Benjamin Dean Wyatt was the eldest son of the better known James Wyatt. His public venue of 1812 has been comprehensively restored and renewed by architecture firm Haworth Tompkins. A cool £60 million later, the Grade I Listed Building doubles as a theatre and upstairs restaurant serving afternoon tea. There’s another restaurant tucked away downstairs through an archway. Much has been written and rightly so on the rejuvenation of the theatre space itself: this article concentrates on the suite of reception areas fronting the building. A Pantheon inspired domed rotunda flanked by sweeping cantilevered staircases leading to the Grand Saloon and adjoining Ante Room overlooking the portico has all the presence of a grand country house. Combine a stair with the rotunda and you’ll come close to the showpiece of Townley Hall in County Louth.
Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber says, “I believe the Lane is now one of London’s most warm and beautiful auditoriums. It’s the most versatile historic theatrical space anywhere in the world.” His lordship has added prominent modern artworks to the period collection including a pair of Shakespearean paintings in one of the staircase halls by American artist Maria Kreyn: Lady M and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Upstairs in the Grand Saloon, afternoon tea with cakes by baker Lily Vanilli is being served.
Dorinda loved discussing the many Irish country houses she knew well. “I could write a book about my experiences in country houses. Maybe you should for me!” One of her earliest memories was visiting her uncle and aunt, Major Charlie and Sylvia Alexander, at the now demolished Pomeroy House in County Tyrone. Dorinda also enjoyed visiting Springhill in County Londonderry (now owned by The National Trust) – she was married from there in 1959. There was a painting of Springhill in the sitting room of Killyvolgan House. It was her Great Aunt Mina’s home. Mina Lenox-Conyngham was the last owner of Springhill. “Staying at her house was always enormous fun.”
“I remember aged six being taken against my will to dancing lessons at Lissan House. It was absolutely freezing! I lay on the ground screaming and kicking my feet in the air. Such a dull house, don’t you think?” She was great pals with Diana Pollock of Mountainstown House in County Meath and recalled good times there with Diana and her sisters. “I could never love Mount Stewart. Dundarave has an interesting vast hall but the reception rooms are plain. I remember the auction of Mount Panther’s contents. Everyone was standing in the entrance hall and up the stairs when the staircase started coming away from the wall! Cousin Captain Bush lived in Drumhalla House near Rathmullan in Donegal. He’d a parrot and wore a wig. I remember my cousin threw his wig off when he went swimming in the cove end of the garden. I was absolutely terrified to jump in after him!”
One of Dorinda’s most memorable stories combines several of her loves: country houses, fashion and parties. “It was the Sixties and I had just bought a rather fashionable tin foil dress from a catalogue. I thought it would be perfect for Lady Mairi Bury’s party at Mount Stewart. It was so tight and I was scared of ripping it so I lay down on our bedroom floor, arms stretched out in front of me, and Henry slid me into it.” She gave a demonstration, laughing. “Unfortunately I stood too near one of the open fires and my dress got hotter and hotter. So that was the first and last time I wore it!” Dorinda always managed to look stylish, whether casual or formal. Her suits were the envy of fellow Trustees of the Board of Historic Buildings Trust. Her ‘off duty’ uniform of polo neck, sports jacket, jeans and boyish shoes was effortlessly chic.
When it came to finding her own country house after her tenure at Ballywalter Park ended, things proved challenging. “I searched for two years for a suitable property. There’s a country house for sale in Keady. Nobody lives there! I’d be driving up and down to Belfast non stop!” Eventually Dorinda would build her own house on a site just beyond the walled estate of Ballywalter Park. At first, she wanted to rebuild the double pile gable ended two storey three bay house occupying the site called McKee’s Farm but when the structure proved unstable, a new house was conceived. Despite being known as a modernist, Belfast architect Joe Fitzgerald was selected to design a replacement house of similar massing to McKee’s Farm, adding single storey wings in Palladian style. Like its owner, Killyvolgan House is understated, elegant and charming. She was pleased when the council planners described Killyvolgan as the ideal new house in the countryside. It displays a distinguished handling of proportion and lightness of touch.
