I was doing a volunterring stint at a local historic house the other week. On the front door, taking tickets from punteres. It had been quiet for the morning session – not so unusual, when there’s a lot going on in an area, it’s difficult to draw folk away from other attractions. However we had one family going round and the youngest child seemed unusually observant. He kept going up to the priceless furniture and just staring at objects, then mumbling something to his mother and then running off to find the next challenge. I realised afterwards that he was following a ‘things to look out for’ guide that had been used for a school visit elsewhere previously. It was wonderful to see this little boy totally engrossed in trying to find out about various peices of old furniture and portraits around the hall. I now know a lot more about our furniture than I before laddy arrived!
Ah the luxury of having a beach side holiday home – just the thought of being able to pack up the car with picnic boxes, bottles of fizz, sleeping bags and pillows and just toddling off to the coast for a weekend or two. My parents did briefly own a share in a former railway carriage, down on the south coast. The beach was not gloriously soft golden sand though. It was ghastly hard pepples. The cabin itself was obviously not as antique as it always seemed to us. Carriages only came in the late 1800s but we had very old furniture in it. Lovely sweet smelling oak dressers and wardrobes in the two bedrooms. The kitchen/dining end of the sitting room was furnished with wooden cabinets of some age – removed from someone’s granny’s flat years before. They were so roomy and strong. So some history came with the carriage all the same.
I have very few older relatives living near me now, so I make it a habit to visit them on a fairly regular basis. I used to dread visiting one set of grandparents who were seriously ancient when I was a nipper – my parent was by far their youngest child and so they couldn’t help but be the oldest set. Their house reflected this and to my ignorant and uneducated mind, everything in that house was to be disproved of ! If only I’d had an iota then of how wonderful their home actually was – particularly the furniture. That dining table that I so dreaded having to sit round for very formal meals – no chatting or joking allowed. The set of high backed chairs were heavy and clumsy, but I’ve since learned that they were antique when Grandpa inherited them in 1910. To buy a complete set of 8 similar chairs today would require a small fortune! Ho hum such is life.
When I was out and about recently, not being able to visit the gardens I had planned to, I came upon one of those little gems that so often get overlooked. It’s a mini country house – bigger than the average family home, but smaller than a stately home. This one is right in the middle of nowhere too – how the owners decided to build their piles right in the middle always amazes me. However, the house just happened to be open that day – and was stunning inside with oak panelling iand some of the most attractive pieces of furniture in quite a wide variety of different woods. I definitely noted the walnut dresser in the main dining hall – it was very tall and wide, with pretty locks and hinges. But my eye was drawn to the oak chairs and tables dotted throughout the rest of the rooms. The smell of old oak is so inviting!
I have never really been one for looking too closely at how anyone has furnished their home. Unless of course it’s in some ghastly clashing colourway, or the modern trend of black, greay, striped black and grey. Or grey and black with a splash of even more garish red thrown in for good measure. The stores seemed to be absolutely full of this awful selection for a couple of seasons. My answer to this sad state of affairs was to step up my visiting of heritage properties – happily I live in an area abundant with history. These houses reflect that in the fabulously old and sweet smelling oak furniture of the day. so many families managed to retain their much loved and handed down benches, trestles and chattles. Joy abounds – we can all acquire old oak furniture for ourselves with a little carefull browsing. To own something of great age has to be a real privilege.
I had the joy of visiting a really old house the other day – one that stated life before the civil war – the English one. So that tells you it was pre 1640. The family have not been the custodians all that long, it came to them via distant uncle who had remained unmarried and childless and my chum was the lucky, if somewhat amazed, beneficiary of this sad situation. He and his young family are still taking stock of what they have been charged with and so far he has discovered that a few pieces of the furniture has come from various houses dotted throughout the country that belonged to various factions of the long standing family owners from the start. The rest of it has been acquired through sale rooms, auction houses, online bidding sites. The newly installed dining set is beautiful and will become the next heirloom.
I had the pleasure of taking a tour round a very old village recently as a member of my family has bought a stone conversion over that way. All oak trees and country lanes. The local villages are very pretty, lots of stone cottages, beautiful churches and importantly, stone and thatch pubs. One such delight was chosen for our lunch on moving day – the menu was varied and reasonably priced. The beers were respectable, but the main attraction for me was the gorgeous old furniture in the parlour and snug areas. Three hundred year old dressers lined two walls, and the tables had been made from old trestles taken out of the church some hundred years ago – having served as very uncomfortable seating in a church for centuries before that. All this wonderful old oak furniture was so much more interesting than any of the local village gossip, which was aplenty too.
