Saturday, August 20, 2016
Richmond and Maida Vale
Marble Hill House, On The Edge World Music Festival in Richmond
An Early Start to a Terrific Day:
I have resolved to "get away" from London every weekend by visiting properties/places on day trips that are still on my To-Do List. And because I am still a bit uncertain about how long it will take to get to the places I need to go by public transport, I tend to overestimate travel time. Hence, after putting together some toast with peanut butter for brekkie nd a tongue sandwich for lunch into baggies, I left the house at 8.00 am on a Saturday--while the rest of Bethnal Green had a lazy lie-in--for the Tube to Richmond.
Visiting Marble Hill House:
I was off to visit Marble Hill House (which together with Ham House and Ostelerly Palace are two Thames-side grand homes open to the public; the latter two I have already seen). It is an easy-enough journey and despite the fact that I took the Tube only to Hammersmith (as I have a Travelcard for only Zones 1 and 2) and jumped into a 190 bus from Hammersmith Bus Depot to Richmond, I was at the site itself in exactly an hour and a half--from door to door. It did involve getting off the 190 at Richmond Station and taking any one of four buses that ply from there to St. Stephen's Church stop. From there, you walk across Marble Hill Parkland for five minutes to reach the entrance to the house. Early on a Saturday morning, trains and buses fly and you reach your destination much faster than you would if you set out later in the day.
Crossing Marble Hill Park:
To my bad luck, it started drizzling as I got off the bus at Marble Hill Park. Good job I'd worn my reversible Nautica windbreaker that has a built-in hood. I was snug and dry as I crossed the park to get to the entrance. Although tours of the house are given only twice on a Saturday (at 10.30 and 12. noon), I had hoped the house would be open so visitors could get out of the cold or the rain and sit in the foyer. No such luck. The house remained as dead as a dodo when I got there at 9. 15 am.
The park, however, filled with dogs and their walkers at that hour, quickly cleared of all life as the rain drummed down. Luckily, I found a sheltered spot behind the house under a leafy canopy of almost waterproof trees and there I waited and busied myself with my phone as the minutes slowly ticked by.
About 45 minutes later, the rain stopped and the sun almost miraculously, came out. By then, a few stray visitors had started to join me and together we found a sign on a side door telling us that the house would open 10 minutes before the tour began. By the time the door did open, we were about 12 visitors and by 10.30, our group had swelled to 15. We bought our tickets (6.60 pounds each) and were asked to wait for a bit.
A Guided Tour of Marble Hill House:
The place is run by English Heritage--that other venerable institution that vies with the National Trust to acquire and maintain heritage properties all over the British Isles. They do a fabulous job preserving them--or else they would fall to rack and ruin. Our guide was one John Hudstrom (who, I learned later, is a paid staffer, not a volunteer) and he has to be among the best guides with whom I have ever taken a tour. His knowledge was breathtaking and not just was he well scripted and well paced, but he could answer questions with ease and confidence because he truly knew everything they was to know about the era, the people who were associated with the house, its construction and decoration. Truly inspiring!
The tour lasted 90 minutes. In the Main Entrance Hall, built in Palladian style as was the fashion and desire then (Neo-Classical, brought to England by Inigo Jones who imitated the aesthetic of Italy's Andrea Palladio), it introduced us to the house's owner and builder, Mrs. Henrietta Howard. She was born into an aristocratic family in the early 1700s but was married off by arrangement to a good-for-nothing suitor who made her life miserable by drinking, gambling, womanizing and abusing her. After having one child with him, she left him to enter into courtly service and ended up as Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen--then Catherine, wife of George II. This brought her royal favor and an income and helped her survive. The death of her father and subsequently her brother brought her money from the wealth of the Dukes of Suffolk--this led her to consider building the house for which she close Colin Campbell to be architect. She eventually became the King's mistress but remained close to the Queen who actually liked her--although she took every opportunity to belittle her. For instance, I learned that part of her job as Lady of the Bedchamber involved kneeling before the Queen and holding out a basin of water for her to wash her face each morning (and other such menial tasks).
