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Reminiscences of Christmases Past

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posted by alias raaen99 on Sunday 5th of December 2021 05:03:47 AM

Cavendish Mews is a smart set of flats in Mayfair where flapper and modern woman, the Honourable Lettice Chetwynd has set up home after coming of age and gaining her allowance. To supplement her already generous allowance, and to break away from dependence upon her family, Lettice has established herself as a society interior designer, so her flat is decorated with a mixture of elegant antique Georgian pieces and modern Art Deco furnishings, using it as a showroom for what she can offer to her well heeled clients. Today however we are at Glynes, the grand Georgian family seat of the Chetwynds in Wiltshire, and the home of Lettice’s parents, the presiding Viscount and Countess of Wrexham and the heir, their eldest son Leslie. Lettice is visiting her family home after receiving an invitation to motor down to Wiltshire from her old childhood chum, Gerald, also a member of the aristocracy who has tried to gain some independence from his family by designing gowns from a shop in Grosvenor Street. His family, the Brutons, are neighbours to the Cheywynds with their properties sharing boundaries. That is how Gerald and Lettice came to be such good friends. However, whilst both families are landed gentry with lineage going back centuries, unlike Lettice’s family, Gerald’s live in a much smaller baronial manor house and are in much more straitened circumstances. Whilst he visits his mother, who has caught a chill in the cold winter weather, Lettice is playing the part of a dutiful daughter and visiting her parents too, even though both are in excellent health. This is her last visit to Glynes before coming down to stay over the Christmas and New Year period. We find ourselves in the very grand and elegant drawing room of Glynes with its gilt Louis and Palladian style furnishings where the family Christmas tree is being decorated by Lettice and her elder sister Lally’s two children. Alerted to her younger sister’s visit, Lalage (known to everyone in the family by the diminutive Lally), who is heavily pregnant and due to give birth in a few months, has come down to stay with her parents and eldest brother Leslie to coincide with Lettice’s visit. Although they have never been particularly close, with six years difference between them, Lally is filled with the Christmas spirit this year and has arrived with a conciliatory approach as she tries to build more of a relationship with Lettice now that she is older. Lally finds it too difficult at this advanced stage in her pregnancy to join her children and Lettice decorating the tall fir tree cut from the Chetwynd estate, so she reclines on the Louis settee, toying with a fold-out family photograph album draped across her pregnant belly and watches the others as they unpack beautiful glass baubles, satin bows, garlands and glittering tinsel from old boxes. “You always were the artistic one Lettice,” Lally remarks as her sister hangs a golden glass bauble on an upper bough of the tree where the children can’t reach with the aid of Viscount Wrexham’s library steps. “You have the knack for decorating the tree and making it look so beautiful.” “That’s very kind of you to say so, Lally.” Lettice smiles thinly. “Oh no Harrold, not that bauble,” she directs her seven year old nephew as he tries to hand her a shiny red glass ball. “Grandmamma always likes the tree in here to be decorated with gold to match the furniture.” “She only insists on that because she is so proud of the furnishings in here.” Lally pipes up from the settee. “Having been given as part of her marriage settlement by Grandfather Piers.” “I didn’t know that, Lally!” Lettice gasps. “Oh yes. She told me that when she and I sat in here the day that Pappa settled my dowery with Lord Lanchenbury in the library.” “No wonder she was always scolding us if it even looked like a stray shoe was going to work its way onto the upholstery.” “Yes,” Lally chuckles looking down over the photo album and her protuberant belly wrapped tightly in russet georgette with Art Nouveau embroidery, to her silk lisle clad feet resting on the settee’s cushioned seat. “At least I’ve taken my wretched shoes off.” She wriggles her toes as she glances down at her louis heeled deep