“Rarely does a wicked soul inhabit a beautiful body and thus external beauty is a true sign of internal goodness.” Baldassare Castiglione 1528
“Rarely does a wicked soul inhabit a beautiful body and thus external beauty is a true sign of internal goodness.” Baldassare Castiglione 1528
The Big White House | Relics of the Old Decency
Holy (pronounced “Holly” as in Holywood, Country Down) Hill House is a Planter’s house of comfortable grandeur. Set in the wilds of Tyrone, its shining white walls are testimony to the efforts of Hamilton and Margaret Thompson. They purchased the estate in 1983. “My family were tenant farmers here with 20 acres, half of which was peat land,” Hamilton reminisces. “We bought the house along with 230 acres. But we didn’t want anyone overlooking us so we bought a few surrounding farms too!”
“The last in the line of the Sinclair family was Will Hugh Montgomery, High Sheriff of Tyrone,” says Hamilton. “He was a confirmed bachelor until he met Elizabeth Elliott, a doll from Philadelphia.” Will died in 1930 but Bessie continued to live here along until 1957. Bessie was a snob! She wanted to marry someone with a title and army rank and with Will she got both.” Upon her death in 1957 the estate was inherited by a Sinclair relation, General Sir Allen Henry Shafto Adair, who subsequently sold it to the Thompsons. Hamilton notes, “The Castle of Mey was a Sinclair property. They’d quite a few bob between them. One of their other former homes has been in the news lately: Anmer Hall, Prince William and Catherine’s home. Adair Arms in Ballymena is named after them.”
“The very doghouses are listed!” he exclaims. A village of early 19th century limewashed rubble stone outbuildings embraces the rear elevation of the house. The laundry still has its mangle; tongue and groove panelling lines the coachman’s house; and the stable stalls are fully intact. A saw mill, forge with bellcote, byres and walled garden add to the complex. “I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible,” says Hamilton. “The estate would originally have been self sufficient. Years ago there weren’t any supermarkets!” Metal cockerel finials top the stone entrance piers to the courtyard.
Holy Hill House bears a passing resemblance to Springhill, the National Trust property in Tyrone. The harled front, a roughly symmetrical grouping of windows centring on the middle bay, slates on a secondary elevation, a Regency looking bay window and so on. But while Springhill is gable ended, the double pile hipped roof of Holy Hill swoops down from the chimneys to the eaves like a wide brimmed garden party hat. The roof contains one of Holy Hill’s hidden glories. More anon. Single bay screen wings topped by ball finials elongate the entrance front. A 1736 map by William Starratt in the library shows the main block of the house. So it’s at least early 18th century but the rear part likely dates from the previous century. Sir George Hamilton, brother of the Earl of Abercorn at Baronscourt, built a house here but it was destroyed in the 1641 Massacre of Ulster. Reverend John Sinclair then bought the estate in 1683 and the building he erected was to become the family seat for a quarter of a millennium. That is, save for a sojourn when the Sinclairs retreated behind the Walls of Derry during the Jacobite conflict.
The glazed entrance door set in a lugged sandstone architrave opens into the entrance hall which leads onto the three storey staircase hall. The Thompsons, though, use a more informal entrance through the left hand screen wing. Antlers and maids’ water cans hang from the white walls of this hallway. Above a sofa is the first of Holy Hill’s hidden glories. A stained glass window of great provenance. Over to Mr Thompson, “I found the 10 stained glass windows in a shed outside. They’re from Ballymena Castle, once home to the Adairs. When the castle was demolished in the 1950s, Sir Allen brought the windows with him to Holy Hill.” They are now installed throughout the house: some as external windows; others as internal doors. Each stained glass panel is a story board telling the history of the Adair family in their Ulster Scots context. A low ceilinged sitting room in the older part of the house is made even lower by a colossal timber beam. ‘Count Thy Work to God 1900 Everina Sculpsit.’ So engraved the evident carpenter and Latin scholar Miss Sinclair.