After the house was built and because she was a woman of learning, taste, class and style, she cultivated the company of the era's best-known poet and writers. Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay and Horace Walpole (who eventually became Prime Minister and who lived close by down the Thames at Strawberry Hill--another house worth visiting) were regular visitors at Marble Hill House--where she lived following a lengthy estrangement from her husband. Eventually, she fell out of favor with the King and asked to be let off royal service--but the Queen refused to let her go, much to the King's annoyance! She finally was permitted to leave and she ended her days rather alone at Marble Hill House where she died. The house was bequeathed to her second husband whom she married past the age of 40 (which was considered really aged at that time and contemporaries made fun of the fact that two 40-year olds were frolicking like newly weds in the house!) and his children. It might well have been demolished (for it fell into disuse for years) had it not been for local residents of Twickenham, Middlesex (which is where the house is located) who raised funds to keep it standing. It passed into the hands of English Heritage a few years ago. They completely refurbished it and brought it up to snuff and on opening it to visitors, have managed to save a real Georgian gem from destruction. The reproduction of the Chinese wallpaper in the dining room that was made about seven years ago in China and then refitted on the wall cost 15,000 pounds. So that gives an idea of how expensive it is to keep these old homes going. We owe a great debt to such institutions who use government funding so fairly and honestly to maintain the precious British heritage for future generations.
The tour continued through the rest of the rooms upstairs--from the formal to the private. The dining room is the biggest attraction--it is the one with the spectacular Chinese wall paper with its exuberant trees, branches and birds. The fashion for Chinoisserie prevailed in the 18th century and this is evident throughout the house. The abundance of blue and white china that Henrietta collected required a special room to house it. The bedrooms are lovely--very opulent as befitted the occupants' rank and taste and filled with some lovely paintings of contemporary worthies including a nice portrait of Henrietta herself.
Surrounding the house is parkland that descends all the way to the Thames' bank. When the tour ended, I decided to take advantage of the sun that shone brightly and quickly dried the effects of the earlier rain. I also decided to tick off one more item on my To-Do List: a Walk along the Thames Tow Path. I was told it would take twenty minutes to get back to Richmond if I walked along the river bank and I was delighted to be able to do so on a day which seemed meant for a jaunt. Kayakers were out on the river, many dog walkers used the path and I felt jaunty myself in their energetic company. Thus, it was that I headed to my next appointment: an afternoon listening to world music at a festival called On The Edge.
'On The Edge' World Music Festival in Richmond:
My invitation to this World Music Festival came from a Englishman named Gordon whom I have known for the past nine years. He runs a special club for international expatriates in London. Naturally, his members are people from around the world in London on work for a short time. Gordon organizes guided walks, lectures, music and dance events, theatrical outings--a huge variety of items each month which you can attend if anything takes your fancy. I decided to attend this festival because I love Richmond and I love music.
We could not have chosen a better day--because by the time I got back on the bus to Richmond Station (where we were supposed to meet), the weather had brightened up and the morning's rain was only a memory. We did meet at the appointed hour and place--about ten of us from Malaysia, Argentina, Italy, etc. It was a motley lot but a very friendly one too. Because I had already done a bit of walking, I took the bus to the venue--the banks of the Thames or the Richmond Embankment where a kind of pontoon was placed in the water-a makeshift stage. A Cuban singer had just begun the show with a wonderful selection of songs that I thoroughly enjoyed--at exactly 1.00 pm. This time too I was lucky for I found a bench and could sit quite comfortably on it and rest my back--unlike most folks who plopped down on plastic sheets on the grass or on walls.
The Cuban group performed for an hour and were followed by a group from Rajasthan, India, called 'Circus Raj'. They did a very nice hour-long show that included vocal and instrumental music and a troupe of performers who walked in on stilts, did a bit of juggling, balancing and a comedic skit before they ended their act.
It was about 3.00 pm by then and I said goodbye to the group and set out to scour the vintage shops in St. Margaret (across the river from Richmond) and Richmond center itself. It was fun but I found nothing to buy.
Off for Tea to Maida Vale:
My third appointment of the evening was in Maida Vale where I was meeting a new friend of a friend. Rose is a friend of my Connecticut-based friend Delyse who set us up. We made plans to meet at Rose's place for tea. I had warned her that I would be late (probably long past tea time), but she did not mind.
On the bus and then the Tube to Maida Vale I went and by 5. 30, I was ringing the bell to Rose's lovely flat. For the next two hours, I do not know where the time went for we chatted nineteen to the dozen as we got to know a little more about each other. We found that we had a lot of interests in common.
Rose was wonderfully hospitable and it wasn't long before I was enjoying apple juice with sausage rolls that she took out of the oven, hot and fresh, and later lovely cream and strawberry jam-filled scones that were a sheer treat. That was, of course, my dinner right there, for there was no way I could eat anything else for the rest of the evening.
I left Rose's place at exactly 7. 30 and was home by 8.15pm. to ready myself for an early morning meeting with my friend Roz at her church--St. Mary's Church at Battersea where I will be meeting her for the 8. 30 am Sunday service tomorrow.
With a bit of email and a couple of calls, I took a shower and ended my day.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...