Stately Homes

Many years ago now (probably in the late eighties), I was given the undeniable privilege of being commissioned to re-paint the exterior of somebody’s home…

“Just a couple of doorways and a few windows,” the voice said over the phone to me.

It turned out that voice belonged to a 60 times millionaire property magnate, James Hadfield – Hyde, or Lord Alderley as he was better known to his underlings, and the whole job was to take about 6 weeks for me to fully complete it. And here’s why…

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The ‘couple of doors and a few windows’ were in fact 6 huge doorways, Georgian windows all round, comprising of 178 individual panes of glass, a whole shed-load of masonry including sills, headstones, quoins (corner stones), parapets and decorative urns to the roof tops. The building was in fact, Willaston Hall in Willaston, Cheshire. Practically a stately home complete with Heritage listing, ornamental pools and a couple of acres of well manicured gardens and a tennis court to boot.

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One of the benefits of the job was I was to stay here while the work was undertaken. How many plebs of the world get to breakfast with a Lord every morning then? Even if the breakfasts were only a microwaved can of ‘London Grill’, an exquisite mix of chipolata sausages, button mushrooms and bacon off-cuts swimming in a sea of baked beans. Oh, how the other half live eh?

While there, I also undertook to construct a sort of library on his landing while at the same time, painting the hall stairs and landing a nice shade of terracotta orange for him. It all turned out like this…

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On better getting to know him, ‘Mi Lud’ learned of my interest in all forms of interior design, so he was keen to share with me what were the driving factors for his particular choices of home styling and allowed me to have a quick nosey around some of the more public areas of his home.

So if you would like to know how the other half live, follow me…. as we go …. ‘Through the key hole’ so to speak…

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Willaston Hall main reception room

This was what he considered to be the main hall, a 60 x 30 foot reception room. Some of you may have seen it on TV. It has been used in many of British television’s period dramas. It turns out there is quite a demand for this kind of property in filming and even back then, the good Lord was charging a handsome £1000 a day for the privilege. “One has to pay the mortgage somehow,” said the Lord.

In his day, James was a consummate collector cum dealer of antiques, a calling which has certainly helped when furnishing his crib. But on closer examination of his own ‘collection’, I enquired whether it was all periodically correct or not. “Oh hell no”, was his immediate reply.

“It’s a funny old world antiques”.

“It’s more about what you like than history. Everything here is a complete mish mash, a lot of it gifted by friends (celebrities, actors, posh friends and the like), I keep a lot of this stuff because of what it means to me personally rather than because of its heritage. And besides, who really knows that much about history? In the right setting, anything can make sense. If you put half of this stuff in a modern semi, it would look like junk, which most of it probably is anyway”, he laughs.

Upstairs the quasi-mansion is home to many more pieces of antique furniture. The pride of which is this 600 year old bed.

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Not to everyone’s liking, I know. I much preferred the inviting warmth of this piece…

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The house had a traditional styling throughout, with white ceilings adorned with plaster mouldings, flat walls plainly decorated with what we now know as heritage colours, massive marble fireplaces and oversized skirtings, doors and windows. Pretty much what you would expect from a house of this period.

And without a doubt, one of the quirkiest rooms in the house was this guest bathroom. It was recently (in the grand scheme of things) re-fitted in the early ’70’s, and it is the epitome of all that is bad for today’s modern bathrooms. But the Lord reckoned it was a vital part of our cultural heritage at the time and should therefore be preserved as such.

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The Lord has a sense of humour too, as you will see…

“The room comes complete with the ubiquitous avocado green suite and some god awful bright orange tiles” (his words), along with a fully working cigarette vending machine (30p a packet, dear then but not by today’s standards), beer pump heads from an old pub and an optics stand for the dispensing of spirits (“Because one often needs a stiff drink when one is performing one’s ablutions”). Of particular note, is the notice which takes pride of place above the loo. “Gentlemen – please adjust your dress before leaving.”

image12Which is what I promptly did before the good Lord kicked me out.

He reckoned he had an appointment in his front garden…

Probably with Sir Richard Branson, just one of James’ close personals. He could ramble on for hours about his famous friends; Neil & Pauline Hamilton of the ‘cash for questions scandal’ fame, Sir Paul McCartney, Pat Pheonix, even Reggie Kray. The list seemed endless.

How many of us can boast having personal balloon rides over our estates?

Of course, what you have seen so far is all for show and this part of the house is rarely lived in. Like many properties of this nature, there is a more private side to the public facade. So let’s now take a quick look at the other side… At how the landed gentry really live…

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It’s a whole new world out there, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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