Anyone who has been following my blog for while will know that I love to look at the small details of a place or subject, especially when I visit a historic house. Last weekend at Cotehele was a real feast for my eye, so I thought I would share with you. I hope you enjoy this little gallery, click for a larger view and let me know which is your favourite!
Cotehele is a Tudor manor house built between 1485 and 1539, high above the banks of the river Tamar in Cornwall. It was owned by the same family- the Edgcumbes,for six hundred years and is one of the best preserved Medieval manors in the country. They rebuilt the original 13th century property, before creating an even grander home a few miles away at Mount Edgcumbe, so Cotehele was little used and hardly changed over the centuries. The house became National Trust property in 1947 in lieu of death duty.
Today I’m showing you some of the armoury to be fond in the Great Hall.
And some other items I liked.
I’ll be back in a few days with some more photos of the house and garden.
I’ve had a really lovely weekend, full of creativity and sunshine. Yesterday I went to a National Trust property just over the border in Kernow – Cornwall. They say that Cotehele probably originated around 1300 but most of the building took place in the late 15th century. I’ll post some more photos later but meanwhile here’s a little squint. A squint is a small peephole built into a wall, so that that owner could look down on other rooms to check what people were up to, they were often added in mediaeval times. At Cotehele this on looks down on the Great Hall.
Just a few miles south east of Exeter is the National Trust property, A la Ronde. The house was built in the 1790′s by Jane and Mary Parminter. The two ladies , cousins, had a real sprit of adventure, and I’m sure if they were alive today they would be trekking the Sahara or leading expeditions to the polar regions.
They lived at A la Ronde for fifty years, filling it with things they had collected on their Grand Tour.
Although the name implies that the house is round , it actually has sixteen sides, it’s unique design takes advantage of natural light as the sun moves around through the day. The lower level that you see above is used as the restaurant by the National Trust, the diamond shaped windows are the ground floor. At the centre of the house is an area that rises to the top floor gallery with doors all around it.
It’s really difficult to take photos inside, flash is not allowed, and I’m too lazy to use a tripod. The answer is a very wide angle lens, patience with many other visitors and a steady hand. But here are a few interior shots.
The ladies had several passions that filled their days, embroidery, shells and feathers to name just a few. The drawing room has been hand decorated by them with a feather frieze all around the room.
The feathers come from chickens, game birds and even parrots and have been applied with isinglass.
When I last went to A la Ronde thirty years ago, it was a private group visit and I didn’t really appreciate it. I did get to see the highlight of the house, the famous shell gallery. It’s closed now to preserve it for the future. With the help of well placed mirrors, you can get a tiny peep at it from the floor below, and this is my shot from the central room on the ground floor.
I asked one of the volunteers if she had been allowed up there and even they aren’t. So the photos below are of photos on display so that visitors can get an idea what it’s like. What is it like? beautiful, bizarre, indescribable. To think that these women spent probably years creating this.
So that’s A la Ronde, maybe one day you’ll visit if you’re in Devon, I promise you it’s like nowhere else anywhere!
When a friend of mine said she was plannning to start a blog about her beautiful creations, I immediately asked her to write an article for me. Paula makes exquisite, handstitched historical costumes, think costume drama, Elizabethan gowns, Renaissance garments embroidered with pearls, just as you imagine ladies in the Royal Courts of byone days wearing. If you are at all interested in history, you will love Paula’s work.
This is what Paula said.
My passion was awakened at the age of six when my Grandma gave me a children’s Singer sewing machine. It was basic, with only a chain stitch, but this was how I created clothes for my dolls. I was also intrigued whenever I saw Tudor portraits and people wearing sumptuously highly decorated materials that twinkled with gold embroidery entwined around precious jewels and pearls.
