On a cold wintry Saturday afternoon a former linen warehouse in Old Street London is all ablaze. Not literally on fire – the sparks flying are the creativity type. Afrobeats are vibrating across the attic floor below the exposed beams and bolts and screws. Something’s afoot. “Rolling, rolling!” orders the Film Director. A strong familiar voice echoes across the vast haunted space, “I love the camera! I can’t say I don’t! It screams at me! We need the drama for the camera! I love fashion! I love art! I love creativity!” Welcome. Maryland is back in town. The American philosopher Marilynne Robinson believes, “No one can anticipate your gifts because they are unique to you.” There will be lots of anticipation but no ambiguity in Mary’s unique first person narrative.
When the distinguished Director Adil Oliver Sharif was introduced to Mary Martin London through a mutual friend, the Lebanese Sierra Leonean model Yasmin Jamaal, he knew he’d struck camera gold. Adil has been filming interesting people over the last year or two. Mary’s his 66th interviewee, taking ‘interesting’ to a whole new level. She’s so interesting that Adil is now collaborating on a feature length film with Mary – and her friends, who include some of the biggest names in arts, culture and entertainment. This former warehouse is his studio and its flaxen heritage could hardly be more apropos as the backdrop to London’s leading black fashion designer sharing her story.
Everyone and everything are in flux as cameras, lights, seating, backdrops are arranged. And rearranged. And rearranged a little more. Adil is the ultimate perfectionist as is his team: assistant Racquel Escobar Rios and Director of Photography Nick Galbusera. “I love going deep,” confides Adil. “I love the complexities of the human skin and what reflects and swims deep within.” Mid afternoon and the set is ready for action. “Are we rolling? After establishing and managing my daughter’s career, I thought what can I do for myself?” muses Mary. “Hey! I’ll put my hand to sewing!”
Celetia Martin’s successful song writing and singing career has included numerous hit singles plus collaborations with the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Janet Jackson and Usher. She spent two years touring America with Groove Armada as the band’s lead vocalist. Celetia now manages rising stars herself. Not content with launching her daughter’s career in the arts, there was no way Mary was going to rest on her Grammys. So it’s not surprising she labelled the start of her career in fashion “a learning curve”.
“A lot of my mistakes were the making of my best dreams,” Mary recalls. “One of my first artistic realisations was the Fairy Tale Collection. It was all these fluffy free dreamers. I was backstage looking down as the dresses came out on the catwalk. All I could think of was am I crazy? But then everybody started clapping like in a Hollywood movie. From thereon it just started. A few years later I would get a degree in fashion and textiles with flying colours!”
“The drive behind the creativity of a show motivates me. And I love creating something from nothing. I never even like to know what I make. I like to surprise myself!” she relates. “My strength comes from God. I’m a great believer in God. I love God. He’s what drives me. That’s why I create. I’m unique. God made us all in His image yet everyone is unique. This gives me a sense of freedom and the ability to do things differently from other people. I’m a very very spiritual person. I do believe in the afterlife. I love being spiritual. I’m in this field walking, walking, walking… so pleasant being spiritual. Spirituality means a lot to me. God is my all in all.” Marilynne Robinson expresses, “I know what I want to do. I know what is mine to do. I know what is not mine to do.” So does Mary.
Her path to freedom and success hasn’t exactly been unsmooth. There would be a silver lining for Mary but in the beginning there was no silver spoon. She keeps going: “I’m from a family of 13 children. I was the seventh child – nobody took any notice of me. That’s why I’m an attention seeker now! A diva! I was born by the River Taff in Wales. It was beautiful. But I faced racism at school so I ran away. I ended up in a children’s home. Actually I was in about 10 to 15 children’s homes. I didn’t learn to read or write. Eventually I went to London to live with my aunty. Are we still rolling?”
Ever her glass more than half full, running over, Mary overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles. “Not being educated meant I had to force myself to do things in life. Not being able to read or write that well even now means my mind is more adjustable to shapes and how to put things together.” It’s the turn of the shrewd. As for the racism, “Don’t hate. Use your energy to find your creative self. Learn the essence of time – use your time well.” Mary volunteers at the youth mentoring Urban Synergy charity, encouraging children to follow her into the fashion industry. “We know nothing about the nature of time,” contends Marilynne Robinson. “Time in some sense exists simultaneously with itself. It’s not sequential in the way we experience it.”
