England in November

Damp, cold, melancholy – exactly how I like it.

Herewith some some photos from Wiltshire.IMG_2592The hobbit house…IMG_2479and an apple tree…IMG_2466Rosie with her bebe gun for frightening the crows.

IMG_2602Indoors the kitchen with its open fire beckons.

IMG_2490as do the stairs.

IMG_2436In the church the shelves need dusting  – melancholy indeed

IMG_2622as are the poppies for Remembrance Sunday.IMG_2540Such stormy skies!IMG_2726And a bare tree in Surrey too.


Joseph Bayley, my great grandfather, went

thumbnail_Bayley_Dr. Joseph_photo_1863_

as a very young man, with or without his little dog,


to be a surgeon to the navy during the Crimean War and witnessed the bombardment of Bomarsund.

On his return he married

thumbnail_Oliver_Sarah Jane_photo_1863_

Sarah Jane Oliver, the daughter of the superintendent of the Salop Asylum. He then  was chosen from among forty seven candidates to be superintendent of St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton.


He lived with his family


in Priory Cottage in the grounds of the hospital. It looks more like a substantial villa than a cottage to me. Therefore my grandmother, like her mother before her,  grew up in a mental hospital. Though there is a great deal too much ivy about the place, I’m glad the windows of Priory Cottage are mostly open.

Bayley_Joseph&Sarah_photo_1893_Bayley Family portrait at St. Andrews Hospital

What quantities of children Sarah and Joseph had! (Ten actually). My grandmother, Gretchen, stands on the right. Their names were Eleanor, Joseph, Harold, Beatrice, Percival, Maude, Leslie, Gretchen and Claude.

Beatrice was the mother of the artist Cecily Peele.


I especially like Lawrence of Arabia – whose childhood home at 2, Polstead Road, I lived in when I was an art student. (But that’s another story entirely).


What a lovely detail.

Beatrice was also great friends with Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, another splendid artist.


But I digress…

Gretchen was my mother’s mother.


When they got quite old

Bayley_Joseph&Sarah_photo_1895_ Shrewsbury

Joseph looks tired and Sarah has got rather fat. The poor cat (lower left) seems to be running away.

And that is quite enough storytelling for today.


Writing about the Past and Mythical Gardens


The idea  of a lost Eden is a commonplace in myth and literature – think Le Grand Meaulness. How compelling is the idea of a perfect place to be discovered or rediscovered – and to be expelled from. Masaccio’s painting in the Brancacci chapel captures the idea only too well. Adam and Eve look spectacularly miserable. Not one blade of grass to be seen!


And of course the place they were expelled from was a garden! Another mythical  – but very real – place was The Secret Garden where Frances Hodgson Burnett managed to weave every single heart-tugging  strand together: the grumpy child, the bereft husband, the huge old manor house,the mysterious cries in the night, the local boy in touch with nature – all heading towards healing. Needless to say, like a very large number of other girls, I was madly in love with Dickon. How could I not be?

When I was a child – my very own lost Eden – I lived in a place very rich in history. I grew up in what had once been a gamekeeper’s cottage on a huge estate in Essex. The Petre family, hugely wealthy in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries – despite remaining Roman Catholic – had built Thorndon Hall, a magnificent pile designed by Thomas Paine. Building began 1764.


By the 1950s, after several disastrous fires, the house had been abandoned and only the shell remained in various states of decrepitude. As children we were warned never to go in it. So, needless to say, we went into all the bits of it that we were able to.

In the woods there were reputed to be mysterious trees rarely seen in England and planted by one of the lords who was a ‘famous botanist’. Then there  was the myth of the First Thorndon Hall which had entirely vanished and had been some mile and a half to the south. All this was rather hazy and ill-defined, and though we did a lot of exploring – as one did before the internet and the constant monitoring of children’s whereabouts  -we never did find the old hall.

So, many years later, researching a story for children, I came upon a most fascinating person, Robert the 8th Lord Petre, who died shortly after his 29th birthday, leaving his heir a baby only three months old.


