Buckingham Palace Part Two: Diamonds – A Jubilee Celebration

Following on from Buckingham Palace Part One: The State Rooms, this blog post focuses on the mini-exhibition of diamond’s owned by The Queen and pieces from the Royal Collection, held in trust by the monarch for the Nation.

The exhibition that showcases seventeen pieces of diamond encrusted jewels has been held in the Ball Supper Room at Buckingham Palace during the annual summer opening, as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Rather than writing about all seventeen exhibits, I will instead focus on a few of the more famous or interesting jewels.

Queen Victoria’s Small Diamond Crown

Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown

Queen Victoria’s Small Diamond Crown

The first item on the diamond tour is Queen Victoria’s Small Diamond Crown, created in 1870 to fulfil Victoria’s need for a formal headpiece with colourless diamonds that could be worn with her mourning attire. Following the death of her husband Prince Albert, Queen Victoria spent many years in seclusion and even longer in mourning, wearing black often accompanied with black or white lace. Under the pressure of Parliament, Victoria returned to public life in 1870, nine years after Albert’s death and choosing not to wear the Imperial State Crown at the State Opening of Parliament, the Small Diamond Crown was created as a replacement.

Designed to be reminiscent of a traditional English crown, the Small Diamond Crown includes a detachable circlet and four arches topped with a monde (a ball-like object) and a cross, all encrusted with clear diamonds of various shapes and sizes.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, the crown was placed on the Queen’s coffin before her body was moved to London from Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, for the state funeral. The crown then passed down to Queen Alexandra; wife of King Edward VII and then Queen Mary; wife of King George V. The crown was later placed in the Tower of London in 1937 by George VI where it lives to this day, the diamond’s exhibit at the palace being an exception.

The Coronation Necklace & Earrings 

Coronation Necklace and Earrings

Coronation Necklace and Earrings

Another of Queen Victoria’s jewel’s, the Coronation Necklace was created in 1858 but gets it’s name after having been worn for the coronation of subsequent queens; Alexandra, Mary, Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Elizabeth II. It was created to replace pieces of jewellery that were returned to the King of Hanover who had won ownership of many of Queen Charlotte’s jewels.

The necklace was altered twice since its creation, firstly for Queen Mary, who had two stones removed to make a pair of earrings. Queen Elizabeth II next had the necklace altered, shortened it before her coronation in 1953.

Also made for Queen Victoria in 1858, the Coronation Earrings, like the Coronation Necklace, has been worn by queen’s Mary, Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Elizabeth II at their respective coronations. Both the necklace and the earrings consist of cushion-cut diamonds accompanied with drop-set pendants.

Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara

Girls of Britain and Ireland Tiara

Girls of Britain and Ireland Tiara

The Girls of Britain and Ireland Tiara was gifted to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck on her marriage to the Duke of Kent in 1893 who, following the death of Edward VIII, became King George V and Queen Mary. Mary is a particularly interesting royal as she was a member of the Royal Family during the reigns of Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II, before dying ten weeks before her granddaughter Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, at the age of 85.

Mary gifted the tiara to the then Princess Elizabeth in 1947 for her wedding to Prince Phillip, and it is one of the most recognised of The Queen’s tiaras due to it’s depiction on British currency.

The tiara was originally topped with 14 pearls that were replaced with diamonds in 1914 by Queen Mary. The tiara could also be modified for certain occasions; it could be dismantled and worn as a necklace or it could be worn as a coronet if attached to a smaller frame.

 The Cullinan Diamond

Cullinan Replica's

Cullinan Diamond Replica’s

The Cullinan diamond was the largest rough diamond ever found, discovered in Pretoria, South Africa in January 1905. The diamond was sent to England as a gift for King Edward VII, after which it was sent to Amsterdam for cutting by expert diamond cutters. Rather than remaining one large diamond, which would have been a mammoth task for even the best diamond cutter/cleaver, the diamond was instead split into nine pieces of different sizes, along with 96 small diamonds and nine carats of fragments.

The nine key stones were returned to London over the years, beginning with the two largest; the Cullinan I and II which were presented to Edward VII in 1909.

Cullinan I

The Cullinan I and II were initially worn as a brooch by Queen Alexandra, though after George V ascended to the English Throne, the Cullinan I diamond was set into the head of the Sovereign’s Sceptre. The Sceptre, which is part of the Crown Jewel’s and therefore housed in the Tower of London, plays a key role at the coronation of a king of queen.

Cullinan I - Sovereign's Sceptre

Cullinan I – Sovereign’s Sceptre

Whilst the Cullinan I diamond resides within the sceptre, during the reign of George V it was occasionally worn as a brooch by Queen Mary much like Queen Alexandra, due to the stone’s detachability.

The Cullinan I diamond is also known by some as the First/Great Stone of Africa with the Cullinan II named the Second/Lesser Stone of Africa.

Cullinan II

Much like the Cullinan I diamond, the Cullinan II was also set into one of the Crown Jewels; the Imperial State Crown, which is worn by the sovereign at his or her coronation and for the State Opening of Parliament each year.

Cullinan II - The Imperial State Crown

Cullinan II – The Imperial State Crown

Over the centuries, there have been many different versions of the Imperial State Crown, the current version was created in 1937 for George VI as a replica of the Queen Victoria’s albeit manufactured to be more lightweight than it’s predecessor. The crown was remodelled for Elizabeth II to give it a more feminine look and reduced in height to fit the stature of The Queen. Though there have been a number of different versions of the crown, many of the jewels have been reused, including a sapphire belonging to Edward The Confessor – the predecessor to King Harold II who was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Black Prince’s ruby which dates back to the fourteenth century and a number of pearls belonging to Queen Elizabeth I. It is really quite awe-inspiring how much history can be found in just one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

Cullinan III and IV

Whilst the Cullinan I and II were returned to King Edward VII, the remaining stones and chippings were given to the Asscher’s firm as payment for the cutting and polishing of the Cullinan diamond. The Cullinan VI diamond was purchased by Edward VII for his queen Alexandra and the remaining were purchased by South African government of General Botha. The diamonds were presented to Queen Mary in June 1910 following the death of Edward VII and the ascension of George V.

The Cullinan III and IV, since 1910, have always been paired together. For Queen Mary’s coronation, the Cullinan III and IV were set into her coronation crown though they have been most commonly worn as a brooch or pendant attached to the coronation necklace.

Cullinan III and IV Brooch

Cullinan III and IV Brooch

The Cullinan III and VI Brooch was bequeathed to Elizabeth II in 1953 following the death of her grandmother Queen Mary.

Cullinan V

Also made for Queen Mary in 1911, the Cullinan V diamond was set into a heart shaped brooch. At the time, this was the centrepiece of a larger diamond and emerald stomacher, though The Queen has only ever worn it was a brooch since inheriting the jewel on the death of Queen Mary.

Cullinan V Brooch

Cullinan V Brooch

Cullinan VI and VIII

The Cullinan VI was bought by Edward VII for Queen Alexandra and set into a circlet (a crown without arches or cap).

The Cullinan VIII was set in a mount similar to the Cullinan V for Queen Mary in 1911. After Queen Alexandra’s death in 1925, it was bequeathed to Queen Mary and was added as a pendant to the Cullinan VIII brooch. Also like the Cullinan V, the Cullinan VI and VIII could be attached to the stomacher worn by Queen Mary.

Cullinan VI and VIII Brooch

Cullinan VI and VIII Brooch

Cullinan VII

The Cullinan VII is set into a gold and platinum necklace of diamonds and emeralds. It was created for Queen Mary as part of a parure (a set of matching jewellery) for her 44th Birthday. The parure included a tiara (The Delhi Durbar Tiara), a stomacher consisting of the Cullinan V and VIII brooches surrounded with emeralds, an emerald brooch, earrings and the Delhi Durbar Necklace incorporating the Cullinan VII.

The Delhi Durbar was a celebration held at Coronation Park in Delhi to mark the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, and to crown them Emperor and Empress Consort of India.

Cullinan VII - Delhi Durbar Necklace

Cullinan VII – Delhi Durbar Necklace

Cullinan IX

The Cullinan IX is the last and smallest of the key Cullinan diamonds and was set into a platinum ring in 1911 for Queen Mary. Along with the Cullinan III-VIII diamonds, the Cullinan IX was bequeathed to Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 on the death of Queen Mary.

Cullinan IX Ring

Cullinan IX Ring

The Williamson Diamond Brooch

Because Kate took a liking to the Williamson Diamond Brooch, I have included it in my list of the more interesting exhibits. Shaped like a flower, the Williamson Diamond Brooch consists of leaves, petals and stem made of clear diamonds, with a round pink diamond in the centre of the flower.