“Fashion is an expression of myself,” Mary argues. “I’ve got a thing about fashion. I love texture – combine scuba with to see the way an outfit can move. Voila! Creative mind flow! That’s what I call it. I’m like a child in a candy shop when I’m in the middle of a fabric store. I could sleep with fabric. Real love. I’m attracted to creative people who are a bit different. I don’t do normal. I don’t do boring. Fame doesn’t mean anything to me. High regard for talent? I get that. I don’t want the fame. I just want God to have all the glory.” Marilynne Robinson suggests, “If there’s a place in heaven for the arts, that will be the hallelujah!”
“The major influence in my life has been myself,” Mary summates. “I challenge myself every day to be better, to change designs, to be the better me. I’m a free spirit! I live my life freely. Every day I wake up I’m happy to be alive. I’m a black woman, a strong black woman. There, I’ve let you into Maryland.” The afternoon closes and beyond the red brick gabled walls of the former linen warehouse, over a sea of grey tiled roofs, the mellowing sun sets over the city. On an attic floor in Old Street London, a Jamesian “cloud of music and affection and success” floats away: it’s a wrap.
Hello darlings. Hello Darling. Like a 21st century Dennis Severs’ House (the madcap period drama that lurks in Spitalfields), Hello Darling the brasserie and botanical bar and Darling House the mad party pad upstairs does eccentricity on tap. It’s out on a whim. The creative minds behind this immersive concept are Harriet Darling and Elise Edge. Presumably “Hello Edge” didn’t have quite the same ring to it. The interiors are a riot of paint effects and visual puns. A piece of art on the wall slides to the side. Is it a painting or window? It’s both. Below a handwritten “Lost Property” sign lies a discarded copy of Sarah Knight’s bestseller Get Your Sh!t Together sticking out from a Christmas bag. A note inside reads: “To Lulu, to help you stop losing your things wherever you go!” Is it an installation or the trail of a somewhat clueless guest? Not sure.
Gertrude Stein, champion of Cubist literature, on “Glazed glitter” in her 1914 Tender Buttons, “Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover. The change in that is that red weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometimes, surely any is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing. There is no gratitude in mercy and in medicine. There can be breakages in Japanese. That is no programme. That is no colour chosen. It was chosen yesterday, that showed spitting and perhaps washing and polishing. It certainly showed no obligation and perhaps if borrowing is not natural there is some use in giving.” Goodbye Hello Darling. Goodbye darlings.
Lavender’s Blue. Some colours are legendary. And others become synonymous with places. The Blue Bar is always The Berkeley Hotel. The hangout of the bold and brilliant and beautiful down from Apsley House. Every era has one. A London fine dining defining interior designer. Currently, it’s Martin Brudnizki. At the end of last century, no restaurant or wine bar was complete unless David Collins had transformed it. The late Dublin born artist used a striking Lutyens Blue hue, a dusky cornflower, to create the most memorable interior in Knightsbridge just as the new millennium dawned. In a touching posthumous tribute, The Berkeley called up David Collins’ protégé to dream up a dining room named after his master. Robert Angell employed some of David Collins’ favourite motifs, from a white onyx bar to a Soaneian use of mirrors. Some designers are legendary. And others become synonymous with places. Lavender’s Blue. Breakfast in bed, even The Berkeley variety, means casually leafing through magazines, preferable the vintage variety. Although inclusion of today’s Times is a nice touch. Here’s the September 1999 edition of Wallpaper* magazine:
“There’s no denying that the acrimonious and much publicised art appreciation tiff between Damien Hirst and new Quo Vadis owner, Marco Pierre White, was bound to draw in curious diners and art lovers alike. But David Collins’ pleasing refit and the culinary skills of ex Ivy maître d’ Fernando Peire are two good reasons to return. Leather banquettes break up the room, a marked improvement on its previous cold refectory incarnation. Though not hugely original, the food is exquisite, just as we have come to expect from a MPW establishment; lobster, poulet noir and a variety of risottos are all on offer to a discerning clientele. The controversial conceptual art by Marco Pierre White is more than a little reminiscent of that of Damien Hirst, though much cheekier, especially our favourite, the aptly named ‘Divorce’ – a copy of Hirst’s dot painting, but with four perpendicular slashes – ouch. The Private room at the back boasts Thirties New York green leather walls created by the ubiquitous Bill Amberg. The skeletons have been ripped out of the upstairs bar, and the refit’s final stage will include a bar for the restaurant as well as a members’ bar called ‘Marx’ in homage to the great Karl who lived on this site. Admittance will depend on whether or not Fernando likes you – so start sending flowers and chocolates now.”
