From our aerie at Hambleton Hall, overlooking Rutland Water, we enjoyed exceptional weather which enabled us to make our sorties to the usual catholic selection of destinations, without galoshes and umbrellas.
Now, I am bound to say that a Trading Estate is not the most alluring of places in which to spend a morning, but such was the attraction of a Museum Store Room that that is where we found ourselves. There is something fascinating about things to which other people do not have access, and Leicester Museum Stores were no exception. Racks of costume from the 18th century, which are all freeze-dried to kill bugs, hanging in an enormous room, ranging from 18th century “sack” dresses to the Afghan coats of the “swinging sixties”. In addition was a considerable collection of paintings featuring works by the Ferneleys, this being hunting country, and stern portraits of local worthies. No less fascinating was the collection of antiquities ranging from flint axes to a gold coin as pristine as the day it was minted 2000 years ago. Leicester Museum itself was another treasure-trove with Picasso ceramics donated by the Attenborough family, and an unrivalled collection of German Expressionist paintings. The latter perhaps a rather grim and angst-ridden school, but fascinating in reflecting the Germany of the early 20th century. On a lighter note was the call on a private collection housed in an idyllic late 17th century house. Here we saw porcelain from Chelsea and Bow of superb quality, enough to make a collector weep with envy, alongside very fine paintings and English furniture. Never have dogs been housed in such comfort and elegance….along with their master!
Grinling Gibbons was something of a theme of this visit. Often associated with astonishing virtuoso wood-carving as seen at Petworth, Gibbons was no less skilled when it came to carving in stone. In the Church at Exton is the tomb of the Viscount Campden, his four wives and nineteen children. Towering over the interior of this village church is this monument which is reputed to have cost £1000 when erected in 1683. No less compelling are the other tombs in the church. Although of an earlier vintage, those to the Harington family, are remarkable examples of the “table” tombs carved with stiff alabaster figures in attitudes of recumbent prayer. Far exceeding Exton in its surfeit of tombs is the church at Bottesford. Here the Earls, (not yet Dukes) of Rutland deposited their ancestors, cluttering the chancel with a plethora of marmoreal relics. There are 24 of them. The most spectacular is probably that for the 2nd Earl who lies with his wife under a table, a communion table, a monument-style favoured by the Kings of France. Surely a remarkable discovery in a rural English Church? Mr Gibbons is here too, memorialising the 7th and 8th Earls. Splendid, but nothing as splendid as Campden down the road.
Lamport Hall, where we lunched, only added to the variety. It deserves to be better known, for not only is the original house built by John Webb, pupil of Inigo Jones, but the contents have never been dispersed thanks to the foresight of Sir Gyles Isham, sometime actor and co-star of Greta Garbo. He it was who set up the trust which maintains the house and estate for posterity. This has ensured the survival of a house built by a Royalist in the midst of Cromwell’s Interregnum along with its contents and souvenirs of a 17th century Grand Tour.
Back from all these expeditions to the welcome of Hambleton, which is comfort personified.