28 November 2011

'A Cottagey Stately Home Kind of Feel'

An interesting way of seeing a longed-for place for the first time is ten minutes before closing, with a car full of stuff to unload and very little daylight. The atmosphere of Great Dixter, where I spent the weekend with Folk at Home selling our functional and fancy goods, was pretty powerful at dusk and in the dark, when the front door is normally closed. After the manicured lawns of Northamptonshire the feeling was the opposite of solemn, with a purple-haired youth throwing grass seed around in the twilight.  I'd been lulled already into a holiday mood by the weatherboard cottages of Rye and as I arrived in East Sussex the radio switched automatically to a French station and I knew I was somewhere near the Channel.

The garden at Great Dixter was originally designed by Christopher Lloyd's father with Edward Lutyens in a grand cottage style, and it is rarefied but friendly. With its Great Hall and Yeoman's Hall the house is Medieval and large but feels more like a rectory. From the garden entrance it looks almost like a tall bungalow... There was a very tantalising kitchen with antique fridge and oven from which we were forbidden, but the whole place was ridiculously charming. No gilt or coronets but an anti-witch symbol carved into the massive fireplace, simple medievalist light fittings and hundred-year-old cobwebs high up in the beams, which no Cobweb Lad could have reached in the days of servants even if he were standing at the top of a specially-made ladder.

The bottom of the roof of one of the outbuildings was level with my waist, with space inside to stand up and read the educational notices, having crawled in on hands and knees. The shop (above) is one of the most perfect I've ever seen, whatever goods happen to be on sale there, functional or fancy.

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