Williamson Diamond Brooch

Williamson Diamond Brooch

The pink diamond was discovered in 1947 in a Tanzanian mine owned by Canadian geologist Dr John Thorburn Williamson. Williamson, a royalist, decided to give the pink diamond to Princess Elizabeth on her wedding to Prince Phillip. In 1953, the brooch was designed by an employee of Cartier set with diamonds that make up the petals, leaves and stem, also given to The Queen by Williamson.

The gift shop at Buckingham Palace sells a brooch inspired by the Williamson Diamond Brooch made from crystals and white gold plated metal costing £75, as well as the Pink Flower Brooch the gift shop sells a number of “replica” jewels.

The Diamond Diadem

Buckingham Palace Part One – The State Rooms, mentioned the extravagance of King George IV during his reign as King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and his time as Prince Regent and Prince of Wales. For his coronation, George IV commissioned a crown to be worn over the Cap of State during his procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey; the Diamond Diadem

The diadem features a circlet decorated with two rows of pearls either side of a row of clear diamonds, it also features four cross paty’s along with four emblems of England, Scotland and Ireland; a rose, thistle and two shamrocks.

The Diamond Diadem

The Diamond Diadem

Since George IV’s coronation in 1821 the diadem has been worn by British Queens beginning with Queen Adelaide; the wife of William IV. It then passed from Queen Victoria to Alexandra, Mary, Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Elizabeth II, who wore the Diamond Diadem on her journey to Westminster Abbey on the day of her coronation and since then, it has been worn every year on the journey to and from the State Opening of Parliament.

Being one of the most high profile of the pieces on show, the Diamond Diadem was the last jewel on the diamond tour, after which the tour of the State Rooms continued into the Ballroom. After seeing the Diamond’s: A Jubilee Celebration exhibit, I would just love to see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, perhaps that will be my reason to next visit London.

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Buckingham Palace Part One: The State Rooms

The Buckingham Palace state rooms are open from July until the beginning of October every year, and each year a special exhibit is held within one of the rooms on the tour; last year the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress was on display, this year it was a selection of The Queen’s private jewellery collection. After subscribing to the The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor, a blog that on occasion discusses pieces of The Queen’s jewellery collection, the chance to see some of them in person was an interesting prospect. As the closure of the open season is fast approaching, Kate and I decided to take a trip to London for the day and wander around the most famous building in Britain.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Deciding to drive down to Maidenhead and catching a train into London Paddington, then using the London Underground (my first time) to get to London Victoria, we arrived in London in good time and promptly headed towards the palace.

A Little History

Buckingham Palace is named after an earlier house built on the site of the current palace; Buckingham House, which was built by the Duke of Buckingham in the early eighteenth century, and later purchased by King George III in 1761 as a private retreat for his queen Charlotte. During the course of George III’s long reign, the monarch and his queen spent increasing amounts of time at Buckingham House, by that time known as The Queen’s House, leading it to becoming their official London residence whilst St James’s Palace remained the official seat of the court.

When King George IV (previously The Prince of Wales, The Prince Regent) succeeded to the throne following the death of his father King George III in 1820, the new king was required to choose where the seat of the British Monarchy ought to reside, following the decline of St James’s Palace and the importance of Buckingham House during his father’s reign. George IV decided on Buckingham House, but embarked on an ambitious project to expand and modernise the house in order to provide Britain with a palace worthy of the nation’s growing importance on world stage. Architect John Nash was chosen to design and build the new palace having worked for George IV previously when building the Brighton Pavilion, the central block was extended and two wings were added which were later rebuilt with two storeys after the initial single storey wings received significant criticism. George IV died in 1820 by which time the palace was far from complete, when his brother the Duke of Clarence became King William IV, he had little interest in relocating from the newly renovated Clarence House within St James’s Palace. Due to Nash’s overspending throughout the project, he was fired by the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington and replaced with architect Edward Blore. Under Blore, the State Rooms were completed along with offices and an extension of the east facade (the wings looking over The Mall). Pictures and furnishings were provided from Carlton House, the former private London residence of George IV which was due to be demolished, existing furnishings from the Queen’s House and excess furnishings from Windsor Castle.

By the time of Queen Victoria’s ascension in 1837, Buckingham Palace was for the most part complete and so from very early on in her reign, the new queen resided within the palace. After Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the birth of several of their nine children, there was a need for the further expansion of Buckingham Palace and for the improvement of offices and servant’s rooms. Blore was subsequently consulted for the building of a new wing to create the east facade which forms the ‘front’ of the palace. As well as the new front elevation, several of the State Rooms were redecorated including the Grand Staircase, and also a new ballroom was constructed in the State Room wing.

Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the new king Edward VII redecorated much of the palace after many years of limited use due to Queen Victoria’s preference for Osborne House, Windsor and Balmoral after the death of Prince Albert. During Edward VII’s redecoration, many of the rooms were decorated with a white and gold theme which remains to this day in the Grand Entrance and Grand Staircase, a similar white and gold theme also exists in the Ballroom. During Edward VII’s reign, the Victoria Memorial was erected in front of the palace and the soft Caen stone used to construct the east front facing wing which had been decaying, led to the refacing of the front facade during the summer of 1913.

Up until the Second World War, little change occurred at the palace until German bombers targeted the royal seat and destroyed Queen Victoria’s private chapel in the south-west conservatory. Years after the war, when resources could be spared to rebuild the chapel, it was decided by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip that the space should be used for public exhibitions, leading to the construction of The Queen’s Gallery, exhibiting pieces of the Royal Collection. This gallery was later extended for The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.

During the 60 year (and counting) reign of Elizabeth II, the palace has undergone a period of modernisation, for example the fireplaces were converted to electricity in the 1950s. Several of rooms have also been redecorated, including the Picture Gallery, Silk Tapestry Room and the State Dining Room, which now has crimson damask wall coverings. Since 1993 The Queen has opened the State Rooms to the public for the summer months, whilst the Royal Family reside in Balmoral. This was initially done to raise necessary funds for the rebuilding and repair of Windsor Castle following the fire that broke out in late 1992. Whilst the works on Windsor Castle were completed in 1997, Buckingham Palace as well as other royal palaces have remained open during parts of year, the proceeds of which contribute to the maintenance of the Royal Collection, including buildings, works of art and objects of historical importance held in trust by the Sovereign for the nation.

The Tour

When you first arrive, you enter an area of white marquee’s to collect your pre-booked ticket, after which you wait in a long queue outside one of the side entrances, before going through airport style security and into the palace. Whilst queuing Kate and I were considerably vexed by the group in front of us who had tickets for 13:30 rather than 13:15, refusing to return once our party had entered despite being told to do so, then being allowed in with their later tickets for reasons I cannot in good conscience reveal on here. The group later caused more offence with their smug attitude and their nerve, in touching the piano on the Green Drawing Room.

After passing through security into the palace you walk down a corridor where the [free] audio tour discusses the architectural history of parts of the palace, and the uses of the four sections, after which you enter into the State Rooms, next to the Grand Entrance used by The Queen when returning from the Westminster Abbey for the Royal Wedding in April 2011, where she remarked the wedding was “amazing”.

The Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase

On entering the State Room wing of Buckingham Palace you are guided though the Grand Hall and to Grand Staircase. The Grand Staircase is an impressive room of white and gold walls and balustrade, the stairs lined with red carpet. I must say, walking into the palace beside the Grand Entrance and into rooms lined with red carpet walked on by The Queen and members of the Royal Family, brings on a feeling of excitement and quickens the pulse, there is so much history from the very first step into the building.

The upper walls of the Grand Staircase are lined with members of Queen Victoria’s immediate family, including King George III and Queen Charlotte (Victoria’s grandparents), King William IV and Queen Adelaide (Victoria’s uncle and aunt) and her parents the Duke and Duchess of Kent. These were fitted by Queen Victoria and have remained there ever since. The palace guide book includes a photo of the Grand Staircase next to a watercolour painting from 1848, depicting the staircase with Prince Albert’s polychrome scheme with the paintings of Victoria’s family hung on the walls.

Walking up the staircase and through the Guard Chamber, you will arrive in the Green Drawing Room.

The Green Drawing Room

Green Drawing Room

Green Drawing Room

The Green Room is the first of the major State Rooms on the tour. The walls are lined with green and gold silk, accompanied with white and gold plasterwork. Throughout the entire State Rooms tour, I was constantly commenting on how impressive each of the chandeliers were. On the cabinet to the left of the doorway is a vase in the shape of a boat was once owned by Madame de Pompadour, and later purchased by George IV in 1817.