“I bought the Georgian grandfather clock in the entrance hall from Dublin. I’m always slightly concerned at how fragile my papier mâché chairs are for ‘larger guests’ in the drawing room. I guess the chairs were really meant for a bedroom? I’ve painted all the walls in the house white as the shadows on them help me see around.” And then there was the urn in the courtyard. “The Coade stone urn I found in the 19th century barn was much too grand. So instead I bought this cast iron urn on the King’s Road in Belfast. Fine, I will leave the Marston and Langinger pot you have brought me in the urn so that I remember that colour. Oh, Farrow and Ball are very smart! They’re very clever at their marketing.” In the end, the much debated urn would remain unpainted. “Henry wouldn’t deal with snobs. That’s why I liked him. Henry took everything he got involved in very seriously. Henry was the only Alliance Party member in the House of Lords. He strongly promoted the Education (Northern Ireland) Act 1974 which provided greater parity across the sectarian divide.” Later, “Oh how exciting, is it full of good restaurants and bars? Great! I’ll be an authority now on Ballyhackamore.”
She recalled an early drama at The Park. It was a tranquil Sunday morning in 1973 and unusually Dorinda was at home rather than at Holy Trinity Church Ballywalter. “Henry was singing the 23rd Psalm at Eucharist when he heard six fire brigades go by. Poor people, he pitied. I’d warned our butler not to interfere with the gas cylinders of the boiler, but he did, and the whole thing exploded, lifting off the dome of the staircase hall like a pressure cooker. The billiard room disappeared under a billow of smoke and flames. I rang the fire brigade and said, ‘Come quickly! There’s a fire at Ballywalter Park!’ The operator replied, ‘Yes, madam, but what number in Ballywalter Park?’” The estate of course doesn’t have a number – although it does have its own postcode.
“A spare room full of china collections fell through the roof. Well, I guess I’d always wanted to do an archaeological dig! It was so sad, really. As well as the six fire brigades, 300 people gathered from the village and around to help lift furniture onto the lawn. Fortunately the dome didn’t crack. Isn’t life stranger than fiction? The Powerscourt fire happened just one year later. Henry was philosophical and said we can build a replacement house in the walled garden.” In the end the couple would be responsible for restoring the house to its lasting glory. Ballywalter Park is a mid 19th century architectural marvel designed by Sir Charles Lanyon.
“I arrived over from London as a young wife and suddenly had to manage 12 servants. I used to tiptoe around so as not to disturb them. There was a crazy crew in the kitchen. Mrs Clarke was the cook. Billy Clarke, the scatty elderly butler, mostly sat smoking. Mrs Clarke couldn’t cook unless he was there. I was too shy to say anything!” Dorinda once briefly dated Tony Armstrong-Jones who would become the society photographer Lord Snowdon. “We met at pony club. He got me to model sitting next to a pond at our house in Widford, Hertfordshire.” One book described Dorinda as being “very pretty”. When questioned, she replied, “Well, quite pretty!” She was more interested in her time bookbinding for The Red Cross. In those days The Bunch of Grapes in Knightsbridge was Dorinda’s local. “Browns Hotel and The Goring were ‘safe’ for debutantes. After we got married we went to the State Opening of Parliament. We stayed in Henry’s club and I haled a taxi wearing a tiara and evening dress. Harrods was once full of people one would know. We would know people there. ‘Do you live near Harrods?’ people would ask. I’ve heard everyone now lives southwest down the river, near the boat races. You need some luck and then you’ve just got to make your own way having fun in London.”
As ever with Dorinda there were always more great stories to relate. “I bought the two paintings from the School of Van Dyke in my dining room for £40. I knew they are rather good landscapes so I decided to talk to Anthony Blunt about them. We arranged to meet in The Courtauld for lunch. Halfway though our meal he disappeared for a phone call. He was probably waiting for a message, ‘Go to the second tree on the left!’ He never reappeared. Next thing I heard he was a spy and had gone missing! I think he turned up in Moscow. I’ll remember other interesting things when you’re gone.” Occasionally colloquialisms would slip into her polite conversation. “The funeral was bunged! That was completely mustard!” One of Dorinda’s catchphrases, always expressed with glee, was, “That’s rather wild!”