Hamilton put back the separating wall between the entrance hall and drawing room. The ante room – “Ideal for a glass of sherry!” – is now the library. Delicate ceiling roses and cornicing have been reinstated where missing. “The entrance front faces east,” says Hamilton. “So we generally keep the window shutters pulled.” A new kitchen was installed in the former library at the back of the house. This allowed the basement Victorian kitchen to be retained as a museum piece. Clocks chime on the multiplicity of skyward landings on the 19th century staircase. Time doesn’t stand still, not even at Holy Hill. The dining room is pure magnificence. Crimson flock wallpaper; a higher ceiling; that bay window; and the dining table from Flixton Hall, another former Sinclair residence.
And now for Holy Hill’s highest hidden glory. The front top floor bedrooms have extraordinarily high coving which swallows the roof space above. The top floor bedrooms to the rear have domes instead. As a result, on what would normally be the nursery floor is a lofty suite of cathedral guest rooms. “Adrian Carton de Wiart stayed here in the 1920s,” says Hamilton, pointing to a copy of Happy Odyssey by the author. “Mrs Sinclair liked entertaining. She had 15 staff. Five lived in the house.” Down to the ground floor. The lowest hidden glory is a Victorian loo. “The Sinclairs built a passageway to a privy,” smiles Hamilton, “so when nature called they didn’t have to run to the end of the garden.” Off said passageway, stone flagged steps lead to the rabbit warren of former servants’ quarters and cellars. “We’re seven feet underground,” says Hamilton in the billiard room, once a servants’ hall. The vegetable store has an earthen floor. “Bessie buried the family silver under here in case of a German invasion.”
It’s been a sad year for country houses of Ireland. Dundarave, Glin Castle, Markree Castle and Mountainstown all sold for the first time in their history. Most of the contents of Bantry House and some of Russborough at risk. Not so Holy Hill House. It has never looked smarter, gleaming inside and out, even on a drizzly Ulster summer day. The big house stands tall and proud, surrounded by an apron of soft emerald banded lawn.
John Sinclair was agent to the Earl of Abercorn. On 20 June 1758 he wrote, ‘Inclosed I send your Lordshipp an account of the halphe years rent due at May 1757 which I hope will please. William McIlroys I think I may get, but I fear Harris Hunter never will pay; about five weeks agoe he went to Scotland and is not yet returned; his mill is in bad repair. Gabriel Gamble is returned in arrear; he will not take a receipt for his halph year’s rent; he says the boat cost him much more and expects to be allowed all his cost; Mr Winsley has not paid for his turf bog for the year 1757; he has three acres, a part of which he hopes your Lordshipp will allow for his house, fire and desired me to let your Lordshipp know he was willing to pay what you pleased to charge him but did not incline paying untill I acquainted you. James Hamilton of Prospect has one acre and a halph, a part of which he also hopes you will allow him for his fire; the remainder he is willing to pay what your Lordshipp pleases. If the manner in which the account is drawn is not agreeable I hope your Lordshipp will excuse me as I am not acquainted with the proper method but shall for the future observe your Lordshipp’s directions if you will please to instruct me.’
Red Is The New Black | Northern Lights
Did anyone say Thursday is the new Thursday? Well blow us… for starters, it’s from dining alfresco at the Ivy Chelsea Garden (King’s) to the great indoors at the Cuckoo Club (Regent’s) in one fell swoop. There’s nothing communist about this red revolution. Perchance it’s survival of the
cutest fittest. This dying breed is looking very alive. We’re on fire! It’s front stage at the last chance (hair) saloon. The Titian takeover is in town. Let the ultimate Celtic Revival commence. Enter the children of Brehon. We’re alpha not betagh. Pedigree’s all that matters. Girls and boys aloud. And this diaspora ain’t goin’ nowhere fast. We’re stayin’ put within the pale. The media might betray us as mad (Bree van de Kamp in Desperate Housewives), bad (Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights) and dangerous to know (Race Imboden fencing). But c’mon Albion guys, that’s us only gettin’ started. Alabaster rocks, porcelain rolls, Gingerella on ice; the rest is the present, the here, the now. Welcome to the Red Hot 100. It’s London’s most exclusive listing, breeding matters, a Pre Raphaelite dawning, one hundred redheads united on a plate, all henna’d up and everywhere to go. The mane event is top photographer Thomas Knights’ calendar of smokin’ hot girls following the success of last year’s boys edition. “I enjoy hearing stories about other people’s experiences growing up with red hair,” Thomas tells us. “It’s such a unique situation!” We wanna be shot, red or alive. Everyone’s on model behaviour; just desserts. Grace O’Malley eat your heart out (she would); redheads will roll. Natch hatch. Lavender’s copper. Lavender’s blue.
