1000’s of amazing buildings for you to visit this September

September is a fantastic month for period property fans.  With Heritage Open Days (HODS) running for not one but two consecutive weekends across England. And London Open House opening up over 800 buildings there are so many amazing opportunities to have a nose around properties not usually open to the public (No. 10 Downing Street anyone?)

And if you don’t live in the UK then don’t worry. There are some stunning places for you to visit too.

Just don’t forget you camera!

Primary Logo for Heritage Open Days 2018 © Heritage Open Days

6-9th September and 13-16 September – All across England

Looking through the list of properties open through this scheme puts me in period property heaven. There are just so many to choose from. And best of all they are all free to visit.

The project is promoted by the National Trust but properties run by all sorts of organisations take part. And it’s not just houses you can see but industrial, agricultural, religious and public buildings too.  They have all played their own unique roles in our history and the only problem is deciding which one to visit first.

It’s the first time the event has been run over two consecutive weekends and there are over 5000, volunteer run, events to choose from.  Families are very welcome and, in many cases, this is the only opportunity you will get to see these special buildings. So do take a peek while you can.

And, if that wasn’t enough to tempt you, many of the venues are also holding events to highlight some of the extraordinary women who have helped to shape our history. To find out where to go and what to do visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk or take a look at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Not in England?

Then don’t worry.  The Heritage Open Days scheme is part of the much wider ranging European Heritage Days which takes place every year across 50, yes 50, countries!

My ‘wish list’ of places to visit has just got so much longer. But to find out what’s going on where you are, just visit www.europeanheritagedays.com/Home/Heritage-and-communities.aspx then scroll down to find the country you’re looking for.


Open House London - 22-23 September 2018

London Open House – 22-23 September 2018

If you live closer to London, or are visiting this month, then check out openhouselondon.org.uk for the chance to visit over 800 amazing, sometimes jaw-dropping, properties. Under this scheme its not just historical properties but many modern beauties that are on show. Many of which you will have seen on television and best of all, it’s all free!

The Old Waiting Room at Peckham Rye Station Image copyright Benedict OLooney Architects

Tagged as London’s biggest architecture festival there’s a huge range of walks, talks and tours to choose from. And, if you want to get even more involved, there’s even a chance to volunteer at one of the properties or submit your own property for inclusion.

Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, Café and Lobby Stanton Williams
Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, Café and Lobby Stanton Williams


Finally, there’s also a nifty app and guide book to help you plan your weekend. Oh and facebook, twitter and instagram. I think I’m in heaven!

If you get a chance to visit any of these properties, please do drop me a line in the comments below.  I’d love to know what you think.




What is an antique and what do you need to know?

What is an antique? That was just one of the questions I asked Mark Lock, founder of Marchand Antiques and a man with over 25 years’ experience in the antiques business.

His answer, ‘There are things that are old and they are just old.  I think it comes down to the quality of an item. Is it beautiful? Is it something that is going to enhance your environment? When you look at it, does it make you feel good? Then I think maybe it is.’

Mark Lock of Marchand Antiques reveals 'What is an antique and what do you need to know?' Image copyright Rachael Hale
Mark Lock of Marchand Antiques reveals ‘What is an antique and what do you need to know?’ Image copyright Rachael Hale

Looking around Marks’ antiques showroom in Sevenoaks it’s easy to see that he has an eye for ‘strong decorative pieces and statement furniture.’ Items that ‘don’t need to be dressed up with anything else’ but can be ‘the focal point of a room.’

It all sounds so easy when you listen to Mark . Who’s been followed around French flea markets by CNN and featured on TV shows such ‘Put your money where your mouth is’ and ‘French Collection’. He’ll also be appearing in this autumn’s new series of ‘Salvage Hunters’ with Drew Pritchard.

So, I asked him, if someone wants to buy an antique, what should they look for?

You need to buy things that are from their period.  So, if it’s a regency piece its got to be from that time period. It’s no good buying a piece made in the 1920’s because even in 100 years’ time it’s still only going to be a reproduction of a regency piece.

Secondly, it needs to be as original as possible. The thing is to ask the dealer because most of them are going to tell you straight.  If someone comes in here and says I like that chair, is it original? I’m going to say well, the casters are brand new because two were missing and I couldn’t find two to match it or whatever it is. 

Ask the dealer, they will tell you. Things that are 100 or 200 years old, they’ve all had stuff done to them. It’s so rare to find anything that has never had anything done to it. If it was a car, it would have had this or that changed and it’s the same with furniture.


Interior image of Marchand Antiques showroom in Sevenoaks. Image copyright Rachael Hale
Interior image of Marchand Antiques showroom in Sevenoaks. Image copyright Rachael Hale

People talk about provenance. What is it?

Provenance is an auction house term and it’s sometimes used to inflate prices.  Saying something has come from Lady So and So’s collection can give an item value, but I take it with a pinch of salt.  

At the end of the day it’s the item you’re buying. You can’t sit on provenance, you can’t look at provenance. It’s not tangible. So, it’s up to you whether you want to buy the story. 

Mark grins as he goes on to give an example of how choosing where to buy an item from can also greatly affect the price.  Mark frequently travels abroad to track down unique pieces and he once bought four French leather chairs. He brought them back to the UK and had them restored. He sold two of them to Nicole Fahri to put in her Knightsbridge shop and put the other two on sale in his own showroom.

A young couple came into his shop and fell in love with the chairs.  He said he would sell them for £2,400 including delivery.  The couple went away to have some lunch and didn’t come back.

A little while later Mark received a phone call from Nicole Fahri saying she’d sold the chairs for £6,000 and could he give them a quick once over before delivering them for her. Mark agreed and when he turned up at the delivery location he was greeted by the young lady who had loved his totally identical, but much cheaper chairs, so much.

Antiques on display at Marchand Antiques, Sevenoaks. Image copyright Rachael Hale
Antiques on display at Marchand Antiques, Sevenoaks. Image copyright Rachael Hale

If someone hasn’t bought an antique before, where is the best place to start looking?

I would say go to the shops because if you go to the trady antiques fairs there is so much stuff. It’s hard to concentrate.  There’s also loads of repro and it’s too much of a minefield. So, go to a shop or an antique centre first. 

It gives you the confidence to think if somethings not right at least you know where they are. If you buy something at a fair you may not see that person ever again. 

Do antiques need to be insured?

I think that unless you are buying a big purchase, you are generally ok to put it under your general household insurance.  If you are buying something for say £5,000 you may want to insure that as a named item.

The nameable value can vary for each insurance provider and they may want a letter from the antiques dealer you bought it from to say that’s what the value is.

Think about the things that are most likely to get stolen. You might have a £10,000 dining table but that’s not as likely to get stolen as a £10,000 bronze statue. That would be quite a pinchable thing if someone broke into your house so think of things that have a carry out value.  


An imposing antique garden horse ornament on sale at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale
An imposing antique garden horse ornament on sale at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale

What type of antique tends to hold its value best?

Things that can be attributed to a designer.  So, for example, if you can say that’s a Chippendale, Sheraton or a Hope. Even right up to 50’s and 60’s, anything you can put a particular name to. 

Although the market has softened a little, the good stuff is still making big numbers because it was made in small quantities.  But like anything, it has to be quality.

