Monday, 6 February 2017

Georgians and Dahlias

I wonder if developing that soy allergy in Japan weakened my immune system. After getting flu after Christmas, I went down with norovirus at the end of January, which makes you feel fit for nothing but lying around. So I lay about re-reading some favourite books and put together photos for another post about Akita, Japan.  

But I felt much better on Saturday, and by yesterday, Sunday, I was fine, so I decided to go and see one of London's hidden interiors which I'd learned would be open  to the public for the first time in years, or possibly even ever. It's a large 18th century house in Fitzroy Square,  London, that is home to The Georgian Group.  

So I'll still post about Japan, but first let me tell you about visiting Fitzroy Square and the Georgian Group....

The Georgian Group is a fount of knowledge about life, times, arts and architecture of the 18th century and if you click here you can read a bit about its work in protecting the 18th century heritage of England and Wales.  Part of that work is to help keep neo-classical skills alive - plasterwork, leadwork, wood carving like this delicately carved little swag, for instance, made out of lime wood.

Now the GG has just had its 80th birthday, and has decided to reach out to the wider world and get more people involved in its work.      There certainly seemed to be a lot of people thronging in to see the place.  The visitor's entrance to the house is via the big echoing stone flagged basement, once the kitchen and servants' quarters, and when I wandered in, one of the first things I encountered was a room full of people hard at work making 18th century style crafts with shells, plaster-of-paris and mirrors, and trying their hand at printing wallpaper. 

It looked like fun.  So I accepted one of the thin polystyrene tiles they offered me, and drew a vaguely old-world design onto the tile with a pencil, making the lines as deep as I could.   Then, I inked the tile with gold lino paint and printed it several times....  and wow, suddenly I had some decorative paper myself! 

Not sure how authentic the design was, but I loved the smudgy look of the printing (which is just as well). Even if I don't manage to create wallpaper, I can see all kinds of possibilities for creating my own gift wrap, at least. 

As my paper dried, I climbed up from the basement to explore the main house. This contained many unusual and fascinating objects, old and new.  The front hall is full of statuary and plasterwork. Here's the view looking to the front door with its well proportioned fanlight.  

The exact proportions of architecture were very important in Georgian times, so the size and shape of the rooms are always very harmonious and comfortable.  The main office, with deep red walls and a huge bookcase down one wall, would have been a wonderful place to work. It sports a signed photo of Prince Charles, the Group's patron, on the wall. 

 Charles has worked very hard in conserving the country's traditional visual and natural heritage. It's fair to say that not everyone always agrees with everything he does, but over decades he has done so very many good and lasting things for the country and its people. So I nodded approvingly at his photo and gave him a thumbs up as I passed.  

My favourite room in the house was the main salon, a double interconnecting room which when the house was new, would have been opened up for balls and parties.  In this shot most of what you see is actually a reflection in a pier-mirror, a tall mirror which occupies the space between two windows and makes the space seem larger.   Placed before the mirror is a decorative shellwork obelisk, which also reflects itself back.  

And there was more shell work in the next room - this is a startling and unusual modern chandelier.

And, how about this, in the glass topped cabinet below?  This grotesque face is reminiscent of figures featuring in shell grottoes, a type of folly which was popular two hundred years ago.   Like the chandelier, it is modern, but once again, it seems very eighteenth century somehow  - a mixture of brash, elegant, refined and outrageous.

 I looked up and spotted this modern painting of Fonthill Abbey (right) had been hung over a doorway. The towering, Gothic style Fonthill Abbey was created by the profligate, clever art-collector, critic and politician William Beckford, who was just the type of excessive character the 18th century specialised in.

Beckford was astoundingly rich and decided he wanted to live in a Gothic cathedral so he got one built as quickly as possible, without bothering about whether it would stay up.  And basically, it didn't.  Fonthill Abbey's soaring tower, 90 metre high (300 feet), collapsed three times, and the rest of the house wasn't much better built.  Beckford for instance, wanted Christmas dinner cooked in the kitchens even though they were not ready. So the kitchens were flung together just enough to enable the staff to cook the meal, and then they, too, collapsed. Mad though this sounds, there was, in fact, a bit of a tendency in the eighteenth century to build beautiful houses almost as if they were stage sets, not really intended for living at all.

Anyway, all kinds of strange stories circulated about Beckford, and Fonthill of course was famous for its extravagant interiors, in gold, silver, crimson and blue.   (Talking of which, someone had created some wallpaper with the lino paints downstairs which might almost have been made for somewhere like Fonthill Abbey, don't you think?)

 Gradually most of the Abbey either fell down or was demolished, although a tiny fragment of the building still remains, and it does make you wonder what the rest must have been like. This website by Ric Norton gives some idea.....

Having fallen in love with No. 6, I suddenly began to see Fitzroy Square in a different light from how I had always seen it.  To be honest, this corner of London had always seemed somewhat dull to me, but, viewed out of the long windows of No 6's salon I suddenly perceived it as it was meant to be: elegant, well proportioned and restrained, a place to spend the gloomy London winters.  Imagine going to balls in those long-windowed rooms, glittering with the lights of thousands of candles.  Really all the scene needs is a phaeton or two bowling past. 