red slippers standing on the carpet. “Not that I may be able to get them back on again. Pregnancy always makes my feet swell.” Harrold looks thoughtfully at the red bauble in his hand and then glances with excitement at its matching decorations still in the dusty and battered old boxes. “Does that mean there is going to be a second Christmas tree this year, Auntie Tice?” Lettice chuckles and leans down, tousling Harrold’s blonde hair. “No darling, but we used to have two trees decorated every year before the war. One in here like this, and a much bigger one in the entrance hall. That’s why there are so many decorations in these boxes.” She looks thoughtfully at the boxes and their contents strewn about on the carpet. “Poor Bramley. I should really have told him only to unpack the gold decorations. He has so much to do as it is these days.” “Yes, poor Bramley. It’s not easy managing a house like this on reduced staff numbers. Mind you, it looks like the decorations are all jumbled together anyway.” Lally muses, looking at the photograph album resting on her stomach as her mind drifts away to the past. “Do you remember those wonderful pre-war Christmases we used to have, Lettice?” “Oh yes, when we had more servants to help decorate both trees.” “And all of us too. You were always the one who knew best when it came to decorating, but Leslie, Lionel and I tried to do our bit.” “However did you cope before I was born?” Lettice asks cheekily. Lally looks at the photos of past Chetwynds, gazing out from prettily decorated round and square holes with sepia eyes. “I wonder,” she asks as she looks. “Who this one will look like when they are born.” She glances up at her son, sifting through a Gossages Dry Soap crate looking for a correctly coloured Christmas ball to give to his aunt. “Harrold looks so much like Pappa.” “Well,” Lettice says thoughtfully, tugging at a recalcitrant piece of tinsel. “He or she may look more like his or her father than a Chetwynd.” “Like Charles!” Lally scoffs. “Oh, I don’t think so, Lettice. I’m convinced that the Lanchenbury genes are recessive.” “Who do I look like Auntie Tice?” Arabella, Lettice’s five year old niece, asks from her place decorating the boughs around the foot of the Christmas tree. “You look like a beautiful princess, darling,” Lettice confirms bountifully, giving her an earnest look. “Oh!” the little girl exclaims and smiles proudly. “Did you hear that, Harrold? You look like old Grandpappa, and I look like a pretty princess!” She pirouettes prettily about on the spot, her fuchsia coloured skirts billowing around her. “I don’t look like an old man!” Harrold counters angrily as he reaches up to his aunt clutching two gold baubles. “No Harrold, you don’t,” Lally placates from the settee. “But you look like Grandpappa did when he was young, and he was very handsome when he was young.” Harrold smiles, pleased that he doesn’t look like an old white haired man with a beard, and he turns his back on his teasing sister, who is still spinning about gleefully as she imagines herself to be a fine lady. “Remember when the villagers used to come up to the front door singing carols on Christmas Eve,” Lally continues on her nostalgic journey of pre-war Christmases. “Mamma and Pappa would invite them in to warm themselves by the fire in the entrance hall and enjoy the big Christmas tree all covered in tinsel, baubles and lighted candles.” “Pappa still gets Bramley to bring out snifters of brandy for them whilst they warm themselves by the fire,” Lettice accepts an appropriately gold bauble from her nephew. “But you’re right, some of magic has gone out of that now that there is no longer a Christmas tree in the hall.” “Do you think we could ask Grandpappa to get us one this year, Auntie Tice?” Harrold asks, looking up at Lettice hopefully. “Oh I think it’s a bit late now, darling.” Lettice explains kindly. “There is a heavy snow outside and ground his hard. We don’t want the gardeners all catching colds for Christmas, now do we?” Harrold shakes his head solemnly and Lettice tousles his hair again good naturedly before suggesting, “Maybe next year. We’ll ask Grandpappa later. Alright?” “Alright Auntie.” he replies. “Good boy.” Lettice whispers with a gentle smile, accepting the second bauble from her nephew. “Remember the fun we always had as children getting dressed up for Mamma and Pappa’s fancy dress Hunt Ball?” Lally