Walking straight through the Green Drawing Room, you will enter perhaps the most anticipated room of any palace; the Throne Room.

The Throne Room

Throne Room

Throne Room

The Throne Room, like any throne room is a particularly opulent room, decorated in crimson silk wall coverings after many years of a light stone coloured paint. Two things catch your eye in the Throne Room; the four smaller chandeliers surrounding the larger central chandelier and of course, the two thrones embroidered with the initials of Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip atop a raised platform framed with a red, gold trimmed canopy.

The upper parts of the walls and the ceiling are lined with heraldic shields representing England, Scotland, Ireland and Hanover. Much of the ceiling and parts of the walls feature white and gold plasterwork in keeping with the Grand Hall, Staircase and Ballroom.

Exiting through a door to the left of the thrones, you will enter the Picture Gallery.

The Picture Gallery

Picture Gallery

Picture Gallery

The Picture Gallery is one of the State Rooms that have been redecorated during Elizabeth II’s reign, now with orange coloured damask wall hangings. The gallery is home to paintings by Holbein (a Tudor artist, known for painting one of the most famous portraits of King Henry VIII), Rembrandt, Canaletto and countless other famous artists. I am not especially an art aficionado and often find the history rather than technique or type interesting, but I quite liked recognising the number of paintings of Venice by Canaletto, an artist I first encountered visiting Tatton Park earlier this year.

The Picture Gallery connects to the earlier State Rooms to those added for Queen Victoria in 1856, walking through the Silk Tapestry Room – a small ante room of sorts – you enter the East Gallery, which is another long corridor housing paintings of previous monarchs including Charles I painted by Anthony Van Dyke and paintings of Queen Victoria by George Hayter and Franz Winterhalter.

Walking through the East Gallery you are led first into the Ball Supper Room, which this year housed the exhibition showcasing pieces of The Queen’s diamond collection. After viewing the diamond exhibition, you will re-enter East Gallery and then be led into the Ballroom.

The Ballroom

Ballroom

Ballroom

To call the Ballroom big would be an immense understatement; the room is huge. Decorated in white and gold, a style chosen by Edward VII in 1906, the Ballroom at one end has a large organ moved from George IV’s Brighton Pavillion in 1848 after Queen Victoria sold the building. At the other end of the Ballroom, there is a throne and red and gold velvet canopy added for Edward VII, to enable him to preside over evening courts. The Ballroom is lit by a series of six chandeliers that were installed in 1907 replacing earlier gas lit pendant lights.

For this years summer opening, seating was available in the Ballroom for a brief rest in the one and half hour tour. When The Queen is in residence the Ballroom is used for State Dinners, such as the dinner held in honour of American President Barrack Obama’s official visit in May 2011. It is also used for investitures where people receiving honours are awarded by The Queen, of which there are up to 25 every year.

After exiting the Ballroom using the door nearest the throne, you enter the West Gallery and then head into the State Dining Room.

The State Dining Room

State Dining Room

State Dining Room

The State Dining Room, like the Throne Room is decorated with crimson damask accompanied with a large red rug. The coving and ceiling is decorated with white and gold plasterwork, including disks bearing the initials King William IV and Queen Victoria, both of whom had an input into the design of the room, which was one of the last of the State Rooms to be completed.

Hung on the Dining Room wall are a series of paintings depicting the Hanoverian monarchs; King George IV in the middle above the fireplace with King’s George I, II and III to his left and their consorts to his right.

At this point in the tour the audio guide brought attention to the gold leaf objects on the dining table, stating that pieces such as these would normally be on show in a museum behind protective glass, but that at Buckingham Palace they still have a job to do.

Walking through the Dining Room, you will enter the Blue Drawing Room.

The Blue Drawing Room

Blue Drawing Room

Blue Drawing Room

The Blue Drawing Room would have been the Ballroom in John Nash’s original State Room wing, before the construction of the new Ballroom, Dining Room and Ball Supper Room during the reign of Queen Victoria. Originally decorated in crimson silk, the room was redecorated with the current blue flock wallpaper for Queen Mary and King George V, who’s portraits hang on the wall at either side of the fireplace.

The first thing you are directed to when entering the room is a circular table decorated with portraits of Alexander the Great and other ancient commanders. The table was commissioned by Napoleon after he conquered Europe, but remained incomplete until after his defeat in 1815. In 1817, the table was gifted to King George IV by Louis XVIII, King of France, in thanks for the defeat of Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars.

Walking through the Blue Drawing Room, after admiring the gardens through an open door (weather permitting), hearing about the palace during the Second World War, you enter the Music Room.

The Music Room

Music Room

Music Room

The Music Room is a large domed room at the heart of the West Front overlooking the garden. Decorated with white and gold frieze, two large and glorious chandeliers along with sixteen columns that imitate lapis lazuli (a blue semi-precious stone), the Music Room is used for private recitals and also royal christenings including The Queen’s eldest three children; Charles, Anne and Andrew, and her grandson, Prince William.

Walking through the Music Room, you enter into the last of the principle State Rooms; the White Drawing Room.

The White Drawing Room

White Drawing Room

White Drawing Room

The White Drawing Room is perhaps one of the most interesting of the State Rooms, decorated throughout with a mixture of white and gold. Like the Throne Room, the White Drawing Room is home to four smaller chandeliers surrounding a larger more grand chandelier, and grand it is too, I’m only glad I am not the person who has to clean it!

Along the far wall, two mirrors and cabinets double up as secret doors allowing members of the Royal Family to enter the room from private rooms behind. Between the two concealed doors, over one of several fireplaces, a portrait of Queen Alexandra; the wife of King Edward VII that painted in 1908 is hung. Located in the corner of the room, is an ornate roll-top desk that Kate could picture me having… if only.

After wandering around the White Drawing Room, you are directed down the Minister’s staircase and into the Marble Hall. The Marble Hall, located beneath the Picture Gallery, is home to several statues and a number of paintings and opens up onto the Grand Hall. From the Marble Hall you enter the Bow Room, the last room on the Buckingham Palace State Room Tour, which is used for a great many different things including a waiting room for visiting dignitaries before being received by The Queen, a dining room and a hallway for garden party guests to enter the gardens. Like the garden party guests, you walk though the Bow Room, exit the palace and enter the gardens.

During the summer openings several marquee’s are erected in the gardens, including a cafe that as you can imagine gets very busy, and a gift shop selling a range of merchandise relating to Buckingham Palace and the Monarchy, such as confectionary, apparel, books and replica jewellery. After leaving the gift shop, you walk down the garden path (but not the grass) and exit the grounds. Before exiting, you will be offered the chance to have your ticket stamped (providing the ticket was purchased directly from The Royal Collection) allowing you to revisit the palace during the summer opening for free, within the next twelve months.

I highly recommend that anyone interested in history, architecture, or the British Monarchy make a visit to Buckingham Palace. The whole experience is remarkably exciting and for me, created a ‘buzz’ feeling that remained well into the following day.

My next blog post will be a continuation of my Buckingham Palace visit, focusing on the “Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration” exhibit that is open along with the State Rooms until the 7th October 2012.

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Mr M and the [Harry Potter] Studio Tour

*Disclaimer* This blog post contains spoilers about the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, click here to view the blog archive without having to scroll down this page.

On Tuesday (4th September) I went to The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden near London. Deciding I ought to make more of an effort with my father, his Nottingham family and my brother and so I accompanied them, naturally it helped the ticket was bought for me, I just had to get there.

Choosing to travel by train to save on petrol and mileage allowance, I set off from Telford Central at 11am. With a rail card a ticket from Telford to Watford Junction cost around £15 outbound and £10 inbound, compared to the cost of petrol at the moment (£1.35 per litre for unleaded at Telford ASDA) the rail tickets were a complete bargain. After arriving at Watford Junction (fifteen minutes from London Euston), it was a quick shuttle bus ride (costing £2 for a return) to the Leavesden Studios.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter Entrance

Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter Entrance

The Studio Tour is made up of three parts; Studio J with sets, props and costumes, the Backlot with a few outdoor sets and exhibits and Studio K, with creatures, Diagon Alley, art designs and the Hogwarts castle model.

When you first arrive at the entrance, to the left is a cafe, to the right is the gift shop and straight ahead is the entrance to the tour. Queueing to enter the tour you will walk past a reproduction of Harry’s childhood bedroom, also known as the cupboard under the stairs.

