Wilton is one of those fabled British Country Houses which almost defy description. Should one concentrate on the architecture, which includes Tudor, Elizabethan, Palladian, and Regency examples? On the interior, of amazing variety and stellar quality? The gardens? The collection of old master artworks? Or, how about the many stories of the history of the Herbert family, which is currently represented as residents by William Alexander Sidney Herbert, 18th Earl of Pembroke, his Countess and their four children?
The top photo shows the North Façade, dating from the Tudor era, the current public entrance to the house. Immediately above is the South Façade, the wing of the house probably designed by Architect Indigo Jones in the Palladian style in the 17th century. This area contains the sumptuous state rooms.
Above, the East Front, opening into the public lawns and gardens, dating before the mid-16th century. This was the original entrance to the house. You can see that even today, restoration work is necessary.
The West Front and its garden are the private areas of the Earl of Pembroke and his family. Below, the official portrait of William Herbert, 18th Earl of Pembroke, and his dog painted by artist Adrian Gottlieb. ‘Will’ is the latest of the long line of owners belonging to the Herbert family,
I am sorry to report that no photography is allowed in the house so in my posts, I will be mixing ‘borrowed’ photos, of which there are many on the web, with my own pictures. First, let’s look at the exterior and the gardens. Below, an aerial shot of the house with the south façade at the left.
Below, inside the cloisters, looking east at the inside of the East Front. The original house was built on the site of an 8th century priory. After Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site was ceded to Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke (of the new creation) in 1544. He constructed a house in the quadrangular style which through many remodelings, remains today, with a central open courtyard.
Above, looking east from the courtyard. Below, peeking out from inside the cloisters.
Today, visitors enter through the another courtyard facing the North Front, past the fountain and a grove of trees among the patterned plantings.
Behind us was the great gate, often a symbol of Wilton House.
Leaving the interior for another post, let's look at some of the gardens. I am particularly fond of Palladian Bridges – why I cannot imagine, but I find them charming. Below, the Wilton Palladian Bridge, constructed in 1737 by the 9th Earl of Pembroke, known as the “Architect Earl” and his assistant Roger Morris. It was designed to bridge the River Nadder in the style of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). It has been copied at least three times, at Stowe Landscape Garden (NT) in Buckingham and at Prior Park near Bath in England and at Tsarskoe Selo near St. Petersburg, Russia.
The inspiration for the Palladian Bridge is reputedly an unbuilt design for Venice’s Rialto Bridge, drawn by Andrea Palladio about 1570, pictured in a Capriccio by Canaletto, 1742, ©Royal Collection Trust.
The river Nadder is a chalk stream known for its trout flyfishing.
View from the bridge.
Below, the charming Japanese Garden, also known as the Water Garden with its red bridges and reflecting pools, was designed by Henry Herbert, 17th Earl of Pembroke, who died in 2003.
To conclude Part One, enjoy this view of Wilton House painted by Rex Whistler in 1935.
When I travel I tend to concentrate my photographs and subsequent posts on 'large' topics such as stately homes, cathedrals, cities, and so forth. Here is something a little different...some smaller discoveries you might enjoy.
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) sits in Dorchester, the county town of Dorset. Hardy's novels were set in nearby areas; The Mayor of Casterbridge used the town as the model for Casterbridge.
In Winchester Cathedral, these objects memorialize William Walker, a deep-sea diver who save the Cathedral from sinking into the wet ground on which it had been built beginning in the 11th century. Because workers could not dig underneath to buttress the stone walls without the trenches immediately filling with water, Walker, in his complete rig, worked in 20 feet of water, in the dark, to build sturdy supports that enabled the structure above to be saved. He labored for six years beginning in 1906, packing the foundations with more than 25,000 bags of concrete and 115,000 concrete blocks. He was honored in a special service of thanksgiving in 1912; sadly he died at age 49 in the influenza epidemic of 1918.
In the National Museum of the Royal Navy at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard near the flagship Victory, among the memorials to Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), are these Staffordshire pottery figures. The dying figure of Nelson is held by his Captain and a sailor in the Battle of Trafalgar. As much as he was admired, I find it hard to imagine such a grim bibelot on my parlor table.
The object at left above is a gravel roller for garden paths, keeping them dry and smooth for the dainty slippers of well-dressed ladies. It can be found in the Georgian Garden in Bath.
