Thursday 8 June 2017
Compared to last week, the signage was much more efficient, and both Overground and bus staff knew our destination and could direct us. But the journey was far from perfect. It took us three hours to get to Forty Hall, thus breaking the 'Andrew Rule' which states that one should spend as long in the place as the journey time. At Seven Sisters, where you change from the Victoria Line to the ex C2C Overground which takes you to Enfield Town once every half hour, the offer was 'White Hart Lane', with no clear promise of Enfield Town until you reached the platform.
It is a relief to be able to say that it was totally worth it. Forty Hall was rescued in 2010-2012 by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Enfield Council, and the building has been restored to a high standard, with ongoing interpretation and furnishing work to ensure repeat visits.
It's one of the houses built by ex-Lord Mayors of London, in this case Sir Nicholas Rainton. He chose this country area as it was as far as you could get from London in a day without changing horses (ie not much slower than our journey...) We learned this and many other interesting facts from the signage and recorded conversations with Sir Nicholas. He was a member of the Haberdashers' Company, and grew wealthy trading in fine textiles. In 1640, he had a spat with Charles I who put him in the Tower when he refused to divulge the names of other rich men who might 'lend' the beleaguered King large sums of money. Quite astute, given the outcome of the Civil War.
Since he had no children, the Hall passed to other families, and the renovation has involved removing quite a lot of derelict or Victorian stuff, and replacing it with convincing synthetic materials to show how it would have looked. On the other hand, the main staircase is of fine oak.
We passed into the dining room, with a handsome plaster ceiling and also with replica food, including a splendid pie with a lid and some marzipan playing cards, apparently a conceit for dinner parties in the seventeenth century, Linda, who likes marzipan, got a gleam in her eye at this.
We were impressed with the trust that the hall places in its visitors, as few of these things were nailed down or fenced off, the exception being in the upstairs great Chamber, where you need a member of staff with you. This is because they have on loan from Tate a fine picture of the Carpenters' Room at Forty Hall in the 17th century, and the terms of the loan require supervision of visitors. But a charming person came and told us all about it while we admired the room.
On the landing, there were some fairly late stained glass windows, dating from the period when the Carrington-Bowles family owned this place. Their canting (punning) coat of arms has a bee and three owls.
The original design of the house, typical for its period, was to have a circular route on each floor through the various rooms around the central staircase, but later families, keen on privacy, had split some of the spaces, making it necessary to try every door in order to see everything.
Upstairs rooms are furnished in various styles and eventually there will be a room for each of the families and periods of the house's history.
Sir Nicholas Rainton's bedchamber contained not just a close-stool, but also details of his will. And then we came to a Bowles room, with a gramophone and other 50s furnishings. We had passed one dressing up box in the ground floor, and now found a much more exciting one, with opportunities to dress as symbols of the wealth and power of the city.
In several rooms there were board games of the periods of the house available to play, and on the upper landing we were pleased to see a window depicting the ornamental hermit so essential for a proper estate!
The top floor has information about the renovation of the Hall, as well as fine views of the 'countryside' that Sir Nicholas valued.
We had wondered why there were pictures of Elizabeth I around the place, but this was clearly explained. This is the site of Elsyng Palace, built by Henry VIII and home to the children of his fractured domestic life. No visible sign of the Palace remains, but a great deal of archeological work has been done to show where it was and what it was like.
We also looked at the spaces which are available to hire, which seemed to be in former barns and stables, before heading out to walk round the water and get some final views of this handsome house.
Well worth a visit, was our opinion, though perhaps a car might be an advantage given its location.