Friday, 24 October 2014

Alexander Fleming Museum

St Mary's Hospital
Praed Street
W2 1NY
Wednesday October  22 2014

This was a solo expedition by Linda while Mary and Jo were doing half-term activities of a more boisterous nature.  It was also partly to honour those ‘back-room ‘ scientists who still work with Petrie dishes and test tubes filled with dangerous substances – yes I’m talking about you the 60 micro-biologists headed for a testing month  in Sierra Leone.

This is also a story of mould, so unwelcome when it appears unwanted on walls and carpets but clearly something with occasional uses.

I strode out of the Bakerloo line exit from Paddington and took a back route to St Mary’s hospital (as signposted) which was NOT the way to go; I filtered my way through out-patients and asked at the hospital refreshment counter (no Costa Coffee here) where the Museum was: what Museum? they asked. Threading my way between the buildings I finally located the Clarence Wing – actually fronting busy Praed Street which was more or less where I had started   On entering it was like stepping into a set from ‘Call the Midwife’ so old-fashioned does it look. I followed the signs round several corridors and up a flight of tiled stone stairs to the Reception/Shop for the Museum. The actual room is kept locked and can only be visited with one of the volunteer escorts who tell you about Fleming’s life and work and the importance of the discovery of penicillin.  

Fleming was born in a farming community in rural Ayrshire and had a very basic education – but he perhaps developed his powers of observation   during these early years. Bored with being a shipping clerk in London he applied to be a surgeon but was turned down.  However, following receiving a small legacy he re-applied and became a medical student at St Mary’s excelling at all his exams. After graduation he joined the department of Bacteriology, headed up by Almroth WrightThe latter was one of those caricature flamboyant physicians (immortalised in Shaw’s Doctor’s Dilemma) who believed passionately in research, especially into typhoid, but not in keeping statistics. He also could not abhor women at work, especially in medicine!!!  His work was in immunisation and this is the department that Fleming joined working on Lysozyme, one of our inbuilt defences against BACTERIA.  From there you probably know the  rest ... that he left his petrie dishes open and went away and returned to find mould had formed on one of them but the microbes/germs/bacteria close to the mould had vanished .

The volunteer will take you up to the second floor where you will see a small workbench with adequate stool seating for two. It has all the paraphernalia you would expect from a 1928 laboratory – racks of test tubes, piles of Petrie dishes, two bunsen burners, an incubator and pipettes. There are three  pretty dirty windows out onto Praed Street. In a side cabinet there are various awards that Fleming received in his life-time and a Scottish £5 note which he adorns. The original Petrie dish apparently is preserved in the British Library. Fleming went on to publish his findings – that the mould penicillin seemed to kill Bacteria – in 1929 and he continued to practise at St Mary’s.  (My mother swears that when she visited another woman from her hostel admitted  to the hospital during the war Dr Fleming was on the wards… who knows.) The problem then was how to manufacture ‘enough' mould to be able to use it to combat sepsis, which was of course the main killer of the times.

Ten years or so later the work continued in Oxford where two overseas researchers Howard Florey (from New Zealand) and Ernst Chain (from Germany) worked on the manufacture and further application of penicillin. The start of the war added impetus (and money) to the research project with the thinking being that wounded service personnel could be saved and turned round to fight again – by D-Day there was enough penicillin for every combatant.

There is no photography allowed in the laboratory but you will be escorted up a further level to a smaller back room where there is a short film sponsored and produced by one of the major pharmaceutical companies, who in a former incarnation doubtless made money after contributing to the development of a manufactured strain. The website leaflet very much turns the spotlight on Fleming but to be fair the film, with some good archive footage, gives due credit to a range of other chemists, biologists and doctors who all helped to pioneer the safe use of one of the 20th century ‘s undoubted life savers. At one point they were 'harvesting' second hand penicillin from soldiers prescribed it (don't ask). Public recognition came in the shape  of a Nobel prize for all three men. 

The film (20 years old) pre-dates the  research showing us that over- use and over prescription  or failing to finish  a course of treatment  has led the bacteria to evolve greater resistance than they showed in 1928…so the story is not entirely finished.

A short but intense museum experience. 

