The Wind Returns Again
The Young Irish Georgians’ trip. We’re not that young. We’re off to a Jacobean House. And at least one of us is Dutch. How terribly Irish. Autumn falls. Days shorten. Frieze’s here. Today, a carpet of golden leaves gently billows round Charlton House. The house is in Greenwich but forget the fashionable part. Charlton Village’s charm, to put it politely, is faded, a bit frazzled. A ski-slope roofed pepperpot pavilion heralds the house’s presence at the top of the hilly high street. This Grade I listed lodge, possibly once a summerhouse, is now a public convenience (or inconvenience – it’s shut).
“The lodge is widely attributed to Inigo Jones. Of course it is – he did most of Greenwich! Someone once attributed the lodge to him and it stuck.” Aimee Felton, Associate at Donald Insall Associates should know. She is undertaking a conditions survey as part of a long term masterplan for the house and estate. “A variety of historic fabric is remaining. Some in my opinion was later heavily edited by the various occupants. And heavily rebuilt following bomb damage.” This is most obvious in the north wing where the original imperial red brick and whitish grey stone has been patched up with metric red brick and yellow stone. These mid 20th century repairs included placing the sundial upside down.
“It’s the best Jacobean house in London and is of pivotal importance to its era,” Aimee declares. A southern Temple Newsam. “It displays a full modern appreciation of flow and sequence of rooms. An H plan was so innovative. There are lots of Jacobean houses of E plan and E with a tail, but not H. Charlton is first in its class: to walk in through the front door – and see its garden beyond. The axis through the building is what makes it so special. The kitchen was always on the north side of Jacobean houses to cool dairy produce and meat, with bedrooms above as heat rises. But this house is laid out to take in the views to the north towards the river and to the west to the King in Greenwich. This is a really bold statement and the only Jacobean house facing north.”
The first floor long gallery stretches the full length of the north elevation. Like much of the house, the long gallery is a puzzle. “The floor and ceiling are original,” Aimee highlights, “but the panelling isn’t. Charlton has some of the best fireplaces of the Jacobean era. The long gallery marble and slate one is odd but exquisite.” No architect is recorded. “There is incredibly scarce information both on the Jacobean era and Charlton. You’ll notice I say… attributed to… we suspect that…a lot.” At least there’s a dated keystone of 1607 and the staircase is engraved 1612.
Built by Sir Adam Newton, tutor to James I’s son Prince Henry (teaching must have paid better in those days), Charlton House was last lived in by the Maryon-Wilson family. Sir Spencer Maryon-Wilson sold the house to Greenwich Council and auctioned the contents in 1920. The house has been used ever since by various community bodies. Donald Insall Associates are tasked with applying a holistic approach to its fabric and future use or uses. Furnishing rooms in the original period like a National Trust house is not an option. “There simply isn’t enough Jacobean furniture,” says Aimee. “Even the V+A wouldn’t have enough and any pieces it has are so special they’re kept in glass cases.”
There’s plenty of pictorial evidence of how the rooms were furnished in the latter Maryon-Wilson years. Aimee smiles, “If you can’t find a decent photo of a country house look in Country Life because someone is always bragging about their home!” Charlton House is no exception. Black and white Country Life images of the early 1900s show the interior chockablock with Chippendales and brown furniture and taxidermy and tapestries. This eclecticism is reflected in plasterwork additions. She points out the ceiling in the Henry Room isn’t original. “The cornice is beyond wrong! As offensive as the ceiling is, it’s a nice ceiling, but one that’s just not for this house. Just because it’s not right, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be preserved to show history. Everyone has their oddities and we just move on.” Much more in keeping with the original architecture is the 1877 extension to the south. Unsurprisingly, really, as it was designed by the great Arts and Crafts architect Norman Shaw. “Jacobean with a Shaw twist,” is how Aimee sums it up.
Frieze is the international art show that consumes Regent’s Park every autumn. Jacobean furniture may be in short supply but we discover a source of art from the period: The Weiss Gallery’s ‘A Fashionable Likeness: Court Portraits 1580 to 1625’. There are enough gentlemen and ladies choking on their lacy antimacassars (or at least that’s what their collars look like) to coverthe walls of Charlton House’s long gallery. On the subject of fashion, the blue velvet jacketed chef Giorgio Locatelli is busy setting up tables in his eponymous temporary restaurant. Just like its permanent namesake, lunch at Locanda Locatelli under the canvas of Frieze Masters is the epitome of Milanese cooking:
- Gnocchi di patate alla sorrentina (homemade potato dumplings, mozzarella, tomato, basil) £20.50
- Zucchini fritte (fried courgettes) £5.50
- Cheesecake, sorbetto alla fragola (vanilla cheesecake, strawberry sorbet) £8.50
- Fever Tree Ginger Ale (£3.00)
- Garganega Veronese, Corte Martina 2014 (£6.00)
- Americano (£3.60)