Monday, 29 April 2019

A la Ronde

.....is a unique little building in Devon with fine views looking out over the countryside towards the Exe estuary. 
It was built in 1796 to a design conceived by the maiden cousins Jane and Mary Parminter in order to house their shell collection.  

The cousins designed this unusually shaped 16 sided building originally with a thatched roof. The most important consideration for them was to ensure that they gained as much possible natural light throughout the day into the top of the building. 
They busied themselves every day creating a shell gallery in the upper lantern room using their very large collection of shells, feathers, sand, seaweed, and crushed minerals.
The Parminter family had very extensive business interests - Jane was born in 1750 in Portugal where her father owned a wine export company. Independent wealth gave both of these women an unusual amount of freedom for that period in time.
They both set off together on a Grand Tour and it is considered that they may have been travelling for around four years. There was no set time or programme to a Grand Tour and four years or even longer was quite normal. 
It is likely that Jane and Mary conceived the idea of their own shell gallery following a visit made to the shell grotto on the island of Isola Bella in Lago Maggiore, Italy.
Sadly, now over 300 years old, it is no longer possible to actually see their shell craftwork - it is far too fragile for many visitors to walk around the narrow gallery.
looking up to the shell gallery
However, luckily I can still remember visiting it as a child, my parents brought me here whilst holidaying in Devon. It is now only viewable from a 3D screen, but that does not negate in anyway from the pleasure of being in such a delightful little building. 
The shell gallery via National Trust

48 comments:

  1. I have restored a couple of 18th century shell and crystal grottoes. The work that goes into them is enormous. Even in the 18th century, you had to be very wealthy to build one, using shells and minerals from all over the world and brought back by sail ship.

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    1. You are right Tom - you mainly only see them at large country estate.

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  2. The creative purposes to which shells have been put is staggering, and items of great beauty have been created in the process. I have vague memories of being shown as a child a table which someone had made which was inlaid with shells under a glass top. At the time I thought it was quite the most incredible thing I had ever seen, and as I then had but three or four shells of my own was very envious. Even now when I walk on a beach it's hard to resist picking up a shell or two!

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    1. I have some very large beautiful shells left to me by my grandmother who travelled around the world when she unexpectedly came into a large inheritance. Most of them, she picked up on the shoreline in various parts of the world, but you never find shells like those today on any beaches.

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  3. What a beautiful building they created. That roof window is a great find. And the shell galery is amazing.

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    1. It's a delightful building to be seen and enjoyed.

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  4. How beautiful! I've heard of this house and it was on a TV programme, but I can't remember which one. It must've been quite the life going on a Grand Tour for 4 years and how brave of them to do it! Then designing and building your own home! You often think of spinsters of long ago as living at home and stitching embroideries. They were quite the girls! Best, Jane x

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    1. It is surprising just how many women were very intrepid in the 18th and 19th century especially those who came from great wealth. I think of Marianne North who painted wonderful botanical pictures from her explorations all around the world. She spent several months in the rain forests of Brazil seeking new specimens to paint, and all of the time she was dressed in the typically long dresses of the period.

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    2. Jane,
      that is so true. They both set off together on a Grand Tour, without male chaperones and for double the length of the normal Tour. Independent incomes could buy a lot of freedom. :)

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  5. I have also heard about shell houses on a TV programme, but it is wonderful to see your clear and beautiful photos Rosemary. What an exquisite little building is A la Ronde. Shells are so beautiful, and I am pleased I have a small number of large shells I acquired in my early life, as these days they are mostly protected and difficult to get.

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    1. I too have a shelf full of shells too Patricia - most of which you could never find today.

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  6. I visited a few years ago when my middle son was at Exeter university. I remember loving the building, such a very unique place. B x

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    1. It is a joy to visit - so glad you have been there too.

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  7. It's very unusual in so many ways, and the gallery itself so beautiful. The story of the spinster cousins traveling the world for all those years is amazing. I often used to spend time in Exmouth as I had friends there - even went on the pebbly beach once or twice.
    Love collecting pretty shells along the N. Carolina coast after a storm, especially in Autumn when the beaches are cooler and so quiet compared to Summer.

