Fanlights Sidelights Streetlights Highlights
Best in world.
A Few Late Chrysanthemums
When the best parties are your own.
With a little help from Celia Butler.
“Thank you so much for this album of joy and splendour, a record of the day to day struggles of Life! You have captured it all on film and in words.” John O’Connell, the architect.
Named after Lord Simon Harcourt, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1772 to 1776, Harcourt Street is precisely what one expects of Georgian Dublin. A sheer cliff face of dark red brick penetrated by a grid of rectangular apertures. Doorcases to send the snappy happy into a battery zapping frenzy. Stuccowork in abundance indoors. No.70, Harrington Hall, fills a two bay townhouse and its three bay neighbour. It’s now a hotel, one of several in the immediate vicinity such as The Dean (opposite) and Iveagh Garden (a few doors down). Harcourt Street has always been the epicentre of society. It was the location of Noelle Campbell Sharp’s Origin Gallery (before she upped sticks to Fitzwilliam Street Upper) and the first Hugh Lane Gallery (which is now plonked on Parnell Square). William Butler Yeats went to school on the street.
Saved by the Bell
Who needs the walls to speak when there are learned historians in spades. It’s like The Interregnum happened yesterday. King’s Lynn is a microcosm of academia. Such rigour. Barley twist columns (inspired by Solomon’s Temple) supporting a most generous half moon pediment form an enigmatic doorcase on Queen Street. Instead of opening into a panelled hall, the doors lead into a porch, open on one side to a walled garden, home to two black cats. Apparently this is a common arrangement in historic Lynn. It means the windows and doors of the house beyond can be left freely ajar on a sunny day.
Clifton House, named after a previous owner who sadly sold some of its architectural features, is now the home of Dr Simon Thurley and Dr Anna Keay. It’s hard to believe that when they bought the house 13 years ago “it had no electricity and part of it was an archaeological dig”. The building had a rocky time during the 20th century. Lady Fermoy, Princess Diana’s maternal grandmother, campaigned with King’s Lynn Preservation Trust to stop Clifton House being demolished for a car park in 1962. The Trust along with English Heritage was determined that it should be returned to a single family house. Almost 800 years after its commencement, the house is finally in two pairs of safe hands. Simon is former Chief Executive of English Heritage; Anna is Director of The Landmark Trust. Both have published books on history and architecture.
“Wine was a very important part of Lynn’s economy,” he records. “Lynn traded with France, Madeira, Spain and the Canary Islands. Queen Street used to be called ‘Winegate’. The introduction of trains wiped out the local economy. The ground was cut from beneath its feet. As a result nothing really happens in the house architecturally after 1850.”
The entrance arrangement is the first of many surprises. An early Georgian façade cloaks a medieval merchant’s house. A five storey tower with mullioned windows is an unexpected feature in a corner of the walled garden. “It’s relatively recent, 1570,” smiles Simon. Flues in the four corners of the tower with alternating fireplace positions on each floor make the top room especially snug. Interior surprises of the main house include vast vaults from the 1220s (the earliest brick building in Norfolk) and 1260s tiles under the kitchen floorboards.
“Clifton House is arguably one of the most complete medieval houses anywhere,” Simon continues. “It’s a complex: the adjacent counting house, yard and warehouses would all have been part of this house.” Following mid 16th century alterations of the medieval house, from 1690 to 1700 a “big remodelling” occurred. Then owner, wine merchant and MP Samuel Taylor, turned to the distinguished local architect Henry Bell. The façade owes much to this period. “Bell was mad keen on big pediments.” The architect inserted a sweeping staircase leading to the piano nobile: the landing doorcases all have most generous pediments.
Halfway up the staircase is the dining room with panelling mostly pre dating Henry Bell. But it does have a highly unusual late 17th century decorative niche hidden behind sliding sash panels. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it!” he beams. Two panels are counterweighted by lead weights. The original paint scheme of sunrays bursting out of a gold shell against a pea green background has been reinstated. “This room is always five degrees cooler than outside! But with a massive fire lit and the curtains pulled, it’s great for entertaining.”
Simon and Anna are currently restoring the upstairs drawing room. An old photograph shows it once resembled a “1950s Indian restaurant”. Removal of the unforgettable forget-me-not blue flock wallpaper has revealed long forgotten stone coloured panelling. “What we are doing is completely recessive. It has a shattered appearance which we quite like!”
Like the unpeeling of an onion, the gradual restoration of the house continues to reveal itself. Really, it’s a conversation about conservation.
Spicing it Up
“Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.” Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse
Nick’s Warehouse was The Place for business lunch in 1990s Belfast. £10 for two courses. As its name suggests, the restaurant, something of a trailblazer, was in a converted warehouse. It was down a cobbled street in Cathedral Quarter on the northern edge of the city centre. When Nick’s closed, Simon McCance, its Head Chef, set up Ginger which he runs with his wife Abby. Businessman Ricky Garrett is co owner. Ginger is more centrally located to the immediate south of the City Hall. The Place was reborn. And 18 years later, it’s all grown up.