Louis Vuitton antique trunks are just crazy money, but it also comes down to fashion. People like Elton John and Barbra Streisand were buying things back in the 1970’s like Tiffany lamps for huge sums.

If they put them on the market now though they would be taking hits because they’re not fashionable.  Even though they are attributable to someone you also have to be guided by fashion.

A small selection of antiques for sale at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale
A small selection of antiques for sale at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale

So, what is fashionable in the antiques world right now?

It’s like clothes, going back a few years you could say that one thing was ‘the’ fashion but now it’s a few themes running at once. You’ve got your Swedish painted furniture look that’s still going strong. You’ve got your English country house and you’ve still got your industrial sort of look. 

I think industrial is taking a kick back now.  The minimal thing is definitely going. I think people are realising its nice to have and look at nice things.

The look I really think is happening at the moment, and most people can use it, is the English country house, sort of slightly down at heel look. Not shabby chic but a look that’s evolved over time. 

When I go out buying now, in my mind, are good strong country house pieces. Big Howard sofas, armchairs, nice dressers, big log baskets and fenders. A nice bust, that sort of thing.  Its quite a masculine look now as well. Even for women its quite strong and less flouncy. 

Statement piece antique chairs on sale at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale
Statement piece antique chairs on sale at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale

Where should someone new to buying antiques look for further information?

You can’t beat the Millers Guides.  You can grab them for a couple of pounds in charity shops, or find them in your library, and they’re a great reference point. All the prices have been added by dealers so they’re probably the maximum you would see.  But the guides are good for seeing a lot of stuff in one go.

If your looking for higher quality items, then also have a look online at www.1stdibs.com where you can see a bit of information, get the dimensions and four or five different photographs that you can expand on your screen.

We sell through The Decorative Collective, a vetted, online antiques dealer marketplace, and you can see lots of pictures and info on there.  There’s also an email address that you can use to pop an email over to whoever has got the item to get some more information.

Beautiful antique lamps on show at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale
Beautiful antique lamps on show at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale

Just this week, Mark has bought ‘a couple of really good Swedish benches, a big log basket, some nice French Napoleon III chairs, a convex mirror and, my wife thought I was crazy, especially when she had to help me carry it, this huge, piece of 18th century iron grill. Its 5ft x 5ft and when I put it up on the wall its going to look like an amazing bit of sculpture.  As a patina I do like a bit of rust!’

Do you have a favourite item in the shop at the moment?

It’s a little 18th century mirror and its purely because of the way the mercury mirror plate is.  You can see yourself in it, but you wouldn’t want to be touching up your make-up of having a shave.  But it’s not about that, it’s about the atmosphere. That’s what I love, and I just think it’s a proper antique. It’s not been mucked about with. 

An atmospheric 18th century mirror on display at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale
An atmospheric 18th century mirror on display at Marchand Antiques. Image copyright Rachael Hale

Mark’s love of antiques is evident when he talks but he says, ‘the hunt is the best bit. I get as much fun going into an antique shop and finding something for £20 that I can sell for £50 as I do from something that’s got £2,000 profit in it.

All of Mark’s favourite finds travel home with him, but not always for long. As he explains, ‘I’m happy to have bought it, happy to have owned it and happy to see it go on. Whereas Jacqueline, my wife, gets really attached to things. I’ll own things and think, I love it, I love it, I love it and then someone will come in looking for one and I’ll say I’ve got one of those at home.  Jacqueline will then come home, and I’ve sold it’.

Marchand Antiques in Sevenoaks. Image copyright Rachael Hale
Marchand Antiques in Sevenoaks. Image copyright Rachael Hale

What would you love to find?

I’d love to go to a big house clearance and find a really good-sized pair of bronze warwick vases. I don’t think I would get rid of those… well, unless someone made me a good deal.  The thing is you think oh there’s a really good profit in that which means I can go and buy more stuff. 

Any final words…

Buy quality. Buy something that gives you pleasure, is of its period with the minimum amount of things done and you shouldn’t go wrong.  But always take advice. Most dealers will be happy to give it.  There’s a few grumpy ones out there but most will be happy to give advice. 

And if you’ve now got the antiques bug do take a trip to see Mark and his wife Jacqueline, at Marchand Antiques, Holly Bush 4a St Johns Hill, Sevenoaks, Kent. TN13 3NP (Tel: +44 (0)7889540789),

You can also find them via their website, Instagram page or online and in the showrooms of Lorfords, 30 Long Street, Tetbury, GL8 8AQ

Or you can chat to them at the October 2018 and January 2019 Decorative Arts and Textiles Fairs at Battersea Park. Further information can be found at –  https://www.decorativefair.com/

Happy hunting and if you have a favourite antiques shop, centre or fair please do share it in the comments box below. 


A private practice room within Finchcocks Piano School's Music Cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale

Private Tour of Finchcocks Piano School’s Unique Music Cellar

The Finchcocks Piano School is in a setting worthy of any historical drama. A long private lane snakes between fields and gently takes you away from daily life until you get that first tantalising glimpse of the main house.

Finchcocks is a spectacular Grade 1 listed early Georgian manor house. It stands proudly against its rural setting.  Showing off its grandeur like a haughty, slightly intimidating peacock yet, once you step inside, it’s obviously a home.  It’s a house that’s always given me goose bumps and underneath it all lies a very special new room.

The sound of echoing footsteps accompanies my descent into the newly restored music cellar.  Neil and Harriet, the owners of Finchcocks, explain just how much work has gone into the restoration of both the main house and the piano schools residential Coach House over the past few years. It’s easy to see how much they both love it, but the renovation of the music cellar presented them with several challenges.

A view of Finchcock's Piano Schools underground music cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale
A view of Finchcocks Piano Schools underground music cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale

During its existence, Finchcocks has taken on many guises including a school for evacuated children, an art gallery, a ballet school and a musical museum. The cellar has most recently been used as a café and all the brickwork was covered in white and pink paint. Layers and layers of it.

Neil and Harriet were keen to expose the brick beneath and Harriet says, ‘We learnt about eleven different techniques for how to strip the paint off. We had to find the one which didn’t damage the bricks but got rid of enough paint.’

The process was extremely messy and Harriet adds, ‘There were buckets of toxic sludge being shipped out because we used some really strong alkaline. But it was amazing uncovering all of this and there is some ancient graffiti too.’

The carved initials of Edward Bathhurst the first owner of Finchcocks. Image copyright Rachael Hale
The carved initials of Edward Bathhurst the first owner of Finchcocks. Image copyright Rachael Hale

Harriet leads me over to the doorway eager to point out the engraved ‘EB’ etched into the brick. The initials stand for Edward Bathurst, the man who built the Finchcocks. You get a real sense of the houses’ history when Neil explains, ‘the house was finished 300 years ago but it was probably started 20 years before that, so these initials are over 300 years old.’ Bathurst was obviously proud of his creation and his initials can also be seen, in a much larger format, on the front of the property.

Now the bricks have been restored, it’s easy to see the arched domes created throughout the cellar.  One leading into another, slightly obscured by the supporting pillars but tantalising enough to lead you from room to room. Until you have visited all the separate practice rooms that lead off the main performance space.


Neil reveals that every brick used within the cellar was made at Finchcocks. And there’s a big hole in woods where they dug out the clay to prove it.  The bricks were shaped and fired onsite before being taken to the site of the cellar where ‘the master bricklayers carved every single one of them to create this amazing vaulted effect.’

