Have you ever had one of those days where you set out without any idea of what awaits you? You leave home with certain expectations, expectations that are based on just the flimsiest of possibility, on just a ‘thought’ of what might come. And then your day turns out to be just amazing, so totally not what you had in mind at all! The kind of day that feels like you just fell down the Rabbit Hole!
Well yesterday I had one of those days. A few weeks ago I received a message from Andy of @501places on twitter via my @3days_in_london profile, asking if I was interested in attending the preview of a new Henry Moore exhibition at Hatfield House. Oh yes!! By gum, I was interested, of course! I had never attended an exhibition preview before! I said yes immediately and prayed I could get the time off!
In fact I was thrilled and immediately set about arranging time off for the day. The invitation from the organisers arrived in due course and I hopped onto the internet to find out more about Henry Moore and Hatfield House.
Whoa!! All my preconceived ideas did not even begin to meet what I discovered.
Hatfield House looked just beyond amazing and I was excited to have the oppotunity to visit. I had stumbled across Henry Moore’s pieces previously on my #walkabouts through London, so did a bit of investigation and all thoughts/ideas I had about the man went straight out the window.
When I first came across Henry Moore it was by walking past an intruiging piece of his work, called ‘Locking Piece’ on Millbank near Vauxhall Bridge.
I loved the sculpture and took some photos of it before heading onto Tate Britain where I came across a couple more pieces, one of which was a rather large shape depicting a lady reclining on her side, a rather overwhelming piece that I wasn’t at all too sure I liked. I mistakenly assumed that these pieces were modern!
So now, when I did my research, I discovered that in fact this Gentleman, Henry Spencer Moore was born in 1898!!!! He died in 1986 at the age of 88 after a long and illustrious career as a sculptor, with many commissions and hundreds of pieces, pieces that were in exhibitions all over the world. So successful was his career that at one stage he was paying £1million in tax accordingly to wikipedia, the article went on to say that it was at this stage that with the help of his daughter Mary, they set up the Henry Moore Foundation.
Finally the day dawned and I set off to Kings Cross Station. We were to be met at the station by a representative of the House, the lovely Annabel. My next suprise came when I met some of the other people who had been invited and to my delight, many of them were people I had met online and chatted to via twitter: Laura of @AboutLondon, Sue of @itsyourlondon, Charles of @HotelPRGuy and Andy of @501places (the gentleman who invited me). Sue I had met before when we went to Trooping the Colour together in June last year. (Did I ever tell you that I LOVE twitter) 🙂 I also got to meet Sophie of @QunoSpotter as well as Pleasance and Alex of @visitbritain It was great to meet them all.
We hopped on the train and excuse me if you don’t mind…….we travelled 1st Class! Tah dah!! Now we’re talking!! The journey from Kings Cross to Hatfield lasted about 20minutes and before we even had time to really get a conversation going we arrived at Hatfield Station, no time to play a game of cards then! A short bus ride later and my jaw hit the floor!!
OMG!!!! beyond my wildest expectations there before my very eyes was this absolutely amazing Tudor House. WOW! WOW! WOW! I was elated. I clambered out the bus and in front of me, reclining on the emerald green lawn was this enormous fibreglass caste ‘Large Reclining Figure’….no kidding. It is ‘very large’ and very, very white. Not something you would miss in the dark! I loved it!
Across the way a private church (which sadly I did not get time to explore), the old riding school, and the rooms, chimneys and wonder of the Old Tudor Palace of Hatfield.
Next I met the lovely Cherise with whom I had spoken on the phone and then it was a quick tour through this most marvellous hall. I cannot even begin to tell you how fabulous this Tudor Hall is. An aframe ceiling soars above your head, covered with the most incredible wood work, glowing chandeliers hung precariously from the rafters, the ancient red-brick walls adorned with fabulous woven tapestries of mythical creatures, in bright glowing colours and along the walls were wonderful portraits of Kings and Queens, Lords and Ladies.
If my mouth had been a fly-catcher, I would have cleared the planet!! I was entranced. Walking around, all I could say was wow, wow, wow! My vocabulary had forsaken me! Then to my delight I discovered that a certain young lady had lived there as a young girl….. wait for it…… Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. I kid you not!!!! I was walking on the same floor through the same room as Queen Elizabeth I.
The goosebumps were running up and down my arms and legs like you could not believe. The house is fabulous, red-brick and wood, towering roofs and chimneys, walls adorned with fullsome bunches of purple and lilac wisteria; fresh new buds on ancient limbs.
Running up a flight of stairs (to find the loo) I stepped back in time! Gosh, golly and wow. The upper landing was a rabbits warren of rooms and staircases, with ancient doors and furniture, cosy fireplaces, mullioned windows, and along the walls; portraits of ‘yer man’ Henry VIII and his bunch of not so merry wives. Please bear in mind that this dude was not averse to using the blade and had most of his wives beheaded!