The cupboard under the stairs

The cupboard under the stairs

Entering a room with two sets of four screens on either side of the room, showing posters of the eight films and their names in different languages, a guide will then greet visitors and introduce a short video showing how the films came about, how the popularity of the books became apparent to the producers and the importance of creating an epic series of films worthy of the franchise. After the video has finished, visitors are led into a cinema to watch a video of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint introducing the tour and discussing their ten-year history with the studio. After they have finished, the three walk through the door to the Great Hall and the wall rises revealing the Great Hall doorway through which you enter into the tour (highlight to reveal the text).

Studio J

The studio tour naturally begins in the Great Hall, walking around the room you will see the Hogwarts school uniforms for each of the four houses, costumes worn by the castle ghosts and of course, the Hogwarts faculty.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

Throughout the tour I was in awe of the effort and attention to detail put into every aspect of the sets, the Great Hall is no exception; at each end of the room murals are painted on the walls, faded to look as though they had been there one thousand years. Similarly inside the fireplace there is a painted Hogwarts emblem, also faded.

Costumes worn by Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Alan Rickman

Costumes worn by Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Alan Rickman

After walking through the Great Hall, you walk into the main Studio J exhibition with a great number of sets on show:-

The Yule Ball

Yule Ball Ice Sculpture

Yule Ball Ice Sculpture

One of the first things you see after the Great Hall are props from the yule ball from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Along with a lit up mock ice sculpture of a sort of Arabian palace or Russian Cathedral are costumes worn by Harry, Hermione, Ron, Victor and Cho and a table desserts.

The Dessert Table

The Dessert Table

Some of the desserts made during filming were actually real cakes and chocolates which could be eaten by the cast and crew after filming of the yule ball scenes were complete.

The Gryffindor Common Room

The Gryffindor Common Room

The Gryffindor Common Room

The Gryffindor Common Room is one of the key sets which make up Studio J. Along with furnishings from the film, the room houses clothes worn by the three main characters during the first, third and seventh films. The paintings on the wall, like all the paintings that appear in the films were hand painted, the common room paintings depict some of the former heads of the Gryffindor House and includes a painting of a younger Professor McGonagall.

ThDormitories

The Gryffindor Boy's Dormitories

The Gryffindor Boy’s Dormitories

The Dormitories you actually see before the common room, but I thought the common room was more important. The beds are quite small and the summary of the room includes a paragraph about how the cast members would have to curl up to fit in the beds during the later films. The bed curtains, rather than being custom-made as you would think, were purchased from a store local to one of the set designers.

The Clock

The Hogwart's Clock Pendulum

The Hogwart’s Clock Pendulum

Beside the common room is the Hogwarts pendulum and clock as featured in the Prisoner of Azkaban and onwards.

Dumbledore’s Office

Statue Staircase

Statue Staircase

The entrance to Dumbledore’s office is the next thing you will see, two statues of were actually made, a stationary one (on show in the WB Studio Tour) and a mechanical version for the spiral staircase movement.

Dumbledore's Office

Dumbledore’s Office

Dumbledore’s office itself houses nearly fifty original pieces of art made for the films, as well as many books on the bookcases, which were actually made from leather-bound phone books. At the top of the office on the gallery is Dumbledore’s telescope which is never fully shown throughout the film series, but was one of the most expensive individual items created for the films.

Potions Classroom

Across the studio, next to a Leaky Cauldron corridor is the Potions Classroom, with Professor’s Snape and Slughorn’s costumes.

Slughorn's Costume & the Potion's Classroom

Slughorn’s Costume & the Potion’s Classroom

Snape's Costume & the Potions Classroom

Snape’s Costume & the Potions Classroom

The jars in the classroom contain items such as baked animal bones, dried herbs and leaves, each jar was individually hand labelled.

Hagrid’s Hut

Hagrid's Hut

Hagrid’s Hut

Two versions of Hagrid’s Hut were made for the films; one to make Robbie Coltrane look bigger and one to make everyone else look smaller. The set was extended in the Prisoner of Azkaban to include a second room.

The Burrow

Weasley Costumes & The Burrow

Weasley Costumes & The Burrow

Designed to look like Mr Weasley had built The Burrow himself, no wall is at a right angle, the set is the epitome of shabby chic, with all sorts of odds and ends, complete with “magical” objects such as a self washing frying pan and magic knitting needles. The Burrow set is accompanied by clothes worn by the Weasley family including Julie Walters and Mark Williams.

The Ministry of Magic

The last section of Studio J houses the Ministry of Magic, the centrepiece of which is the “Magic is Might” statue erected after Voldemort’s forces gained control of the ministry in the Deathly Hallows. The statue, depicting muggles being squashed was crafted and painted by hand.

Ministry of Magic Monument

Ministry of Magic Monument

Behind the statue, the black and green tiled fireplaces which feature in the films as the entrance to the Ministry of Magic, stand nine metres tall.

Ministry of Magic Fireplaces

Ministry of Magic Fireplaces

To the left of the fireplaces are the Ministry Towers containing the ministry offices. These also enormous towers are based on a Victorian building in London.

Ministry of Magic Towers

Ministry of Magic Towers

Quite possibly the strangest room within the ministry (and I take the Prophesy Room and the Ministry Courtrooms into consideration), Dolores Umbridge’s office is on display within the ministry section of the tour.

Umbridge's Office

Umbridge’s Office

Decorated completely in pink with ornate furnishing and kitten plates on the wall, Umbridge’s office is a very garish set. The furniture was purchased from a north London furniture shop, whilst the plates, in the tour have their kitten images displayed, during filming each plate had a blue screen centre with kitten animations added during post-production.

Whilst the colour is not at all to my taste, nor are the plates, I do quite like her desk and chairs, though I would have to get rid of the pink upholstery. The columns also I quite like with their gold gilding.

After exploring all of Studio J, you exit through doors next to the ministry fireplaces and enter the Backlot.

Backlot

The Backlot as well-being home to several of the outdoor exhibits, is the only place during the tour that food and drink are allowed. Next to the refreshment area selling Starbucks tea & coffee, visitors are able to purchase cups of Butterbeer, the drink that features in the Harry Potter books and films.

Butterbeer

Butterbeer

The drink is not to the taste of a fair few of the visitors, I was forewarned by my father not to buy one each as a number of forums had advised against doing so, a warning I saw echoed in four almost-full cups left atop of a table. It is quite sweet but not as bad as I expected, I would definitely have some more, though I dread to think how much sugar it must contain.

Privet Drive

The Dursley's House

The Dursley’s House

Perhaps the most popular exhibit of the Backlot are the two Privet Drive houses, including number 4; the home of the Dursley family and Harry’s summertime prison. Many people were photographed knocking on the door, it was impossible to take a photo without at least one person in the shot. The house was built for The Chamber of Secrets and used for the subsequent films that the house features in, for The Philosopher’s Stone, exterior filming for Privet Drive was done in Bracknell, Berkshire.

The Knight Bus

The Knight Bus

The Knight Bus

In front of the Privet Drive set is the Knight Bus, the triple-decker bus that carried Harry to the Leaky Cauldron after inflating the sister of Harry’s Uncle Vernon during an argument. Visitors are able to have their photos taken in the entrance to the bus, but are not able to go inside. The inside of the bus, like the films, includes beds used by passengers to sleep during their overnight journeys.

At either side of the bus are two more of the vehicles visitors are able to play with at their own leisure; the Weasley’s blue Ford Anglia and Hagrid’s Motorcycle & sidecar.

The Hogwarts Bridge

Hogwart's Bridge

Hogwart’s Bridge

The centrepiece of the Backlot area is the Hogwarts Bridge, recently opened to the public. Only a small section of the long bridge seen in the Prisoner of Azkaban and onwards was actually built, the majority of it was created using CGI during post-production. Whilst the bridge plays a prevalent role in the films, particularly The Deathly Hallows Part Two, it was not in any of the seven Harry Potter books.

The Potter House, Godrick’s Hollow

James and Lily Potter's House

James and Lily Potter’s House

Behind the Hogwart’s Bridge, next to Privet Drive is James and Lily Potter’s house from Godrick’s Hollow. I quite like this house, being a fan of all period houses, though I would perhaps prefer a house with a roof that did not have a massive hole in it.

Next on the tour is Studio K, though I should probably mention that once you leave Studio J you cannot go back, there is a one way system in place throughout the tour. Similarly, once you enter Studio K, you cannot go back to the Backlot.

Studio K

The second indoor studio houses The Creature Shop; an exhibit of creatures and creature costumes from the films, the Diagon Alley set, concept art pieces and a huge model of Hogwart’s Castle.

