Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Knightshayes Court

Here we go again, heading into the South West. Up North they think it's soft down there, but, like everywhere else in the UK, it is a place of contrasts, of haves and have nots.

The Knightshayes estate overlooks Tiverton. In 1816 John Heathcoat, an innovative lace manufacturer, was in this town looking over an unoccupied mill which he had recently acquired, when his lace factory in Leicestershire suffered a Luddite attack. His machines were destroyed, probably through the connivance of the lace-makers of Nottingham, anxious that his clever new machines would destroy their livelihoods - so he upped and moved his business to the South West. As a visitor said on the day we were there, "You can't stop progress."
By the late 19th century his family owned most of the land and manufacturing around Tiverton. His grandson, Sir John Heathcoat-Amory built Knightshayes Court in the 1870s. He was a man who loved hunting and shooting, a taste reflected in the topiary here. Go fox go!

Sir John employed the architect and eccentric artistic genius William Burges to design the house, but, as Simon Jenkins says, "Why such a man should have hired as an architect an opium-addicted batchelor Gothicist, who dressed in medieval costume, is a mystery." Inevitably Sir John fell out with Burges before the work was completed and the interiors were finished by J.G. Crace. Burges may have been decidedly odd but it is hard for me to resist a man who designed interiors like this...

...who liked dressing up as a jester...

...and about whom Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote this limerick;

"There's a babyish party called Burges,
Who from childhood hardly emerges.
If you hadn't been told,
He's disgracefully old,
You would offer a bull's-eye to Burges."

Most men I know are like that.

Moving on from Tiverton, this short trip gave us many, varied experiences.

Brixham, never visited before, wasn't quite what we expected.

Charmouth charmed us as usual; then, on Saturday, we descended on picturesque Ashburton's antiques emporia. The South West has always been full of dissenters and non-conformists so we weren't at all surprised to hear politely raised voices as elegantly dressed ladies and gents protested against the closure of their local hospital, with the help of a be-sheeted dragon.

We were reminded of the six honest farm workers in 19th century Dorset, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were transported for the "crime" of forming a Friendly Society in their fight to preserve a living wage. (They were pardoned after three years and returned home.) The protests continue - a few days ago local hero Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall was marching for Fish Fight, campaigning for the future of marine conservation.

"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves."
Henry David Thoreau

Field at Ashburton


Sunday, 17 February 2013


Mary Eleanor Bowes courtesy of the Bowes Museum.

One of my favourite treats is visiting places I've read about - or that I'm reading about. At the moment this is the book in question...

...and the place is Gibside, a picturesque estate near Gateshead and childhood home of eighteenth century heiress Mary Eleanor Bowes, who, after marrying into the aristocracy, became a Bowes Lyon. Gibside and its park were created and developed by various members of the Bowes family during the eighteenth and early 19th centuries. The grounds were landscaped by Lancelot "Capability" Brown and include a column 140 feet high, dedicated to British liberty. (I think this must refer to the liberty of 18th century Northern "coal barons" to become immensely rich on the backs of men, women and children working in intolerable conditions, but we tried very hard not to let this spoil our enjoyment - though it was never very far from our thoughts.)

Mary Eleanor was an intelligent girl, well-educated and particularly interested in natural history and botany, though this talent was accompanied by a complete lack of judgement in affairs of the heart. Husbands permitting (and they rarely did) she tended her collection of rare plants in the heated orangery...

...now an elegant ruin.

The main house is also an empty shell, having been stripped of its fixtures and fittings by the Bowes Lyon family in the twentieth century. The fireplaces and other items were transferred to Glamis Castle.

The beautiful Palladian chapel in the photo below was finished in the early 19th century and remains complete and unspoiled.

As for the ill-fated Mary Eleanor, here inside the chapel we saw a recreation of her first wedding dress, worn when she married the 9th Earl of Strathmore.  He died when she was in her mid-twenties and afterwards men pursued her for her vast wealth. She was promiscuous but naive, and also easily duped. Her second husband was a bounder and a conman, who treated her very badly indeed. His name was Andrew Robinson Stoney and, happily, she eventually escaped from him. Ultimately he paid the price for his misdeeds...

...and his name gave rise to the expression "stoney broke".

Stoney Bowes.


A coat of arms with Bowes connections hangs in our humble cottage.

See, on the right, three bows from the Bowes family coat of arms indicating that, at some time in history, a member of the Bowes clan married into the family whose armorial bearings these are. It is not our family, of course, but we like to play Let's Pretend sometimes...


Thursday, 14 February 2013


Here is a pretty Georgian Valentine that hangs on the wall, just outside our bedroom door. It's "Dedicated to Miss Peggy Good" and it may well be a proposal of marriage...

...just look at what he's offering! He might have to try a bit harder these days, don't you think?


Sunday, 10 February 2013


Last Saturday's yarn bombing incident in York made me wonder, yet again, why I haven't picked up my old "weapons" for so long. In the 1970s we were a family of crafting crusaders. "Everybody's Knitting" (see above, my dog-eared copy) was always at my side, it's illustrations inspiring my creations...

...my family were happy to fight alongside me, or, at least, to tolerate the itchiness.

It started early with granny squares and bobble hats...

...and home-made coats galore; tartan ones,

crochet ones,

patchwork ones too,

and more tartan! Just how many homemade coats does one boy need? (Please note the home produced toys/weapons, and Mum is camouflaged in crochet too!) By the end of the 1970s the house was full of hand-printed fabrics, experimental batiked denim, hand-made wooden buttons and embroidered pictures galore...

Naturally, this was our eco-chariot of choice

It was another time - innocent and internet-free - and I think that was a draw-back. Now we have Etsy, Folksy etc. and many crafty bloggers, all fighting for the cause. If we'd had personal computers back then, we might have conquered the world...                


Sunday, 3 February 2013


We could see that something was afoot as we walked past the art gallery in York yesterday - for a start, it had been surrounded by Yarn Bombers.

We thought the gallery was shut for refurbishment, but, inside, some sort of arty revolution was going on. People were drawing on the walls!

They came from far and wide, eager to make their mark...

The local press arrived," What do YOU make of all this, sir? No, I promise, I'm not talking down to you!"

There was even a pop-up cafe where the guerrilla needlewomen were hiding out...

...and where, in time-honoured tradition, Eve knitted while Adam looked a bit fed up.


No Saturday visit to York is complete without stopping to listen to our favourite street performers, The Buffalo Skinners. (You can listen to them here.)

And a little treat for me...