“I called up to The Park. It was so funny: for the first time in history there were three Lady Dunleaths including me all sitting chatting on a sofa! One lives in The Park; the other, King’s Road and I don’t mean Belfast!” Dorinda made steeple chasing sound so exciting. A dedicated rider and breeder, she was Chairman of the Half Bred Horse Breeders Society. The Baroness’s contribution to Northern Irish culture and society is unsurpassed. She was Patron of the Northern Ireland Chest Stroke and Heart Association and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, as well as being a Committee Member of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society. Dorinda was a Director of the Ulster Orchestra and a founding member of The National Trust in Northern Ireland and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. Along with Sir Charles Brett she laboriously carried out and published early ‘Listings’ of buildings in places such as Downpatrick, Dungannon and Lisburn. The Baroness’s legacy lives on in the Dorinda Lady Dunleath Charitable Trust. This charity was started by her late husband but after he died it was changed into Dorinda’s name and she added to it every year thereafter. It supports education; healthcare and medical research; the arts, culture, heritage and science; the environment; alleviating poverty; and advancement of the Christian faith. The Dorinda Lady Dunleath Charitable Trust continues to donate to charities that she would have liked, with a focus on Northern Ireland.
One of the last heritage projects Dorinda supported was the restoration and rejuvenation of Portaferry Presbyterian Church, not far from Ballywalter. It’s one of the best Greek Revival buildings in the United Kingdom. “Prince Charles came to the reopening. I curtsied so low I could barely stand up again! Afterwards, a few of us had a very grand supper at Ikea to celebrate!” She voiced concern about the future of the organ at Down Cathedral. Music in May at Ballywalter Park was an annual festival of organ music started by the newlyweds. The Dunleath Organ Scholarship Trust was set up by her late husband and she continued to support it for the rest of her life, attending its concerts each year.
“It’s so exciting… I can’t say how exciting it is you’re here! Tell me, who is this David Bowie everyone’s talking about? I feel like I’m about 100! It’s like when my father asked me, ‘Who is this Bing Crosby?’ The House of Lords used to be full of country specialists like experts in bees or men who loved linen. They used to give the most marvellous speeches. Each generation must do something. It would be great to write this down.” Later, “Gardens should have vistas, don’t you think? They need focal points; you need to walk for an hour to a place of discovery. Capability Brown and Repton knew how to do it.”
In latter years, there were memorable times to be had at The Wildfowler Inn, Greyabbey. Those long, languid lunches. “Portavogie scampi? I’ll have the same as you. And a glass of white wine please. We can have sticky toffee pudding after.” Dorinda would don her yellow high viz jacket, pulling the look off with considerable aplomb. Her eyesight failing, she would claim, “It helps people see me in Tesco in Newtownards!” Much later, balmy summer afternoons in the sheltered courtyard of Killyvolgan House would stretch long into the evening. There was Darjeeling and more laughter. Those were the days. Halcyon days by the shore. Days that will linger forever. On that last evening at Killyvolgan, Dorinda pondered, “Who’s left who cares about architectural heritage?”
Prince Charles is a fan of his family’s commission: “Courtenay Square – a subtle reinterpretation of a Regency square, carried out in a ‘progressive spirit’ to use King George V’s own description. The architects Adshead + Ramsey were renowned pioneers of ‘planning’ in this country. They created a civilised architecture employing the simplest of means. The houses in Courtenay Square of around 1914 are not of the finest materials, nor richly decorated, nor on a grand scale. The Square works because of its proportions and straightforward detailing.”
A pair of three storey red brick apartment blocks mark the entrance to the estate off Kennington Road. Each has a concave quadrant angle gracefully gesturing towards the two storey yellow stock brick terraced houses beyond. The apartment blocks are more flamboyant than the understated terraces, with an ensemble of Roman cement dressings. Prince of Wales’ feathers feature in the capitals of the apartment block pedimented porches and the mid terrace attic pediments. Each terraced house is treated to a delicate timber trellis porch topped by a swept lead hood. A Greek key patterned Roman cement first floor cill band wraps around the terraces.
“That is possibly the funniest episode I have ever read,” emailed the much missed Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, in response to a descriptive summary of a group visit to a certain castle in Sussex. Said summary included a luxury coach breaking down, a shuttered up gothic castle, a game septuagenarian scaling a battlemented wall, a mass trespass into the castle, a hungover hostess lying in a four poster bed… and then things went from bad to worse… Fortunately, a visit to The Castle of Mey is less turbulent.
