Here is one of my favourite garden features: an old and gnarled 15 foot Holm Oak hedge that forms the front boundary of the house and lines the short drive, there being no long, winding, Manderley- esque approach here. The hedge’s old canopy is high enough to stand under though, the branches above forming an interesting tracery against the sky.
A large opening frames the view across what was once a rose garden, to the Billiard Room beyond. Here James’ mother grew roses that regularly triumphed at the Horticultural Show, but it is now a bare circle of turf, completely plant-less and rather municipal in feel and the Billiard Room is a holiday let. I would like to un-convert it, removing the kitchenette and mezzanine bedroom, I am not sure for what purpose, this will come in time. It is an easy job to restore this though, as the structure is broadly untouched, although I am a bit suspicious of some very gloopy varnish on the ceiling rafters, but then, the Victorians did favour dark and gloopy.
Once Eddington School was based here, and before that, on this site, a village pub. I understand the cellar dates from this time and so predates the Billiard Room. Its earlier history sparked some anticipation in me, the steps down to it being steep and cushioned underfoot by wall plants and ferns and a barred window adding a touch more atmosphere. I had a brief ‘Moonfleet’ moment and why not? We are near the sea after all and here is a pub, a cellar, at one time, smugglers, but hopefully not a sarcophagus to sleep in..
Letters between Vernon Bullin and Mary Baldwin (see the history of the house on the top right of your screen, three little lines) about this cellar, led me to believe there would be bottles down here, from the days when it was the wine store. Vernon, having bought the house, wanted the place cleared up, but Mary, with a slight stubbornness and aristocratic bent that led her solely, in this case, to do what suited her, would only remove those bottles she wished to drink, and left the rest. However, what remains is only beer, brewed in Ryde and fit to explode. There are some treasures for the house restorer though: ogee guttering from the greenhouse so I will know exactly what to use when the time comes to replace the plastic, the glazed doors to the original cold frames in lovely condition. Otherwise, more abandoned rubbish of a rather atmospheric sort.
Back to the hedge. On the opposite side of the drive from the Billiard Room opening, wrapping around Sloop Cottage, the gatehouse to the Castle, was once a similar holm oak hedge, now completely subsumed in laurel and endless rubbish. There are four remaining oaks here, now pollarded, which will be joined tomorrow by four new trees to fill the spaces in between and recreate this characterful entrance. They will have been reared in the nursery to be clear stemmed and straight as a die, so I will have to think of ways of torturing them into a more interesting shape. Then, once the growing season has begun, I will let the whole hedge take on a more amorphic shape, avoiding the rather draconian clipping along straight lines that they have had in the past . They will have a billowing, intriguing form, but on reflection I think the tops will not be crenelated. That is a step too far, even for me.