Blog 95 - Kenwood Elegance



My grandfather started life as a young stable lad at Blenheim Palace. By his late teens he had worked his way to become coachman. Life in these Edwardian times was elegant. Look at my scarf today and imagine the life of the aristocrat. The year is 1905 and the young coachman wondered which of the Duke’s ladies would be riding in his coach that day. The journey would be to Kenwood House in Hampstead. Would it be Consuelo Vanderbilt (the Duke’s wife), former American wealthy socialite whose money helped restore Blenheim, or Gladys Deacon, French American aristocrat (at that time the Duke’s mistress, but much later his second wife)? You can imagine there was much gossip in the stables. The invitation for a summer picnic by the lake at Kenwood was informal. Mistress Gladys accompanied the Duke! Grandpa said nothing. The picnic host, Lord Mansfield, spent little time at Kenwood, much preferring life at Scone Palace in Scotland. The invitation was a rare one. Gladys chose her hat carefully. She thought her nose could be improved and had undergone an early form of plastic surgery. Too much sunshine might be disastrous with this injection of wax. Too true! The botched surgery would blight her later life. Her hat was large and shady. Grandpa knew nothing of such things. Whilst the elegant Edwardian society enjoyed the views over London, he chatted to the other coachmen and grooms and was excited to hear of a job going in Scotland, not at Scone but Brechin Castle in nearby Angus.



I now have to admit I have fictitiously invented this scene, but it fits my romantic silk scarf. It is fine twill with hand rolled seams and yes, my grandfather was a coachman at Blenheim …..and as a very young man bravely took that job in Scotland. I have owned the scarf for some time and have no idea where it came from.



The rest of the blog following is factual.



I wore the green and rose pink scarf this week to visit Kenwood. I didn’t travel by magic carpet. I actually went in a coach…..don’t know its horsepower, but it was certainly not four legs! I had always wanted to attend an open air concert there by the lake, but these have not been held for some time. Too noisy for the neighbours, it is said. I hope they return. It was door to door transport on an organised outing with friends from Age UK, in beautiful sunshine, and a warm welcome from the many volunteers manning this neo-classical villa built in the early seventeenth century. Like all old houses, each new owner remodelled the property, redesigned gardens, planted trees. With a strong Scottish connection of ownership it is little wonder that fellow Scot, designer Robert Adam created the exquisite Library for William Murray, the first Earl of Mansfield. I am sure I didn’t make myself too popular when I complained about two artificial plastic candles completely destroying the beautiful symmetry of this room….. I have nothing against artificial, battery operated flickering candles, but they were drunkenly lopsided and ruined the perfection of the room. The bewildered volunteer, like the visitors, was not allowed to touch anything, but I do hope he reported my remarks and the small imperfection is rectified. Maybe, I am just being persnickety!



I must say how privileged we are to have this beautiful place to visit, completely free, thanks to the generosity of the Iveagh Bequest enabling the public to view the house with its priceless collection of Old Master paintings, even walk dogs in its stunning parkland. I could hardly believe I was standing in front of Rembrandt’s self portrait, Vermeer’s Guitar Player, works by Gainsborough and Reynolds, 63 masterpieces in all, easily viewed close up in a former private villa which had seen a long term tenant such as the second cousin of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas before being bought by Lord Iveagh. On his death, he bequeathed house and art collection to the nation. It was also interesting to see the facsimile painting of Dido Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race niece of the first Earl Mansfield, born to a slave mother and brought up equally with another orphan cousin at Kenwood within an aristocratic family. The original painting is still in the Mansfield family in Scone Palace. Perhaps I will watch the 2013 film BELLE again now I have visited Kenwood. I expect it to be somewhat fictitious like my first paragraph!



Did I have a gentle walk accompanied by a gentleman with a top hat, silver topped cane, smoking a cigar, a picnic under the trees or an elegant lunch served in the red Dining room? No, I naughtily had a cream tea, with a warm newly baked scone, clotted cream and strawberry jam…..and it was just after 11am sitting in the courtyard of the old Brewhouse!



Later in the afternoon, back in our Richmond Council Community coach, our driver, not in top hat, kindly gave us a tour down Bishop Avenue, so-called Millionaires Row. Oo’s and Ah’s as we passed bigger and bigger monstrosities! Whoever lives these days in these heavily fortified Hampstead mansions…..Russian oligarchs, footballers, IT whizkid billionaires, Middle Eastern sultans? Were they the complaining neighbours about Kenwood concert noise? I thought about the big green heart on Grenfell Tower we had passed earlier in the day on our journey through London, reminding us of the tragedy there not so long ago. It was a lot to think about in one day.



I don’t know what Grandpa would make of it all. He would surely be perplexed by his granddaughter’s collection of scarves. I guess he never had more than one!



Busy Bee, Scarf Face!

Series 2, Blog 95.

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