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Visit to Parham House April 2016

Wimbledon WI Visit to Parham House, Sussex,
On Friday 22 April 2016

Twenty five of us left by coach from outside the Ursuline School promptly at 9.30 on Friday morning for our visit to the historic Parham House in Sussex. We had a fascinating tour of the house led by our knowledgeable guide, Philippa.

Parham House nestles in the South Downs and was, prior to the English Reformation, part of the extensive property portfolio of the Benedictine monks of Westminster Abbey. When Henry VIII appropriated the Abbey’s wealth at the Dissolution of the Monastery in January 1540 he sold the old manor house at Parham to Robert Palmer, a London Mercer, for £1255. Palmer was clearly a member of the inner circle of the Court – his son married a god-daughter of Elizabeth I. Since 1540 only three families have owned house which has been continually occupied as a family home for 448 years.

In 1577 Robert Palmer demolished the old house and began the construction of the fine stone Elizabethan manor house that has remained essentially the same to the present day. Robert’s son, Thomas, sold the house to Sir Thomas Bysshopp in 1601 and the house and estate remained the Bysshopp family’s principal residence until it was sold to the Hon. Clive Pearson (2nd son of the 1st Viscount Cowdray) and his wife, Alicia, for £200,000 in 1922.

We began our tour in the Great Hall – a magnificent space with oak-panelled walls, flagstone flooring and a vast open fireplace. This had been the servants’ hall and it has an enclosed gallery at one end (which was the steward’s quarters) and a stairs leading up to the family’s living quarters at the other end. From there we progressed to the family rooms which are laid out in the style popular with wealthy Elizabethan merchants. Every room, including the servants’ quarters, has an uninterrupted view of the South Downs. No other building is visible from any of the many large windows of the house. Of particular note is the long gallery. Now furnished with artefacts connected with the various owners of the manor, including a charming collection of Victorian and Edwardian toys from the nursery, the original purpose of the gallery was to provide a space for indoor exercise during inclement weather. As such, the only furniture would have been one or two benches along the walls for the use of those playing indoor bowls, possibly tennis, and certainly walking up and down. One lord of the manor is said to have exercised his local militia there. Another room of note is the splendid Tudor kitchen which now serves as a restaurant and is where we had lunch.

The 20th century history of the house is, arguably, the most interesting. Having acquired the estate in 1922 the Pearsons spent the rest of their lives hunting artefacts, art works and furniture associated with Parham. The fruits of this labour of love can be seen in all the public rooms. For example, they found at auction the fine Worcester dessert set presented to Cecil Bysshopp by his parents on his marriage to Lady Charlotte Townsend in 1805. Sadly, Lady Charlotte died childless in 1807 and Cecil, an army officer, was killed in action during the American-British Trade War of 1812-1815. The dessert set is displayed in the lovely Regency Drawing Room, so called because Cecil’s mother had the room altered and decorated in the ‘modern style’ in the early 1800’s. The room remains exactly as it was at the time of Lady Charlotte’s death.

Alicia Pearson and her mother were also avid collectors of embroidery and tapestry and their impressive collection is, where appropriate, interspersed with the Pearsons’ other collections throughout the house. The finest pieces are, probably, the pre-1590 flame-stitched four poster bed hangings and the 17th century flame-stitched silk carpet that dominate the West Room, which was Alicia’s bedroom.
In 1939 30 children from Peckham, South East London, were evacuated to Parham House. The Pearsons welcomed these city children, most of whom had never seen the countryside before. Clive built them a wooden playhouse in the grounds and, in order to encourage them to eat vegetables, divided a section of the walled garden into small plots, provided the children with tools and seeds and proceeded to teach them the art of kitchen gardening. He then introduced a competition for the best crops. This was a great success and further encouraged the children to ‘eat up their greens’.

In 1942 the military authorities requisitioned half of the house for billeting Canadian Officers and the evacuees’ idyll came to an end. The children were separated and re-housed with families in nearby Storrington while the family was moved to the other half of the house. Soldiers of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions were billeted in Nissen huts in the grounds.

