Inside Hall Place: Former English Stately Home

Halll Place Eastern FrontHall Place

Last week I introduced you to the Tudor and red brick splendour of the Grade I listed Hall Place in Bexley, Kent.  Hall Place is less than three miles from my house and I had often marvelled at the contrast between the 17th century red brick half of the house and the 16th century stone half (which can clearly be seen in the photo above).

In the my previous post, I explained a little bit about the original owner Sir John Champneys and Sir Robert Austen who built the stone and red brick wings respectively.  I also mentioned the exquisite topiary gardens which lie on the banks of the river Cray.

Perhaps the most colourful and notorious resident of Hall Place was Sir Francis Dashwood, a notable rake and member of the notorious Hellfire Club, who purchased the home c. 1772.  His descendant Maitland Dashwood returned to the house in 1870 and undertook a great deal of restorations.  It is assumed that Maitland Dashwood was responsible for much of the wood panelling that can be seen around the house. 

In the photo below, you can see the panelling in one of the topiary garden-facing rooms in the newer 17th century wing of the house (above) and also in the parlour which is in the original 16th century wing (below).  The other two photos were taken in the passage between the two wings and show the wooden mock-Tudor finishes. (I’m assuming they would have been added at the time of the extensions and not during the original build).

Remember to click on any of the photos below for enlargements!

Interior Rooms Hall Place BexleyInterior rooms at Hall Place

The home remained in the Dashwood family until 1926.  Lady Limerick was the last tenant in the building, before it came under the full control of the Municipal Borough of Bexley at her death in 1943.  Lady Limerick was known for her lavish parties and it is suggested that she lived with a female companion, a fact that might have been scandalous at the time were it not for the high profile figures attending her parties. All is forgiven though as it was Lady Limerick that was responsible for the topiary garden.

Despite a £2-million refurbishment courtesy of the Heritage Lottery Fund, you will note that there is very little furniture in Hall Place.  This is because the bulk of Lady Limerick’s furniture was sold at her death and added to the estate.  The furniture that does remain is authentic and I imagine that more would be added as it is located or restored.  Sadly enough, we were told that a storage facility located nearby was broken into a fortnight ago and several authentic (but not yet restored) items were stolen, including a Victorian bath.

Hall Place was used as a boarding school for much of the 19th century and it certainly had that haunting atmosphere of a former school.  During WWII, it became an important army communications centre for the American forces and went on to become a technical school for girls, then the headquarters of Bexley’s Libraries and Museums service before finally becoming a museum and historical visitor’s centre.

The Chapel at Hall PlaceThe Chapel at Hall Place

One of the most interesting parts of the visit was the chapel located in the original Tudor wing.  This fascinating display is aimed at children and explains several aspects of Tudor life including the food that they ate, the clothes that they wore, the various positions that people held in society and, importantly, the increasing conflict between the Catholic Church and the Church of England. 

Hall Place Great HallThe Great Hall at Hall Place

The Great Hall lies at the heart of Hall Place and was designed for grand feasts and long nights of festivities and entertainment.  Feasts are still held at the Great Hall today, with events such as weddings, Tudor evenings and Christmas dinners.

Hall Place Kitchen and Great Hall Hall Place Kitchen and Great Hall

I was really impressed by the old kitchen, which lies just off to the side of the Great Hall.  There you can see the remains of the old staircase that may have lead up to the Minstrels gallery and you can also see the old ovens.  It is likely that the height of the room would once have been twice as high as it is now.  Unfortunately, my photos simply did not do justice to the old kitchen.  Above, you can also see the view of the Great Hall from the Minstrels Gallery, showing the detail of the wooden finishes in the ceiling.

Tudor Detail Hall PlaceTudor detail at Hall Place

Running along the side of the building, around the Great Hall, were several of the living rooms of the original house.  Amongst these was the Great Chamber and Long Gallery.  I have to admit that without furniture, this room failed to impress me despite the intricate pressed ceiling.  I found far more inspiration staring out of the windows!

