Great Dixter Plant Fair and the Walled Nursery

We recently visited the Great Dixter Plant Fair for the first time. So keen to get the pick of the plants we turned up two hours before it started, but we were able to wonder around the stalls as they were setting up and buy a couple of boxes full of plants from the Dixter Nursery before we returned officially.

We mostly spent our time browsing Beth Chatto’s stall, I was instantly drawn to the delicate and dainty anenomes and the selection of perennials. We also made purchases from Invicta Nursery; three cardoons and three bronze fennels and a Tansy, in total we took home a boot full plants to try out for the new borders. *Some of which are still yet to be planted out some months after the visit…shame*

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Really impressed by the French stall with over thirty types of rhubarb!

*Southborough based photographer, Craig Prentis, coincidentally was there on the same day and made some excellent portraits of people there, which you can see on his Instagram here.*

Here are some pictures from the fair and the wander around Dixter’s gardens…

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The following weekend being blessed again with warm sunshine, we visited the Walled Nursery in Hawkhurst which boasts the best surviving collection of Victorian glasshouses. Thirteen in total; a Carnation House, Cold Frame, Cucumber House, Fernery, Hothouse, Melon House, Peach Case, Tomato House and a ¾ span Vinery.

They were designed and built by Foster and Pearson Ltd of Nottingham, who were renowned for their horticultural buildings and commissioned on several occasions by Queen Victoria.

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Sadly now they are in a state of disrepair, most with peeling paint and missing glass so they were inaccessible when we visited. One glass house remains open with a huge range of succulents which was originally the Melon House.

The estate was formerly known as Tongswood had been owned by Charles Gunther from 1903; who was the Director of OXO and High Sheriff of Kent. Today the main house is occupied by St Ronan’s School but you can find extensive information about the history of the site here.

They are currently raising money to be able to continue the restoration work and have recently opened a café within one of the glasshouses. It does feel like a place with huge potential; even in its delipidated state it is still a sight to see, perhaps even more romantic.

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This was originally the Melon House, where in the first half of the house the original trellis can be seen where the plants would grow up and the melons would hang off inside nets like in the image from 1880 below.

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After buying a car load of plants the previous weekend at Great Dixter, Nick and I thought we ought to reel in the plant buying, purchasing only three Kent Pride irises.

Since this visit to Dixter, we have been back twice at different stages of spring/summer to experience the garden, pick up a few more plants and have the obligatory custard tart. Post coming soon of Dixter in the springtime!

Paul Nash at Dymchurch

Seven years ago, I visited Dymchurch to meet Nick’s parents for the first time. After lunch, we went for a walk along the imposing sea wall which dominates this stretch of the Kent coast. I can remember being pleasantly surprised to finally see a sandy beach like back home in Australia because at that point I had only experienced the pebble beaches of Brighton and Hastings had somehow assumed all of England’s beaches were the same (I know, what a sheltered life I had lived).

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A 1920-30’s postcard of  the private road where Nick’s parents live.

At that point in time the new sea defences had only just been completed: vast concrete paths intersected with regular intervals of Hepworth-esque voids inset the concrete stairwells.

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Nick has been a long time admirer of Paul Nash and has over the years travelled round the UK visiting galleries and museums to see his work. Both Tate Liverpool and Dulwich Picture Gallery have put together shows over the last few years.

Fast forward to the present day and we had planned another visit to Dymchurch and later on in the same week to see the current Nash exhibition at Tate Britain (which dedicates a whole room to the Romney Marsh years). Nash’s relationship with Dymchurch is widely documented; after the WW1 he spent time there recovering from a breakdown and explored the image of the sea in his work as both a menacing force and providing a sense of calm and enclosure.

From 1921 – 1925 Nash lived in a cottage along the high street, which now displays a plaque to commemorate his time in the village.

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Nash out front of the cottage in the early 1920’s.

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The cottage today

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In Nash’s time, the sea wall was much less overbearing; the current sea wall is flanked by a huge continuous concrete curve and two tiers of concrete paths.

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I thought I would to capture some views familiar to Nash prior to seeing the show at the Tate.