A view of the main performance area within Finchcocks Piano School's Music Cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale
A view of the main performance area within Finchcocks Piano School’s Music Cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale

You wouldn’t think that an underground, brick lined space would be a good environment for fine pianos. But the rooms are carefully temperature controlled and the light-coloured carpeting has deadened the echoes and improved the acoustics.  The size and shape of the individual practice rooms has revealed that some pianos suit some spaces better than others. According to Neil each piano has ‘its own character and sound’ and he will be moving them around to get the best fit.

A place to sit back and relax to the sound of music. Finchcocks Piano School. Image copyright Rachael Hale
A place to sit back and relax to the sound of music. Finchcocks Piano School. Image copyright Rachael Hale

Getting the pianos into the cellar was a huge challenge and Neil says, ‘we tried to get the smallest one down the stairs and got stuck. We had lots of brawny piano movers, but it took them ages to get it out again. So, then we hired a crane.  We had to pack up the pianos, all seven of them, and lower them, keyboard down, through a light well then push them in sideways. It was really hairy.’

Arches appear everywhere within the Finchcocks Piano Schools Music Cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale
Arches appear everywhere within the Finchcocks Piano Schools Music Cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale

All their hard efforts have certainly paid off and the new music cellar is an incredible place to visit. It’s a space that could easily feel dark and claustrophobic, but it’s been turned into a remarkable, performance space with an incredible atmosphere. I’m betting it would look stunning by candlelight and it’s so easy to imagine yourself sitting at one the piano school’s charitable concerts with your eyes closed as the sound of music swirls around you.

The main performance space within Finchcocks Piano School's music cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale
The main performance space within Finchcocks Piano School’s music cellar. Image copyright Rachael Hale

The music cellar can accommodate approximately 100 people and the concerts only happen a couple of times a year. So, if you want a chance to visit this remarkable room for yourself, keep an eye on the Finchcocks Piano School’s website or sign up for one of their retreat like piano courses.

Unlike many piano schools, this one is designed for adults (of all abilities) and I have to say I’m tempted to take up the piano just so I can attend.  Guests stay in the newly renovated 18th Century Coach House, which I would be more than happy to move into, and are taught by world class pianists during the day before enjoying a meal supplied by a private chef brought it to cater for their needs. Sounds great doesn’t it.

Until next time,


Four Fabulous Historical Staircases to Visit

What do you think of your staircase?  If you’re anything like me, then you really only notice it when you give it a quick vacuum or try to wrap the Christmas garland around it.

But, when visiting a house for magazine earlier this week, I was reminded that, once upon a time, staircases were designed to be one of the main attention grabbing, ‘just look how wealthy I am’, showpieces of the historical home.

Captivating Carvings at Godinton House  

And if you want to attract attention, you have to give people something to look at.  Captain Nicholas Toke, a very wealthy 17th century merchant and member of the militia, decided that elaborate carvings would be the eye-catching feature of his new staircase at Godinton House, near Ashford.

The spectacular carved staircase at Godinton House, Nr Ashford. Kent Copyright belongs to Godinton House
The spectacular 17th century carved staircase at Godinton House, Kent. Image published with the kind permission of Godinton House.

It seems that every piece of the chestnut wood is carved or shaped into something amazing. Unfortunately, nothing is known of the craftsman who spent endless hours creating the trailing vines, exotic beasts and domestic animals but their talent is unmistakable.

The three newel posts are shaped as inverted obelisks and decorated with the ornamental intertwined line designs known as arabesques. These have then been surmounted by three very strange figures that, despite much speculation, no one has yet determined.

Symbolic animals have also been added.  A griffin and greyhound represent the Toke family’s heraldic achievements while a dragon, hornless unicorn and a lion represent Wales, Scotland and England.

The staircase was completed in 1628 and was just one piece of an elaborate renovation that saw the entire eastern side of the house rebuilt. In order to fit the new staircase in, Captain Toke had to reduce the size of the internal courtyard. He deemed the sacrifice worth it, however, as he wanted to impress guests on route to his new Great Chamber.

If you would like the chance to try out figure out those unidentifiable carvings for yourself, you can find further visitors information at www.godintonhouse.co.uk .


The Chinese Chippendale Imperial Staircase at Chilston Park

Just a little bit further down the road is Chilston Park. And it’s hard to look at this historical staircase without wanting to don a very large ballgown and make a dramatic appearance at the top of the stairs. Fortunately, the country house is now a hotel so guests can do just that if they wish but it would never have been possible without the influence, and wealthy pockets, of Thomas Best.

The Chinese Chippendale Imperial Staircase at Chilston Park Hotel, Kent
The Chinese Chippendale Imperial Staircase at Chilston Park Hotel. Image published with the kind permission of Chilston Park Hotel.

Thomas bought Chilston Park in 1737. At the time he was a rising political star and he went on to be a twice elected MP for Canterbury, Lieutenant-Governor of Dover and Deputy Warden of the Cinque Ports.

As such, he and his wife, Caroline, needed a house to entertain and impress and the now Grade 1 listed building saw many improvements during his ownership.  One of which involved the complete remodelling of the east side of the property to accommodate a staircase hall inspired by the fashion for Chinese Chippendale.

The mid-eighteenth century craze for anything Chinese was largely prompted by the business exploits of the East India Company.  Written and verbal accounts of the exotic architecture, objects and customs seen in the Empire of China quickly spread through the ballrooms and gentleman’s clubs of Britain.

Imported goods, porcelain and silk swiftly followed, making their way into the homes of the wealthy and inspiring architects to incorporate their designs into the local architecture.

Furniture designer and cabinet maker, Thomas Chippendale, was one of the first to catch on to the new trend and in 1754 he published The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Directory. As the directory included patterns and making instructions is was easy for his designs to spread and this  resulted in the term ‘Chinese Chippendale’.

The Chinese Chippendale influence is easy to see within Chilston Park but Thomas Best was not a man to be content with a simple staircase, no matter how ornate. No, something much grander was called for and he decided to commission an ‘imperial’ staircase with its trademark symetrically divided flights instead.

The lower flight of stairs are generally wider than the higher, seperated flights as, although designed to be visually stunning, the two individual flights are basically a form of traffic control. When entertaining, guests would only be allowed to ascend or descend in one direction.

It’s easy to see why this type of staircase is sometimes wrongly called a double staircase but to be a true double staircase you need to have two flights of steps, generally leading from opposite points, that meet at a certain destination such as a front door.

To find out more about the rest of this gorgeous hotel, which serves a fantastic afternoon tea by the way, take a look at www.handpickedhotels.co.uk/chilstonpark 

The central elliptical staircase at Danson House, Kent. Image taken by Rachael Hale with the kind permission of Danson House.
The central elliptical staircase at Danson House, Kent. Image taken by Rachael Hale with the kind permission of Danson House.

A Georgian Spiral of Elegance at Danson House in Bexleyheath.  

Travel closer to London and the light and airy feeling attached to the elliptical staircase at Danson house is hard to ignore.  My last visit soon found me laying on the floor trying to capture the curves of this lovely staircase which due to its architectural structure seems to be magically suspended in the air.