Hall Place Gardens and Eastern FrontHall Place Gardens and Eastern Front

The upper floors of the 17th century wing are home to a series of exhibitions relating to WWII and the Victorian period when the home was used as a boarding school.  There was also a Sound and Vision exhibition which I will tell you a bit more about next time. 

Thank goodness for the riverside cafe and art gallery to wind down after such a long visit!  It is difficult to believe that there is so much to see here and that it is all for free!  I will definitely return in the summer.  I especially want to photograph each of the heraldic figures of the topiary gardens that represent the Queen’s Beasts.

Summer in the City

A record-breaking autumn of heatwaves and warm temperatures is finally giving way to a cold and grey winter.  Fear not! It is the winter solstice on Thursday 22nd December so surely it is time to begin counting down to summer? 

There is no doubt that London looks better when the sun is shining and so I have decided to feature a couple of snapshots taken in the City during the summer for this week’s edition of Blue Skies and Sunshine.

London Metropolitan University – Moorgate

Detail London Metropolitan University Moorgate

This is a close-up of the beautiful neo-classical building which houses London Metropolitan University at Moorgate.  It was built by Belcher & Joass between 1900 and 1903 and was formerly the headquarters of Cable & Wireless. I love the globe and dome details.

Christ Church Greyfriars

Christ Church Greyfriars (as seen from the south)Christ Church Greyfriars ruins and gardenChrist Church Greyfriars public garden

All that remains of Christ Church Greyfriars is the shell after it was bombed during the Blitz in London.  When you consider how close this site is to St Paul’s Cathedral, and that much of the surrounding area was levelled, it is amazing that St Paul’s was not destroyed too.  The bombed out Christ Church Greyfriars remains as a public garden today and a peaceful reminder of the horrors that London experienced during the extended bombing campaign.

St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral (approaching from the west)

This 17th century Sir Christopher Wren building was in fact a key target of the Blitz and was in fact hit by bombs during the campaign between October 1940 and April 1941.  On 12 September 1940, a time delayed bomb hit the cathedral and was successfully defused and removed by the bomb disposal unit.  Had the bomb detonated, it would have destroyed the cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral from the south east

Could this just be the luckiest building in the whole of London?

St Paul's Cathedral

These are some of my favourite buildings in the City of London.  In 2012, I plan a self-guided Haunted London walk as well as an exploration of the old Roman sites of Londinium.  I will be sure to let everyone know when I embark on those (free!) tours, just in case you’d like to join in.

Tudor and Red Brick Splendour in Hall Place and Gardens, Kent

Tudor and Red Brick Detail Hall Place

For several years we have driven past the grand old house at Hall Place in Bexley and I have always wanted to visit.  Naturally, I was attracted by the castle-like turrets but I was also intrigued by the presence of two distinctly different architectural styles.  On the left in the photo above, you can see the original Tudor styling as built for Sir John Champneys in 1537.  It is said that due to Champneys’ elevated position in society, he had access to building materials such as those taken from the remains of Lesnes Abbey in nearby Abbey Wood (Henry VIII was embarking on his notorious Suppression of the Monasteries and Lesnes Abbey was one of the first to be closed in 1524).  The Tudor wing has a distinctive chequerboard pattern made of flint and rubble masonry.

Hall Place Western Front

Just under 100 years later in 1649, Champneys’ grandson Richard sold the house to Robert Austen who embarked on a series of renovations and added the red brick wing that you can see above.  The red brick extension encloses a courtyard which includes a staircase tower topped by a prospect room.  You can see the southern front of the house as well as the staircase tower in the photos below.  Also visible below is the beautiful and fantastical creatures from the topiary garden and a view of the extensive lands surrounding the house.

Hall Place South Elevation and Tower

Hall Place rests on the banks of the River Cray and I can only imagine that these grounds must be stunning in summer.  There were geese swimming in the river and the light was beautiful on this crisp but clear winter afternoon.

