Syon House + The Young Irish Georgians

Adam Fortune | Do Look Now

Syon House Front Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Where better to be on a sunny Sunday morning than Syon House in leafy southwest London? Rolling bucolic parkland, pretty birds tweeting in the ancient oaks, wild flowers springing in the meadows, and planes thundering overhead to Heathrow. Aside from the flight path latticing the blue sky with white streaks, all is calm. Dr Adriano Aymonino, former Head of Research at the intriguingly named Commission for Looted Art in Europe, is our leader. Us, being in this case, the Young Irish Georgians. Private apartments are included on the tour.

Syon House Porte Cochère © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We will discover that so much about the interior decoration is lost on the casual 21st century visitor. The nuances, the symbolism, the references that would have been read by Georgian guests. It’s like reading ShakespeareAdriano is no mere guide. He’s our translator, helping us decipher the intricate language of 18th century design. It helps that his doctorate was on the 1st Duke of Northumberland who transformed Syon House in the 1760s. Adriano’s book is due out soon. “My heart lies at Syon,” he confesses.

Syon House Floor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The 1st Duke was the greatest patron of the 18th century when you add all his houses together. Syon House is the most famous neoclassical house in the world,” argues Adriano, “and the Long Gallery is easily Robert Adam’s most spectacular interior. It is the most complex Georgian room in England.” Standing outside, the house is remarkably simple, stark almost, save for the toy battlements. All that will change when the front doors are flung open and Adam’s circuit of staterooms is revealed.

Syon House Capital © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Adam was a very clever businessman. He wanted to conquer the mid 18th century British market, dispelling the old Palladian architects by selling a new language. Adam claimed to be faithful to classical antiquity. That was not quite true as his could style could be eclectic but that’s how he marketed it. His language works, though, from St Petersburg to the USA. It’s a quotation architecture of ornament, statues, relief and sarcophagi.” Adriano identifies two layers of quotation: the Roman originals from the Grand Tour and later published engravings. “A paper architecture!”

Syon House Statue © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The plasterwork frieze in the Piranesiesque Great Hall incorporates a vase, the symbol of friendship and welcome. It’s part of the language of iconographical consistency, we learn. Together with the layering of quotation, Adam creates a jigsaw puzzle of classical references rid of Renaissance influences. It’s a game of recognition, providing meaning to the more sophisticated guest. A triumphal procession has begun. The Great Hall is the introduction to the public circuit. A ‘Roman villa’ built round a courtyard.

Syon House Wall Hanging © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The paintings at Syon House aren’t part of Adam’s concept. They come from the family’s central London townhouse of Northumberland House. It was demolished towards the end of the 19th century.

Adriano Aymonino Syon House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Each room is intended to be a single hall, the opposite of Palladianism and its consistency of rooms such as at Chiswick House or Holkham Hall,” expounds Dr Aymonino. “Rather than a simple whole, each unit is different from the other. There is no better example in Britain of this than the transition from the Great Hall to the Ante Room next door. This is the Adam principle of contrast, movement, variety in a house. So you have this kind of wow effect! The sequence of classical orders is the only unifier, the element which gives logic to the circuit.” The Young Irish Georgians are primed to spot Doric in the Great Hall | Ionic in the Ante Room | Corinthian in the Dining Room | Composite in the Red Drawing Room and so on and so forth.

Syon House Private Apartment © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Poor old Sir William Chambers. His Palladianism soon became as passé as postmodernism is today, bless. We are ushered into the Ante Room. “It’s very exuberant, the Versace of Syon!” Absolutely. “Adam is a great genius decorator. Syon’s architecture is a collection of Roman typologies. The Dining Room is based on a basilica. But the Drawing Room is the least classical. With its red brocade silk walls there is not much space for quotations. Just the coffered ceiling.” Comfort over style. Sir William Chambers criticised the roundels in the ceiling for looking like floating dinner plates. Architects bitching? Shock, horror! The forerunner to 21st century Design Review Panels.

Syon House Courtyard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Syon is the result of the Grand Tour industry. The statues would have been as recognisable as Warhol is today,” Adriano continues unabated. “He was first and foremost a decorator concerned with ideal beauty, harmony, proportion and decorum. I will never be tired of explaining the importance of printed sources. Far from Rome? Just open a book of prints!” With bated breath we enter the Long Gallery, the most important room in the house in our leader’s opinion.

