Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Claydon, Buckinghamshire

Built in the middle of the C18th, Claydon is now little more than a shadow of its former self. Sir Ralph Verney's intention was that his home should rival that of his neighbour, Sir Richard Temple, who built the internationally renowned Stowe House 
Although never entirely finished Claydon was a very impressive building complete with a domed rotunda, state rooms and a vast ballroom. 
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Model showing all that remains of Claydon
The interior of the house was adorned extravagantly with wooden carved Rococo decorations. However, Sir Ralph ran into severe financial problems and was forced to sell most of Claydons contents. He spent the final years of his life on the continent to escape his creditors. Following his death in 1792 his estate was inherited by his niece Mary Verney (later created Baroness Fermanagh). She was an extremely frugal women and had two-thirds of the house demolished which included the central domed rotunda and the ballroom leaving the house much as it appears today.

Arriving early before the house had opened we took a walk along the Ha Ha to the church
The small chancel has an attractive barrel vaulted ceiling
Later it was possible to photograph the exterior of the chancel through a window inside Claydon House
The south wall of the chancel is completely filled by this large monument which Sir Ralph Verney erected to the memory of his father, Sir Edmund Verney, Standard Bearer to Charles l, who was killed at the battle of Edge Hill in 1642
A small detail from a large brass memorial, dated 1543, showing a knight in armour, Roger Gifford, builder of the barrel-vaulted chancel and first holder of the lease at Claydon - he had 13 sons and 7 daughters 
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Stepping inside Claydon's North Hall reveals just how Sir Ralph set out to create a country house of extraordinary grandeur, one in which he wished to dazzle his wealthy neighbours and outdo his political rivals. Today Claydon's interiors are considered to be amongst the most ambitious and lavish ever created during the C18th - a Georgian masterpiece of Rococo decoration
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Sir Ralph employed the brilliant and talented stonemason and carver Luke Lightfoot who for ten years used his skills to make impressive carvings. However, he was not trustworthy and swindled away a lot of Sir Ralph's money before being eventually dismissed. Above is shown a Hoho bird, a mythical creature, an Asian version of the Phoenix. The Hoho is said to bring both good luck and good fortune, which in Sir Ralph's case proved to be the opposite resulting in loss of fortune and his eventual demise.
Along with the Hoho bird many Swans also feature in Lightfoot's carvings - dating back to the Anglo-saxon period, swans were bred in Buckinghamshire for the King's pleasure. 
Although Lightfoot's work appears to resemble plasterwork, it is all carved from wood then painted white. It is thought that he used pine which comes in many different shades and discolours over time. The paint has, therefore, helped to preserve it so that we can still enjoy Lightfoot's amazing skill and craftsmanship today
When Lightfoot was dismissed Sir Ralph employed Robert Adam's favourite stuccoist, Joseph Rose, whose plasterwork can be seen here in the Saloon. It displays exquisite geometrical detail with a frieze made of papier mâché all done in the neoclassical style.
Claydon's staircase is so precious and rare that nobody is allowed to walk on it. There is no stairway in England its equal - the curator likens it to walking on Chippendale furniture
The steps are mahogany inlaid with box, ebony and ivory. The ironwork balusters are of equal delicacy with swirling vegetation so final wrought that it was said to 'sing' with passing movement when the stairs were in use
Upstairs can be found Lightfoot's masterpiece - the Chinoiserie Room classed as one the most original designs from the C18th anywhere. Elaborate pagodas sit above the doorways, Chinese faces peer from the woodwork, there is a riot of swirling foliage, temples, bells and birds. The focus of the room is the large alcove ornately carved with a golden divan sitting within
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 On the back wall is a relief of a Chinese tea ceremony  with two mandarins apparently inviting one to join them for tea!
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In the C19th Sir Harry Verney married Parthenope the eldest sister of Florence Nightingale. Florence was always made very welcome at Claydon where she was given rooms so that she could work quietly and meet important people whenever she wished to leave her house in London. She became the favourite aunt of the children of Edmund Verney (Sir Harry's eldest son); Edmund had served as a naval officer in the Crimea. When he lost part of his foot in a shooting accident at Claydon House, he looked at the picture of Florence in his bedroom and said it gave him courage to bear the pain.

