Golden Valley

24 September 2012
Ben Pentreath

It was a perfect evening when I arrived in Dorset on Friday; a remarkable, clear evening light shone across the valley.

The sun set softly through a golden sky and the Bride Valley felt otherworldly. I love late September evenings.

The following morning was bright and clear. A brief moment in the garden, though, and I was off – to Salisbury Cathedral Close, where I was meeting one of my clients for a visit to beautiful Mompesson House, owned by the National Trust, and one of my favourite houses of all time.  If you haven’t been, try to go.

We were there to look at details; plasterwork, joinery, stairs, floors, and to discuss time-worn finishes for the house that we are creating in the Chilterns together.  If you’re deciding these finer details, there is nothing more useful than looking together at a beautiful house to see how other people have done it. We could discuss shutters, the size of cornices, the projection of mouldings; wherever we looked at Mompesson there was extraordinary inspiration.

The afternoon was so nice that we walked around the Cathedral Close, one of the most perfect urban spaces in England that I know, and lined with remarkable buildings. If this is work, then it didn’t really feel like it on Saturday afternoon.

When it was time to say good bye, I made a briefly fleeting visit to the Salisbury and South Wilts Museum, which I had never visited before, and where an afternoon of discoveries reached a summit in the small, jewel-like and stunning exhibition they are showing – sadly for one week more only.  Get there if you are at all able – Circles & Tangents: Art in the shadow of Cranborne Chase.  It is a fantastic small show, filled with pictures I’d never seen (many from private collections) by Beaton, Derek Hill, John Craxton, Stanley Spencer, Lucien Freud, Augustus John, Henry Lamb, Ben and William Nicholson, and E.Q. Nicholson, who painted this lucid rendition of the chalk down lands, Boveridge, in 1949:

I went to prep school in Cranborne Chase, that area of empty chalk downs and valleys where the borders of Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire meet. It is one of my favourite areas of England and from time to time when I am driving back from Dorset to London, on the arrow-straight road between Blandford and Salisbury, I will swing off to the north for a meander through this perfect country, with its gently folding hills, deep valleys, copses, native woodlands and extraordinary views from the high ground for miles and miles.

So it was wonderful to learn so much more about the many artists who have, for decades, made the Chase their home or their inspiration. As I say, I am afraid I am writing a little late in the day, as the show closes on Saturday (when I will be visiting again). This was and is inspiration.

If you make it, be sure to wander upstairs where there is a room with one of the finest collections of Wedgwood china that I’ve ever seen (having never yet made it to the Wedgwood Museum).

More inspiration than you can cope with in 24 hours, no?


13 comments on this post


It was a BRILLIANT exhibition. Bravo. Ben

vivienne lightsays:

So pleased to read that you were able to make Circles and Tangents.
It was a joy to curate the exhibition as the staff and exhibition officer were so supportive

Margaret Powlingsays:

I too love Mompesson House. Only visited once, but the memory is still very clear.


If you do visit Salisbury again tomorrow,then do try and visit the magical gardens at Heale House about 6 miles North in the Woodford valley.Totally your thing..Also the cafe , shop and gardens at Pyt House West of Tisbury. I expect you know it anyway. By the way the Circle and Tangents exhibition has been extended until Sunday.


1200 employed in Poundbury! I have been to Poundbury and it barely seemed big enough accomodate that many. I would love to see a breakdown of those figures. In your new Architecture section, Ben?

Mary Jenkinssays:

I share your love of Mompesson House and have been there very many times. Every visit is a joy and new things are always noticed. The garden and tea house is delightful with very good cake and I have spend much time there fantacising that the house belongs to me. I do that too in the garden of Lamb House in Rye another love NT house.

Bingo! Thank you Ben – I am off to purchase forthwith and will apply your technique. Kindest regards, Keeley


I see the ‘Circles and Tangent’ show is also a book by Vivienne Light, any chance you can show us some more of it? It sounds very special.


Dear Jill I’ve got a copy of the catalogue which is really fantastic and I much recommend. I think it will be hard to photograph though! All best, Ben


All great additions to the ‘to do’ list for the next UK visit.
Had an inspirational weekend myself with the arrival of your book…….sheer heaven!
Best Janie


oh how i love your beautiful photos of dorset…

Dear Ben, I love your gorgeous pics which never cease to inspire me. I dont suppose your camera is a point and click!? As I am about to buy a new one – thought I would ask in case by some miracle you have used a Lumix! Kindest regards, Keeley


Dear Keeley, it is indeed a panasonic Lumix, and my trick is to use a lot of zoom lens and shoot, as far as possible, into the light. All best, Ben

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