Creatures

Many of the creatures and masks seen on-screen were created in the Creature Shop, this section of the tour is home to Goblin masks, models of the characters, models of creatures and a number of robotic creatures.

Goblin Masks

Goblin Masks

Walking around the room, you will see Dumbledore’s Phoenix; Fawkes, Mandrake Root, a life-size model of Dobby used during the beach scene of The Deathly Hallows Part One, and models of the characters from the Goblet of Fire during the underwater round of the Triwizard Tournament.

Creatures

Creatures

As well as the creatures I have noted there is a Dementor hanging from the ceiling, Aragog; Hagrid’s pet giant spider, and the basilisk’s head from The Chamber of Secrets.

Dementor

Dementor

Following the corridor from the Creature Shop and you will arrive on the Diagon Alley set.

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley

The Diagon Alley set was inspired by a mixture of the Harry Potter books and the works of Charles Dickens, with large buildings built at odd angles housing weird and wonderful objects. The set was also redressed and used for the filming Hogsmead in the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Like the rest of the sets, an incredible amount of attention to detail was put into the Diagon Alley set, each shop was different and housing unique items. Olivander’s, the wand shop was home to seventeen thousand individually labelled wand boxes.

Here are a few of the Diagon Alley shops:-

Gringott's Bank

Gringott’s Bank

Olivander's Wand Shop

Olivander’s Wand Shop

Flourish and Blotts Bookstore

Flourish and Blotts Bookstore

Walk past Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and you will leave Diagon Alley and enter the tour’s art department.

Art Designs

The art department rooms consist of many concept artwork, paintings and paper/card models of the sets.

Hogsmeade Paper Model

Hogsmeade Paper Model

Hogwart's Paper Model

Hogwart’s Paper Model

Dumbledore's Office model

Dumbledore’s Office model

Studio J’s tour is much more ordered in terms of visitor progression, from the start of Diagon Alley and through the Art Department, visitors follow a single path, leading to the grand finale; Hogwarts Castle.

The Hogwarts Model

Hogwart's Castle

Hogwart’s Castle

Starting at the top looking down from a gallery, you walk around the whole of the castle model to exit the tour. The model, built for The Philosopher’s Stone is incredibly detailed to the point of including 300 fibre optic lights and using real gravel and plants for landscaping and trees during filming.

Hogwart's Greenhouses

Hogwart’s Greenhouses

Hogwart's Bridge

Hogwart’s Bridge

The Castle and the path to the Boathouse

The Castle and the path to the Boathouse

The model is an impressive piece of architecture; as you walk round the structure, computer monitors are dotted beside the barrier depicting different stages of the model’s construction.

At the exit to the tour, just before the entrance to the gift shop, you pass through a room full of mock wand boxes labelled with the four thousand cast members, crew and extras that contributed to the production of the eight films.

Wand boxes labelled with names of the people who helped make the films

Wand boxes labelled with names of the people who helped make the films

Gift Shop

Honeyduke's sweets window display

Honeyduke’s sweets window display

Harry Potter apparel and clothing

Harry Potter apparel and clothing

Naturally the gift shop is a huge room in its own right with thousands of items for sale, both expensive and [relatively] inexpensive, depending on what you want to purchase.

Clothing, particularly Hogwarts robes are quite expensive with a jumper costing about £50 and robes costing over £70. Also located around the shop are special items that cost a considerable amount, and additional exhibit pieces.

Godric Gryffindor's Sword

Godric Gryffindor’s Sword

Wands costing around £25

Wands costing around £25

Confectionary is not the cheapest, with Every Flavour Beans (which do include some revolting flavours, and I speak from experience when I say this) costing £8, Chocolate Frogs costing a similar amount.

Chocolate Frogs

Chocolate Frogs

Every Flavour Beans

Every Flavour Beans

Whilst the shop is not cheap, it is impossible to not buy anything. I doubt I will be taking my “Oh that’s pretty, I’d like that” niece there anytime soon, but I would happily go again and spend a little more, the notebooks were particularly pretty, I just need to save up a little first money!

The tour was a wonderful experience, in all honesty, much better than I anticipated, it is definitely worth the £28 cost for an adult. I only hope that Buckingham Palace a week on Sunday will be as interesting, I imagine it will be, especially with Her Majesty’s jewellery collection on display.

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A Short Visit to Benthall Hall

Various weekends over the last month or so I have wanted to visit Benthall Hall, a sixteenth century country house near Broseley, a few miles from Ironbridge and Telford. Wanting a clear sunny sky which would allow me to take favourable photographs, the poor weather over the summer would not permit my visit. With no plans and a lovely sunny day, I decided to finally make the short drive to Benthall Hall.

Benthall Hall

Benthall Hall

A Little History

Built in 1535 by the Benthall family, who have lived on the site since the medieval period, Benthall Hall is a fine example of an Elizabethan manor house. Few external changes have been made since the building’s construction, though the gardens and interior have undergone some small changes over the years.

During the English Civil War, Benthall Hall was captured by the Cavaliers and was used as a Parliamentary garrison. Royalist forces attacked but were unable to recapture the house, evidence of this attack can be seen in the table located in the Entrance Hall, which has square areas where damaged bits have been replaced.

The house was rented out during part of the nineteenth century, before being sold by the Benthall Family in 1843. Benthall Hall was bought by George Maw of the Maw & Co tile company, who laid tiles in the entrance hall, using the house as a sales mechanism showcasing their products. In 1934 the house was bought back by the Benthall family who still live in the house to this day. In 1958 ownership of the house fell to the National Trust, rented to the Benthall family and as part of the trust’s ownership, the house is open to the public four days a week from February until the end of October.

The House

When you first arrive, you enter the house in order to pay for admission to the house and gardens, photographs are permitted downstairs but not upstairs due to the family’s use of the bedrooms.

The first room you enter after walking through the porch is the Entrance Hall.

The Entrance Hall

Entrance Hall

Entrance Hall

The Entrance Hall is a large room leading to the Dining Room, Drawing Room (via the Staircase Hall) and the tea shop. The size of the table in the middle of the room isn’t really given justice in the photo above, I’m uncertain how it would have been moved into the room. During the Civil War the table was damaged by musket fire whilst being used as a barricade, the damaged areas have been cut out and replaced with chunks of wood, though the repair is very noticeable. At some point in the house’s history the table was sold and later found in a farmhouse in a Shropshire village. In the 1960s the table was bought back and returned to the Entrance Hall.

During George Maw’s ownership a tile floor was in the Entrance Hall, the current wooden flooring was laid over these tiles, a small section of which is on show.

Maw & Co Tiles

Maw & Co Tiles

To restore the tile flooring would cost the National Trust a substantial amount of money, over two thousand pounds to restore just the small section in the photo above.

The first of the main rooms you will see when visiting Benthall Hall is the Dining Room, the first door on the right from the Entrance Hall.

The Dining Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

The Dining Room is smaller than the Entrance Room and features a substantial bay window not visible in the photo above. The wooden panelling was once painted white but was later restored to its original state.

Walking back through the Entrance Hall and through the far door, you will enter the Staircase Hall and then the Drawing Room.

The Drawing Room

Drawing Room

Drawing Room

The Drawing Room is a little larger than the Dining Room, but smaller than the Entrance Hall. The wooden panelling has been painted white, though a picture on the table behind the sofa shows the room with its original dark wood panelling, I think I would prefer the room with dark panelling.

After the Drawing Room, you are able to walk up the staircase and view a few of the first floor rooms.

The Staircase Hall

Staircase Hall

Staircase Hall

The staircase was built in 1618 and is adored with grotesque heads. It leads to the first and second floors of the manor house, but only a few of the rooms on the First Floor are open to the public.

The Great Chamber / Library

The Great Chamber ©National Trust Images/Tim Imrie

The Great Chamber ©National Trust Images/Tim Imrie

The Great Chamber, also known as the Library is located above the Entrance Hall. The room houses two bookcases full of old hardback books, I noticed a copy of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, but no Jane Austen.

Next to the fireplace there are two paintings by Felix Kelly, the first “Fantasy” painted in 1965, depicts Benthall Hall next to the Ironbridge. The painting below it of Lindridge, a country house in Devon which was demolished and replaced with an apartment block. Lindridge was inherited by Lady Ruth Benthall following the death of her father Lord Cable. Her husband Edward Benthall lived in the house and left it to his son Michael who sold the house, having no use for it and the as a result of the decline of the family’s fortune after Indian independence. A fire broke out in 1962 leaving the house a burnt out shell.