51 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos of Claydon - a house well worth a visit, although some of the access roads can be awful especially in bad weather. I didn't know that story about Florence Nightingale's portrait giving courage to Edmund Verney to bear his pai.

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    1. You are right the country lanes around Claydon are very narrow and feel remote.

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  2. Claydon's not impossibly far from us so I will payit a visit now that I have seen your pictures of the interiors. I always thought somehow that it would be rather plain inside. I would also like to see the church.
    I always thought Parthenope was not very sympathetic to Florence's ambitions but I'm glad that they did in fact remain on good terms.
    I will investigate cycling round there. I imagine it has a nice tea room which is always a bonus but only really justified if I have been taking some exercise, I feel...

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    1. The tea room does not belong to the NT and we thought that it was rather more pricey.

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  3. The Chinese room looks rich but a bit to much to have a nice sleep I am afraid.

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    1. Totally over the top but a fine example of Rococo work.

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  4. The interiors are all a bit over the top for me but I do admire the intricacy and the workmanship. I am glad it is being preserved in good hands.

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    1. It is not something we would want to today, but it is very fortunately, as you mentioned, that it has been preserved.

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  5. Claydon appeals to me very much in its architectural detail, Rosemary. Luke Lightfoot's swans and hoho birds are beautiful, along with the Chinoiserie room, very nice, though hard to imagine it being used in a practical sense. The best thing though is that staircase, the most delicate and exquisite one I've ever seen. That ironwork is breath-taking, and I'm sure it sounds like angels when someone walks by.

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing Claydon Patricia - both the stairway and the rococo carvings are very rare survivors.

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  6. I'd hate to have to be the one to dust that Chinoiserie Room.

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    1. Quite so, I hate dusting at the best of times

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  7. Dear Rosemary, Never have I seen a more beautiful ironwork baluster. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. The Master Craftsman who created it was a true artist. Thank you for including it in your beautiful photographs.

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    1. To stand at the bottom of the stairway and look all the way up to the glass cupola at the very top of the building was a lovely sight Gina - so pleased that you enjoyed seeing it.

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  8. What wonderful carvings and iron work. I presume the rooms are large, if so the artwork would look even better. What a job to keep clean..

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    1. The rooms are enormous Margaret especially the North Hall where the swans and Hobo bird carvings are.

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  9. Hello Rosemary, I had seen impressive details from Claydon before, but never so much of the house together, nor its interesting history. That staircase appeals to me enormously. I wonder just how finished were the demolished sections--a house so large with that degree of ornament might have been overwhelming or even off-putting. Even the remaining part seems best taken in a little at a time.
    --Jim

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    1. The whole of the planned building, as per the model, was built. It was just some of the details and refinements that were not finished. It would have been a sad loss if the whole building and Lightfoot's carvings had been destroyed.

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  10. Not a house I'm familiar with, love your photos.

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    1. Thank you I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the photos

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  11. Another amazing place to add to my to-visit list. Incredible decoration seemingly everywhere. I love the fact that the carving is made of wood and the stucco made of papier mache.

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    1. It is a very rare example, and wonderful that at least one third of the house is still preserved.

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  12. Dear Rosemary, the carvings are really outstanding! This type of craftsmanship is truly an art form. Too bad that Sir Verney got into financial trouble. It would have been great if he would have been able to complete his original plans for the house. He certainly had the taste to create something extraordinarily beautiful, which can not be said of all wealthy people. Enjoyed reading your post very much!
    Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. Dear Christina - he wanted to dazzle his neighbours and surely he must have done it is an extraordinary feat of rococo splendour

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  13. An impressive house and interior Rosemary! That blue/yellow room looks beautiful.

    Have a lovely evening!

    Madelief x

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    1. I love those shades of yellow and blue too Madelief - they compliment each other beautifully

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  14. The interior of Claydon, a bit too much of good things. I think the staircase is of an outstanding beaty especially the ironwork speaks to my imagination.