A Street Named Desire
Gazing at a house on Roupell Street, any house, lucky number seven, luckless number 13, before a visit to The King’s Arms (crammed Monday to Friday; only the fireside cat for company at the weekend), after a visit to The King’s Arms, summer and smoke, makes us think of that part in Alan Hollingsworth’s novel The Spell when, in the grips of his first ecstasy experience, Robin Woodfield realise why house music is so called: “Because you want to live in it.” Or there’s the picture of a house in the photographic journal Camera Lucida which Roland Barthes captions, simply and perfectly, “I want to live there.” It’s a shortcut to The Cut, thespians acting at the Old Vic, acting up at the New Vic.
A grid, a toast rack, a tightknit urban grain, a bacchanalian bout of Augustan nostalgia, a traditional survival in an otherwise redeveloped postcode. Roupell Street runs parallel with both Theed Street and Whittlesey Street to the north and Brad Street to the south all traversed by Windmill Walk. The early 19th century terraced houses, once unremarkable by their compact ubiquity, now listed for their intact rarity, a lesson in brick for planners and architects. The original artisan workers have long gone, replaced by harrumphing gazumping bankers, boorish bourgeoning bourgeois, collars swapped from blue to white. Modest houses bought with immodest bonuses. Appropriately, the property developer Mr Roupell moonlighted as a gold refiner.
Ian Nairn writing where else in Nairn’s London: “Here is true architectural purity… nothing but yellow London brick and unselfconscious self respect. Whittlesey Street is… two storeys made into three with a blind attic window concealing a monopitch roof of pantiles. Roupell Street answers with a wavy pattern. On one level there is no finer architectural effect in London.” Stock brick darkened by soot over the passage of time, closer in colour now to the Welsh roof slates, accidental homogeneity. Originally the timber sash windows holding mouth blown hand spun glass would’ve been painted black; they’re all white now. Solid to void relationships are perpendicularly predictable, correctly so. A pleasing wallage to window is maintained.
Who says repetition is monotonous? Who says repetition is monotonous? It creates rhythm. And order. Strength and safety in numbers, arithmetical progression. Ah… the terrace. The arrangement of buildings in friendly continuity, expressing conscious couplings by the noblest concepts of civic design. The two bay houses of Roupell Street coincidentally correspond to the height and width of the arches of the massive railway viaduct which ponderously plods its elephantine progress across the patch carrying wistful commuters longing to live in this coveted corner of SE1. Each has a butterfly roof with two pitches nose diving into a central valley gutter that drains to the rear. The gables on the grander three bay Theed Street and Whittlesey Street houses are hidden behind one continuous high, no make that very high, stone coped parapet with three blind
mice windows. Mono pitched roofs descend into cat on a hot tin slide returns.
Character is derived from uniformity and regularity of appearance. Regimented form contributes to cohesive sense of place, place having lost its definite article. Come closer. Character is also derived from the quiet details. Stucco cornices and pediments, arches over openings, half moon fanlights, iron knockers, tall chimneys holding slender pots shrouded in a spider’s web of aerials, striped bollards guarding granite kerbs like Lilliputian lighthouses.
“The period of domestic architecture from which of all others we have most to learn is the Georgian,” ponders Trystan Edwards in his textbook Architectural Style. “The essential modernity of the Georgian style should be widely recognised. If we do not derive full benefits from this tradition, the failure will certainly be justified by the extremely disputable suggestion that such a manner of building is unsuitable to our present social circumstances. Its reliance on the virtue and dignity of proportions only, and its rare bursts of exquisite detail, all expressed as no other style has done, that indifference to self advertisement, that quiet assumption of our own worth, and that sudden vein of lyric affection, which have given us our part in civilisation.” Houses meant to stand. Roupell Street – so Georgian; so English; so reticent, gentlemanly and polite; abstracted; understated classical authority; so not suburban; so Poundbury; so us. Hark, it’s the Camino Way to Saint Barbara.