PS Relying on scientists to correct any factual errors that may have crept in.... please.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Garden Museum

5 Lambeth Road
London SE1 7LB
Monday October 13th 2014

On a day when we had more rain than during the whole of September Jo bravely arrived by bicycle and was thrilled to find that the Garden Museum encourages you to padlock your bike to metal planters decorated with a bike symbol. Linda, for nostalgia’s sake, took a rather tortuous route on the Number 3 from Crystal Palace which spent the early part of the trip hemmed in by all the delivery vans and dumper trucks that are now a regular part of commuting as the property boom is followed by a ‘house improvement ‘ boom which sees lorryloads of bricks and dumper trucks clogging the bus routes.  As there had been a hitch with the sound quality of recordings made at the Cinema Museum  we were joined again by Jo McDermott from the BBC Website team.

The Garden Museum, previously known as the Museum of Garden History is housed in the former church of St. Mary’s Lambeth,  within spitting distance of Lambeth Palace, which is of course the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury  

We had coffee with one of the Garden Museum’s volunteers who admitted herself to be better informed on the local history rather than the horticultural side. The current building is probably the third church to be built on this site; the original was founded by the sister of Edward the Confessor, as evidenced in the Domesday Book. Through Tudor times, and probably in a newer building, the church was of some importance as Lambeth was an area housing some significant people whose names still resonate with us, providing worshippers such as Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard (not the luckiest of course). Though many of the country’s Archbishops are buried close to the palace some seem to have found their way into St.  Mary’s churchyard alongside such other worthies as  Bligh Admiral Bligh  and the plant hunters and gardeners, locally based and buried,  the Tradescants.

The church was rebuilt in Victorian times and  came through the Blitz mainly unscathed though losing its windows, and then continued as a place of worship until the 1970s – declining congregations eventually led to an abandoned church which was taken over by squatters and the like. Lambeth council was keen to use the space as a car park but some of the local community felt differently. The couple most committed to keeping the church and churchyard had connections with a lady in waiting and word got through to the Queen Mother who visited ‘incognito’ and thought the building and churchyard should be saved, doubtless supported in this by her grandson.  The Museum opened in the 1980s and has largely relied on contributions for its continued existence. While the frame of the church is clearly visible there have been additions to the interior to allow for display and education spaces, the ubiquitous cafĂ© and shop and access to the upper floor.

The current exhibition, like so many we have visited this year, focusses on gardens and War, specifically the First World conflict. Yes eventually the parks and public gardens were turned into allotments to produce food as shortages became apparent (German U-boats had a role in this) but also there was gardening at the ‘Front’, even in the trenches themselves. Many of the original photos are courtesy of the Imperial war Museum and can be more easily seen on their website than in our inadequate attempts to photograph them. Here for example is image number Q 6131 – ‘Soldier of the Gordon Highlanders (51st Division) tending his trench garden. Heninel, 23 October 1917.’ – downloaded from the Imperial War Museum website under (we hope) the terms of their non-commercial licence.

One of the more sinister links between gardens and war is that of the role of fertiliser. My chemistry knowledge is non-existent but as far as I understand it, and this still holds true today, bags of fertiliser with sodium nitrate may do your garden a power of good but equally can be used for more destructive purposes.  The Germans, namely Messers Haber & Bosch, evolved a method of producing the key elements (see what I did there) in an industrial process and then you had not only the basis of explosives but also chemical warfare in the way of gases.

On a more pleasant note much of the exhibition is devoted to the therapeutic effect of gardening on convalescing combatants; Talbot House, named for a dead brother, was set up back from the front 
in Belgium and proved to be a place of R&R, later the model for a range of TOC H facilities.  The garden and what it offered was considered one of the most important aspects of the experience.

Similarly productive though in a different way was the experience of UK internees at the Ruhleben Camp close to Berlin. Berlin lies in a very sandy and largely hard to farm area of the country. Initially the internees were encouraged, as food shortages became evident, to farm for produce and so successful did they become (writing home to the RHS for advice and seeds) not just at food production but they branched out into flower gardening and formed their own horticultural club  with all the side benefits of routine/working together/ seeing results that such efforts are rewarded with. This unique experience is very moving. 