After the war the Pearsons restored the house and grounds but continued to live in what had become known as the ‘private half’. In 1948 they opened the other half to the public charging 2/6 for adults and 1/6 for children. On opening day, 17th July, 61 visitors came and the house and estate has welcomed a steady stream of visitors ever since.

The Pearsons’ great-granddaughter, Lady Emma Barnard, is the present owner and she now lives in the ‘private half’ with her husband and two young sons. She has inherited her great-grandparents love of the house and estate which she maintains to a very high standard. The kitchen garden supplies the family and the restaurant with seasonal vegetable and fruit: a large section of the garden is set aside for growing cutting flowers and there is a display of home grown seasonal flowers in every room all year round. And, even on a wet, cold day, the formal gardens were a delight. Tulips were the dominant flower on Friday and one of the gardeners told me that he and his colleagues planted 18,000 tulip bulbs last autumn to supplement the unquantifiable number already in the ground.

Unfortunately, our time in the gardens was rather spoilt by heavy rain and we set off for home at 3pm, an hour earlier than expected. But despite the weather we had a wonderful time.

Thank you Wimbledon WI for another truly memorable outing.

26 April 2016.

Visit to Metropolitan Police February 2016

Wimbledon WI visit to the Metropolitan Police
Thames Division Museum on Friday 19th February 2016.

After some misadventures with trains and an encounter with two officers from the riot squad I, and two others, were half an hour late joining the group from Wimbledon WI at the Thames Division Museum on Friday, 19 February. However, the knowledgeable volunteer curator, retired PC Robert Jeffries, later filled us in on what we had missed so this summary should not be found wanting.
The visit consisted of a talk of about one and a half hours and about 45 minutes viewing the exhibits in the relatively small museum.
By the last decade of the 18th century London importers were experiencing annual losses of about £500,000 through pilfering by ‘lumpers’ – the original term for dock labourers. About half of these losses were borne by the West India merchants. Patrick Colquhoun, a London magistrate and social reformer, alarmed at ‘the nature and extent of the various moral evils’ then afflicting society came up with a scheme for policing the metropolis which he presented to a member of the government who read it with interest. The scheme included a plan to register ‘Lumpers’ of good character and the formation of a River Police which Colquhoun discussed with a committee of the West India merchants who unanimously endorsed it. Meanwhile two other magistrates, John Harriott and Mr. Staples, had also become concerned by the extent of theft from merchant vessels. Harriott wrote to the Duke of Portland, Secretary of State for the Home Department, advising His Grace of the commercial benefits to London in general and the Treasury in particular if an official River Police force were formed to reduce cargo theft. The Treasury was losing an estimated £20,000 – £30,000 annually on customs duties applicable to goods that never reached the bonded warehouses. Harriott was a difficult personality who had, over the years, offended many people including Colquhoun and, presumably, the Duke of Portland who never answered his letter. Staple took Harriott’s idea to Colquhoun who was then in the process of amending his own treatise with legal advice from Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century lawyer, philosopher and social reformer. Colquhoun was so impressed with Harriott’s ideas that he suggested they put aside their differences, amalgamate their ideas into one treatise and re-present it to the government. This they did and the Chancellor of