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    1. The rococo work is completely over the top, but how lucky are we to have it still surviving. It was the height of what was the taste at the time - the staircase must have been handsome then and still is now.

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  15. A fascinating visit! The carvings are incredible aren't they and the ceiling, well! You know I love a good ceiling and that one really is fabulous isn't it!!! Just such amazing work. Well worth a visit! xx

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    1. It was so fortunately that lightfoot painted his work in white and preserved it forever - can you imagine if woodworm had made its way into the wood or maybe damp or other damage.

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  16. One can admire the craftsmanship, but it must be quite a responsibility to look after.

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    1. Can you imagine trying to keep it clean back when it was made - it must be easier today now we have vacuum cleaners.

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  17. Oh I so enjoyed that! What a exquisite staircase! I wonder if the niece tore down such a large portion of the house to bring down her taxes? if there was a tax so long ago. Seems the labor to remove it would be have been stout.

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    1. She was an unmarried lady, so a smaller house with less upkeep probably suited her better.

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  18. Hello Rosemary,
    How stunningly beautiful and so much history here. Lightfoot's work is spectacular. The history of the family would make for a good book on economics. What a pity the rotunda was demolished in an effort to save money. In doing so, she likely preserved the present history. Hope your summer is going well I refuse to acknowledge any harbinger of autumn.
    Helen xx

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    1. Hello Helen - I should imagine you are probably right as otherwise the whole place would probably have degenerated into
      a ruin and the interior lost.
      Fingers crossed we shall have an Indian Summer - wouldn't that be lovely.

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  19. Beautiful photos of lovely place.

    Yesterday I returned from my holiday.
    Hugs

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    1. Hope you are feeling relaxed and refreshed from your holiday Orvokki - glad you enjoyed the photos

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  20. Indeed magnificent and sumptuous . The carved ceiling is stunning and I love the furniture in the chinese room !

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    1. The Chinese room is rather over the top, but there is something charming about it.

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  21. Dear Rosemary,

    What an incredible art history lesson this posting has been! The staircase appears so delicate that it's a wonder it has lasted to this day. I can imagine that if a 300 lb. person ascended it, the staircase wouls indeed sing! I like that the walls of the chinoiserie room are a solid color, and don't fight the magnificnt carvings. Do you suppose the walls were always plain!

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    1. Hello Mark - it was such a pleasure to see your avatar pop up here this morning.
      As far as I am aware the walls are painted exactly as they would have been originally. The NT tend to be very particular in that all of their properties are kept historically correct.

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    2. That happens here, too. The Lee Mansion (Robert E. Lee's property, which is now Arlington National Cemetery) was for years a gleaming white. Now it's painted as faux marble, as it was prior to the Civil War. (But I liked it better white!)

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  22. What exquisite woodwork and yes, at first glance, it does look like plaster. :) Unbelievable. One would almost forgive Lightfoot his transgressions. Thanks again so much, Rosemary, for another fascinating post. I loved the pix from your garden too.

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    1. Entering the house from a plain but handsome Palladian exterior the rococo decoration is in huge contrast.
      Thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed the garden photos too Yvette.

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  23. Thanks for showing us such a lovely house with so many exquisitely beautiful details. Your photos are fabulous as always, Rosemary. The ceilings, the staircase, the colors of blue and white, are impressive to me.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - Claydon is such a rare survival and we are fortunate that at least ⅓ of the property is still left for us to appreciate and admire.

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  24. How the craftsmen ever managed to do such beautiful work both in and outside these historic buildings always amazes. Whilst today's hurry up and cut costs approach often brings ugliness, short term 'fixes' seems to be the way things are going for the most part - sad and makes us so thankful there is some beauty remaining if we can just take the time to find it - as you always do Rosemary.
    Thank you - and keep amazing us please.
    Mary -

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    1. I do wonder just how long so many of our buildings from today will last - thank you for your kind and very encouraging comment Mary.

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  25. Rosemary, the archeological dig we were on was in Upton Cheney near Wick which is near Bristol. It's an Archeoscan site, they use volunteers for all their digs.

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