“ Address: West Hoathly Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 4NE „
Last Saturday (9 April 2011) was a beautiful sunny day. I visited Standen for the first time.
Standen is located close to East Grinstead, East Sussex. It took me a mere thirty minutes to get there in my car. At the entrance a National Trust staff checked my membership card and gave me a brief verbal introduction and a paper guide to Standen.
The car park was big enough, but the footpath up to the house was terrible. Before I started my tour I stopped at the restaurant, which had a good range of food choices. I saw displayed a beautiful cake and ordered a piece. However to my surprise I was given a slice, which was from yesterday's cake. It was dry and not tasty. I felt rather cheated and upset.
The introductory exhibition and information:
An introductory exhibition was in a room adjacent to the restaurant, where I gained some idea about Standen. It was designed as a country home for a successful London solicitor named James Beale and his family. Philip Webb, a well known architect at the time, designed Standen. William Morris, one of the most famous and influential figures in the Arts & Crafts Movement, was a friend of Webb and was a contributor to the interior decoration and design of Standen.
The construction of Standen was completed in 1894 and is considered to be the masterpiece of Philip Webb. It has since become an icon of the Arts & Crafts Movement with its Philip Webb architecture and Morris & Co. furnishings.
Following the signs and passing under an archway I entered the house. My first impression of the house was of a very comfortable family home rather than a tourist site.
In the hall there was a built-in fireplace designed by Philip Webb, which had a painted wood and black iron grate. On the wall three oriental paintings caught my attention. These were 19th century Japanese pictures, which reminded me of Chinese Tang Dynasty paintings I have seen. Some of the furniture in the hall was designed by Philip Webb or made by Morris & Co, but never the less my favourite piece was an 18th century open armchair in fruitwood, which was owned by the Beales before Standen was built.
Leaving the Hall I walked into a huge space known as the Billiard room. A billiard table was in the centre. Adjacent to a big bookshelf there was a rocking horse, which was named Dobbin. It was a gift to Beale's eldest daughter, Amy. In the same room I also saw some original Islamic tiles, which were hanging between the main windows. Similar tiles could be seen on a wall nearby. They were designed by William De Morgan, who was inspired by Islamic culture, and under that influence developed his own theme.
Moving on from the Billiard Room I entered the Conservatory from where you can see the best views of the garden. Because it looked so modern in concept I thought it was added by National Trust, however it was part of the original build. Sitting on a chair and viewing the plants growing around me in an almost tropical environment left me feeling closely bonded to Standen. It is a very comfortable family home indeed.
From the Conservatory I moved on to the Drawing Room. It was a large, bright square room. I saw more carpet and wallpaper in the Morris style. I also saw a couple of extraordinary electric light fittings designed by Webb.
Leaving the Drawing Room I walked up the staircase, and hanging on the wall was a painting entitled The Baptism of King Edwin. There was a room on the first floor in which was displayed information about the Arts and Crafts movement. I was pleased to see this as until now I didn't know much about the movement.
After that I also visited a couple of bedrooms. The Beales' were a large family, and had twelve bedrooms for themselves and guests. I was trying to find the bedroom of the Beales couple, but was told it was not accessible. However in a spare bedroom I saw some arts & crafts furniture, which were originally in their bedroom.
Back on the ground floor the tour route took me to the Dining Room and the Morning Room where I saw more Morris decor. The Dining Room had green painted wooden panelling and an outstanding fireplace designed by Philip Webb. In the Morning Room I was intrigued by a 1956 Ferranti VHF FM radio which was displayed on a table near the door.
The last part of my house tour was a visit to the servants' quarters and the kitchen. Guided by a sign I first had a look at an exhibition about servants at Standen. Because Philip Webb was a socialist he designed a pleasant environment for servants to live and work in. From the stories told by servants working in Standen you can see life in the country house was orderly. Each servant had different duties. The relationships between servants were regulated with a rigid hierarchy. Don't miss the calling system on the wall of the corridor.
The kitchen had a huge fireplace from which you can imagine how many people had to be catered for. I also saw a collection of household items. Amongst them was a selection of stone hot water bottles. I was fascinated because I have seen rubber hot water bottles, but never stone ones.
At the rear of the kitchen there was a shop, where you can buy National Trust souvenirs including a range of merchandise connected with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Outside they also sold plants and gardening equipment.
The garden at Standen was first laid out in 1890. My first impression was it is a huge space to explore. Briefly it consists of three gardens: the Upper Garden, the Central Garden and the Lower Garden. From the top of the Upper Garden you can see wonderful views over the Medway Valley towards Ashdown Forest. However I felt tired and didn't climb the hill. I spent most of my time in the Central Garden and the Lower Garden, which surrounded the house. Sitting on a bench I watched a team of volunteers planting vegetables. Nearby apple and pear trees were blossoming. Later I took a walk along an old sandy lane and was able to view the house from different angles.
All in all it was a lovely day out. I was delighted to explore a new place I had never heard of. One day I hope I can visit Standen again, but only after I have gained more knowledge about the Arts and Crafts movement.
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