Maria Edgeworth's Inkstand has pride of place in the library at Chawton House in Hampshire. Edgeworth (1768-1849) wrote many novels, essays, and other works reflecting her Anglo-Irish heritage. Click on the photos to enlarge them.
The Great Hall in Lacock Abbey was created in the 1750's in the Gothic style. Among other features, a series of terracotta figures were placed in niches around the stone walls. The particular coronet-wearing skeleton was created by Austrian artist Victor Alexander Sederbach. Striking! And spooky.
On my first visit to the City of Manchester, I was eager to browse through the Art Gallery.
Which is more fascinating here, the artist or the sitter? The 1793 portrait of Ellis Cornelia Knight was painted in Rome by Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807). Kauffman's works are seen in many English stately homes and museums. Though Swiss- born, she worked mainly in England and Italy.
An amateur artist and author of several novels, Knight was a friend of Admiral Nelson and the Hamiltons in Naples and later in England became a companion to Queen Charlotte and later to Charlotte, Princess of Wales.
I am always on the look-out for the works of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). His painting style evolved over the years of his life from very realistic views, such as this one of the Thames countryside painted in 1809, to the abstract impressionism of his latest works. The picture is entitled Thomson's Aeolian Harp, with classical figures acting out the ode written by poet James Thomson.
Turner's style was influenced by the many times he portrayed marine scenes where the play of light changed with the clouds and the waves. This is Now for the Painter (meaning rope)--Passengers Going on Board, from 1827.
As might be expected, many of the paintings are Victorian masterworks. A favorite is Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) who portrayed Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire in 1830-35. The label reads: Landseer "...sets the quiet power of the ever-flowing river against the ghostly image of the ruin to suggest the passage of time and the brevity of human life."
Landseer was well known for his realistic animal images, including this dead lion, The Desert, painted in 1849.
The Sirens and Ulysses was painted in 1832 by William Etty (1787-1849) showing a scene from Homer's ancient Greek poem The Odyssey. The label points out critics' frequent derision of Etty for nudity in his works, but it seems to me many historical and biblical paintings were filled with naked subjects, particularly the females.
I have given you only a tiny taste of the treasures to be found in the Manchester Art Gallery. I will leave you with this amusing view of the staircase filled with artwork, all under the watchful protection of Spiderman. I love such surprises--they prevent us from taking our culture much too seriously! Art is for enjoyment after all.
I don't know why I've visited so few cities in Britain, beyond London and Edinburgh...but this was my first foray into Manchester, and it was a treat. I have yet to see Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow, and several others. I was suitably impressed with the third largest UK city.
Above is the Manchester Art Gallery, of course the first on my list of local attractions.
The Art Gallery was not far from our hotel, a nicely updated Edwardian pile called The Midland. The room was big with a sitting area and a huge well equipped bathroom. Since we both were nursing headcolds, our schedule called for lots of sleep.
Manchester Town Hall, again evidence of its growth and prominence in the 19th Century.
Perhaps my favorite spot in Manchester was the John Rylands Library, a stunning neo-Gothic structure. It was impossibly Edwardian/Victorian in style and execution, yet it seemed completely modern and technologically cutting edge. How, you ask?
Despite the imposing (grim?) Victoriana of the structure and the main entrance, (above two pictures from Wikipedia), things inside are accessible, with necessary facilities, a bookstore and gift shop, restaurant, and search facilities.
My photo tells the story. A completely modern building has been wrapped around one side of the library to provide elevators and all other required conveniences. Bravo to the perspicacious souls who devised this scheme.
The library was designed by architect Basil Champreys for Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her late husband (above), a prosperous cotton merchant. Built between 1890 and 1900, it is now a part of the University of Manchester Library.
Among the many treasures held here are illuminated manuscripts, a Gutenberg Bible, and many more rarities. Mrs. Rylands purchased the collection of the 2nd Earl Spencer in 1892 to add to her contributions.
One place I had intended to visit was the home of author Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865), whose papers are held at the Rylands Library. Below is a picture of her home in a residential area known as Plymouth Grove. But alas, I failed to note the limited hours and thus I will have to return someday.
Visit Elizabeth Gaskell's House website: http://elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk/
Next week, a few selections from the Art Gallery.
Victoria Hinshaw, Author