Interestingly, what we think of as a very 20/21st century (post Diana) phenomenon of leaving flowers outside the home of the deceased is very much in evidence and come to think about it probably predates photography – sometimes we think because there isn’t a photo of it, it never happened. But of course visual evidence make better museum displays than written archives….

As a postscript to the WW1 exhibition – which is most beautifully decorated with individual dried meadow flowers, many of them poppies, hanging from the ceiling – there are some stunning colour photos (there I go) of gardening in modern conflicts  including Afghanistan, Gaza and Donetsk.

The upper floors hold what we took to be the ‘permanent displays’ which can roughly be broken down into
Tools: Some strange beasts (a cucumber straightener for example) here but others barely changed through the ages.

Lawn Mowers : The less said the better as mowing the lawn is always a chore and never a pleasure
Gnomes: Small display of these which means at least the whole experience was not as ‘po-faced’ as it could have been. It is thought gnomes may hark back to the Greek god Priapus.
Seeds and catalogues: Little change here either – earlier versions had botanical drawings rather than photos of what your seeds might produce.  There seemed to be an arcane breed called  'the Student Parsnip'  – difficulty getting up? Bit scruffy? Takes long holidays?You can still get them evidently.

I had never heard of Yates' Seeds with their pretty packaging but gather they are an Aussie firm now… 
There are plans for further displays most notably to commemorate the Tradescant Family and their contribution to horticulture, of which there was further evidence in the garden or more properly the graveyard. The Museum has created a knot garden around the remaining tombs of both Bligh and the Tradescant Family but today was no day to linger.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review of ‘FREEDOM PASS LONDON – Make the most of your travel pass 25 SPECIAL DAYS OUT

Mike Pentelow and Peter Arkell
(£12.99 or with 40% reduction quoting LWB)

There is of course an ethical dilemma in reviewing a book to which you have made a contribution, but as I wrote a mere 530 words of a 244-page guide book I do not feel too guilty.

Bradt seem keen to target the older demographic, in this particular case the London Freedom Pass user, while previous companion volumes have looked at scenic and memorable bus journeys round the UK. However there would be nothing to stop a London based Oyster card user following any of the listed 25 walks, as they can all be easily completed in a few hours and at little cost depending on your beer consumption.

There is one caveat to this – the author and his photographer friend are clearly great ‘real ale’ connoisseurs and therefore each walk is liberally sprinkled with specific brewery  recommendations – of course if the book runs to a second edition they will have to visit every hostelry again to make sure the same beers are on offer. Beer is not my particular thing so you have been warned. Interestingly the ‘Famous Women’ Feisty Females (Walk 24) walk is actually a pub crawl as much as anything – you  need to hop on a bus or two between stops. I shall need to ask my nephew’s opinion as he enjoys and knows his beer.

Refreshments apart the walks are reasonably well distributed round inner London and the green Belt and range in length from 1½ to 9 miles, the latter being the good old Fleet.  The authors do acknowledge previous walk compendia and any seasoned walker will recognise some of the contributions relying as they do on branching out from the Capital Ring, Thames Path and London Loop.

However it is fair to say that Mike Pentelow and his photographer friend give a fine spin to some of the sights and sites en route – they do have a light touch and this comes as a welcome surprise after some of the more po-faced contributions to the earlier bus volumes; also because they have authored the whole book there is a greater consistency in style and approach. To say these walkers wear their political hearts on their sleeves is an understatement – there is one whole walk dedicated to Karl Marx and the Communist Party and their political leanings are fairly transparent throughout – not that we mind as the LWB have not been fans of many recent political parties and what they have ‘achieved’ (hah) round London. William Morris gets a big ‘shout-out’ along the Wandle (Walk13) as do Ramsay McDonald and Friedrich Engels on their version of the Fleet walk (Walk 6).  I admire the author’s skill in giving us potted biographies or nuggets of history at the different stopping points as I know this can be difficult to do without becoming too teacherly in your text. 