The staircase owes its existence to, yet another, upwardly mobile gent. This time it was John Boyd, the son of a West Indies sugar cane merchant who wanted to build a home that would demonstrate his classical education and project an image of refinement far deeper than he had claim to.

No expense was spared and John Boyd commissioned Robert Taylor, the architect appointed to the Bank of England until his death in 1788, to realise his dreams.  The stunning oval staircase that now stands at the centre of the Danson House soars up from the service ground floor area to a surprisingly small number of bedrooms on the upper floor. I say surprisingly because John Boyd had five children by his first wife and three by his second.

One third of each step is built into the wall so each stone slab is held up only by the weight of the ones above and below it. Creating a staircase of this design takes a lot of skill and therefore expense. A fact that wouldn’t have been lost on John Boyd’s Georgian visitors.

Neither would the wrought iron railing enhancing the edge of the elegant spiral or the beautiful pale coloured Georgian trompe l’oeil, once hidden beneath a layer of duck egg blue paint, adorning what appears to be a stone beneath a glass dome.  In reality, the structure of the house could not support the weight of real stone but the fact that this is just an illusion doesn’t make the staircase any less ‘wow’ worthy.

The sad reality is that this entire building, like many other historical properties, was nearly lost for good. In 1995 English Heritage stated Danson House was the ‘building was the most at risk’ in London. Fortunately for us fans of historical buildings, a huge restoration project costing over 4.5 million pounds has since restored the building to its former glory. It now serves as the official Register Office for the London Borough of Bexley. Allowing the staircase to once again take centre stage and impress visitors.

Danson House is open to the public every Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Further information can be found at www.bexley.gov.uk/services/visitor-attractions/danson-house


Owletts 3

Plasterwork Perfection at Owletts near Cobham https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/owletts

My fourth and final staircase, and yes, I know there are far more than four fabulous historical staircases out there to see, is at Owletts in Cobham, Kent.

The dark wooden staircase is far simpler in design than those listed above but it still has the ‘wow’ factor due to the vibrant stained-glass windows and the extraordinary Carolean plasterwork ceiling that hangs above your head.

The stunning Carolean plasterwork ceiling at Owletts. Kindly published with the permission of Owletts and the National Trust.
The stunning Carolean plasterwork ceiling at Owletts. Kindly published with the permission of Owletts and the National Trust.

According to the 1988 version of Owlett’s guidebook, ‘The staircase and hall panelling were originally painted French grey, then grained oak (mustard) to be later covered with dark brown.  The Staircase is typical of the period of Charles II with a broad handrail and twisted balusters, built of pitch pine.’

Owletts is the 17th century, grade II listed birthplace of British architect Sir Herbert Baker. During his lifetime, Sir Herbert’s work received great criticism (for his work on the Bank of England) and acclaim.  He is, however, responsible for one of the most iconic war cemeteries visited today – Tyne Cot in Belgium.

Sir Herbert also remodelled Owletts before gifting it to the National Trust upon his death in 1946. His great grandson and his family still live at the property and Camilla Baker has kindly shared some of her family’s memories involving the staircase that is such a pivotal part of her home.

‘We live at Owletts and are lucky to use this lovely staircase every day. It is very similar to the ‘new’ staircase at Restoration House in Rochester, which if I remember correctly was built 1683. It spirals in the other direction. Owletts ceiling is dated 1684 and presumably the same craftsman journeyed from one job to the next. Restoration house was the inspiration for Dickens’ ‘Satis House’, home of Miss Havisham. So, we can imagine the jilted bride descending our staircase.’

And it’s a memory of its remarkable plasterwork ceiling that stands out for Caroline Baker who adds:

‘During the Big Freeze of January 1987, Michael and I awoke at 5am to hear water running outside our bedroom. Dashing out of the door, water was cascading through the plaster ceiling above us. Michael rushed up the spiral staircase and set the ladder to climb up into the attic to turn off the water, while I wrapped myself around in a dressing gown. Too late – as I followed him, in front of my very eyes there was a tremendous crash, as the heavily decorated ceiling fell, followed by a torrent of water.

I was terrified, panic struck. I paused and then followed Michael up the stairs, as an eerie silence fell. The dam was released, the flow of water from a burst pipe stemmed.

Recently we had been snowed in and no oil had been delivered, so there was no heating in the house, it was bitter. But we did have light, and our first thought was to find all the trays we had and pick up the damp plaster, rescuing the flowers, the heavy bunches of grapes, that luckily had not fallen on my head, and preserve them hoping modern day conservationists could piece the ceiling together again.

Luckily only part of the ceiling fell, and the rest was deemed safe, propped up in the meantime. Eighteen months later, with the knowledge of the original 1684 makers, conservationists returned having painstakingly pieced together the jigsaw of pieces and restored the ceiling. The patterning and dull white colour were similar to the original, and the joins invisible.’

As a final comment Camilla Baker adds, ‘As a teenager during the great fixing up project, I remember the fun of having scaffolding to swing on for the months it was installed. It made a change from sliding down the bannister (always a bit painful because of the square endings!)

I am so grateful to the Baker family for sharing their memories. They’re a great reminder that no matter how old, or grand, a house may be it was, and in many cases still is, a home.

To make your own tour of the Bakers remarkable family home visit  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/owletts for more information.

And if you know of a staircase that’s open to the public and deserves a mention, please add a comment below.

Until next time



How To Design A Fictional Stately Home

Authors and film makers have been using stately homes as a source of inspiration for centuries. Take Groombridge Place from my last blog post, Arthur Conan Doyle renamed it ‘Birlstone Manor’ for his fourth Sherlock Holmes novel, director Joe Wright turned it into ‘Longbourn Manor’ for his production of Pride and Prejudice and Peter Greenaway transformed it into the setting for his 17th century erotic murder mystery, ‘The Draughtman’s Contract’. Sometimes though, an existing house just doesn’t fit the plot and an entirely ‘new’ stately home is required.

Image of Groombridge Place taken by Rachael Hale

Crime and suspense author Amy Myers is no stranger to hiding bodies, planting clues and creating villains but, as she explains below, designing ‘Wychbourne Court’, a fictional stately home owned by the Ansley family for her new book, ‘Dancing with Death’, wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be…


‘Creating a fictional home of the magnitude of Wychbourne Court in 1920s Kent, where my new crime novel series about chef Nell Drury is set, sounds so easy. I even thought that myself when I began, only to find out how wrong I was. Not only did I have to work out what had happened to the building since its modest beginnings as a farmhouse before the Norman Conquest, but the lay-out of Wychbourne Court had to fit in with the finer points of my plot. Where was the murder going to take place? How could the murderer avoid being seen? Where would the ghosts walk? (Oh, yes, ghosts play a part in the plot of Dancing with Death.)

The evolution of a stately home

The original farmhouse, even then lived in by the Ansley family, had grown with the status of the Ansleys and was largely rebuilt in Tudor times; in the 18th century it acquired two large wings, one of which became the servants’ wing. Easy enough to type those few words, but this took much burning of the midnight oil on my part. I pored over plans of large country houses to see how they coped with their servants’ working and sleeping quarters. None seemed to fit Wychbourne Court exactly and hence the need for creativity on my part.