You know, when you read about this in the history books, it’s kind of many times removed and doesn’t really make an impact beyond the obvious:…’how could anyone do that?’ But when you actually stand in front of the portraits of the women whose heads were removed in a most horrific way and look into their eyes……..it takes on a completely different meaning. I was almost moved to tears!
From there we made our way out into the garden, where to my delight, I got to meet Lynne of @lynnerosie also a FB friend. Wow, this day was turning out just fine!!! and to boot, the weather was quite simply fabulous. There is nothing on earth like a spring day in England!
Then it was out onto the lawns, where we met Lord Salisbury, whose family has lived on this property for the last 400 years!!! Can you even compute that? 400 years!! geez xmas. The furtherst back I can track my heritage is my great-great-grandparents and even then we are a wee bit uncertain exactly from whence they came. It was quite surreal really. You know when you read about and learn about the Aristocracy you kind of expect them to be different somehow (well I do!), but when you meet them in real life…..they are just like you and me! Two eyes, a nose, a mouth, two arms and two legs and they look so normal. I don’t know why I find it weird, but I do.
Beyond almost shaking the hand of the Queen back in RSA in 199? (can’t recall which year exactly) I have never met anyone even remotely connected to the Aristocracy, and here I was feet away from a man whose family roots can not only be traced back 400 years, but we were standing in the gardens of said family. See….Rabbit Hole!!!!
I am not sure what I was expecting; perhaps someone like we see in the portraits, all regal and royal. And yet the reality is vastly different (not to offend anyone). He looked a wee bit like yer man farmer Brown from down the road…..except his lineage can be traced back to Elizabethan times….surreal!!! and guess what? There is actually a farm….Lawn Farm: where you will find many traditional breed animals such as Long Horn Cattle, Tamworth Pigs, and domestic fowl.
After the short intro to the House, Henry Moore and the exhibition, we were introduced to an elderly gentleman; Anthony Caro (see above photo), who was one of Henry Moore’s students. Not that young himself, said gentleman looked to be in his 80’s and what a sweetie. (on investigation I found that he is in fact 87!) http://www.anthonycaro.org/biography.htm Apparently he still has a studio in Camden…..I am so going to see it!!
Then it was time for a conducted stroll around the grounds. Now listen, if you are going to have a back garden, then this is the type of place you want. It is enormous. A mixture of formal, sculpted gardens with neatly shaped and trimmed hedgerows that form a maze, tinkling fountains, ancient grapevines draped over trellis works, manicured lawns, hidden nooks and crannies, hundreds of flowers in both formal and informal beds and a wonderful meadow that stretches out for miles under some of the most gorgeous trees.
The Henry Moore sculptures were scattered about the garden, each having being carefully placed and postioned to make the most of not only the sculpture but the surrounding lawns or woodland. We traipsed along behind the lass who was giving us the run down of the pieces, their history, how they were made, what materials he used, how he found his inspiration and much else. It was fascinating.
“Sculpture is an art of the open air…I would rather have a piece of my sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in or on the most beautiful building in the world.” Henry Moore 1951.
I am not sure what I was more enchanted with, the sculptures, the houses or the grounds!
I was constantly distracted by the fabulous Jacobian house that was standing in glorious splendour, just behind the gardens and a good strong hedgerow. I have never seen anything so enchanting. Not the same building mind that we had just been through, no, this was Hatfield House, the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Salisbury.
I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful and wonderful and fabulous the gardens are. We wandered from formal to informal, manicured to meadows, all the while with the sounds of birdsong and fountains to keep us company, the wind whispering softly through the sun-kissed trees, then a shower of petals like confetti floating down. Heavenly.
The meadows are filled with wild-flowers; cowslips and primroses, tiny daisies scattered here and there like drops of paint carelessly splattered, a haze of bluebells in clumps beneath trees, tulips and daffodils now past their prime, bright clumps of shocking pink rhododendrons towering above, soft pale pink silk slippers of the magnolia bush, white camillas now fading to brown, and dozens and dozens of trees. I felt like I was in a time-warp.
The sculptures fitted right in like they had grown roots there, at home, in repose, at peace.
From there we made our way indoors for a really yummy lunch, quiet conversation, the tinkle of glasses and all this in the beautiful setting of what used to be the riding school. Wow! I had the vegetarian option of roasted vegetables topped with grilled feta cheese studded with sesame seeds drizzled with warm olive oil, a lovely mixed leaf fresh green salad and grilled tomatoes.
Dessert was an explosion of taste that set the old taste-buds dancing; a compote of summer fruits served with thick fresh cream!! heavenly!
After lunch we were given press-packs, and then the cherry on the top……a tour of the fabulous Jacobian Manor that I had been eyeing out all morning!!! Yay! And OMG!!! wow, talk about stunning. I cannot even begin to describe the splendour, the magnificence and totally overwhelming wonder of it all.
I have written a seperate blog on that tour which you can find here. Hope you enjoy it. 🙂