On my trip back to England last week to visit the old man who is not a tree (renamed the Retired Admiral because of his luxuriant white beard) I also visited Basildon Park near Reading. It’s the house that was used as Netherfield in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice.
The house was designed by architect John Carr for a rich nabob, Francis Sykes–apparently Berkshire, close to London, was a favorite retirement spot for those who had made their fortunes in India. It changed hands several times for the next century and a half, narrowly escaping demolition and development in the early twentieth century. At one point it was offered to the American market, as a house to be dismantled and erected across the Atlantic, but 1929 probably wasn’t the best year for such an offer. The house was taken over by the military during World War II. Consequently it was fairly messed up when Lord and Lady Iliffe acquired it in 1951 and set to restoring it. You can see what a beautiful house it now is by checking out the photo gallery (copyrighted material so I’m leaving it alone).
There’s a whole exhibit dedicated to what they had to do to prepare the house for filming P&P–fragile carpets were rolled and removed from the first (that’s second to you Americans) floor by forklift and great pains were taken to protect the house’s delicate features. The furniture was made specially for the movie.
So how authentic is the house inside? I was a bit disappointed, to be honest. Lady Iliffe, who we heard a lot about–she died only a year or so ago, and lived on the premises while the National Trust maintained the house–decorated the house to her taste. Altogether it’s a bit of a mish-mash of style. The Oxagon Drawing Room, for instance, has a Victorian ceiling, and Lady Iliffe, with the help of her cook, lined the walls with red felt to show off her paintings better–and of course colors like Pompeian red would have been very fashionable. But underneath the red felt is the blue green color that Georgians also loved. To give her credit, Lady Iliffe plundered other houses designed by Carr, going on expeditions to Yorkshire, where most of his work is, and loading a truck with doors and fireplaces.
Naturally after a stroll through the house and garden we had to have afternoon tea. I had Victoria sponge and my brother had chocolate cake. That’s my arm in the pic. My brother was also very anxious that his shot of the toilets be included (in the stable block) so here they are.
And what else did I do over there? I’m happy to announce that I did get to Sir John Soane’s Museum–cleaning that place must be a nightmare–met with my editor, took a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe and saw part of a rehearsal of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and visited St. Paul’s where Wellington is buried, and heard the choir at Evensong. We also had a trip to Bristol, one of my favorite places.
What have you been doing this week?
I’m blogging today at the Wet Noodle Posse on how to research historical costume–come on over and take a look!