asks her sister. “Mamma was always the queen of the ball. And you used to like being a faerie with a tinsel crown and a silver wand.” “I’m going as a faerie this year,” pipes up Arabella proudly. “Is that so, darling?” Lettice asks her with a munificent smile. She nods emphatically. “Nanny is making my dress.” “Yes,” Lettice chuckles wistfully. “Nanny Webb must have spent hours making our outfits, sewing stars onto my dress and making me gossamer wings. You liked to go as Columbine*, didn’t you?” “Yes, but my outfit was bought from Clarkson’s** London. So was Lionel’s Pierrot*** costume.” “What did Leslie go as? For the moment I don’t remember.” “Leslie is just like Pappa. He hated fancy dress. Being older than us, he told me that fancy dress was for children, and he used to go in his hunting pinks****, just like Pappa.” “Oh yes. Now I remember. I still love fancy dress parties.” Lettice responds. “I’m coming as Cinderella to the Hunt Ball this year, which is most apt considering that Mamma wants to marry me off.” “Who’s on the offing?” “Jonty Hastings,” “Not Howling Hastings?” Lettice nods. “The very one!” She and her sister both giggle childishly. “Who else?” Lally asks with bated breath. “Tarquin Howard, Sir John Nettleford-Hughes,” “He’s an old man!” Lally laughs. “Nicholas Ayers.” Lettice continues to list. “He’s an invert*****!” Lally scoffs, then quickly raises her hand to her mouth as she glances with alarm at the children. She heaves a sigh of relief as they seem too involved in decorating the lower branches of the tree to pay attention to her and ask her what an invert is. “Mamma may as well marry you to Gerald Bruton then.” “Ah, but Gerald is the spare you see, not that Mamma knows what we do about him, and anyway, the Brutons don’t have the money that the Ayres do.” “True.” Lally hurries on. “Who else, Lettice?” “Selwyn Spencely, Edward Lambley, Septimius Faversham and Oliver Edgars. I know there are others, but I can’t for the life of me think whom.” “Goodness! Mamma really is pulling out all the stops this year to make the ball a grand occasion. I don’t think we’ve had that many eligible men in attendance since 1912!” Lettice gives her elder sister a withering look. “Will one of those men be your prince, Auntie Tice?” asks Arabella seriously, gazing up at her aunt. “You are coming as Cinderella to the ball after all, and Cinderella met her prince there.” “Only if I lose a slipper at the ball, darling.” “Oh,” Lally huffs as she glances at the baby Jesus statue in the manger from the nativity scene to stand beneath the tree with all the Christmas gifts. “I think I shall be glad to be in confinement for this year’s ball. I could only come dressed as a whale thanks to this one.” She lays a hand caringly upon her swollen stomach. “A whale!” giggles Arabella. “Now that would be funny, Mummy.” chuckles Harrold as he walks over to his mother and places his hand on top of hers. “I should like to see you dance with Daddy dressed as a whale.” “You must suggest it to him when we go home at the end of the week, darling. Shall I wear a grey satin tea gown then?” Lally smiles as Harrold nods enthusiastically. Looking back to Lettice as she affixes a shimmering bow to the tree she says to her, “I don’t know how you do it, Lettice. After children, and the war, I just don’t have the energy for fancy dress any more.” “Oh, don’t you start lording your happy marriage to Charles and your children over me, Lally!” Lettice’s footsteps clatter angrily as she descends the library steps and stalks forcefully across the carpet to look for a particular decoration in one of the boxes. Thrusting her hands violently through the contents of one particular box she continues, “I won’t have it! Mamma has been insufferable since I got here, reminding me at every opportunity that I’m not getting any younger, and that you were married by the time you were my age. And then there is all her scheming, inviting every eligible gentleman of good breeding and money to the Hunt Ball for me to be paraded before!” Sensing the change in mood in the room, Arabella scuttles away from Lettice and the Christmas tree and cowers by her mother’s side, whilst Harrold places both hands on top of this mother’s instinctively protecting her and the baby from his aunt’s sudden displeasure. “Please don’t be angry, Aunty Tice,” Arabella says, her voice cracking as tears well in her eyes. “I don’t