The real test of a walk book however is how clear is it to follow?  Will you stand at the crossroads non-plussed or stride ahead confident that you won’t be retracing your steps any moment soon when the paths gives out? A bonus for this book is the little ‘Hands Up’ sign meaning – you can bale out here with all the relevant transport links given – and they are not sparing with these. Also they advise having back-up maps either A-Z or Ordnance Survey.

The little maps are nicely illustrated, though as ever digital black and white always looks a little disappointing and the colour pictures suffer a little from appearing as compilations, which detracts from their innate quality.  

The book has a slightly ‘blokey’ feel to it (own up chaps) though I suppose most pubs do coffee nowadays…However this book makes an excellent introduction to walking for pleasure – if you are a London-based seasoned walker much of this will already be familiar but they have managed to find new angles, certainly new watering holes and it offers a good all round use for London’s Freedom Pass users. 


Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Wellcome Collection

Thursday 9 October 2014

183 Euston Road NW1 2BE

Today Linda and I visited the Wellcome Collection, to see their current exhibition, which is an A-Z of the human condition.

By the end of our time there, we realised that we should have begun by reading the introductory signage, and then we should have known that the best way to experience this exhibition was by a regular 26 zig zags across the gallery. Instead we began with 'A' on the near wall and worked our way round to 'Z'. These were very populist exhibits, starting by putting a dot on the map to show where you come from.  

From then on, each letter, whatever its name, involved participation: H was for Heredity, but involved measuring your own height. The wall showed London's average height rather well!  A was for Acts of Faith, and asked for any miraculous escapes, several illustrated by the artist in residence. Several of the others required the taking a selfie and so on, with more Twitter addresses to send things to than you can imagine. When it came to P for Philosophy, we were invited to take a fortune cookie, and open it later. In a couple of places, there were straw polls, with two ballot boxes to pop your tiddlywink vote into:  rather annoying, because if you are asked 'should there be forcible quarantine (yes, Q) during pandemics?' you want to say, 'well, how enforced? who by?' rather than just voting. S was for Skin Art, with an invitation to post your tattoo, and V was a chance to record your Voice.
When we got to Zoonoses, and a couple of board games about the spread of disease, everything became clear, because the 'return wall' if you follow me, was a display of items from the historic collection on the same themes.  So H (heredity, remember) was the first complete print out of the human genome, all100+ volumes of 1000 pages each and 3.4 billion units of DNA.

For S there was some Maori Skin Art, and for M, which was Music, some amazing Tibetan music, which looked like the outlines of clouds, and presumably told the performers what sequence of sounds they should make.

The most upsetting item, for me at least, was in the case for K, Keeping Up Appearances. which included the tiny shoes worm by Chinese women who had had their feet bound to produce 'lily feet'. The hinged metal corset in the same case reminded us that all cultures produce men with peculiar ideas about what makes a woman desirable

When we got to Chemical Life Support, we had a video of the C Section birth of Louise Brown, the first ever IVF baby.

And for Acts of Faith, there were Etruscan votive offerings of the kind that we remember seeing in Spanish churches half a century ago, when people gave their crutches or a model of the part of the body which had been cured, to the Saint who had performed the miracle.  A more moving act of faith was the German memorial to a dead child: the metal penetrated the earth of the grave, to connect the coffin to the world left behind and those who grieved.

So as you see, if we had crossed the room between the old and the new for each letter, we should have made more sense of the point of this exhibition, and put the modern fixation with 'what do you think' into a more historical and scientific context.

Their next event is to be about Human Sexuality and, yes, you are invited to contribute your thoughts about what the exhibition should show.... 

Monday, 6 October 2014

'Freedom Pass London'

For those of you who have stuck with us from the original project:
Bradt Travel Guides have just published Freedom Pass London by Mike Pentelow (author) and Peter Arkell (photographer), an invitation to 'make the most of your travel pass' by following their recommendations for '25 special days out'.

The LWB were invited to contribute a couple of pages to this book, and have now been sent a copy to review - watch this space.