Paul Nash, 'Promenade II' 1920

Promenade II, 1920, wood engraving

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Nash took this image below in 1932 of the drainage trough or sluice and also painted the concrete structure behind it numerous times.

Paul Nash, 'Black and white negative, drainage trough, Dymchurch beach, Kent' 1932

Paul Nash, 1932

 

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Dymchurch Steps, 1924-44, oil on canvas

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If you haven’t managed to see the Nash show yet it runs to the end of March. And if you are a serious Nash fan, a visit to Dymchurch to take in the views of the sea and the marsh immediately give you an understanding of how the end-of-the world attraction that drew Nash here. The Martello Tower opposite Nash’s cottage and which features in many of his works opens sporadically and remains largely unchanged. And if desolate, post-apocalyptic, beauty if your thing, then Dungeness, one of the largest expanses of shingle beach in Europe and  home to Derek Jarman’s cottage and a nuclear power plant is a couple of miles down the road.

Great Dixter

Almost exactly a year ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a garden photography course at Great Dixter near Rye, East Sussex, with renown photographer, Jason Ingram. Even more lucky because it meant I had the day off school to go there-result! But more importantly I got to see Jason’s beautiful photographs, listen to his advice on photographing gardens and have a delicious lunch in the Great Hall made from the garden’s produce.

Jason’s work has been featured in many publications – Gardens Illustrated, The Observer, Telegraph, House and Garden just to name a few, also, he works with garden designer Dan Pearson who is a favourite of both Nick and I.

The first time we visited Dixter some years back we took public transport (having a car is a very new thing for us); a walk to the train station, a journey via Hastings, then a bus and then another walk to arrive there. It was in April so the famous long border was only starting to stir and for the first hour we had the whole garden to ourselves. Since then, we have visited at different times of the year and frequently leave the plant nursery with way more plants than we have space for.

Great Dixter, for those of you are uninitiated, was the home of the gardener and writer, Christopher Lloyd. The house is more on a human scale than your average National Trust stately home and the gardens have a greater sense of intimacy as a result, the different garden spaces enveloping the house. The trust who have maintained the house and garden since Lloyd’s death in 2006 have ensured that the planting continues the bold innovation and exuberance that has always characterised Dixter. Under Fergus Garrett, the current Head Gardner the garden has avoided the pitfalls of so may historic garden that become museum pieces endlessly recreating a set period in time.

[Only last month I found out one of my favourite garden designers, Luciano Giubbilei, started a residency at Dixter in 2012, collaborating with Fergus Garrett. Giubbbilei’s planting at Dixter has been documented over the seasons and features in his new book The Art of Making Gardens, which is high on my Christmas wish-list].

The first part of the morning was spent looking at Jason’s images as he pointed out tips for improving our own garden photography (like shooting into the sun through foliage, capturing the magic hour, remembering that the background is as important as what’s in the foreground, considering colour combinations to create contrast etc.)

The afternoon involved a short practical demonstration about using reflectors and light diffusers and a tour through the garden with Jason in tow to make sure we weren’t making too many rookie mistakes.

Later, everyone who participated were invited to submit their best photograph from the day to be judged by Jason Ingram and the editor of Gardens Illustrated magazine, Juliet Roberts; the winner to have their image published in the magazine and some gardening tools.

And guess what? I won! I was so excited when I got the email! I bought several copies of the magazine and sent it over to my family in Australia to show them have I have finally made it over here in the UK. Clearly not that much that I can give up my day job.

Here are my images from the day…saving that winning image till last.

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All images and text copyright Castles on the Ground, 2016.

 

 

Magic Hour at Southborough Allotments

Isn’t it strange, when you are on holiday, you still wake up at the same time as if you were going to work? In addition, I have been suffering with a bad cold for days which was not conducive to sleeping in. I had found myself waking up at some ungodly hour last Saturday morning and conceded that sleep was not going to happen. I decided to get up and experience photographing in what is known as the magic hour – the time just after sunrise (in my case) or sunset.

Looking out at the last few dahlias still going in the garden, I picked two in full flower (and a few nigella flowers on the way) and brought them inside to photograph before the sun rose.

