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Mary Martin London + Stuart Blakley

That Jacket

Some days you just got it. Lifestyles Magazine America is dedicating its latest issue to Mary Martin London. The renowned fashion and entertainment publication is distributed in 39 countries. Chief Operating Officer Anthony Alexander explains, “We just love Mary’s personality. And when we saw her clothes we were amazed! We’re bridging the gap between exposure in the US and the UK.” As Elizabeth Bowen wrote some 90 odd years ago in The Hotel, “Gratifying how one’s intimate world contracted itself, how one’s friends wove themselves in! Society was fascinating, so like a jigsaw puzzle!”

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Architecture Developers Restaurants

St Leonard’s Church + Rectory Upper Deal Town Kent

Saints and Collars

What a gorgeous grouping! Just 1.5 kilometres inland from the coastal Deal Castle, the Grade II* Listed Anglican St Leonard’s Church and Grade II Rectory are the perfect pairing – historic England at its quintessential best. The Listing summarises its near millennium of being: “12th, 17th and 19th century. The nave, south aisle and chancel arch are Norman. Red brick west tower of three stages with long and short quoins was added in 1684. In 1719 a large north aisle or transept was built at right aisles to the nave containing galleries. The organ gallery, dated 1705, was built by the pilots of Deal. It is supported on Tuscan columns. Interior contains box pews, a Normal pillar piscina and an Early English sedilia.” In other words, the church is a mosaic of materiality and style, ever pleasing to the eye.The rectory Listing underplays its charm and idiosyncrasy: “Large 18th century house. Two parallel ranges. Two storeys red brick. Hipped tiled roof and parapet. Five sashes with glazing bars intact and Venetian shutters. Round headed doorcase in recessed brick arch with small thin window on either side. Semicircular fanlight and six panel moulded door. 19th century addition of one window at the north end. Old cellar beneath the house.”

In reality, the rectory displays a delicious juxtaposition between its balanced five bay principal front (facing northwest) and the chaotic side elevation (facing northeast) overlooking the church garden and graveyard. The front is a scholarly lesson in Georgian fenestration and symmetry; the side is an informed essay in incidental architecture, a real showstopper with a triple pile roof. A merry mishmash of period property surrounds the peninsula site of St Leonard’s Church and Rectory.

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Developers Luxury Restaurants

Hakkasan Mayfair London + Lavender’s Blue

Corporate Canton Cooking

When your office is in Mayfair the choice of school day eating is Hakkasan, Sexy Fish or Sofra. Hardly Hobson’s! To celebrate Hakkasan’s two decades of modern Chinese cuisine, some dim sum makes for caviar dusted fine lunching. To quote Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons, 1914, “Single fish single fish single fish eggplant single fish sight.”

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Architects Architecture Art Design Developers Luxury People Restaurants

Hartwell House + Garden Aylesbury Buckinghamshire

Inside the Vale in Stone with Bishopstone and Hartwell Parish

National Trust country house tours are all jolly good but nothing beats the fun of actually lounging, dining, partying and hopping into bed in an historic property. Le grand expérience. We once lunched at Florence Court in County Fermanagh to celebrate the 7th Earl and Countess of Enniskillen returning some rather grand trinkets to their former home but that was a one off despite dining out on it ever since. In a marriage made in heaven, or at least a pairing in Britain at its finest, the dream comes true in the triumphant triumvirate of Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno; Middlethorpe Hall, York; and Hartwell House in the Vale of Aylesbury. National Trust houses where the four posters are for using. Well if Hartwell was good enough for Louis XVIII (he rented it for five years from 1809) it’ll suit us Francophiles thank you very much. Although His Majesty probably didn’t have to catch the train from London Marylebone. And so, we wave goodbye to the golden tinged terraces of NW1 on a blisteringly hot morn.