As always, what does Gertrude Stein have to say about breakfast in her 1914 Tender Buttons? Rather a lot as it turns out. Here are a few of her rich pickings, “A sudden slice changes the whole plate, it does so suddenly.” And, “An imitation, more imitation, imitation succeed imitations.” And, and, and, “Anything that is decent, anything that is present, a calm and a cook and more singularly a shelter, all these show the need of clamour. What is the custom, the custom is in the centre.” A candy striped strawed bottle of ‘Berkeley Boost’ – freshly squeezed carrot, orange, turmeric, apple and ginger – followed by a homemade croissant and almond pastry; fruit salad; Scottish smoked salmon, cream cheese, rocket with Annabel’s style linen tied lemon bagel; Greek yoghurt, granola, Acacia honey and strawberries; and a celebratory chocolate cake topped with raspberries. The portions are so indulgent this ain’t breakfast in bed – this is breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea and supper between the duvets. All to be taken laying down. All on Aunt Margery’s best linen and tea set. Some breakfasts are legendary. Lavender’s Blue.
“You need to go to Coya. It’s the best Peruvian restaurant. The food, the feel, the waiters – all are amazing!” recommends leading businessperson Astrid Bray. “It’s a fav of mine!” And so we make haste while the sun shines. The restaurant has possibly the most discreet frontage ever. A solemn stone columned portico on Piccadilly conveys nothing of the colourful madness that lies beyond, or rather below. Like our favourite Chinese restaurant Hakkasan, the best dining room and bar are in the basement which we just love. Never has subterranean living looked so glam. We’re enthralled!
Amazonica and Lucky Cat may be the new Mayfair restaurants you will shortly be hearing about, and never stop hearing about, and Nobu may or may not be about to close, but here at 118 Piccadilly life gathers pace in the fast lane under the street. The international jet set just can’t get enough of this high end eclectic Latin American cuisine sporting an oriental twist. On a very random Thursday night the place is packed to its rustic rafters. It’s like sitting in Emirates First Class. The vibe is very cool, very relaxed, very us.
Coya’s menu was “born from the spirit of adventure” explains Indo British Culinary Director Sanjay Dwivedi. He spent all of 2012 touring South America and found what he was looking for amidst Incan heritage. “When I went to Peru I was like a kid in a sweet shop, I was so impressed! They have so many different foods – fruits, vegetables, ceviches – I was hooked.” He teamed up with businessman Arjun Waney, the Asian tour de force behind several top London restaurants as well as The Arts Club, and the adventure took wings. Coya now showcases the best of Latin American food, art, music (note the freestanding fireplace in the bar doubling as DJ decks) and culture.
That was two years ago. And now from our own foreign correspondent. Our dedicated man in the trenches, or at least he who luncheth in Coya Dubai right now. Hard work, but someone’s gotta do it. So what’s his learned verdict? “It’s part of the Four Seasons Dubai complex. The interior of Coya in Dubai is very similar to London with lemon and lime velvet chairs. The menu is more extensive that its London counterpart with a lot of fish and ceviche choices. There are great views over the city. The staff are mainly European. Excellent restaurant.” Our overseas diplomat cuts it short: happy hour has begun back in his hotel.