Simon says, “When I first opened Ginger Bistro way back in 2000 on Belfast’s Ormeau Road, I wanted to serve quality food in a relaxed and friendly environment. Now located close to Belfast’s Opera House, Europa Hotel and one of Belfast’s oldest pubs, The Crown Bar, my resolve for quality food in a relaxed atmosphere has never been stronger or more relevant. With Ginger Bistro’s longevity, we have built a loyal local customer base and are one of the favourites of our ‘wee city’ and locals alike.”
At lunchtime there are no fewer than four menus: À la Carte | Lunch + Pre Theatre| Vegetarian | Set £25.50 for two courses; £32.50 for three courses. Morsels of wisdom make for fun reading. On the wine list, a Pinot Grigio is “Clean as a whistle, far too easy to drink.” An Orballo Albariño is “An aromatic wine, perfect with fish and Ginger has fish.” A Picpoul de Pinet is “Lip smackingly fresh, lovely long finish.” Cocktails (£7.00 to £7.95) are listed under “Fancy Drinks”. Promiscuous ordering is recommended:
Everything is spot on. Brilliant actually, a real asset to the city’s restaurant scene. Adjoining informal dining rooms – one plum, one mustard – are already a hive of activity. The afternoon has barely begun. A slit of an opening reveals the kitchen to the rear. Ginger continues to mature. The bistro has extended into what was in Nick’s era a clothes shop called Parks. This fully glazed frontage facing Great Victoria Street has allowed covers to grow from 70 to 102. Unlike the main restaurant, the new white dining area with bar is not bookable.
“Belfast is booming!” observes Simon. “It’s a good time to be doing business. When we decided upon the extension, it was the first time I knew for certain a business plan would work. It felt grown up: I knew it would be instantly busy. New hotels are opening in the city. Grand Central has just opened round the corner. It gives an Art Deco nod to the original Grand Central which was on Royal Avenue. It’s all Belfast money too. Hastings have spent almost £60 million on their new hotel.” Guid forder! Sláinte mhaith!
Centre of Activity
Powerscourt House was built for entertaining. Robert Mack – the John O’Connell of his day – was the architect. Plasterwork by its 18th century whizz of a stuccodore Michael Stapleton jazzes up the interior. While most of it has long been converted into shops with galleried access off the original stables courtyard, a corner of the building has been carved out to form a restaurant and bar. Farrier + Draper is like a townhouse-in-a-townhouse. Fun is to be had on every floor from merrily dining in the basement to making an entrance on the lower ground floor to mingling in the mezzanine to making music on the piano nobile. Powerscourt House – at least this lively corner – is carrying on the entertaining tradition. Lady Powerscourt would have a ball.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
“There are 13 Grade I listed buildings in King’s Lynn,” explains local historian and former Mayor of West Norfolk, Dr Paul Richards. “There are 300 altogether including 52 Grade II*.” A member of the latter group is Lath House, 15 Nelson Street. It’s a three storey six bay house so unusually the doorcase is off-centre on an otherwise balanced Palladian façade. After being used as offices in the 20th century it is now nine apartments accessed off the intact staircase hall. He credits many of Lynn’s buildings to Henry Bell, 1647 to 1711, a linen merchant and part time architect. “Henry Bell was an ingenious architect, nationally important. He visited London and The Netherlands.”
Dr Richards observes, “There’s tremendous social history packed into King’s Lynn. The BBC are about to start filming David Copperfield here. In the 18th century gentry from London, Bristol and Southampton got their wine from the town. Every two or three years a floor falls through a house mid restoration and another wine cellar is uncovered!” Lath House was owned by the Browne merchant family during this period. When owner Samuel Browne died in 1784, the inventory of his wine stock included Brown Port | Caleavela [sic] | Lisbon | Medeira [more sic] | Mountain | Old Hock | Red Port | Sherry. Total value was £1,682.
Striking a Striking Pose
“You are so uncluttered. You are the Holly Golightly of my life.”
Tipping into the Beyond
Well life can’t just be one big party. Actually, yes it can. Snapping Sir David Davies and Leonie Frieda at the Irish Embassy. Giggling with The Baroness “call me Emma” Pidding at the House of Lords. Wherever there’s Perrier-Jouët, there’s Lavender’s Blue. Thank goodness then, for another year, Perrier-Jouët is the Champers Partner of Masterpiece. Punchy! The Perrier-Jouët Terrace, a vivid realm in the pneumatic womb of the blow up Royal Hospital Chelsea, is where it’s at. Its new Blanc de Blancs Non Vintage is “a single varietal Chardonnay, a true and unadulterated expression of the emblematic grape at the heart of the Perrier-Jouët style,” pitches Champagne Ambassador Jonathan Simms. The Queen’s Rolls Royce, yes the one Meghan Markle borrowed for her wedding, is on display. Summer’s here, so is everyone; the Season’s begun.