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Sadly our garden at the moment was not going to offer the range of blooms and autumnal colour I was after. So I layered up and headed down to our local allotments, knowing that there are always a few beds full of impressive dahlias.

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The magic hour certainly lived up to its name. I headed home even before the dog walkers were out. I already felt better.

All images and text copyright Castles on the Ground, 2016

 

Sir David Salomons’ Two Theatres

Last weekend we spent the early afternoon walking in the grounds of Salomons Estate, to investigate any similarities between the Science Theatre and our beloved Royal Victoria Hall.

Salomons Estate houses an excellent museum which records the lives of the three David Salomons who made Broomhill their home in the 19th and early 20th Century.

40613Over the last few years the house and grounds have undergone extensive restoration and although institutional elements from its former life as an outpost for Christ Church Canterbury and as a nurses training college – still remain, the grounds are being remodelled, the water tower has been restored and plans are afoot for a new, partly subterranean luxury hotel which will occupy the space once given to a large greenhouse in the produce garden.

Sir David Lionel Salomons, the second of the three Davids as well as being an early advocate for the motorcar (and one of the  first two British owners of a car in 1894) was a scientist, engineer, writer, photographer, architect, inventor and philanthropist.

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Facial hair that would make any hipster weep.

Salomons gave 3000 of the £5000 to build Southborough’s Royal Victoria Hall,  wanting to build a venue “exclusively for purposes of amusement…whether it be stage plays, tableaux vivants, amateur theatricals, concerts, bazaars, dances or other entertainments or meetings, political or otherwise”.

In an article taken from the Courier on 26th October, 1898, you can see the builders who tendered for the contract to erect the theatre. Next to the article is a photograph of Sir David proudly standing  in front of the hall published 29th October, 1909.

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Four years earlier, in 1896, Salomon had built his own ‘Science Theatre’ which at the time was said to be the largest private theatre in the country. The science theatre is now  fully restored and Grade 2 listed although all the original scientific apparatus was removed in 1929 and donated to Cambridge University. The Theatres Trust website describes the theatre thus:

It was a flat-floored room, originally benched, with a gallery supported on columns on three sides. Rectangular-arched proscenium and ante-proscenium, both higher than wide. For the demonstration of scientific effects and theatrical illusions, it had projectors, painted scenery and electrical apparatus for producing the effects of thunder and lightning.

It produced the effects of thunder and lightning! In 1896! I wish I could go back in time when I read about such amazing things!

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Above each column is a hand painted shield bearing the name of a notable scientist.

I was particularly keen to see examples of ironwork here as it would have been similar to the ironwork on the original façade of the RVH. The spiral staircases backstage were most likely manufactured by the Saracen Foundry, Glasgow, who also made the ornamental ironwork on the original RVH frontage.

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Salomons’ Science Theatre and the Royal Victoria Hall share features such as varnished pitch pine, iron work columns and balcony. The traditional Victorian colours of deep oxide red and dark bronze green have been repainted here (although the RVH interior is now painted in garish pillar box red and a flock wallpaper that someone thought was the height of sophistication in 1976).

Upstairs had some interesting early electrical equipment and a very early rise and fall lamp that he had designed and patented (and would be very fashionable today).

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Back down on ground level exists some original Victorian wallpaper preserved behind clear Perspex.

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The museum is small (just two rooms) but packed full of interesting artworks, documents, objects and original furniture, fittings and wallpaper.

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Before entering the inner room with the beautiful domed light well, you notice the elaborate designs above the entrance.

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Walking around the museum and the Science Theatre made me think just how amazing the Royal Victoria Hall could be with a little investment. The RVH was recently photographed to support an application for listing as a Local Heritage Asset, here are some of the highlights. See if you think there are any similarities…

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If you are keen to view more images from the Royal Victoria Hall, Southborough News features them here.

So as we wait to hear if Tunbridge Wells Planning will agree to designate the RVH as a Local Heritage Asset, fingers crossed; it will go some way to convincing the local powers- that-be to think twice about demolishing Sir David’s gift to the people of Southborough.