Sometimes you really gotta go with it and order a pre dinner alfresco cocktail that matches the cushioned upholstery. Sea Breeze please or at least something ephemerally turquoise. Beetroot, carrot, ginger and orange detox elixirs soon cancel the boldness. For a hot minute. Annabel’s wearing Biba vintage, working it babes. Her fellow guest is as always rocking Mary Martin London head to toe. Annabel gets busy stirring up Insta Stories in between yellowtail tartar, smoked tofu and caviar followed by pink shrimp tempura. Maya Jama sends her love. Sexy Fish is after all the television presenter’s fav restaurant. Good friend Grime DJ Teddy Music of Silencer fame chimes in next. Everyone’s soon discussing menu tips. Mango and passionfruit, coconut and lemongrass or pineapple and mandarin sorbet? Decisions, decisions. “All three. Or is that six?” How does Gertrude Stein view dinner in her 1914 classic Tender Buttons? “Not a little fit, not a less fit sun sat in shed more mentally.”
Basement bound, a downward descent reverberating under a Frank Gehry crocodile past Damien Hirst mermaids before walking by those marbled bathrooms – salut Versailles – till the night relaxes into an embrace of unbelievably attractive seafood. Late call but Mary Martin London’s on the blower. “Fantastic! I cannot wait for our next interview. Let’s talk. I’m here and ready and want to talk about my amazing new dresses and fashion.” The limo pulls up on Berkeley Square and Annabel P dramatically departs dripping in diamonds and fantasy.
“Vegans make better lovers,” tweeted Californian Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson who has just celebrated tying the knot for the fifth time. “The cholesterol in meat, eggs and dairy causes hardening of the arteries (and not much else). It slows blood flow to all the body’s organs, not just the heart. You can improve your overall health and increase stamina in the bedroom by going vegan.” As an active vegan, the animal rights star has been researching her hypothesis for the last 30 years.
“I’m fairly confident in this statement,” she later tweets. “Although I think I’ve always had a lot of fun in that department. It’s a romantic way of caring about the world, about life and the environment. It’s another little perk to being vegan!” Not to be taken with a pinch of salt, while red meat eaters clearly don’t make for red hot lovers, vegetarians must surely pass the mustard in the sack, knowing their quixotic onions so to speak. Certainly food for thought.
Founder Marc Summers explains, “We’ve been inspired by our backgrounds and heritage. There are a couple of Jewish things on the menu which reflects the area we’re in – a century ago Spitalfields was very Jewish. My grandfather was born here, as was Helen’s grandmother, so the location means a lot to us. It took a long time to find the right location for Bubala, but when we found this place we knew we had to go for it.” The restaurant is a falafel’s throw from Christ Church Spitalfields.
“We’d had enough of dealing with meat on a daily basis,” Marc continues. “Sticking to vegetarian dishes means everything feels a lot more hygienic in the kitchen and it’s a nicer environment to work in. Our Head Chef Helen Graham was also getting a bit tired of seeing the amount of waste that can come from cooking meat in a restaurant so it was something we were both keen to focus on.”
“Meze has many iterations across the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa,” explains Helen. “Spanning such a broad region, it’s no surprise that the word brings conflict. ‘Meze’ is of Turkish origin, borrowed from the Persian ‘mazze’ meaning ‘snack’ or ‘taste’. Indeed, many cultures enjoy meze as an appetiser. Where the concept of opening your appetite is foreign, meze refers to the entire thing from the first scoop of hummus to the final button undoing bite.”
Televivian Journal is the magazine of choice for every cosmopolitan citizen of Israel’s party capital and a few savvy London subscribers too. Shalom! Lehitraot? What does Ruthie Rousso, food critic and contributor to the latest hard hitting hard copy edition of Televivian Journal, think of Tel Aviv cuisine and its emergence on the world stage? Or should that be world table?
“The complex Israeli identity is contained on every plate: in every tiny heirloom Palestinian bamya served with preserved lemon and brown butter served in ‘haBasta’, and in every steaming pita stuffed with roasted cauliflower, crème fraîche and local hot pepper at Eyal Shani’s Miznon… The Israeli chefs and restaurateurs continue to dare, insist on trying, are driven to create. If I had to put a finger on one characteristic of Israeli identity and cuisine, it would be this: it is a turbine, refusing to stop, pushing forward against all odds.”
