12 May 2014

The monstrous country house to end all monstrous country houses?

I spent a considerable time looking for interior and exterior photos of a house or houses to accompany this description, but I finally gave up. And no wonder:

        It was an astonishing building. A Victorian architect, fortified and encouraged by the Ancred of his day, had pulled down a Queen Anne house and, from its rubble, caused to rise up a sublimation of his most exotic day-dreams. To no one style or period did Ancreton adhere. Its façade bulged impartially with Norman, Gothic, Baroque and Rococo excrescences. Turrets sprouted like wens from every corner. Towers rose up from a multiplicity of battlements. Arrow slits peered furtively at exopthalmic bay-windows, and out of a kaleidoscope field of tiles rose a forest of variegated chimney-stacks. The whole was presented, not against the sky, but against a dense forest of evergreen trees, for behind Ancreton crest rose another and steeper hillside, richly planted in conifers. Perhaps the imagination of this earlier Ancred was exhausted by the begetting of his monster, for he was content to leave, almost unmolested, the terraced gardens and well-planted spinneys that had been laid out in the tradition of John Evelyn. These, maintaining their integrity, still gently led the eye of the observer towards the site of the house and had an air of blind acquiescence in its iniquities.

...

     The interior of Ancreton amply sustained the promise of its monstrous façade. Troy was to learn that “great” was the stock adjective at Ancreton. There was the Great West Spinney, the Great Gallery and the Great Tower. Having crossed the Great Drawbridge over the now dry and cultivated moat, Troy, Fenella, and Paul entered the Great Hall.

     Here the tireless ingenuity of the architect had flirted with a number of Elizabethan conceits. There was a plethora of fancy carving, a display of stained-glass windows bearing the Ancred arms, and a number of presumably collateral quarterings. Between these romped occasional mythical animals, and, when mythology and heraldry had run short, the Church had not been forgotten, for crosslets-ancred stood cheek-by-jowl in mild confusion with the keys of St. Peter and the Cross of St. John of Jerusalem.

     Across the back of the hall, facing the entrance, ran a minstrels’ gallery, energetically chiselled and hung at intervals with banners. Beneath this, on a wall whose surface was a mass of scrolls and bosses, the portrait, Fenella explained, was to hang. By day, as Troy at once noticed, it would be chequered all over with the reflected colours of a stained-glass heraldry and would take on the aspect of a jig-saw puzzle. By night, according to Paul, it would be floodlit by four lamps specially installed under the gallery.

     There were a good many portraits already in the hall, and Troy’s attention was caught by an enormous canvas above the fireplace depicting a nautical Ancred of the eighteenth century, who pointed his cutlass at a streak of forked lightning with an air of having made it himself.

...

     ...an enormous drawing-room which looked, she thought, as if it was the setting for a scene in “Victoria Regina”. Crimson, white, and gold were the predominant colours, damask and velvet the prevailing textures. Vast canvases by Leader and MacWhirter occupied the walls. On each occasional table or cabinet stood a silver-framed photograph of Royalty or Drama.

From Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh.

No comments: