Yesterday I had a lovely day out with my good friend Sonia (http://androulaskitchen.wordpress.com/) on a visit to Waddesdon Manor near Aylesbury. I have actually visited this house before but it was over ten years ago and the real reason for the visit yesterday wasn’t on then either. I really wanted to see the “Imagine – Lace at Waddesdon” which is an exhibition of contemporary lace making inspired by Waddesdon Manor.
The journey took almost 2 hours and we arrived at lunchtime. On arrival the first ‘difficulty’ occurred. I am a member of the National Trust who run Waddesdon but my friend isn’t so in order to gain entry to visit the house she had to buy a separate Gardens Ticket. Apparently house tickets can only be purchased at the house – which is not what it says on their website, and so two separate transactions need to be made. Still, we arrived at the house via the free shuttle bus and duly went to obtain our timed house and gardens tickets – or for Sonia, just a House ticket. The ticket booth had 2 open windows and there was no-one else waiting so we both went to a window each. I was very curtly instructed that because we were together we had to use the same window – I looked round to inspect the length of the queue behind me – and oh, surprise surprise, there was no-one else anywhere near, let alone waiting to buy a ticket. I was a bit taken aback, but complied with the order – and it was an order. Personally I think the ticket office woman was too busy chatting and couldn’t be bothered to issue my ticket, and certainly couldn’t be bothered to be civil or explain why when we were the only people at the ticket office we had to do the ticketing together. A disappointing start to the day then.
As there was an hour before we were able to go in to the house we decided to get some lunch and chose The Stables Cafe. Seat secured and meals chosen we were surprised and pleased that they arrived very quickly. Hmm, there is always a reason for such fast service and one which became apparent all to soon. My quiche and salad was OK, the quiche was warm on top but cold on the bottom and the salad was drowning in dressing, but my friends baked potato was undercooked. She spoke to the waitress when she arrived with our drinks but her comments fell on deaf ears as the girl simply shrugged and walked off! Amazing! Determined to make the best of it my lovely friend ate what she could and managed to attract the attention of the Duty Manager who poked the remains with a fork and said that we should have spoken to the waitress. My friend advised that this had been done but that the waitress wasn’t interested and walked off, at which point the DM reluctantly said she would deduct the baked potato from our bill. Result! (My friend had to explain this to the cashier though, so maybe not really a result after all.)
Horse statue in the Stables Yard
Time to catch the shuttle bus back up to the house. The main house is an interesting display of ostentation and frankly very bad taste (in my opinion). Everywhere you look you see gilded mouldings, edgings, ornate frippery and urns, hundreds of porcelain urns, in pairs, 4’s, 3’s and singles. Every room is also stuffed to overflowing with furniture, there is almost not enough room to walk round there are so many chairs and occasional tables, again all covered in gilding and frippery. This is a house that wants you to know its owners were fabulously wealthy!
Incredible elephant automata/clock
The exhibition I came to see however was the exact antithesis to the opulence and showiness of the house. The makers are all from the contemporary lace making group – Lace 21 which is formed from members of The Lace Guild, The Lace Society and the Ring of Tatters. The brief was to be inspired by Waddesdon and to make a new ‘lace’ work. The results were as diverse as architecture, automata, porcelain and panelling and each piece is shown close to the item which inspired it, each challenging the traditional concept of lace.
Waddesdon Roses – The Ring of Tatters, inspired by painted roses on Sevres porcelain dishes
Dining Room table set with white porcelain and bowls of tatted roses
The Rothschild family who built and owned Waddesdon Manor were great collectors of art and crafts-made objects and today the house is the home of an internationally important collection of Sevres porcelain.
A small part of the porcelain in the Sevres Room
This type of porcelain isn’t really my cup of tea (excuse the pun), but in a cabinet lies a small dish which I would be proud to own. It is beautiful, delicate and very modern looking and yet it is about 250 years old. Made by the Russian Imperial State Porcelain Factory in the 1750’s, it is quite THE most lovely thing to behold.
Fabulous plate from Russia made in the 1750’s
If I had to choose a favourite lace piece then I think it would have to be Carol Quarini’s “Whisperings” a net curtain with bobbin lace trim and embroidered words representing the captured words of overheard conversations.
Whisperings by Carol Quarini
The lace unravels to reveal sentences which spill out secrets such as “have you heard what she did?”; “what are you hiding, tell me”; “he says she’s not herself” and the somewhat darker “it’s our little secret”.
Inspirations for lace projects, or indeed other decorative art works can be seen everywhere and my eye was caught by this internal circular window…
like an internal moon, etched glass window
Even the house itself had been recreated as a lace piece.
Skyline by Nicole Valesia-Lair depicting the roof line of Waddesdon in a continuous piece of bobbin lace
Alongside of Lace is showing a smaller exhibition of digital artworks and mini installations by Jan Dunning called Rascal Shadows. This exhibition explores the fact that no custodian of Waddesdon produced a natural heir and that children had rarely set foot in the house, the exception being when it was used to accommodate 100 children under the age of 5 from Croydon.
An overlooked space with forgotten playthings by Jan Dunning part of Rascal Shadows
The best part of the Rascal Shadows exhibition was in the second floor turret where a walk in camera obscura has been placed. Fabulous!
Two views of the house and grounds in the camera obscura
So despite a couple of ‘hiccups’ over entry and food the day turned out to be very enjoyable. I’m not sure I would have visited if the Lace exhibition hadn’t been on, but it was and as a member of the National Trust it was worth it – as a non-member the entry fee is, I think a little on the high side. Also not so sure if I could recommend the food either.