The first time we visited Mourne Park House, November 1992, the recently widowed Julie Ann Anley whisked us off on a whistlestop tour. “It’s great!” she laughed. “No one ever bothers us here because the house isn’t architecturally important.” This was no tourist attraction. The country house as time capsule may have emerged as a phenonomen in the Eighties when Derbyshire’s Calke Abbey came to the public’s attention, but it certainly was applicable to an extreme at MPH in the wilds of County Down. While the Treasury saved Calke, sadly no knight in shining armour would come to MPH’s rescue.
The last time we visited the house, April 2003, it was teeming with members of the public rummaging over the soon to be dispersed contents. Everything was beginning to unravel. Beige auction labels dangled like insipid baubles from Christmas past, hanging on everything including the kitchen sink. A striped marquee consumed the courtyard while the building itself was crumbling at the edges. The auction was the outcome of a long and bitter family feud which erupted following the death of Nicholas Needham Fergus Philip Gore Anley in 1992, dragging through the courts until the opening days of 2003. On 14th February, without much filial or inter sibling love, it was finally settled.
But by the end of the decade, the close of last century, this harmony of outlook had floundered following much brouhaha over how the estate should be run. Events reached a dramatic climax when Marion removed what she considered to be her fair share of the contents from the house in a midnight flit. Her refusal to reveal the whereabouts of these “chattels” as the courts would archaically call them resulted in Marion spending a week at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Five years of arduous legal wrangling costing hundreds of thousands of pounds only concluded when it was finally agreed that she could keep her share and her brother and sister would auction off their two thirds of the contents.
Julie Ann may have modestly described the house as being architecturally unimportant and it doesn’t boast the baronial battlements of Ballyedmond Castle or share the symmetrical severity of Seaforde House, to take two other South Down seats. But it is a rare example of a substantially Edwardian country house in a county where Georgian and Victorian are the norm. MPH oozes charm with its long low elevations hewn of local granite and its lavish use of green paint (Farrow + Ball’s Folly Green?) on bargeboards and garden furniture, window frames and porches, and the endless array of French doors. Much of the interior decoration dates from the early 20th century lending the house a magical nostalgic air. And the setting is second to none. Looming behind the house and stables are the craggy slopes of Knockcree Mountain rising 130 metres above oak and beech woodlands. A Victorian visitor, William Russell, waxed lyrical on Mourne Park. “The scene… from the front entrance is indeed very fine. Before you, in the precincts of the mansion, is a lake. Beyond this lake, the demesne stretches away with a gently rising slope, which hides the intervening land, till one can fancy that the sea waves lap the lawns of the park.”
The genesis of the current building dates back to at least 1818 when the 12th Viscount Kilmorey employed Thaddeus Gallier of County Louth to build the central block. It replaced an earlier house on the site. An architect or ‘journeyman builder’, he had already completed Anaverna at Ravensdale a decade earlier. Baron McClelland commissioned that five bay two storey house near Dundalk in 1807. It’s now the des res of the Lenox-Conynghams. Too grand for a glebe, too modest for a mansion, the middling size house, tall, light and handsome, stands proud in its sylvan setting overlooking a meadow. A glazed porch under the semicircular fanlight partially obscures the double entrance doors in the middle of the three bay breakfront. Otherwise, Thaddeus Gallagher’s façade remains untouched. Relieving arches over upstairs windows introduce a motif he was to later employ at MPH. At Anaverna he proved himself to be a designer of considerable sophistication. His was no vainglorious provincial hand. Thaddeus Gallagher’s son James, who recorded in his autobiography that his father worked at MPH for nine months in 1818, emigrated to New Orleans where he carried on the dynastic tradition of designing fine architecture. His grandson, James Gallier Junior, was a third generation architect and his 1857 New Orleans townhouse is now the Gallier House Museum.