Following a three year reconstruction, The Queen Mother spent four weeks every August and 10 days every October at The Castle of Mey, as she rebranded it, right up to her death in 2001 aged 101. She furnished it simply with purchases from local antiques shops complemented by a few family pieces. And a Linley occasional table. Curtains are draped below bathroom basins in that upper class domestic fashion. Prince Charles continues the holidaying tradition and stays in the castle for 10 days every July. The building dates from the late 16th century except for the double height front hall which was added in 1819 to the design of William Burn for James Sinclair, 12th Earl of Caithness.
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite’s younger daughter wasn’t just so keen on The Castle of Mey. Despite having a bedroom named in her honour, Princess Margaret never slept in the castle, preferring the luxury of the Royal Yacht. The Queen Mother’s favourite colour, Phoenix Blue, is everywhere from picture frames and towels to her raincoat on display in the front hall. There’s a well stocked drinks table in the drawing room. “The Queen Mother’s best loved tipple was one measure of Gordon’s Gin and three measures of Dubonnet served with lemon and ice,” explains her close friend Major John Perkins. He’s still a regular guest at the castle. “She always had ice in drinks and used her fingers, claiming ice prongs were an American invention!”
“The Queen Mother frightfully loved picnics,” he continues, “but when she formally dined in the castle, the seats on either side of her were called the ‘hot seats’ for special guests. At the start of the meal, everyone spoke to the person on their right and then swapped to the person on their left. That way no one was left out of conversations. She rang a bell for the next course to be brought out. Her three corgis would bark at the same time. After dinner, the gents would remain in the dining room drinking port, while the ladies would withdraw to the drawing room. If the gents lingered too long, The Queen Mother would start a rousing rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’! That meant get packing!”
The Major adds, “The Queen Mother had a terrific sense of humour. She was highly highly intelligent. She met all the world leaders of her time except for Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.” On décor, “The Queen Mother didn’t like suspended lights. She liked soft lamps which cast more flattering light and shadows. The castle is exactly as she had it as her home. We haven’t added posh stuff!”
A summary of the eastern street frontage of Rue de Laeken, which runs between Rue du Pont Neuf to the north and Rue du Cirque to the south follows. The Foundation for Architecture in Brussels organised a Europe wide competition in 1989 for the reconstruction of this part of Rue de Laeken which had been demolished in the 1960s. Over 200 entries were received. The overriding criteria used by the international jury were that the projects should recreate a street suitable for the heart of Brussels and for the people who would live there. The winning team, then all aged under 40, came from Belgium, England, France, Italy and Spain.
The competition was a quest to combine architecture and urbanism: how to reconstruct a section of a street that would respect the scale and structure of the traditional city and the aesthetics of a historic street dominated by neoclassical language while meeting the economic, functional and technical requirements of contemporary shops, workshops, offices and houses. The buildings work symbiotically together; concessions to modern requirements such as lifts and underground car parking are hidden from view. Prince Charles approves: “The completion of this project to reconstruct the Rue de Laeken is a sign of hope that we may at last be entering a new and more humane age of European urbanism.” So from left to right, north to south, in a particular order, there are lots to see:
Lot 1 by Gabriele Tagliaventi + Associates. A three bay by three bay corner pedimented tower rising five storeys with arch headed ground floor windows. Attached is a two bay four storey with dormer building; blind windows on either side of the doorway.
Lot 2 by Atelier 55 + Marc Heene + Michel Leloup. Four bay three storey building with dormers; a shopfront takes up half the ground floor façade. Attached is a narrow four storey with dormer building; first floor rectangular oriel almost spans its full width.
Today it’s 33 degrees and being an exclusive midweek match (a recent intervention), family and friends only. And us. Not only is this event important to the sporting community, it’s one of the hottest social tickets in Buenos Aires. Later, the fashionable restaurants of Palermo will be thronged. The Telegraph calls the Argentine Open “polo’s pinnacle”. Ezekiel P, himself a polo player and proud Porteño, is our English speaking guide. So who’s playing? La Dolfina against La Albertina. Get ready for the thunderous thud of hooves.