Total Eclipse of the Art
It was as if Elizabeth Bowen was in Masterpiece London and not The House in Paris: “Heaven – call it heaven; on the plane of potential not merely likely behaviour. Or call it art, with truth and imagination informing every word.” Now in its sixth year, Lavender’s Blue have covered the last four but as Liz B declared, “Any year of one’s life has got to be lived.” Red carpet Dysoned, #MPL2015 has arrived. The greatest show on earth is back in town. Millennia of masterpieces filling a groundscraper marquee (12,500 square metres), a pneumatic Royal Hospital Chelsea, full blown Wrenaissance, Quinlan Merry, painted canvas under printed canvas. Arts and antiques gone glamping. Something to tweet home about lolz. An upper case Seasonal fixture and celebration of unabashed luxury. Masterpiece is truly the cultural epicurean epicentre of civilisation, from now (Grayson Perry’s Map of Days at Offer Waterman) to antiquity (Head of a Young Libyan AD 200 at Valerio Turchi).
Everyone’s here at the preview party, the upper aristocracy and upper meritocracy of globalisation chic to chic. Royalty with their heirs and airs, gentry with their seats and furniture, oligarchs with their bodyguards’ bodyguards, Anglo Irish with their Lords and Lourdes, nouveau riche with their Youghal to Youghal carpet, celebrities with their baggage and baggage, Londoners with their Capital and capital. And a very bubbly Eamonn Holmes. Stop people watching. Stare at the felicitous ambiguity of Geer van Velde. Wonder at the dense opaque impasto of Freud. Gaze at the transparent golden glaze of Monet. Study the descriptive precision of Zoffany. Blog about the parallel lines of Bridget Riley. Instagram a selfie beside The Socialite, Andy Warhol’s portrait of New York realtor Olga Berde Mahl shyly making her first ever public showing courtesy of Long-Sharp Gallery. Better late than never.
“If you think about it the clue is in the name,” muses artist Anne Davey Orr. “Masterpiece – a creation that is considered the greatest work of a career, or any work of outstanding creativity and skill. And Masterpiece is certainly the best in its field. From the faux façades to the faux colonnades, and the exotic festoons by Nikki Tibbles of Wild at Heart, Masterpiece exudes a professionalism which avoids the tackiness that sometimes attaches to other art fairs. The accompanying directory of 300 high end galleries alone, contents apart, sets it in a league of its own.”
Newly introduced Cultural Partners such as the Wallace Collection lend added weight to #MPL2015. Every discipline in the design art market is represented. The reflection is so perfect in Edouard Lièvre’s rosewood mirror in Didier Aaron. Hot on the jewel encrusted heels of Wartski is a cool £22 million Bling Ring’s worth of rubies and diamonds at Van Cleef and Arpels. “It’s hard to find rubies over five carats,” notes PR Joan Walls. “The Vermillon earrings are 13.33 and 13.83 carats. Their pigeon blood red colour is so rare, so wonderful. They’ve pure consistency with very few inclusions. The Vermillon earrings are underscored by corollas of pear shaped marquise cut diamonds.”
Another Masterpiece first is a piano. Cue Steinway and Son’s 600,000th instrument The Fibonacci designed and handcrafted by Frank Pollaro. Random renditions of Für Elise aren’t recommended. Sipping Ruinart and devouring pea and mint canapés while chatting to Stephen Millikin is. “Fibonacci is a geometric representation of the golden ratio. It’s found in nature and art, brought together in this piano,” Stephen explains. He’s Senior Director of Global Public Relations at Steinway and Sons, based at 1155 Avenue of the Americas, New York. “The piano is made from six logs of Macassar Ebony. A Fibonacci spiral is inset in the veneer. This motif resonated with Frank Pollaro.” At £1.85 million it’s not going for a song but nor should it. The Fibonacci was four years in the making from concept to completion. Maths star piece.