The first of multiple incarnations of MPH, Thomas Gallagher’s design was a typical late Georgian two storey country house with Wyatt windows on either side of a doorway similar to Anaverna’s. Next a third storey was added and then some time after 1859 a new two storey front of the same height was plonked in front of the existing house, so that the rooms in the newer block have much higher ceilings that those behind. The replacement façade is three bays wide like the original front but in place of the Wyatt arrangement are twin windows set in shallow recesses rising through both storeys with relieving arches over them. It is the combination of these paired windows and gentle arches, like brows over the eyes of the building, which lends the garden front such a memorable look. In the central breakfront the bottom of the shallow recess floats over the entrance door which is treated as another window, flanked on either side by a window of similar shape and size. A low parapet over a slender cornice partially conceals the hipped roof which wraps round the roof lantern over the staircase. Five attic bedrooms are tucked under the eaves with windows overlooking the roof lantern, unseen from the outside world.
Contemporaneous improvements were made to the estate itself. In the 1840s the 2nd Earl – the Kilmoreys had climbed a rung or two up the aristocratic ladder when his father the 12th Viscount was made an earl for his services to the development of Newry – commissioned a ‘famine wall’. This was a method used at the height of the Irish Famine by many Big House families to create work and keep locals from starving. The cheaply constructed three metre high granite walls also benefitted the estate. The 2nd Earl built Tullyframe Gate Lodge, the third of four gatelodges, at this time. Whitewater Gate Lodge was built in the 1830s and Ballymaglogh Gate Lodge in the 1850s.
But it was the alterations of the 3rd and 4th Earls which gave MPH its Edwardian air. “It’s not fit for a gentleman to live in!” raged the 3rd Earl upon his inheritance. His gentrifications began in 1892 when he added rectangular ground floor bay windows to the garden front and continued up until 1904 when he built a single storey peninsular wing perpendicular to the back of the house. Long Room Passage leads to Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room and onwards to the dual aspect Long Room (four pairs of French doors face four sash windows) with its hammerbeam roof, the latter finished in time for his son’s 21st birthday celebrations. The 3rd Earl completed the estate buildings in the 1890s with Green Gate Lodge, a two storey house finished in the same granite as MPH.
A century or more of each generation making their mark on MPH has produced a fascinating interior full of surprising variations in floor levels and ceiling heights and room sizes. The main block is arranged like three parallel slices of a square cake, each different in essence. The oldest three storey slice at the back of the house has low ceilings and small windows, some retaining their Georgian glazing bars. A row of rooms overlooking the stables is accessed off the Long Corridor on the ground floor, the Rosie Passage on the first floor, and the Servants’ Passage on the second floor. The middle slice contains the Hall, Inner Hall, Staircase Hall and Blue Room, opening off each other like first class railway carriages. The first floor bedrooms in the front and middle slice are clustered together off two lobbies except for the Best Bedroom which appropriately takes pride of place in the middle of the garden front and is the only one to be accessed directly off the landing of the Staircase Hall. The ground floor of the newest slice contains the enfilade of reception rooms: the Dining Room (Farrow + Ball’s Calke Green?), the Ante Room and the Drawing Room where Sir Malcolm Sargent had once played the piano. A low two storey kitchen and nursery wing parallel to the Long Room wing links with the stables to create a courtyard to the rear of the house. Room naming at MPH clearly follows the Ronseal approach (“It does what it says on the tin”).
All the ground and first floor rooms were open during the auction preview weekend. We began the tour that we’d gone on a decade earlier, only with a printed rather than personal guide and without the troop of 13 Persian cats that had followed us around the first time round. “Come on, get out now!” Julie Ann had bellowed as she shut the door of each room. “Otherwise you could be locked in for a year or two! It’s not as if the cats even catch mice; they just watch them race by.” Now people were talking in mellow hushed murmurs as if at a wake, respectfully leafing through issues of The Connoisseur in the Estate Office, thoughtfully gazing at caricature prints in the Rosie Passage.
The Hall, dressed like a long gallery with paintings hung on pale painted (Farrow + Ball’s Wimborne White?) panelled walls, is the first in a processional series of spaces which culminates in the Staircase Hall, MPH’s most exciting interior moment. The staircase was extended between 1919 and 1921 to stretch out in the direction of the new entrance while the original flight accessed through an archway into the Inner Hall was retained. Above, more archways and apertures afford tantalising glimpses of corridors filled with shadowy ghosts. MPH, a Mary Celeste in granite.