Meanwhile,  Bradt are offering a 40% discount for followers of this blog who want to buy the book: quote the discount code LWB when you place your order on the Bradt website.  This offer will be available until the end of November.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Cinema Museum

2 Dugard Way (Off Renfrew Street)
London SE11 4TH
Monday September 30 2014

Firstly, a little aside into our recent media coverage: things have been quite peaceful since we finished with the buses in February 2014, and quietly started our Project to visit all of London’s museums and galleries (circa 250 in number) as somehow the more recent venture is seen as more mainstream and less ‘geeky’, and certainly attracts fewer followers.   However the party Political Conference season and build up to the next General Election has meant reporters have wanted to look at the Freedom Pass allocation and whether  politicians may target it as a selective or universal service.  A freelancer for ‘The Guardian’ newspaper included us in her September article which prompted the BBC ‘One Show’ to invite us as part of their celebration of 60 years since the Routemaster buses started running. Their plans were a little elaborate for the time we had but we agreed to give an update to the BBC website reporter, also a Jo,  as she had featured us back in August 2012, so today’s expedition was arranged with her in mind.

She joined Mary, Jo and Linda (and 63 Regular) for a booked tour at the Cinema Museum along with four other enthusiasts which made for an ideal group size.
Given how busy and traffic-heavy Elephant & Castle is, the Museum is beautifully quiet situated as it is in an area which once housed the Lambeth Workhouse, then the Lambeth Hospital. Some of these links are still maintained in Mary Sheridan House, the Child Development Centre for … Lambeth.

The Museum has a diagram of the workhouse built  to house 800 but usually holding up to 1400 people as  Lambeth then (as now) has never been a rich area. This very comprehensive website gives an overview of the history of the whole site (the second Workhouse to be built) but what remains  is the Master’s Building which was also the main Reception Centre, the listed premises to which the Cinema Museum (hitherto an extensive but essentially homeless collection) moved in 1998. The Victorians built so many of their public buildings with great civic pride though I don’t expect the destitute who came, or were sent here by the courts, saw it quite that way.  Amongst the many was Charlie Chaplin whose mother Hannah, previously a music hall singer had lost her voice and thus her ability to support her two boys.  For the younger residents an education was arranged in Hanwell, though Charlie found it excessively punitive.

 Lambeth seems to do little to honour its famous son but David Robinson’s book is the most accessible of the biographies.    

The Cinema Museum’s collection was originally the personal artefacts and memorabilia of Ronald Grant, who trained and worked as a projectionist in the Aberdeen area and who had always collected equipment and fittings, and indeed anything to do with the cinema going experience as it was from its early days – 1910 to the early 1980s. When most of the old cinemas started closing their doors, Ronald and Martin, our guide for today, drove around salvaging artefacts from the wrecking ball. They then added a significant amount to their already large personal collections when Ronald’s former employers around Aberdeen closed their cinema chain.

Once cinemas became purpose built  after 1909 with the Cinematograph Act ensuring a safer separation between the projectionist and the audience the Peoples’ Palaces proliferated and the Museum houses  old cinema seats (yes, red velvet) curtains (ditto) and a range of notices about performance times and seat prices – it would of course cost you more to sit further away and have more privacy – upcoming attractions and the film classifications, all of which Martin explained particularly for those too young to remember the continuous performances and smoke filled auditoria. The Twenties and Thirties were boom years and there is a rich collection of signage in all the best fonts… and you will know from previous blog entries how fond we are of characterful fonts.

There are lights, and that vital tool of the usherette’s trade – the company issue torch with which she ‘ushered’ you to a seat. There are some splendid uniforms too though the men seem to have had the better deal with rows of shiny brass buttons (why work on the  railways when you could be standing outside a cinema doing crowd control?).

The downstairs side rooms house the ‘stored collections’ some of which still need cataloguing: these include cinema books, periodicals, articles, photographic  publicity materials – often stills  from ‘forthcoming attractions’ – and a gallery of cinema buildings. There are of course very many projectors to reflect the proprietor’s former calling though I have to say to me one machine looks very much like another though Martin explained very carefully how the skill lay in making a performance ‘seamless’ when in fact the reels were changed every 20 minutes – these older style machines were then replaced by huge tower projectors or the more horizontal ’platter’ ones. It is very sobering to think that only two cinemas in London can now project FILM as opposed pressing a button for a digital presentation. At this point the archivist in the family usually asks whether we know how long this medium will last? Talking of old technologies the museum has some precursors of the sound track – namely phonograph recordings on fragile 78RPM discs which had to be synchronised with the usually 7 reel main presentation.  The audiences loved sound (so would you if you were not a very good reader of inter titles) so there was no going back after 1933, though Charlie Chaplin was a late convert.

