Sunday, 3 June 2018

Visit to Knightshayes Court

On Wednesday 30th May it was my birthday, and my hubby took me and our neighbour for an outing to Knightshayes Court, a National Trust property near Tiverton in Devon. We had been several times before but not for a while, and being one of my favourites, when my hubby asked where I’d like to go, this is where I chose.

The weather was wet to start with, and the rain stopped but it remained overcast for the rest of the day which was a bit of a shame, but it didn’t dampen our enjoyment.

I took loads of photos as usual, but this time I concentrated on details – particular items of furniture and ornaments in the house, and quirky little architectural details so beloved of the Victorians. Knightshayes was built for an entrepreneur who manufactured lace in the town, and the style of the house is Victorian Gothic Revival, a style which my hubby and I both love. It was designed by William Burges in the 1860s but much of his original design was never implemented – had it been, the place would have been even more over the top than it is!

Here are some pictures of architectural details on the outside of the house.

Moving into the house, we entered the great hall past the staircase, and I admired their idea of an under-the-stairs cupboard!

Gorgeous window designs.

There is quite a bit of wall painting and stencilling in the house and this inspired some of the interior decoration I did in our old house. Here are a couple of carved corbels which also featured fairly frequently in the house.

A beautiful glazed door.

Some decorative elements.

More stencilling and wall painting.

In the library there is a very rich wall covering which looks like leather, but which in fact is made of Lincrusta paper – a linseed oil-based paste on paper which has an embossed design pressed into it by steel rollers. This was painted with various layers of paint and gilding to give a rich effect.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the library, but here is an Internet picture. It’s one of my favourite rooms in the house.

There is an impressive array of incredible decorated ceilings, mostly of partially painted wood.

Some chandeliers that took my fancy.

A detailed shot of the first one.

There were quite a few clocks in the house. Here are a couple that took my fancy. The first one is a modern clock.

I was very impressed by this amazing table top. The steward told us that the different parts of the table had come from different periods, but the top was ancient, and most probably from ship’s timbers. It was pitted and scarred with a wonderful patina and I can imagine that every dent and scratch had its own story to tell. I was most intrigued by this little patch that had been let into the surface, presumably to repair an injury at some point.

One thing I always notice in National Trust properties is the fantastic polish they achieve on their furniture. Lots of elbow grease over many years, I suspect.

This delightful little mother-of-pearl inlaid table reminded me very much of one we have, which belonged to my mother. It is less ornate than this, but charming nonetheless.

This Chinese bench took my fancy.

A beautiful example of marquetry work on the base of this bookcase.

A Victorian linen press.

A small lacquered cabinet from China.

A delightful miniature bookcase, complete with books, in the library. Note also the green leather fringing over the books on the left. These were used to protect the tops of the books from dust.

A magnificent and very ornate cabinet.

A spinet, unfortunately in need of repair so not playable, with some Bach music laid on top, and a book of songs on the music stand. Note the beautiful polished sheen on the instrument.

The magnificent dining room, laid for dinner, in the manner of the National Trust – they make the houses look lived in, and you can imagine the family and their guests sitting down to dinner after the last visitors had departed.

Napkin folding. There was a stack of napkins in the corner of the room and some instructions for doing different folds, but the steward said she’d had a go and it wasn’t very satisfactory because in order to get good results, the napkins need to be stiffly starched, and their stack of napkins unfortunately were not, and it was apparently impossible to get good folds and for the thing not to collapse.

We had lunch in the restaurant and the ventured forth into the gardens. My hubby had heard that they had restored the kitchen garden and he was keen to see it. It was magnificent – absolutely vast, and producing a whole range of different vegetables.


The herb garden.

The kitchen garden is built on a slope to improve drainage. At each of the four corners is a little turret, and as the wall slope down the hill, there are steps in them which make the whole thing most attractive.

One reason for the kitchen garden to be walled may be to hide it – this was the working part of the garden, producing food for the family throughout the year, functional, and not deemed beautiful enough to be on show beside with the flower gardens and lawns. Today, we gravitate towards these once-thought insalubrious parts of a house – kitchen gardens, servants’ quarters, kitchens. We are fascinated by the social history they reveal, and how ordinary people lived their lives in the service of the great house.

Another reason for the walls was to protect the garden from the wind, and to produce a micro-climate which would promote the growth of the fruits and vegetables.

In the centre of the garden is a pond, filled with beautiful yellow flat irisis.

Onions, onions, and more onions!

Steps at the top of the garden, leading to various potting sheds etc. I wasn’t able to get up there with my buggy. Beautiful old stone walls, weathered to perfection.

A fruit tree trained against the wall.

A very great deal of rhubarb!

A corner turret, which seems to nestle into the walls of the garden.

We returned to the café for a cup of tea and some cake, and then returned home. What a wonderful day it was.

The only cloud was the fact that these days, the upstairs of the house is closed to disabled people. In our crazy modern climate of excessive health and safety, they no longer have a lift (a few years ago I was told I could no longer use it because what would happen if it broke down and I got stuck in it!!!) and when we said I would make my own way up the stairs in my own time, and my hubby would find a helpful visitor to assist him with carrying my wheelchair upstairs (everyone is always happy to earn their Brownie points for the day!) – this is something we are quite used to doing, having done it in many other National Trust houses in the past – the steward pulled a face and said it couldn’t be done. She was quite stroppy with me and it took several minutes before she explained that it was due to fire regulations – in the event of a fire, how would they get me down again? Our neighbour and I agreed that it was extremely unlikely that fire would break out during the short time I’d be upstairs, and surely if they were that worried, we could sign a waver exonerating them of all responsibility? They could also at least provide a wheelchair upstairs for the use of semi-mobile people such as myself.

What they now offer is a miserable little digital photo frame with a rolling slide show of photos of the upstairs of the house. You could just as well stay at home and look at better quality photos on the Internet. The upstairs is full of magnificent rooms and fabulous wall paintings and gorgeous beds, and if you can’t get up there without help, you can’t see it. Thank goodness I’ve seen the upstairs in the past…

I think this is discrimination against disabled people and I for one am sick to the back teeth of all this ridiculous health and safety which is completely killing off the last vestiges of common sense. I am wondering whether I can still call Knightshayes my favourite National Trust house? This left rather a sour taste.

Anyway, gripe over – apart from this, we had a really lovely day.

1 comment:

  1. Love old manor houses steeped in history! Sounds like you had a lovely day despite the restriction. It is utterly ridiculous to assume that a fire might break out while you're upstairs - what is there's an earthquake while you're downstairs? The chances are equally small!


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