Monday, 22 February 2021

Two of a Kind

Recently, whilst watching a dramatisation on YouTube of Henry James's splendid novel, 'The Spoils of Poynton', we rather delighted in Mrs. Gereth's somewhat disparaging remark, "Not a double door in sight."

Double doors leading from the Drawing Room

Now, we should not wish to boast, nor indeed resort to hyperbole, but the fact remains that we are, to paraphrase Mrs. Bennet and to continue in a literary frame, "in possession of" seven sets of double doors.

Such good fortune, if it can be seen as such, arises from the expansion of Budapest during the late C19 when, following The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 which re-established, albeit partially, the former sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hungary, the city fathers sought, through somewhat grandiose projects, to rival the street architecture of not only Vienna but also of Berlin and Paris.

Andrássy út, Budapest, 1896, courtesy of Wikipedia

Today, living off Andrássy út, a principal boulevard set to equal the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and lined with Neo-Renaissance mansions and townhouses, we are the beneficiaries of such early town planning and are able to enjoy ornate plasterwork, etched glass, shuttered casement windows, enfilade rooms and, of course, double doors! 

Original Victorian stove in the Dining Room

What attracted us to the apartment, some twenty years ago, was not, it has to be said, the disrepair, even wanton destruction of the Socialist years (as the Communist period is now referenced), the evidence of multiple occupancy by five families, but beneath the layers of crudely applied paint, the gas pipes hammered against the walls, the festoons of wires and cables, the broken panelling and patched parquet, something worthy of restoration could be detected for there, concealed in dust and detritus, were the splendours of a bygone age.

Pier glass and fitted furniture in the Main Hall

So, today we relish the detail to be found in solid brass window catches and door furniture, in carefully carved wood, in ceiling roses, in original pier glass, in fixtures and fittings, all now over 150 years old, and of soaring ceiling heights and, of course, double doors!

Architectural details around the apartment

However, this is not to disregard, or disrespect, those for whom this period, this style, remains anathema. Those who cherish the run down farmhouse, those who favour the Spanish hacienda, the convenience of the bungalow residence, the cosiness of the thatched cottage, the reassurance of Tudorbethan or the modernity of the converted loft apartment. Each to his or her own!

We, unlike Mrs. Gereth, are prepared to concede on every point. But we do have double doors!! 

Monday, 15 February 2021

Making an Entrance

Views of The Arrow Cottage Garden, Herefordshire

We are often asked if we miss our garden. In short, the answer is no. Besides, it is now almost twenty years since we left Herefordshire for Budapest, exchanging some two acres of formal gardens for a single container of clipped box, Buxus sempervirens, on our walkway. Even that is work!

View of Box plant in The Budapest Garden

But the memories do, to use a well worn cliché, linger on. And no more so than in what we term the Front Hall. Lest there be any confusion, allow us to explain that the Front Hall opens off the main staircase of our C19 apartment building and, in turn, provides access to our Main Hall and principal rooms. However, linger we do not!

Front Hall viewed from the Entrance Door

To be absolutely truthful, in Winter, as of now, in terms of temperature, the thermometer is no stranger to several degrees below freezing whilst in Summer, with the windows thrown open to the courtyard below, the heat can prove insufferable. Not at all unlike the extremes of a gardening year that perhaps accounts for why we have chosen to paint the walls in Farrow and Ball's 'Breakfast Room Green' and furnish it with some of the items brought from our Herefordshire garden.

Front Hall looking from the Main Hall

Not least of these is the country style, farmhouse kitchen table which used to sit below The Tower, the accompanying schoolroom benches have found a place on the walkway, and which, in past times, played host to many a Summer supper party. 

Beneath The Tower, The Arrow Cottage Garden

Now, collected together, in a quasi-David Hicks' table-scape, are some mementoes of our gardening days. Prominent, as a centrepiece, is the grape entwined basket, a gift from dearest friends, Lesley and John Jenkins, whose garden, Wollerton Old Hall, ranks among the finest of all late C20 English gardens. 

'Table-scape' with ceramic basket and garden ephemera

Less noticeable, a small, hand painted finial serves to remind us of the gifted artist and gallery owner, Elizabeth Organ, who was so much a treasured part of our lives. Other items worthy of a place range from a miniature wooden trug, home to garden related ephemera, to galvanised flower vases and the head of a spade decorated by the Hungarian artist, Franyo Aatoth.

Miscellaneous objects in the Front Hall

The grey painted, metal chairs were originally purchased as a set of six for the White Garden, in name only resembling Vita Sackville West's masterpiece at Sissinghurst Castle. With the addition of swab cushions they are now far more in the way of decoration than for daily use.

White Garden, The Arrow Cottage Garden, Herefordshire

Now, with Spring around the corner, shall we decorate with daffodils, highlight with hyacinths, or place pelargoniums in pots? Let's not, and say we did!


Friday, 5 February 2021

Richard Alexander Hattatt - A Reclusive Benefactor

Richard Alexander Hattatt, known to us as Uncle Dick, was a prodigious collector. An astute businessman, first running the family firm, 'The Hampshire Preserving Co. Ltd.', followed by a career in advertising where the company, Riggs and Hattatt, amongst other coups, secured the contract for promoting Heineken lager, his wealth was created through commerce, later to be redirected into amassing a notable collection of antiquities.

Richard Alexander Hattatt, Scotland, 1930

Never an Adonis, the apocryphal family story was that, at his birth, when presented with the new born baby, his mother exclaimed, "My God, he looks a hundred." Notwithstanding, he married twice, in each case to glamorous women, disavowing the adage of age wearing or the years condemning.

The Hampshire Preserving Co. Ltd., Romsey, Hampshire

Staff photograph, 1930s. RAH standing on far right.

He had a propensity for choosing cavernous, somewhat ugly houses and, in his later years, became something of a recluse, retiring to a rambling bungalow on the Hampshire coast where he reduced the extensive garden to a desert of concrete paving in the interests of ease of maintenance. Adopting a frugal lifestyle as a widower, water was boiled, not in a kettle, but in a small baked bean can to provide exactly the amount required for a cup of Instant Coffee. The weekly menu, mostly to be had from tinned food, never varied so that shopping was efficiently carried out and the smallest increase in price noted.

Tinned fruit, vegetables and jam, exported throughout the world

Those honoured with an invitation from Uncle Dick to visit were treated to a wonderful experience. Housed in legions of chests, cabinets, cupboards and cases was 'The Collection', pieces of museum quality, true treasures of the Ancient World. A frequent traveller with Sir Mortimer Wheeler on archeological digs, Uncle Dick established a collection of Greek and Roman artefacts, said to be one of the finest in private hands, and made a name for himself in writing what are now regarded as definitive works on the subject. Amongst his 200 or more Greek pots was a new Athenian black-figure artist on an Attic white-ground Amphora representing 'Dionysus and The Return of Hephaestos' which has been named Mr. Hattatt's painter.

Amphora decorated by the Hattatt Painter with RAH's books.

Roman brooches became a passion, and it was these which earned him academic recognition. Each one of his 1,600 examples were meticulously drawn, catalogued and mounted on uniform white blocks, each bearing type-written identification and bibliographical detail. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1983 and, for his generous donations to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, his name was placed amongst their 'Roll of Honour' on the Museum's main staircase.

The Roll of Honour, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

His funeral in 1992 was attended by a distinguished few, mainly representatives of the Devizes Museum, Ashmolean Museum and British Museum whose institutions were the main beneficiaries of his will. Prudent to the end, his philanthropic bequests may have avoided what would have been crippling inheritance taxes but served to enrich museum collections for the enjoyment of all.