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/southborough-deserves-better-reject-the-hub-plans

Colin De’Ath-Traditional Bespoke Tailor

I had my first encounter with Mr Colin De’Ath a few years ago when I took along a much-loved vintage dress  which had developed a hole near the waistband, to see if it was worth mending. Slightly embarrassed, I said ‘I know it’s just a polyester dress…but I really love it’ to which he replied ‘No Madam, not at all. It is of the finest silk!’.

At that point, I thought, this man knows how to treat a lady! (and all of his customers so it seems!)

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Fast forward three years later and it’s the morning of my wedding. My sister, to be my maid of honour, tried on her dress for the first time as she had flown in from Australia for the wedding. When she went to take it off before her hair appointment, the zip broke. Straight away, I sent her to see Colin and in a huge stroke of luck, they had one long, white zip left. Colin and his colleague fixed the zip while my sister had her hair done, then returned to the tailors and she was stitched into the dress. Saved!

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I had heard Colin was soon to retire and wanted to know more about the man behind the immaculate shopfront of the Traditional Bespoke Tailors. Anyone who passes through Southborough would notice the eye catching window displays and flower baskets on the footpath setting the tone of the High Street.

Colin recounted about how he had got in to tailoring ‘I was one of these silly people never went to school, used to skip school quite a bit…I lived in Essex, we used to go over the fields and far away and have a nice day out rather than school. I had a five miles cycle ride so it was easier to skip school. Fortunately for me my mother had two brothers who were in tailoring, there was no question of careers advice or anything like that. It was ‘On Monday you have an interview at Saville Row’. I was 15 and I just went up there and signed up as an apprentice, I didn’t know any different, it seemed to have worked, I haven’t looked back at all’.

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Colin specialised as a coat maker, but after years of study at the London College of Fashion he broadened his skills to include cutting and fitting of trousers, waistcoats and jackets. When he got fed up with commuting from Essex to London, he moved to Kent and got a job working as a tailor and workshop manager in Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells.

Up until recently Tunbridge Wells was able to support eight separate tailors in the town, now Colin De’Ath is the only one left.

Before Colin’s arrival the shop was already an established tailoring business that had moved out from Tunbridge Wells when the rates and rent became unaffordable ‘I didn’t know the man but I knew of him, I came in and told him how wonderful I was and he couldn’t do without me, and I ended up buying the shop. That was in February, 1990′.

Prior to the existing tailoring business at the site it was sweet shop, A. Card Confectioners. Colin told me there had been a fire at the shop and when it was taken over by the tailor it needed a lot of work, so much so that only half of the original floor underneath exists. The woman in the photograph remains unidentified, but if you know anything about her, I’d love to know!

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Benefiting from the affluent surrounding areas like Sevenoaks, East Grinstead, Canterbury and Brighton, Colin has had his busiest year yet, confiding ‘you’d be amazed what people spend…Some customers have their whole wardrobe made here’.

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I was interested to hear if he had a fashion icon or a particular style he aligns his personal look to? ‘I’m West End. I’m traditional. End of story. It’s as simple as that. I see nothing wrong with it, I have built my business on it. You can say it’s old fashioned if you want to, but there is nothing wrong with it. You see even the white shirt and the black tie it looks really smart, you could go anywhere in that’.

He shares my disdain for the current fashion trend of jeans, trainers and a jacket. ‘You see the youngsters of today, a young man, he’s got trainers, jeans and a t-shirt and as far as he is concerned he is dressed. End of story. Don’t get me on my high horse. My biggest gripe is Saturday night television when they have a star or celeb on and he walks on stage in a nice jacket and a pair of jeans. I could scream!’

This leads me to probe him if he ever pops out to the corner shop on a weekend in comfortable tracksuit. Unsurprisingly – he doesn’t. Tracksuits have no place in the De’Ath wardrobe and has only recently softened his stance on wearing jeans. ‘I usually wear cotton trousers rather than jeans, I haven’t got a pair of trainers. I don’t wear trainers, I wear nice soft suede shoes…If I go out with friends, they know I invariably dress up, clean my shoes, I always put cufflinks in’.