Tudor reproduction, Buckland
Little did I realise that this ‘magpie’ instinct would lead me to other things later in my life! As a child my greatest joys were the sewing lessons at a convent school. The hours of tedious theory and early lessons in practical applications have stood me in good stead and became the building blocks for this lifelong passion. Quickly these lessons developed a pattern. I would carefully cut out my project and prepare the ground work with tailor’s tacks before going home. By the time I returned to class a week later, the garment would be complete and my teacher would try hard to find fault but never did! My exam results were always in the high 90s. To some this might sound big headed but to me it was a natural process like breathing. As a teenager I was always making my own clothes, this then continued when I married and had children of my own. At one point I even worked in Quality Control in a busy factory manufacturing shirts. All these added to my knowledge of construction.
Like many I have dabbled in various forms of needlework apart from making clothes. For many years I created cross stitch pictures, some took months to complete but it was a great way to learn patience. Then twenty years ago I decided to take my City & Guilds in Creative Studies. At the same time I became a re-enactor in a large 17th century based society called the Sealed Knot. This was heaven for me; finally I found a way to marry together my keen interests in textiles with historically based garments. The C&G gave me the much needed inspiration to research, experiment and improve my needlework skills. Quite early into the C&G studies I decided not to make samples that sit in a box under the bed, if I was going to make things, I also wanted to use them!
This is my reproduction of a 17th century coif panel in progress.
Research, research, research became my mantra. I couldn’t get enough of it. I toured museums in Scotland and England to feed the frenzy of more knowledge. Books, postcards, photographs and notes quickly filled and previous voids in the house! Creation of costumes was another aspect. Modern dressmaking techniques just didn’t produce the correct finished lines so I adapted and realised that this was more like engineering construction as opposed to the more usual dressmaking techniques.
I revelled in the museum visits; the hours spent practicing my new embroidery skills and even relished the research/design processes. Members within the Sealed Knot began noticing the outfits I was making for myself and the family. These differed greatly from the usual costumes that the members saw at the weekly musters and often I would be approached by others to see how I had constructed my garments. Frequently I would receive comments like ‘You look like you’ve walked out of a Vermeer painting’ or ‘How come we can’t get ours to look that good?’ but the best remark was ‘This is how we should be looking!’ You just can’t get better compliments than those from your peers.
A chance request from a local Embroiderer’s Guild to do a talk gave me another avenue to explore. It was then that I went out doing just that, speaking to groups and finally exhibiting at Sulgrave Manor alongside other known embroiderer’s and costume makers. One of the strangest was to address a group of metal detectorists but they gained an insight as to how buttons (that they frequently found) were made and how they were utilised on an historical doublet.
So what now? Life, like for most people got in my way. I had to turn my back on this enjoyable aspect of my life to earn a living but more recently, to gain an honours degree. I am now ready to take up my needle again. Life has thrown another curveball in my direction and the need to develop another way to earn my living. Yet again, I am planning to pick up where I left off but this time with even more appreciation of the history and skills my forebears put into their textile creations. My interests have now widened to encapsulate different historical periods. Already my brain is leaping somersaults and I can visualise medieval motifs aping the exquisite illuminated manuscripts that were a sign of conspicuous wealth. The Viking Age is another aspect that I would love to indulge in. Mythical beasts sinuously curving around golden stitches and intricate Celtic knot patterns seem to fill my imagination.
I am looking forward to 2014 and being able to start in a new direction. My acquired skills from a lifetime of sewing, my C&G and degree studies are now enthusing me to start researching again. I have taken up knitting too as perhaps my eyes and hands are no longer up to more intricate works that previously I could spend hours working at. Until I try I won’t know what I am capable of, but one thing is sure, I will fully enjoy whatever way my future interests will take me!
Paula Kelly BA (Hons).
I hope that you will all pop over to Paula’s new blog. If you follow her it will be interesting to see her blog develop and her work evolve , a real treat for the history buffs amongst you . She can be found at
I like symbols, trying to work out the meaning of them and learning about the origins. The ones I’ve chosen are English, with one exception, and span early English history through to the 20th century.
The Royal Mail symbol, to be found on bright red post boxes all over the UK. It’s current incarnation has the initials E11R, Elizabeth the Second reigns, but earlier ones have GV1R and even VR can occasionally be found.