Close to the new entrance, Lord Kilmorey’s Study has an air of formality in contrast to the intimacy of Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room tucked away in the far corner of the house. A seven metre long oak bookcase, used as a temporary display cabinet for the preview (sold for £3,000), and a chesterfield sofa (sold for £800) completed the butch mood of the good Lord’s space. On the other hand, the feminity of Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room was enhanced by the delicate double arched overmantle (sold for £1,000) and the 17th century Chinoiserie cabinet on a carved giltwood stand (sold for £11,000) similar to those in the State Drawing Room of 11 Downing Street. Outside, a life size marble garden statue of Ulysses and His Dog by Lawrence MacDonald sold for £110,000. HOK auction staff were making last minute notes on a pile of books in the middle of the kitchen floor. The house no longer felt private.
The main reception rooms were quintessentially Edwardian. Chintz sofas and family portraits mixed comfortably with period pieces. Shabby chic, to use another Eighties cliché, sprung to mind. Decades of decadence had descended into decay, where once the Ascendancy and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) had whiled away halcyon days. In the Billiard Room (or Morning Room), a corner timber and brick chimneypiece defiantly declared this room to have been decorated in the early 20th century. Paint (Farrow + Ball’s Calke Green?) was peeling, curtains were crumbling. An air of faded grandeur pervaded the Long Room. Triumphal flags now in tatters and coloured wall lamps dulled by the passage of time poignantly hinted at past glories and forgotten parties. A suite of oak bookcases had been supplied by John McArevey of Newry to fit between the rows of window openings. One pair sold for £3,000. The kitchen had lost the lived in look that we remembered. It was neater now with rows of copper jelly moulds and tin pots arranged museum-like along the painted pine dressers. The rows of ceiling hooks for hanging game had gone. High up on the wall above, the clock had stopped.
“People say it’s as if time stood still in the house,” Philip Anley told us on the opening day of the auction. “That’s a tribute to mum,” he added, acknowledging Julie Ann’s efforts to maintain MPH while working full time as a teacher. Sales had taken place at Mourne Park before. Shortly before his death, Nicholas had sold more than half the original 800 hectare estate to Mourne Park Golf Club (since renamed Kilkeel Golf Club), allowing it to extend from a nine hole to an 18 hole course. A decade before he had bought out the interest of his aunt, Lady Hyacinth, which allowed her family to remove various heirlooms in lieu of any stake in the house itself. The inheritance of the title and estate had already split in 1960. However this sale was different. It was “the end of an era” according to Philip.
In the words of Herbert Jackson Stops’ introduction to the 1920s sales catalogue of Stowe: “It is with a feeling of profound regret that the auctioneer pens the opening lines of a sales catalogue which may destroy for ever the glories of the house, and disperse to the four winds of heaven its wonderful collections, leaving only memories of the spacious past.” A rare level of disarming honesty compared to recent excuses for flogging the family silver. Try, “We are delighted that others will have the chance to enjoy objects which it has given him so much pleasure to discover…” Or, “In this sale which has been carefully selected so as not to damage the overall integrity of the collection…” Alternatively, “In order to allow for reinvestment which will underpin the long term future of the estate, the trustees have carefully selected a number of pieces to be sold at Christie’s this summer…”
The raven haired Sara Kenny from HOK Fine Art (she would later set up on her own launching Sara Kenny Fine Art in 2005) conducted the auction raising a total of £1.3 million. Prices were high with dealers bidding against collectors against locals. “My dad worked on the estate so we want some sort of keepsake,” we overheard. It seemed everyone wanted their piece of MPH. Auction excitement reached fever pitch on the last day when lot 1391 came up. It was the ‘Red Book of Shavington, in the County of Salop, a seat of The Right Honble [sic] Lord Viscount Kilmorey’. For those who don’t know, Red Books were the invention of Humphry Repton, a pioneer in the field of landscape architecture. He created or transformed over 200 English estates. His mantra was natural beauty enhanced by art. His practice was to complete a Red Book for each client.
