On the Private Side

Friday 7th July 2023

We dined on the private side two nights in a row. This year the Garden Museum Literary Festival was held at Parham in Sussex. Royston King and I were put up in an hotel and received at dinner both the nights of the festival by a nearby Lord and Lady in one of England’s most blazing Statelies. But on the private side. The public not admitted.

‘There’s our very plain house,’ the  Lady said as returning from a moonlit tour of her private garden (self-designed), the vast facade loomed before us. Incredible that ordinary conversation could take place in such a setting but it did. Despite the pricelessness of the Old Masters in the Library and several enormous drawing rooms beyond, not used on this occasion or even mentioned. The linking corridor is 40′ high and the gilt frames were unceasing to the ceiling. ‘Look there’s a Hudson,’ I said to the Lord. ‘We’ve got one of them.’ ‘Granny kept it in the attic for fear Mrs Dinner would put a wet cloth over it,’ I explained. I don’t think Hudson was Reynolds’s teacher as I said.

Lord and Lady were incredibly nice. On the mantle was a personal card from the King and Queen. But I’m afraid my instinct in the presence of titles and masonry and gilt frames is to sink permanently to the floor in the deepest curtsey. Lady did ask me how I’d slept in the hotel and I dared to enquire after her own night but she seemed not to understand. The second night they showed us the Painted Staircase and Lady said the Duchess of Lincolnshire who built the house had had herself depicted in a tremendous classical scene on it. I said, ‘She was a long way from home,’ meaning Lincolnshire is nowhere near West Sussex. Once again she seemed not to understand. Royston said later it was a stupid thing to say. On the second night Lady had a rather different air than on the first. Then I noticed a living blaze of diamonds at her wrist. So that was what was powering her.

Neighbours were at dinner but not the titled ones. Rather, as in Jane Austen, those that had suffered misfortune. Otherwise household names in the landscape/garden design world, gays from that world, trustees, patrons, literary figures, some staying in the house, others living nearby. All the women had been at Cranborne Chase School, apparently, known to me from Barrowborough days. That was a link, as was the woman (Cranborne Chase) sitting next to me whose son was friends with the daughter of one of Robert Nevil’s friends and the person sitting beyond her had got the estranged father of that child staying with him as we spoke. None of them thought this coincidence at all remarkable. They were so blasé. Which just shows how things are when you’re at the top.

Or near the top. Because one’s not aristocracy, of course. Only Landed Gentry. So awful.

Not all the guests assembled in the library before dinner. Some just appeared from nowhere – upstairs presumably. Then disappeared afterwards. On the second night, Lady said, in the Library, ‘Where are the others? Not in there still?’  Staff were not to be hindered from laying breakfast. Dinner was taken off silver and the chargers on which it was offered by staff were also silver. 14 dined the first night and 23 the second. It was a miracle how the table got bigger and the cloth covering it must have been 50 foot long. There were ornate candelabra and table ornaments but it would have been common to take too much interest in them.

Royston said he wished the dinner could have gone on forever. He sat next to a Marchioness who complained that he never took her seriously and kept calling her a Marchioness all the time,




Posted Friday, July 7, 2023 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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