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Colin proudly showed me a photograph of his son who has continued in the family line of business and is currently working in Saville Row for Dege and Skinner. To Colin’s disbelief, he tells me he has seen him ‘come out of work without a tie which I was horrified!…He dresses down, tight jeans, incredible…terrible…awful!’ Everything is said with his lovely, kind, dry sense of humour.

What is next for Colin De’Ath? Definitely a break. Holidays, possibly a cruise down the Panama Canal. Asked what attire would he chose for the holiday? “I will be definitely sporting some tailored shorts!”. I would expect nothing less. End of story.

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Colin De’ Ath Bespoke Tailors, Hardman & Hemming
116 London Road,
Southborough,
Royal Tunbridge Wells,
Kent
TN4 0PN Telephone: +44 (0)1892 526 051

http://www.bespoke-tailors.co.uk/

http://hardmanandhemming.co.uk/

All text and photographs are copyright by Castles on the Ground, 2016.

Postcards from Perth (Part 2)

I caught up with my friend Laura, set designer and illustrator (see her beautiful hand painted stationary here) during my stay in Perth. Laura’s illustrations recently feature botanical motifs so I invited her to come along with me to view some of the earliest illustrations of native flora in Kings Park held at the State Library.

I was searching for the earliest illustrations in the collection and came across three albums by Albert John Hall, an amateur botanical artist who first came to Western Australia from England in 1895. The illustrations were made over the period from 1918 to 1930 and are presented in Victorian postcard albums with accompanying notes detailing the specimen’s name, location and date.

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The Kangaroo Paw, a native species to the south-west, is featured in the West Australian coat of arms, flanking the royal crown.

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Looking through the volumes of illustrations, the style and level of detail fluctuated, it left me wondering if other artists had contributed to the albums.

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Kings Park, is located on Mt Eliza which overlooks the Swan River and the city centre which is less than a mile away. Not many cities have their botanical park in such close proximity to the CBD; it is one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, home to high numbers of unique species of native flora over a 400 hectare site. That is 1.5 square miles for those who are imperially minded.

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A week after photographing the illustrations and maps at the library with Laura, my family and I went to Kings Park for our final get together before returning to the U.K. These are the views from the edge of the park towards the city and Swan River leading out towards Fremantle…

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For thousands of years Kings Park was known to the Indigenous people as Mooro Katta or Kaarta Gar-up and was, and is, an important ceremonial and cultural site. In 1831 it was set aside for ‘public purposes’, initially it had been called ‘Perth Park’ but in 1901 it became ‘Kings Park’ to mark the accession of King Edward VII to the British throne.

In my childhood, we would picnic as a family in the park on birthdays or other celebrations (our crammed limousine took us there on prom night). On the day I visited, despite being winter, the park was heaving with tourists, or perhaps avid Pokémon-Go fans. Perth’s characteristic sunshine and blue skies lit up the more ethereal elements of the landscape like these native paper daisies.

paperdaisy-dipbode8256img_9136-editYou can just make out the charred looking silhouette of a black Kangaroo’s Paw (Macropidia fuliginosa) angling out of the drift of paper daisies in the image above.

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Sadly I didn’t have enough time to fully explore the park, concentrating mainly on the periphery before heading back to my sister’s to pack and fly out that evening. Even within this small area there is a massive contrast between the representative landscapes of different West Australian regions that are planted out sympathetically at the park.

The Giant Boab tree below was gifted to the park in 2008 by the Gija people, the traditional land owners in the Kimberley region where the trees grow. It made an epic journey of almost 2000 miles to arrive at its new home.

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These vignettes of the plants of the Mulga region show the Australian landscape can be ethereal, romantic and delicate and at the same time equipped to withstand the harsh environment and poor conditions.

If you are lucky enough to visit the botanical park, allow yourself at least a couple of days to do it justice. The park shows the beauty of our native flora; slowly I think people are starting to use these plants in their gardens now they can experience them in all their splendour here at Kings Park.

 

Sad to say goodbye

Nick purchased the house in November, 2007. It had most of its original features still intact which ticked all the boxes.

