Gardening with the Aristocracy

Thursday 25th July 2019

Some time ago now – Midsummer’s Day, Royston King and I went to our favourite museum’s Literary Festival at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. We met Lady Rose Cecil on the lawn. She is a punk lady. Royston inquired as to her living arrangements. Was she housed at Hatfield? No, she said, I’m quite independent. Not a bit put out. The Marquis of Cholmondeley welcomed us all on behalf of Rose (the other Rose, Marchioness of Cholmondeley)  and himself. But where was Rose? Some claimed to have seen her. Just that week there had been more unpleasantness in the Mail re: Prince William and her present marriage. Quite honestly it was a worry that Prince William would mount some kind of affront, suddenly bursting through a hedge in a commando operation. The first talk was given by Casper Washington, the international garden designer, whom we know very well – he was once Aunt Lavinia’s tenant plus a friend of the Multis. He asked after them in fact, not having seen them himself for a very long time. So I explained that the Gays had come to blows and he wasn’t surprised. My God! Rising at the end of Casper’s talk, a somewhat stout figure, Stoker in person, the actual Duke of Devonshire, as a simple member of the audience. I couldn’t believe it. He had been issued with taupe jacket and slightly lighter taupe trews, exactly the same as the Marquis, so there must a central depot from which all the male aristocracy are clothed. ‘Your Grace!’ Royston hailed him on the lawn during the elevenses break. He turned round. ‘There aren’t many people you can say that to,’ Royston said. Of course they’d got quite a few committees in common, possibly saving the Fountain at Kew and so on. Your Grace said he was staying at Holkham. ‘With the Leicesters?’ Royston inquired. ‘No, in a pub.’ He meant the Victoria Arms at Holkham which isn’t exactly a pub.

By this time, Robert Nevil had appeared from London by train. He was to give a rude talk in the garden later. ‘We’ve heard that once too often,’ both he and Royston crushed when I said once again that our favourite Head of a museum was probably partly a water creature such as a water rat or beaver. This is because he often arrives by swimming up the river, as he did, for example, at the Chelsea Flower Show this year. Lady Rose Cecil’s talk was about her mother Majorie Salisbury who was an important garden designer, friend of the Queen Mother and driving force behind the founding of the Garden Museum. Lady Rose said that her mother bought her clothes from bridal shops in Bournemouth and adapted them mildly. She always looked marvellous. She believed it was immoral to spend money on clothes (oh dear!). Because of her greatness, nobody ever attempted to feel her stuff and discover that it was slimy nylon. But I don’t think people would do that anyway. One doesn’t normally find people fingering one’s outfit in a challenging manner. Possibly her Marquisate meant that nobody could have believed she would be synthetic so they just never saw it.

We had our lunch out of a bag provided on a wall, quite near Stoker. Stoker! In the distance Sir Royland Strong in super skinny stretch jeans. Then we had a tour of the house with Cambridge-educated guide. I used to love this house from when I first saw it with Robert Nevil 25 years ago. It’s got more formal and stately since. They’ve taken away a lot of Sybil Cholmondeley’s lovely things and put them somewhere else to make it more purely what it is supposed to be.  While I was lurking in a lower part of the house earlier, in a part we were allowed in, where Robert Nevil’s books were displayed (I thought I would sign them for him) the present Marquis came out of one door and passed out through another – all entirely of his own accord. No staff accompanying. He actually opened the doors himself. I was reeling.

After the tour, the Marquis gave a discussion about the sculpture he had acquired for his park. Very erudite but it was all modern, so I couldn’t sympathise. He was nothing like as die-away as might have been expected. But the spectre of Prince William hovered over the whole thing. In fact one of the sculptures very evidently was Prince William. The discussion was with a man like a very sleek on-trend penis, who had been overlooked for some job or other, Royston said.

After that it was Robert Nevil’s talk in the garden. It couldn’t have been more charming. Some people had come all the way from America to hear it. Only Stoker was not in the audience. He must have selected the other attraction, the rotter. If we’d had Stoker, banter could have taken place and we might have worked round to Debo and what he really thought of her. Robert Nevil managed to say ‘bottom’ twice. I can’t think why. Royston was not paying attention. He had discovered some people who wanted to make a new garden in Hampshire and he was telling them what to do. But Robert Nevil was of the private party, dining in the house. Royston thought we might crash the pre-drinks, but in the end we didn’t. Very unusually we were without special invitations.

But so was Stoker. He was telephoning from by the lime walk after all the talks were over. ‘It’ll just be a few minutes,’ he was saying. By this time the Duchess had appeared and Stoker had acquired several heavy carrier-bags. What more could he possibly want? Must have been books, for there was nothing else to buy. Their car was waiting at the other end of the Lime Walk; countrified chauffeur in uniform and modest middle-management BMW. Stoker sprawled in the back but the Duchess was suddenly fascinated by some deer. She walked over to coax them, so their departure was delayed. Eventually she assumed the front seat.

When you think how once the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire would have been permanently immured in greatness, frocked and jewelled to the highest heights at all times, attended, made way for. Now just a well-to-do older couple like any other.

As we self-drove away, we encountered the penis-man mounting a huge thrusting truck.  Royston commiserated with him re: not getting the job and told him to keep bashing on.

Houghton: a Bit Bare

Houghton: a Bit Bare

Houghton: the Staircase by William Kent: Unutterable Greatness

Houghton: the Staircase by William Kent: Unutterable Greatness: This Grissaille

Sir Royland Strong on the Lawn

Sir Royland Strong on the Lawn

Sir Royland Strong Passing By

Sir Royland Strong Passing By

Stoker with Bags

Stoker with Bags

Stoker Telephoning the Chauffeur

Stoker Telephoning the Chauffeur

Stoker's Procession

Stoker’s Procession

The Marquis's Statue of Prince William

The Marquis’s Statue of Prince William

Posted Friday, July 26, 2019 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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