Above the Porch is the Priest’s Room, a room used by the family’s Catholic Priest. In 1935 a hiding place was discovered beneath the floor, where the family’s religious items would have been hidden.

Priest's Room ©National Trust Images/Tim Imrie

Priest’s Room ©National Trust Images/Tim Imrie

Next to the Priest Room, above the Dining Room is one of two bedrooms the public are able to view. Above the tea shop, behind the staircase is the Study housing Benthall family photos and items relating to the family history.

The room above the Drawing Room is the second of the two bedrooms open to the public, still used by the family when they are in residence. Due to their regular use, the bedrooms do not feature many old antique furniture often found in National Trust houses, no four poster bed or elaborately decorative armoires.

After exploring the first floor, you walk back down the staircase and exit the house the same way you enter, to explore the gardens.

The Garden

The gardens were created at different times in the house’s history, particularly by George Maw and Robert Bateman.

To the left of the house is a small plant and shrub garden complete with a decorative sun dial and a dovecote.

Flower Garden

Flower Garden

The garden also features a few small yew trees, which are a feature of many of  the country house gardens I have visited.

At the right hand side of the house, a path leads to the kitchen garden.

Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden

The kitchen garden is still used to grow fruit and vegetables, lettuce and my new favourite fruit; raspberries.

Walking down the path, I saw a man taking close up photos of something on the trellis arch, interested in what he could have been photographing, I took a look.

Butterfly in the Garden

Butterfly in the Garden

In front of the house is a formal lawn with an ha-ha overlooking a field.

St Bartholomew’s Restoration Church

St. Bartholomew Church

St. Bartholomew Church

Next to the house is St Bartholomew’s Church, a seventeenth century church built after the destruction of an earlier church on the same spot, during the Civil War. The church has been redundant since 2007 and unfortunately was not open to visitors during my visit to Benthall Hall. The church was extended in the nineteenth century when a new door was added. Above what was the old entrance is a sundial with a decorative eye, something I thought was quite unusual. The small churchyard, also overlooking the surrounding fields, is the resting place of a number of the Benthall ancestors.

Tomorrow I will be going to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour which I expect I will write a blog post about later in the week, it will be an experience I am sure though the train journeys there and back, I am not looking forward to.

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A Weekend in Cardiff: St Fagans National History Museum

A little apprehensive about the weather during my weekend in Cardiff, not wanting to go to Castell Coch on the Saturday due to the forecasted heavy rain, we decided to take a short drive to St Fagans National History Museum. St Fagans is an open air museum consisting of mostly authentic historical buildings dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt on the site of the museum, similar to the Blists Hill Museum a few miles away from my house.

St Fagans National History Museum Map

St Fagans National History Museum Map

St Fagans National History Museum opened in 1948 after the donation of the castle and surrounding lands by the Earl of Plymouth in 1946. Located less than five miles from Cardiff City Centre, the museum was voted the UK’s best visitor attraction in Which? Travel Magazine’s survey. 

Admission to the museum is free, which may contribute to the museum’s popularity, the Blists Hill Victorian Town museum in Ironbridge costs fifteen pounds for an adult.

Highlights

There are over forty buildings to see to see at St Fagans, far too many to write about, so I will discuss a few of the of buildings that interested me, and finish up with a selection of photos of other buildings.

Llwyn-yr-eos Farmstead 

Farmstead

Farmstead

The Llwyn-yr-eos Farmstead was a tenanted farm on the estate from the eighteenth century, one of few buildings original to the site of the museum. The farmhouse was built during the nineteenth century, though is displayed as an early twentieth century house.

Farmhouse

Farmhouse

The farmhouse was one of a number of St Fagan’s buildings to feature in the Doctor Who series three double bill: Human Nature and The Family of Blood.

The Farmhouse on Doctor Who

The Farmhouse on Doctor Who

The farmhouse is rather nicely decorated with early twentieth century furnishings. Photographs can be taken in almost all of the buildings at St Fagans, here are a few of the rooms inside the farmhouse:-

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

Bedroom

Bedroom

Celtic Village

Celtic Village House

Celtic Village House

The Celtic Village is an experimental project to learn more about how the Celtic people lived. The houses are based on excavated remains found in Worcestershire, Flintshire and Gwynedd.

Inside the larger house a fire is lit daily filling the house with smoke as wood is burned.

Smoking Hut

Smoking Hut

Tollhouse

Tollhouse

Tollhouse

The Tollhouse was built in 1772 in Penparcau, Aberystwyth and re-built at the museum in 1968. Welsh roads until the late eighteenth century were in a poor condition until the local gentry began to build private roads for which tolls were charged.

The tollhouse would have been in use until the mid nineteenth century when turnpikes and  private toll roads were abolished after the Rebecca Riots, and county councils took responsibility for the road network.

Rhyd-y-car Ironworker’s Houses

Rhyd-y-car Iron Worker's Houses

Rhyd-y-car Iron Worker’s Houses

The Rhyd-y-car Iron worker’s houses were built around 1800 in Merthyr Tydfil by Richard Crawshay for workers in his iron-ore mine. The houses were re-built at St Fagans in 1987, and each has been decorated to illustrate a particular period of their history, from 1805 to 1985.

1805

1805 Iron Worker's House

1805 Iron Worker’s House

Between 1800 and 1860 the houses were very basic, with no piped water or toilets. The furniture in the 1805 house is very plain, quite a contrast to the furnishings of the wealthy of the same time or earlier, or even the farmhouse at Shugborough Hall.

The next two houses in the terrace depict 1855 and 1895, these were rather crowded due to a sudden downpour of rain preventing me from taking photos. The next house I was able to photograph depicted 1925.

1925

1925 Iron Worker's House

1925 Iron Worker’s House

The 1925 house has a little more decoration with wallpapered walls and soft furnishing, but retaining the hard stone flooring. The fireplace has been replaced with a range cooker and the table in front of the window has a singer sewing machine upon it.

1955

1955 Iron Worker's House

1955 Iron Worker’s House

The 1955 house comes with a television, which rose in popularity around the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The stone flooring has been replaced with parquet flooring.

1955 Iron Worker's House

1955 Iron Worker’s Kitchen

The back room of the 1955 house has been turned into a kitchen with cupboards still found in the occasional house that appears at housing auctions.

1985

1985 Iron Workers House

1985 Iron Workers House

The 1985 house again is vastly different to the earlier period houses and much more familiar sight to our generation, many having seen grandparent’s/great-grandparent’s houses in a similar design. The fireplace has been replaced by a stone surround, which nowadays would be ripped out and replaced with a more traditional fireplace. Atop the fireplace are one of my pet-hates; china ornaments. On the coffee table besides the window and television, plates of battered fish and chips are displayed along with cups of tea (what an odd combination that is).

St Fagans Castle & Gardens

St Fagans Castle

St Fagan's Castle framed by a castle wall

St Fagan’s Castle framed by a castle wall

St Fagans Castle is an Elizabethan manor house; a grade 1 listed building famed as being one of the finest Elizabethan manor houses in Wales. The house was owned by the Earl of Plymouth until 1946 when it was donated to the National Museum of Wales along with the surrounding grounds that make up the museum.

Front of St Fagans Castle

Front of St Fagans Castle

The construction of the house began in 1580 and it was later purchased by Edward Lewis of Y Fan, Caerphilly who’s daughter married the third Earl of Plymouth in 1730. During the first half of the eighteenth century, the house was rented out to a number of tenants and used as temporary accommodation by local people. In 1850 the house underwent a large-scale renovation in order to turn it into a family home for Robert Windsor-Clive, heir to the Plymouth estate, who died a short time after moving into St Fagans Castle. During the mid 1880s the house was used as a summer home by Lord Robert-Windsor, later Earl of Plymouth.

Whilst visitors are able to explore the house photographs are not permitted, and so I am unable to show photos of the interior.

Back of St Fagans Castle

Back of St Fagans Castle

Castle Gardens

Castle Fagan has eighteen acres of gardens including formal gardens, kitchen gardens and terraces.

Dutch Garden

Dutch Garden

Next to the house, beside the entrance to the St Fagans Castle teashop, is the Dutch Garden; four small flower gardens surrounding a central fountain.

Flower Garden

Flower Garden

Next to the the Dutch Garden is the Flower Garden dating back to 1901-1902. The Flower Garden is an decorative arrangement of colourful flower beds, surrounding a large tree. At one time the garden was home to the herb Thyme, the scent of which overpowered the flower beds leading to the garden being called the Thyme Garden and later Herb Garden, before the herb plants were replaced with flower beds, returning the garden to its original purpose.

Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden

The glasshouses were used to grow food for the estate, one of which is now the vinery, growing an assortment of red and green grapes.

Vinery

Vinery

The vinery produces dessert grapes that are available to purchase during the summer. Other fruit grown in the kitchen garden include mulberries, peaches and figs.

Terraces & Fish Ponds

Terraces & Fish Ponds

The two fish ponds at St Fagans were created in 1766 to produce fish to be eaten by the occupiers of the house, nowadays they hold carp, bream and trench. To reach the fish ponds from the house, a series of terraces were created, similar to those at Powis Castle, though on a much smaller scale.

Fish Pond Trellises

Fish Pond Trellises

At the bottom of the terraces, beside the fish ponds there is a trellis walkway joining to two ends of the garden together. There are a number of other gardens at St Fagans which I did not get chance to see, such as The Rosary and the Italian Garden. I will have to go again, visit these gardens then write a follow up blog post about some of the other buildings I have not mentioned.

Additional Photographs

Due to the number of buildings, it would be impractical to write about each and every one of them. Having discussed a few of the highlights, below are a selection of photographs of some of the other buildings.

Kennixton Farmhouse (Llangynyd, Gower. 1610)

Kennixton Farmhouse (Llangynyd, Gower. 1610)

St Teilo's Church (Llandeilo, Tal-y-Bont. 12th - 16th century)

St Teilo’s Church (Llandeilo, Tal-y-Bont. 12th – 16th century)

Type B2 Aluminium Prefab Bungalow (Gabalfa, Cardiff. 1948)

Type B2 Aluminium Prefab Bungalow (Gabalfa, Cardiff. 1948)

Maestir School (Maestir, Lampeter. 1880-1916)

Maestir School (Maestir, Lampeter. 1880-1916)

Post Office (Blaen-waun, Carmarthenshire. 1936)

Post Office (Blaen-waun, Carmarthenshire. 1936)

Cockpit (Hawk & Buckle Inn, Denbigh. 17th century)

Cockpit (Hawk & Buckle Inn, Denbigh. 17th century)

Gwalia Stores (Ogmore Vale, Bridgend. 1880)

Gwalia Stores (Ogmore Vale, Bridgend. 1880)

The shop on Doctor Who

The shop on Doctor Who

Workmen's Institute (Oakdale, Caerphilly. 1916)

Workmen’s Institute (Oakdale, Caerphilly. 1916)

The WI on Doctor Who

The WI on Doctor Who

Vintage Photograph Shop

Vintage Photograph Shop

Abernodwydd Farmhouse (Llangadfan, Powys. 1678)

Abernodwydd Farmhouse (Llangadfan, Powys. 1678)

Ty Gwyrdd / House of the future (2001)

Ty Gwyrdd / House of the future (2001)

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A Weekend in Cardiff: Castell Coch

A few weeks ago I went to Pembrokeshire (Wales) for the day, visiting St David’s Cathedral and two Pembrokeshire beaches. On the way back, driving down the M4 motorway near Cardiff, I could see a castle hidden away in the hillside. Remembering this last week, I did a Google search for “castles visible from the M4″. After finding the name of the castle (Castell Coch – The Red Castle), I decided it would be a great way to spend my August Bank Holiday weekend visiting friends in Cardiff and taking a look at Castell Coch.

Castell Coch

Castell Coch

Waking up to some glorious sunshine on Sunday, overlooking Cardiff Bay and finishing reading Chocolat, it was soon time to drive to the castle.

A Little History

A castle has existed on the site of Castell Coch since the eleventh century, though the original castle fell out of use due to damage and disrepair during the fourteenth century.

In 1871, John Crichton-Stuart, third marquess of Bute commissioned excavations of the site of Castell Coch. The third marquess of Bute inherited a vast fortune from his father the second marquess of Bute, famed as being the creator of modern Cardiff after building Cardiff Docks. With an interest in antiquarianism, the third marquess purchased and preserved a number of sites of great historical importance in Scotland – the ancestral home of the Stuart family – such as Rothesay Castle. After meeting architect and designer William Burges in 1865, the third marquess hired Burges to rebuild Cardiff Castle, which had already been expanded by the first and later second marquess in a fashion the third marquess despised. During the rebuild of Cardiff Castle, the third marquess instructed Burges to report on the history and original appearance of Castell Coch, and to recommend how the castle might be restored.

In 1875 following Burges’ submission of plans for the rebuild of Castell Coch, construction commenced and lasted until 1891 with the completion of the decoration and furnishing. During the construction, in 1881 Burges died suddenly with only the decoration and furnishing of the banqueting hall complete. Despite the death of William Burges, construction of the castle continued under a team led by J. S Chapple and William Frame.

In 1900, nine years after the castle’s completion the third marquess of Bute died. After the marquess’ death, his widow and daughter resided at Castell Coch for a short period, during which time an inventory of the castle was completed. This inventory has allowed many of the original contents and furnishings to remain in place.

Throughout much of the twentieth century the castle remained predominantly unoccupied. During the Second World War the castle was used for military purposes and five years after the end of the war, in 1950 Castle Coch was put into state care by the fifth marquess of Bute, before his death in 1956.

Nowadays Castell Coch is cared for by Cadw, the historical environment service of the Welsh Assembly and is open to the public daily, with regular special events and weddings held within the castle courtyard.

Exterior

After parking the car and walking towards the castle entrance, you will be greeted by the sight of the front elevation of the fantasy-esque castle, complete with drawbridge.

Castell Coch

Castell Coch

Walking through the gatehouse, you arrive in a courtyard with doors leading to the towers, shop and tea room. During my visit, a children’s sword fighting event was taking place with children dressed as knights/princesses, hence the lack of a decent courtyard photograph.

Overlooking part of the Courtyard and Well Tower

Overlooking part of the Courtyard and Well Tower

Steps to the left just after the entrance lead to the main rooms within the castle, the steps also lead to the gallery – a passageway around the upper level of the courtyard, to the Well Tower housing a number of exhibits and the dungeon on the lower ground floor.

Keep Tower & Hall Block

Keep Tower & Hall Block

Outside the castle walls, you are able to walk around the castle’s exterior.

Exterior Courtyard Wall

Exterior Courtyard Wall

Exterior Walls

Exterior Walls

Beside the outer wall of the Hall Block, is another set of steps to walk back up to the entrance of the castle.

Interior 

Within Castell Coch there are several furnished and very decorative rooms, complete with their original furniture and in some cases in their original location.

The Banqueting Hall

The Banqueting Hall

The Banqueting Hall

The first interior room you will come to is the Banqueting Hall, a vast medieval style dining room. Looking out of the windows, you will see Cardiff in the distance. Much like the dining table at Moseley Old Hall, it is a long table with chairs at each end of the table for the Lord and Lady, and benches for other dining guests. The walls are decorated with colourful murals of St Lucius, an early British King, and his sister St Emerita, along with family portraits.

The Banqueting Hall was the only room to be fully decorated and furnished before William Burges’ death.

Walking to the other end of the Banqueting Hall and through the double door at the end the room, you will arrive in the Drawing Room.

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room is a much smaller room than the Banqueting Hall, circular in shape. In the centre of the room a table holds a vase of flowers. Behind the table is a large fireplace topped with a sculpture of The Three Fates of Greek Mythology: Clotho presides over birth and spins the thread of life, Lachesis measures it and Atropos cuts it at death. Next to the fireplace are two wooden (and rather uncomfortable looking) sofas.

Above the table is a rather impressive chandelier below a very ornate ceiling, decorated with stars, butterflies and birds.

Drawing Room Chandelier & Ceiling

Drawing Room Chandelier & Ceiling

The walls consist of wooden paneling with flowers at the centre of each panel, and a decorative wall covering of flora and fauna.

Lord Bute’s Bedroom

Walking up some very steep spiral staircases you will arrive on the second floor of the castle, housing the bedrooms. The first bedroom you will see is Lord Bute’s bedroom, next to the Drawing Room Gallery.

Lord Bute's Bedroom

Lord Bute’s Bedroom

The room is quite plainly furnished considering some of the other rooms. The bed, a single bed, is quite an unusual design, like a piece of steampunk architecture, made of copper plated cast iron and held together with elaborate knot work.

Lord Bute's Bed

Lord Bute’s Bed

After leaving Lord Bute’s bedroom you walk up a second spiral staircase to Lady Bute’s bedroom.

Lady Bute’s Bedroom

Lady Bute’s bedroom, located above the drawing room is a very regal looking room, bright with colour and extravagant looking furniture.