Syon House Corridor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The 1st Duke commissioned Adam to revamp this Jacobean long gallery. “Anyone else would have physically divided up the space. It is very difficult to master. There is the risk the eye gets bored of repetition.” Instead, Adam treats it as a columbarium with niches and massive piers providing rhythm. A visual trick on the ceiling is that the pattern of circles set in octagons continues incomplete to either side. “This counteracts the narrow width and low ambient. It’s like a carpet on the ceiling!” Once again, there are plenty of 18th century publications on Roman columbaria. Painted roundels over the bookcases show the ancestral glories of the family from Charles the Great to the 1st Duke and Duchess – who else? It was carried on in the 19th century by future family members. “This is a different layer of complexity,” observes Adriano. “It’s a very clever use of English family history with references to Roman antiquity.”

Syon House Bust © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Late afternoon, after lunch, we will wander through the private apartments, unaccompanied, unroped, unAdamed but – oops! – not unalarmed.

Sèvres Urn Syon House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Over scampi and chips in The London Apprentice pub – appropriately rebuilt in the 18th century, while admiring the view across the Thames towards Kew, Adriano relates he’s half Roman, half Venetian. “Venice has become such a difficult place to visit. So crowded. It’s not a real city anymore – ordinary shops now just sell masques to tourists. February is the best time to go, even if it is foggy then.” Goodness. Ever been chased by a cloaked red dwarf? “No, but you could still fall in the canal.”

Syon House Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Prince Charles + Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt

By Royal Appointment

Christ Church Spitalfields Weathervane © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“10 minutes.” Frisson of anticipation. High flying MD Sara Nilsson DeHanas rocks up off the red eye Eurostar, suitcase in tow. Johannesburg this evening but in the meantime there’s a rendez vous with a Crown Prince to be had. Salut! Some meetings are unmissable. Reverend Andy Rider reminds us we’re in a place built to worship the King of Kings. “And a future king is on his way.” Phew, no pressure then. A chauffeur drops off the Lord Lieutenant of London. Police are everywhere. The eight bells are chiming. A choir gathers on the steps of the church. This is big.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Five minutes.” Excitement mounts. Stewart Grimshaw of The Monument Trust, benefactor of Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt, is at hand, impressed by the finished restoration and conversion to additional church space, community use and café. “It’s wonderful The Wallace Collection is free for visitors,” he says of another Monument Trust funded project. Artist Emily Wolfe arrives. She painted a window scene, cleverly elongating the staircase landing of the Crypt with an imaginary vista. “It was a great commission.” Another artist arrives. Nikki Cass admires her own stained glass in the chapel. “I’m so pleased how well the light falls on it.” Totes agree.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Prayer Chapel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Emily Wolfe Artist © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sara Nilsson DeHanas @ Christ Church © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Two minutes. The Prince wants a tea. Earl Grey with honey.” Flurry of activity. Cups and saucers all round and quickly. Then in walks someone familiar. Do we know him? Is he family? Yes, Royal Family. Here’s a man, sorry, prince, comfortable in his own skin. He makes a beeline for us, recognising the fleur de Lys tie. “Very tactful,” he smiles. Gazing round: “The oak is simply sublime. Wonderful. What’s that?” pointing to a tiny hatch door in the apse wall. “Is that for Harry Potter to walk through?” He’s great company, witty, warm and relaxing. Little wonder Prince Harry is good fun. Like father…

Lord Lieutenant of London & Bishop of London @ Christ Church © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architect Biba Dow is given a two minute slot to explain a decade’s worth of work. Time is precious. Even past retirement age, the Prince is clearly in high demand. Andy makes a speech. We hear the bit about the Crypt not being possible without architects and planners being in the congregation. And his thanks to The Monument Trust. And thanks to Prince Charles. The Bishop of London prays majestically. Everything is dreamlike. Minutes last for hours.

Prince Charles & Bodyguard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Time for His Royal Highness to unveil the plaque we’ve had a hand in designing. “This Crypt will allow many more activities to be performed at Christ Church, serving the community… It’s been at least 10 years since I’ve been to Christ Church. The Crypt looks like the best place to eat in London!” Plaque revealed. Applause. The private secretary beckons. His press officer calls. The black Jaguar pulls up at the bottom of the steps of the church. Prince Charles declines, instead strolling down Commercial Street with his bodyguard. Clarence House can wait.