We’re tasked with capturing the spirit of the place, its current glory, its essence no less. The present is not a foreign country; they do things better here and now. Although Paris France is our next stop. As Gertrude Stein amusingly muses in Paris France, “You do not mention the relation of French men to French men of French men to French women of French women to French women to French children of French men to French children of French children to French children.” It’s worth mentioning the Frenchman who would become exiled sovereign as his plump features fill a bust and a statue and a painting at Hartwell. The Frenchman who looks down on the dining table of Apsley House on Piccadilly, London, in a portrait by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard. “But all art is erotic,” prescribes Adolf Loos in his 1908 lecture Ornament and Crime. Erm, not so sure, but we really do agree with his statement “Luxury is a very necessary thing.” And “An English club armchair is an absolutely perfect thing.” His words “Fulfilment awaits us” have a prophetic ring to them. Unerotic art, luxury and English club armchairs await us.

It’s also worth mentioning a certain French woman. A French woman who was Queen of France for 20 minutes. Marie-Thérèse Charlotte Duchess of Angoulême was the eldest daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The Dauphine joined her uncle to hold court at Hartwell. Her much maligned and misrepresented mother tried to set her daughter on the straight and narrow. On New Year’s Day 1784 the Queen, forgetting cake and remembering the poor, told Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, “The winter is very hard. There is a crowd of unhappy people who have no bread to eat, no clothes to wear, no wood to make a fire. I have given them all my money. I have none left to buy you presents, so there will be none this year.”

First impressions of Hartwell are grand, very grand. And very Jacobean. A feast of late 17th century transomed and mullioned oriels greets us as we swoop down the driveway round the turning circle with its life size statue of Frederick Prince of Wales on horseback and screech the breaks outside the entrance archway. But peeping past the very manicured bush (straight out of a David Inshaw painting) round to the garden front, there’s a perpendicular juxtaposition that would give County Down’s Castle Ward a run for its money. It’s Arcadian Palladian! The wealthy Hampden family built the original house before selling it to the even wealthier Lee family a couple of centuries later. In 1938 the house and 730 hectare estate was bought by conservationist Ernest Cook, grandson of the Victorian pioneer of package holidays Thomas Cook. Not that there’s anything package about bespoke Hartwell House. Ernest Cook saved the ensemble from certain ruin. Historic Hotels owner Richard Broyd would later acquire the leasehold which would in turn would be assigned to the National Trust in 2008 while allowing the house to still be run as a hotel. Lasting impressions of Hartwell are grand, very grand.

The dining room with its pendentive domes and matching Greek key cornice and carpet is more Soaneian than Pitzhanger Manor. The walls are painted lemon sorbet colour and the ceiling lemon ice cream. Contrary to appearances the dining room is 1980s not 1780s. It’s the creation of the architect Eric Throssell who converted Hartwell House from a finishing school to a hotel. A very clever creation at that. The architect amalgamated a closet, secretary’s room, south portico hallway and study to form a coherent space. The closet was reshaped to form an apse balancing that of the former study. French doors are wide open to the terrace. Dinner is served. The menu is elegantly labelled “Hartwell Bill of Fare”. Sourdough and fried tomato bread are followed by a starter of pan seared scallops, apple ketchup, compressed apple and oat crisp. The main course is pan fried turbot, leek spaghetti, sun blush tomatoes, British new potatoes and mussel cream sauce. Pudding is raspberry and elderflower tart, elderflower and mint sorbet. Taste good dining in a good taste dining room. Jacqueline Duncan, Founder of Inchbald School of Design, always reminds us, “I’m interested in taste.” A gentle breeze rustles through the dining room. Such peace and tranquillity. Yet under the fading light outside, tragedy is marked on the lawn. A tiny gravestone reads: “In loving memory of Charmian Patricia baby daughter of Captain and Mrs Conyers Lang died March 30 1924.” Beyond this gravestone, a walled cemetery abuts the estate.