Vaulted boulevards of dreams, deep white fissures, lead to panoplies of intense colour. Galerie Chenel’s Pompeiian red, empire yellow and lavender’s blue niches fade to black in the shadows of exquisite statuary. There is no vanilla at Masterpiece. Lacroix clad Lady Henrietta Rous and Suzanne Von Pflugl rock up to Scott’s (Mount Street has decamped from Mayfair to Chelsea for the week). The conversation is fashion houses and fashionable houses. “I’m wearing my Ascot hat!” proclaims Lady Henrietta. “I tried on all the hats on King’s Road! Ossie Clarke was a good friend. I edited his diaries.” Annabel P recognises mention of Suzanne’s childhood home now lived in by her brother, Milton Manor House. “It’s perfect for weddings. At the last one Henrietta was still going strong on the dancefloor at 2am!” jokes Suzanne. “It was the vintage music!” blames Lady Henrietta.
“Tamarisks flying past the rainy windows were some dream,” imagined Elizabeth Bowen, “not your own, a dream you have heard described.” Carriages; horses for courses. All aboard golf buggies to vacate the Royal Hospital estate. Not so bound the Honourable Mrs Gerald Legge, Countess of Dartmouth, Comtesse de Chambrun Viscountess Lewisham, Viscountess Spencer. A Rolls Royce pulls up and Raine slides into the back seat. Blacked out windows slide up, no time for a Snapchat. And so, the chimerical layering vision that is Masterpiece London, so emblematic of a progressive spirit, is over for another year. Here’s to #MPL2016.
There are more painful ways to start the weekend than breakfasting on Sally Clarke’s bread rolls aboard Eurostar. Especially if it is preceded by dining at her eponymous restaurant the night before. Dinner was a set menu held in the intimate private dining room on the (to use estate agents’ speak) lower ground floor of her discreet Kensington Church Street premises. Call it Chatham House Basement. Lucien Freud animal drawings hanging on the walls are a reminder of the late great artist’s fondness for Clarke’s. She’s all about no nonsense good quality English cooking and baking:
Saturday lunch was another pescatarian thrill but that’s where the similarity ends. A change of time zone wasn’t the only difference. Comme Chez Soi on Place Rouppe, a sedate square in lower town Brussels, has a Victor Horta influenced art nouveau dining room accommodating just 36 covers. That hasn’t stopped it gaining two Michelin stars. A family owned restaurant, chef Lionel Rigolet is the fourth generation owner. His wife Laurence explained, “Comme Chez Soi was established by my great grandfather in 1921. It moved to the current building 10 years later. We live behind the restaurant.” Comme Chez Soi celebrates classic French cuisine at its most refined:
There are greater trials than concluding the weekend at Hotel Amigo, a bread roll’s throw from Brussels’ Grand Place. It is of course the continental flagship of the Rocco Forte chain and is Olga Polizzi’s baby. Keeping it in the family, Olga is television presenter Alex Polizzi’s mother who is Sir Rocco Forte’s niece. It’s hard not to fall in love in a city that has districts called Le Chat, Poxcat and Helmet. Testing endurance, at the end of the day, it’s off to Amigo’s health suite. In the words of Bobbie Houston, co founder of Hillsong, “A mannie, a peddie and a massage cause, gentlemen, that’s what you do when you don’t know what to do.” Comme des Garçons.
*Yep caviar costs
House of Lords and Ladies
“Cucumber sandwiches, plenty of champagne, the Unconventional Crooners and a marquee in a beautiful garden setting crammed with friends from Westminster, Whitehall, Fleet Street and the world of business,” tempted the hard copy invitation. What’s not to love? Getting into the Westbourne groove has never been more fun, eating nosh between Nash at Carlton Gardens West, becoming unstuck between stucco, not talking politics with Jacqui Smith, the UK’s first female Home Secretary. “Significant canapés” warned the invite further and sure enough they were devoured with abandon beneath the watchful eyes of clubland: The Reform, Travellers, Athenaeum. Lord James Bethell knows how to throw a party. Lashings of Nicholas Feuillatte helped too. As twilight ended in the garden of the good and the great, Lady Melissa marched the glam troops down the steps to Pall Mall for afterhours fun at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The band played on.