the Exchequer promptly agreed to meet part of the expense of establishing an experimental ‘Marine Police Establishment’ for one year and the West India merchants agreed to meet the balance. Colquhoun became the ‘Superintending Magistrate’, Harriott the ‘Resident Magistrate’, and the mooted register of Master Lumpers was created. Thus in 1798 the first workers ‘closed shop’ came into being and the first official, state sponsored police force in the world was founded. The total set-up and running costs for that initial year were £4,200. The new force of 50 officers, armed with muskets, policed about 33,000 river workers of whom about 11,000 were, according to Colquhoun, known criminals.
The new force soon proved its worth: within the year £122,000 worth of cargo was saved and many people were rescued from the river. But, as can be imagined, the river workers were not happy about the significant reduction in the perks of their trade or the exclusion from the docks of those deemed to be of bad character. Before long the first protesters rioted outside the new Police Station at 98, Wapping High Street (which is still Thames Division Headquarters today). About 2,000 rioters converged outside the building intent on burning it down with Harriott and some of the officers inside. The riot was quelled but during the conflict Gabriel Franks, who as a registered Master Lumper was seen by the mob as in cahoots with the police, was shot and died later in hospital. Gabriel has the dubious distinction of being the first recorded ‘police’ death.
The success of the force was such that in 1800 Parliament passed the Marine Police Bill which established the force by law and brought it directly under Home Office control. Its strength was increased to 88 officers and watermen and their remit was extended throughout the London Metropolitan area. The Marine Police were the official London Police force until 1829 when it became Thames Division of the newly established Metropolitan Police force.
It is possible to trace the social history of London through some of the significant crimes and accidental disasters that the Division had to deal with during the 19th century. For example, on the evening of 3 September 1878 the pleasure steamer Princess Alice was within sight of North Woolwich pier on her return journey from a day trip to Sheerness when she collided with a collier, SS Bywell Castle. The steamer was spliced in two and sank within four minutes with the loss of more than 650 lives. The unusual speed with which the victims were sucked down into the river and the appalling condition of recovered bodies was attributed to the 75 million gallons of raw sewage that was then being released twice daily into the Thames from the Barking and Crossness outfalls of the recently constructed London Drainage system. The evening discharge had occurred about one hour before the accident. This stimulated research into sewage disposal which eventually led to the sophisticated sewage treatment centres in use around the world today. At the time the proposed short term solution was to take the raw sewage far out to sea by boat! The tragedy also led to the modernisation of the River Police when The Board of Trade enquiry into the accident resolved that Thames Division, which was still using rowing boats, should be equipped with steam launches to make them ‘…better able to perform rescues’.
After a fascinating talk by the curator we were free to examine the museum’s exhibits. These include uniforms and documents tracing the history of the River police from its inception to the present day, everyday police hardware from handcuffs to cutlasses, the ensign from the ill-fated Princess Alice and much else.
More information about the museum can be found at and a more comprehensive history of the River police, including details of some of the infamous crimes they have dealt with, can be found at