The River Cray Hall Place

The gardens of Hall Place are designed to be strolled through at a leisurely pace.  I think you will need to click on the photo below to enlarge the image but one of the most intriguing aspects of the display was the timeline of botanical gifts and acquisitions against the backdrop of recent history.  There were plants and shrubs from all over the world, the date of their arrival at Hall Place and the important events that had been taking place at that time.  In the photo below, you can see a Geranium Endressii which arrived from the Pyrenees in 1812 contrasted with the Battle of Waterloo which took place in 1815.

The Gardens of Hall Place

I think this must be the perfect location for a summer wedding.  I looked on their website and they do actually offer wedding packages at very reasonable prices.  They do both ceremonies and receptions which can take place in the grand old Great Hall inside the Tudor wing of the house.  I will show you photos of the interior of Hall Place in my next post.

Hall Place Gardens

Below is a view of the western front of the house, seen in the late afternoon sunlight.  We saw a gorgeous sunset at the house too.  You can see the wing details on one of the topiary creatures too.  They are so cute.

Hall Place Western Elevation and Topiary Gardens

We decided to have dinner in the excellent Miller & Carter Bexley restaurant which is located in Hall Place’s old barn.  We often go to the restaurant to celebrate special occasions and they have the best fillet steaks I have ever tasted in Britain (or outside of South Africa for that matter). 

The Old Barn Hall Place

Hall Place and Gardens is run by Bexley Heritage Trust, an independent charity set up to preserve, promote and protect Bexley’s heritage.  Incredibly, Hall Place and Gardens is free to visit, although there may be a charge on special event days.

Art Deco Perfection: The Chrysler Building

The Art Deco Chrysler Building New York City
Today’s choice of photo for my Blue Skies and Sunshine series is quite deliberate.  It is the stunning Art Deco Chrysler Building in New York City.  It was once the tallest building in the world before being surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931 and is currently on a level with The New York Times Building as the third highest in New York City.
It doesn’t really matter how high The Chrysler Building is or what accolades it receives because the fact remains that it is graceful and beautiful, a masterpiece of the Art Deco architectural style that is so prevalent in the city. To me, this building symbolises grace, elegance and understated success.
I took this photo during my visit to New York City in 2009 on one of the few relatively clear and sunny days I had there.  That trip was in itself an achievement for me as I was meant to visit a friend there and that all fell through at the last minute.  I very nearly did not go but ultimately decided to embark on the solo travelling adventure of a lifetime. 
And today this building inspires me to reach for my dreams.  I am writing one final exam for the year this week and am one year into the five-year plan that I set last year.  My plan? To become an accountant and work for an international development agency.  It is a rough convergence between where I wanted to be and what I could already do.  Onwards and upwards, as they say!

The Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with a group of other expats to visit the Enchanted Palace exhibition at Kensington Palace.  This peculiar yet magical exhibition tells the story of seven princesses who have lived at Kensington Palace throughout the ages and visitors are tasked with discovering the identities of all seven. 

I am terribly tempted to let out all of the secrets I uncovered in the Palace but I suppose I will have to make some attempt at keeping the names of the princesses secret!  See if you can guess them all – not just their names but who they actually were. 

The Room of Beginnings tree

We began in the Room of Beginnings, which I am sure you will agree is a very good place to start!  We encountered a charming Explainer who was only too keen to share his impressive knowledge of British royal history.

The Room of Beginnings

We were given a map as we entered but luckily there were very helpful hands to show us where to go next.

The Room of Royal Sorrows

The Room of Royal Sorrows told the story of a princess who wept when she was betrothed to a much older man and then wept again when she could not produce an heir.  We were told her name was Mary but can you guess which Mary?

The Room of Enlightenment

The exhibition is really charming and interactive.  In each room, you can find the name of the room tucked away somewhere, as well as the names of the princesses in seven of the rooms.  It would really be fun to take children along as they can dress up as princesses and be challenged to find al the clues.

The Seat of Power

In the Room of Enlightenment, we earned all about Princess Caroline’s admiration of philosophers, theologians and scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton.  The next room was the Seat of Power, a strange room where voices echoed and visitors were encouraged to declare their dreams and wishes out loud.

