Friday, July 30, 2010

Mr Baldwin's scrapbook

"... The enormous doors of the house were open, and I stepped into something that I simply couldn't believe. Althorp indeed! Althorp was the house from Country Life that I pasted in my scrapbook many long years before, and the room I was standing in was an immense entrance hall in which there were five life-size paintings of horses by John Wootton.

"I said, 'I cannot believe it.' And as I uttered those words I was presented to the earl, who was absolutely beaming with pleasure and looking great in a marvelous tweed suit. I said, 'I must tell you that I saw this in Country Life in 1921 and put it in my scrapbook. It is one of my favorite places in the world, but I had forgotten the association of it with its name, Althorp. However, I remember the photographs so well that I can tell you about that chair which is sitting in front of that wall.' The earl seemed terribly pleased, but the overwhelming thing to me was the scale of the huge stallions.

"We were taken almost at once into a long, long library, which was a huge white room with huge fireplaces with beautiful windows opposite them and it seemed as though the room was composed of books on one side and glass on the other. The style of the room cannot even be imagined and the scale was colossal because the room was. Around each of the fireplaces were big groups of very comfortable furniture, and in front of them were a few young people. They were the earl's children by his first wife."

One of the real pleasures of having a library is that I can browse, dabble here and there, do a little research - if something so pleasurable can be called research. I wish I could say at this point that the satisfaction I'm expressing prevented me from buying more books, but it doesn't. 

I mentioned a while back that friends who were moving house had given me their extensive collection of magazines, some of which were back issues of Veranda, and whilst that has never been one of my favorites, it was always a good and comprehensive source of interior decoration south of the Mason-Dixon Line, at least before it had to broaden its scope. Now no longer a Southern magazine by any definition, since the Atlanta offices have been closed and the whole shebang –whatever that means after the job-losses that ensued – has moved into the New York offices of the publisher.

Part of Veranda's geographical reach-broadening was to include work done outside the South and, though this might have happened earlier than I think, to include articles about houses such as Althorp. Southern or national, it was a handsome magazine, one that looked well in the salons of Atlanta, be it nail, hair or grand drawing room. On leafing through the pile of back issues it became clear to me that Veranda really did have its own local flavor – a regional style that one sees only if one motors the country roads not yet subsumed in suburbia, walks the country towns rich with architecture as ramshackle as their history, and enters some of the older houses in this city. Veranda was local – if such a vast region that stretches from Texas to the Florida Panhandle can be called local – and had a style that was beloved by many. How it will fare as a national book remains to be seen.

However, I have digressed a mazy way from the hall and library of Althorp to the salons of the South and the country towns of middle Georgia. 

Photos of the family seat of the Earls Spencer, in Veranda reminded me that I'd read in Billy Baldwin's autobiography how he and Arthur Smith had been driven to lunch to Althorp by Hardy Amies. I reread the passage today and wondered if somewhere in my library I might find the photograph he mentions as having pasted in his scrapbook. I think I might have.

Ah, the pleasures of the library, indeed!

Quotation from Billy Baldwin: An Autobiography with Michael Gardine, Little, Brown and Company, 1985.

Black and white photographs (unattributed as far as I can ascertain) from English Country Houses, Mid Georgian, 1760 -1800, Christopher Hussey, Antique Collectors' Club, 1986. (An unnumbered edition of 500 copies principally for sale overseas.) First published by Country Life Ltd., 1955.

Other photographs by Fritz von der Schulenberg to accompany text by Charles Spencer for Veranda, March 2008.


  1. Those pictures in the hall at Althorp are indeed quite stunning, for their size as much as anything else. I've never been, and thankfully there are many great treasures still left at which to gawp, so I will have to rectify before the next divorce settlement requires another "attic" sale. Meow.

  2. Columnist, thank you. I too have never been to view Althorp (pronounced Althrop, I think) and maybe on the next trip over... I'd love to see the stallions and the library which is by Holland, but whether by Snr or Jr is not quite clear - need to do a bit more research.

    The person that comes across as quite sympathetic in Baldwin's autobiography (one of the few) is the daughter of Cartland, the earl's second wife.

  3. You take me away on this summer day. Thank you.

  4. & to know that BB was cutting and scrapping like all of us. The strength in the paintings lies in the overwhelming sizes-I would love to see them. of course I love seeing the black and white and the color images. ( I hope Veranda is resuscitated)