagged floors and white washed walls of the basement give little indication of the stately pleasures to be found above.

The basement leads to what once would have been the main thoroughfare under the house when a public road passed beneath it. Now it is an enclosed passageway on whose eastern side can be found the so-called Tulip Stairs. Like the classical design of the facade, the staircase was the first of its kind in England. The cantilevered stone staircase had “centrally unsupported” steps.  The average 17th century Englishman or woman, used to the sturdy wooden staircases of the time, must have wondered how on earth it stayed in place. The staircase derives its name from the belief that the floral design of the iron handrail depicts tulips, which were very much admired in the 17th century. More recently, some scholars have argued that the flowers are just as likely to have been a symbolic representation of the fleur-de-lys, the royal insignia of the French court and therefore a tacit acknowledgement of Henrietta-Maria’s own ancestral heritage. Whatever its history I would not recommend anyone tacking the staircase if they suffer from vertigo. The discreet modern lift on the other side of the Great Hall might be a better option.

Before venturing further up the Tulip Staircase I wandered into the Great Hall. It was just as I had remembered it with its white painted walls with the details picked out in gold and the spectacular black and white marble floor with its magnificent starburst central design and four smaller roundels at each corner. I instantly recalled the 17th century court dances I had been taught here all those years ago and could not resist surreptitiously recreating some of the steps, a far easier task to perform with the sedate dances of Henrietta-Maria’s era than the rambunctious Tudor dances I had taken part in within the Great Hall at Eltham Palace. I wish now I had taken great note of the ceiling paintings at Marlborough House, as those by Orazio Gentileschi had once graced the Queen’s House. The Great Hall served as the background for many a state occasion including the lying-in-state of Commonwealth Generals at Sea as well as witnessing the formal arrival of various Georgian  Kings and royal brides on English soil.

Leading off from the Great Hall are several rooms containing themed paintings. One tells the history of the Queen’s House together with an architectural model. In pride of place is a painting of the house’s architect Inigo Jones. I always think the portraits of Inigo Jones suggest a man with a prescient knowledge of his own unfortunate fate at Basing House. This Royalist stronghold was finally stormed by the Parliamentarian Army in 1645. Legend has it that the plundering soldiers didn’t just take the shirt of poor Inigo’s back they stripped him naked and allowed him only a blanket to cover his modesty as he was marched outside along with the others who had survived the siege and the subsequent slaughter of Royalist soldiers. 

Another room houses a collection of portraits of those royal personages closely connected with the long disappeared Tudor palace of Placentia at Greenwich. Thus, a very gaunt and somewhat apprehensive looking Henry VII is placed next to his swaggering son, Henry VIII. Portraits of James I of England and a coolly appraising Elizabeth I hang on the other side of the room. Elsewhere on the ground floor are images of Anne of Denmark and even one of Thomas Sackville, who did so much building work at Knole. Thomas, seated closest to the window on the right hand side is in a group portrait painted to commemorate the Somerset House Conference of August 1604, which signalled the end of the Anglo-Spanish War. This treaty was to prove personally disastrous for Sir Walter Raleigh as the kind of plundering of Spanish towns which Elizabeth I quietly condoned, so long as she got more than her fair share of any resulting booty, gave her successor James I the very excuse he needed to have Raleigh tried and executed for high treason. Earlier in the year I went again to the Bloody Tower in which his prison cell can be viewed.

On the same floor is the so called Orangery, through which Henrietta-Maria would have entered the house and in front of which I am pictured as a young woman. By the time I had explored the house in November it proved too dark late to take pictures of this façade, which would not have benefited from the lights used to illuminate the side of the house facing the river and the main road.

One room on the ground floor was devoted to the work of a Dutch father and son marine-artist; both of whom were called Willem van de Velde.  King Charles II had allowed them to set up a studio in the Queen’s House after his mother’s death meant it was no longer in use as a royal residence. Across the way, another room had a modern sculpture of a hull of a ship in glass pieces suspended from the ceiling. Despite my own  connection with one contemporary picture of Admiral Nelson, now on display alongside his ship the HMS Victory at Portsmouth, I have no great interest in maritime paintings and thus gave those on display only the most cursory of glances. I was more intrigued by the small exhibition about the Royal Hospital School for the orphans of seamen, which had been based in the Queen’s House for over a century until the 1930s.

