The Made to Measure House
Those who've been following my blog for a while might remember our visit to Upton House, where the National Trust staged the property as it might have been during WW2, when a London bank was relocated to the owners' country house.
We'd really enjoyed that visit, so when I read that the house was being staged again, this time as a property for sale, I was keen to go and take a look. We chose a fine Tuesday; on reflection, not the best day of the week to get there (Moreton Market Day, a variety of road works and assorted hindrances along the Fosse Way) and aimed to arrive an hour or so before the house opens at 1pm. Time to get a ticket for the house, which has timed entry, we thought.
Fortunately, we'd thought to bring a picnic, for even then, the earliest viewing available was 2.20pm! This is a popular place and though we felt there must surely be a means of booking online, we never discovered how! Anyway, we relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine.
So, the premise is that it's 1927 and Upton House has just been put up for sale by the owners Mr and Mrs Andrew Motion (Grandparents of the former Poet Laureate). Walter Samuel, the 2nd Viscount Bearsted and his wife already own a nearby property but seeing the potential for a fine country residence, they arrange to view the property. Visitors to the house this year are asked to put themselves in the Bearsteds' shoes and imagine they too are potential buyers. Not only that, but over the next two or three years, we've invited to return, to see the house develop as a "Made to Measure House".
The timed admission ticket is marketed as "an appointment with the Land Agent", who will meet you at the front door at the assigned time. I had hoped for a photograph of said agent, but someone else had the same idea! Never mind. It's a most attractive house, though didn't look quite as attractive in 1927, as can be seen in the agent's photo above.
We viewed the garden first, then, going through the side entrance and making a slight detour into the new squash courts to watch a short film which set the scene.
The gardens are splendid, though I wonder if the Bearsteds ever imagined them being used as a pleasure ground by so many families? On a lovely day, what better way to spend the afternoon?
In no time at all, our appointment was imminent, so off we went to meet Charlie, the Land Agent.
Charlie introduced himself and explained the nature of the property and what we were about to see. Clearly, it wasn't possible to return the house to how it had been when it was for sale, but by a series of photographs, drawings, models and descriptions, all that was needed was a little imagination. So, we began our viewing in what is now the Long Gallery, but which had then been a series of three small rooms overlooking the garden.
Here was the first of a series of short articles, supposedly taken from a book of the time when the concept of "home" was very much part of the post-war mindset. Those fortunate enough to own property were interested in creating a beautiful place to live, with "all mod cons" and these boards posed questions to mull over. Just what kind of a home might one create here?
Whatever ideas one might have, it was sure to require an architect to bring them all into fruition and the next room was staged as Percy Morley Horder's office. He was appointed architect for the project and by means of a very clever model, a member of the house staff demonstrated the structural changes he recommended to the Bearsteds. Most significant of these was the demolition of a couple of ugly extensions, replacing them with larger, symmetrical additions, including a games room and a number of guest rooms. It's his vision which created the house as it looks today.
Ah yes. Charlie had explained to us that there was no such thing as planning permission, nor were any buildings listed or protected in any way. If we wanted, we could take the whole thing down and begin again. Hopefully, we would do so tastefully...
As we wandered through the house, we tried to work out what had been altered/added. It was all there on the plans but my problem is, I find it very hard to think in three dimensions! I first realised this significant shortcoming when we built our house and I was asked to made decisions on the basis of a print not unlike the one above. I couldn't do it! I made a scale model in the end, in order to visualise the spaces and orientate myself! I guess the Bearsteds had someone do that for them...
In some places though, the work had been done for me. One of the Viscount's challenges was to find a home for his art collection and the solution was to reassign the old squash court as a gallery, building a new squash court at the opposite end of the house (where we had viewed the introductory film, earlier). To enable visitors to envisage how it had been, a couple of clues had been left in place! The other end of the room had brocade wallpaper and looked just as a gallery in a large country house would be.
Upstairs, the bedrooms were filled with a series of related exhibits. Here was a collection of fashion from the time with a whole wardrobe of clothes to try on! the next room had an exhibition of Country Life magazine, showing the development of interest in the home and garden. Another bedroom had an activity about "good taste", 1930s style which was both thought provoking and for some, questionable!
Lady Bearsted's Chinese style bedroom and Art Deco bathroom were used to illustrate her appreciation of the fashionable interior design styles of the time, too.
Last, but not least, below stairs was a wonderful photograph of the tradesmen who put the Bearsteds' dreams and wishes into place. There were a couple of pen portraits of these mostly local people who worked on the house during the following years, who could proudly say they created the finest "made to measure" house.
I need to keep an eye on the Upton House website and watch for further developments. This is such a great concept of the National Trust and one I very much enjoy. It keeps us coming back too, which has to be a Good Thing.
In spite of the traffic.