“It’s sort of feeble really,” says Min Hogg. “Open the property section of any newspaper and you’ll see page after page of boring beige interiors. I blame technology. People just want to switch on this and that but can’t be bothered to look at things like furniture and paintings.” Her own flat is neither boring nor beige. Quite the opposite. It’s brimming with antiques and art and personality. And magazines. “The red bound copies on my shelves are from when I was Editor. The loose copies in boxes are all the subsequent issues.” Min was, of course, founding Editor of the highly influential magazine The World of Interiors.
“My mum would have made a brilliant Editor but she was awfully lazy,” confides Min. “She always made our houses really nice without any training, none of that, she just did it. She was a great decorator. You bet! So was my grandmother.” Min’s first plum role was as Fashion Editor of Harpers and Queen. Anna Wintour, who would later famously edit American Vogue, was her assistant. “We hated each other!” Min recalls, her sapphire blue eyes twinkling mischievously. “I was taken on by Harpers and Queen over her. She really knew I wasn’t as utterly dedicated to fashion as she was. By no means!” Nevertheless, Anna was the first to leave.
Thank goodness then for an ad in The Times for “Editor of an international arts magazine” which Min retrieved from her bin. She applied and the rest is publishing history. The World of Interiors was a roaring success from day one, year 1981. “I submitted a three line CV,” she laughs. “I didn’t want to bore Kevin Kelly the publisher with A Levels and so on!” It didn’t stop her being selected out of 70 candidates. “I sort of knew I’d got the job. I ended up having dinner with his wife and him that night. I think probably of all the people who applied, I was already such friends with millions of decorators. Just friends, not that I was doing them any good or anything, I just knew them because we were likeminded.”
Studying Furniture and Interior Design at the Central Art College must have helped. “Well it was too soon after the Festival of Britain and I really didn’t get it. The only person who taught anything was Terence Conran. He was only about a year older than any of us actually. But you could tell he wasn’t into Festival of Britain furniture either which, I’m sorry, I don’t like and never did.”
“Come and have a look at the view from the kitchen, it’s really good,” says Min stopping momentarily. “It’s like living opposite the Vatican,” pointing to the plump dome of Brompton Oratory. Back in her sitting room, the view is of treetops over a garden square, a plumped up cushion’s throw from Harrods. As for choosing an interior to publish, “If I liked it, I’d do it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t! I came to the job with this huge backlog of interior ideas. We never finished using them all. I’m blessed with a jolly broad spectrum of vision, and as you can see, although I’m not a modernist I can appreciate modernism when it’s good. I don’t like Art Nouveau either but I can get the point of a really good example of anything.”
Appropriately Min’s top floor which she bought in 1975 looks like a spread from The World of Interiors. “I don’t decorate, I just put things together. I’m a collector,” she confesses. Eclectically elegant, somehow everything fits together just so. “John Fowler was an innovator. He was frightfully clever.” So is Min. She laments the disappearance of antique shops. And junk shops. “London used to be stuffed with junk shops. Now it’s seaside towns like Bridport and Margate that have all the antique shops. There’s nothing left in London. Just the few grand ones.” Interiors may be her “addiction” but Min is interested in all art forms. She’s been an active member of the Irish Georgian Society ever since it was founded by her friends Desmond and Mariga Guinness. “I love the plasterwork of Irish country houses,” she relates, “Castletown’s a favourite.”
With her vivacity and an email address list to die for, it’s little wonder Min’s parties are legendary. She even makes a fun filled appearance in Rupert Everett’s autobiography. But it’s not all play between her Kensington flat and second home in the Canaries. She’s still Editor at Large of The World of Interiors. Plus a few years ago she launched the Min Hogg Seaweed Collection of Wallpapers and Fabrics. It began with Nicky Haslam telling her: “I need a wallpaper for an Irish house I’m decorating. You know about colour and design.” So Nicky gave Min an 18th century portfolio of botanical seaweed prints for inspiration and off she went.
