2 July 2017
The sharp eyed amongst you may have noticed that my first book, English Decoration, was dedicated ‘to Anthony Sykes, who understands more about English Decoration than anyone I know’.Later, we’ll see more of Anthony’s decoration, and his remarkable house, Bellamont, which he and his wife Harriet built on a hillside in West Dorset, close to us, some 20 years ago now. (The house has once or twice featured on the blog in passing before…. but never as the main subject).
This weekend, Bellamont was open to the public for a fundraiser for our two villages. So this is also a story of dedication in a different way – the simple, hard-working dedication of a couple of little villages in West Dorset putting on a brilliant summertime event to raise a bit of money for their two churches. Our church needs a new roof, and I think the next door village is in search of a new bell (but I may stand corrected there).
Charlie and I were running the plant and cut flower stand, together with our neighbour Nic. For weeks now, Charlie has been propagating, sowing and taking cuttings, as well as making the odd raid on extremely well-priced plant stands in Bridport Market. Neighbours have been dropping off trays of plants for sale. And early, early on Saturday morning, I think around about 5.30am, I woke to the sound of Charlie snip-snip-snipping out in the garden, cutting buckets of fresh flowers before the heat of the day came up. After a quick foray to Bridport for breakfast at soulshine, we loaded up the car to transport everything up the road to Bellamont.
A snapshot of the side of Anthony’s barn – a sample agricultural shed with a grand-and-somewhat-flimsy facade. All will be revealed in a bit….
Good Village Fete fare:
Anthony, dapper as always, inspecting the set-up….
Our completed stand…. ready for the punters…!
Charlie and Nic look like a pair of french sailors. I’d missed the stripy blue t-shirt memo.
At 1pm the gates opened. People flooded in. Here are the first sweet-pea customers. Sweet-peas sold out in about 10 minutes, to be honest.
Saint Gwen, who organised the whole event brilliantly, pretty much singlehandedly, was very shy about having her photo taken, but I managed to snap her in the midst of a big hug from Charlie.
I have to say the plant stand was the busiest by far, but then maybe I would say that wouldn’t I? Here in the distance is your first glimpse of the castellated confection that is Anthony & Harriet’s house.
And here are our neighbours Catherine, Jo & Kate running the bric-a-brac stall, doing a roaring trade, with Anthony’s barn facade beyond. Completely bonkers, but brilliant. Plants selling fast.
This is Liam, who announced he is a regular blog reader from County Cork, over from Ireland with his wife on holiday in beautiful west Dorset. It was great to meet you, Liam!!!
Plants were flying out by this stage of the afternoon…..
The barn dance moved down the track….
Our neighbour Harold inspecting the last of Charlie’s lilies….
And then I was called by Gwen down to the house. It was an emergency. There had been so many queues of people, so many tours, that Anthony and Harriet were exhausted and needed reinforcements.
Here we are entering the inner courtyard. Queues for miles.
I arrived to find Harriet and Anthony holding forth in the hall. I stepped in to give them a break…. More queues. And more….
Harriet is never ever out of her pearls.
An armchair in the sitting room, in the great, late chintz Maryport, now discontinued. Why, oh why, oh why do people discontinue fabrics like this?
One end of the drawing room….
And the other… looking back to the kitchen.
A detail of a cypher on the doors that Anthony designed and had cast in resin – his initials and Harriet’s, and the family motto (which translates as ‘it costs what it may’, or, as Anthony shouted to his visitors…. ‘bugger the cost’). There is plentiful use of gold and silver paint at Bellamont.
The dining room, tented in ticking costing £7 per metre at Bridport Market. Five tours later, the house finally closed and I headed back up to Charlie and Nic to see how the plants had gone. ALL GONE. Result. everyone was packing up ready to go home.
We popped in to have a look at Anthony & Harriet’s son Eyre’s amazing box tree nursery, Bellamont topiary. The stock is amazing. Inside the courtyard.
For a year, I lived in the West Wing when I first moved to Dorset. This was my front door…The south front…. Everyone left, and we had a quick drink with Anthony & Harriet before saying goodbye, to leave them in peace….
Anthony holding forth on a million subjects, from 18th century architecture to the genealogy of an obscure branch of an Irish aristocratic family, to his rather unconventional views on politics, or a very rude limerick:
Can you guess what this one was?
The back kitchen, painted in high gloss Victoria Plum.
Heading home. Late summer haze amongst the battlements and crenelations.
The view from the south….
And the gates to the road.
Afternoons like this one are the best. Of course, amongst all the dedications, is the most important of all, to my wonderful friend Valentina – who first introduced me to the crazy Sykes clan some 18 years ago now.
I should also say, talking of fundraisers, that in a fortnight, on Sunday 16th July, Charlie and I will be at magical Buscot Park in Oxfordshire, in aid of the Wild Camel Trust – the eighth most endangered species on the planet (and you know Charlie’s love of camels). If you’d like to come for the lunch, tickets are £60 and you can visit the booking page of their website here and order away…. there are still some places remaining (as far as I am aware at time of writing…..) We’d love to meet you over a cup of Mongolian yak’s milk vodka! Can you think of anything nicer to do in a fortnight’s time? No, nor can we. See you then and there!!!