Close to the cemetery a rusted blue sign on the perimeter brick wall reads, “Hartwell, The Church of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary. The present church (replacing a medieval structure) and modelled on the Chapter House at York Minister, was erected by Henry Keene between 1754 and 1756 for Sir William Lee of Hartwell House. It was an early example of Gothic Revival consisting of an octagon with symmetrical towers at the east and west ends. The interior was remarkable for the beauty of its fan tracery vaulting and the lozenged black and white marble pavement. Photographs taken before the church fell into ruin are in the National Monuments Record collection. Shortly after the 1939 to 1945 war the lead was stolen from the roof. This quickly led to the collapse of the vaulting and, after years of disuse, the remains of the building were declared redundant in 1973 and came into the care of the Redundant Churches Fund in July 1975. The elegance of the building’s design was not matched by the soundness of the construction and in order to preserve what was left, the Fund has carried out extensive works over many years under the direction of Mr Roiser of Cheltenham. May 1982.”

The interior of Hartwell House swaggers and sways between styles and centuries, from the baroque great hall and Henry Keene’s rococo morning room to the Georgian drawing room and library and Jacobean staircase hall. The newels and posts of the staircase are formed of historic carved figures. We return to the dining room a few hours later just as dawn is breaking. There may be no E in Hart but there’s eggs-to-see for breakfast. Sunny side up thank you on the sphinx guarded terrace. Poached eggs and crushed avocado on sourdough toast. It’s oh so quiet. Such peace and tranquillity. A sign in the staff courtyard next to the hotel reads “Beware People”. Thankfully the house and estate are so large there are few bodies about except for the discreet staff.

In 1728 James Gibbs published his bestseller A Book of Architecture Containing Designs of Buildings and Ornaments. “What heaps of stone, and even marble,” he complains, “are daily seen in monuments, chimneys, and other ornamental pieces of architecture, without the least symmetry or order?” The architect and author sets out to remedy this dire situation. “In order to prevent the abuses and absurdities hinted at, I have taken the utmost that these designs should be done in the best taste I could form upon the instructions of the greatest masters in Italy, as well as my own observations upon the ancient buildings there, during many years application onto these studies; for a cursory view of those august remains can no more qualify the spectator, or admirer, than the air of the country can inspire him with the knowledge of architecture.”

The chimneypiece in the great hall looks like it could be taken from the central image of Plate 91 except for a carved plaque replacing the overmantel mirror in the drawing. The mélange of urns and finials over the triumphal Rusticated Arch could come from Plates 146 and 147. And the Gibbs Pavilion looks like Plate 77 minus a dome. The Illustrated Atlas of the World’s Great Buildings by Philip Bagenal and Jonathan Meades, 1990, confirms James Gibbs’ status, “English Georgian was evolved from the designs of the Italian architect Palladio by Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh, Nicholas Hawksmoor and James Gibbs.”

The Ionic Temple, an eyecatcher viewed from the dining room, is one of several James Gibbs designed parkland features. The rubblestone and ashlar stable block and attached coach house, rebranded Hartwell Court, incorporates parts of a Gibbsian menagerie. Hartwell Court now houses a swimming pool and 16 guest bedrooms in addition to the 32 bedrooms in the main house. It overlooks a private garden guarded by statues of Juno and Zeus. A statue of Hercules remains half hidden in the woodland beyond the church. The Rusticated Arch tunnels under the public road into another walled area known as Hothouse Piece which includes the kitchen garden, orchard and tennis court. A brick plinth marks the location of the Victorian glasshouses.

Restored beyond their former glory under Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe’s landscape renewal scheme in 1979, the mid to late 18th century gardens, offer up a smorgasbord of visual and historic and horticultural and architectural pleasures, some hidden, some unhidden. The prominently placed statue of Frederick Prince of Wales was rescued from obscurity in a shrubbery. In an early case of reclamation, the two narrow informal lakes lie on either side of the middle span of James Paine’s old Kew Bridge in London of 1782, dismantled in 1898 and auctioned in lots.

In The Age of Bronze, 1822, Lord Byron writes, “Why wouldst thou leave Hartwell’s green abode?” Why, indeed, for it’s both peaceful and fun. Hartwell House is the type of place where anything can happen. And it does. The bellboy hands us a poem printed on hotel headed paper titled The Long Driveway to Hartwell. Bonkers has a new. We nod at the line “seize every moment” and chortle at “chaise longue fizz is swell” and when it comes to “it’s a short life on our Lord’s planet” we pray “thank goodness a decent chunk of it was spent at Hartwell House”.

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Architects Architecture Country Houses Design Developers Town Houses

Lee Manor House + Garden Lewisham London

Banking on Success­­­­

Vitruvius’ desirable virtues of “firmness, commodity and delight” spring to mind. “There are so many moments of true quality within and outside this villa,” believes heritage architect John O’Connell. “An inspection of the exterior would suggest that there were once small wings. This is such a clever and compact plan. The vaulted lobby on the first floor is so accomplished and structurally brave. The first floor central room with its closets has a bed alcove.” Lee Manor House and its remaining three hectares of grounds form one of the thrills of southeast London. The house has been repurposed as a crèche, a library and a doctors’ surgery with reception rooms for hire. The garden is open to the public.

In the late 20th century a glass lift was inserted in the middle of the staircase hall. “I used to be disturbed when I saw alterations like this super lift, but now am more understanding,” remarks John. “But one is always encouraged to place the lift on the exterior of an historic building. The best example I know, apart from Montalto in County Down, is Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria in Genoa. An astounding museum, and a must. Indeed Genoa is a city of palaces and many are accessible. This city is the Liverpool of Italy: rough in parts!” Another successful example is the Office of Public Works’ elegant full height glass and steel shaft abutting the rear of the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square, Dublin.

Architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell summarises, “Stylistically the Manor House is quite conservative – Taylorian rather than Chambersian.” Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner’s entry in their Buildings of England South London, 1983, reads: “The Manor House (Lee Public Library), probably built for Thomas Lucas in 1771 to 1772, by Richard Jupp, is an elegant five by three bay structure of brick on a rusticated stone basement, and with a stone entablature. Projecting taller three bay centre. Four column one storey porch, now glazed; a full height bow in the centre of the garden side. Inside, the original staircase was removed circa 1932, but the large staircase hall still has a screen of columns to the left, and on the landing above a smaller screen carrying groin vaults. Medallions with putti. Pretty plasterwork in other rooms, especially a ceiling of Adamish design in the ground floor room with the bow window.”

At the end of the 18th century the house and estate were sold to Francis Baring, director of the East India Company and founder of Baring’s Bank. The better known architect Sir Robert Taylor designed villas for several of the East India Company directors. “Lee Manor House is extremely well handled,” John remarks, “and exhibits a lovely, almost James Gandon, flow. Moving around, it has at least three lovely elevations. The brickwork is very accomplished but the basement rustication has been crudely handled of late. The original high execution elsewhere displays the architect’s ability to bring a design forward to fruition.”

Marcus Binney provides this summary in Sir Robert Taylor From Rococo to Neoclassicism, 1984, “Taylor’s major contribution to English architecture is his ingenious and original development of the Palladian villa. The first generation of Palladian villas in BritainChiswick, Mereworth and Stourhead are three leading examples – had all been based purposely very closely on Palladio’s designs. They were square or rectangular in plan with pedimented porticoes, and a one-three-one arrangement of windows on the principal elevations. Taylor broke with this format. First of all his villas (like his townhouses) were astylar: classical in proportion but without an order; that is, without columns or pilasters and with a simple cornice instead of a full entablature.” Lee Manor House does have Taylorian features such as the semi elliptical full height bay on the garden front but is missing others such as his trademark Venetian window. In that sense, Richard Jupp is even more conservative than Sir Robert Taylor.