like it when you’re angry with Mummy.” “And it is Christmas,” Harrold adds, looking in concern at Lettice on her knees, scattering colourful glass balls across the drawing room carpet angrily. “No-one should be cross or upset at Christmas, Auntie Tice.” “Oh!” Lettice looks up from where she is with sad tears, that moments ago had been angry ones, brimming in her eyes. “Oh how clumsy of me. Auntie Tice is sorry my darlings. You’re quite right Harrold. No-one should be cross at Christmas.” She holds out her arms to them and pouts. “Forgive me? Please?” Harrold walks cautiously over and falls into her arms, which wrap around him tightly as she closes her eyes and puts her head on his shoulders. “See,” Lally whispers to Arabella standing at her shoulder. “Auntie Tice isn’t cross anymore. Don’t you think you might go and give her a cuddle?” She looks back to her sister and son embracing and adds more loudly, even though she knows and intends that Lettice should hear every word. “I’m sure that would make her feel even better.” Tentatively, and with a gentle push from her mother, Arabella totters forward to where Lettice embraces her too. “I know, Lettice,” Lally remarks softly. “That when you were a teenager, we really didn’t get along very well.” Lettice looks up defensively, but Lally raises a finger to her lips to silence her sister’s protests so she can continue. “And we have probably never really been that close because of the difference in years between us. However, contrary to what your opinion of me may be, I’m not your enemy, you know?” “I know,” Lettice murmurs. “It’s just Mamma and her attitudes towards the decisions I’ve made. They make me so cross, Lally.” “Well, you might not know this,” Lally continues. “In fact, in view of your sudden outburst, I’m quite certain you don’t.” “Know what, Lally?” “Mamma always lords your glamorous life in London over me whenever she can, telling me who of this country’s great and good you’ve been socialising with or decorating for, and showing me photos of you in the Tattler, not that I haven’t already seen them for myself.” “She doesn’t!” Lettice bursts in shock. “She does,” Lally concurs with a nod. “And she does it because both of us are closer to Pappa than to her.” “No!” “Of course that’s the reason. Mamma has always had a jealous streak in her.” “Well, I never.” Lettice gasps. “Now you know that her criticism goes both ways. She thinks her secret is safe because she enjoys playing us off against one another, and what’s worse is, I think she actually enjoys creating a divide between us.” “Lally!” “It’s true, Lettice. I think in her own perverse way, she hopes that one of us will turn to her one day, rather than Pappa.” She lowers her lids and shakes her head in resigned disbelief. “I don’t quite know why.” “Oh I’m sorry, Lally.” “I’m sorry too Lettice.” Lally acknowledges warmly. “So, what say you and I, with this knowledge, ignore Mamma’s criticisms this Christmas, and maybe get to be better friends as adults than we perhaps were as children.” “Just to spite Mamma?” “Well, no,” Lally explains. “To help us better understand and support one another. Of course, if it happens to irritate Mamma, then all the better. Truth be told, I’m actually quite proud to have such a successful and glamourous sister.” “I don’t know what to say.” Lettice says humbly as she blushes with embarrassment and pride. “A thank you is usual when one is paid a compliment.” Lally adds helpfully with a smile. “Thank you, Lally.” Lettice says. “You’re welcome, my glamorous little sister.” Lally answers. *Columbine is a theatrical character that originated about 1530 in Italian commedia dell'arte as a saucy and adroit servant girl; her Italian name means “Little Dove.” **Clarkson’s Theatrical Costumier and Wig Maker was located at 41 to 43 Wardour Street in Leicester Square. As theatrical costumier to the Royal Family, Willy Clarkson was born in 1861. He took over his father’s business in 1878 and became highly successful. He provided costumes and wigs for famous actors and actresses of the Victorian and Edwardian era, including Sir Henry Irving, Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt and for productions by Queen Victoria's family. It was claimed that Will Clarkson created a disguise for the murderer Doctor Crippen. Rumoured to be homosexual, a public lavatory in Soho was known as 'Clarkson's Cottage'. ***Pierrot is