First draft of the floor plan for Wychbourne Court as designed by author Amy Myers

The historical kitchen conundrum

Take the kitchens, for example. Of course the Ansley family could not be inconvenienced by kitchen smells up their noses. Of course it mustn’t be at risk from the many fires that could break out. Was the answer a completely separate block for the servants with an open corridor to link it to the main house? Possible, as at Petworth House. No, I decided. Not for Wychbourne. Too difficult for chef Nell Drury to be easily involved with what was going on.

Besides, it would be too far from the dining room I’d planned. Underground tunnel linking the two? No. That might rule out the servants as suspects. Could it be incorporated in the main house? No, Wychbourne had grown too large for that solution, and anyway the smells would be too overpowering.

The kitchen at Petworth House used under the creative commons license.

The solution was to replace Wychbourne’s Tudor kitchen with a wing connected to the house to which the servants and waiters would have easy access. It wasn’t ideal, but it could be made to work. Then I realised the snag. Kitchens should be north or north-east facing which clashed with part of the plot. Plot therefore had to be changed, as did the old dairy which had to be both a fair way from the kitchen wing and also facing north or north east. Every brick and tile of the imaginary dairy had to be heaved up and moved.

Floor plan devised for the fictional stately home Wychbourne Court by author Amy Myers

Wychbourne Court is far from the elegant and immaculately planned house I had fondly imagined I could design, but then so are most stately homes. Their history is visible to all and therein lies their charm.

Nell Drury’s first case, Dancing with Death, has just been published and I have now begun the second. This time the requirements are entirely different. I can’t change the layout of the house, so the plot has to accommodate the nooks and crannies of Wychbourne Court. That’s fine with me. The house I created now seems to me as though it’s always existed.’

Amy Myers Top 5 Tips For Creating A Fictional Stately Home:-

1. Be prepared to change the layout as your plot progresses (and keep a note of what you’ve written about it in case you have to change it)

2. Think of access: live with the characters as they move about the house, needing access to various floors, rooms stairs etc. Also think what rooms and stairs etc they might need in case you mention them later, e.g. bathrooms, bootrooms etc.

3. Think of the house in context, i.e. design its grounds as well (often vital for the plot) and the village or farms etc surrounding the estate.

4. And don’t forget the points of the compass – which way the house faces, where the sun is etc

5. Don’t panic if your design isn’t perfect! We’re novelists, not Lutyens.

Thanks so much for taking the time to write this guest post Amy, as you know I love your books and can’t wait to read this new series.

And if you would like to know more about Amy, Nell and Wychbourne Court please follow Amy’s blog at www.amymyers.net chat to her on twitter or buy a copy of the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I’d love to know what you thought.


Dancing with Death by Amy Myers book cover

Arthur Conan Doyle, Murder and Ghosts at Groombridge Place


The Drunken Garden at Groombridge Place Image Rachael Hale

The Enchanted Forest at Groombridge Place draws thousands of visitors every year yet Arthur Conan Doyle was far more intrigued by its ‘Drunken Garden’. Surrounded on all sides by dense hedges and high walls the Drunken Garden feels slightly removed from the rest of the estates formal gardens.

Even on a sunny day, the shadows of the bent and twisted topiary lend it a mysterious air and on a cold, foggy day it can feel downright eerie. A stone seat hidden behind arching greenery in one corner is a brilliant hiding spot or in the case of Arthur Conan Doyle, the perfect place to plan a murder.

A Spiritual Connection

Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent visitor to Groombridge Place in the early 20th century due to his friendship with Louisa and Eliza Saint, the two sisters who owned the estate at that time. They shared an interest in spiritualism and their frequent séances drew the author from his home in Crowborough.

The creator of Sherlock Holmes was also one of the first people to encounter, and apparently converse with, the ghost of Dave Fletcher. Mr Fletcher was an ostler who drowned in the moat in 1808.

A side view of the privately owned Groombridge Place  Image Rachael Hale

When relaying an account of the ghostly meeting in his book of essays, The Edge of the Unknown, Conan Doyle says the medium Mrs Wickland described him as being ‘a strange old man. His face is sunk forward. His back is hunched. He is earth-bound.’ When asked how the ghost was dressed, Mrs Wickland replies, ‘He has knee-breeches, a striped vest, and quite a short coat.’

Experiences such as this must have fuelled the authors imagination and Conan Doyle subsequently renamed the house ‘Birlstone Manor’ and placed it at the heart of his fourth, and final, Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear.

Published in 1915, the story revolves around the murder of Mr John Douglas, the owner of the fictional Birlstone Manor, and reveals just how familiar the author was with the original location.  The drunken garden provides the setting for a pivotal scene.

Dr Watson: I took a stroll in the curious old-world garden which flanked the house. Rows of very ancient yew trees cut into strange designs girded it round. Inside was a beautiful stretch of lawn with an old sundial in the middle, the whole effect so soothing and restful that it was welcome to my somewhat jangled nerves.

In that deeply peaceful atmosphere one could forget, or remember only as some fantastic nightmare, that darkened study with the sprawling, bloodstained figure on the floor. And yet, as I strolled round it and tried to steep my soul in its gentle balm, a strange incident occurred, which brought me back to the tragedy and left a sinister impression in my mind.

I have said that a decoration of yew trees circled the garden. At the end, farthest from the house they thickened into a continuous hedge. On the other side of this hedge, concealed from the eyes of anyone approaching from the direction of the house, there was a stone seat…

The Drunken bushes at Groombridge Place Image Rachael Hale

The Arthur Conan Doyle Museum

It’s not surprising that a memorial to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can be found in the gardens and at one time it was also the setting for the Arthur Conan Doyle Museum. The room is still there, staged as a study and decorated with the red drapes and William Morris inspired blue and pink wallpaper I remember from previous visits. But all the pictures and personal objects are gone.

Sadly, the museum was only at Groombridge Place for four years and was the result of a collaboration between Mr Andrew de Candole, who owned Groombridge Place at that time, and The Conan Doyle (Crowborough) Establishment.

It was officially opened on 1 July 1995 by Mrs Georgina Doyle, the Establishment’s Patron, in the presence of Sir Arthur’s daughter Dame Jean Conan Doyle. Andrew de Candole took responsibility for decorating and furnishing the old dairy in a style that would have been familiar to Sir Arthur. He also provided the desk that remains on display although sadly, despite current belief, it wasn’t the desk used to write ‘The Valley of Fear’ and it unfortunately has no direct connection with the author at all.

Dame Jean Conan Doyle at the Arthur Conan Doyle Museum Groombridge Place
Dame Jean Conan Doyle at the opening of the Arthur Conan Doyle Museum, Groombridge Place. Image Brian Pugh – The Conan Doyle (Crowborough) Establishment

The display of Sir Arthur’s personal belongings, photographs, sketches, maps, memorabilia and archive material all belonged to The Conan Doyle (Crowborough) Establishment. The Establishment was formed in 1953 by Mr Malcolm Payne, a retired teacher, local historian and educational psychologist linked. He was linked to Sir Arthur through several relations who worked at Windlesham, the authors home in Crowborough.

Sir Arthur gave many items to his staff members and they in turn passed some of them on to Malcolm Payne. The collection was initially housed within ‘The Conan Doyle Room’ at The Crowborough Cross public house thanks to the support of Tony and Marian Yates, its licensees. Plans for the pub’s refurbishment in 1995, however, meant the collection needed a new home and it subsequently made its way to Groombridge Place.