Lee Manor House conforms to the House of Raphael formula: a basement carrying a piano nobile with a lower floor of bedrooms under the parapet. “This is very interesting as it sits within the gentleman’s villa format. Pray how did you find it?” enquires John. “Lee Manor House is a very fine villa. On the ground floor, I would expect the large apse or exedra to the saloon contains or contained a fireplace. It reminds me of the first floor back room of Taylor’s 4 Grafton Street in Mayfair. This large apse is of added interest, as it would be taken up by Robert Adam in the arresting hall at Osterley Park, Isleworth, and again by our hero James Wyatt for his first and most daring scheme at Abbey Leix, County Laois, and again at Portman House on Mayfair’s Portman Square. The latter is now a smart club.”

John continues, “Another villa that comes to mind is Asgill House, in Richmond, circa 1770, which is both fine and intact. This villa was restored with the advice of Donald Insall and can be seen from the railway line. One can even go back to Marble Hill House in Twickenham, and on to James Gibbs at the exquisite Petersham Lodge – a knockout villa – which is now the clubhouse for Richmond Park Golf Course. Petersham Lodge is really worth a visit too; even the ‘landscape’ and bevelled edged mirrors over the fireplace are still in position!”

“Finally, there is the equally arresting Parkstead House designed for the 2nd Earl of Bessborough by Sir William Chambers with its very heroic portico. Lord Bessborough was an Anglo Irish peer. This can be visited. Indeed there is a good publication by English Heritage on this very subject. The original wings have vanished but the garden front and saloon are intact. There is mention of the remains of a garden temple in the grounds.” Joan Alcock writes in Sir William Chambers and the Building of Parkstead House Roehampton, 1980, “The design of Parkstead is based on the Palladian villa.” John O’Connell postscripts, “Richard Jupp was chief architect to the East India Company. His successor was Henry Holland. Lee Manor House fits into a form that one can see emerge in the 1770s.”

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Fordwich Arms + Fordwich Town Hall Kent

Correct London Grammar

There’s nothing wrong with a pint of cider and scampi fries in your local. But we’d prefer the pescatarian tasting menu with Berry Brothers and Rudd of St James’s­­ wine thank you. Fordwich, eight kilometres north of Pett Bottom in Kent, is apparently England’s smallest town. Fordwich Arms is a gorgeous 1930s mock Tudor brick without half timber building. It looks like one of Walter George Tarrant’s houses on St George’s Hill Estate, Weybridge, Surrey. A curvilinear gable over the entrance is a welcome whimsical touch. The pub is opposite the 1540s real Tudor brick with half timber Fordwich Town Hall, apparently England’s smallest and oldest town hall in use. The Norman Church of St Mary behind the pub walled garden complements this tranquil grouping.

We’re lunching in the dining room accessed through the main bar. Cast iron framed windows are open to the walled garden on one side and the riverside terrace on the other. In good ol’ Tudorbethan style, the room is linen fold panelled with a stone fireplace. Fashionable visible bulb lights are the only wall decoration. The dining room is simply furnished: Ercol chairs and matching table tops balanced on cast iron legs on a timber floor. No boozer clut here: not a Toby jug or faded photograph of the high street in sight.

The unmistakeable cosmopolitan air (and not just us) is no coincidence. Londoners run the show. Chef Patron Daniel Smith worked for Jason Atherton’s group and then The Clove Club. His wife, Pastry Chef Owner Natasha, worked at Chapter One in Locksbottom, Kent, and latterly at Rocket events company in London. The Smiths are joined by Sommelier Guy Palmer-Brown. They’re all the same age and ridiculously young: 28 years old. Fordwich Arms is celebrating its second birthday. Daniel recalls his 17th birthday dinner at The Fact Duck in Bray, Berkshire, as being a directional moment towards his chosen career.

The serving staff possess encyclopaedic knowledge of each course and micro course. It’s the catering version of old masters dealing – they’re heavy on provenance. Just as well the pub backs onto the Great Stour River and the north and east coasts of Kent are five kilometres and 17 kilometres respectively away as all the savoury courses are a hymn to seafood. Getting even more local, their bread and butter is churned on site. A kitchen favourite is soda bread (very Northern Irish!) but we’re served rosemary focaccia with garlic cloves as well as wheaten bread made from the Chef’s mother’s recipe. Mrs Smith senior is from County Wexford.

After a trio of prettily colour coordinated amuse bouches come five fishy dishes which stretch that provenance the full length of this island. Confit chalk stream trout, oyster, pea and gooseberry sets the pace. Isle of Wight tomato, lemon verbena and Cornish caviar gathers knots. Roasted Orkney scallop, brown butter, applied and spiced scallop sauce makes waves. South coast brill and warm tartare sauce is a splash of panache. Line caught hake, celeriac, young leek and Madeira completes the culinary coastal voyage. Hit after hit of retronasal olfaction and satisfaction. Local and national produce; capital style and British brilliance. The plates themselves have varying textures and tonality – very Michelin. The Merchant’s White is just what a lover should be: rich and full bodied.

Top London chefs love their signature dishes (think County Antrim born Clare Smyth and her potato) and Daniel is no exception. While he manages to sneak in a perfectly formed potato mound side dish, it’s the Snickers bar pudding that’s his pièce de résistance. Delicately deconstructed then rigorously reconstructed as a sponge log with its skin of hard chocolate removed and ingredients (peanuts and caramel) placed on top, it’s gastronomy’s answer to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Gold leaf is a nice reference to chocolate box wrapping.

The primacy effect (start of a meal) and regency effect (end of a meal) tend to stick in our minds. Not so, this lunch. Every morsel is memorable. We’ve eulogised for seven paragraphs now on the glories of Fordwich Arms; the Michelin Guide (the pub gobbled up a star almost instantly) is more succinct: “High quality cooking, worth a stop!” It’s a long stop for us: we reluctantly depart at 4.30pm as our car pulls up outside. A golden retriever keeps watch at the entrance. There mightn’t be a beer stained carpet but Fordwich Arms has kept one pub tradition going: it’s dog friendly.

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Architects Architecture Developers

Arlington House + Dreamland Cinema Margate Kent

Cutting Loos

Brighton has several. Littlehampton has one. Margate sure has one. A shocker of a tower block. Designed by Philip Russell Diplock and built by Bernard Sunley in 1964, Arlington House is Marmite architecture. At 18 storeys it is the only building to scrape the sky along the low rise beach front. Margate Sands is north facing so the wider sun catching east and west elevations of the tower block have jagged profiles to capture sea views. Clever. The exterior is more or less ornament free. Each core of each floor of the cast concrete monolith serves just four apartments.

Arlington House looks down on Dreamland, a Grade II* listed amusement park dating from the 1880s. Dreamland Cinema is the visible seaward face of the amusement park. The purply red brick abstract elevations designed by Julian Leathart and Messrs Iles and Granger in the early 1930s are enlivened by yellow neon signs. Architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, lovers of Las Vegas and neon, would approve. “Time is money. So resting must be specialised,” wrote Adolf Loos in Ornament and Crime. The great modernist architect was writing about chairs but the same could be applied to vacations. So a staycation in Margate continues to thrill and delight.

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Architects Architecture Developers

Fort Crescent + Fort Paragon Margate Kent

Not the Whole of the Moon 

Dr Simon Thurley, former Chief Executive of English Heritage, confirms, “Margate is one of England’s first seaside resorts. Since the early 18th century, people have been visiting the town to bathe in the sea, first for health reasons, but in more recent years for pleasure and a change of scenery. The presence of visitors transformed this once small working coastal town into a playground for some of the wealthiest members of London society. However, as it was located along the Thames away from the capital, Margate has always attracted a wide range of visitors and was selected as the site of the world’s first sea bathing hospital.”

