On Thursday I returned from a two-day Art Fund Expedition to Compton Verney and Stratford. I never need asking twice to go to Stratford to see world class Shakespeare being performed live before my very eyes. I have made several visits over the years. So, when a flyer arrived advertising the expedition to Stratford and to include a tour of Renishaw Hall (generally very limited access) and visit to Compton Verney House in Warwickshire I was ready to sign up and go.
Our band of 25 set of from Leeds at 9.30 on Wednesday arriving at Renishaw about 10.45. Our visit began with tea (or coffee) in the Gallery Cafe followed by a personal tour of the house.
Thought for the Day in the Courtyard Cafe
After a brief introduction outside we ventured inside to see the fabulous interior. Definitely the former home of eccentrics and eclectic collectors. It is a Sitwell descendant’s home. Here’s a potted introduction to the famous Sitwell siblings from the Renishaw Hall website :
Edith Sitwell overlooked our luncheon. The throne is still to be seen in the ballroom.
The current owner of Renishaw is Alexandra Sitwell, daughter of the late Sir Reresby and Lady Sitwell. Her extraordinary family have lived at Renishaw for nearly 400 years.
The Sitwells have always been avid collectors and patrons of the arts and the history of the family is filled with writers, innovators and eccentrics.
Perhaps the most famed of the Sitwells were the prolific writers Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell:
Dame Edith Sitwell (1887 – 1964) was a grandly eccentric poet and novelist, described by one observer as “an altar on the move.” Perhaps better known for her poetry, two of her most important works were the books English Eccentrics and Fanfare for Elizabeth
Sir Osbert Sitwell (1892-1969) wrote prose, poetry and also many short stories and novels, including Before the Bombardment (1926). He is probably best known for his five volume autobiography Left Hand Right Hand
Sir Sacheverell Sitwell (1897-1988) was well known for his work on art, architecture, ballet and travel and arguably his greatest book was Southern Baroque Art which secured him a reputation as author and art historian.”
But they were by no means the only family members to have influenced the Hall over the centuries.
The Main Entrance of the original house still used as such today
The house was built in 1625 by George Sitwell (1601–67). The Sitwell fortune was made between the 17th and 20th centuries from iron nails, coal, land and through marriage.
Between 1793 and 1808 Joseph Badger of Sheffield made additions and alterations to the original and in 1908 Sir Edwin Lutyens made some changes; about some of which our guide was rather scathing. Lutyens was a good friend of Sir George Sitwell and forty of his notebooks were found in the attics. But he apparently did very little – Christine pointed out the black pillars, the garden doors and the ceiling of the Old Billiard Room plus the recycling of piano keys as surrounds for tapestries in the ballroom.
Sir George Sitwell (1860-1943) who had succeeded to the baronetcy in 1862 was responsible for laying out the stunning Italianate gardens in the late 19th Century. For many years he lived in Scarborough where he was the town’s MP. A Blue Plaque at Woodend his home in Scarborough now commemorates his children Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell. He bought a castle in Tuscany and assembled the largest private collection of John Piper’s paintings.
Blue Plaque at Woodend commemorating the famous Sitwell siblings
The Woodend Garden in March 2009
Besides the Pipers there was a host of other paintings including a Sir John Singer Sargent of Sir George Sitwell Lady Ida Sitwell and Family.
Here is Ida in a gown by … Madam Clapham of Hull
The library was somewhere I could have stayed for the rest of the day – comfy sofas and chairs and with a beautiful view of the gardens; plus walls of books including lots of first half of the 20th century volumes. There are 30,000 books in the house altogether. What’s wrong with that? I say.
Several years ago whilst staying in Northamptonshire I visited the church and graveyard at Weedon Lois where Edith and her brother Sacheverell are buried. Interestingly, her gravestone is the work of Henry Moore. Weston Hall nearby was another family home of the Sitwells.
The ‘new’ churchyard at Weedon Lois in June 2009
Edith Sitwell Headstone by Henry Moore
I have always suspected that the editor of the Waitrose Kitchen free magazine William Sitwell is a member of that illustrious and eccentric family … and indeed he is cousin of the present owner of Renishaw, Alexandra Sitwell.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Dame Edith Sitwell and I see from the website of the Sitwell Society that some interesting events are planned to coincide with this including :
1st November 2014, Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) Remembered by Chris Beevers, archivist at Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire, the present day home of Lady Alexandra Sitwell (Edith Sitwell’s great-niece).
‘Edith Sitwell Remembered (1887-1964)’ commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of her death by looking back over the public and private lives of this extraordinary woman. She was not only a key 20th century literary figure but also a much loved sister, aunt and great aunt to the Sitwell family. Using material from Alexandra Sitwell’s family archive, along with published biographical information, Chris Beevers will present the life of Edith, illustrating key milestones in her personal and professional life. A complex individual, the talk attempts to reveal the ‘real’ Edith, and what lay behind her public ‘facade’ as an avant garde poet, performer and fashion figure, often labelled ‘eccentric’, as well as highlighting the literary significance of her work. It will also represent another Edith, a kind, generous and loyal friend who did much to help others in private, as well as supporting new, undiscovered talent.
Friends of the Library event. 1st November, 2014, 11.15am-midday (tea & coffee served from 10.30am) Cost: Free to members of Friends of the Library, £1 to non-members. Contact: Karen McCabe, 01723 367009 or Colin Langford, 01723 375602
After the House Tour we returned to the Courtyard where we had our soup and sandwich lunch in a separate dining room. We then had a further hour or so to inspect the gardens and courtyard shop before continuing down to Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Inside the Renishaw Shop
Gothic Aviary in Renishaw Garden
Renishaw Hall and Garden
Rear of Renishaw Hall
Flowerbeds and hall