I then walked up the Tulip Stairs to the first floor, whose myriad of rooms led off from the gallery of the Great Hall. Again, as at Ham House, the rail of the gallery is somewhat shallow and I did not step up too close to it lest I left an unfortunate lasting impression on the black and white marble floor below. For me the rooms were very much like a warren and it took me quite a while to get my bearings. It also took some time before it dawned on me that there were no longer any rooms furnished in a style appropriate to Henrietta-Maria’s era. Instead the rooms had been turned into art galleries displaying the Maritime Museum’s comprehensive collection of paintings on the subject.  I have to say that at first I was greatly disappointed. But after I had researched the matter further I discovered that despite the substantial investment in the renovation project in the early 1990s, the scheme had not met with the same resounding success witnessed at Eltham Palace when the interior of the art-deco mansion was restored to its 1930s heyday.  In fact, the Burlington Magazine in November 1995 was extremely scathing about the restoration and spoke darkly of how the Queen's House had been turned into “a theme-park interior of fake furniture and fireplaces, tatty modern plaster casts and clip-on chandeliers.” My eye having been attuned to the superb Jacobean examples at Charlton House I too had misgivings about the fake fireplaces, although to be fair to a later generation, quite a few of them dated from an earlier restoration in the 1930s. Despite being painstakingly based on Inigo Jones designs it is all too clear that the modern replicas were rendered in materials far inferior to the marble Jones would have used. 

Nevertheless, one fireplace surround in particular caught my attention. It reminded me of the fireplace in the White Drawing Room at Charlton House. I had been struck by the way the arms of the caryatids ended in curious finials as did the caryatids at the Queen’s House. The striking resemblance was no mere coincidence. Somehow the   fire surround at the Queen’s House had had found its way to its present home in the manor house at Charlton during the 18th century. The red marble fire surround in the King’s Writing Closet was installed in the 17th century and its plain design is similar to the one to be found in the Duchess of Lauderdale’s closet at Ham House.

One feature that has remained extant from Henrietta-Maria’s time is the “grotesque” painted ceiling in her former bedchamber. Its seems the central panel is an 18th century addition but Henrietta-Maria’s association with the house is confirmed by the use of her monogram, along with that of her ill-fated husband Charles I, in the room.  In a place like Ham House such a ceiling might have been akin to decorative overkill. But given that the rooms were empty other than for a plain wooden bench and the artwork on the walls I was glad for this small crumb of Stuart interior design.

The needs of the artwork on the walls of the Queen’s Withdrawing Room have been ranked above those of a mere visitor like myself, keen to see the architectural features in this chamber. In the near gloom I could make out the main decorative theme of blue and overgilding along with Henrietta-Maria’s and her husband’s interlaced crowned monograms.  Like Anne Boleyn’s badges and insignia at Hampton Court Palace, it is rather surprising that the detested King and Queen’s monograms survived the period when it was occupied by their Parliamentarian enemies.

As a young woman I distinctly recall stepping out on to the second floor Loggia at the back of the house with its views of the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Park. Now its doors are firmly locked against the average visitor, doubtless to prevent them from inadvertently damaging the elegant black and white marble floor. I do find it strange though that I cannot bring to mind the recreated Stuart interiors which were dismantled in recent years; so recently some guides give the impression they are still in place. Perhaps I was so offended I have erased them from memory

Even if, like me, you are not especially enamoured of maritime art, the Queen’s House at Greenwich is still worth a visit for the Great Hall and Tulip stairs and stunning exterior alone. I must also grudgingly admit that some of the pictures on display did win me over.Notwithstanding my visit to the Queen's House, when it comes to maritime art, I am still all at sea. 






video

In March 2011 as I was so close to the Queen’s House I decided I would take the opportunity of filming more of the exterior, especially as I had only managed to capture the front of the house when I had last been there in the winter. On this occasion I was also able to film both the thoroughfare under the house, which had once served as a public right of way and now linked the house by arcades to 19th century buildings erected on either side to accommodate the seamen's orphans, and the elegant façade looking out on to the Royal Observatory. I persuaded the Filmmaker to shoot footage of me on the very spot on which I had been photographed  as a schoolgirl. Through the windows of the Orangery behind me I could see several waiting staff and what I took to be either a tea or coffeee urn. Perhaps there was some function taking place. I had no time to investigate further and just kept my fingers crossed that they did not try to shoo me away from the French windows, which had once formed the principal entrance to the house in Henrietta-Maria's day.