Rev Andy Rider & Prince Charles © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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+ Ça Change

The Silent Banshee

Country Life

Thank you India. Thank you Beulah. Thank you thank you silence.

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Lavender’s Blue + Prince Charles

More Than A Stitch in the Fabric of Time

HRH Prince Charles @ Christ Church Spitalfields ©  Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s not every day we get to shoot a future monarch. So it was a great honour to meet – and photograph – His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Lots of laughter, and Earl Grey with honey. The outcome? A portrait of a smiling modern prince.

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Ilchester Place + The Irish Georgian Society London Chapter Summer Party

A Narrative of the Time of Nero

Ilchester Place Holland Park © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The 20th century redevelopment of the leafy Holland Estate has provided London with some of its most sumptuous neo Georgian homes. The style pendulum is in full swing, from Queen Anne meets Lutyens to Queen Mary meets Colonial. Lime tree lined Ilchester Place is firmly in the earlier more academic camp. Completed in 1928, these mainly terraced houses were designed by the Scottish born architect Leonard Martin who lived in a rambling Georgian house which he extended in matching style in Cobham.

Abbottsbury Road © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There are enough spider’s web fanlights, half moon pediments and squiggly topped blind windows not to mention Dutch gables to make the Irish Georgian Society feel quite at home at Ilchester Place. Just as well, as it was the setting of the London Chapter’s Summer Party. The distinguished hosts were Oric and Julia L’Vov Basirov. Oric is an Anglo Russian archaeologist, historian and Iranologist. His wife Julia is a picture restorer and V+A guide. This locale is steeped in art history, ever since Lord Leighton established his ‘private palace of art’ on Holland Park Road in the late 19th century.

Ilchester Place © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sir David Davies, President of the Irish Georgian Society, spoke. Restorer of Abbey Leix House under the guidance of architect John O’Connell, founding Chairman of the Irish Heritage Trust, Harvard alumnus and banker Sir David announced the recipients of recent Irish Georgian Society grants. “Stradbally Hall near my home,” he stated, “is really a ruin. There’s so much work to be done there. We are funding repairs to the chimneystacks.” There was more good news, “We are opening a Chapter in Waterford. We are opening a Chapter in Dallas.” He explained, “I am only the fourth President. My aim is to gather together the different threads of the Irish Georgian Society.” Catering was by Butlers with a capital B. Many of Kensington resident Celia Butler’s staff are artists.

Ilchester Place Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Irish Georgian Socierty Garden Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Irish Georgian Society Summer Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Irish Georgian Society London Chapter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Wallace Chan + Rise of Heart

Drill Thrill

Wallace Chan Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dream | Light | Water. World renowned Chinese born Hong Kong based London visiting Masterpiece exhibiting jewellery creator and artist extraordinaire Wallace Chan talks exclusively to Lavender’s Blue about nature, gemstones and the dentist. “When I see a flower fade it makes me feel sad. I want to capture the moment before that happens,” he says, dwarfed by the 2.2 metre high Rise of Heart next to him. Wallace informs us this fuchsia hued extravaganza is of honed titanium butterflies encircling a flower of amethysts, citrines and 1,000 rubies. “Do flowers attract butterflies or is it the other way round? I wonder about that relationship.” Wallace reveals, “I’m always very curious! I like to study the sky and earth, to capture the universe in my works. The universe is my teacher!” Yes, but what about the dentist? “I remember visiting the dentist when I was 12. I thought the drill could be used in the creation of jewellery. So, a visit to the dentist is a piece of memory!” And, it transpires, a lesson in craftsmanship. Today, Wallace Chan uses a modified dentist drill to carve designs in gemstones for his exhibition pieces.

Wallace Chan Jeweller © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Wallace Chan Artist © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Wallace Chan Masterpiece London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Masterpiece London Preview 2016 + London Art Week

Here Come The Men in Red Coats 

Ferrari 250 GTO 1963 Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Almost 75 percent of Kensington and Chelsea is covered by conservation areas,” Rock Feilding-Mellen duly told us over dinner at Clarke’s Restaurant on Kensington Church Street. He’s Deputy Leader of the Borough. “We’re very very proud of our built environment and the legacy we have inherited. The Royal Borough is held in high esteem here and around the world.” Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital Chelsea is one of the jewels in the prestigious Borough’s tiara. It’s fast becoming as renowned for an annual temporary replica in its grounds as the original 17th century quadrangular forerunner.