24 February 2016.
My thanks to Vanessa for guiding me to the above mentioned websites.

Visit to Fan Museum January 2016

Wimbledon WI visit to the Fan Museum at Greenwich
On 20th January 2016
Fifteen of us visited this fascinating museum on 20th January 2016.
The Museum is housed in two adjoining houses, built in 1721 in the reign of George I, that have been meticulously restored to their original glory.
We were greeted in the Reception Room by Helene Alexander, the founder and current Director of the Museum Trust, who gave us a brief overview of the foundation of the Trust, the work involved in restoring the buildings and the care and maintenance of the collections. We then adjourned to the Orangery for coffee and biscuits.
Although not part of the museum as such the Orangery is worth mentioning. Looking out over a charming garden laid out in the formal style if the early 18th century, the Orangery walls are covered in Italianate murals (painted by Jane Barraclough, a theatrical designer with whom Helene has been friends since they were at art school together in the 1950s). The central light fitting is a chandelier style piece in Venetian glass acquired by Helene on a recent visit to Venice. The tables were laid with fine china, also provided by Helene, which complemented the elegant surroundings.
After coffee we returned to the Reception Room, met our very knowledgeable guide, Mary Kitson, and began our tour.
Mary explained that the museum comprises two distinct displays: one on the ground floor which is permanent and serves as an introduction to fans – their history, manufacture and variety; the other on the first floor which is thematic and changes several times a year. It was our good fortune to be the first group to visit this, the museum’s 25th anniversary, year. For this celebratory event the museum has dug deep into its collections and mounted a display of remarkably diverse fans spanning the period 1590 to 2016.
We began in the Reception Room itself which is dedicated to un-mounted and extended European fan leaves dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These are, in effect, the decorated or painted leaves of fans that have been framed as pictures after the fan has been dismantled. Mary explained that Monarchs, particularly Louis XIV of France, habitually requisitioned the precious metals and gems that decorated fans to finance their wars. As the leaves of the fans were usually works of art in themselves the owners did their best to conserve them. Among the unmounted fan leaves displayed in the Reception Room is an elaborate ‘painting’ on vellum depicting the Grand Dauphin’s twentieth birthday celebrations. This ‘window’ onto French Court life during the reign of Louis XIV is one of the museum’s many highlights.
From the Reception Room we moved to The Green Room. Largely devoted to explaining how fans are made, this room also houses two of the museum’s ‘gems’: a fan painted by Walter Sickert and a fan-shaped design by Paul Gauguin.
We then moved to the first floor where the special 25th anniversary display is mounted. This is a dazzling array of fans, once the property of Royal and other high-born European ladies, and mostly from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
Interesting as it would be, it is not practical to discuss in detail all of the beautiful and historic fans that are on display so I have chosen three that, between them, give an idea of the extent and interest of the collections.
I will begin with The Elizabethan Folding Fan (c.1590-1630). This is an exquisitely embroidered silk fan with ivory sticks joined at the pivot end with cord or ribbon. This type of fan is thought to have been fashionable for only a short time and was often worn with the ‘wheel farthingale’ dresses popular at the Court of Elizabeth I. Indeed, the fan is displayed beneath a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in which she is shown wearing a very similar fan on her girdle. Thought to be the only surviving fan of this type, it was acquired for the Nation for £45,000. The acquisition was funded by the Friends of the Museum and grants from such sources as the Art Fund, National Heritage Memorial Fund and other philanthropic sources.
From this late 16th/early 17th century fan we jump to the late 19th century and ‘Stephanie’s fan’.
This beautiful fan was given to Princess Stephanie of the Belgians by her aunt and uncle, the Count and Countess of Flanders, on her ill-fated marriage to Prince Rudolph von Hapsburg (heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire) in 1881. The sticks of mother of pearl are beautifully carved with flowers and tendrils and musical instruments and there is a gold and diamond loop on either side of the rivet. There is applied gold to the guards which are further decorated with fine silverwork and 1,500 rose diamonds with a diamond crowned ‘S’ on one of them. The double vellum leaf is painted on both sides, signed Cesare Dell ‘Acqu and dated 1881.
The Museum’s newest acquisition is a very modern fan entitled ‘Swan Lake’. This was made by Sylvain Le Guen just two weeks ago. The sticks and guards are ebony. The sticks are overlaid with mother of pearl and the front guard with crystals and a ‘lacing’ of black vinyl. The leaf is white organza applied with white and black petals and bordered with pearl paint. The black petals are further applied with white ostrich feather barbs, black rooster and black swansdown.

These three fans demonstrate what has changed and what has remained constant in the art of fan-making over the centuries. Swan Lake, made in 2016, has the same basic structure as the Elizabethan Fan and Stephanie’s Fan but each of the three represents its own time in the materials used and the decorations applied to them. It was interesting to learn that fan making is still a thriving art form and an industry. I am reliably informed that Sylvain Le Guen is currently employed restoring a fan of blue jay feathers for the Duchess of Cornwall: at the other end of the scale fans are still being mass produced in China (where fans originated) for weddings, parties, theatrical productions and decorations of all descriptions.
21st January 2016.
With many thanks to Camilla Hiscock, Curatorial Assistant at the Fan Museum, for providing me with unpublished information about the three very special fans described above.

Remembrance Sunday 2014

Commemorating World War I: a first for Wimbledon WI and for me

A big thank you to Wimbledon WI for the new experiences and memories they have given me this year.

