Saturday, 14 May 2011

Share My Window-Box

I was going to give a brief account of my birthday celebrations, but you have been saved by Blogger crashing - through 'human error', they said - a couple of days ago, and it would be irrelevant now anyway, because that particular hang-over has gone now. I've got a much fresher (and worse) one this morning, caused by having to stay in the pub until 9 o'clock to give moral support to someone who is having difficulty at work.

I got home last night and swiped one of my Georgian glasses off the plan-chest and onto the floor. £70 worth gone forever, having survived for a couple of hundred years without me. Ironically, I replaced it about 3 minutes later by buying one for £6 from eBay, but I was still bloody pissed off at my clumsiness.

I was watching a TV program (on BBC iPlayer, btw - just in case any of you are Licensing Authority) on South Wraxall Manor and the Long family who have lived there for about 500 years. South Wraxall - some of you older followers may remember - is where H.I. conducted her Summer Schools last year (click on the link), and where she will be doing them again this year.

The only surviving member of the Longs to have lived in South Wraxall Manor was interviewed, and when she was asked how her forebears acquired their wealth, she simply said "They stole other people's cattle". How honest.

In much the same way as branches of the Mafia become respectable these days, the Longs made sure they were invited to all the best parties, and the best one of them all was a big one held in a field by Henry the Eighth, like a proto Glastonbury Festival. It became known as 'The Field of the Cloth of Gold', because Henry's massive tents were made from vast pieces of heavy cloth shot through with real gold, when everyone elses's were plain white. I had never really understood what the term 'Robber Baron' actually meant until last night - probably because it is so self-explanatory.

These days, the wonderful Manor is owned by an American woman who married one of the twats from 'Duran Duran', and she keeps it together very well, surrounding herself with good quality antique furniture, and using the massive, carved stone fireplaces by burning real log fires every winter. She just saw it up for sale one day, and liked it. How nice to be able to have the resources for such a compulsive purchase. I would be happy just to live above the 16th century gatehouse, but I've always set my sights too low. Maybe I should start a blog called 'Share My Window-box'? It would certainly cut down on all this verbiage - herbage for verbiage.

I do a lot of work for someone near here who - since he first saw it - fell in love with a huge, late 18th century country house, and vowed that, one day, he would live in it. He kept his promise and now does live in it, having spent years and a vast fortune bringing it back up to standard - partly by getting me to enhance various parts of it with my excellent stonework!

In the old days, the use of expensive and 'permanent' materials like stone and marble was to display one's personal wealth and influence, and in the case of Wraxall and the Longs, this display was enhanced with symbolistic images of rude slaves and 'Caliban' type figures - shown as the exact opposite of what the family had become as a result of hob-nobbing with Royalty.

I suppose they also convey a sense of gratitude (to whom? God or the folk they stole the cattle from?), and the creation of Charitable Foundations which bear the name of their chief benefactor have an element of this as their motive too, I'm sure. All those portraits painted in the 17th and 18th century before photography existed could be justified by the very fact that photography had not yet been invented, but there is always a strong element of pride and vanity involved in their making, mirroring the sitter's smugness at the exalted position he and his family have attained in society - even if it was by stealing other people's live-stock. Samuel Pepys gives a very revealing account of the making of his portrait in his diaries, but I don't think he ever expected his journals to be read by so many people after his death.

I was sitting in the wood-walled library of a friend's mother in a vast house on the edge of a great loch in Scotland once, and the lady of the house noticed me looking at the oil-paintings of various Edwardian worthies dotted around the room. She said, "They are all from my side of the family. We started a bank called The National Westminster. Have you heard of it?"


  1. You're full of wisdom from twats in Duran Duran (they are all twats) to knowing it! xxx

  2. Thanks Tracey, but for God's sake don't go round telling people that I know bankers - I'm in enough trouble already. I only know dead bankers.

  3. Hello Tom:
    Apropos of large houses, and nothing much else, a friend of ours is often to be heard saying, "All my friends houses are now hotels."
    We don't think she is including us in this. And, as one would expect, she pronounces 'hotel' without an 'H'. She too lives in some style in Wiltshire.

  4. 'Share my Window box'. Are you taking the p***?

  5. Your friend - she didn't marry a twat from Duran Duran, did she? Also, which is worse, leaving the 'H' off hotel, or leaving it on when saying 'an hotel'?

    Of course I am, Cher.

  6. Very interesting post, Tom. It almost distracted me from my essential and valuable work as a member of the Licensing Authority. Now tell me, what is your own wealth? We need this information.

  7. I was born with nothing, Mise. I still have most of it left.

  8. I just inherited two rose-colored stem champagne glasses from my mother's father's side of the family. I guess they are about 100 years old. I'll have to post a pic of them soon. I know, 100 years is nothing to someone in England, but here it's something.

  9. I'd like to see them Amy. There are some nice glasses from around that time.

  10. I just googled Wraxall Manor and saw an interior picture with a huge fireplace in it. I wish that I could live in a place like that and breathe in history every day. Have to huddle in a corner now and cry a little bit!

  11. 'huddle in a corner and cry'? That's what I do every night, Iris. This is why I drink (from 18th century glasses...)