Christmas was really great and relaxing with my mum and sister who came to visit me for the holidays and I managed to catch up with friends in between. One of my dearest friends Becky came to visit me, whilst she was back visiting the UK from Portland. She was keen to see the workshop and Burghley house and although it is usually closed to visitors over the winter, we managed to wangle a personal tour round the house, which was great. It also made me stop and take stock. It reminded me of how lucky I am to be here and what an incredible and inspirational place this is to work from. When things become so familiar, you can forget to notice the little pieces of magic everywhere.
Hopefully this won't be too much of a history lesson, but Becky assured me that it'd be interesting to bring you with us on the tour and give you a broader view of the humble surroundings where I work ...…..
Built for Sir William Cecil, the Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I in 1587, Burghley is one of the most incredible and opulent examples of a 16th Century house in Britain - and the family still live here. Surrounded by 11,000 acres of land, - of which we discovered you can get a fabulous view from the roof top – it’s also home to the ancient pedigree herd of deer that’s been roaming here, since they were introduced, some 450 years ago.
Still recognizably Tudor, the kitchen walls are adorned with turtle skulls, from all the turtle soup and an incredible amount of copper cookware. With the aid of the huge steam powered range and three large stoves, they apparently cooked over 200 meals a day here.
Since Medieval times, the British had roasted their meat on open fires. In Elizabethan times, the work of turning the spit would have been the job of a small boy, before they introduced turnspit dogs, which were hoisted into a wooden wheel, that was linked to a chain and mounted on the wall near the fireplace – much like a hamster on a wheel.
I simply couldn’t send this without showing you a four-poster bed, but – ‘Oh’ which one to choose? – such a choice and each one as elaborate, but uniquely different and magnificent as the next.
Many of the art treasures at Burghley are the result of the 5th Earl of Exeter, John Cecil and his wife’s extravagant trips to Europe, often returning with 400 works of art at a time. He began a massive building project, which included converting the huge exhibition halls into smaller, contemporary style rooms, so tripling the amount of wall space for his new paintings!
Inspired by the great Italian Palazzos, the Earl also brought in the great Italian painter, Antonio Verrio. A womanizer and a gambler, Antonio spent the following 10 years painting the most incredible frescos throughout the house, but his time came to an abrupt end after he declared bankruptcy half way through painting ‘The Hell Staircase’ (below) which was finally finished about a century later!
During the First World War, many of the larger houses in Britain were converted into makeshift hospitals and convalescent homes. In her diary of 1916 Lady Exeter describes the Zeppelins circling overhead and dropping bombs nearby. She would take the convalescing soldiers out in rides in her car, for as long as the rations would allow.
Burghley has been particularly lucky to have survived The English Civil War and both The First and Second World Wars, with comparatively little damage. Apparently Hermann Goring, (yep, the very same second most powerful man in Germany after Adolf Hitler), had visited Burghley before the War and as a passionate art lover, had aspirations to make it his personal home, once Germany had conquered Britain. Allegedly, he gave express directions for Burghley House ‘not’ to be touched.
There’s are so many incredible treasures littered along the way, but I’m sure you get the idea. The sculpture garden and grounds can wait for another time. There’s also a hive of activity, as 9 independently run workshops are based here at Burghley, including conservators of paintings, textiles, books, furniture, stone, iron work and of course silver, based in the converted stables and barns.
I think I’ve probably gone on long enough, so my own work can take a back seat until next month.
Wishing you all the very best for a wonderful year ahead, take good care. X