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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Old friends

Yesterday, my high scool librarian came to visit. She has been promising for about the last ten years, and finally her schedule was such that she made it up to Northumberland on her way north.

It was lovely to see her. It was also lovely to learn that the Uplans Mansion which forms the core of the school is being restored to its former glory. The mansion was built for Templeton Crocker and his bride, Helene Irwin between 1911-1917. Uplands served among other things as the headquarters for the Soviet Union's delegation to the founding conference of the United Nations Because it was turned into a school back in the 1960s, many of the orginal features still exist.
In the mid-eighties the silk wallpaper in the fiction room (the orginal library) had to be replaced but it was notdone sympathetically. However, Deb kept an old swatch of the wallpaper and it has now been recreated on ordinary wallpaper. The Fiction room was probably my favourite room in the whole mansion -- dark wood bookcases and a huge fireplace cast in concrete because they could not get the Italian marble. The bookcases had secret compartments which opened if you knew where to press. In my youth, I spent hours there reading. As Deb indulged in her taste for fiction, it is where I really discovered historical romance/romantic suspense. Many of her favourite authors became mine --Elizabeth Peters springs to mind. I always wait for her Christmas card with great anticipation as she includes a list of books she has read and enjoyed.
It struck me that my love of old houses and gardens springs from the time I spent at Crystal. Certainly I longed to see that mansion restored to its former glory, wondered about the people who had lived there and invented stories about them and their servants. At one point I took a course from Deb in the History of the Mansion. We wandered all over the mansion, looking at various features such as the servant's quarters which were between the main floors, the marble bathroom with its lion hard tap, Mrs Crocker's old dressing room with all the places for hats, how the lamps in each room reflected the intended the colour scheme for that room and the complexity of the craft work that went into the carving in various rooms. I used to long to see the gardens how they were orginally planned. Sometiems at lunch I would walk on the lip of the filled-in reflecting pools. From surviving pictures, I think the gardens were truly special. However, once the Crockers left Uplands (they got divorced), the next occupants, the Jacks, let the gardens go.

We spent an enjoyable time going around Vindolanda -- looking at Roman ruins. I found another reference book -- this time on Roman food and drink. Although specifically for Roman Britain, she has had to widen the scope to the whole period. It is an overview, rather that a cookery book, annd as such does not simply concentrate on gournet food. Apicus, the one surviving cookery book from the period has a lot of gourmet dishes but tell little of what was eaten when. I think it would be a mistake to think people dined on dormice every day. And Petronius's satire where he describes Trmalchio's feast has to be considered to be way over the top!

It was a wonderful feeling to be able to walk down memory lane and to realize how much a specific place and person influenced me.

In other news: I am off tomorrow at the crack of dawn to the RNA conference. It should be fun but exhausting. Hopefully I shall come back with plenty of inspiration.

2 comments:

Michelle said...

I love old mansions and libraries. I dream of having a library of my own like those one day.

Make sure you share lots of stories from RNA! Can't wait to hear about it. :)

Danica said...

Oh that sounds so cool! I love old houses, it must've been great going to school there.