The walls which surround us: we make them what they are today.
But we do not know what may happen to them tomorrow. We can just do what we do, and try to make them the happiest walls possible.
Once upon a time, in the rolling fields just outside High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, someone built a farmhouse.
It is recorded in the Domesday Book, William the Conqueror’s survey for tax purposes. But as a guide put it to me recently: if it was a few logs tacked together with a bit of cow dung, William would feel at liberty to tax it. It cost the son of the Bishop of Bayeux ten hides in tax.
However: by the time we encounter it on history’s path, it was a nice Tudor farmhouse. Right up until the moment that a gentleman bought the place to use as a hunting lodge. It had no mod cons: not water, or even bathrooms. It was just a basic crash pad for a bachelor and his mates. Georgian in style, it was covered in white plaster.
He did not trouble with covering the place’s humble roots down in the cellar, though. And I stood on the stairs and gazed starry-eyed at what was left of the Domesday Farmhouse.
Anyhow, the Georgian gentleman used the place for some time, and it was not until 1848 that a most happy turn of events ensured it was well fitted out from that moment onwards.
Because when it came up for sale, it just happened that Benjamin Disraeli’s parents lived just next door. And though he had no money, yet rich and influential friends lent him the £25,000 – a king’s ransom in today’s money – to buy the place.
Before long, Disraeli was a-changing things. What a man he was. If ever I could be persuaded to like a Tory prime minister, it would be him. In thrall to Lord Byron as a young man, with an eye for the ladies and they for him, he had his flamboyant side. And while he was putting the world to rights at Westminster he was busy improving his four walls. His choice of architect was controversial and the results most odd. Edward Buckton Lamb was said to be “one of the most perverse and original of mid-Victorian architects” and Nickolas Pevsner branded Hughenden’s attempt at emulating the gothic ‘excruciating’.
It did make me grin, as I stepped round. Widely. Baronial gothic, I think the style is called. And Disraeli took advantage of glazing technology and glassed in the entrance hall and wide back windows so it has something of the shop front about it.
But it is a happy shop front. Disraeli and his wife were a perfect, clever love match and the walls still proclaim their mutual regard today. As eccentric as Walpole’s Twickenham folly, Strawberry Hill, in its own way, you walk from room to room gazing at ceilings like cake icing and gargoyles straight out of a Victorian gothic novel. Somehow, though it is mock-gothic, it sits well. And for the strangest reason: its occupants were likeable.
They died, eventually. And could not have imagined in their wildest dreams what the 1940s would have in store for their four walls.
To be continued……
27 thoughts on “These four walls”
The Wikipedia details of Hughenden’s Second World War life are very sketchy indeed – I’d love to know more.
The pictures are the best bit, Roger…
Love the pics, especially the gargoyle, you always manage to get them in the story.
I do like a nice gargoyle, Lou.
Lovely pics, Kate, and wonderful virtual tour of an “old farmhouse.” Looking forward to the rest of it. Your blog is such a great distraction 🙂
😀 What a lovely thing to say! Thank you! Not much of the farmhouse left, I fear…
Yes, but at least it wasn’t torn down to make way for a strip mall … which is what usually happens to old (and not-so-old) buildings in the US 🙂
Really hard for me to picture it as a farmhouse.
I think it has almost forgotten its roots, Tammy.
I like the comic gargoyle.
He is very cool, isn’t he, Gale: but he is very flimsy plaster, I fear. He must take a lot of upkeep.
It has a Moorish flair, Kate, a design style that was quite popular with the Victorians.
Interesting; he did love Byron so, and that eclectic set of tastes must have rubbed off from the poet to the politician.
You don’t usually leave us hanging, Kate! How fun! There is something in our human character that inspires us to take our homes and make them nests of our particular interest and needs. I do want to hear what comes next!
Alas, it has not happened today, Debra, nor will it happen tomorrow (I got preoccupied with geophones). But soon, I promise.
Byron and the ladies! Who knew? [well, probably loads of folks, but not me!] Waiting to hear what the 40s had in store…
Byron. A man after your own heart, Cameron. An epic gentleman.
What shoots from humble roots! Thanks for the pictorial tour, Kate.
Pleasure, Nancy. This building reminds me of every time I have put a hotel on Whitechapel Lane on the Monopoly board.
Hm, could this be the war years half of the 40s Kate? Maybe you’ve gotten that gargoyle to talk (I’m with Lou about liking that).
It could indeed, Virginia. The gargoyle is all grimace and no grist. Though it did see a few things during the wartime years, I can tell you.
I would love a ramble round and inside those walls.
*stamps up and down* Where is the continuation?
All in good time, Col, all in good time 🙂 I like to wait for the right day. The one that feels right. It won’t be tomorrow, I am absorbed in geophones right now. Perhaps the next day…
I am not a very patient person …
Me? Threaten you? How could you think it?
I love this. All those reds and stuff, stuff, stuff and now look forward to the next part.
Good yarn, Kate. A stately structure with a bit of history. I’m waiting …
Slowly catching up Kate – this is terrific: I especially like the massed chimney stacks. They at least aren’t gothic 🙂