And so that was my Sunday.   But, since I have got the dahlia photos sorted out, I'd really love to zip across to the other side of the world and mention the wonderful dahlia garden in Akita, Japan, which I was lucky enough to catch in full bloom last October.  

This garden, set in a sweeping valley, stretches almost as far as you can see to wooded hillsides, and the dahlias come in such a variety of colours, sizes and shapes, as you can see below. 

The variety below had a twisty, ornate quality, and if I plant any dahlias this year, I'm going to plant some of these. 

The yellow ones at the bottom hardly seemed like dahlias at all but make a striking display in a border.

This to me seemed to have a perfect colour and shape

 And the centre of this deep red dahlia glowed brightly, like enamelled gold.

However, my eye was also caught by this stall which an elderly man had pitched just outside the dahlia garden entrance. 

He was selling fungi that he had collected himself from the mountains.  Most of the fungi were very large, and looked almost as if someone had made them out of finely textured and dyed leather. 

I had seen small "maitake" mushrooms like this before - in fact, I think they grow wild in England - but these were in a different class - they were bigger than cauliflowers.  My Japanese friend told me they are called "dancing mushrooms,"   - 舞茸  in Japanese - because they look like dancers in flowing robes. And as you can see there were other types of fungi and fungi products on the stall.

The old man had obviously spent hours preparing them for sale, and as far as I could tell, they seemed to have health benefits, including boosting your  immune system......  hmmm, if only I had known that, I'd have bought some of the extract. Then, I'd probably have been the picture of health all winter.  And I would probably have got many more posts written by now!   


  1. Brave of you to trust a fungi seller, but I guess it is more common in your area. I loved you tour and do thank you for taking me to that place. So rich in culture and history and unusual beauty. Now I want to read about that era.

  2. Lovely post and photos. Sorry to hear about the Norovirus after your bout of flu. I hope you're taking good care. Wishing you a good week!

  3. Funny how things we have little interest in, once we look more closely, often have a side we'd never imagined.

    Beautiful flowers!

  4. Fitzroy Square needs some dahlias. Glad you're feeling better.

  5. History, flowers and mushrooms! This post has it all.

  6. Hello Jenny, your printmaking is so cool! Your How-To description makes it so easy I'm itching to try it (ha ha where's the polystyrene when you need it!!!).
    Those shell creations are so over the top - but strangely beautiful in their own way. Just thinking of the work that went into them.
    Such a mixture of things - that chandelier!! Their customs (building houses not meant to last the distance).

    I loved the quick trip over to Japan too - all those amazing dahlias, every one so beautiful.

    Such a large array of mushrooms too - quite something to see.

    Thanks very much for this very interesting post Jenny. I do hope you continue to pick up in health too. Cheerio for now :D)

  7. Wow! That house is exactly my kind of place, Jenny - thank you for showing it to us! You did very well with the wallpaper printing, I think. I didn't know the Georgians were so heavily into shell decorations.
    Wonderful dahlias, too - a welcome splash of colour on what looks like a very grey Tuesday here.

  8. What an amazing place and how about that printing - you did well with your design. Loved all the pictures and went back for another browse through them. Hope you are feeling fully fit now.

  9. Gosh Jenny there are so many things in this post to admire from the Georgian Society house to the dahlias to the wonderful mushrooms. I loved the gold printed pattern that you created, and it would certainly be attractive used as gift wrap.
    We have a dahlia that you can purchase here that is very similar to the white and red one that you admired - it has rather more red than the one you liked and called Santa Claus.
    There seem to have been a great deal of lingering coughs and colds this winter. I am still feeling the effects from having caught one on the plane to Paris last November - I need some warm sunshine.

  10. You certainly have had a rough two months, health wise. There is nothing like the first day of feeling good after you have felt so bad.

    I loved this post because of all the interesting facts and lovely photos. My gosh, those dahlias are magnificent and great to look at during the grayness of winter.

    Visiting the GG is something I would enjoy. Whenever I visit old historic places I always look for a house that is open to the public to visit. I am very nosy about how others live(d).

    Stay well, Jenny.

  11. What an interesting place, I've always been attracted to things Georgian, I tend to think of them as simpler, with cleaner lines, particularly when compared to Victorian. Love Dahlias, cannot seem to get them to grow here.
    We'll be going back to Japan next month, can't wait.

  12. Prayers for your health
    Dahlias are beautiful flowers, and last longer than most blooms.
    A soy allergy isn't easy to manage because most everything nowadays has some of soy in it. Nearly all salad dressing are soy oil. My allergist told me a little bit might not bother me, but when I have a lot of foods with a little bit of soy, then that can accumulates into an allergy reaction. Not a pleasant experience to have extreme nausea. It can take a lot out of a person's energy storage.

