Pevsner describes Downside Abbey as “the most splendid demonstration of the regeneration of Roman Catholicism in England.” Founded in 1814, one of England’s great neo-Gothic churches, it is the senior monastery of the English Benedictine Congregation and is one of only four minor basilicas in England. We now have the opportunity to visit the abbey church, to see the stained glass, the lady chapel and the tombs of cardinals and bishops. And we will visit the Library, where there will be an exhibition of some of the treasures of the collections including mauscripts, maps and bound volumes. Its rare book collection is one of the finest in England.
Built in 1730, Farrs has proved an ideal setting for John Makepeace, the furniture designer, and his wife Jennie to create an inspiring home, garden, design studio and gallery. John and Jennie have designed what is now a stunning curved garden, bounded by ten foot walls and towering yew hedges sculpted into an abstract outline. As luck would have it, the garden is at its best in September. After coffee on arrival, Jennie will conduct the garden tour and then John will show us around their home, talking about trees, timber and furniture design and showing us their collection of paintings, ceramics and silver.
We will then lunch at the very popular Brassica restaurant in Beaminster after which a 5-minute coach trip will take us to Parnham House (pictured right). This is a beautiful Grade 1 Elizabethan manor house, where the owners have kindly given us permission for a private tour. A deer park, terraced formal gardens leading down through topiared yew to the lake, historic garden buildings, and a densely-planted walled garden are some of the treats ahead. The tour will be conducted by Simon Johnson, who designed the gardens for the present owners. The house is rarely opened to the public, but the owners have kindly offered us tea in the Great Hall after the tour.
We have been invited by top garden designer Justin Spink to a private tour of his own garden, Woolstone Mill House, near Faringdon. This romantic rambling garden in the Vale of White Horse, while not large, is packed with surprises including topiary, a medlar orchard, a river with island, mixed perennial beds and much, much more. Justin will conduct the tour himself and tea and coffee will be available on arrival.
We will then lunch in The Star in Sparsholt before moving on to The Old Rectory at Farnborough. Voted “Best Parsonage” by Country Life, the Rectory was once home to Sir John Betjeman. The present owners, who will give us a tour themselves and provide refreshments, have lived here since 1964. Their four acre garden consists of a series of immaculately tended rooms. Features include a woodland, a ha ha and a pool. If time, we hope to make a quick visit to All Saints church just across the road to see the memorial window by John Piper, dedicated to his friend Sir John Betjeman.
Two-handled cup and cover,1736/37, silver. Charles Frederick Kandler (died 1778). Museum number S64A-B
Photograph © Beata Cosgrove
Sally Helvey, Cleveland Pools Trustee, will lead a small group of Friends on a circular walk to the Pools starting from the Holburne Museum. Hidden away in Bathwick are the UK’s only surviving Georgian open air swimming pools. Built in 1815 they are an early example of a “Subscripton Pool” built with private money for public use. Once a favourite with locals and visitors alike, Cleveland Pools closed in 1984. When restored Bath will be home to world’s first naturally treated and heated outdoor swimming pool. Final plans will be submitted for approval this summer but the Cleveland Pools Trust urgently needs to raise £600,000 in matched funding to secure a Heritage Lottery Fund Stage 2 grant of £4.1m to fund the restoration.
Vanessa Brett is co-curating the Holburne’s forthcoming exhibition Silver: Light and Shade with Catrin Jones, Curator of Decorative Arts. Vanessa lives near Bath with her husband William Parker. Her most recent book, Bertrand’s Toyshop in Bath: Luxury Retailing 1685–1765, published in 2014, was described by reviewers as ‘delightful and idiosyncratic:’ a genuinely fresh and original contribution to social history’. In this year’s Robertson lecture Vanessa will discuss the central role of silver in society and the challenges that face contemporary silversmiths.
7-13 June 2017 – Overseas Visit: A Taste of Portugal