At our July meeting, we had a talk about London in World War I, which led me to research a vague memory of something my mother had told me before she died. I found a photograph of her Uncle Fergus (2nd Lieutenant James Ferguson Hickson) who, researches revealed, died on the 1st day of the Battle of Passchendaele on 31 July 1917. This led me to attend two days of courses at London’s City Lit about women in World War I, as well as visits to the National Archives to find out more about Great Uncle Fergus, and onto two visits to the display of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”.   Amazing and thought provoking to think that each of the 888,246 poppies there represents each British and the Commonwealth person who had died during the 1st World War. And we must not forget the enormous losses suffered by the deaths of people from other countries.

My new experiences did not end there. Several members of our WI had been making some wonderful poppies to raise funds for the British Legion. It was decided that for the first time in our existence, we would create a wreath from some of those poppies to be placed at Wimbledon War Memorial on Remembrance Sunday.

We met before 10am in Belvedere Grove for the parade through Wimbledon High Street and onto the War Memorial. A very moving, and poignant, service was held, followed by the organizations represented laying their wreaths. I had the great honour of being asked to lay Wimbledon WI’s wreath. I am not normally an emotional person but, as I walked up with our WI’s wreath to the War Memorial, I felt shivers running down my spine, as I thought with some considerable poignancy not only of Great Uncle Fergus but also of all the others who had lost their lives in that terrible war. I had not previously attended a parade or service on Remembrance Sunday.

Thank you for encouraging me to learn more about my family’s history involvement in World War I, for encouraging me at the grand old age of 63 to finally pay my formal respects to those who died in both World Wars, and asking me to lay the wreath on behalf of our WI.


The House of Commons

We all met outside the entrance to the House of Ccommons and went through the security clearance. Siobhan met us in the great Westminster Hall where she told us all about the great occasions that the hall had hosted as well as the famous people who had laid in state there. Then we all went down to the broom cupboard! Of course this was no ordinary broom cupboard but the one in which the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hid on the night of the 1911 census.
Siobhan was very knowledgeable about the House of Commons and took us through the whole procedure of the Queens role in the opening of parliament and told us one or two stories about how previous monarchs had treated some of  the MPs and speakers of the House.
She took us to the lobby rooms and explained how the system of voting works when the MP’s are required to attend and have to walk through either the Yea or Nay door and be counted and woe betide them if they are not present!
It was a very enjoyable and informative visit and Siobhan was a terrific host.  Some of us finished the tour with a bit to eat in the Jubilee Cafe.

Charleston House

A most interesting day was had by all at Charleston House in Sussex, the home of the Bloomsbury group, a collection of like minded friends.
The house of artist Vannessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister) and Duncan Grant and David Garnett moved here in 1916.
It was a meeting place for writers, painters and intellectuals.  The decoration inside the house reflects their decorative lifestyle. Nearly all the furniture, doors and walls were painted by Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant.
The walled garden was mainly vegetables but over time it evolved to the garden that it is today, full of flowers intermingled with vegetables, mosaic paths and statues made by the artists.
After a most interesting tour with our guides we went to have lunch in the cafe only to be told there is only coffee and cake much to Gillian’s distress as she was told they served lunches
We were then directed to a farm a few minutes down the road which our bus driver kindly took us and found a good restaurant and a selection of shops within the farm, plus a selection of plants which many of us bought for our own gardens.
Thank you Gillian for a great day.


Dirty Rotten Scoundrels March 2014

A small group of us had a thoroughly enjoyable visit to a matinee performance of this comedy musical at the Savoy Theatre.  The show is set on the French Riviera and is based on a 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin.  Wonderful performances by all the leading characters, including Robert Lindsay as Lawrence Jameson and Rufus Hound as Freddy Benson playing two conmen kept us highly entertained.  The acting, singing and dancing was extremely professional.  Both actors seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their roles and clearly had difficulties containing themselves on occasions as some of the sketches became every more funny.  The audience greeted both the comic and musical elements of the show with much laughter and applause throughout.  Thank you to Daphne and Gillian for arranging this highly pleasurable escapist afternoon.