    (Packing warm sweaters! think you are correct about the chilly weather returning!)
    Thinking of you.
    Mary x

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    1. Dear Mary - we stayed once at Exmouth when I was younger - probably about 15 years old. I have some particularly strong memories of that visit which I amused my husband with when we were last down in Devon.

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  8. Quite possibly the first roundhouse built in England since the Iron Age! According to the archaeologist Francis Prior it's a much more robust form of construction than our oblong design. It looks a wonderful building even if it no longer holds its treasure.

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    1. The treasure is still there John it is just that it needs protecting because of it's fragility. The walkway around the gallery is narrow and I think that with so many people visiting places such as this today, it was putting the shell decoration at high risk from them brushing up against them.

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  9. It is just charming and a real work of love. I can sure see why they don't allow people up in the sea shell gallery anymore. Aside from being fragile, visitors would need to be respectful.

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    1. Spot on Catherine - as I mentioned to John above, the gallery walkway is very narrow.

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  10. Dearest Rosemary,
    That is indeed very unique, especially considering its construction era!
    Hard to imagine how travels went back then, no train nor planes... It must have been very time consuming and mainly by boat for reaching big cities.
    You were lucky for having viewed it as a child with your Parents.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. I have read many books about several intrepid British women travellers during the 18th/19th century, and they were truly amazing. Of course they were mainly from wealthy families and usually took some servants with them, but they travelled by packhorse etc into completely unknown and alien places. There was also a very high risk to their health from catching strange or unknown infections.

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  11. Hello Rosemary, This post combines two of my favorite things--round/polygonal/octagonal buildings and monkey puzzle trees! Although this predates them, around the middle of the 19th century there was a fad in the U.S. for octagonal and similar houses, and these can still be seen all over the country--you often come across them unexpectedly when traveling on rural highways. For a while around the same time period, I thing it was illegal in the U.K. to have a house without a monkey puzzle next to it, at least judging from old photographs!
    --Jim

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    1. That should be "think" not "thing"! --Jim

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    2. Hello Jim - an 18th century plant collector, Archibald Menzies was commissioned by the Royal Botanic garden at Kew to collect plants in South America. The ship, the HMS Discovery, was named after Captain James Cook’s ship, who was also part of our plant hunting story. The story goes that whilst at dinner with the Governor of Chile Menzies kept a few seeds from the Monkey Puzzle Tree that were served as part of the meal. He managed to grow five of the seeds which were given to Joseph Banks at Kew Gardens in 1795. This popularised them and many grand estates then grew them for their gardens too, and so they became a very popular tree to have in our gardens over here. I think that there is now a resurgence in their popularity at the moment.

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  12. Replies
    1. I love the architecture of this little building.

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  13. What a wonderful building with an interesting history.

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  14. Lovely Rosemary. Wonderful shells of all kinds it seems.

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  15. A place I have wanted to visit for many years. I was very sorry to learn the other day that a more modern shell house has recently been destroyed in Jersey. We came across it by chance and were enthralled. But it's gone now. I would love to see A La Ronde, it's been on my list for years but I rarely get to that part of the world. Your post has reminded me.

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    1. Do try to go Jenny - we went early this month and it was lovely to have it almost to ourselves.

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  16. Fantastic building and collection. I love oddities like that.

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    1. There were many features that I really enjoyed in this property - in particular I loved the windows both inside and out.

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  17. What a remarkable place and the story of the two travellers. Thanks for posting this.

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    1. Glad that you enjoyed the post - thank you.

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  18. Such an unusual place. Thank you for showing us!

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  19. How beautiful and unique! 16 sided house is new to me. The Shell Gallery is stunning with countless shells. The is definitely the must-see place in the UK to me.

    Yoko

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    1. I am so pleased that you enjoyed seeing A La Ronde Yoko - we found it to be a delightful visit.

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  20. Wow, what a special place and with an interesting story too! It is beautiful and very unique!

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  21. An amazing place and love the history about these two maiden cousins so modern considered the century the lived in.

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    1. I am always interested to learn about these intrepid women from centuries ago, especially when I remember that there were so many unknowns around the world at that time.

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  22. Beautiful photos, I especially loved the windows.
    Have a nice weekend
    Hugs
    Maria
    Divagar Sobre Tudo um Pouco

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