The third element of the Museum is its collection of films, largely donated from private collections which folk were not supposed, by law, to have or keep.  The Cinema Museum has had European Funding and worked with overseas archives to restore a collection of early travelogues (a popular addition to the ‘main feature’ in days when few people travelled abroad) and a curiosity from still earlier days: part of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection portraying daily life round Blackburn and the North-West in the early decades of the 20th century. 

After a corridor honouring Chaplin, but also housing a very Baron Frankenstein’s laboratory looking object called a Mercury Arc Rectifier (used to turn AC into DC current – the CM’s example is inert, but here is a video of somebody else’s working ), the tour finishes in the most wonderful room in the Museum which is the Chapel, doubtless built to make sure' the Poor' were duly grateful for their ‘lot’ each week. The walls are dotted with more exhibits and the empty film reels are echoed in the structure of the trussed roof – a serendipitous coincidence, which surely meant the ‘Collection had come home’. The Museum is now in a position to offer corporate hospitality and education events in this setting while their ‘artist in residence’ has created a room size,  as opposed to life-size, silhouette of Charlie Chaplin, which she hopes Lambeth Council will adopt and display.

After refreshments which are included in the entrance costs (£10 adults, £7 concessions) we returned to the cinema downstairs (which is really not smelly or smoky enough for the period it evokes!) to see 5 short films. The earliest newsreel of floods in Paris just glowed indicating how good black and white can look, while for this particular trio a farewell to the last tram (a Number 36) was particularly evocative.

The rich combination of historic setting with a range of evocative artefacts and carefully chosen films made for an unforgettable experience enhanced by Martin’s informative, fluent and personal commentary. Though appealing to the same nostalgia as the Brands and Packaging Museum this was so much better presented.  

Friday, 26 September 2014

Southside House Wimbledon

Friday 25 September 2014

Southside House
3-4 Woodhayes Rd
Wimbledon Common 
SW19 4RJ

Yesterday, we visited a most extraordinary house.  We were part of a group organised by the Friends of the British Library, and the three of us were delighted to be joined by another Mary, who had travelled some buses with us in the days of the first project.

We met at Wimbledon Station and took a bus (the 200, since you ask) to the Common where we had a picnic, before meeting the rest of the party outside Southside House.  The weather was not as warm as the Met Office had predicted, but still very pleasant.

Southside House is open to the public from time to time, because it is owned by one of those Family Trusts, which is allowed not to pay death duties on property provided the nation can have access to the relevant item or items.  And I must say that the Pennington Mellor Munthe family have done a proper job, unlike some families, whose inheritance-tax-free artworks are about as accessible as the bypass plans Arthur Dent was looking for. (click here if you don't understand the reference, but really, you should read the books)

We were admitted into the little brick courtyard, with a remarkable statue of one of the two sons of Axel and Hilde Munthe, and were then taken round to the garden room for coffee and biscuits. Photography is not allowed in the house, which was fine as there was so much to look at and listen to that we did not need any more distractions.  Also there are a couple of indoor pictures here. Our guide was Irish, and called Pat, but I did not catch his surname.  

The story of the house is more complicated than in many stately homes.  I hope I have got this right: Hilda and Axel Munthe bought the house in 1932.  She was from a wealthy family, the Pennington Mellors, whose money, derived from 'trade', was not therefore totally acceptable in 19th century London society.  So the family had built themselves a handsome chateau in Biarritz, where they were able to mingle with royalty and nobility to their hearts content. It was there that she met and fell for the great Swedish writer and doctor, Axel Munthe. The economic difficulties of the between wars years mean that they moved to England, where they owned two houses, the other one being Hellens Manor in Herefordshire, which is run by the same family trust.  Various family stories attempt to link the family to the whole story of the house since the 17th century, but the links are tenuous. A Pennington did, however, marry into the family of Lord Wharton, which helps explain the artworks from the Wharton collection which are here.