Riva Yacht Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Another year, another masterpiece. Another year, another Masterpiece. Only in its seventh year, whatever did we do before this gaping lacuna in the social calendar was filled? Mind you, the Victorians managed just one Great Exhibition. It’s time to mingle with the well addressed sort of people who live in a house with no number (we’ll allow Number One London or at a push One Kensington Gardens as exceptions). Hey big spenders: there are no pockets in shrouds. Superprimers at play. From the Occident to the Orient, Venice to Little Venice, Dalston Cumbria to Dalston Dalston, the Gael to the Pale, Sally Gap to Sally Park or Sallynoggin, Masterpiece is like living between inverted commas. Among this year’s prestigious sponsors are Sir John Soane’s Museum and The Wallace Collection. That familiar conundrum: Scott’s or Le Caprice? Best doing both. Home of tofu foam Sinabro would approve. It’s not like we’ve hit the skids ourselves, as they say. The choice of champagne is even less of a dilemma: it’s Claridge’s favourite Perrier-Jouët on (gold) tap.

Galerie Chenel Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Bantry House Siena Marble Tables, each spanning two metres, take pride of place at Ronald Phillips. This princely pair was purchased by the 2nd Earl of Bantry in the 1820s for the tapestry crammed entrance hall of his West Cork country house. The black marble supporting columns retain the original paint used to simulate the Siena marble tops. Thomas Lange of Ronald Phillips describes Siena marble as “the Rolls Royce of marbles”. Dating from George III times, they are priced £100,000 plus. Another Anglo Irish masterpiece is The Hamilton Tray. Commissioned by the 1st Marquess of Abercorn, this priceless piece of silver dates from 1791.

Bantry House Tables Ronald Phillips Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Jupiter @ Lampronti Gallery Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Matteo Pugliese Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Wallace Chan Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Steinitz Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Zaha Hadid Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Factum Foundation Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chiale Fine Art Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Symmetry and the art of the perpendicular abound in the Masterpiece salons (displays being much too modest a term). Lady Rosemary “I hate furniture on the slant” Spencer-Churchill would approve. Tinged with temporality, touched by ephemerality, the rooms are nonetheless paragons of authenticity. Exhibitors’ choice of wall covering is all defining. At Wallace Chan, velvety black is not so much a negation as a celebration of the totality of all colours. The kaleidoscopic crystallinity of a heist’s worth of gems is a welcome foil to the solidity of the backdrop. Jewellery designer and artist Wallace tells us, “I am always very curious. I like to study the sky and the earth. I seek to capture the emotions of the universe in my works.” Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows by Henry Holiday cast an atmospheric rainbow over Sinai and Sons. Such a whirl of interiors – Min Hogg would approve. Purveyors of Exquisite Mind Bombs, Quiet Storm, add to the glamour. An exchange of fabulosity with Linda Oliver occurs. Moving on…

Countess Litta Detail @ Stair Sainty Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

This year’s theme of women is encapsulated by a masterpiece painted by a female of a female courtesy of Stair Sainty Gallery. “Why Vigée Le Brun is regarded as one of the finest and most gifted of all c18th female portrait artists” the gallery succinctly tweeted. Stair Sainty do though deservedly devote 3,290 words on their website to Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s oil portrait of Yekaterina Vassilievna Skavronskaia (Countess Litta to you), a member of the Russian Court. A favourite of nobility and royalty, Madame Lebrun was tasked with softening the French Queen Marie Antoinette’s image through a series of family portraits. Despite the artist’s outstanding talent, this PR attempt was about as successful as Edina Monsoon recruiting Kate Moss (incidentally the model pops up in Chris Levine’s laser tryptych She’s Light priced £25,000) as a client in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. The premiere clashes with the Masterpiece Preview but we’ll stick to one red carpet at a time…

Linda Oliver Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The late great Zaha Hadid, a regular visitor up to last year at Masterpiece, is now the subject of a commemorative salon. Interior designer Francis Sultana has curated an exhibition revealing Zaha wasn’t just the world’s greatest female architect – she was a dab hand at painting, jewellery and crockery design. Undisputed queen of Suprematism, curvature is her signature whatever the scale. Francis remarks, “Zaha never really believed in straight lines as such.” Across the boulevard, a moving arrangement by the Factum Foundation centred round a life-size crucifix is a reminder amidst this earthly wealth and glamour of the importance of faith and preservation. “Art is intention, not materials,” believes Adam Lowe of the Factum Foundation.