Ceiling and cherubs in the Seat of Power

The cherubs on the overmantle were especially interesting.  They were commissioned by King William III following the death of his wife Mary in 1694 and the artist Gibbons took care to carve sad faces in a reflection of William's grief.

The Room of Flight

My very favourite room was the Room of Flight.  I was already enjoying the room, with its lighting and photographic opportunities, but then I heard the Explainer telling the story of the princess and I was fascinated. 

Vital clue and name in the Room of Flight

Having witnessed the effects of her parents unhappy, pre-arranged union, this princess fled from her arrangement to marry William, Prince of Orange and instead married for love. Her union to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was short-lived though, as she died in childbirth.  Such was the height of the princess’s popularity that the nation plunged into a state of mourning resulting in a shortage of black cloth that lasted for several years.

The Room of Palace Time

By now I am sure you have noticed that the Enchanted Palace exhibition is more than a little macabre.  In the Room of Palace Time, we learned that some Palace stories repeat themselves endlessly.  The exquisite Clock of the Four Monarchies in the photo above has four painted scenes, which tell the tragic stories of four great monarchies of antiquity.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover that one of the scenes represented the most tragic monarch of all time, Queen Boudica.  The clock was made by Charles Clay and John Pyke and set up in the room by Princess Augusta in 1743. 

Ceiling and dedication in the Room of Palace TimeI was absolutely impressed by the clock, ornate ceiling and finishes in this room.  Kensington Palace really is quite stunning and it will be worth a visit when the building works are complete.

The Room of the World- the World in a Room

The Room of the World, the World in a Room was an adventurous room that reminded me of the exotic tales in Around the World in Eighty Days

Detail The Room of the World- the World in a Room

The room tells the story of the famous princess who could only understand the world around her by collecting it.  This is another stunning room with impressive artwork.

The Room of Royal Secrets

The Room of Royal Secrets tells the astounding story of Peter the Wild Boy, a feral child who was kept as a pet by King George I.  I tell you, the more I learn about British history, the more I feel that it is stranger than fiction!

The Gallery of War and Play

In the Gallery of War and Play, we met up with one of the Detectors.  Let me tell you, these people are stark raving mad, perhaps due to the centuries they have spent looking after the Palace and its inhabitants.

Wind Dial and Toy Soldiers in the Gallery of War and Play

The room had a wind dial which I thought was quite stunning.  It is powered by a weather vane on the roof but has to be disconnected in high winds. The room was a reminder that princes also lived here, as well as princesses.  We were challenged to guess how many toy soldiers there were and I correctly guessed 6,000!  The Explainer didn’t seem to believe me that I counted them (using my awesome counting skills!)

The Rooms of Lost Childhood

The Rooms of Lost Childhood were quite sad actually, a reminder that all too often, young princes and princesses were expected to grow up well before their time.  They were to be seen and not heard, brought up by nannies and governesses, and generally ignored by their parents.  When they were in the company of their parents, they could not act like children but had to be properly behaved and attired at all times.

Detail The Rooms of Lost Childhood

I imagine it was a very lonely upbringing, especially for those that were only children.

The Room of a Sleeping Princess

The Room of a Sleeping Princess gave us a glimpse into how charming a princess’s bedroom could be and how her dreams could become her sanctuary.

A Sleeping Princess

In this room, a princess woke up one day to find that that she was queen.  She would not even have become queen were it not for the death of the princess in the Room of Flight. 

The Room of the Dancing Princesses

Two princesses were remembered in the Room of Dancing Princesses, including perhaps the most tragic of them all.  After spending so long in centuries gone by, we were suddenly brought into the 20th century with its music, glamour, fashion and film.

Two princesses

These princesses loved to dance and to socialise and in their own way, they captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the world.

The Room of Quarrels

One last room and one final princess was to be found in the Room of the Quarrel.  This is the room that tells the story of how an argument lead to the severing of a lifelong friendship between a queen and her best friend.  That silly Sarah Churchill had begun to abuse her privileged position and they had an argument so severe that it is said that they never saw each other again.