  13. Sorry to hear you've still been a bit under the weather, Jenny. Get well! But there's a lot of 'stuff' around. Loved your tour of the Georgian Group's HQ - I have never heard of this and looks fascinating. Beautiful dahlias - never really sure what to do with (ie how to look after!) dahlias. Strange fungi...the stall looks full; not mushroom anyway... (sorry).

  14. Oh goodness where to start. First I'm glad you're feeling better. Who knows where we catch these dreadful bugs, it's just something that goes through our system and then back to normal again. All such lovely photos, interesting and fun as well, I'd try those tiles too. That photo of Charles is really nice too! Probably from a while ago. Such a sweet look from the kitty cat too.

  15. Dear Jenny, what a super post - you are obviously on the mend. The Norovirus sounds quite awful. As I do, I immediately Google Mapped and found Fitzroy Square - really, not so far from where we were located when in London a few months ago. As always, one finds out things later which would have been so good to see... The Georgian era is very appealing, (this week we have been sourcing replacements for our Georgian style brass cupboard knobs, but I digress). How fantastic are those shell items, and what fun for the visitors to try it out.
    Your gold print paper is gorgeous, and I hope you made yourself a few more pieces. Who would not want a gift wrapped in that! Once again, beautiful photos from Japan, where the dahlias are just perfect. My favourite is the pale pink, but then it would be, wouldn't it?

  16. I'd have enjoyed the craft. But I'd have been in heaven in the beautiful gardens!

    Hope your immune system recovers quickly!

  17. Lovely post and photos as always. The dahlias are stunning - my favourite is the white and red one. Hope you are completely recovered from the horrible norovirus - we all had it last year and it really is debilitating.

  18. Well, Jenny, what a fascinating post. I'm so sorry you've been so unwell though! From this post, it looks as if you must have been feeling a lot better to go exploring. A beautiful house, with lovely furnishings and as for your dahlias, they are gorgeous. I hope you go on feeling better and better!

  19. I love those beautiful lino paint prints - and the 18th century house is fantastic. I especially like the statuary in the hallway.
    Wow! Those mushrooms are beyond amazing. If they really boost the immune system, I should have been eating them recently (I need all the help I can get).

    I'm glad that you're feeling better and hope that you'll stay on the Healthy Road to Recovery.

  20. I love lookштп at old houses and admire its architecture and interior design, Jenny. So I would go with you to the house №6. I think that the main salon is very elegant. What about Dahlia... I grow them but sometimes they bloom very late in autumn when it becomes cold. I like Japanese dahlias and your golden printing!

  21. Oh Jenny, I am so in love with this post. I would love to see this, to experience it first hand. (Especially the wallpaper making!) The details are wonderful and I so appreciate the commitment to maintaining history and passing down the craftsmanship to new generations. I loved the details -- the shell head in the table, the background and history you shared.(Thanks for the links.)

    Fitzroy Square sounds familiar to me. I must look through my Maisie Dobbs books. I'm wondering if that was the place that her benefactors lived and where she was in service in the flashbacks in the earlier books and when she moved when she was married. If not, I've heard/read of it somewhere. At any rate, lovely to see the beautiful photo.

    And the dahlias are spectacular. They are one of my favorite flowers and I'm always glad when my neighbor's come up in the summer. The fungi, too. Such richness here. Such joy to visit!

  22. What a lot of very beautiful objects in the Georgian Group's house. I love the modern chandelier and also the shell grotto. And I like the way they're encouraging people to try 18th century crafts. I wonder if the mushrooms really have health benefits or whether it's just another of those fancy claims!

  23. so glad that you felt better and had great time on Sunday as these photos are MARVELOUS!!!

    specially flowers at the end are delightful treat to eyes! thank you for lovely post friend!

  24. Fantastic interiors. Your post feeds the curious in me. :-)


  25. I think eating any of that fungi may well have killed you, not made you better! Fascinating to look at but I'm intrigued to know if he sold much? I can't see it being too popular in Asda somehow. :D

  26. It was certainly a worthwhile visit to that house, I would have also jumoped at the opportunity. sorry to read you have been unwell, hope you are by now fully recovered. Take Care,

  27. Sorry to hear about your infection with flu virus and norovirus one after another. But once you recovered, you showed your potential resilience and curiosity. Nice to know The Georgian Group’s campaign for the preservation of historic architecture. I love dahlias. Your photos of them reminded me of the sunny, warm early autumn now in the middle of the frigid cold. Have healthy, happy days ahead, Jenny.


  28. I must admit that I prefer the flowers to either Georgians or Fungi!
    The pictures however were marvellous as always.

  29. Beautiful cakes! :-)

    I have been to Fitzroy Square and I agree with you. It does look unremarkable. Then, again, I had never had the chance to look at it from inside. Thanks.

    Have a great week.

  30. Hello,

    I really enjoyed the tour of the Georgian Group and the wonderful photos you included in your post. The shell work, especially, was charming. I need to put this on my list of places to visit the next time I'm back in my hometown.

  31. I love how you made the train ride sound like an adventure. I'd be complaining about it, but you made it seem like it was a real adventure!


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