Masterpiece Fair 2016 Style © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montaged onto a bright blue sky, it’s time the red and white multidimensional Masterpiece marquee was designated as a listed building. Seasonal of course. Talking of the (changing) Season, whatever next? Proms in Peckham? Disney at Montalto? We’ll settle for tomorrow afternoon’s London Art Week Preview, a jolly round the galleries of St James’s with The Wallace Collection’s architect John O’Connell.

Quiet Storm Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Sammy Leslie + Castle Leslie Glaslough

As Time Goes By | The Rear View 

Castle Leslie Rear View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

John Betjeman, Winston Churchill, Marianne Faithfull, Paul McCartney, W B Yeats and Lavender’s Blue have all been. The great and the good, in other words. In recent years thanks to Sammy Leslie and her uncle the 4th Baronet, Sir John (forever known as ‘Sir Jack’), Castle Leslie has flung open its heavy doors to the hoi polloi (albeit the well heeled variety) too, rebuilding its rep as a byword for sybaritic hospitality. Visitors from Northern Ireland could be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu – it’s the doppelgänger of Belfast Castle. Both were designed in the 1870s by the same architects: Sir Charles Lanyon and William Lynn.

Castle Leslie Porte Cochere © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Together these architects captured the spirit of the age. Lynn produced a majestic baronial pile with chamfered bay windows perfectly angled for views of the garden and lake simultaneously. Lanyon crammed the house of Italian Renaissance interiors and designed a matching loggia to boot. Fully signed up members of the MTV Cribs generation will find it hard not to go into unexpected sensory overload at this veritable treasure trove of historic delights. Castle Leslie is all about faded charm; it’s the antithesis of footballer’s pad bling. But still, the place is an explosion of rarity, of dazzling individuality. Sir Jack’s brother Desmond Leslie wrote in 1950:

Castle Leslie Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The trees are enormous, 120 feet being average for conifers; the woods tangled and impenetrable; gigantic Arthur Rackham roots straddle quivering bog, and in the dark lake huge old fish lie or else bask in the amber ponds where branches sweep down to kiss the water.”

Castle Leslie Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

We caught up with Sammy in the cookery school in one of the castle’s wings. “Although I’m the fifth of six children, I always wanted to run the estate, even if I didn’t know how. After working abroad, I returned in 1991. The estate was at its lowest point ever. My father Desmond was thinking of selling up to a Japanese consortium. There was no income… crippling insurance to pay… The Troubles were in full swing. People forget how near we are to the border here.”

Castle Leslie Monaghan © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Nevertheless Sammy took it on. “I sold dad’s car for five grand and got a five grand grant from the County Enterprise Board to start the ‘leaky tearooms’ in the conservatory. They were great as long as it didn’t rain! And I sold some green oak that went to Windsor for their restoration. Sealing the roof was the first priority. Five years later we started to take people to stay and bit by bit we got the rest of the house done. So we finished the castle in 2006 after – what? Nearly 15 years of slow restoration. “The Castle Leslie and Caledon Regeneration Partnership part funded by the EU provided finance of €1.2 million. Bravo! The house and estate were saved from the jaws of imminent destruction.

Castle Leslie Urn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Leslies are renowned for their sense of fun. An introductory letter sent to guests mentions Sir Jack (an octogenarian) will lead tours on Sunday mornings but only if he recovers in time from clubbing. In the gents (or ‘Lords’ as it’s grandly labelled) off the entrance hall beyond a boot room, individual urinals on either side of a fireplace are labelled ‘large’, ‘medium’, ‘tiny’ and ‘liar’. Take your pick. A plethora of placards between taxidermy proclaim such witticisms as ‘On this site in 1897 nothing happened’ and ‘Please go slowly round the bend’.

Castle Leslie Lake Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

Bathrooms are a bit of a Leslie obsession ever since the thrones and thunderboxes were introduced upstairs. “The sanitary ware in the new bathrooms off the long gallery is by Thomas Crapper. Who else?” she smiles. “We’ve even got a double loo in the ladies so that you can carry on conversations uninterrupted!” Exposed stone walls above tongue and groove panelling elevate these spaces above mere public conveniences.