Upon hearing where the collection would be re-homed, Dame Jean Conan Doyle wrote to Malcolm Payne, ‘it’s good news that the collection would be moving to Groombridge Place. My father went over there whenever we had guests staying at Windlesham who hadn’t stayed before. He was fascinated by the old house and felt that by showing it off to visitors from overseas he was introducing them to the very essence of England. Yes – if your collection cannot be in Crowborough, then Groombridge is quite the most suitable place for it… a splendid achievement… (as is) the happy news that there will be a memorial to my father in the grounds of Groombridge Place.’

The remains of the Arthur Conan Doyle Museum at Groombridge Place           Image Rachael Hale

The collection stayed at Groombridge Place until 1999 when the opportunity arose for it to return to Crowborough, as desired by Malcolm Payne. Malcolm sadly died in May 1997 but in honour of his wishes the collection was moved to the Beacon Community College. Unfortunately, the collection had to move on from there too and is now safely stored in a location known only to a few.

That is not the end of the story for the room at Groombridge Place, however, as puppet shows are now performed in the room inspired by the author of some of the greatest adventures ever written.

The study feel also still lingers and a display case in the right-hand corner displays some pipes, tobacco tins and a chess set that will be familiar props to fans of the show. It doesn’t take much to imagine that the author has just stepped away from the desk for a moment, to take a puff on his pipe or sit on the stone seat in the Drunken Garden.

Photograph of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sons, probably Denis,  on display at Groombridge Place   Image Rachael Hale

Many thanks to Clare Singer and Sam Donaldson at Groombridge Place and Brian Pugh, Curator of The Conan Doyle (Crowborough) Establishment for all their help and the permission to publish the above images.

Front view of the privately owned Groombridge Place  Image Rachael Hale






Hello and Thank You


Once again the clocks have struck midnight and we’re into a New Year. Personally I’m excited, it feels like the reset button has been hit and I can start afresh with a new batch of goals.  But before I do,  I’d like to say thank you to you for reading my blog, whether this is your first visit or umpteenth.  I really appreciate your support.

I’d also love it if you would continue to join me in going behind-the-scenes at some of Britain’s most beautiful historical houses, discovering extraordinary restoration stories and sharing the stories of some of the county’s most remarkable rooms.

So if that sounds like the sort of post you would like to see in your inbox, please click the follow button at the right hand side of this page and get ready to take a peek inside some beautiful homes.

See you soon





What can you see at Knole’s Great Store?

03/03/2016 – Ciaran McCrickard / National Trust – Staff at Knole put the finishing touches to the Great Store as part of the house’s huge renovation.

Have you heard about the ‘Great Store’ at Knole? The National Trust property based in Sevenoaks? It’s a fantastic temporary exhibition that allows visitors to get close enough to see over 150 pieces of art and furniture in detail. And one of the most amazing things is that the store was never supposed to have existed in the first place.

As far as houses go, very few can compare with the sheer size of Knole. It was built to impress and show off and has been described as looking more like ‘a town rather than an house.’ Since I was a little girl, I’ve known it as the ‘calendar house’ due to its reputed 365 rooms, 52 staircases and 7 courtyards. I’ve recently learnt that this is sadly, just a myth. In the past, Knole has served as an archibishop’s palace and a hunting lodge for King Henry VIII.

With a footprint of over four acres, Knole is the largest private residence in the country and since 1603 it’s been in the custody of the Sackville family. The family has always moved in elevated circles and Knole’s gigantic ‘showrooms’ and galleries have been filled with an amazing array of paintings, furniture and objects, which were once on display in royal palaces, to amaze and amuse the great and the good.

Over time, however, the need for such formal spaces has dwindled, as have the resources to maintain such an extravagant property, and the Sackville family has withdrawn from the large formal ‘showrooms’ and galleries leaving them untouched and preserved in a somewhat Miss Haversham fashion.

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016
Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Many of these enormous rooms are now managed by the National Trust and the house is in the middle of a five-year, £19.8 million building and conservation project in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund. The current phase involves the opening of a new conservation studio, where Knole’s treasures can receive some tender loving care under the watchful gaze of visitors, and the conservation of the Reynolds Room, Cartoon Gallery, Ballroom and King’s Room.

Centuries of damp and poor heating have severely damaged both the rooms and their objects and, once the showrooms have been returned to their former glory, the newly conserved objects will be returned to their original settings.

Although running alongside one another, the building of the conservation studio and the conservation of the showrooms are separate projects with their own timelines. The original idea was that the conservation studio would house all the objects removed – or decanted to use the correct terminology – from the showrooms. But the building work didn’t quite go according to plan and the opening of the conservation studio was delayed.

All the objects from the showrooms still needed to be safely re-homed, however, and the idea for a Great Store within the Great Hall was conceived.

It took eight members of staff and twenty-seven volunteers 1,124.5 hours to move all the furniture, paintings, textiles and objects to their new temporary home in the Great Store and place them in the carefully lit, non-reflective cabinets and wall racks

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016
Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Hannah Pearson, Knole’s Marketing and Communications Officer, says ‘you walk into a room here and they are massive. With enormous ceilings and huge paintings and it’s easy to overlook things. So, although it wasn’t planned, the Great Store has worked nicely because it’s allowed people to see things up close’.

Past visitors will know that, although it has many treasures, Knole is not the brightest of buildings. Some people take the view that it’s dark and gloomy but I prefer to think of it as being part of the house’s slightly mysterious atmosphere. When the current conservation project is over, and the showrooms are fully re-opened, they ‘will be more environmentally friendly for the collections and the lighting will be better for visitors to see’.

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016
Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Back within the Great Hall, the furniture and objects are being well cared for. Items range from a crimson velvet close stool – that’s a stool containing a chamber pot – that originated from one of the royal palaces and is likely to have been used by King Charles II or King James II to an incredible silver table that was made for Frances Sackville, Countess of Dorset. Each corner of the table displays her initials and this type of ornate silver furniture was made fashionable in Versailles by King Louis XIV. That is, until the money was needed for military campaigns and every piece in France was melted down. In England, only three sets now survive, two at Windsor Castle and this one at Knole.

Numerous ornate silver and gold objects can be seen shimmering under the spotlights so when I asked Hannah what her two favourite objects would be her answers were a little surprising –

John Miller July 2012 - copyright The National Trust
Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust


Russia Leather Coffer circa 1668

Her first item was a Russia Leather Coffer or chest made in the 17th century. Hannah says ‘I love this chest. It was in the Cartoon Gallery before and you couldn’t see it up close. When you see things in the rooms, your mind is trying to take in everything but when you are close to the objects, they are all you focus on. I love all the detail, even on the lock itself – all the etchings and designs.’

Russia leather is cattle hide that’s been processed using birch oil to make it hardwearing and water resistant. This one was probably made by Richard Pigg, coffer maker to Charles II and Hannah explains that ‘coffers were usually used for storage as the richer families moved between houses quite a lot. This one is quite a grand one, so it’s ornamental as well as practical.’

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016
Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Ebony Cabinet made in Paris circa 1650

Moving onto her second object, Hannah is quick to point out this ebony cabinet. A photograph shows that it usually has legs attached but they have been removed for ease of storage. Hannah’s says ‘It’s usually displayed in the King’s Room which is very gold so you walk in and your eye is immediately drawn to the bed’.

