We have three lovely fire surrounds in the house. They are lovely in a Victorian way, which is admittedly rather out of fashion in today’s current vogue for all things pared down and Georgian. One, for example is a red/brown marble, I would describe it as porpyhry-esque, with red lustre William de Morgan style tiles within the hearth. The morning room has the same lovely tiles, with a black slate surround, whilst the drawing room has delft tiles, depicting men smoking whilst undertaking a range of leisurely tasks: shooting, painting, pushing a barrow and more arduous, building a brick wall. Their approach to life is admirably relaxed and one I shall aim to emulate when I sit in this room.
Is there anything harder in a house than sorting out fire grates? As the original fittings are missing (baskets with integral fire backs I surmise), a few days ago I sent some photos to a posh London antique dealer, who I have worked with before, to ask his advice on what the grates may once have looked like. Not worrying too much about the historical accuracy of this, the dealer’s assistant suggested I smash out my tiles so that one of their (reproduction Georgian) fire baskets would fit. They have been dealing with too many Oligarchs I think.
So the Victorian still needs its champions, and it has it in my children, who are keen on the drearier bits of Dickens and the gothic griminess of Angela Carter’s ‘Magic Toyshop’. No fabric is too tatty, no amount of dust covered clutter too much for them. It takes the pressure off with the weekly clean at any rate. (I am excluding my architect son from this slur, who likes everything clean and his pens firmly in a row). Nor, unlike Alasdair, who is a bit squeamish about such things, are they alarmed by the unexplained sharp knocking in the Castle. Jackdaws in the chimneys, surely. If not, we have seen ‘The Woman in Black’ and we are ready.
Rest assured I will not take the dealer’s advice on the tiles, and as it is the Easter holidays, the clutter-loving children and I will embrace that most hideous of locations, The Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, to seek fabric and perhaps inspiration. Just to show what I am aiming for, here are images of some tiles, plus one image of the beautiful William Morris fabric, with some pretty Arts and Crafts embroidered panels, that I did find. The trouble is, there’s never enough of it.