Robert’s acheivements were remarkable. Between 1740 and 1742, some 60,000 trees of at least 50 different species were planted at Thorndon Hall. His hothouse – here referred to as a ‘stove’ was reputed to be the largest hothouse in the world, was fully 30 feet (9.1 m) high and contained trees and shrubs 10 to 25 feet (7.6 m) tall including specimens of guavapapawplantainhibiscusHernandia (Jack-in-a-Box), ceroid cactiSago Palmannatto (a red berry used for edible dye) and bamboo cane. The walls were hung with trellises covered with passion flowers, a wide variety of clematis and creeping cereus. Robert was particularly fond of the white lilac and, on one occasion, culled sufficient seed to raise in his nursery 5,000 new plants. Unfortunately, the principles of plant genetics and cross-pollination were then little understood; all but twenty of them bore purple blossom. Between 1740 and 1742, some 60,000 trees of at least 50 different species were planted at Thorndon Hall.

Twenty years after Robert’s death all remained was a scene of desolation: the house was falling down having been partially burned by a fire caused by lightning in 1757, the nurseries were overgrown and the stoves empty, apart from two date palms, a cactus and a few sickly shrubs. Even the menagerie had vanished.

Robert’s son, who had not known his father, had the new grandiose Thorndon Hall built and the old one was almost entirely obliterated and forgotten. Only two images of the Elizabeth building exist.

Old Thorndon HallOld-Thorndon-Hall-1669-Duke

I cannot discover a single image of Robert himself who after his death was described thus: “He was a fine, tall, comely man. Handsome, had the presence of a Prince, but so happily mixt that Love and Au was begat at the same time. The endowments of his mind are not to be described. Few excelled him in the liberal arts and sciences – a great Mechanic as well as a Mathematician, ready at figures and calculations, a fine taste for architecture, and drew and designed well himself” – a great Ardour for every Branch of Botanic Science, – whoever sees his vast Plantations and his Catalogue will not doubt it. In his Religious way an Example of great Piety, Charity and Chastity. Strict in his Morals, of great Temperance and Sobriety, no Loose Word, no Double entendre ever dropt from his lips”.

And now to write my story about how 20th century children rediscover this lost earthly paradise.

I wonder what passion drove Robert to create this fleeting marvel and why it was so utterly forgotten?

Oh to be in England…


Well, it was April after all


and the log fire burned merrily in the hearth.


The ghost was nowhere to be seen


though the light bounced off all sorts of things in the sitting room.


The dew was heavy on the lawn.


Outside the kitchen


a single red tulip in the grass – and Marmite on the window sill.


Houses galore


even a house fit for a hobbit.


Cowslips, dandelions, grape hyacinth  and tulips make a lawn in the orchard.


Primroses too


just look at the grass


and peek in at the windows.


Primroses under the rose.


Old and New and Bookish

A new year, a new beginning and so on and so on.


January 3rd was our 40th wedding anniversary and I got out my wedding dress to show a friend.  It was probably made about 1870  – for a very slim young thing.  Anyway, it’s still pretty. I photographed it on a chair that was probably made even earlier than that.


And here is the little nursing chair newly upholstered and restored thanks to my thoughtful daughter-in-law – with lovely putti doing cherubic things. This chair came from my grandparents’ house in Kent and was in my childhood bedroom. The little daffodil was a present from a friend.


Here is Robert’s work table cleared for the new year with a sketch of the cherub who made the very useful Lego pot-for-puting-things-in.

How one relishes the austerity of the clean and clear and fresh. Then thoughts about what to do with the lovely new year. Hmm….back to books and writing I think. I sorted out the book shelves a couple of months ago and tried a new system…


sorting by spine cover color – which makes for some very strange bedfellows indeed. The juxtapositions so odd they make one think anew. This is the red bit.


This is part of the black bit. Black seems to be the ‘it’ color both for book spines and New York clothing.


This is a messy bit that needs sorting out.


This is the blue and yellow bit. Yellow is the least used color. Needless to say, most of my best books have disappeared – pressed upon people who will probably never read them.

This year I will write down all the books I read  – something conscientious readers do.

New years always start with the very best of intentions.




Chelsea Physic Garden


What bliss it would be to overlook the garden! I hadn’t been there for many years and a visit was much overdue despite horrid cold changeable weather. The oldest botanical garden in England after the one at Oxford.


I ended up buying a red plastic poncho from the little hut in the middle background of the picture. The poncho prevented me from getting drenched.


This almost looks like the countryside – right in the middle of town. Cow parsley – so evocative of wet walks many years ago.


Arum lilies evocative of church.


Wicket fences which make me think of useful projects I’m entirely unlikely ever to do.


The sky reflected in water


and again.


Such green


and more green!


And all so assiduously tended.