Monday, 28 January 2013


Saturday morning and here we all are at Wetherby Racecourse, attending the January Jaguar Antiques Fair. Brrrr!

Sunny Sunday morning and the white stuff has more or less vanished - what a difference a day makes. Our Sunday antiques hunt took in Kelham Hall, near Newark in Nottinghamshire, an amazing Victorian Gothic mansion, no symmetry in sight, all pointy, irregular shapes reaching into the sky. It was designed by George Gilbert Scott and completed in 1862.

By 1903 it was no longer a private home, it was an Anglican theological college and for this reason it has a large early 20th century extension. This was our first visit and we were quite overcome by the huge, atmospheric Great Chapel, built in 1928.

How could we concentrate on the purpose of our visit (the regular bi-monthly antiques fair) beneath these majestic Art Deco arches? We just gazed upwards, eyes wide, smiling beatifically.

Scott was keen to apply the Gothic style to non-religious as well as ecclesiastical buildings and Kelham Hall is as inspiring as the later chapel, with an all-pervading though pleasantly divine atmosphere.

We tried our hardest, but the architectural delights on view were too distracting.

Can you spot the bird on it?

Happily, all we needed was a brief rest in the sun to revive our very secular  antiques hunting instincts.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


I knew from the start that Mr. N wished he was a little bit more bohemian. He was besotted with the antics of the Bloomsbury Group - their art, their writing, their complicated relationships, but even so I was a little shocked when he introduced me to his new inamorata in the garden at Charleston farmhouse some years ago.
"I think I love her." he said.
"She has a heart of stone and feet of clay," I snapped,"You won't get far with her!"

Admittedly the house is dreamy - I have been obsessed with that elusive combination of palest blue-grey paintwork with mellow stone or brick ever since I first saw it. I can't get enough of Bloomsbury style.

They do say that there are only 6 degrees of separation between everyone in the world - honestly, it says so here! I had already experienced my own  brush with Bloomsbury - long ago, when I was an art student, Quentin Bell (son of Vanessa Bell, nephew of Virginia Woolf) had paused beside my painting and said "Hmmm." Could I find a connection for Mr N, to satisfy the poor man's longings?
Here goes...

Mr N's grandmother Lavinia worked as a maid in London during the 1920s and 1930s. Among the few papers we have that belonged to her at this time is a promotional booklet, celebrating the forthcoming coronation of George VI in 1937, produced by Moss Bros. & Co.Ltd. and sent out to their customers.

It contains a letter addressed to R Bernays Esq. of 86 Petty France in the City of Westminster.


Here is Vanessa Bell, artist and Bloomsbury muse who made her home at Charleston.

Here is Virginia Woolf, her sister, an avant-garde Bloomsbury novelist who...

...had an affair with Vita Sackville-West, gardener and writer who...

...was married to Harold Nicolson, bisexual diplomat, writer and politician whose "close friend" was...

...R. Bernays MP.

Here, below, is Mr Bernays on the 1938 electoral roll, with Lavinia, presumably his employee, a few names down.

(I hope she never burned his toast.)

I think that's only 5 degrees of separation! Will that do, Mr N?


Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Hello Vikings! They arrived here in Yorkshire during the first millenium AD and their influence is still around (I see it every time I look upon young F's long, loose limbs & broad shoulders - genes inherited from his ancestors on the North York Moors.) Viking traces abound up North...

This one looks quite sweet - he's carved on a cross in Middleton church, near Pickering.

We encounter this fine Viking peacefully going about his business at antiques events in the North, trading in traditional iron tools and bread bins. 
His name is Thor (we think.)

The other day we were out in the misty Howardian Hills and we came upon this curious artifact, apparently another example of Scandinavian influence.

It is a turf maze or labyrinth - this plaque explains its origins.

Quick, Mr N - here come moles!
(English - moldy warp
Danish - muldvarp
Swedish - mullvad...)


Wednesday, 9 January 2013


Perhaps you've heard of Mauchline ware? Victorian souvenirs, often boxes, made in Scotland from wood. These collectable objects come in all shapes and sizes and are typically decorated with printed designs.

Here is an egg, two inches high and made to hold a thimble.

This book of romantic poetry has a wooden cover decorated with ferns.

Sometimes a wooden thread holder is covered with a flowery chintz pattern.

A tartan bottle, also made to hold a thimble.

Could this piece recently bought at a fair be the rarest pattern of all? I've certainly never found it before...

...I can't imagine what drew me to it. Grrr!


Thursday, 3 January 2013


I'm not by nature an obsessive collector, but certain things really appeal to me and I love to own just one or two examples. The pottery figure above is such an object; beautifully detailed and full of character, it is by Charles Vyse. Trained at the Doulton factory, he later set up his own pottery in Chelsea and, during the 1920s with his wife Nell, made small limited editions of figures like the Tulip Woman above. Gypsy types wearing enviably Bohemian clothes. His use of pattern and subtle colours are very pleasing to me.
Similar details on this modern pottery group delighted me when I opened my Christmas gift from Mr N.

This sweet little hand-modelled piece is called "The Hats" and depicts a small girl sharing the fun of trying on hats. I love the patterns, the colours and the fact that the group, only six inches high, can be viewed from every angle, each revealing a new detail.

I have to repair this little bit sometime.

Here is the mystery - the potter is Margaret Howard, she has signed the base. But who is she - studio potter, talented amateur? Where did she work? Are there any more of these pretty figure groups out there in the world?