Castle Leslie Long Gallery Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

In the top lit gallery which runs parallel with the loggia, the 1st Sir John Leslie painted murals in the 1890s of his family straight onto the walls and framed them to look like hanging portraits. Always one to carry on a family tradition with a sense of pun, this time visual tricks, Sammy has created a thumping big doll’s house containing an en suite bathroom within a bedroom which was once a nursery. It wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Irvine Welsh’s play Babylon Heights.

Castle Leslie Glaslough Lake © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A sense of history prevails within these walls, from the amusing to the macabre. The blood drenched shroud which received the head of James, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, the last English earl to be beheaded for being a Catholic, is mounted on the staircase wall. “It’s a prized possession of Uncle Jack’s,” Sammy confides.

Castle Leslie Entrance Hall 2 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Our conversation moves on to her latest enterprise: the Castle Leslie Village. “An 1850s map records a village on the site,” she says. “Tenant strips belonging to old mud houses used to stretch down to the lake. Our development is designed as a natural extension to the present village of Glaslough.” In contrast to the ornate articulation of its country houses, Ulster’s vernacular vocabulary is one of restraint. Dublin based architect John Cully produced initial drawings; Consarc provided further designs and project managed the scheme. Consarc architect Dawson Stelfox has adhered to classical proportions rather than applied decoration to achieve harmony. Unpretentiousness is the key. At Castle Leslie Village there are no superfluous posts or pillars or piers or peers or pediments or porticos or porte cochères. Self builders of Ulster take note!

Castle Leslie Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-2

That said, enough variety has been introduced into the detail of the terraces to banish monotony. Organic growth is suggested through the use of Georgian 12 pane, Victorian four pane and Edwardian two pane windows. There are more sashes than a 12th of July Orange Day parade. Rectangular, elliptical and semicircular fanlights are over the doorways, some sporting spider’s web glazing bars, others Piscean patterns. “We’ve used proper limestone and salvaged brick,” notes Sammy. “And timber window frames and slate.”

Castle Leslie Grand Piano © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We question Sammy how she would respond to accusations of pastiche. “They’re original designs, not copies,” she retorts. “For example although they’re village houses, the bay window idea comes from the castle. The development is all about integration with the existing village. It’s contextual. These houses are like fine wine. They’ll get better with age.” It’s hard to disagree. “There’s a fine line between copying and adapting but we’ve gone for the latter.”

Castle Leslie Paintings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Later we spoke to Dawson. “Pastiche is copying without understanding. We’re keeping alive tradition, not window dressing. For example we paid careful attention to solid-to-void ratios. Good quality traditional architecture is not time linked. We’re simply preserving a way of building. McGurran Construction did a good job. I think Castle Leslie Village is quite similar to our work at Strangford.”

Castle Leslie Miniatures © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The houses are clustered around two eligible spaces: a square and a green. Dwelling sizes range from 80 to 230 square metres. “We offered the first two phases to locals at the best price possible and they were all snapped up,” says Sammy. “This has resulted in a readymade sense of community because everyone knows each other already. A few of the houses are available for holiday letting.”

Castle Leslie Conservatory © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We’re concentrating on construction first,” she explains. “The hunting lodge being restored by Dawson will have 25 bedrooms, a spa and 60 stables. It’ll be great craic! Between the various development sites we must be employing at least 120 builders at the moment. Estate management is next on the agenda. Food production and so on.” Just when we think we’ve heard about all of the building taking place at Castle Leslie, Sammy mentions the old stables. “They date from 1780 and have never been touched. Two sides of the courtyard are missing. We’re going to rebuild them. The old stables will then house 12 holiday cottages.”

Castle Leslie Tearoom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We ask her if she ever feels daunted by the mammoth scale of the task. “I do have my wobbly days but our family motto is ‘Grip Fast’! I think that when you grow up in a place like this you always have a sense of scale so working on a big scale is normal. I mean it’s 400 hectares, there’s seven kilometres of estate wall, six gatelodges – all different, and 7,300 square metres of historic buildings.” Sammy continues, “The back wall from the cookery school entrance to the end of the billiard room is a quarter of a kilometre.”

Castle Leslie Long Gallery © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

“A place like this evolves,” Sammy ruminates. “There’s no point in thinking about the good ol’ days of the past. The castle was cold and damp, y’know, and crumbling. And it’s just – it’s a joy to see it all coming back to life. The whole reason we’re here is to protect and preserve the castle and because the house was built to entertain, that’s what we’re doing. We’re just entertaining on a grand scale. People are coming and having huge amounts of fun here. Castle Leslie hasn’t changed as much as the outside world. Ha!” This year there’s plenty to celebrate including the completion of Castle Leslie Village, the Leslie family’s 1,000th anniversary, Sammy’s 40th birthday, and Sir Jack’s 90th and the publication of his memoirs.