But enough of the background and into the house.  The garden room, where we met our guide, contains a rocking horse, which once belonged to Horatia Nelson, daughter of the naval hero. Emma Hamilton was a regular dinner party guest in the house in the early 19th century.  It also has a couple of van Dykes, and Pat explained that 'studio of' tended to mean multiple copies of the great man's work by his assistants.  Then we went through a narrow corridor, lined with portraits. This gave Pat an opportunity to tell us about the Chevalier d'Eon, whose gender was the subject of huge bets amongst the dashing punters of London Society.  He seems to have dressed as a woman for reasons of security, though he continued to give demonstrations of swordsmanship in his bonnet and dress.

In the breakfast room hangs a sketch by Constable, part of his preparatory work for The Cornfield, as well as portraits of Hilda and Axel.  Of their two sons, it was the younger, Malcolm, who took responsibility for houses and finances, while the older, Peter, went to the Slade and then became an artist.  His confidence in himself can be seen in topiary hedges out in the garden.

The dining room is part of a later addition to the house, and is embellished with an enormous chandelier and table brought over from the Chateau in Biarritz.  The walls are covered with paintings, including a splendid Hogarth of Sir Charles Kemeys Tynte, and a Burne Jones cartoon for a stained glass window, nestling behind the door. We then moved to the entrance hall, which has a classically Dutch black and white floor. We admired the apparently stone pillars and balustrades, which proved to be wood: replacements after a bomb in 1940.  Pat told us about all the films and TV period shows which have been filmed here.  The latest is Timothy Spall as J M W Turner, which will be out any day now.

The Library contains photographs of the two brothers: Peter in Royal Navy uniform, Malcolm in the uniform in which he won his MC, after a period in SOE. Malcolm was wounded after landing at Anzio, and his health was affected from then on, but this did not stop him working to save the houses and the family and other treasures from the ravages of the Labour government after the War.

Pat pointed out a lovely bust of a young child, and said it was by Foley, the great Irish sculptor, and challenged us all to see whether we had heard of him. Linda and I were red-faced when he reminded us that this is the artist who 'did' both Albert and Asia, on the Memorial which we had visited only a few months ago.

Because no home is complete without a bedroom that someone famous slept in, the family concocted a room in which 'Poor Fred', son of George II had slept;  the Prince of Wales' feathers, in silver sequins, on the velvet bedhead are actually a reference to a later Prince of Wales, Victoria's son, the future Edward VII, who visited the family in Biarritz.  There is also a cabinet with some fine jewels, many with royal stories attached.

A tiny oratory was built in the 'newer,' concrete rendered, part of the house;  it has a Swedish wooden steeple above it and a couple of little stained glass windows as well.  Pat explained to us some of the benefits of inadequate cash, (and also of not handing the house over to the National Trust!):  some areas have not been renovated, including a room still displaying painted canvas wall-hangings rather than panelling or tapestry.  We were also shown the tiny powder closet, where gentlemen could have their periwigs repowdered after the breezy ride across the common.

The music room is perhaps the most extraordinary;  it has ten huge crystal sconces along the walls, as well as a fine Romney portrait of Emma Hamilton, who used to perform her 'attitudes' here after a good dinner.

I haven't really said that all the rooms look lived in; none of the chairs corded off; no part of the carpet where one cannot stand.  It makes for a rather surreal experience for those of us used to other stately homes.  Only one room feels at all museum-like, and that is the small room where some of the ladies' dresses designed by the House of Worth are displayed. 

This was where our formal tour ended.  

But visitors are free to visit the large garden (two acres much coveted by the private school next door, which would like the space).  The garden is as idiosyncratic as the house, including a small waterway, a shelly grotto, the topiary of Peter's name, and a pets' cemetery.  Most of the pet graves have depictions of the animal above them;  Axel Munthe's owl is somewhat hidden in the undergrowth, but there are plenty more to enjoy.

All in all, we thought this was a fascinating place.  Our only criticism would be that we were given no time to linger or to study the objects and paintings that were pointed out to us. Even so, it had taken over an hour and three quarters to be shown the house, so I suppose we should not be surprised.