The tradition that began last year of unveiling a major new artwork continues with huge aplomb. “Performance is an immaterial form of art,” explains the Serbian painter turned performance artist Marina Abramović. She’s 72. “At this point of my life, facing mortality, I decided to capture my performance in a more permanent material than just film and photography. I chose alabaster based on its history and properties – luminosity, transparency… They have a hauntingly physical presence but, as you move around the pieces, they decompose into intricately carved ‘landscapes of alabaster’.” Presented by Factum Arte in collaboration with Lisson Gallery, Marina’s Five Stages of Maya Dance fuse performance, light and sculpture through a mist of condensation. The party continues into the night on Sloane Square. Such unleashed chutzpah!
Off to The Most Noble Order of the Garter at Windsor. This year, the Sovereign’s two appointment includes Viscount Brookeborough, Lord Lieutenant of Fermanagh. So the Northern Irish contingent is growing. Alan Brooke, 3rd Viscount Brookeborough, owns the beautiful Colebrooke Estate near Fivemiletown. Ashbrooke House, the estate’s elegant dower house, is available to let. The Viscount has been The Queen’s Personal Lord-in-Waiting since 1997, commuting several days a week across the Irish Sea. He served with Her Majesty’s Armed Forces from 1971 to 1994. Also present from the west of the Province is James Hamilton, 5th Duke of Abercorn. The Chancellor of the Order, he owns Baronscourt Estate in County Tyrone, all 15,000 acres of it. Today, he’s donned his great grandfather’s robes. The London based Earl of Ulster arrives. His 11 year old son Xan is the Queen’s Page of Honour. And then of course there are certain guests from Northern Ireland.
There’s just about as much pomp and glory as England can stomp up. Which is a lot. Such unfurled magnificence! Beefeaters and Military Knights of Windsor stand to attention. The Irish Guards’ mascot – an Irish wolfhound of course – steals the processional show. The Royals are a veritable bloom of ostrich plumes, black velvet robes and insignia glistening in the shafts of sunlight. Trumpets sound: a Zadokic zenith: The Queen arrives last at 3pm on the dot looking resplendent with her perfectly powdered face and clustered diamond earrings. Prince William looks solemn. Prince Charles and Camilla are all smiles. So is a very regal Princess Alexandra. She looks just like her namesake grandmother. Her Royal Highness is Patron of Masterpiece. Atop a spinning world, embracing this crazy pulsing era, it’s Perrier-Jouët-o’clock once again.
The Marchioness arrives.
So does Mary Martin.
We’re not gonna split town just yet.
Ships in the Night
Harland + Wolff’s former headquarters was at the heart of Belfast’s shipyard. That’s where 1,000 ships including many of the world’s most famous ocean liners were designed and built. A Who’s Who of the seas: Canberra, HMS Belfast, Majestic, Oceanic, Olympic, Teutonic. Oh, and Titanic. The birthplace of many a “floating hotel” is now a hotel itself. Puns there are aplenty in its publicity: anchor down | maid in summer | monthly sail | slip into spring. Anyone for an iced tea on the rocks? Ok, maybe that’s a bit far.
The original red brick building, constructed in stages from 1886 to 1922, has been augmented by contemporary extensions in a contrasting yet complementary style. Robinson McIlwaine Architects added a new top bedroom storey, a five storey bedroom wing, and infill glazed pavilions between the ground floor projections. Titanic had 416 First Class, 162 Second Class and 262 Third Class bedrooms. Titanic Hotel has 120 first class bedrooms: four metre high ceilings and monochromatic tiled wet rooms. Industrial chic.
The Typists’ Room is now the hotel reception. The offices lining the Queen’s Road elevation – Lord Pirrie’s, Mr Quin’s, Mr Morrison’s, the Secretary’s, the Chairman’s and so on – have become meeting rooms. The Telephone Exchange, which received the first communication of Titanic hitting an iceberg, has been switched to a sitting room. The Stores Department has been converted to a bar. The barrel vaulted double height twin Drawing Offices flanking the Typists’ Room have become the principal lounge and dining room respectively. Upstairs, the Estimating Department is now a lounge while the Progress Department has been split into two bedrooms. The synonymous hotel and museum are cheek by jowl, gable by bow.
“Titanic Quarter is great for a wee dander but mind you don’t get foundered.”
“Keep yer eyes peeled for the dock.”
“For a long time this place was Dunderin Inn.”
“Wait a ye see they’ve kept the windies of the oul building.”
“You can have a quare geg in the Drawing Room.”
“C’mon to get fed and watered in the Wolff Grill.”
“If you’ve hapes of money and all dolled up head for afternoon tea in the Presentation Room.”
“Get blootered in the Harland Bar.”