Castle Leslie Fireplace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

That was six years ago. This summer we returned to Castle Leslie. Our seventh visit, we first visited the house umpteen years ago. Back then Sammy served us delicious sweetcorn sandwiches and French onion soup in the ‘leaky tearooms’, looking over the gardens of knee high grass. The shadows were heightening and lengthening ‘cross the estate. Her late father Desmond showed us round the fragile rooms lost in a time warp. Ireland’s Calke Abbey without the National Trust saviour. He would later write on 11 May 1993, waxing lyrical to transform an acknowledgement letter into a piece of allegorical and existential prose:

Castle Leslie Cartoons © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I am glad you enjoyed your personally conducted tour. We try to make them interesting and amusing. Thanks also for St John – the only disciple who really understood. His opening verses contain more advanced cosmic science than all the modern theorists bundled together. I also love Chapter 17 ‘that ye may be one’. But now, at least, scientists state it all began with the sudden appearance of light from nowhere, filling the whole of space in a billionth part of a second – The Big Bang. Or more simply – ‘Let there be Light. And there was Light.’ As our old friend Ecclesiastes says, ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’ I hope you will come again when you have nothing better to do on a nice weekend.”

Castle Leslie Library © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

On another occasion, Sammy’s sister, the vivacious Camilla Leslie, came striding up the driveway, returning home from London to get ready for her wedding the following week. “Nothing’s ready! I’ve to get the cake organised, my dress, at least we’ve got the church!” she exclaimed, pointing to the estate church. This time round we stay in Wee Joey Farm Hand’s Cottage in Castle Leslie Village, enjoy a lively dinner in Snaffles restaurant in the hunting lodge, and once again, afternoon tea, now served in the drawing room. Meanwhile, Sir Jack is taking a disco nap in the new spa to prepare for his regular Saturday night clubbing in Carrickmacross.

Castle Leslie Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

That was four years ago. Visit number eight and counting. More to celebrate as Sammy, still living in the West Wing, turns 50. Sir Jack would have turned 100 on 6th December but sadly died just weeks before our visit. This time, we’re here for afternoon tea in the rebuilt conservatory or ‘sunny tearooms’ as they turn out to be today. The assault of a rare Irish heatwave, 26 degrees for days on end, won’t interrupt tradition. A turf fire is still lit in the drawing room. ‘Apologies for the mismatching crockery as so many of our plates have been smashed during lively dinner debates’ warned a sign on our first visit. The crockery all matches now but the food is of the same high standard:

Castle Leslie Execution Cloth © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sir Jack Leslie Castle Leslie @ Lavender's Blue

Miraculously, Castle Leslie still has no modern extensions. It hasn’t been ‘Carton’d’ (in conservation-speak that means more extensions than an Essex girl in a hairdressers). Instead, the hotel has grown organically, stretching further into Lanyon and Lynn’s building. An upstairs corridor lined with servants’ bells – Sir J Leslie’s Dressing Room, Lady Leslie’s Dressing Room, Dining Room, Office – leads to a cinema carved out of old attics. Castle Leslie has had its ups and downs but Sammy Leslie is determined to ‘Grip Fast’! And in response to Ms Leslie’s late father’s letter to us, we will come again when there is nothing better to do on a nice weekend.

Castle Leslie Afternoon Tea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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St Patrick’s Memorial Church Saul + Henry Seaver

Saints and Scholars

St Patrick's Church Saul Grounds © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Saul Church, also known as St Patrick’s Memorial Church, commemorates the Patron Saint of Ireland. It is built on the reputed spot of his first sermon and subsequent church in the country. When he came to Ireland in 432 AD, strong currents swept his boat along the southern tidal narrows of Strangford Lough. He landed off the River Slaney a couple of miles from Saul. Dichu, the local chieftain, converted to Christianity and gave him a barn or sabhal (pronounced ‘saul’ in Gaelic) for holding services. St Patrick famously used a shamrock from the fertile Saul soil to explain the Holy Trinity. He died in Saul 29 years after landing in Ireland and is buried in nearby Downpatrick.