Highclere Castle

WI Highclere CastleA long awaited visit to Downton ……  ooops, Highclere Castle, finally came around last week.  A full coach load (see picture) stood outside the Ursuline sixth form at 9.45 whilst Gillian with her clipboard checked us all in.  Sun shone as prearranged with WI head office and as the coach drew up, there was a mad scram for seats.  So reminded of day trips at school, the need to sit beside best friend, actually anyone would do to avoid the horror of sitting beside “Miss” in the front seat, with the First Aid Kit – inclusive of plastic bags and damp flannel therein – long before Wipes were invented of course.  In those days packed lunch was eaten before we were into third gear, but now the only comestible I spied was the surreptitious slurp of bottled water.  I sat beside BF Frieda and in the aisle beside me sat Sue who was knitting.  Through this encounter, I now have promised help on my embryonic knitting, a far too ambitious project for my talents, a  Mystery Blanket and a date at Waterloo (not mine I hope) to help me cast-on with circular needles!!!!  The WI to the rescue again.

WI Highclere CastleThe journey was swift and smooth and apart from small excitement of fire engine overtaking us at top speed, and then further on, the sight of lorry on fire, we arrived in good time.  An efficient and gillet clad lady in tweed skirt and sensible shoes, gave us a brief rundown of rules.  As per school days, didn’t listen, so can’t tell you what they were,  but no-one had to see Gillian after the trip, so we obviously all behaved.  Highclere was so much smaller than I had imagined from TV and much more cosy than Blenheim (WI trip last year).  We wandered around, drawing room, morning room etc and in each there were guides to give you a little history.  Bedrooms upstairs looked lived in, hairdryers on dressing tables, mags on bedside tables, little notices told you this was Lady Cora’s bedroom or the bedroom where Lady Mary got up to hanky-panky with a Turkish diplomat in Series One.  There are no kitchens where filming took place as these scenes are filmed in the studio.  Currently Series Five is underway and the TV crews were expected next week.  One guide hinted to me that Series Six maybe on the cards too.  You heard it here first.

The castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which was built on the foundations of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester, who owned this estate from the 8th century. The original site was recorded in the Doomsday Book.  Since 1679, the castle has been home to the Carnarvon family.  The house was rebuilt in 1839 by Sir Charles Barry but in subsequent years fell into disrepair.  The present Lord and Lady Carnarvon have only recently been able to bring the house back to life, because of increased visitors due to the success of the Downton Abbey series.  They had been living in a cottage in the grounds, but now they live in the Castle during the winter and only move back into the cottage when the house is open to the public.

During our visit, I managed to have coffee and shortbread, lunch (toasted pannini) and a cream tea and only saw the ice-cream man on way back to coach so missed out there.  There were no escapees, and the coach set off on time for home.  Shame.

Many thanks to everyone who organised this trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day and already looking forward to the next outing.


PS  Would love to go to Knole or Leeds Castles.


Quiz Night March 2014

A great Quiz Night for family and friends of our WI with a good chance for a natter.  The quiz devised by Nige the Quiz tested our brains which were nourished by some splendid Ploughman’s platters half way through.  Some were able to show off their very broad and detailed knowledge, which resulted in high scores.  Others, in particular me, clearly need a lot more quiz practice to get anywhere near the talent shown by many there on the night.  Agnes, as Master (or should I say Mistress) of Ceremonies, once again kept the evening moving, scoring, and collecting answer papers, with help from WI members and family.  Our thanks also to the Committee members who arranged for, and prepared the food and refreshments, and of course the all important washing up afterwards.  Needless to say it was all hands to the deck at the end of the evening as members and guests helped clear up in the best tradition of the WI.

Thank you to everyone who participated to make the evening such a success.


Horseguards Parade and the Household Cavalry Museum

We had a lovely morning in the spring sunshine at Horseguards Parade today.  We watched the changing of the guard before going into the Household Cavalry Museum to see the horses being settled in their stables and the soldiers dismounting.  After that we had a guided tour of the museum and a look around the exhibits, which were very interesting.