I just love it over the Christmas period when I ge tto stay away with friends – one particular pair live way out in the middle of nowhere and they have an idyllic old cottage. This place has been their family home for 40 years odd years and you can tell that the owners put their life and soul into bringing the property from seriously old and unmodernised, at least into the last centure. The couple have changed their cottage style chintz three piece suite, replacing it with very slightly more modern stripe velour design. None of your modern leather sofas in there yet! The traditional way is always going to win with a couple who were raised in the old fashioned way. Nothing will induce them to buy into startk modernism. For them the comfortable easy chair with oak frame and the solid oak dining table with 4 sturdy matching chairs is their dream – and they are certainly living it to the full!
This is definitely the time of year when we look back to day of old. This is because the tv is constantly re-running old films, or things with Dickensian themes and we like to fondly remember programmes from our youth that makes us feel all rosy and glowing with family love and pride. Of course, the oak furniture in all these places is one of the things that makes us feel solid and worthy ourselves. Whenever I go round heritage properties, something I’ve loved doing all my adult life, I am constantly longing to run my fingers along that gorgeous oak ressle or maybe just feel the walnut on that piano! There is something sturdy and reassuring about the look of oak particularly – it has a richness and the colour is warm and inviting. It is also a very versatile wood to use – making it ideal for just about any kind of furniture.
I haven’t been as organised this year as I’d really like – I do always hope to see this historic house or that castle and I make vague plans to visit particular areas. That’s about where it ends. It’s a shame because I really do love the sense of history when I go round properties – with or without a guide. I like the audio tours, they give you so much more info than trying to read the guide book as you meander. I particularly love the look and smell of old furniture in perhaps their orginal setting. Knowing that many many family members and staff will have handled items, cleaned them, sat at those trestle tables on those very same chairs. It makes the hairs on the bakc of my neck stand up sometimes.
I come home though and read up the guide book – oh so wishing I could feel even basic antiqueness about my rather modern furniture and effects!
Sitting in a village church recently, I was struck, not for the first time, how very uncomfortable the pews were. I squirmed and fidgeted about like a five year old. It was extremly cold and in my haste to get to the funeral, I had forgotten my favourite cushion – an absolute necessity if one was to sit and endure the entire funeral without absent mindedly squealing every so often. I have been familiar with the Jacobean pews for many years. The church is justifiably proud of these original oak benches with their now uneven planks that creak loudly whenever you breathe in or out. The backs are seriously unfortable too so no respite there if you slump in a heap. These are wonderfully antique and the very essence of early furniture but how I prefer to sit in a ancient armchair or run my fingers along a beautiful oak settle. As long as it doesn’t involve sitting to listen to a sermon or euology!
One of my best pals live abroad and has got used to living on plastic chairs in her kitchen and out on the patio. She does live in a seriously hot part of the Med. However, in the winter, it can be jolly chilly – something she and her husband did not take into account or were not warned of when they dreamily planned their ‘forever’ home all those years ago.
So I love the heat, the rustic area and the laid back life. What I don’t like is the lack of gorgeous furniture when you enter a room. I’ve never been able to visit a heritage property there. There are of course many very old properties, but because the location is dusty, almost biblical in ancientness, there are no wonderful old manor houses to nose around. No beautiful antique furniture to stroke, smell, feel. I could not leave my home country and all that behind to live abroad!
My neighbours have just discovered the joys of taking their youngsters to historic houses – they try to find new places to explore almost every weekend. This was started from a casual comment I made when their 7 year old told me how the Tudors used oak for absolutely everything and drew a rather fetching picture of a trestle table with the correct style of chairs at each end. I happened to have a couple of picture books from my own daugther’s time at school – one covered the Tudors, mostly clothing related but still showing some very nice furniture in the room settings.
This interest has become almost an obsession for them now, they take off to wherever they can reach within a couple of hours. Amusingly, the mum is seen regularly scouring antique furniture and auction sites, dreaming of owning some of the lovely pieces they see on their travels.
At our recent WI meeting, we had a lovely chap come to speak – he was local, from a village less than 8 miles away. His accent was so rich, I wondered if he embellished it at all. But I digress. He was absolutely fascinating to listen to. Being from a very long established local family, i.e. they had lived in the same part of the same village since 1645. Now that is something to be proud of. The houses may have changed, but the furniture and effects have been passed down from one generation to another. It was wonderful to hear how Granny had used this item and that stool. My family have never been sentimental towards things. We share no such love of long held traditions.
When home, I looked around my modern home with my very modern machine made furniture, I regretted that my only things of any age are two clocks. And these came from my husband’s aunt.
There is only on really old house in my local town. It seems amazing that at the turn of the previous centure, there were lanes and byeways full of thatched cottages of all shapes and conditions. I can’ help wondering why it was felt necessary to tear them all down at various stages. The life has gone out of every town when the old housing stock is diminished to make way for every more concrete!
There are of course many older houses in the street leading up to the railway stationm, victorian terraced or similarly aged single villas and semi detached. The older the house, the older the furniture should be I like to think! The one house I referred to earlier does indeed have very old pieces, but I suspect these have been acquired along the years Gorgeous oak furniture is such a pleasure to own and cherish.