This is a temporary exhibition open while building works are taking place at the palace and it is only open until 3 January 2012. It is such a pity that the exhibition is only running for another couple of weeks as it really is quite magical.  If you travel by train, you can get 2-for-1 entry which means it only costs about £12 per couple to enter.

Thank you to Jen from She Went Away for organising this great day out, it was good to see you and Lindsay (hope you got over your cold).  It was great to see Melissa from Wanderlust and her boyfriend too and I finally got to meet Oneika from Oneika the Traveller!

Glass and Chrome in Sandton , Johannesburg

Michelangelo Hotel SandtonMichelangelo Hotel Sandton

My path to becoming an eternal tourist began in December 2006 when my cousin Michael came to South Africa to visit. Suddenly I had to find out what we could possibly do in Johannesburg for three weeks and I discovered just what an amazing tourist destination South Africa can be.  I began to see the world around me through the eyes of a tourist, as if noticing everything for the first time, and it made sense to continue doing that when I arrived in London in 2007.

Despite my optimism and best intentions, Sandton was not an area that I could grow to love.  Sure, it has great restaurants, shops and cinemas but it's basically soulless. Then again, I worked in Sandton, so that probably coloured my perceptions, and I also had to spend between 2 and 3 hours a day in traffic just to get to and from work. 

The area known as Sandton has always been an affluent area and it used to be a series of farms and horsing estates.  Then Sandton City shopping centre was built in the late 70s (it is now one of the biggest shopping centres in Africa) and residences and office blocks began to emerge around it. 

Up until the early 90s, the financial centre of Johannesburg lay sprawled amongst the skyscrapers and listed buildings of downtown Johannesburg but crime forced many businesses to take flight and set up in Sandton, Midrand and surrounding areas.  Sandton’s capacity as the new financial district of Johannesburg was cemented when the Johannesburg Stock Exchange moved there in the late 90s.

Now some of the major companies in Africa have their head offices in Sandton, but it is also an area full of trees, shopping precincts, restaurants, hotels and office blocks.  We had some time to kill before Christmas lunch last year and so we took a look at some of the new and not-as-new architecture in the area.

Gautrain station SandtonThe Gautrain Rail Station

Our journey through Sandton started naturally with a visit to the Gautrain station, which had just recently been competed in June 2010. The Gautrain is the first mass rapid transit railway system in South Africa and it links Pretoria, Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport.  It was meant to alleviate the huge amount of traffic on the roads in the greater Johannesburg and Pretoria areas but anyone with half a brain would have known that the traffic flow comes from the suburbs which are not serviced by the new train system.  The lack of adequate public transport is my second highest reason for not returning to live in Johannesburg, after the crime.

24 Central Sandton24 Central

I couldn't resist taking a photo of 24 Central as I worked for the company that redeveloped it from tired old bank premises into a trendy office block with restaurants and shops.

First Rand Bank Ltd headquarters SandtonFirst Rand Bank Ltd headquarters

Quite a few banks have their headquarters in Sandton although the headquarters of three of the four major South African banks remain in Johannesburg.

Old Mutual headquarters SandtonOld Mutual headquarters

The Old Mutual Headquarters always amused me because they tried so hard to emulate classical architecture and they failed miserably.

Sandton CentralSandton Central

One thing you will notice wherever you roam in Sandton is the abundance of greenery and South African flags. 

15 Alice Lane Towers Sandton15 Alice Lane Towers Sandton

Finally, we made our way to the western edge of the business district to try and see the intriguing new black and white building that we had noticed peeking out above other buildings.  15 Alice Lane Towers is the new home of law firm Deneys Reitz and I was quite impressed with how modern and architecturally interesting it is.

So what do you think?  Do you agree with me that Sandton is pretty charmless or would you be willing to tackle up to three hours of traffic a day, simply to work in this green, sunny, modern business precinct?  This was a post in honour of my “Blue Skies and Sunshine” Sundays but it has had the strange effect of making me grateful for my easy journeys into grey and cloudy London every day.  I treasure my alone time on the train and the chance to sit back, read or play with my phone.

I might miss the sun but my love affair with London is far from over!