“Mike Tighe, the former Art Director of The World of Interiors, joined me,” she explains. “For me it was a physical thing, cutting out paper patterns by hand. Mike did all the computer work. I learnt to do a repeat and everything else. It’s funny how you can learn something if you’re interested. By pure luck the finished result looks like hand blocked wallpaper. If someone gives us a colour we can match it. I like changing the scale too from teeny to enormous.” It’s a versatile collection, printed on the finest papers, cottons, linens and velvets. Prominent American interior designers like Stephen Sills love it. The collection may be found in a world of interiors from a Hawaiian villa to a St Petersburg palace. But not in any boring beige homes.
Summer at Spring
At a Lavender’s Blue dinner with a Park Lane ambassadress, a Green Park restaurateur and a Beverly Hills realtor, the conversation naturally turned to Lisa Vanderpump. But it was the combination of the interior and food – good taste and tastes good – that proved the hot topic in the cool surroundings of Spring. Even if Ruby Wax was within earshot of our table. Spring is the best of the six dining rooms in the people’s palace, Somerset House on the Strand. That’s why it’s full and we’re full on a Monday night.
Somerset House has a surprisingly coherent architecture considering Sir William Chambers’ 1770s masterpiece has been tinkered with ever since he laid the cornerstone. James Wyatt to Sir Robert Smirke then Sir Albert Richardson have all had a go at it. Five wings spread out from the Strand Block like a cyclopean crustacean (crab with nduja and yellow polenta £16 or grilled lobster with curry leaves, tomato and bhatura £34). Spring is in the New Wing. Newness is relative – it was designed by James Pennethorne in 1849. The restaurant is chef Skye Gyngell’s latest enterprise in London. Australian born Skye was previously head chef of Petersham Nurseries, the restaurant with a garden centre attached.
Horses for courses although we’d prefer not for main course (halibut with spinach, chilli and preserved lemon dressing £32) and course after course at Spring is not coarse of course but rather seasonal – and sensational. Crisp but not autumnal (fritto misto of prawns with lemon pinwheels and foraged herbs £16). Cold but not wintry (rhubarb and rye tart with crème fraîche £8). Pantaloon and stripy sweater clad waiters resemble – dare we say – Venetian robbers. Perhaps later they’ll nick a gondola to sail home along the Thames.
Country House No Rescue
At the turn of the 21st century Edenderry Church of Ireland published a short history of its parish in the Diocese of Derry. Or Derry-Londonderry-Derry. The authors were Sue Darling and David Harrow. Back then Mrs Darling was châtelaine of Crevenagh House on the outskirts of Omagh County Tyrone. Not long afterwards she sold the seat and the furniture in it, innit.
Darling Harrow, ‘In 1656, John Corry purchased the manor of Castle Coole from Henry and Gartrid St Leger. His great granddaughter, Sarah Corry, in 1733, married Galbraith Corry, son of Robert Lowry and, about the year 1764, assumed the name Corry in addition to that of Lowry. From this union are descended the Earls of Belmore, and, most if not all, the townlands of the parish passed to the Belmore family. In 1852 and 1853, the following townlands were sold to the Encumbered Estates Court: Arvalee, Aghagallon, Cranny, Crevenagh, Edenderry, Galbally, Garvaghy, Lisahoppin, Recarson and Tattykeel.’
Townland and Country
P McAleer in Townland Names of County Tyrone and their Meanings, 1936, writes that Crevenagh means ‘A branchy place’. It still is. Like most Irish townlands, the name has had a few variations: Cravana, Cravanagh, Cravena, Cravnagh, Creevanagh before landing on Crevenagh.
Crevenagh House was the seat of the Auchinleck family. David Eccles Auchinleck was born on 16 October 1797 and died on 3 March 1849. He was the youngest son of the Reverend Alexander Auchinleck and Jane Eccles of Rossory, County Fermanagh. In the early 19th century David bought land at Crevenagh from Lord
Belmont Belmore to build a home. Later he bought more land from the good Lord to build a church, Edenderry Church. Said church was consecrated two years before David’s death.
On 16 January 1837 David’s eldest son Thomas Auchinleck was born. He married Jane Loxdale from Liverpool. Thomas died on 1 February 1893, leaving Jane a widow at Crevenagh House for the next 24 years. Their son David married Madaline Scott of Dungannon. He was killed in action at Ypres in 1914 while serving with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. His widow stayed with her mother-in-law until she died in 1921 and then on her own until her death in 1948.