Here are some images of the house that Nick took when he was waiting to hear if his offer had been accepted. The previous owner had lived there for most of her life, the house having been last modernised sometime in the 1950’s, most evident in the pastel pink and blue kitchen and bathroom.

You can see from the images it needed a lot of work including new mains sewerage, treatment for rising damp and woodworm infestation. The top floor of the house had no electricity. The workshop in the back garden was original to the house but had large holes in the roof.

The carpets were ripped up to reveal wide, almost untouched 6″ floorboards, the original doors and cupboards were hidden under layers of plywood. Beneath the accumulation of wallpaper and thick varnish was the original match boarding in the dining room.

No photographs were taken of the sitting room, once the room had been skimmed and decorated which looked like this…

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Then this…

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The fire surround propped up was an ebay find (we buy A LOT from ebay), we bought this and another one from a similar property in Sevenoaks for £20 and a smaller one f0r 99p.

At this point we had no car so we carried them on the train and then walked up from High Brooms station with them on our backs, it was a bit like being in stocks, I am sure we looked quite odd!

This was the sitting room in its final state.

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The dining room went from having 1950’s patterned carpet, boarded over doors and cupboards and layers of yellowed white gloss paint…

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The view from the dining room and kitchen started to change as new fencing and garden was added and the brick shed transformed into a studio space. The outside courtyard had  concrete paths which we replaced with gravel and eventually painted the new fence a dark drainpipe grey.

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The render outside of the kitchen was blown, so it was chipped off and re-rendered.

The shed originally had one door on the side, but we added two wooden casement windows to let in more light, a Velux in the ceiling and then opened it up at the front with some glazed pitch pine hospital doors salvaged from a hospital in Yorkshire, (eBay again).

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At the end of the garden you can see the other fire place surround we bought that I mentioned earlier. Later we planted more climbers to the side fence and a Boston Ivy to disguise the huge wall that was built after the original brick wall was demolished to build a row of terraces on Castle Street.

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View from the end of the garden towards the house.

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The original kitchen and bathroom were removed and the dropped ceiling removed to reveal two more ceilings underneath. After these were taken down it exposed a higher ceiling which made our kitchen seem more spacious.

Here is how the kitchen looked post renovation…unfortunately there are no images of it as a work in progress. Two new wooden casements were installed and new floor boards to match the rest of the house, and completely re-plastered and probably one of the smallest Plain English kitchens ever made! The worktops are iroko and cupboards were painted in Farrow and Ball ‘Blue Gray’. 

The kitchen was the one thing we splashed out on, knowing it would be where we spent most of our time.

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The main bedroom looked out towards Pennington Park and was again stripped back completely before decorating. In both second floor bedrooms the fireplaces had lost their mantle and were boarded up, so we uncovered them and made mantles for both. The fireplaces had lovely patterned detailed around the edges. So from this…

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To this…

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The bed is French, turn of the century, chest of drawers from a local charity shop and green resin lamp from Marianna Kennedy. After a few different colours we settled on walls  in ‘French Gray’.

The bedroom opposite became the bathroom. The centrepiece being the roll top bath framed by the sash window. The bath was luxury! I am definitely missing it now, you could really sink in to it and on any moonlit evenings or when it was snowing I loved having the window open and being in a hot bath. From this…

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To this…

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The tiny front garden was planted out with ferns, gillenia, epimediums, geraniums, woodland sedges and astrantias. Climbing up the house was Mme. Alfred Carriere and white wisteria. Later we added to the planting some ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas, their huge pom-pom flower heads got quite a few comments from passersby.

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The house was finally finished and then we decided to move. A house nearby with a bigger garden came up and two weeks later our terrace house had sold and we were moving…

Love Where We Live?

This week was the last week to support or object the proposed plans for our town centre in Southborough, the so-called ‘Hub’ (I just can’t bring myself to use the word).

The planning application involves the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall and the erection of unsightly, unsympathetic building clad in polycarbonate. The campaign to save the hall was given an unexpected boost this week with support from renowned architect, Ptolemy Dean:

‘I think it is a shame that the replacement scheme is so poor when something more thoughtful and careful might have been created that incorporated the existing building, which would have still satisfied the council’s brief, but enabled something of the old character to survive.’