“This polo tournament is the most competitive in the world. Not in Argentina, the world! There are 10 teams in the tournament. Competitive polo playing follows spring season round the world. That way you can practise the whole year. It’s all very sociable!”
“The perfect team handicap is 40. An individual player’s handicap ranges from zero to 10 with 10 being the best. There are players at the highest level in Argentina, England and the US but nowhere else. Polo is the hobby of ‘patróns’ who fund the sport. The money is in breeding, training and selling the horses. All you receive when you win a match is a handshake – from the Queen if you’re lucky!”
“This match is at a really really high level. So you’ve got four versus four players and one sub on either team. There are two yellow jacketed referees on horses. There will be around 160 horses between the two teams. That’s 20 horses per player. The horses are all pure Argentinian pedigree. The field has to be perfect. After each goal teams switch sides of the field.”
“There are five to eight ‘periods’ per match. A period lasts six and a half minutes of real playing time. It’s a very dangerous sport! The horses are travelling at 60 to 70 kilometres per hour. Polo is very physical, like ice hockey. The Royals play for charity – they’re not professionals. When passing the ball to Prince Charles you have to say ‘Please sir’. The match will start soon. We do everything late! Everything in Buenos Aires starts late!”
“A polo field is the size of six football pitches. An underlay of sand keeps the grass bouncy. There’s only one match per day on the field. The match continues when players have to change horses, unless they’re hurt. Look how they pass the ball so perfectly. The speed is always amazing!”
“10 minutes.” Frisson of anticipation. High flying MD Sara Nilsson DeHanas rocks up off the red eye Eurostar, suitcase in tow. Johannesburg this evening but in the meantime there’s a rendez vous with a Crown Prince to be had. Salut! Some meetings are unmissable. Reverend Andy Rider reminds us we’re in a place built to worship the King of Kings. “And a future king is on his way.” Phew, no pressure then. A chauffeur drops off the Lord Lieutenant of London. Police are everywhere. The eight bells are chiming. A choir gathers on the steps of the church. This is big.
“Five minutes.” Excitement mounts. Stewart Grimshaw of The Monument Trust, benefactor of Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt, is at hand, impressed by the finished restoration and conversion to additional church space, community use and café. “It’s wonderful The Wallace Collection is free for visitors,” he says of another Monument Trust funded project. Artist Emily Wolfe arrives. She painted a window scene, cleverly elongating the staircase landing of the Crypt with an imaginary vista. “It was a great commission.” Another artist arrives. Nikki Cass admires her own stained glass in the chapel. “I’m so pleased how well the light falls on it.” Totes agree.
“Two minutes. The Prince wants a tea. Earl Grey with honey.” Flurry of activity. Cups and saucers all round and quickly. Then in walks someone familiar. Do we know him? Is he family? Yes, Royal Family. Here’s a man, sorry, prince, comfortable in his own skin. He makes a beeline for us, recognising the fleur de Lys tie. “Very tactful,” he smiles. Gazing round: “The oak is simply sublime. Wonderful. What’s that?” pointing to a tiny hatch door in the apse wall. “Is that for Harry Potter to walk through?” He’s great company, witty, warm and relaxing. Little wonder Prince Harry is good fun. Like father…
Architect Biba Dow is given a two minute slot to explain a decade’s worth of work. Time is precious. Even past retirement age, the Prince is clearly in high demand. Andy makes a speech. We hear the bit about the Crypt not being possible without architects and planners being in the congregation. And his thanks to The Monument Trust. And thanks to Prince Charles. The Bishop of London prays majestically. Everything is dreamlike. Minutes last for hours.
Time for His Royal Highness to unveil the plaque we’ve had a hand in designing. “This Crypt will allow many more activities to be performed at Christ Church, serving the community… It’s been at least 10 years since I’ve been to Christ Church. The Crypt looks like the best place to eat in London!” Plaque revealed. Applause. The private secretary beckons. His press officer calls. The black Jaguar pulls up at the bottom of the steps of the church. Prince Charles declines, instead strolling down Commercial Street with his bodyguard. Clarence House can wait.
It’s not every day we get to shoot a future monarch. So it was a great honour to meet – and photograph – His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Lots of laughter, and Earl Grey with honey. The outcome? A portrait of a smiling modern prince.