The cliff facing façade of Fort Crescent and the cliff facing flank wall of Fort Paragon are evidence in stucco of Margate’s growing popularity in the early 19th century. Fort Crescent was built in piecemeal form over several decades; the more uniform Fort Paragon was constructed by a local builder Harold Woodward in 1830. Together they bring an air of the Regency, a little piece of Brighton, to Margate.

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Old Town Margate Kent + Lavender’s Blue

And Then Isa Schiaparelli Invented the Colour Shocking Pink 

A weekend in Margate sipping Champagne on the balcony of Sands Hotel watching an iridescent Turner sunset followed by zipping around Old Town in a personalised number plated Range Rover to finally tripping the light fantastic at a private members’ club hidden in the hills? Margs darling, not Marghetto! Annabel P, Head of HR at Lavender’s Blue: “I’m down like Tinseltown.” Becks B: “I have high hopes for your trips.” 

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Architects Architecture Developers Luxury People Restaurants

Royal Victoria Patriotic Building + Le Gothique Wandsworth London

Mad For It

Wandsworth Common Pond © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sunday afternoon cricket on Wandsworth Common makes for a bucolic tableau. It’s like a Lowry painting negative: starched white figures against a deep green, the working class city swapped for middle class suburbia. Or perhaps a Surrey village scene. Two centuries ago it would’ve been a Surrey village scene. Wandsworth only became a London Borough in more recent times. In the midst of the Common is a building locals refer to as “Dracula’s Castle” with good reason – its history is as dark as its slate roof.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Building Wandsworth London Windmill Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Treaty of Paris of 1856 brought the Crimean War formally to an end. The Royal Commission of the Patriotic Fund was established to collect and distribute money donated by the public for the widows and orphans of men killed in the Crimean War. The Fund’s Executive and Finance Committee decided to build an orphanage on the then edge of London for 300 daughters of soldiers, sailors and marines killed in the recent conflict. A well timed letter from Frederick, 4th Earl Spencer and great great grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales, solved the site issue:

Royal Victoria Patriotic Building Wandsworth London Windmill © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“My Dear Sir, If the Patriotic Fund Commission should select my ground to found their Institution on Wandsworth Common I should be willing, in consideration of the national object, to take on half the price Mr Lee has fixed on the value viz: £50 an acre… I do not wish to encounter any difficulty with the Copyholders, and the Commissioners, if they entertain any position of land, must take all risks of those difficulties. Yours faithfully, Spencer.” The Committee accepted the Earl’s offer and bought 65 acres (26 hectares) for £3,700. Nearby Spencer Park, where Chef Gordon Ramsay has his London pad, is a reminder of the Northamptonshire aristocratic connection.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Building Wandsworth London 1918 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The building may also look like a Victorian madhouse but that’s about the only use it hasn’t been even though it was originally called the Asylum. Now for a countdown through the decades: 1858 orphanage; 1914 hospital; 1919 orphanage once more; 1939 reception centre; 1946 training college; 1952 school; 1970 vacant; and of late, 27 apartments, 20 studios, 15 workshops, two offices, a drama school and Le Gothique bar and restaurant. Tom Bailey from the Thompson Twins lives in one of the apartments. Past residents have included Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor and Charlotte Jane Bennett. The latter was an unfortunate schoolgirl who burned to death in 1901 on an upper floor – her ghost is said to prowl the interior as night falls.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Building Wandsworth London 1914 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

What on earth is a ‘reception centre’ or to use its full name the London Reception Centre? It is a somewhat euphemistic term for a refugee detention headquarters. Following the collapse of France and the Low Countries in 1940 in World War II, a flood of refugees entered Britain. Those from Germany and the Axis countries were usually interned while non enemy aliens were interviewed by immigration. MI5 decided to create a reception centre and where better than the highly adaptable Royal Patriotic School as it was known in its latest guise. Refugees from Occupied Europe had to pass through the reception centre – a sheep from the goats process. An average of 700 refugees were processed each month