It was so pleasing that it made front page news locally, you can read the whole article here.

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After a few late nights this week writing our planning objections and then reading through over the other comments on the planning portal, we decided we needed to get out and get some fresh air.  Perfect weather for a walk into Tunbridge Wells, passing the beloved hall on the way.

My previous post here has more detail about the campaign to save the hall and Southborough News has excellent and up to date coverage of the development.

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This is the old Fire Station, parallel to the Council Offices, currently used as a groundsman store. Built with local High Brooms brick. This could be a beautiful building for a market, artist studio….

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St John’s church were having a ‘Party on the Green’. 

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We had been in Amadeus Antiques a few times but in the last year or two it seems to always be closed. The building’s exterior remains largely unaltered, it has beautiful ironwork, a generous balcony to the front and side and all original windows.

Sadly the side of one front bay window is slowly rotting away and the ledge is now detached from the window, leaving a wide gap. This is a property on my wish list! Oddly the  four Regency period shops are listed buildings. This one isn’t – I can’t think why.

Alastair Hendy are you looking for a project in Tunbridge Wells?

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Views from Mount Ephraim…

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The old Homeopathic Hospital.

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Pretty hand painted signage from the old Rose Hill school site on London Road – almost gone.

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Lovely little garden/homeware shop, Le Petit Jardin, near the Pantiles. It boasts the largest sash window in Tunbridge Wells.

 

Arriving back home after the walk, I looked again at an old postcard and a photograph of the Royal Victoria Hall taken almost one hundred years ago. What happens when we have destroyed everything that gives our sense of place? When a town becomes a commuter dormitory and a quick fix housing quota?  Ian Nairn, the melancholic Architectural Review writer, was eerily prophetic when in 1955 he railed against substandard town planners and anonymous buildings:

“The Outrage is that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns … Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern.”

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We are so fortunate to live in a town and borough with such a rich architectural heritage, writing in Country Life in 2010, Ptolemy Dean hits the nail on the head:

‘By placing no value on its civic buildings and what they represent, the authority is about to perpetrate an attack on the very civilization of the town, which these public buildings, for all their stuffiness, serve to uphold admirably. If there can be any doubt about the extent of local official ignorance of the true values of urban living, then this was proved six months ago, when road signs were introduced onto the main routes into the town that proclaim: ‘Love where you live.’ One is tempted to add: ‘…before your elected local authority entirely destroys it.’

 

Six years on – are the powers that be,  ready to listen?

Arundel

Nick and I had originally been slightly over ambitious planning to visit Petworth House with a quick detour through Arundel on the way. A very slow moving tractor on the journey meant that Petworth House had to be jettisoned and we spent the afternoon in Arundel instead.

We really knew little about Arundel prior to our visit except that poem by Philip Larkin and its reputation for inspirational (if not affordable) antique shops. And a rather grand castle.

How lovely is Arundel? A real working high street, lined with bunting and full of independent traders, a riverside arts festival and good food. Kim’s Bookshop is particularly worthy of a visit. With stacks of mid-century titles heavy on illustration and graphic design and, to my personal delight, a wide range of cookery and photography books. We grabbed some lunch at Pallant of Arundel and devoured it sitting on a park bench in front of the castle gate. Then set about searching for treasure.

Which is how we spent most of the day, with our last visit being to the magnificent Spencer Swaffer Antiques. If you had the money you could spend a small fortune in this shop – I never knew how badly I wanted a collection of French enamel jugs, 19th century carpet bowls and a marble glazed ceramic canister!

The space is rather disorientating with objects, furniture, artwork and mirrors adorning every square inch of each room, stairwell and landing. At the rear of the shop is a walled garden that was bathed in sunshine. You step out into a sunken courtyard with plants of towering height Phormium, Miscanthus, Euportorium and Rudbeckia and then a series of smaller former spaces with box hedging, rose adorned arches and legions of dark stemmed dahlias.

Plenty of ideas to take back to our embryonic garden (albeit on a more modest scale)…

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