Matters of the Heart
On the demise of Mrs Auchinleck (Aunt Mado to all) her nephew Colonel Ralph Darling inherited Crevenagh House. He got hitched to Moira Moriarty of Edenderry. In 1953 the Colonel and Mrs Darling threw a Coronation Party for the young people of Edenderry Parish. Ralph died five years later.
Gerald Ralph Auchinleck Darling inherited Crevenagh House from his father. Although he continued his career as a barrister in London, Gerald considered Crevenagh his home, returning there as often as possible. In 1954 he married Susan Hobbs from Perth (nope not Scotland). They had two children, Fiona and Patrick. Gerald retired from London in 1990 six years before his death.
Gerald was a cousin of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, 1884 to 1981 (The Auk to all). The Auk was a frequent visitor to Crevenagh House. The Field Marshal is commemorated in Edenderry Church: ‘The plaque, the design of which is identical to the memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral, was erected beside others to members of the Auchinleck family, most of whom were killed in action.’
Crevenagh House is an architectural delight. Pure joy. Tight and bipartite and tripartite and quadripartite windows shimmer against cut stone walls that dramatically darken in the dripping Irish rain. Crimson coloured window frames and doors resemble the red rimmed eyes of an aging beauty peering across an unsettling landscape, weeping as time goes by. The charming formal symmetrical entrance front gives way to quasi symmetrical side elevations before finally wild abandon bleeds across the asymmetrical rear elevation.
Wine Dark Sea of Homer
A perky pepperpot gatehouse signposts the main entrance to the estate. The house is approached via a gently curving driveway up the hillside. To the left, views of it romantically unfold. Unusually, Crevenagh is twice as deep as it’s wide thanks to one owner ambitiously fattening the size of the original block. Over to Mark Bence-Jones,
‘A two storey house built circa 1820 by D E Auchinleck, great uncle of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck. Three bay entrance front with Wyatt windows in both storeys and projecting porch. Three bay side with central Wyatt window in both storeys. A slightly lower two storey range was subsequently added by D E Auchinleck’s son, Major Thomas Auchinleck, behind the original block and parallel with it; its end, which has a single storey bow, forming a continuation of the side elevation, to which it is joined by a short single storey link. The principal rooms in the main block have good plasterwork ceilings, and the hall has a mosaic floor depicting the Seven Ages of Man. There are doors made of mahogany from the family plantations in Demerara.’
Lot 1a Crevenagh House (12.56 acres): ‘A tree lined avenue leads from the public highway to the house which faces south and west over its own grounds. The Georgian house, built circa 1820 for the Auchinlecks, is a fine example of a period residence, set in rolling lawns and woodland. The house has remained in the same family ownership since it was built.
There is a self contained and separately accessed staff or guest accommodation to the rear of the house. To the south of the stable block there is a south facing walled garden of approximately two acres surrounded by a brick wall, stone faced on the exterior. The southern boundary is formed by a pond.’
Lots and Lots
Lot 1(b) Stable Block (0.25 acres): ‘The stables are located within the grounds of Crevenagh House and provide an opportunity to purchase and develop attractive stable buildings and a yard for residential purposes. Planning permission was granted on 26 October 1999 for conversion into three residential units.’
Going Going Gone
Lot 2 Hill Field (9.84 acres): ‘An area of south sloping pasture land divided into two fields. The fields are zoned for housing within Omagh development limits: Omagh Area Plan, 1987 to 2002. A planning application has not been submitted and prospective purchasers should rely on their own inquiries of the Planning Authority.’
Lot 3 Orchard Field (8.92 acres): ‘This area of approximately nine acres lies to the east of Crevenagh House and is bordered by woodland. The south facing lands are not presently allocated for development but there may be longer term potential.’
Until the End of Time
Lot 4 The Holm (9.73 acres): ‘This field, with access from Crevenagh road under the old railway bridge, is bordered by the Drumragh River. The lands are presently used for agricultural and recreational purposes. Parts of this Lot will be affected by the new road throughpass but a portion of the remainder may have some development potential, subject to planning approval.’