a character from the Italian commedia dell'arte. A simpleminded and honest servant, he is usually a young and personable valet. One of the comic servants, or zanni, Pierrot functioned in the commedia as an unsuccessful lover of Columbine and a victim of the pranks of his fellow comedians. ****Hunting pinks is the name given to the traditional scarlet jacket and related attire worn by fox-hunters. *****An invert is a term coined and popularly used in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries to describe a homosexual. This year the Flickr Friends Melbourne Group have decided to have a monthly challenge which is submitted on the 5th of every month. This month’s theme is “Christmas”, which was chosen by Beverley. Both Beverley and I share a common love of Christmas, which is a magical time that brings us both great joy, so this scene, using a selection of my large miniatures collection including some very special pieces was a delight for me to spend a few hours creating and photographing. Fun things to look for in this tableau include: The Chetwynd Christmas tree, beautifully decorated by Lettice, Harold and Arabella with garlands, tinsel, bows golden baubles and topped by a sparking gold star is a 1:12 artisan piece. It was hand made by husband and wife artististic team Margie and Mike Balough who own Serendipity Miniatures in Newcomerstown, Ohio. The gold Christmas garland that graces the fireplace to the right of the photo is a hand made artisan miniature also, and was supplied by the Doll House Shoppe in Tinley Park, Illinois. The red and green boxes containing hand painted Christmas ornaments were hand made and decorated by artists of Crooked Mile Cottage in America. The silver, red and gold tinsel garlands, and the painted red, yellow, green, gold and silver single baubles that litter the floor, tumble from the boxes and the single one left on the library steps come from various online miniature stockists in Australia and England through E-Bay. The miniature nativity pieces of Jesus in the manger, Mary, Joseph and the Christmas star standing on the carpet in front of the Gossages Dry Soap crate come from an E-Bay stockist of miniatures in Sydney. The pair of louis heel red slippers comes from Melody Jane’s Doll House in the United Kingdom. They are made of metal. The fold out concertina Edwardian photo album draped across the gilt Louis settee, the brown photo album with gilt lettering on the end table to the left of the settee and the pile of photos stacked on top of the red photo album are 1:12 size miniatures made by the British miniature artisan Ken Blythe. Most of the books I own that he has made may be opened to reveal authentic printed interiors. In some cases, you can even read the words, depending upon the size of the print! I have quite a large representation of Ken Blythe’s work in my collection, but so little of his real artistry is seen because the books that he specialised in making are usually closed, sitting on shelves or closed on desks and table surfaces. Therefore, it is a pleasure to give you a glimpse inside a photo album that he has made. To give you an idea of the work that has gone into the album, it has a front and back cover and a concertina of ten coloured pages, and it measure twenty millimetres in height and ten millimetres in width and is only three millimetres thick. What might amaze you even more is that all Ken Blythe’s opening books and photo albums are authentically replicated 1:12 scale miniatures of real volumes. To create something so authentic to the original in such detail and so clearly, really does make this a miniature artisan piece. Ken Blythe’s work is highly sought after by miniaturists around the world today and command high prices at auction for such tiny pieces, particularly now that he is no longer alive. I was fortunate enough to acquire pieces from Ken Blythe prior to his death about four years ago, as well as through his estate via his daughter and son-in-law. His legacy will live on with me and in my photography which I hope will please his daughter. I hope that you enjoy this peek at just one of hundreds of his books that I own, and that it makes you smile with its sheer whimsy! The red and the blue photo albums also open and contain black pages suitable to stick miniature photographs to. They are fastened closed with a ribbon. They came from Shepherd’s Miniatures in the