This cabinet is also usually closed ‘so you don’t get to see all this beautiful detail which is just really lovely. When they opened it up I was like “Oh, that’s amazing!” It’s got all these little cabinets and storage bits and there are hidden sections behind the mirrors that you have to tuck your hands around to get to.

It’s in this cabinet that they found a note from Vita Sackville-West. Vita was about six when she wrote it and it reads ‘Dada, Mama and Vita looked at this secret drawer on 29th April 1898. It’s still in there, tucked back in the secret drawer.’

Once Hannah has finished telling me about her two favourite pieces I ask her why she chose them, she says ‘I really like that chest and maybe I go for the less blingy sort of objects. We don’t always tell the people stories at Knole, its usually about the collection or showrooms, so it’s amazing when you make a connection between an object and a person who lived here.’

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016
Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Moving past the lower level of furniture, towards the rear of the Great Hall, you come across a large rack of paintings. Their sheer size is staggering and somewhat intimidating, but being able to peer closely at the textures and detail is amazing. As is the fact that, once you have taken the stairs to the upper level of the store, you can see the plasterwork ceiling at close quarters and admire the detailed carvings adorning the Minstrel’s Gallery.

What strikes me most though is that, if all had gone to plan, then this remarkable experience would never have been available and that, in my opinion, would have been a great shame.

When the conservation studio opens later this year, the furniture and objects within the store will start to be moved over. As an item is removed, another will take its place until on 30 October 2016 the house will close for the winter and the Great Store’s 375 metres of scaffolding will be dismantled.

03/03/2016 – Ciaran McCrickard / National Trust – Staff at Knole put the finishing touches to the Great Store as part of the house’s huge renovation.

The Great Hall will then start yet another phase of its life as it takes its turn to be conserved. Until then, Hannah says that it will be ‘such a busy time. The Gatehouse Tower has just opened. It’s part of the conservation project but, as its where Edward (Eddy) Sackville-West lived, it’s the first domestic space to be opened and has a very different feel to showrooms in the main house.’

‘Then there’s the conservation going on in the showrooms, the conservation studio being built and the opening of the Hayloft Learning Centre and the Brewhouse Café. It’s so exciting and busy, people always seem to be moving some incredible object or finding something new’.

It’s also a very exciting time for visitors as a series of behind-the-scene tours and up-close sessions with expert curators and conservators, have been arranged to give an insight into the objects on display and reveal more about the ongoing conservation work. You can find out more by visiting Knole’s events page.

With the opening of several new spaces, this conservation project has also given rise to a range of new opportunities to volunteer at Knole. So, whatever your skills or the amount of time you have available, if you fancy stepping behind-the-scenes to help put the sparkle back in Knole and help visitors find its best bits, take a look at Knole’s volunteering page or pop along to one of its special volunteer coffee mornings.

Full visitor information, including opening times and charges, can also be found at www.nationalrust.org.uk/knole

Knole, Knole Park, Sevenoaks TN15 0RP Tel: Phone: 01732 462100

2016 – Ciaran McCrickard / National Trust – Staff at Knole put the finishing touches to the Great Store as part of the house’s huge renovation.

How to be inspired by Kent Homes

Peering in estate agents windows, looking through the property pages and drawling over gorgeous houses on the net can become addictive.  We’re all looking for something, our dream home perhaps or inspiration for what we can do with our own home.  The styles and materials that build those properties can vary vastly from one end of the country to another, so when you spot another house that looks similar to your own, it adds that extra spark of interest. Which is why you may like to know that a new magazine titled Kent Homes & Interiors has just hit the magazine stands (with ahem…three of my articles in it.)  At the head of the production team sits Lee Grover, its co-owner, and Lee has kindly agreed to tell us all about it.

Kent Homes & Interiors Spring 2016 Cover

Hello Lee, thanks so much for taking the time to chat to me. How does it feel to finally hold a copy of the Spring 2016 Kent Homes & Interiors magazine in your hands?

I feel it’s my baby so of course I’m very proud but I don’t intend to rest. My plan is now to improve the magazine by increasing the number of pages and the number of issues being released in the future.  For 2016, we’re producing four seasonal issues and, being Kent’s only dedicated Homes & Interiors magazine, I hope our readers enjoy it and gain inspiration for their own homes.

You’ve wanted to publish this magazine for a long time – can you remember what inspired you in the first place?

I’ve been in the publishing industry for a long time and I’ve always loved working on home interest magazines.  Over the years, I’ve heard from lots of readers who were fed up with seeing adverts for shops and products they could never go and see before buying, because they were at the other end of the country. So I wanted to publish a regional magazine to highlight everything that Kent has to offer.

G. Dalby Stairway Image taken by Amanda Bryant
Take a tour through the Dalby’s ‘Modern Classic’ in the Spring issue of Kent Homes & Interiors magazine. Image taken by Amanda Bryant

Kent Homes & Interiors will be highlighting homes of all ages, styles and decorating tastes – what would be your ‘perfect home’ and how would it be decorated?

I already live in my perfect home.  It’s a Georgian house split up into apartments and I’m very much into furnishings that complement the period features in the property.  My personal taste is to decorate with egg shell paint colours on the walls and bold colour on the chairs and picture frames. I’m also always keen to find something wooden to put on my shelves. 

One of your aims it to highlight Kent’s abundance of independent shops, talented tradesmen, and women, and crafts people. In your home, what’s your favourite item that’s been ‘made in Kent’?

Well, I bought a side table from The Painted Pearl in Whitstable, it’s been upcycled with Authentico Vintage Chalk Paint and new drawer handles and I love it.  I’m now looking for glass vases to put on the top. 

A. Campbell Front Room Image taken by Rachael Hale
Garden blogger Alexandra Campbell reveals her secrets for creating ‘Eclectic Elegance’ in the Spring Issue of Kent Homes & Interiors Image taken by Rachael Hale

Three very special homes are highlighted in each quarterly issue, what else can readers expect to see?

One of the special things about the magazine is that we insist that over 60% of it is editorial and in the Spring Issue we have a very special guest writer in the form of interior guru, Kelly Hoppen.  We also have many other features covering Kitchens, Bathrooms, Extensions & Renovations, Flooring, Home Automation, Gardens, Shutters and Blinds and a lot more besides.

Is there a chance for readers to become involved in the magazine?

Yes, of course! It’s their magazine so if our readers want us to cover something in the magazine they just need to email me at lee.grover@cimltd.co.uk.  We are also seeking houses to feature in future issues so if you have a beautiful home and would be happy for us to come and talk to you, and takes some photos, then again, email me with half a dozen photos.  (For more information about what is involved click here or the tab at the top of this page that reads Your Home In The Press)

derek_seaward_dining_room_2_final.-p1aehdci3i11o31bjd1tchndpq7b (1) (1)
Discover how artist and author Janet Seaward showcases here artwork in ‘Picture Perfect’. All images for this feature were taken by Derek Seaward.

I know that choosing a magazines’ front cover can be tricky – what made you choose the Spring cover and why did you like it?

Having looked at many images we found this one from Wesley Barrell in Tunbridge Wells. It’s light and fresh with a hidden, budding flower to the right of the image which I think gives it that spring feel. 

Now that readers know what the magazine looks like, where can they find it?