St Patrick's Church Saul Downpatrick © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Patrick’s Jordanstown designed by William Lynn in the 1860s is the first Northern Irish church to embrace the Celtic revival with aplomb. Saul Church designed by Henry Seaver in the 1930s is the last. Both have a round tower. Henry was a prolific architect who designed many red brick bay windowed villas in the Deramore area of MaloneBelfast. He was also architect of St John’s Church on Malone Road. His brother was rector. St John’s is conventionally gothic. Saul is more Romanesque with its semicircular arched windows.

St Patrick's Church Saul Avenue © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Patrick's Church Saul Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Patrick's Church Saul © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Patrick's Church Saul Grotto © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Patrick's Church Saul View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Patrick's Church Saul Cemetery © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Patrick's Church Saul Tombstone © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

When the Anglo Irish singer Chris de Burgh penned the words to “In a Country Churchyard” he might have had Saul Church in mind. It couldn’t be any more romantic in both senses of the word. A yew lined avenue leads to this tiny place of worship, spick and span, in contrast to the wild garden around the gravestones and remains of St Patrick’s Abbey. Its hilltop setting allows unbroken views across the rolling countryside of County Down. Unsurprisingly the church is popular for weddings led by members of the clergy from far and wide, including the Reverend Andy Rider of Christ Church Spitalfields. A dedication from St Patrick,

St Patrick's Church Saul Organ © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Go forth, traveller | In the Name which is above every name | Be of good courage | Hold fast that which is good | Render to no man evil for evil | Strengthen the faint hearted | Support the weak | Help the afflicted | Honour all men | Love and serve the Lord | Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. And may the blessing of the Eternal God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you in your going out and your coming in.”

St Patrick's Church Saul Memorial © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Camilla Fayed + Farmacy Restaurant Notting Hill

Conscious Coupling

Farmacy Restaurant Notting Hill © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No need to move to the south coast after all to experience the best vegetarian restaurants. Farmacy has opened in Brighton-on-Land, otherwise known as Notting Hill. Brainchild of heiress and entrepreneur Camilla Fayed, the vegan-plus-eggs menu is free from dairy refined sugars, additives and chemicals. Her Alchemy Bar conjures up cocktails mixed with cannabis oil, cayenne pepper and flaxseed. Healthy’s never tasted so good. It helps that the kitchen is headed up by a Michelin trained chef, João Ricardo Alves.

Farmacy Restaurant Notting Hill Alchemy Bar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Who needs The Ivy when there’s the scrumptious Farmacy Burger (millet, black bean and mushroom with aioli, goji ketchup, pickles, tomato and potato wedges served in a wholemeal vegan bun: £14)? An accompanying syringe shot of Fire Starter (ginger, turmeric, cayenne and lemon: £5) is just what the doctor ordered. Blueberry tart (with almond nice cream and almond praline: £11) next is pure indulgence. Farmacy sources everything from local organic farms. So its name may be a triple entendre on provenance, healthcare and, possibly, a certain MABA (Middle Aged British Artist) owned restaurant spelt less phonetically. On a balmy Sunday afternoon, the cool leafy green interior is a welcome respite from the heated urban chaos. In an exclusive, CADA Design reveal their thoughts behind the interior design and branding:

Farmacy Restaurant Notting Hill Fire Starter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Why did Camilla commission CADA Design? “We have an enviable reputation for restaurant design across the globe and with 25 years’ experience our network is extensive. The connection between Camilla and CADA came about through a mutual acquaintance.”
  • What was your relevant experience? “At CADA we start with the food and work out. Having worked with so many food types in so many sectors we were able to transpose our knowledge to a completely new category to us – exclusively vegetarian and veggan.”
  • How would you summarise the interior design? “CADA worked closely with Camilla to recognise her vision for Farmacy. The interior was designed to reflect Farmacy’s social and environmental conscience, using untreated woods and natural fibre upholstery. A primary goal was to make the dining room an energising and uplifting experience to reflect the health giving nature of the food.”
  • How does the branding fit in with the food and drink? “CADA adapted ‘sacred geometry’ as found in nature to create the marque. It symbolises the sun, the source of all our energy and the light that nurtures life. All the graphic components were designed to connect the customer to that source. Ultimately the whole concept is about balance and harmony, whether it’s through the food or the customers’ state of mind while engaging with Farmacy.”

Farmacy Restaurant Notting Hill Blueberry Tart © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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