The Shavington Red Book was a slim volume encased in red leather containing his proposals for “Improvements” outlined in neat copperplate handwriting and illustrated with maps, plans, drawings and watercolours. Several bidders appreciated its exquisite beauty and historical importance. In the end it went under the hammer for £41,000. The 3rd Earl of Kilmorey had sold Shavington, the family seat in Shropshire, in 1881 to pay for debts his father had accrued. He crammed much of the furniture into MPH. Shavington items auctioned included two early 19th century pieces by Gillows of Lancaster which each sold for £11,000: the Corner Bedroom wardrobe and the architect’s desk from the Library.
Mourne Park estate may not have benefitted from the romantic touch of Humphry Repton but its rugged character, derived from the granite face of Knockcree, remains mostly unchanged from sepia tinted 19th century landscape photographs. The same can’t be said for the interior of the granite faced house. “I’ll always remember the day you visited Mourne Park,” Julie Ann had said, strolling up the old drive, “as the day the boathouse collapsed.” And sure enough, the gable ended half timbered boathouse, which had stood there for centuries, not so much collapsed as gently slipped into the lake like a maiden aunt taking a dip in the water. After a few ripples, it disappeared. Forever.
And so 11 years later, masterpieces and miscellany, a record of Edwardian living in its original setting, is gone, just like the boathouse. It was a sad ending for the collection that formed the soul of one of Ulster’s Big Houses. Sad for the family and for the people of Newry and Mourne whose toil allowed the family to amass a fortune in very fine things. In the middle of the (now) 57 hectare estate still stands the house itself, stripped of its contents, naked as the classical statues that once graced the lawns around the lake, awaiting its fate.
Much Ballyhoo! That was then and this is now. Following the auction, Marion placed MPH on the market. “Life is taking us in a different direction,” she said wistfully. “We’re spending more and more time abroad. So it’s made a bit of a nonsense us being here. Em, so a very difficult decision. But we’ve decided to put the estate on the market. I’m sure the moment that I leave is going to be difficult. But having made the decision, you just have to go with it, really.” Its £10 million boom time price guide soon slumped to £6.5 million then £3.5 million but there were still no takers. Marion clung on, admirably restoring the house and beginning to add suitable furniture. Impressively she uncovered and restored an extensive lost Edwardian rock garden. “It was so exciting,” she enthused, “A bit like an archaeological dig. Every day a bit more would emerge.” A happy ending of sorts, but this is MPH, forever permeated by Ibsenesque melancholy.
In June 2013, Marion and her family returned from holidays to find fire engines lining the driveway. More than 80 firefighters were tackling an inferno which had engulfed the main block. The roof, where the fire had started, had collapsed – molten history. Fire Service Area Commander John Allen said, “Our priorities were, one, to prevent the fire from spreading to the adjoining wings of the building and, two, to save as many of the artefacts in the building as we could. Not only the artefacts in terms of history and legacy, but also, this is a family home where children live. Our intent was also to save their items which were of sentimental value.”
Mourne Park House: the place with the endless postscript. The irrepressible Marion Scarlett Needham Russell has plans to transform the house into a 126 bedroom hotel and spa. Since 2000, Irish architects Mullarkey Pedersen have been working up a vision to convert and extend the house and its outbuildings. The châtelaine confirms, “Since the fire, we have done everything we can to preserve the structure of the building: removing, storing and shoring up where necessary. We’re absolutely committed to seeing the restoration of Mourne Park once again and have open minds as to how this would be achieved. The rebuild is currently on hold until the right person or group comes forward to claim the opportunity.” Is a northern Castle Leslie in the making?
When pushed, Signor Seresina confided, “My favourite wine depends on the period of the year. There’s a perfect wine for many different moments. Italy has the largest variety of indigenous wines in the world. There’s life after Chardonnay and Merlot! Italy is geographically a very long country with mountains and seas which allow for many different wines in varying soil expositions.” Franciacorta is a small wine producing area in Lombardy, northern Italy.