Dieu et Mon Droit. God and my right (shall me defend)was the battle cry of Richard the Lionheart. With it’s lion and unicorn, it’s now the royal coat of arms and refers to the divine right of the monarch to govern.
The Tudor Rose is the floral heraldic emblem of England. It was adopted by Henry 7th, it joined the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York after the war between the two royal houses.
Lastly, the Green Man, a pagan symbol of fertility that can be found not just in England but also France and across Europe. It’s a pre-Christian symbol that can be found in many churches – this one is from Spreyton in mid Devon – how interesting that a pagan symbol survived in parallel with Christianity. Perhaps they were hedging their bets when it came to mans reliance on nature!
I popped down to A La Ronde, a little National Trust property that overlooks the Exe estuary, a few weeks ago. It was one of those beautiful autumn days that I add to my memory store, to help me throught the winter. A La Ronde was built in the 18th century and isn’t actually round – it has sixteen sides! Those of you who love windows would fall for it, they are a delight. I hope this photo is legible, read a little of its history.
And here is some of the exterior, click on any photo for a better view.
The Old Laundry
I’ll be back sometime with some inside shots, the Parminter ladies had some bizarre design ideas and quirky collections. Meanwhile here is the outside of the house, just before the painting was finished.
Last week my daughter took me to Bishop’s Waltham, a village a few miles from her home in Hampshire to see the ruins of its medieval palace. The buildings are full of atmosphere and set in lovely grounds.
This is the great hall, imagine how magnificent it would have been.
The buttery, pantry and servery, rebuilt in 1387-90 by Wykeham.
Intriguing little peepways, including narrow ones for arrows. I’d like to know what the curve shape is about in the second photo.
The Bishop’s tower, where he had his private apartments.
I loved the shape here and the feel of the stone, each one laid by some secret hand from long ago.
The bakehouse and brewhouse, my favourite part, I think because of the chimney breast, again marvelous stonework with different bits added and repaired over time.
This palace was mainly constructed by William Wykeham who was bishop from 1367. It has earlier history though, with important royal visitors, King Henry 11 visited in 1182 and Richard the Lionheart in 1194. Henry V prepared for the battle of Agincourt here and Queen Mary 1 waited for King Philip of Spain to arrive for thier marriage in 1554. Imagine the ghosts!
English Heritage look after the site and its free to visit all through the summer.
The theatre was built by the Greeks and then re-built by the Romans, on the side of a hill overlooking Giardini-Naxos and Mount Etna. Originally it could seat 5000 and the Romans used it for gladiator battles, today it is still in use. We had just missed a film festival and the throne in the photo was for the next production, Verdi’s Rigoletto. I can imagine that it would be mind blowing in this setting. Apparently Plato conceived his theory of forms in the amphitheatre, and it does have a feel about it that somehow grabs at the belly.
Sicily is full of antiquities, but if you go, visit Taormina and the theatre that is part of its ancient heart.
A few weeks ago I did a series of posts about Buckland Abbey , but I left out it’s most famous owner, Sir Francis Drake.
Buckland was paid for with Drake’s earnings – or plundering on his early voyages. The treasures he brought home to Queen Elizabeth 1 provided him with wealth and his title. Even though he had no children his heirs lived at Buckland for eight generations, until the 1940′s.
The most famous anecdote is of how he supposedly continued a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe, saying that their was plenty of time to deal with the approaching Spanish Armada afterwards.
Artifacts relating to his journeys can be seen at Buckland, the most important being a late 16th century drum, decorated with Drake’s coat of arms, one of the oldest surviving in Europe, and possibly one of thirteen bought in 1595 for his last voyage. The drum is said to beat if England is in danger, most recently during the Second World War just before Dunkirk was evacuated, spooky eh?
In 1596, as he lay dying of dysentery, he is reputed to have asked to be dressed in his full armor. He was buried at sea in a lead coffin, near Portobelo. Here are a few of Bucklands Drake treasures.