It will be on sale in Supermarkets such as Asda, Co-Op, Tesco, Waitrose as well as premier newsagents such as One Stop, Martins and McColl’s.  We also have a facebook page and a twitter account and would love to know what readers think of the new magazine and what they would like to see in the future. (You can also buy a copy through


Kent Homes &amp; Interiors Spring 2016 Cover

And finally, when you’re not working, do you have a favourite historical house that you like to visit and, if so, why?

I have an annual ticket for Leeds Castle, which I regularly visit.  I’m one for dragging family and friends on walks around the castle and pointing out the changes of the seasons in the trees and woods surrounding it.  I even play golf at the club there so I can spend more time taking in the views and I always go to their open air classical concert and firework nights.

Many thanks for taking the time to chat to me, Lee. I wish you every success with the magazine.

Leeds Castle Kent Photo by DAVID ILIFF.jpg
Leeds Castle, Kent Photo by David Iliff.  License: CC-BY-SA 3.0


Expert Interview: Jonathan Riley shares his passion for Indian Antiques, Food and Artwork

Jonathan Riley of Grand Auctions
Jonathan Riley of Grand Auctions  – Image Rachael Hale

As a journalist, I’ve had to become very aware of people’s facial expressions and how they react to questions so I love watching the faces of the Antique Roadshow experts when they’re first presented with ‘Great Aunt Maud’s treasured teapot’ or some flea bitten teddy found in an attic. Their range and depth of knowledge is staggering but, as they listen intently to each owner’s story, I can’t help wondering whether they’re actually thinking, ‘Wow what a gem!’ or ‘Crikey what can I tell them about that?’  So when I was offerred the opportunity to talk to Jonathan Riley, a painting and sculpture specialist based at Grand Auctions, by Jeff Sims at Edwards Harvey Limited, I jumped at the chance.

Jonathan was holding a valuation day at the Indian Restaurant ‘Flavours by Kumar’ in Ramsgate when I managed to catch a few moments with him and watch his partner Robin Newcombe in action.  No two valuation days are ever the same and Jonathan says ‘you never know what will come through the door’ although, usually, ‘70% will be rubbish and 30% will be interesting’.  Every item and owner is treated with the same respect, however, and Jonathan says that ‘art has become very much part of my life’.

It hasn’t always been that way and he reveals that his personal ‘damascene moment’ occurred while visiting the Uffizi gallery in Florence on his way back from a cricket tour he took while at university.  He says, ‘I had never been in an art gallery before because all the art I had ever seen was utterly boring, dull religious pictures. Anyway, I decided I had better go and what did I see? Dull, boring, religious pictures but then I turned a corner and there was the Birth of Venus by Botticelli and I was absolutely transfixed.  I had never seen anything like it and the colours… it had been done in 1480’s and it looked like it had been done yesterday.  It was so bright and colourful and that was me, totally hooked.’

Birth of Venus by Botticelli – Image sourced via wikipedia


From that moment on Jonathan became passionate about paintings and although his ‘original interest was Modern British’ he’s also ‘had to learn German, French, Chinese and God knows what – you have to widen out as you see things from all over the world all the time.’  Jonathan is now the leading authority for certain English artists but he has strong interest in Indian art, and food, due to spending the first eight years of his life in Gwalior. He says he was so immersed in the Hindu culture that Hindi was his first language and it was only when his parents were travelling back to the UK that he realised he was different. He says, ‘we went to the swimming pool and apparently I rushed back to my mother howling ‘Mummy, Mummy, they’re all white!’

13th Century Sandstone Temple Statue of Shiva
13th Century Sandstone, Temple Statue of Shiva – Image Rachael Hale

Jonathan’s deep-seated love of the country has remained with him so, when asked him what his favourite antique object was, it was no surprise to learn that it too was Indian.  With a rustle of paper and bubble wrap Jonathan revealed a small, smooth sandstone sculpture about 30cm high. Its delicate, slightly feminine, facial features are compellingly tactile and Jonathan explained that it’s the image of Shiva, one of the top three Gods within the Hindu Pantheon.  The other two, Brahma and Vishnu are credited with creating and preserving the universe but Jonathan says that Shiva is said to have ‘destroyed the universe in order to recreate it.’  The God ‘represents all the contradictions of man – of good and evil, kindness and unkindness and ignorance and knowledge etc.’ and by destroying the world he hoped to ‘bring back kindness and peace but, as a God, he is also known to lose his temper very easily.’  Dating from the 13th Century, Jonathan’s sandstone temple statue was bought at auction some 15 years ago and now stands in his sunroom as ‘there’s no chance it’s going to fade.’ As a child Jonathan says he ‘spent hours and hours talking about the gods’ and, as he holds it close while I take a photograph, he adds ,‘It’s not worth very much but to me it’s worth a great deal.’

Khajuraho by Charles Newington
Khajuraho by Charles Newington

With his ingrained love of Indian art and the admission that, to him, ‘Indian food is a drug’ which he has to have every week , Jonathan reveals that he’s recently been working hard to bring his two passions together through a special art exhibition called the ‘Best of the Best: Homage to Indian’. With the aim of ‘celebrating and rewarding excellence’ Jonathan says this event will ‘bring together what I regard as the best two local people in their fields.  It’s especially hard for people in the art world to get recognition for what they really are’ and Charles Newington, ‘is the best local artist by a street’.  He ‘is a painter of exceptional ability and originality’ and ‘a fabulous painter of Indian art’.  The exhibition will showcase some of Charles’ work which, in Jonathan’s opinion ‘captures what I would call the sensuality of India’ his work is ‘tactile, with very gentle curved lines and I think that’s the great joy of Indian work. To me all art has to have an element of poetry, if it doesn’t its boring.’


Anil Kumar, Tiffin Cup holder and owner of Flavours by Kumar in Ramsgate
Anil Kumar, winner of the Tiffin Cup and owner of Flavours by Kumar Image Rachael Hale

Hosted at Flavours by Kumar in Ramsgate, which was recently lauded the ‘best South Asian Restaurant in the UK’, the event, which begins on Sunday 6 March 2016, will also provide visitors with an opportunity to  taste ‘exceptionally good and exceptionally reasonably priced’ Indian food made by restaurant owner Anil Kumar. Jonathan has been enjoying Anil’s food for several years now and is thrilled that this ‘humble, decent man’ recently gained the recognition he deserves by winning the prestigious Tiffin Cup. Beating off competition from 121 other chefs, Anil was presented the award at the House of Commons where judges included celebrity chef Ainsley Harriet and EastEnders star Nina Wadia.  Anil says he’s, ‘excited and happy to see the exhibition happening in my place and that people are learning about the culture and seeing what the paintings are.  At the same time, I’m happy that people are also seeing my restaurant and trying my dishes.’

Following a private viewing on Sunday 6 March, ‘Best of the Best: Homage to India’ will continue until 16 March 2016 and be open from noon to 3pm every day.  All ages are welcome to dine at the restaurant, although the paintings on display during this period are of a very sensual nature, and guests wishing to taste Anil’s food are encouraged to book a table by calling 01843 852631.

The entire event is sponsored by Grand Auctions and Flavours by Kumar is based at 2 Effingham Street, Ramsgate, Kent CT11 9AT. Further information about both businesses can be found at www.grandauctions.co.uk and www.flavourbykumar.co.uk

Charles Anil and Jonathan
Artist Charles Newington with Anil Kumar and Jonathan Riley