Lady Bute's Bedroom

Lady Bute’s Bedroom

Like the Drawing Room, Lady Bute’s bedroom features an ornate dome, decorated with flora, fauna and animals. Lord Bute did not approve of the monkeys depicted within the dome panels.

Lady Bute's Bedroom Chandelier & Ceiling

Lady Bute’s Bedroom Chandelier & Ceiling

Lady Bute’s bedroom has a less ornate chandelier than the drawing room’s chandelier, which appears to be secured by the additional poles to reduce the stress it put upon the domed ceiling by its weight.

The fireplace in Lady Bute’s bedroom features a carving of Psyche, the beloved of Eros, holding a heart-shaped shield of Lord and Lady Bute’s coats of arms.

After looking around Lady Bute’s bedroom, walk down the spiral staircase, out the door in the Banqueting Hall and through the next door along the courtyard gallery, you will enter the kitchen.

The Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

The Kitchen is a very plain room considering the bright, colourful and lavishly decorated Banqueting Hall, Drawing Room and bedrooms. The room features a large range cooker, a bench table and an armoire based on an example from Bayeux Cathedral.

After exploring the castle, a path outside leads to a number of walks including a sculpture trail.

Other Photographs

Entrance to the Sculpture Trail

Entrance to the Sculpture Trail

Green Mutant Sculpture

Green Mutant Sculpture

Clock Bench

Clock Bench

Cauldron

Cauldron

Dragon

Dragon

Leaf Seat

Leaf Seat

Tree Carving

Tree Carving

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Shugborough Hall Part Five: Gardens and Parkland

This final part in the Shugborough Hall series focuses on the various gardens and notable features of the nine hundred acre grounds.

Walled Garden

Walled Garden

Walled Garden

The Walled Gardens at Shugborough were built in 1805-1806 by Samuel Wyatt, to replace the original kitchen garden, located next to the Mansion. The original kitchen garden was seen as a blot on the landscape and the gardeners, unsightly.

The new Walled Garden was built half a mile from the Mansion and designed to allow the growth of fruit, vegetables and plants all year round. This was done by housing small furnaces in the walls, which were hollow, to create the effect of a mild-climate.

A house was built for the head gardener to live in, which can be seen in the photo above. As well as this, bothies were built along the north wall to provide living accommodation for young single gardeners. These have since been converted into workshops and shops selling crafts built on site.

Blacksmiths

Blacksmiths

The Walled Garden also features a staffed Blacksmiths and a table with goods for sale.

Honesty Box

Honesty Box

I’ve never seen an honesty box before, I only heard of them several weeks ago when watching ‘Country House Rescue’. There was some lavender on sale earlier in the day, though when I arrived only purple lettuce remained.

Formal Terrace

Formal Gardens

Formal Gardens

Walking down the Lady Walk at the side of the tea shop and National Trust shop, you arrive at the river side and the back of the Mansion. Leading from the Mansion to the river is the Formal Terrace gardens. Lined with yew trees and bordered with lavender the terraces are an elegant garden leading down to a towards a water(less) fountain.

The Butterfly Garden

The Butterfly Garden

Next to the Formal Terrace is the Butterfly Garden, I remember when I was a child you were able to walk in this garden and run through arches.

The Lion Columns

The Lion Columns

At the far end of the Formal Terraces between the Mansion and Servant’s Quarters, there are two lion columns. These columns originate from a South East Indian temple and date from around 800 AD.

Chinese House & Island Garden

Chinese House & Island Garden Bridge

Chinese House & Island Garden Bridge

If you follow the riverside path through the gardens you come to a red bridge and next to it, the Chinese House. The Chinese House was built in 1747, one of the first examples in Britain of an oriental garden structure.

The Red Bridge leads to the Island Garden, which is home to a rather old and abandoned tennis court and home to Asian oak trees. A well hidden path in the corner of the Island Garden leads to Patrick Lichfield’s Arboretum, otherwise accessed by the Blue Bridge at the far end of the riverside walk.

Monuments

The Shugborough Estate is home to a great number of monuments, this next section will discuss a selection of these.

The Tower of the Winds

Tower of the Winds

Tower of the Winds

The Tower of the Winds was built in 1756, based on the Tower of the Winds in Athens. The basement used to house the estate’s dairy and later, a gambling den. The upper floor of the tower was designed by James Stuart as a banqueting room, the room is now used for wedding ceremonies, a smaller alternative to the Saloon in the Mansion.

Upper Tower Room

The upper floor has a very ornate ceiling which was based on a design from Nero’s Golden House in Rome.

Tower Ceiling

Tower Ceiling

Until severe flooding occurred on the estate in the late eighteenth century, the Tower stood beside a lake that was later drained to prevent floods reoccurring. Such a drastic action was done to prevent the the Tower suffering the same disastrous fate that it’s neighbour the Chinese Pagoda befell as a result of the flooding.

Watercolour by Nicholas Dall, at Shugborough showing the Triumphal Arch and Chinese Pagoda. ©National Trust.

Watercolour by Nicholas Dall, at Shugborough showing the Triumphal Arch and Chinese Pagoda. ©National Trust.

Triumphal Arch

Triumphal Arch

Triumphal Arch

The Triumphal Arch is my favourite of the monuments at Shugborough, set in the highest point of the Estate. When entering the exhibitor’s entrance of the Classic Vehicle Show, it was the first thing we saw.

The arch was originally designed to be a neo-classical feature but ended up being a memorial to George and Elizabeth Anson. Shortly after work began, Elizabeth died, followed soon after by George in 1762. After their deaths, sculptures of cenotaphs were added to the arch topped with busts of George and Elizabeth.

As I said in Part One, I couldn’t find the entrance to field leading to the Triumphal Arch until we were leaving (shortly before having cows block the road), I do so want to walk up to it and be photographed stood underneath, reason enough to visit again soon.

Doric Temple

Doric Temple

Doric Temple

The Doric Temple neo-greek monument based on the Temple of Hephaistos at the top of a hill overlooking Athens. The Doric Temple stood at the entrance of the original kitchen garden until the Walled Garden was built half a mile from the house in the early nineteenth century.

In front of the Temple, there is a lawn formally used as a bowling green and is home to the Great Yew: the widest yew tree in the British Isles.

The Shepherd’s Monument

Shepherd's Monument

Shepherd’s Monument

If you follow the riverside path and walk past the Chinese House and the Red Bridge you will come to the Shepherd’s Monument. The sculpture depicts Nicolas Poussin’s 1642 painting ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’, however with a number of changes.

Beneath the sculptured imaged a code is engraved, which nobody has yet been able to decipher.

The code reads:

O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V
D.                        M.

Some people have linked the monument and it’s mysterious code to the Holy Grail due to the family’s association with “free-thinking groups and societies”, when the monument was build. If that were so, it is a pity indeed that Shugborough did not feature in Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’ or the 2006 movie of the same name.

Arboretum 

Many owners of Country Estate’s wish to leave a lasting legacy of their tenure as “Lord of the Manor” so to speak, and Patrick Lichfield was no different. His legacy to the future of Shugborough Hall was the creation of the Arboretum on the river island, accessible by the blue and red bridges.

The Blue Bridge

The Blue Bridge

The Arboretum is home to a number of different types of trees from all over the world. The area by the Blue Bridge has a number of North American species, including an oak grown from an acorn taken from the lawn of the White House.

Walking through the Arboretum which is a long, pleasant and very quiet walk – I saw no one else whilst exploring – you come across not only different species of trees, but also several pieces of art.

One of several sculptures in the Arboretum

One of several sculptures in the Arboretum

Intimate seating area in the Arboretum opposite the Mansion

Intimate seating area in the Arboretum opposite the Mansion

The Arboretum boasts an exquisite view of the Mansion and in front of it, the River Sow. It is quite a shame that the weather was so changeable, much of it with heavy cloud cover, it would be such a lovely photo in the sunlight, or at dusk with the Mansion lit up! I recommend searching for evening shots of Shugborough Hall.

The Mansion from the Arboretum

The Mansion from the Arboretum

My visit to Shugborough Hall, despite the weather, really was fantastic, there is so much to do and see. I left feeling inspired to write not one but five blog posts, with an intention to visit again and also with a craving for country walks and horse riding – I can’t even ride a horse! I would highly recommend visiting if you are ever in the area.

Again I am uncertain as to the topic of my next blog post, I would quite like to try out a recipe for lavender shortbread, but I also feel like I should take advantage of the weather and visit somewhere else nearby, before the rain returns. We shall see!

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