United Kingdom. The Palladian console table behind the library steps, with its two golden caryatids and marble top, is one of a pair that were commissioned by me from American miniature artisan Peter Cluff. Peter specialises in making authentic and very realistic high quality 1:12 miniatures that reflect his interest in Georgian interior design. His work is highly sought after by miniature collectors worldwide. This pair of tables are one-of-a-kind and very special to me. The gilt footstool upon which the red photo album and pile of photographs sit is made by the high-end miniature furniture maker, Bespaq, but what is particularly special about it is that it has been covered in antique Austrian floral micro petite point by V.H. Miniatures in the United Kingdom, which also makes this a one-of-a-kind piece. The artisan who made this says that as one of her hobbies, she enjoys visiting old National Trust Houses in the hope of getting some inspiration to help her create new and exciting miniatures. She saw some beautiful petit point chairs a few years ago in one of the big houses in Derbyshire and then found exquisitely detailed petit point that was fine enough for 1:12 scale projects. To the left of the photo stands an artisan bonheur de jour (French lady's writing desk). A gift from my Mother when I was in my twenties, she had obtained this beautiful piece from an antique auction. Made in the 1950s of brass it is very heavy. It is set with hand-painted enamel panels featuring Rococo images. Originally part of a larger set featuring a table and chairs, or maybe a settee as well, individual pieces from these hand-painted sets are highly collectable and much sought after. I never knew this until the advent of E-Bay! The elegant ornaments that decorate the surfaces of the Chetwynd’s palatial drawing room very much reflect the Eighteenth Century spirit of the room. On the centre of the mantlepiece stands a Rococo carriage clock that has been hand painted and gilded with incredible attention to detail by British 1:12 miniature artisan, Victoria Fasken. To the left of the clock is a porcelain pot of yellow and blue petunias which has been hand made and painted by 1:12 miniature ceramicist Ann Dalton. To the left of the vase of petunias is a Staffordshire sheep – one of a pair – which have been hand made, painted and gilded by Welsh miniature ceramist Rachel Williams who has her own studio, V&R Miniatures, in Powys. If you look closely, you will see that the sheep actually has a smile on its face! Another, larger example of Ann Dalton’s petunia posies stands on the Peter Cluff Palladian console table and is flanked by two mid Victorian (circa 1850) hand painted child’s tea set pieces. The sugar bowl and milk jug have been painted to imitate Sèvres porcelain. On the bombe chest behind the Louis settee stand a selection of 1950s Limoges miniature tea set pieces which I have had since I was a teenager. Each piece is individually stamped on its base with a green Limoges stamp. Also on the bombe chest sit two Georgian tea caddies which come from Warwick Miniatures in Ireland, who are well known for the quality and detail applied to their pieces. In the centre of these pieces stands a sterling silver three prong candelabra made by an unknown artisan. They have actually fashioned a putti (cherub) holding the stem of the candelabra. The candles that came with it are also 1:12 artisan pieces and are actually made of wax. The three piece Louis XV suite of settee and two armchairs was made by the high-end miniature furniture maker, JBM. The library steps are made by an unknown artisan, but have been hand made and was supplied by Kathleen Knight’s Dollhouse Shop in the United Kingdom. The Hepplewhite chair with the lemon satin upholstery you can just see behind the Christmas tree was made by the high-end miniature furniture maker, Bespaq. All the paintings around the Glynes drawing room in their gilded frames are 1:12 artisan pieces made by Amber’s Miniatures in the United States and V.H. Miniatures in the United Kingdom, and the wallpaper is an authentic copy of hand-painted Georgian wallpaper of Chinese lanterns from the 1770s. The Georgian style fireplace I have had since I was a teenager and is made from moulded plaster. The Persian rug on the floor has been woven by Pike, Pike and Company in the United Kingdom.

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